Tuesday, 30 December 2008

End of year round-up / Résumé de la fin d'année

Our family holiday is over now and as always the best part of it has been enjoying being together, cooking, eating, drinking, talking, laughing.  This post is just a brief round-up of some highlights from this last week.

Les fêtes familiales sont finies et comme toujours nous nous sommes regalés ensemble, dans la cuisine, en mangeant, en buvant, en parlant et en riant.  Ici je vous donne un gout de quelques points forts de la semaine dernière.

Xmas day sky_1_1

25 December sky / le ciel du 25 décembre

On Christmas day it was just about warm enough to walk to the garden at midday and have our traditional apéritif there, although this year rather than cold drinks we had mulled wine - a bottle of Domaine d'Estève red wine heated with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some juniper berries, a cinnamon stick, some cloves and some orange pieces, including the peel. 


xmas olives_1_1

We took some of our own olives out of the brine they've been soaking in for two months, rinsed them in plain water and coated them with olive oil.  They tasted very good, but a bit salty so we'll soak the others in plain water for a bit longer to get rid of some of the salt.  It was exciting to eat our own olives next to our olive tree, as we did last year at the same time - but this time the olives are bigger and better and there are more of them.

Christmas meal / le repas de Noel

Everyone has different ideas about what makes the perfect Christmas meal.  We're not very keen on turkey and Christmas pudding, so for many years we've eaten our own different choices which change from year to year.  Even when we lived in Wales we didn't eat a traditional Welsh or British Christmas meal, and here we've adopted some of the local festive habits, such as eating oysters.  We started the meal with raw oysters, then had very small cups of oyster soup, foie gras with figs (bought in Pézenas market from the producer), and then gambas (large prawns) sautéed in olive oil with a dash of pastis added at the end of the cooking.

oysters   Picpoul_1_1
oysters served with Picpoul de Pinet white wine
foie gras   figs_1_1 foie gras with figs, served with pepper- corns and sea salt
gambas_1 Gambas are large prawns which have a special spicy flavour.  We sauté them in olive oil and then add either Armagnac or pastis - this time it was pastis, the aniseed spirit which is considered the spirit of the Midi.

We had two main dishes - pigeons for meat-eaters and salt-baked sea bass for non-meat-eaters - both served with sautéed leeks from the garden and potato and celeriac mash.

Salt-baked sea bass

sea bass baked in salt_1_1 loup baked_1_1
loup baked 1_r1_1_1
Baking in salt preserves all the flavour.
We stuffed the sea bass with fennel and lemon slices, laid it on a bed of sea salt and covered it completely with more sea salt.  We put it in a hot oven for about 40 minutes (this depends on the size of fish) and then cracked the 'shell' of salt.

Stuffed pigeons with pancetta

pigeons_1_1 We stuffed pigeons with breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots, parsley, garlic, sautéed onion, sage and white wine, put a slice of pancetta over each one and roasted them in a hot oven for about 50 minutes.

We finished the meal with some of the cherries preserved in Armagnac which I bottled last May.

Since then we've had some more good meals, including a simple, but delicious soup made with cabbage, chestnuts and white wine:

cabbage   chestnut soup_1_1

And, on the last evening before the family left, a bonite (small tuna-like fish) marinaded in a charmoula herb mix, stuffed with olives and preserved lemons and roasted on a bed of potatoes and tomatoes.  The recipe came from the Guardian weekend magazine but instead of sea bass we used the bonite which I'd bought from our market fish stall a couple of weeks ago and kept in the freezer.

bonite stuffed with olives   lemon_1_1 bonite   penedesses_1_1

We served this dish with an excellent bottle of red Coteaux de Languedoc from the Domaine de la Tour Penedesses in Gabian.


