Thursday, 30 June 2011

A sad day...tres triste...

Madam Paris passed away this morning...I will miss her and our wee village in France will never be the same for me...Rest in peace my dear friend!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mauro's Blog!

You Make a Living from What You Get - But You Make a Life from What You Give



Never feed your Tom Tom before you travel, and especially not fromage the night before, because that is when the nightmares begin.  Five hours into our journey heading towards the English Channel, the Tom decided we were in Portugal and despite frantic whispers of Estoril (it's vaguely in the right direction) peeped out completely at Mulhouse.  Result:  a beautiful cross-country drive to Champagne watching the sun set over the cornfields with a cloak of sign hiding darkness settling in all around us.

We despondently arrived at Aupres De L'Eglise at 22.00, a full six hours later than our ETA, envisaging a night in the car eating the melted remains of a kit-kat.  The gate, however, stood optimistically open and lights and doors went into action on our arrival.

Crossing the threshold away from certain death (mine) we stepped into a visual feast.  Belying its typical French exterior, the Aupres De L'Eglise bears testament to its owners' combined talents and their characters - charming, warm, eclectic, chic and harmonious, and above all comfortable and welcoming.

Despite the hour we sat down to a delicious Confit of Duck - made with homegrown cherries - mashed potato and french beans accompanied by glasses of a local champagne and swiftly followed by a satisfyingly tart rhubarb tartine topped with creme fraiche.  Then up the uneven foot worn wooden stairs to soft beds with perfect duvets allowing us to sink into dormouse oblivion.

In the morning, Glenis had prepared the breakfast that would see us through to Hilfield, and amidst talk about costume design - her chosen profession - she gave us a tour of their beautiful garden, whilst the Beetle bounced his heart out on the trampoline.

Anyone who is travelling through France or visiting Champagne should consider staying here.  It is excellent value - our one night stay, with two rooms, an anti-camera filled with books, and a bathroom overlooking the church, two three course meals with a bottle of champagne and some white wine + the best breakfast this side of La Manche came to Euro 170.  Glenis and Michael are kind, thoughtful and intelligent hosts with that glimpse of humor that comes from not being French (both are from New Zealand)  But hurry, the word is out in Paris and its best to book early to avoid disappointment.


2 Rue de l'Eglise
Tel: +44 7808905233

[Price in Euros]
Double room for 2 with Breakfast...€70
Family room for 4 with Breakfast...€100
Additional foldout beds available for children with Breakfast...€15
Cots and Highchairs available at no extra charge
Evening meals with wine including a champagne aperitif...€30 per adult

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cherries season is here!! /Cerise season est ici!!

 Such a gorgeous fruit and so prized by those who have access to a tree or three [or 7 in our case] each year. The season is short and labour intensive with plenty of tree climbing, precarious picking, washing, sorting and stoning and bagging to be done
...some for jam and some frozen for cherry sauce to be served with Confit de Canard [Duck Confit]
and some for the infamous pudding Cherry Clafoutis
...and some to be simply preserved in a lemony sugar syrup served at breakfast and eaten with velvety greek yogurt...
 Labour intense but worth it!!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cutting the Boxus / Coupe le boxus!!

Its that time of the year again when the new growth on the box has turned a darker shade of green and the shaggy locks must go! It is not a task we take on easily as it is messy and time consuming BUT they look so great after all is is very satisfying...
 By chance a few days ago I pulled out the electric hedge trimmer and blew off the dust...I brought it a few years ago hoping to make the box trimming task a little easier but abandoned it after I cut through two extension cords!!
Mike now has embraced the tool and off he went...I am a very happy women as I have been doing it all by hand for the last few years and it is very very hard to keep on top of it with all the other madness that goes on in this here we are...all trimmed, slicked back and styled once again!!
These guys are going to have to wait till after the weekend!
By the by we had some very cool last minute Italian guests last night who sip, taste, photograph and write about food and wine....lucky them...

Check out their is gorgeous! They may even feature us at some point as the camera was clicking....will let you know...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Happy Birthday Michael! / Bon Anniversaire Michael!

