Monday, 31 January 2011

Soap making / De fabrication de savon

Spent a fascinating day yesterday making my first ever soap...Oh I have had a plan for ages to do this but have been scared off by the 'chemistry' of it all. The more you read the more complicated it seemed BUT low and behold it was actually fairly painless...having the assistance of my friend who happens to be a real life Chemist and who works locally for Johnson and Johnson having also worked for L'Oreal probably had something to do with my sudden confidence to start mixing it with the Sodium Hydroxide! Upon the advice of my trained expert we donned some very attractive throwaway lab coats, protective eye wear and went to it mixing and melting looking right royally fashionable!! Only halting briefly by the lack of thermometers when an accurate temperature reading was required we managed to reach 'trace' with our mix of lovely coconut butter and oil and create the first stage of soap...into the mold and wrapped in a towel and left overnight to harden. A glass of NZ Riesling to celebrate the moment and a sunny afternoons work complete. Today we managed eventually to separate the mold and we now have a large creamy slab of soap waiting to be cut, stamped and left for a month till we can then test its gorgeous fragrance and bubbles...What a hoot and so easy really. They say that soap making can be addictive and I can see that, like cooking, it will be fun to experiment further...just a shame you have to wait for a month to sample!
Will keep you posted! Meanwhile here is the new look for Paris Fashion Week from Oyes!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Takeaway Pizza! / 'Pizza Emporter'

The only takeaway meal we can get delivered to us is Pizza. We are fifteen kms from the nearest village yet they are happy to hop on their moped and drive all the way with a twenty euro purchase of pizza for the kids on the rare occasion that we are off out and our teenage daughter volunteers to babysit her sister and the neighbour's children. Often these nights out are only a 3 min walk down the road to an 'adult' dinner with friends but the whole 'home delivery pizza and movie' add an air of excitement for the children's evening in. It is a rare event in our house where we cook almost everything from scratch so the children embrace the chance to order in. Amusingly in France, along with all of the basic standard toppings, the menu offers you the choice of 'magret' [duck], escargot [snails], Gesier [duck gizzards!], St-Jacques[scallops], nutella and blue cheese! A long way from my childhood Friday night 'Fish and Chips' in NZ.

In London we had every takeaway known to man at our fingertips but our favourite Friday night activity was to get together with the neighbour's two doors down and make our own pizza on a rolling basis as we all came in from the city and our various days at school, film sets or photography studios...the cook was schedule dependent and as all four adults were keen and capable it became more like a pizza cook off with all manner of toppings being explored and experimented with whilst wine was sipped, jokes shared and stories told. Everyone got a turn to choose and share and we watched our then teenage son's palate grow from the 'margarita' to 'hot pepperoni' reflecting his growing confidence to try new and interesting things. In response to the fond memories of those evenings we have, after we all moved away from London, recreated the 'Friday night Pizza's' in France whilst our old neighbour's were visiting...with the new addition of their two young children. Great times revisited.

Among the Christmas DVD's this year was Rick Stein's 'French Odyssey' which follows his barge tour of France from Bordeaux in the North to Marseille in the South sampling, cooking and market shopping all the way. With a husband who loves the idea of a barge holiday it is great escapist viewing in the dead of winter. To see the fresh produce being created in various small riverside villages into regional French fare...Cassoulet, Toulouse sausages, Duck Confit, baked Mont d'Or cheese and the dreaded Steak Tartare.  Rick makes it all look deliciously easy and takes the mystery out of these signature French dishes and more. Having lived with the cookbook from the series for a few years seeing the visuals has rekindled my interest in revisiting these recipes.

Pizza was on the menu again at our house last night by default as I halved the dough made as a base for Rick Stein's 'Pissaladeire' to create a meal that a six year old would enjoy. It was also an attempt to entertain her in the kitchen. Dressed in her chef's hat and apron she enthusiastically spread tomato paste, grated cheese and sprinkled 'lardons'.
The 'Pissaladiere' is simply a Nicoise olive, anchovy and onion tart made with a simple pizza type base. The onions are cooked slowly with a bouquet garni of fresh herbs till they are sweet and soft then spread on the base of the tart after a spread of anchovy paste. The tart is then laid with slithers of anchovies and olives in a symmetrical fashion. I made this dish with an eye to an easy prepare ahead B and B entree served with a simple basil and tomato salad. It proved delicious with the combination of sweet onions and salty anchovies just perfect. And the bonus was that the base recipe also makes a great pizza!