I think that, like us, most people take a break from some of their principles at this time of the year.  We certainly wouldn't claim that our gambas were very eco-friendly, but most of our other food was.  The fish we ate was all locally caught and the oysters were produced in the Bassin de Thau.  I like foie gras and don't join in the chorus of disapproval which so often results from any mention of this food.  I don't think it's any more cruel than other poultry farming and it's much more acceptable to me than the battery-reared chickens to which critics of foie gras seem to have little objection.  Anyway, it is very expensive so we can only eat it once a year.  We ate as much as we can from the garden at this time of year, although we did buy potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and tomatoes.  We decided not to have a pine tree this year and instead decorated some arbutus and bay branches from the garrigue and from our garden - this looked pretty and best of all didn't drop pine needles on the floor!  And, rather than flying, our family travelled to Gabian by train - Eurostar and TGV - a much more sustainable choice.

How do others reconcile treats with principles, I wonder?

Monday, 29 December 2008

Cold wet garden, tapas at home for my 100th post / Un jardin froid et les tapas chez nous

For nearly a week we've had grey skies. Today it's raining and sleeting. Usually here it's cold, but clear and bright at this time of the year. We haven't been able to do any work in the garden, although we did manage our traditional aperitif in the garden on Christmas day, with a brief moment of sunshine.

Pour presqu'une semaine il a fait gris. Aujourd'hui il pleut et un peu de neige fondue tombe de temps en temps. Comme d'habitude ici à cette saison il fait froid, mais clair. Nous n'avons pas pu faire aucun travail au jardin, mais on a pris l'apéritif au jardin le jour de Noel, pendant un petit moment de soleil.

olive leaf in rain1_1_1

It's strange to see olive leaves covered in rain / c'est bizzare de voir les feuilles d'olivier couvertes de pluie.

passion fruit in rain_1_1_1

Yesterday we went to Grau d'Agde and the sea was grey and rough. / Hier on est allé au Grau d'Agde et la mer était gris et agitée.

grau dagde1_1_1 grau dagde_1_1

Not the usual view of the Mediterranean!

At home in the evening we cheered ourselves up with a meal of tapas and North African pastries: / Chez nous le soir on s'est remonté le moral avec un repas de tapas et de patisseries maghrébines:

cheese and anchovy_1_1
sheep's cheese and anchovies
jamon-artichoke pintxos_1_1
cured ham and artichoke hearts
stuffed peppers_1_1 Spanish red peppers stuffed with potato and salt cod nafrican pastries_1_1
Almond, apricot, fig and walnut pastries.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Season's greetings / Joyeuses fêtes


Season's greetings!

Joyeuses fêtes!

Cyfarchion y tymor!

Polidas fèstas!

(Arbutus at Roquessels, December 2008)

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sunday lunch in the garden on the shortest day of the year / Déjeuner au jardin au solstice d'hiver

Today is the winter solstice with the sun at its lowest. And it was the warmest day we've had for weeks! At midday in the sun it was about 15 degrees C. A good day for lunch in the garden. A celebration!

Aujourd'hui c'est le solstice d'hiver avec le soleil le plus bas de l'année - et le meilleur temps du mois! A midi au soleil il a fait 15 degrées. Du bon temps pour déjeuner au jardin. Une fête!

bamboo blue sky_1_1
bamboo against a cloudless sky .....
tomato canes_1_1
and beneath, next year's tomato canes growing

But first we gave the lemon tree some light and some water.

Mais d'abord on a donné de la lumière et de l'eau au citronnier.

sun for lemon tree_1_1

And then the barbeque / et puis la grillade


merguez (North African spicy lamb sausages) with onion skewers

we bought the merguez from the excellent butcher's shop in nearby Roujan, run by Bernadette and Franck Perez, and while we were there we ordered some pigeons for lunch on Thursday.

green salad_1_1

green salad from the garden: lettuce, spinach, rocket and oregano

sunday lunch_1_1

lunch in the sun and wine from nearby Domaine de Montesquieu

cheese course_1_1
Gavach cheese from Lacaune with green tomato jam ....
and coffee, of course

Gavach is the Occitan word for 'mountain-dweller', which is why it's the name given to this cheese which is made in the mountains around Lacaune.

