Gin and orange mince pies and Will Wonka does Christmas!

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On a recent trip to the UK I found some delightful mince pies (or should that be ‘gince’ pies) at a well know German supermarket, which contained gin in place of the usual sherry or brandy!
Finding them delicious, I thought that I would have a go.
I added a finely chopped Sicilian clementine and a good handful of roughly chopped freshly cracked walnuts and two teaspoons of ‘Bombay’ gin to a jar of good quality ready made mincemeat (without alcohol)and added this to some sweet shortcrust pastry (see ‘Frangian tarte aux poires er chocolat for how to make the perfect pastry) And the result was particularly delicious also.

If you think that this is an odd combination, how does a giant Christmas tree made from giant sweets sound…

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This is the spectacular sight that greats you this year at ‘Galleries Lafayette’ in Paris, truly bonkers and as I said ‘if Willy Wonka did Christmas’ I am sure this is how it would look.

I made these little mince pies to take to an advent get together in the barn of a local farmer in Burgundy where the decorations and decidedly more modest, but have more of a connection with Christmas with the 24 advent candles and the little crib – all hand made by the locals.

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To add my own festive touch, I sprinkled some icing sugar on the little ‘gince’ tarts to look like they had been dusted with snow.

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Don’t eat too many!

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to eat them!

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Burgundy is renowned for it’s soft, fruity wines, Boeuf Bourguignon and of course ‘Les Escargots de Bourgogne’……
Everything is larger than life here, from the army of giant snails that muster in the garden every morning so that you have to tread gingerly when going out to open the many shutters surrounding the house or you will crunch them underfoot, to the squadron of enormous fairy like dragon flies that patrol the passage between the house and the outbuildings at the back sweeping up any fly of mosquito in its path.

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It is these spectacular creatures with their vibrant green and yellow bodies, electric blue tails and orange wings that move as fast as a humming bird’s, that have given the house the name of ‘Les Liberlulles’ (The Dragonflies). I truly believe that people mistook them for fairies as they are truly enchanting.
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Along with the snail and dragonflies, there are also huge butterflies in every colour imaginable from deep midnight, to pale cornflower blue, to orange and red and yellow.

There are variety of other beast that are not so grand, like this little lizard that I found in the bath.

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Fear not though dear reader, the snails that I have cooked came from the market and not from my garden, so the one in the picture roams free munching on my various plants……….
These beauties were stuffed with parsley butter, I must confess also bought from the local supermarket, but is very easy to make in a food processor with softened butter and fresh finely chopped parsley then rolled into a sausage shape and store either in the fridge if ready to use fairly soon, or in the freezer (if storing in the freezer I slice into two centimetre disks and separate with a equal sized disk of baking paper for ease of use)
Parsley butter is also great to melt over fish or fry steak………

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Here is a picture of my favourite beast of all, my cat Pussy Willow………

 

Autumn leaves and seasonal salad

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The ‘Indian Summer’ persists with temperatures in the mid 20s in mid October, but it is a ‘Trompe d’oeil’, the trees at the back of the house are a shimmering golden yellow and the screen of poplars to the front a lemony lime.

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The morning mists are now full on as Halloween approaches. The silvery sun of the fading year filters through the fog casting an eerie light giving the little hamlet a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ effect, I half expect to see a headless rider galloping down the lane.

The sounds of autumn abound also, the tinkling of brittle leaves as the freshening breeze passes through them as they cling on to their branches, the satisfying crunch of those  who have already fallen to form a deep carpet of deep orange and nut brown and the soft sound of shiny saddle coloured conkers fallen to the ground.

Conkers are not the only nuts which are falling in abundance, walnuts are also tumbling from the trees in abundance and we have been collecting them to store over the winter to use in salads, cakes, to eat with the aperitif, and maybe make some ‘vin de noix’

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This little salad uses late season red lettuce and, of course apples which are just coming in to the shops and markets. I added some cubes of Greek feta cheese sprinkled with paprika to give a little ‘kick’ and made a dressing from L’Olivier grapefruit olive oil (but regular light olive oil would be fine) and Olivier & Co.’vinaigre de pommes’ (but a little cider vinegar or a sweet white wine vinegar would be fine also)

I ate this for a light, cleansing lunch, but it could be served as an entrée or side salad to accompany fish or pork. The feta cheese could be exchanged for grilled halloumi and a little crispy bacon and or capers could also be added – be imaginative, but keep it as seasonal as possible.

