winter

An introspective last three days of 2009.

We have about three days left for remembering the old year and planning for the new year. Dreaming up new dreams. Setting new heights. Asking simple questions. Struggling with honest answers.

Part of dreaming new dreams and setting new goals, is a desire to give back more to life than receiving. Looking back on this year, I’ve seen our human soiety grasped in the claws of spending. We were/are admired for our talents. For our beautiful homes. And our beautiful blogs. For our wonderful recipes. Our creativity. We have friends across the globe, praising us for our kindness, gentleness, goodness. It has driven me to ask some simple questions during this time.  A time  which inspires real hope and renewal. Change. Growth..

Have you been grateful this past year, content with what you have? Without a desire for what you don’t yet have?

Have you given back more than you received?

Have you brought fresh vegetables to the grumpy old lady/man down the street whenever you brought back your own loaded bags? Do you even know a grumpy old lady for whom you could have dropped a fresh bread?

Have you dropped a coin in the hands of the beggar, or have you justified your simply walking past that it would have just be going for alcohol anyway…could you have helped in some different way…something that took more trouble, more effort…started making a difference? Have you even given it any thought after just walking on? Or have you just turned your head and started thinking of dinner?

Have you done anything consciously for charity, effort, planning, effort – just as you would do it for yourself? Or were you very busy.

Have you ever spent some of your precious time to go an old age home to read to the elderly? Do you know any elderly people? Do you know their fears? Their fascinating stories? Their needs? Or do you only hope to not grow into such an old sour prune?

Have you contributed in any way positively to our environment? Have you ever been to the dump yard? Talked to the people working there? Have you ever taken a pie and shared a coffee with them? Have you ever woken up early to thank the garbage workers for the work they do?

Could you have  cared more in an unspending way for your dear ones? Without the aid of money. Without the aid of material things. Just you and your time. Your effort.

Could you have cared more in an unspending way for friends? For your community?

Did you run to the store to buy something to make you feel better, to rid you of depression, to lift your mood? Did you run to an stock full  pantry to indulge in foods of all choices and flavours to wallow in your awful life?

Have you given a shoulder to someone in need?  Reached out to a complete stranger?

Have you taken a dinner for someone at  her/his home who was just simply tired, worn out, or just because you wanted to?

Have you done something special for someone, not so YOU could  feel good afterwards, but because he/she needed it? Without receiving a thank you, without caring about a thank you?

Have you complained constantly about your circumstances and then got into a warm bed, luxurious bedlinen, having had a hot meal, even having sipped a glass of wine? Or complained about your misfortune…or about being misunderstood….or neglected?

Have you complained about your circumstances and then had had the luxury of  ice in your drink or a cool glass of water to quench your thirst…turning the tap and having had water running freely to fill a bath to your heart’s content?

Have you written down at the end of each day how many good things life had handed you during the course of the day? Have you even noticed it?

On a bad day, have you even tried to find something good in your life?

Have you sat quietly and really listened to someone’s else’s fears, dried her/his tears without thinking of your own hurt, or comparing to your own hurt, but could only feel the sadness of this person?

Were you quick to rationalize and justify your own reasons or motives, your jealousy, your envy, your anger, your hurt…

Were you spiteful…were you critical…were you judgmental…were you righteous…

Were you deeply sorry after harsh words…did you admit it, say it out loud?

Were you ashamed after harsh behaviour…did you acknowledge it, say it out loud?

Have you sat down and wondered, marvelled at this wondrous thing called life?

What small things have you done,  unnoticed by your friends and family, society… just because?

….And so these simple questions are never ending. One leads to another. Looking us straight on with raised eyebrows. Awaiting a response.  Can we meet the straight stare? Can we be be honest in our answers? Do they make us look ahead differently? Will they change anything?

May 2010 be less about ourselves.

May we care more about the world around us. Our community.The bigger picture.

May we use our talents and our good fortunes to make the world better for everyone.

May we live each day with a long list of gratitudes. Small ones. Important ones.

May we give more attention to the small, insignificant aspects of life. May they grow and become life changing.

May we give in abundance. Love. Time. Attention. Care. Empathy. Understanding…

May we receive with grace. Love, Teachings. Lessons. Help. Advice…

May we ALL grow in wisdom and get to that place which is called peace. Contentment. Happiness. Understanding.