Gavach est le mot occitan pour quelqu'un qui habite les montagnes, donc c'est le nom pour ce fromage fait dans les montagnes autour de Lacaune.

It's good to know that from now on the days will get longer and the sun higher. The plants already sense it - the climbing rose has tiny new buds on it and the daffodils are coming up too.

C'est bon que les jours deviendront plus longs et le soleil montera plus haut pendant les semaines qui viennent. Les plantes déjà le devinent - la rose grimpante a des nouveaux petits bourgeons et les narcisses montent aussi.

daffodils ready for spring_1_1

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Winter festivities / les fêtes de la fin d'année

We're beginning to look forward to next week. For me the winter festivities mean the family getting together to cook, eat and drink, and avoid commercialism as much as possible.

On attend la semaine prochaine avec impatience. Pour moi les fêtes de la fin d'année sont l'occasion pour toute la famille de faire la cuisine, manger et boire ensemble, en évitant la commercialisation autant que c'est possible.

So, what will we cook and eat? Oysters, certainly. The van from Bouzigues will make a special visit to Gabian on 24 December and again on 31 December. People will be seen queuing to buy several boxes of oysters. These are a guilt-free pleasure. As I said in my recent post about mussels I think that shellfish from the Bassin de Thau is one of the most sustainable foods we can buy.

Donc, qu'est'ce que nous mangerons? Les huitres, bien sûr. Le producteur de coquillage de Bouzigues arrivera le 24 et le 31 décembre. Les habitants de Gabian se mettront à la queue pour acheter quelques boites d'huitres.

oysters1_1_1 oysters_1_1

I like oysters gratinées, so I shall probably put some under the grill with a little white wine and grated cheese for a couple of minutes. Others we'll eat raw with lemon juice.

J'aime les huitres gratinées, donc j'en ferai griller quelques pour deux minutes, avec un peu de vin blanc et de fromage rapé. Les autres nous mangerons crues au jus de citron.

Oyster soup / La soupe aux huitres

Last year I made this soup using the recipe in Máirín Uí Chomáin's Irish Oyster Cuisine. It's especially good for those who are put off by the sight of a whole live oyster!

Chop 12-18 oysters. Bring 225 ml milk, 225 ml cream and 25 gm butter gently to the boil in a sauecpan. Add the chopped oysters, salt and pepper and heat through. Serve in warm bowls or cups, sprinkled with paprika.

Couper 12-18 huitres. Faire bouiller lentement 225 ml de lait, 225 ml crème et 25 gm beurre. Ajouter les huitres, du sel et du poivre et rechauffer. Servir avec un peu de piment doux.


Monday, 15 December 2008

Not many blooms for Garden Bloggers' Bloom day

The only plant in the garden which is flowering at the moment, apart from yesterday's cauliflower, is the false rocket.  This plant is sown between the rows of vines to be ploughed in as a green manure.  It spreads and self-seeds everywhere, but it is pretty and the leaves are edible, although we don't eat it as we have enough wild rocket self-seeding in the garden.

wild rocket_1_1

Other than that, my contributions to Garden Bloggers' Bloom day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, come from pots outside the house:

blue marguerite

Blue marguerite, Felicia amelloides


A slightly faded Lantana



Sunday, 14 December 2008

More mussels and a precocious cauliflower / Encore de moules et un chou-fleur précoce

I've been thinking about the mussels we ate last Thursday evening, bought from one of the two vans a week which bring shellfish to Gabian.  Mussels and oysters from the Bassin de Thau, a salt-water lagoon between Sète and Agde, seem to me to be one of the most sustainable foods available. 

oyster beds_1
Mussel and oyster beds near Bouzigues
Bassin de Thau


Je pense que les huitres et les moules du Bassin de Thau, une lagune entre Sète et Agde, sont très durable.

