Monday 29 December 2014

Roses of 2014

This has been the year when I started to love roses, and two roses in particular have stood out for us. I still consider blue roses to be monsters in their zombie-flesh colours, and  I still haven't time for either scentless roses or fancy orchids. But these two varieties were something special.

This is the second year we've been to Chédigny, the village where the rose is queen, and almost every house has its carefully labelled plants. But it's the first year that we have been to the Chédigny Rose Festival, at the beginning of June, where in spite of all the visitors you can see the roses. Here we discovered Jeanne de Chédigny, a rambling rose named in honour of one of the most respected members of the community, Jeanne Louault. This lady was named as "one of the righteous among the Nations"  alongside her late husband Bernard, and their names were inscribed on the Hill of Remembrance at Yad Vashem in Israel for their courage in protecting two German-Jewish teenage boys in occupied France in 1940. The two boys,  Franz (Francois) and Ernst (Ernest) worked on the Louault family farm for eighteen months, hidden in plain sight. Then someone must have denounced them. When a squad in a German army lorry came to arrest them, Ernst was caught but escaped, and Franz got clean away. The brothers joined the Resistance. When Jeanne's name was suggested for a rose dedicated to Chédigny, the fact that her son was mayor at the time was just a happy coincidence.

Rose "Jeanne de Chédigny"

As for Jeanne de Chédigny the rose, « elle est très simple, avec beaucoup de fleurs, de couleur rose pale, entre le rose et le blanc, comme des fleurs d'églantier », a very simple rose, with a lot of flowers, pale pink in colour, between pink and white, like wild rose flowers. It has plenty of perfume, and scrambles happily over a line of posts at the entrance to the village.

The other rose, appropriately enough, is "Peace". This was blooming in the front garden just over a week ago. We inherited this bush when we bought the house and we have no idea how old it is. Knowing that cold and wet weather was forecast, we picked the last two buds and put them in a vase in the kitchen. This is the result.


And a peaceful New Year to one and all

Wednesday 17 December 2014


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the table.... something new comes out and bites you. The latest idea to give a whole new meaning to the term "cheese board" was highlighted in Phillippe Samzun's article "Cheese? It's childs play!" in La Nouvelle République of 15 December 2014. Here's what he said.

A cheese maker from Fondettes has created a board game dedicated to the cheeses of France. A sort of Monopoly in soft cheese for children and adults.

Play and learn! Photograph - La Nouvelle République

Charles de Gaulle used to say that a country possessing 365 different sorts of cheese was by  its very nature ungovernable. Today you can find 1,200 ... how well do you think President Hollande can get away with it?

Cheeses are the speciality of Jean-Louis Bulté. This chap lives in St Maure - which places him already in the lap of destiny - and he runs three creameries at Fondettes, Bléré and Loches. (*) Creameries which, from now on, will be selling a home made board game dedicated "to this jewel in the crown of our national heritage".

In the matter of board games, his wife got there before him. "She's mad about history, and she created Histofoly, and it's now sold at the Chateaux of Chenonceau and Amboise. JTS, a games producer in Joué-les-Tours, encouraged us to do it again."

It must be said that, in this matter, there is what to say and what to do. Expert in AOP (**),  Jean-Louis Bulté is unstoppable on the subject of cheeses with a powdery crust, pressed cheeses cooked and uncooked, soft cheeses with a washed crust, blue cheese, goat cheese and the "petits laits" name given uniquely to Corsican cheeses. The proliferation of brands is a result of the work put in by the dairy industry to try to soften the blows of the economic difficulties they are encountering. This board game results from the same sort of logic.

"It's a game and educational at the same time. The principle is simple. You have to bring together, on one card, a whole family of cheese. The first to have filled their plate is the winner."

Getting there, but not a winner yet.
 Amazingly, the only cheese picture in my photo library -
a St Maure (left)  and a Pouligny soft goats cheese,
both from our neighbours at Pré,
served with love at La Promenade, Le Petit Pressigny in August 2012.
The hole in the St Maure is for the traditional straw.