Friday, 21 January 2011

The 'White Sleeper' Loaf / Le Pain 'Blanc Sommiel'

After reading an inspiring article, complete with recipes and glossy pics, about a film making couple who started to bake bread at home and then managed to make a business out of their 'Handmade Bread Bakery Coop'. I decided to give it a go. Our lovely Kiwi guest and Devon Best B and B owner who had stayed the week before makes his own bread for toast and had also encouraged me do the same. I have made bread in the past but this new recipe for a loaf that looked and tasted just 'like a brought one' pushed me into it purely on an aesthetic basis. I was tired of the bread maker loaves which were always so uniform, so inorganic looking. So I set too...made the dough with the simple ingredients flour, yeast, salt and water and then left it on the heated concrete kitchen floor beside the wetback stove and went to bed. This 'Sleeper' loaf needs 10 - 16 hrs to rise so does it while you snooze. After a fairly rough nights sleep with a 6 year old with a high temperature sharing our bed I rose to find the dough had risen so much that it had maxed the bowl and lifted the 'gladwrap' off the top. I then turned it onto a floury board cut it in two and formed 2 nicely shaped loaves, sprinkled them with flour, slashed the top and left them in the warm for another couple of hours to rise again...baked in time for lunch with a Cream of Celeriac soup...fantastic. It could not have been easier.
In London I would have happily purchased the same gorgeous looking loaf from a specialist baker on Chiswick High Road and thought it infeasible that I would have the skills, time or energy to do the same. Now I am a convert and intend honing the bread making skills on my family then make bread for B and B guests to eat toasted for breakfast or with soups and pates for the evening meal. The 'malade' six year old rated it as the 'best ever' bread she has tasted as she enjoyed her warm slices with the ever present Vegemite. She soon had us selling it in our own Bread Van around the villages of Champagne...this would be a bit of a 'coals to Newcastle' situation for the French who do not do either 'toast' or homemade bread but her entrepreneurial spirit made for an interesting discussion around the lunch table!

So here is my first loaf...
Thanks to those at The Handmade Bakery...check them out...

Monday, 17 January 2011

'Living the Dream' : 'de Vivre le Rêve'

Our home in Champagne 'Aupres de l'eglise'
Well I finally feel like I have started the year after yesterday spending a day in the garden in the sun under blue skies. It is enlightening and uplifting to see new bright green shoots emerging on the vines and herbs and know that spring is not so far away.... While trimming, clipping, digging in compost and raking leaves we were able to spend time pondering the new season in the garden with an eye to growing food for the table to share our home grown fruit and vegetables with our guests in the warmer months. It was a cold snowy icy end to 2010 and has been hard to motivate one into the great outdoors apart from gathering wood and doing the essential 'stupid market' shops for food and the obvious walks to the bus stop to catch the 'car'.  Having said that we saw the New Year in with a group of friends and Kiwi guests listening to the guitar around the BBQ!!
 This is my first post and as the year develops and the days get longer I hope to share some stories and madness about rural France while we go about our daily life or as our guests call it 'live the dream'....for five years we have been renovating our barn to create a family home in the deep countryside in Champagne. So after years of builders fatigue that is not a new adventure but last year we decided to do B and B and that has been a real is like 'traveling without leaving home' as a  guests of all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities arrive on your doorstep to be wined, dined and bedded in our home. Last year was surprisingly busy and we loved every minute of it! This year we have so many returning guests who we now see as old friends booking frantically as they all plan for the holidays whilst sitting warm inside on a chilly January evening. We look forward to seeing everyone again...seeing how the kids have grown and catching up on their lives over the last 12 months.

Today we all slept in meaning the school run for our 14 year old daughter was well behind time and the whole day started in a flurry...tonight we have guests from the U.K. who also run a B and B so time to wake up the house, make the beds and cook the supper. We are looking forward to sharing a leg of NZ lamb, a glass of champagne and some stories and ideas with them both....A NZ night for another Kiwi ex pat 'living the dream' in a different way on the beautiful coast of Devon looking out over the sea...something we miss always...I may even make a pavlova with kiwifruit for dessert...any excuse...