Saturday, 31 December 2016

Burning off some Calories

After the indulgence of Christmas dinner and too many chocs we took ourselves off to La Verticale in Niort, the biggest indoor climbing wall in France, 42m long and 16m high. The boys climb often but it’s something we’d never done. I admit it, I was feeling a teeny bit nervous and Roger wasn’t that keen on how high the wall was, but we were determined to give it a go. For me the boulders were really hard, I much preferred climbing with the ropes even though I didn’t get that far up, it’s the wrists and arms that give out first. After some hesitation Roger went up to, but like monkeys the boys made it look easy, straight to the top in no time at all. A fun way to spend a few hours.

Climbing 1

The wall.

Climbing 2

Josh on the boulders.

Climbing 8

Darrel doing the same.

Climbing 3

Taking a break.

Climbing 4

Darrel near the top.

Climbing 5

Josh a long way up.

Climbing 6

Roger on his way up.

Climbing 7

And me, I got between 1/4 and a 1/3 of the way up.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Boudin Blanc

I was given the opportunity to help make the traditional white pork sausage Boudin Blanc with my neighbour Solange. Originally from the Champagne Ardenne region, Boudin Blanc is made with pork, eggs, milk, salt and pepper and is now a protected recipe but Solange had 2 recipes we were going to make, one with a slightly longer list of ingredients. The first recipe has pork, onions (lightly cooked), eggs, breadcrumbs, white wine, brandy,parsley, spice, salt and pepper and the 2nd was closer to the original but with added cooked shallots. For both recipes the pork is cooked in water for 1 1/2 hours, then cut into chunks and put through a mincer. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mince, then using a funnel or a machine if you have one put the mixture into sausage casings, tying each sausage off with string pushing out any air. Slowly simmer the sausages to a temperature of 75 degrees for 30 minutes in the cooking stock, remove and leave to cool. Having tried the supermarket versions which have a mousse like texture I was looking forward to trying them with a coarser texture. So a taste test was in order so one of each recipe were slowly cooked in butter. Don’t cook them to quick or they will burst as I found. The coarser texture was really nice but out of the 2 varieties we made I preferred the 2nd, they had a more delicate flavour.


Table full of ingredients.


Steaming hot pork.


Patou mincing.


Preparing the casings.


Here comes the sausage.


Tying off the sausages.


Freshly prepared Boudin Blanc.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Baked Oysters

Trying to enthuse about oysters, I decided to try baking them in the oven. First I prepared the oysters by detaching them from the shell, then leaving them in their shell they were laid in a baking tray.

Baked Oysters 1

I then pan fried some garlic, onions and breadcrumbs in some butter then added some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Pop a spoonful of the mixture over the oysters and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. They were nice, but would I buy oysters, probably not. Glad we’ve tried them though.

Baked Oysters 2

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Île d'Oléron

Solange and Patou invited us out for a day on Île d'Oléron, mainly to collect 10 kilos of scallops (half for us), but on top of that we did 2 lovely walks, had lunch with Solanges’ sister and niece and ate very fresh oysters. We had visited the island before and to be honest we found it a bit touristy, but when you visit with people who know it well, you see it through different eyes. The morning was spent at Le Château-d'Oléron and then after lunch we went see oysters being washed and prepared for sale, around 60% of all oysters are sold in the run up to Christmas. There were 2 types available to try, one is known as Les Vertes which takes its name from the green algae they feed on and the other Blanche. You cannot get fresher oysters than straight from the sea, and while we appreciate how enthusiastic people are about them and were grateful for the tasting session, we just can’t see the appeal. We were given 12 oysters to take home and I’m going to try baking them, results will be posted soon. The end of the day was spent walking on the beautiful beach at Gatseau at the very south tip of the island. The tide was coming in and with mist hugging the waves, everything felt very atmospheric but one thing we didn’t expect to be doing in December was paddling.

Oleron 1

Through the arches - Citadelle du Château-d'Oléron

Oleron 2

Soldier sculpture by Alain Nouraud including real life models

Oleron 7

Panorama of Château-d'Oléron

Oleron 10

Very fresh oysters

Oleron 3

A chilly December paddle

Oleron 6

Run – the tide’s coming in

Oleron 5

The coastline is being eroded with many trees falling onto the beach

Oleron 4

A stroll along the beach

Oleron 9

Preparing the scallops for the freezer but some didn’t make it.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Homemade Nibbles

I can’t remember if someone told me about these or I read it somewhere but I thought – what a great idea. You always get masses of seeds from a pumpkin or squash and I just throw them away. These seeds are from a butternut squash and all you do is pop them on a baking sheet, sprinkle on your flavourings, a splash of olive oil, mix together, spread them out and bake at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 10 minutes turning them halfway through. I used chilli flakes, crushed fennel seeds and salt for mine but a bit too much oil, so I will reduce that next time. Other seasonings you could use are crushed or ground cumin seeds, Garam Masala, crushed or ground coriander seeds, crushed peppercorns, chopped garlic, Ras el Hanout, cayenne, paprika or fresh chopped herbs. You could also make them sweet with honey, cinnamon, maple syrup, sprinkle of sugar, ground ginger etc. These are so quick and easy to make and cost next to nothing.

Butternut Seeds 1

The unroasted seeds

Butternut Seeds 2

After roasting – delicious

Monday, 5 December 2016

5th December, 1.30pm, Lunch in the Garden, 32 Degrees …

…. well directly in the sun anyway. It’s been a glorious day today, beautiful blue skies, hardly any wind and nice enough to eat our roast pork and apple sandwich outside. Excuse the grubby state of us, we spent the day chopping and stacking wood.

5th December