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Misty mornings and Portia’s Blackberry Jam

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“The evenings are turning noticeably cooler and the mornings are accompanied by a magical mist that cloaks the field opposite making the charolais cows who graze there appear like white sailboats emerging from a foggy sea.

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I am in the dew laden nettles in my pyjamas and wellington boots taking photos. It is a mystical experience as ghost trees emerge and take their solid forms as the mist unfurls backwards revealing once more the dazzling landscape.

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There are blackberry bushes acting as a natural barrier to the cows and their fruits are heavy with dew and juice, I pick a large swollen black fruit and pop it into my mouth and it bursts releasing it’s ripe flavour, just right for jam making……..”

A change of tone you might detect if you are a regular follower – this blog is namely about two cities (Liverpool and Paris and their surrounding areas), but I have been know to digress with posts on various parts of France and Italy and even my honeymoon in Malta!
This little digression however could continue, (or maybe it will find it’s own place) as we have bought a house, a very old house in the country.
There is a lot of work to do, but I do not want this to become a record of the trials and tribulations of renovation (of which I am sure there will be many), I prefer to take you on a imaginary journey and give little glimpses into my new life.

Ironically I have no kitchen, so for a cookery writer, this poses a slight problem, but we’ll muddle through somehow on two hotplates and endeavour to get some new recipes to you soon.

Jam, luckily is one thing that I can make on a hot plate (though I was worried that I could get a hot enough temperature, so it took a little longer to set than usual) And miraculously, after taking all the berries from the branches that I had snipped away with my lovely new green secateurs, I had exactly 1kg of fruit – not a gram/ounce more or a gram/ounce less (hence ‘Portia’s jam!)

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I simply washed the kg of fruit put in a large saucepan (my usual jam pan being in my Paris apartment) added 500grams of regular castor sugar (sucre en poudre), added a finely chopped up over ripe peach, just because it was sitting there with nothing better to do and brought it to the boil, stirring constantly, added 2 tablespoons (4 cuillers de soupe) of lemon juice, reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring intermittently, then poured it into whatever clean jars I had to hand and made sure that they were air tight.

The result has turned out to be the nicest jam that I have ever made and I have even siphoned off some of the syrup and added white wine to make a ‘kir’ for an aperitif!

Here is a photo of my new secateurs and ‘friend’
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A Bientot
Lindy

 

 

Avocado Walnut and Bacon salad and ‘Ile Fanac’

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Back on home ground in France last weekend, I spent a lazy afternoon on the sleepy ‘Ile Fanac’ close to where I live.


Wandering around this little verdant gem nestling in the river Marne at Joinville le Pont in the east of Paris, is like stepping into a bygone age. Free from traffic and hustle and bustle, you’re likely to be accompanied on your stroll by one of the resident cats, to the gentle whir of insect wings and the methodical lapping of oars hitting the water as rowers skim past hidden from sight by a curtain of Weeping willows. Puts me in mind of a poem by W.B. Yeats
“…I know the leafy paths that witches take.
Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,
and their secret smile out of the depths of the lake;
I know where the dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind
Wind and unwind dancing when the light grows cool
On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams
No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind:
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams…”

If any of you have seen the film ‘A good year’ staring Russell Crowe, this magical place recreates that atmosphere perfectly (even down to the tennis court) all that is missing is the man himself!

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As I do not have a garden, this is where I take a book and sit on a bench at the tip of the island overlooking the boats moored on the bank opposite.

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All this greenery made me crave a crisp green salad, and as avocados  are abundant at the moment they seemed the perfect ingredient to compliment the island – green, gently, calming and a little exotic.


Avocados are hailed as being a superfood, having beneficial effects on the cardio vascular and digestive systems, reducing incidence of diabetes and cancer, improving liver function, and calming acne and arthritis.

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I just tossed some mixed leaves in a dressing of olive oil with a little splash of chili infused olive oil and some sweet apple vinegar.
Then added some steamed new potatoes, chopped walnuts, finely sliced spring onions (green and white), a teaspoon of capers and some crispy bacon lardons (leave out for veggie option).
Top this with half a sliced avocado per person tossed in lemon juice to preserve the colour and served in small salad bowls – a taste of spring in a dish……..

Now for a little more exploring this magical place – I wonder where those steps, that door and that gate lead to……follow me

 

How Old?

If you enjoyed this post, why not read more and be inspired by following The Bible in a Year.

 

The Bible in a Year

‘You’re married?!’

‘Yes.’

‘How old are you?’

’26.’

‘How long have you been married for?’

