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

 

QUIRCA d’ORCA AND FRESH PESTO PASTA WITH GREEN BEANS AND POTATO

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To bring my little Italian detour sadly to an end. I hesitate before revealing the name of this veritable little ‘Brigadoon’ of a village…..the added bonus being the journey to get there took us through some of the most stunning countryside in Tuscany

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My daughter, Kate, bought us a book about the loveliest ‘secret’ villages in Tuscany for Christmas last year and it is in this book that I stumbled across ‘Quirca d’Orca’ I must add that I am not too worried that I am going to introduce it mass tourism, as it took us three attempts to actually find it and that was with the GPS. It obviously evaded others also, as we spent about four hours in this lovely little hamlet, and only saw two other non residents’  (an American couple)

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The almost hidden entrance to the village

 

Sleepy little back streets, a plethora of medieval buildings (many 12th and 13th century) an Italian garden and ancient ruins. Add to this some gorgeous little restaurants and very friendly locals and you have the recipe for a perfect Tuscan Sunday afternoon.

 

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We ate in one of these little restaurants that boasted pasta made from its own organic flour from its own mill, and our very simple pasta dish took a full 25 minutes to prepare, and we, being French (well one of us French and the other indoctrinated!)  used to eating lunch MUCH earlier than the Italians, were the first to arrive.

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Our table for two!

 

I tried to emulate the dish back at the apartment (by using ‘fresh’ pasta from the local supermarket (I know this is a contradiction of terms…..)

The results were very good, but not in the same league………But here goes………

Ingredients
Serves 2

6 (3 if serving as a starter) ‘Fresh’ lasagne divided into four (place each sheet long size across the top and cut in half and half again)

A handful of fresh green beans

1 medium (small) waxy potato

1 tablespoon of fresh pesto (see below)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh basil leaves and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to garnish

Method

Cook the potato whole in boiling salted water for around 20 minutes until just cooked, remove from pan and leave to cool a little while cooking the pasta and green beans.

Cook the pasta and green beans together in boiling salted water for around 7 minutes until ‘al dente’, drain and separate the pasta from the beans and toss the pasta in the fresh pesto (you can of course use shop bought, but it is so simple to make your own, trust me!) mixed with half of the olive oil to ‘loosen’ the mixture a little.

Slice the cooled potato and gently toss this along with the green beans into the pasta.

Drizzle with the remainder of the olive oil and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Italy on a plate!

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For the pesto

50 gm of pine nuts

50 gm of freshly grated parmesan cheese

A large bunch of fresh basil

1 large clove of garlic

3 tablespoons of olive oil + extra for storage

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

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Method

Lightly toast the pine nuts and leave to cool

Put the cooled pine nuts, parmesan and basil in a food processor and blend for 20 seconds son the slowest speed

Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, checking the consistency

Add a little salt and pepper to taste

What you do not use, can be stored in the fridge in a sealed jar, covered in a little extra oil and kept up to two weeks. To make a lighter sauce for pasta, the pesto can be mixed with crème fraiche, to give a milder flavour and a more fluid consistency.

 

ORVIETO AND TIANS DE LEGUMES

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A quick note to any new followers who may be confused by my little sojourn into Italy. This is an annual event that adds a little extra twist to my regular ‘Franglais’ posts, but please come on the little detour with me, especially if you love Tuscany as much as I do…

Orvieto was the surprise little gem that we ‘discovered’ when we ventured south over the border into Umbria. I was struck by how dramatically the countryside differed from the sparse, yellow ochre rolling hills, and ice-cream cone poplars of Tuscany, to a greener, lusher landscape of vineyards, sunflowers and olive groves, and less angular trees.

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Gorgeous medieval Orvieto!

 

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Tourists were thin on the ground and we only saw one very small group of Americans (about 6-8) with a private Italian guide and another very small group of Japanese (less than 20) in and around the cathedral.

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We almost had the place to ourselves!

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The cathedral is an impressive building with distinctive grey and white striped brick sides and back and an intricate front façade of mosaics, bass reliefs, spires and sculptures, bronze doors and a stained glass window, but it is the interior that blows you away. Notably the ‘Cappella Nova’. A huge 15th century ceiling fresco, which, in my opinion, rivals the Sistine Chapel, depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation (the coming of and reign of the Antichrist, and the Judgement) My photos just do not do it justice.