Bliss.

A Wonderful, rich 2010 to all.


Tarte fine aux pommes and a peek into a french home in Tours.

Why do Decembers ignite this uncontrollable desire for all things dessert? Just to have the hips show every inch of this desire flagrantly off in January.

It is a crisis. But in some crises the best thing to do is…have some dessert. Some apple tartlets. They are truly quick and easy and utterly delicious and very homey. They’re not fancy, rather rustic and no one will be offended if you pick one up by hand. They are meant to be enjoyed with a friend or someone you care about. And leave the plate with tartlets in the middle for a second helping.  One won’t be enough. Oh, and leave one secretly for yourself for tonight, when all is quiet and asleep.

So the hips in January will be even rounder. But that is OK. At least it will give us something to talk and write about in January!

…ingredients for tarte fine aux pommes

*Suggestions:

  • Choose an apple with a bit of sourness like a Granny smith.
  • The puff pastry can be replaced with another pastry of your choice.
  • Other fruit like pears, figs, peaches, apricots can be used.
  • It you find the top isn’t caramelized enough after baking, then sprinkle with a little brown sugar and caramelize quickly under a hot grill and keep your eye on it.
  • You can make the size of the tartlets as big or small as you like or even a single big tart.
  • Sage leaves are a good substitute for thyme.
  • Try sprinkling a tiny bit of  fleur de sel with vanilla over the top just before baking.
  • Can be enjoyed as dessert with an accompanying scoop of ice cream or créme frâiche, or as a late afternoon snack with tea, a goûter, as we call it in France.

…joanne’s home in Tours…

Joanne's home in Tours 2

My friend Joanne,  allowed me into her home with my camera a while ago. She lives in the centre of Tours, where it takes a few minutes and you can serve up a fresh baguette and croissant for breakfast. With a basket and some walking shoes, you can browse the market just around the corner from her to have fresh veggies on the table at dinnertime. Just down the road from her lives a musician whose melancholic saxophone melodies vagabond down the quiet street. Life is tranquil and beautiful in her home. It reflects the stillness of her character, yet reveals the brilliant colours of her spirited and optimistic nature. Always trying to see the bright side, always ready for a new project, enthusiastic about life with a strong belief that every minute counts. She loves good food and it is just a pleasure inviting her over for a meal and seeing her obvious joy in appreciating what is put in front of her.

Joanne's home in Tours 1

Joanne's garden in tours 3 Joanne's garden in Tours 4

* astuce de grand-mére:

truc et astuces de nos grand-méres

* Boil some vinegar on the stove for a few minutes to eliminate unpleasant kitchen odours.


A creative sandwich and recipe inspiration

We all need inspiration. For everything we do. Whether it is for hanging on when life is difficult or getting out of bed when we are depressed… Even when times are good, we flourish even more when inspiration hits us from a different angle. I believe we can’t sit and wait for inspiration, but we need to constantly be in search of it. We need to be open to it.

Something as simple as a sandwich can be created from a burst of inspiration and sometimes from the most unexpected source. Read further down below about the following sandwiches, created by MArinell and Liandri, 12 and 10 years old at the time.

…”arnie” sandwich – jingle all the way

My humble way of being open to inspiration, is to always have a pencil  and note-book in hand. I even read a book with a pencil, underlining even the simplest phrase if it means something to me. I write down things I hear people say in the bar that I find has meaning for me. I write down a saying that I read on a bill board or an advertisement. I pull off the road and grab the pencil in the door pocket to write down something that has just “hit” me.  I wake up at night and write down a dream or a thought, I scribble when I drink coffee in town, I never take a walk by the Loire without a pencil and paper…in short, every moment is a pencil and note-book moment! A moment for a fresh idea. For a flare of inspiration. Do I act on them…all these ideas and inspiration? Sadly no, not always immedaitely, but I have them somewhere scribbled down in a little note-book in my house and I will fall upon it some time or another.

If you don’t have a pencil and note-book, get one soon and take down all your thoughts and ideas, colours you see, shapes you see, things you hear. Have little notebooks in as many corners of your house and office and car and bag and bicycle as possible, hands on, just for the taking. And stick ons. To mark the pages of books you read, articles, recipes, ideas. Our bookshelves are marked with books and their little colourful “flags”…people come over and they choose a book with a little flag, wanting to see what page is marked! Some interesting conversations have followed from that.