The shellfish are farmed and so do not deplete any of the sea's natural stocks. The industry is a major employer in the area and is good for the environment because keeping the water clean and unpolluted is in the interests of the producers, who have to add an extra cleaning process to their production on the rare occasions when the water is found to be polluted.  As far as I can tell, the carbon footprint from the mussels lies mainly in the fuel used to bring them the 30 kilometres or so to Gabian.

J'écrirai plus sur la production de coquillages dans le Bassin de Thau bientôt, mais pour le moment je vous donne la recette du plat que j'ai fait jeudi soir:

I'll write more about the shellfish production in the Bassin de Thau soon, but in the meantime here's the recipe for the dish I made on Thursday:

Stuffed mussels with muscat / moules farcies au muscat

mussels 1_1_1

Clean a kilo of mussels and cook in boiling water for a few minutes until the shells have opened.  Remove the half of each shell without a mussel and put the shell-halves with mussels in an oven-proof dish.  Cover the mussels with a mixture of 100 gm breadcrumbs, 3 finely chopped garlic cloves, a bunch of parsley and thyme chopped, salt and pepper.  Add a teaspoonful of muscat or other sweet wine to each shell and drizzle olive oil over them all.  Put under a hot grill for about 5-10 minutes until the breadcrumbs are crispy.  Serve with a slice of lemon. 

La recette sera sur le blog mediterranean-cuisine.

mussels 2_1_1

This was the first time I'd made this dish and it was delicious - I'll be making it again soon!

An early cauliflower


We didn't expect to have cauliflowers for another couple of months, but this small one suddenly appeared last week.  Yesterday it had begun to look slightly yellow and we thought it wouldn't grow any bigger so we brought it home to cook.  As you can see in the picture, it was only about 10 cm across the head.

Lo Jardinièr quartered it and steamed it, then served it with cumin seeds and chopped garlic which had been very lightly sautéd in olive oil.  It was very good - but we hope the others will be bigger!


Thursday, 11 December 2008

Winter salad / la salade d'hiver

I may have given the impression in my recent post on the changing shape of the garden - the garden changes shape - that there wasn't much growing in the vegetable garden at the moment. But it's just that winter crops grow lower than summer tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, they huddle near the ground for shelter, making the garden flatter. This morning it was cold, 3 degrees C, but we still managed to pick the ingredients for a salad from our garden:

winter salad_1_1

Salad of lettuce, rocket, chicory, spinach, sorrel, mizuna and oregano, all fresh from the garden today.

Une salade de laitue, roquette, endive, epinards, oseille, mizuna et oreganum, ramassés du jardin aujourd'hui.

Even in winter, we eat something from the garden every day. In the last week we've eaten leeks, turnips, chard, spinach, red cabbage, green cabbage, lettuce and mizuna.

Même en hiver, on mange quelque légumes du jardin chaque jour. Pendant la semaine dernière on a mangé: des poireaux, des navets, des épinards, des choux rouge et vert, de la laitue et du mizuna.

chard / blettes
rainbow chard_1_1 rainbow chard
mangetout peas
spinach / épinards
broad beans_2_1
broad beans / fèves

Some of the vegetables which are thriving in the garden in spite of the cold weather / quelques légumes qui poussent bien malgré le temps froid.

peas germinating_1_1
the peas are germinating / les petits pois germent
leeks 2nd crop_1_1
2nd crop of leeks doing well / 2ème récolte de poireaux poussent bien
the radishes taste good /
les radis sont bons
red cabbage_1_1
and the red cabbage leaves are beautiful / et les feuilles du choux rouge sont belles

I love the summer vegetables best - tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, courgettes - but even in December there are still plenty of good things in the garden!

J'aime les légumes de l'été - les tomates, les aubergines, les artichauts, les courgettes - mais même en décembre il y a plusiers de bonnes choses dans le jardin!