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Having less tourists there was a very relaxed, unhurried, friendly and welcoming atmosphere of a small village, while some lovely buildings to rival larger towns.

Two unimpressed locals!

When I asked Monsieur le Frog which had been his favourite day, rather than give his usual Gallic shrug and say ‘Je ne sais pas’ he instantly said ‘maybe’ Oriveto……….he is French after all………

I chose Tians de Legumes to team with Orvieto as, even though it is a French Provincal dish, I did make it with the tomatoes, courgettes and aubergine from the garden at Cetona, and I think that the rustic red appearance of the dish compliments the town (I am the woman who matched ‘chick pea curry’ with the ‘Paris Catacombs’ as I thought the chick peas resembled the skulls!)

A Tian is traditionally made with ‘rondelles’ of tomato, courgette and aubergine stacked against each other (upright), but as I was only making a very small one for 2 people and did not have my usual earthenware dish, I stacked my vegetables flat side up as in a hotpot. As it is ‘country food’ I usually use whatever I have to hand, and on this occasion I also used a potato. I have also seen recipes using red peppers.

Ingredients Serves 2 with some left over for lunch the next day! 1 medium aubergine1/4” thickness

1 large courgette (If you can get yellow courgettes rather than green ones, these are much nicer in my opinion) slied ¼” thickness

1 medium waxy potato sliced ¼” thickness

2 large beef tomatoes sliced ¼” thickness

1 small shallot

3 cloves of garlic

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, teaspoon of dried thyme

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese or mozzarella (optional)

Method

Prepare the dish by rubbing it with butter and garlic and sprinkle with the finely chopped shallot

Traditionally arrange the vegetables standing upright in rows if using a lasagne dish or circles if using a round dish (as explained mine is a break from tradition as I was cooking it in my little Italian kitchen, so this is the Lindy’s ‘Franco / Italian’ version!)

Interspace the vegetables with some fine slices of garlic (between the potato and aubergine is a good place)

Sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan (or equivalent) cheese, cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for around one and a half hours until all the vegetables are soft

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Remove the foil for 10-15 minutes and turn up the heat a little to slightly brown the top (mine was browned a little too much – but I was not used to using a gas oven)

Allow to stand for 3-5 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle. Alternatively this is also delicious cold as a relish or salad.

Serve as an accompaniment to meat (goes really well with chicken) or serve as a veggie starter.

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This dish is even better the next day and will keep for two days in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar Plum Parcels and The Fairy Glenn

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This post has been a long time coming. It was in fact planned to run consecutively after my last, but the thunderbolt that is ‘Brexit’ hit us and sent me into a free fall, that to be honest I have not yet recovered from and won’t be discussing it on hear at the moment as it is just too raw, so please respect this and don’t try to draw me into comments or arguments.
Also other recent events in Europe left me feeling that things needed to be said, but again, to disturbed too actually say anything.
My views, if anyone is interested, have been expressed perfectly by ‘Osyth’ on her wonderful blog ‘Half Baked in Paradise’, which is well worth checking out even if you are not interested in my views………..

Back to this post which provides a little bit of magic and much needed escapism from the world and its problems into ‘fairyland’.
The Fairy Glenn or Fairy Village, can be found (if you look very carefully) In the lovely’ Vale Park’ in ‘New Brighton’ (for more on this delightful family resort a beach pebbles throw from Liverpool) then look at my previous post, ‘New Brighton and Caramelised Mango’.

‘Fairy houses’ have been constructed from driftwood washed up on the excellent beach and stones and pebbles, and children have been encouraged to make their own using dolls and trinkets and ‘treasures’. Some of the results are a little bizarre, must most are magical and I have just posted photographs of a small selection to give you an idea.