When our daughters were about 12  and 10 years, we were watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie one evening. They then decided to make sandwiches  for dinner and they named them  “Arnie” sandwiches…so we have Terminator  sandwiches and Jingle all the way, and Predator and Kindergarten cop. Their own creations, their own work, their own handwriting in my recipe book….the inspiration? A wild man with a heavy accent in a silly movie! And the sandwiches? Absolutely divine!

In your little note-books of inspiration, you can makelittle sketches of what you would like your dish to look like(no Picasso necessary, for your eyes only!) play with ingredients, colours, layers, flavours. Fill a basket by the television with books and stick-ons and pencils, so you can just reach out and grab a notebook and pencil to pen down some ideas, scribble…don’t just watch television zombie-like!

Keep cards of restaurants and recipe cards and photos of food and all kinds of memorabiliathat can trigger some inspiration, in some nice old tins or boxes or drawers – a place where you “visit” often and can dig for some fresh ideas and originality.

Hang and pin your inspirations on notice boards…in your pantry, above your desk, in your bedroom by your bed, by the telephone, by the computer, in your bathroom…

Inspiration and ideas are as alive as we make them be. They are ever-changing. They have wings and will fly away if we, the creators, don’t pin them down. Have fun in creating new recipes…your own!

Trucs et astuces de nos grand-mères:

pour dorer un gâteau si vous manquez d jaune d’œuf, vous pouvez le badigeonner de lait.

Milk can be used instead of an egg white to paint over a tart crust or cookies or cake in order to have it baked golden brown.


Duo de chocolate and December ambiance 2009

Time again for some  December ambiance!

After putting up our tree we enjoy a candle lit dinner with music and good wishes for the season. It has been our family tradition for many years to put up our tree on the first day if December and light a candle every night for the whole month of December for someone  – people who aren’t with us any more, people who are still with us…This year is no exception. We finish our evening with a small and light dessert. A white chocolate panacotta and dark chocolate mousse – a combination of light dark chocolate mousse and the contrasting white panacotta with smoother texture.  The mousse is the only chocolate mousse I’ll ever make and it comes from the collection of chocolate desserts from Pierre Hermes. I’ve been making it for years and haven’t yet come across any better, any lighter, any more delicious! the panacotta is simple and classic with some white chocolate added.

Suggestions:

  • Don’t overwork any mousse! Always stir gently until just mixed.
  • Never boil chocolate, melt at gentle heat in the microwave or over simmering water until just melted. It melts from the inside outwards, so ti will still hold its shape, but the inside will already be melted. Stir often.
  • Use older egg whites for better lightness(as well as nicer meringeus).
  • Use egg whites at room temperature.
  • Mix egg whites into the chocolate mixture as follows: Scoop a third of the beaten egg whites into the chcolate and whisk to make the mixture lighter and easier to fold in the rest of the egg whites. Fold in the egg whites with a big whisk in a figure eight shape, without whisking. Fold in until JUST mixed. don’t overwork!
  • A mousse gets heavier the longer it stands. I usually serve a mousse within a day. Of course it can be eaten afterwards, but it is more creamier and has lost that lightness that is so typical of a mousse.
  • Decorate with some chcolate petals or sprinkle some golden flakes over the top.

I took my husband and his saw down to the Loire and we came back with with some tree brances covered with moss. It was to be our tree for this year. I enjoy a live tree, and this year was one made fom some dried brances from our own river across the road. It always feels special to go and pick up some branches by the Loire, come back home, stick them into a garden urn and hang them with decorations and fairy lights.

See previous years are at First day of December and December ambiance 2008 with cinnamon dumplings

…noël 2009…

…reading and looking…

…some glitter…

…moss from the garden and old postcards…

…just some prettiness…

…colour from dried hydrangeas…

…christmas dinner from 2008…

…Tokala and Ayiani in the snow…

…la neige au bord de la loire…

…la loire and two of us…

… chocolat chaud devant la cheminée…

* Trucs et astuces de grand-mères.

* To ice a cake easier – dilute a bit of smooth apricot jam(without chunks of fruit) with a little water, warm, add a noisette of butter and cover the cake before covering with icing.