‘Two years.’

‘You are too young to be married.’

I am wondering how many more years of this conversation I must endure before I become a socially acceptable age to be married….

According to internet research (cough google) the average age to get married isbetween 25 and 29….but individually woman at 28 and men at 30. Congratulations to my husband he is the correct age but I fall short of societies expectations.

I should really have a stock answer. A sarcastic one. A lie perhaps? Tell them I am 16…tell them I am 56. Or perhaps that they should mind their own business? Can I please add that these comments have always been from people I hardly know, and then never spend time getting to know them any further if I am honest.

So when…

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Liverpool Central Library and Cod and Coconut Curry

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Taking advantage of my extended stay in the UK, I have been taking in the museums and art galleries, along with visits to the theatre and wonderful parks that the city has to offer.

 

Situated on William Brown Street in the cultural district of Liverpool, flanked by the Walker Art Gallery and The City Museum (now known as ‘World Museum Liverpool’), the recently renovated Liverpool Central Library (formally ‘The William Brown Library’) is one of the largest and most beautiful libraries in the UK and is certainly worth a visit. Sir James Picton (2nd Dec 1805 – 15th July 1889) was a Liverpool born architect and antiquarian who played a large part in the public life of the city in the 19th century, taking particular interest in the establishing of public libraries, and in 1852, he obtained through campaigning, an act of parliament to raise a 1 penny rate for the creation of a public library and museum in the city. Wealthy local merchant William Brown paid for the building on the proviso that the city council furnished the interior. To acknowledge his generosity the street on which the library stands was renamed after him.


A competition was held for the design of the new Library and Museum and was won by Thomas Allom. However, his winning design proved to be too costly and it was a revised version, designed by the City surveyor, John Weightman, which was actually built and opened in 1860 and in 1879 ‘The Picton Reading Room’, designed by Cornelius Sherlock was added to the William Brown Library.

The library, as well as having a wealth of books, houses the Liverpool archives, family history and records office and a huge I.T suite with 150 computers for the public use, plus a nice little Tea shop, where my friend Sue and I enjoyed a game of ‘Name that book’ selecting passages from paperback classics on stand nearby and reading them to each other with the cover hidden.

The stars of the show however, have to be the impressive central atrium with a spectacular spiral staircase ascending to the magnificent glass dome and roof terrace with commanding views over the Liverpool skyline and St George’s Hall, where my marriage was held last year (and most of the filming for ‘Fantastic Beasts and where to find them’ took place!)

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And of course, no article would be complete without mentioning ‘The Picton Reading room’ This is where classical truly meets modern and you feel as if you have been transported back in time and into a magical world of books. Due to my utter awe and respect for those using this place as a serious source of knowledge, I was loath to intrude and take photos, but I did manage a couple of very rushed shots (hence the poor quality), but would love to return when it is empty to snap away.

Now for less lofty pursuits and the recipe. The delicate flavours and divine aroma and sheer visual beauty of this fragrant curry are guaranteed to excite the senses – one of my all-time favourite ‘transition’ dishes ideal for spring when we are moving away from the strong flavours of autumn and winter, but not quite ready to embrace summer salads……..

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 Cod loin steaks cut into bite size portions
2 large or 4 medium scallops cut into 4 or 2
1 medium sweet potato cut into bite sized cubes
1 medium shallot finely chopped*
1 green chili finely chopped*
2 cm fresh ginger finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic crushed*
1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut*
1 tablespoon of rouille or concentrated fish sauce*
1 teaspoon of turmeric*
1 teaspoon of mild curry powder*
6 cardamom pods (split and husk discarded)*
The juice of one small lime*
1 tablespoon of coconut oil
1 can of coconut milk
Method
Blitz oil the * ingredients in a food processor and sauté gently in a little of the coconut oil for 1-2 minute
Add the sweet potatoes and cook for a further 3 – 4 minutes
Add the coconut milk and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until potatoes soft
Add the fish and scallops and cook for a further 5 – 6 minutes until fish cooked through

Serve with naan bread and a green salad

Out of interest Other interesting buildings in the city include the Piston tower in Wavertree, erected in 1884 as a memorial to Picton’s wife. Now standing on a traffic roundabout, this unusual building has a clock face on each of its four sides, four lamp posts at it’s base, and is topped by a lead cupola with a spire, and ‘The Lock up’ also in Wavertree, a two steory octagonal stone structure which was built to house short term prisoners in 1796, but Picton added a slate roof and a weathervane