Last night we went to our great friends Michael and Vero's for dinner to catch up and celebrate Michael birthday....Liliana decorated the cake and off we went in the 2CV...with Liliana insisting upon holding the cake all the way on her lap...
As we arrived there was a hive of activity as Michel and Olivier were trying to assemble the new BBQ which was still in a number of bits...lots of chat and a bit of madness later the beast was complete and the coals were fired up...
As we chatted Michel showed me three mushrooms he had growing on the lawn...
When I asked if they were edible he explained that they looked exactly the same as the edible 'bolet champignon' [mushroom] but in disguise...when you broke into these 'bolet' they were blue and highly 'toxic' !
Amazing!! So not to be harvested but very interesting snippet for someone who is very ignorant about fungi! Back to the champagne....
Unlike in the Southern Hemisphere the men in France tend to shy away from the heat of the BBQ and the women take over...Vero being no exception so Mike was again on hand to turn the meat while Michel and Olivier sampled the champagne and aperitifs!
Born in Epernay but of Italian descent Michel owns a marble business and Anne Marie is his cousin so we love the mix of French and Italian customs that are brought to the table when we visit...gorgeous saucisson, huge Italian olives, Vintage Huot Champagne and Italian reds from Montepulciano...Olivier and Anne Marie are back living in Champagne after many years working in Paris...they have taken over the family business and seem to be loving their change of life...

Needless to say the food was fantastic....sausages, chicken, tuna all served with a simple rice and tomato salad....
BUT I was amused to see Vero serve the dreaded Andouillette sausage which has its origins in Troyes, a Champagne City, and is often the source of great curiosity for our guests...those that visit Troyes are often drawn into 'Plat De Jour' of the local sausage naively expecting a lovely herb pork sausage....but alas out comes the foul smelling grotesque looking Andouillette in all its glory...Mike often describes how it explodes 'like a clock' when you cut into it with all manor of weird shaped pieces of unidentifiable springlike bits jumping out as you cut...Although we appreciate the tradition of this local speciality we have not ever been fans and have actively warned our guests to be wary unless they are indeed curious meat lovers.
The table was divided 50/50 on the merits or otherwise of these over sized gross looking and smelling beasts. I cannot repeat Anne Marie's description and Olivier was completely in love with it... I have never eaten it at a restaurant or prepared it in my own home SO after Mike tucked in and went back for seconds, I decided to at least was truly the most disgusting thing I have eaten...I am with Anne Marie all the way...a lot of humour later, at my expense, and we moved on to the tuna steaks with Bearnaise sauce!! Much more to my liking but I am glad I have tried it so my guests can now benefit from my personal left I think....
Candles to blow, Chocolate Birthday cake and the Italian dessert wine Vin Santo to sip and a drive home with an amazingly dramatic sky to finish the most enjoyable evening with friends.....
For those who wish to know more I have added the history below...

Andouillette de Troyes Sausage

The rich andouillette de Troyes is a traditional pork product from the Champagne Ardenne region, highly appreciated throughout the country for its gustative qualities. This typical gourmet French dish accounts for the flavourful Champagne food and gastronomy, especially the authentic "Andouillette AAAAA" which is considered to be a benchmark in terms of chitterlings sausage in France.

The traditional Troyes andouillette is made out from quality pork products - large intestines and stomachs - attentively selected. The original recipe dates back to the Middle Ages according to the Champagne legends.

The delightful - and distinctive! - taste of the andouillette results from cutting the chitterlings lenghtwise first, and seasoning these thin stripes with onions, herbs, salt and black pepper.
The next step is to wrap the mixture with pork bowels and slowly cook these typical French sausages in a court-bouillon stock for 5 hours.

According to the Champagne Ardenne porkbutchers - or charcutiers - this meticulous recette gives the andouillette de Troyes its sharp taste and delicate texture.
Traditional Andouillette de Troyes

This particular chitterlings sausage from the Champagne region originates in very remote times. The andouillette may have first occured in the 9th century, for King Louis II's banquet.

But the most interesting anecdote about the Troyes speciality dates back to 1560, when the Royal Army's soldiers were looking for andouillettes and pork sausages in the town, whilst they were supposed to fight the Champagne army! This may explain why the andouillettes de Troyes have been known as French gourmet products throughout the world, making the pride of Champagne Ardenne's inhabitants.
A French association of porkbutchers was created around 1970 in order to promote but also protect the traditional sausage from Troyes.
Initiated by 5 meat lovers and connoisseurs, this Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (Friendly Association of Authentic Andouillette Lovers) widely known as "A.A.A.A.A
The delicious "Aandouillette AAAAA" - widely served in French restaurants - received its name from this friendly association.
It means that such dishes have been approved by the AAAAA association as they respect the criteria of producing and cooking.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

It's been a while.....