Pears in red wine and a wine harvest.

Pears in red wine. Always a winner in our house during the winter and especially over the festive season. In this recipe I used a cabernet sauvignon, but I have also used a (moelleux) sweet white wine before like a Montlouis moelleux or a semi sweet, which is just as delicious. Decorate the pears in red wine with some edible gold leaf and the pears in white wine with spun sugar. A post on how to make spun sugar will follow soon – before Christmas!

Pears in red wine

Why not gather all your wine corks and display them in pretty empty containers somewhere. Always a good talking point and especially the men like to dig and see the wines that passed through. I also colletct the wine cases, hoping I can get hold of enough to convert them into drawers and kitchen tops and units for Coin Perdu, our house in Corréze. They also make nice storage space in the pantry, can be used in the wine “cave”, the cats sleep in the empty ones and some even carry small twigs for lighting fires in my atelier.

winecorks 4 winecorks 1

wine cases 1 winecorks 6

In October we had one day of grape picking at the vinyeards of our friends Vincent and Tania Careme. The domaine vincent Careme is a bio vinyeard where no chemicals are used, wild herbs and weeds are allowed to proliferate, adding to the health of the grapes and picking is still done by hand. They have a traditional Saturday  during grape harvesting in Octobre, when all their friends and family get togetherfor a day of grape picking, press the grapes, feasting on a  huge lunch, continue picking afterwards, pressing again and finishing off with some more eating. We were all dead tired, but what fun we had, one of which was a grape fight when everybody started getting tired and sticky towards the evening. Here are some pictures of the Saturday at Domaine Vincent Careme.

…starting off early morning…

vendange-in the vineyard 2

…moving forward…

…up and down…

vendange-pickers

…picking carefully…

…emptying the bucket…

vendange 23

…into the remorque

vendange-vider

…almost full…

vendange-grapes

…taking a break…

vendange 19

…something for the thirst…

…healthy vinyeards…

vendange-vignoble 1

…at the cellar…

vendange 56

…onto the press…

vendange 58

…cleaning up…

vendange 65

…resting…

vendnage 86

…late afternoon fatigue…

vendange-late afternoon fatigue

…going home…

vendange-finished

Soon to be followed: More about the wines of Vincent and Tania, their wine cellar in the typical “caves” of Touraine, a sculpteur doing his artwork in one of their caves and the many pleasure(and hard work) of daily life at Domaine Vincent Careme.


Back to my french kitchen..in Montlouis

After almost five months here in the still undiscovered, secret countryside of Corréze, we are heading back home to Montlouis sur Loire. I will be exchanging my Corréze kitchen for my Montlouis kitchen!

…a barn kitchen in Puy d’Arnac…

a working kitchen

…Montlouis kitchen…

new kitchen 1

We’re locking up Coin Perdu for the winter:

Setting aside the wheelbarrows and cement mixers. starting the work Emptying the pantry in the Corréze kitchen corner. Stripping the beds of linen. Storing books and magazines away from humidity. Packing my art stuff. Taking my art stuff off the walls. A last sweep.

le boss finishing up A last grand créme at the brasserie Les voyageurs at Beaulie where the charming Cecile always brightens my day with a smile.

A last stroll to our little bench to throw a last glance across the valley.

One more photo. Packing Tokala and Aiyani in our peugeot bleu.

Shutting la porte de la grange.

Au revoir notre petit Coin Perdu!

…our corner in Corréze…

water in le pescher 5fences of correze 8

fences of correze 7bells of nonards 2

…lovely Cecile at Les voyageurs

Cecile a Les voyageursbrasserie Les voyageurs

May the owls be kept warm once again in the barn for this winter, may les vaches roam content on our hils, may les buses continue circuling the skies, may les chevreuils graze undisturbed down by the poplars and may the wild flowers welcome us bright and jovial on our return in the spring.

