Sunday, 15 November 2009

L'Huilerie Lepine Walnut Festival 2009

Even though we have been to this walnut festival for 5 years and seen it grow we are never without excitement. Despite the rain we and hundreds of folk had a wonderful afternoon at l'Huilerie Lépine. The family have been making this wonderfully flavoured oil since 1810. They have a very slick, simple, automated but human-controlled procedure as only the French know how. The walnuts are cracked, conveyed to be crushed by the millstone then cooked or bruléed but not burnt, and this stage requires constant stirring. Then the ground mixture is pressed and transformed into the oily liquid. Walnut oil is full of vitamins and helps to reduce cholesterol and that is why one should have just a little on 'le salade avec le fromage'.

Traction engines rattle branches whilst walnuts shake free.

Walnut shells are cracked
and Walnut kernels are conveyed to a vast container
Taken to the millstone and crushed into a mash
(click on the next photo to read the manufacturer's label)
the ground mush is kept moving
and then the pressing machine squeezes...
trickle, pour, drip
mmm. the sweet smell of nut oil.

It's a Dog's life! - English idioms

Spotty dog was rather sad today. He didn't have a dog's chance at the show because of the change in the weather. He realised that he would never have the opportunity to be top dog at this event. It was raining cats and dogs! Consequently, he had to stand in the drizzling rain, getting quite wet and slippery whilst visitors were protected with their umbrellas. He looked like a dog's breakfast! There was no one to dry him down with a nice, clean, warm, fluffy towel and there was no one to jump on him, play with him and bring a smile to his canine jaws. He felt dog-tired! By the middle of the afternoon he felt even worse and began to feel rather deflated. He wasn't in the dog-house of course, but no one had brought him a doggy bag so he couldn't be like a dog with a bone! Spotty dog was a quiet and well-behaved creature cur .. no one could say that his bark was worse than his bite but he was not that clever and it is true that even though he was quite young in age and in heart no one could teach this dog any new tricks! Every dog has his day, and we don't want any nonsense with dog eat dog, but now we will let sleeping dogs lie ..... Night Night Spotty dog!

I would like to thank Captain Sensible for the inspiration to write this when I should be doing something else!!!!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Degustation in November

Luckily we arrived in La Roche Posay on the evening of Friday 13th in time for a whizz round to taste the wines, cheeses, dried fruit, biscuits and chocolates and be in time for the vin d'honneur which was a very fine Vouvray with aperos from the producteurs ( more cheese, foie gras, rillandes, dried fruits with magret etc etc ) YUM YUM! All the French people know a jolly when it arrives!!!!
Then home for a very welcome 'tourte de pommes de terre' which I had finalised this morning along with my speciality Tarte Tatin made with Reine des Reinettes apples - the best!! The pastry of both had been in the fridge for three days since we had the power cut. The oven, some kitchen lights and upstair lights were not working. I was a lovely opportunity to burn candles until Captain S could analyse what had tripped the switch. The culprit was the kettle that I had inadvertently 'burnt out ' a few days beforehand, which seemed to still boil water very well!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Walk in Autumn

The rewards of a 14km walk with the group are:
* Socialisation and company.
* Improvement of conversational skills in French and English. We persist in speaking poorly produced grammar and they want to practice theirs! Great learning experience and fun!
*Fresh air and sunlight to create seratonin. Opportunity to walk in rain showers and witness a rainbow, though not the crock of gold!
*A feast of beauty for the eyes of Autumnal vegetational colour.

*Foraging opportunity for mushrooms and sloes.
But don't eat this one as the Fly Agarica is poisonous.
*Exercise, aching joints, development of stamina, endurance and persistence. Well, it’s not Everest I know and although I would love a real mountain to climb, I have my own small ones to master!
*A feast of warm cider served with a chocolate ginger apple and prune cake that French Annie called pudding.
*See new places, architecture, scenery.