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Who lives in a house like this

Or these

Plums, particularly sugar plums, were made famous by a fairy in Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ and this has a particular resonance with my childhood as I spent most of my early years pouring over pictures of ballerinas and trying to mimic their poses in front of the huge mirror in the fire place in my bedroom, dreaming of one day floating like a fairy across the stage in an ethereal bell shaped ballet dress, a dream which was destined never to realised as I was physically and temperamentally  more suited to hammering it out in my red tap shoes………

Plums are now just coming into season – though still a bit hard and sharp for eating raw in my opinion, so I have opted cook them in a deceivingly simple dessert.
So put a little magic in to meal times and try my ‘Sugar Plum Fairy Parcels’………………………..

 

Ingredients

1 medium / large ‘firm’ plum (prune) of any colour or variety per person

 
Ready-made puff (pate feuilletee) pastry cut into squares large enough to wrap each plum

30g powdered almonds (poudre d’amandes)

3 dessertspoons of castor sugar (3 cuillere a soupe de sucre en poudre)
(I used Madagascan vanilla sugar for extra flavour and these quantities were plenty for 6 parcels)

A knob of butter per plum

Beaten egg yolk to glaze the pastry

Method

Mix the powdered almonds and sugar

Scoop out the stone from the plum and fill the cavity with the almond / sugar mixture

Top with a knob of butter

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Place in the centre of a pastry square and fold up the edges, squeezing together with the tips of your fingers

Brush with the beaten egg yolk and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for around 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the plum juice bubbling

Sprinkle with a fairy dusting of sugar while still hot

Serve cold or warm (not hot) with a little crème fraiche

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Lindy’s mango Chutney and New Brighton

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Mangoes are still in season, but some are going a little ‘ripe’ perfect for making Mango chutney to serve with some nice barbeque’d meats.

The weather has been perfect for ‘al fresco’ eating here in Liverpool, but sadly not so in Paris where the river Seine has burst its banks and the lovely island near to my home, where I love to sit and read, is also submerged.

I, however have been basking in the lovely sunshine in Liverpool while my new husband has been battling wind and rain in Paris.

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One of my fondest memories as a child was taking the train to New Brighton with my father to paddle in the sea and explore the many rock pools
New Brighton is Liverpool’s answer to ‘The riviera’! It is a lovely family resort with a promenade that stretches for 3.5 kilometers, making it the longest in the United Kingdom!
The prom is wheelchair, cycle and doggy friendly (there is even a special section of the beach for our four legged friends!)
There is a plethora of traditional Tea Rooms, wonderful Fish and Chip cafe’s and traditional British pubs.

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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

There is a ‘pirate ship’, The black Pearl on the beach where children of all ages come dressed in their best eye patches and stripey T-shirts to ‘shiver their timbers’ on the beach.(more about my own ‘pirate’ connections coming soon) And a lovely park with a ‘Fairy Glen’ with delightful ‘fairy tree houses’ to discover (again, post to follow)

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‘The Black Pearl

Actually since beginning writing this post, as I have been so busy with other things, the weather has now took a turn for the worse – so I am going to serve my next mango chutney with a nice hot curry!

Ingredients

2 fresh mangoes cut into cm chunks

100gm unrefined brown sugar

100 ml white wine vinegar (I use Maille vinaigre de Chardonnay as it is less sharp)

1 medium shallot very finely chopped

2 cm of fresh ginger very finely chopped, or grated

1 small green chilli very finely chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

1 level teaspoon of cumin

A good pinch of fennel seeds

A good pinch of sea salt

The juice and zest of 1 small lime

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the wine vinegar over a low heat stirring all the time

Add the mango, shallot, ginger, garlic, chili, fennel seeds, lime zest, cumin and salt

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Simmer over a low – medium heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add the lime juice and simmer for a further 15 minutes or until a loose ‘jam’ consistency

Pour into a preserve jar, seal and allow to cool

This chutney will last for up to a year unopened – once opened store in the fridge and eat within three weeks

The aroma when this is cooking is torturous – it is spicy and fragrant and you just want to dig your spoon in – but watch out you could burn your tongue – patience is a virtue…

This chutney is perfect with grilled summer meats, with poppadoms as a prelude to a curry, with cold meats and cheeses and really livens up a cheese or cold meat sandwich.
It is also perfect for giving as a gift

A bientot
Lindy