Just finishing the clean up after another dinner served...has been a very very hot day and late this afternoon all of our guests had come back to rest for a while as it was too hot to try and do anything but sit, read and sleep...

Inspired by the heat and an overripe gorgeously juicy melon in the bowl I made my first ever melon sorbet! Dead easy and so delicious in the heat..I served out 4 guests portions then ate the rest myself as an attempt to wain the heat of the was delicious and a welcome additional course for the guests who were sweltering in the menage after a large plate of salmon....AND I got to put the new ice cream maker that I brought Mike to good of those gifts you buy for your nearest and dearest because YOU really want it!!!

I have had some fun experimenting with different ice cream recipes. Now I have a MACHINE! the recipes all jump wholesale out of every cookbook and must be tried and latest refind in my cookbook shelf is 'The Cook and the Gardener' which is just fabulous. I must admit when it got Radio 4 'Book of the Year' I brought it and dipped in and out but am only now starting to really USE it. In it is a recipe for 'Thyme Infused Ice Cream' which must be tried at least once...I served it with huge dessert oranges sliced and cooked slightly in a champagne and honey syrup...the guests...2 teachers from Salisbury....assured me it was divine and when tried it was an unusual but pleasing idea and the flavour was surprisingly and alluring....not an everyday but fun when you can every now and then...
 I have had a rest from blogging of late but not much of a rest on any other has been a mad month with guests and family coming and going and life full of general business...
The weekend was spent with a lovely Parisian couple who rented the whole house with close friends to celebrate young Ruth's 30th birthday...originating from Australia and now immersed in life in Paris the 16 strong dinner party was a mixed bag of both nations...all very appreciative of the small touches that we made to the house to mark Ruth's special birthday weekend. Dinner was a BBQ of grand portions with no less than four desserts to finish off the night...A chocolate birthday cake, a raspberry chocolate torte, a cherry pie and a baked cheesecake....the Cherry pie was inspired by our lovely older Texan guests who came, ate, entertained and amused us for 3 nights last week...such  energetic enthusiastic folk with interesting lives and fabulous turns of phrase!! The leftover cheesecake was taken next door by Ruth at the end of the night in the wee hours of the morning with the throwaway comment...'who needs the bread lady when you have cheesecake for breakfast!'
Sunday dawned and off to the 'brocante' we all went....a ritualistic summer habit of the French and tourists alike...basically the whole of the chosen village empties it loft and associated storage holdalls onto the street in front of their house and sell everything and anything to whomever cruises this generally means some of the most obscure items known to man...these items are not always tasteful, valuable or worthy of a spot on the table and sometimes so fabulously awful that it can be a great source of amusement for favourite, which I have seen on numerous occasions in various villages dotted around Champagne, is the wooden cheeseboard with a deer hoof fixed to the centre as a handle...needless to say that the French country folk love to hunt shoot and kill things BUT this surely creates a bit of a health hazard especially when the fur starts molting...and then to think about putting cheese at the base of this amputated animal body part and use it as a finale to an evening meal leaves me a little foxed! As did someone trying to sell a piglet last weekend in Montmort Lucy!
BUT we also pick up some real treasures and it is a pastime that can become are to be had if you have a good eye and a little knowledge...projects collected, lovely linen, china and assorted bits of madness to decorate your house and is part of the charm of our house that it is full of the treasures found from the off casts of others...dealers often show with the prices higher but the selection of goods on display of a higher quality learn to spot them and negotiate accordingly...if there is something that you really love!
And the day would not be complete without stopping at the BBQ where the local 'pompiers' [fireman] or community group of some description cooks up 'frites' and sausages and stuffs them into a baguette and calls it 'an American'! Champagne in bleeders, cans of coke and homemade cakes and tarts and lunch is sorted! The kids all enjoy the madness of making a little money go a long way and come home with various stuff that just must be had...Liliana's collection of 50 centimes Barbies is quite impressive!