We passed two sites which we love. They are....
- The Pinail Nature Reserve a natural man-assisted creation of moor and heathland consisting of 3,000 ponds, rare flora and fauna including the harrier and 48 species of dragonflies. which was the result of quarrying millstone.
- The site of the Battle of Poitiers at the Plain of Moussais where Charles Martel and the Muslim-Arab Army in 732 A.D. fought a relentless battle for ownership of the region. A giant chessboard and display boards recount the story. Listen to the cries on the battlefield! Read in English and Arabic. "Whoever you are and wherever you come from you have your own ideas and thoughts to the North, East, West and South and you are a friend!" How I love those sentiments. We are all immigrants or our ancestors have been so. We are all required to celebrate humanity.

Green Tomato and Green Pear Chutney

Taking courage for the many small green tomatoes from our garden, I was spared from the many enormous green tomatoes that had been donated to us on account of the fact that I managed to ripen them.
To almost 3kg tomatoes and 1.5kg pears once prepared! (ha!...ecoutez!) I added a large spoonful of salt, 40g mustard seeds, 20g black onion seeds, 800g mixture of granulated white sugar and honey, 10g tagine spices, 10g shelled cardamom seeds, coriander powder as I had no leaves, and about one litre vinegar, for which I used some red wine left over from the party that had turned to vinaigrette and some of my very own mature dandelion vinegar!

All the ingredients were placed into my most beautiful and treasured stainless steel preserving pan that has been worth all of the £50 I spent 30 years ago. (Before that I used to make preserves in the pressure cooker but it always felt unsatisfactory!) The pretty picture of food in the making was brought to the boil, stirred often, simmered for a long time, stirred often!

When the liquid had reduced and the chutney was a wonderful dark colour, resembling a jam but not of jammy consistency it was poured into clean,dry, warm jars. Once I had ensured there were no air bubbles, clean, dry lids sealed the jars. Now to label prettily! Then to store for several months, if not longer for the winter into spring days. For Christmas we have one last jar of matured two year old Green Tomato Chutney. There was no glut last year.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The White Ribbon - a movie by Michael Haneke

We have just been to see The White Ribbon at Les 400 Coups Chatellerault.
A movie, documentary, drama, thriller, crime novel.....
We wholeheartedly agree with the critique of the film on
The "story" within the film is truly reminiscent of someone's existence somewhere in the world. Brilliant camerawork and editing. I loved the scene where the camera conveys stillness as the lonely boy seeking solace and comfort in the middle of the night, searches for Anni, only to discover further incomprehension when he discovers where she is and with whom. We listened to it in German with French subtitles and we do not understand German and to our surprise read and understood much of the French text. Watching the imagery and understanding the plot required enormous concentration coupled with the emotional factors of seeing abuse. The relief of tension as the final black screen signaled the end of the film made me realise how tense I had been throughout this BRILLIANTLY executed movie. Yes, one needs to talk about it and we're reading the reviews to see how well our interpretation matches with others. This black and white creation without any music score was so very powerful. All levels of abuse in the world should end but in fact it has gone on for ever and one wonders when humanity will cease the cruelty and perversion that exists. The innocence of Eva and the portrayal of the vulnerability of women and children was very thought provoking.
I found it intriguing, mesmerising and really very frightening and found myself muttering "Oh no" and "My God" with various intakes of breath.
We're still asking questions as to what we think had happened and to whom and why.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Chouchou Chayote

Our walking group were given some of these by a very kind French man when we stopped to admire theseinteresting fruits trailing on trellises in his
potager. Our gift seemed unripe so it has been sitting above the poèle à bois for a few weeks. I had forgotten about it. The almost instantaneous www divulged some recipes but as there was only one chouchou it was peeled, sliced thinly and lightly sautéed, served with almost the last of our Romanesco cauliflowers, a leek and tomato sauce and baby potatoes smaller then my thumb sautéed in sunflower oil. All from our garden! A fine vegetarian meal.

The chouchou (called chayote, Sechium edule, sayote, tayota, choko, chocho, chow-chow, christophene, mirliton, alligator pear, vegetable pear and other names) belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae.

On a different culinary note, we were gifted many HUGE green tomatoes. Remembering the magic of brown paper bags, we packaged the largest green ones with a ripening tomato and voila, the warmth from the mantelpiece helped to redden them. We kid ourselves the summer is still here as we eat our tomato salad. However, the smaller ones from our garden will be made into chutney just so I can return a gift to the neighbour who seemed rather bemused about the idea of eating Green Tomato Chutney.