…working or fiddling

work or watching working or fiddling

…birthdays…

relaxing with a cidre dinner under the stars

digging in with the handsWe enjoyed  two birthdays, many sunsets and starry skies. We had good friends visiting us, staying with us in the barn. We had a surprise visit from good friends in South Africa.  We got to know our neighbors, Jean Pierre and Michéle and Yvonne, 86 years old and along with her chickens, as fit as a fiddle! We became regulars at the bar in Beaulieu, enjoyed  icy cold péche melba on hot afternoons, sipped aperitif at 17:00 along with all the other regulars.our own ruines

We did lots of hard work:  Turned the barn into a living home. Turned the old homestead into a construction site with ladders and cement and beams and trucks.  There were tears and frustration. Arguments. Difference of opinions. Anger, irritation, misunderstandings. We had blisters and bruises and still have. We rushed off to emergency with a slashed open head, got stitched up and continued working. But we also went for long strolls in the forest, nibbled on peaches and oranges.

…Liandri & Marinell…dreaming?…

dreaming perhaps 5-9-2009 8-23-10 PMtime for dreamining too 5-9-2009 8-35-07 PM

We became part of the heart beat of Corréze and we are going home, replenished and with vivid memories, patiently awaiting spring to restart it all over again. Of course! Can’t wait!

…a last glance…

le petit banc 9-4-2009 4-19-46 PM



Boeuf bourguignon

I thought eating would be over now after the indulgence of the holidays. But hunger still shows up.  And the colder the days, the more we turn to  soups and stews. Boeuf bourguignon is just one of those old classics that never disappoint.

boeufbourguignon

…man and his beast…

beeste3-2-23-2008-11-32-16-am



December ambiance 2008 with cinnamon dumplings

…a message…

kersf6-11-16-2008-5-01-01-pm

Like last year, it is time for a little December ambiance. On the 1st December, we dress up our tree and charm up some corners, put on music, light candles, drink wine and end the day with a special meal. It puts us in the mood for winter, brightens the grey days, stalks the blues, lifts the spirits, welcomes the rain and the frost and if we’re lucky, brings on some snow. Just as they do in the Northern countries, we burn tea lights every evening, light lanterns outside and finish the evenings with a hot chocolate by the fireplace. This year saw some cheating in decorating the tree, which had been a few days earlier…but that’s OK; it’s always good to break tradition a bit!

A traditional dessert of cinnamon dumplings, finishes off this 1st of December. May your December 2008 be as spirited and bright and gay as you want it to be.

…cinnamon dumplings…

cinnamondumpling-11-23-2008-8-48-13-pm1

cinnamondumpl

*Recipe adapted from “Huisgenoot wenresepte 2 “, written by Annette human and  originally entered by Mrs. C. Ligthelm of Pretoria, SA.

…captured…

kersf1-11-16-2008-4-45-10-pm

…perfection…

christmas081-11-24-2008-8-30-47-pm

…shimmering crystals…

christmas0812-12-24-2006-9-52-40-pm

…joyeux noël…

christmas085-12-25-2007-5-39-07-pm

…shh…

christmas084-12-29-2007-10-20-09-am

…a frosty visit…

christmas089-12-25-2007-10-25-09-am

…looking out…

christmas0811-12-24-2006-5-33-55-pm

…let’s read..

kersf9-12-1-2008-12-21-55-pm

…les poêmes et le sapin…

kersf3-11-16-2008-4-53-31-pm

…where’s the snow?…

kersf5-11-16-2008-5-00-26-pm

…corners and candles…

kersf12-12-1-2008-12-41-34-pm




Sweet potato wrapped in bacon and sage.

Now is the time to enjoy sweet potatoes…soups, purees, oven roasted, boiled in the skin and served with honey or as part of a salad or appetizer as shown here.  It can also be served on the side. It is quick and easy, with no fuss and it looks colourful and inviting.

sweetpotatosticks

Kaleidoscope



Vegetables “en cocotte”.

In summer, we daily see a small promise of smoke appearing over a rooftop in the area, evidence of a barbecue taking off, with whiffs of onion and chicken, beef and brochettes teasing our senses. As if receiving a signal, we all run to our barbecues and soon the smoke is trailing all over the rooftops.

In the cold of winter, there is a different trail of smoke coming from snug fireplaces. Except over our rooftop. We are practically enveloped in smoke clouds…from our chimneys as well as our barbecue. We are alone outside, dressed in snow gear, cold, but firm in tantalizing with our canard a l’orange in the “fired oven”, côte de boeuf  over coals with a mustard butter, chicken tagine, lamb curry, and yes, even vegetables en cocotte. We snuggle up to the flames, drink red wine to warm our bodies and we delight in the warmth of the moment.


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