In total, there are 640 questions, some of which are designed for children, colour cubes, puzzles, stories, with the possibility at the end of the day of becoming unbeatable on the subject of the cheesemaking, maturing, salting processes; an expert in raw milk; a know-it-all about PDOs (***). Aside from which, a player might just end up the possessor of a degree of competence running France!

* La balade des fromages, 6, rue du Général-de-Gaulle, Bléré. La passion des fromages, 9 rue de la République, Fondettes, La crémerie du Château, rue Picois à Loches. 
** Appellation d'origine protégée.
*** Protected Designation of Origin.

The game is for sale for 19.90 € in the three shops.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Energy weapons

Until last month I had never made flapjacks. My past experience was of something dry, gritty and overly sweet. Imagine! Then I tried Gaynor's flapjacks, and they were quite a revelation. What on earth had I been missing? Gluten free, too.

I started with the recipe for "Basic Flapjacks" in the BBC Good Food "Cakes & Bakes".

You start with the basic ingredients:
175g/6 oz butter, cut into pieces
140g/5oz golden syrup
50g/2oz light soft brown (muscovado) sugar
250g/9oz porridge oats
Now that sounds like it might be a little bland, and more than a little rich. Some dried fruit, nuts...
I reckon you could go up to 250 grammes more of dry ingredients without your flapjacks falling apart through stretching the "glue" too far. They're a little crumbly, but that's flapjacks.

Sultana, apricot, walnut and pumpkin seed flapjack
You could try a combination of
  • walnuts - broken into pieces and lightly toasted in a dry frying pan until crunchy
  • golden or dark raisins - halved if they're very big
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sultanas or currants
  • ready-to-eat dried apricots, quartered
  • ready-to-eat dried figs, quartered
  • pistachios, roughly chopped
  • stem ginger, roughly chopped
  • glacé cherries, quartered ....
You can buy most of these, and the oats, from the Bio Co-op, serve-yourself from dispensers into a paper bag, an ecologically friendly distribution method and good value for money. Not the stem ginger, though they may have it elsewhere.

Line a 23 cm/9 inch square baking tin with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180°c /170°c fan assisted / gas mark 4.

Put the butter, golden syrup and sugar into a medium saucepan (I weigh them into a pan, and take away the weight of the spoon from the weight of the syrup-plus-spoon). Heat gently, stirring from time to time, until the butter is melted, then stir vigorously until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats. Keep stirring until all the liquid is mixed in and all the oats are coated in butter. Add the additional ingredients and stir again to mix thoroughly.

Spread the mixture across the bottom of the tin, pressing it firmly down and into the corners and edges with the back of a spoon or spatula, and smoothe the surface. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes, then cover the mixture with another sheet of greaseproof and press down firmly with a flat object or roll with a cylindrical jam jar or something like a child's rolling pin. If you can make up a 23cm/9in square wooden stamp for this purpose, so much the better.

Mark the surface into squares or bars with the back of a knife or a spatula while still warm. Allow to cool completely. in the tin. Cut along the marked lines and break out the individual flapjacks.

Store in an airtight tin or Tupperware box, away from mice, particularly the two-legged variety.
Extra crunchy

Friday 5 December 2014


Our chickens are settling in, apart from Shirley, who left us to become Big Daddy. She/he was exchanged for Blanche Dubois, who is definitely female (until she starts crowing).

Here is Blanche between the two survivors of the first tranche. That's Marion on the left, yes, the one with the developing crest and wattles. Marion bullies the others somewhat, and always gets to the food bowl and the snacks first. They adore chickweed, and their next favourite is the skin of a roast pumpkin.

Three little girls from school are we
 Here comes Alice. She gives Marion as good as she gets.

Werk definitely cluck cluck werk.

And this is Marion.

Cock-a-doodle Whoops...

Sorry, Marion Morrison who has turned into John Wayne, you're coq au vin, when you've put a bit of weight on. I've just seen an excellent recipe...