Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Work and feasting

We’ve had our family staying for the past week – the reason why I haven’t posted on this blog for a while – and yesterday the weather was so warm and sunny that we spent several hours in the garden and had our lunch there for the first time for weeks.

IMGP4727 IMGP4734 IMGP4750

Before pruning the larger of our two olive trees quite severely I took photos of the branches in the sun.

IMGP4756 IMGP4773

We burnt some of the old year, and the sun was so warm there was even a butterfly on one of the cold frames.

IMGP4768 IMGP4777

A simple lunch in the sun – olives from the tree I’d just pruned, bread, olive oil, butternut squash soup and cheese.


IMGP4598 IMGP4565

On a trip to Marseillan at the weekend we saw two groups of flamingos sheltering on the land side of the lagoon to keep out of the strong north wind.  The lagoon, which is usually calm, was quite rough.

A midwinter feast

As we do every year, at midday on 25 December we had apéritifs in the garden – olives from our own trees and sweet wine made by friends in the village.  We spent the rest of the afternoon, until it was dark, cooking and eating the various courses of the one meal we have on that day.  Here are some of the dishes we ate:

Apéritifs in the garden.
Clams cooked in olive oil, garlic and parsley, with a glass of Cava we brought back from our trip to Catalunya in the autumn.
Foie gras with black and red peppercorns.
Gambas – large prawns – sautéed in olive oil and garlic, with eau de vie added at the end of the cooking.
Pigeons with apricot stuffing.
With the pigeons we drank a bottle of the best wine produced by our favourite vigneron at Roquessels.
There was grilled bream for our one non-meat eater, roast potatoes, and broad beans (from the garden and frozen last summer).  All this was followed by Roquefort cheese, then a bûche de Noël made by the boulanger in the village. IMGP4538 To finish, with our coffee, we had cherries from our neighbour’s tree which I preserved in Armagnac the summer before last.

Monday, 20 December 2010

La pòmpa a l'òli – an Occitan festive bread


This is a traditional sweet bread made in the Languedoc and in Provence at this time of the year - la pòmpa a l'òli (literally ‘the oil pump’).

It is made with olive oil and orange flour water so it has a wonderful flavour and smells delicious when it is being baked. I used: 400 gm flour, 100 gm sugar, 80 gm olive oil, a tablespoon of orange flower water, 8 gm dried yeast, the grated peel of an orange, a small glass of warm water and a pinch of salt. Mix all the ingredients together and knead, as for bread, then leave the ball of dough in a bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place until it has doubled in size – it can take several hours. Form the dough into two round flat loaves, about 2 cm high and bake in a hot oven – 200 degrees C – for about fifteen minutes, watching it carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Take out of the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

The tradition is that this bread must always be broken – cutting it with a knife will bring bad luck in the year to come!

Los tretze dessèrts

La pòmpa a l'òli is traditionally served with los tretze dessèrts (the thirteen desserts) during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. The thirteen desserts are: walnuts, dried figs, almonds, raisins, quince paste, white grapes, melon, candied citrus peel, apples, pears, plums, white nougat and black nougat (made with caramelised sugar). These are all presented on the same table and are eaten with the fingers, accompanied by pieces of the pòmpa a l'òli and sweet or fortified wine.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Festive-looking mezes and very low sun


The peppers I pickled a couple of months ago are the only ingredient in this meal that came from our garden, but I thought they all looked festive on the red cloth, ready for supper with friends last night. Starting from bottom left: hummus, black olives, pistachios, feta cheese, pickled green peppers, aubergine purée, grated carrot salad and, in the centre, taramasalata.

Almost the solstice


I’m looking forward to when the days start getting longer again, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the long shadows cast by the low sun, even at midday.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Weekend food

We haven’t done much gardening this weekend, even though the weather has been sunny and mild, but we have eaten some very good food. As always on Saturday morning, the coquillage (shellfish) van came to the village from Bouzigues and I bought a kilo of mussels for our lunch.

Saturday lunch

We started with celery soup that Lo Jardinièr had made with celery from the garden, garnished with cream and parsley.


Then we cooked the mussels, breadcrumbed them and fried them in olive oil:


Mussels are so beautiful that I always want to take too many photos of them:

IMGP4083 IMGP4109

Duck… twice

Last night we ate with the rest of the Cercle Occitan members in the village bar and the main course was duck legs in mushroom sauce. It was very good but Lo Jardinièr and I laughed when we saw them because we had bought duck legs for our Sunday lunch. I cooked them in a very different way, though, and the recipe for duck legs with apricots is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.


We usually eat whatever vegetables are available in the garden, according to the season, and a lot of the tomatoes that we bottle during the summer, but sometimes in winter I long for my real favourites, the summer Mediterranean vegetables - aubergines, peppers, courgettes. So I bought an aubergine and some courgettes to make our first course for lunch today – cooked in olive oil with onions, garlic and rosemary and served garnished with chopped green olives and croutons.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Noisy work

I didn’t want to stay very long at the garden this morning because the work on the building site next to it was so noisy and it was a constant reminder that there are about a hundred houses planned for this site.  That’s a huge addition to a village with a population of about 700 people.  The machines are clearing and flattening a large area of land, marking out the roads and the building plots and making a road across the narrow lane which goes up the hill away from the gardens.  We worry about what will happen to the course of the stream which provides water during the early summer – the workmen seemed to have dug right through it.  Our neighbour said that yesterday the machines had been close to the gardens and that the earth had been trembling as they worked.  I think we’ll be trying to spend less time in the garden on weekdays and more at weekends, when there’s no work going on, for the next few months.

IMGP3985 IMGP3990
IMGP3993 IMGP3989
IMGP3992 IMGP3987

The machinery was very close to some of the old stone walls, which we’ve been promised will be preserved as they are part of the history of the village.  One of them had already been slightly damaged.  The bamboo at the right of the picture, bottom right, is at the end of our garden – so it is all happening very close to us!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Winter capers

Last autumn, Michelle at From Seed to Table in California very kindly sent me some caper seeds which I sowed, according to her instructions, and overwintered in a cold place (outside the bathroom window, which gets no sun at all in winter). In spring I brought them out into the warm, but not too hot, sun and waited for them to germinate. Four good plants were the result – two Tuscan and two Croatian – thanks, Michelle! Unfortunately, I had to leave them with a friend when I had to go away unexpectedly during the summer and they were left in a very windy place. Two of the plants did not survive this ‘holiday’ and, worse still, the survivors were taken out of the container identifying them, so I am not sure whether I now have one of each, or two of one variety or the other. But the good news is that these two survivors are looking very healthy – here they are enjoying the sun on the balcony today:

IMGP3980 IMGP3982

I saved some of the seeds Michelle sent me last year and have sowed some more, which are now overwintering on the bathroom windowsill with some other seeds sent to me by another virtual friend, a blipper rather than a blogger this time, who lives in Tuscany.



On Saturday we bought these wonderful clams from the coquillage van and cooked them very simply, heating them in olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley until all the shells opened. The flavour was really delicious. It was a very cold morning and the man who sold them said that even the salt water was freezing in Bouzigues early in the day, which must mean that the temperature was minus 6 degrees C. Since then it has warmed up quite a lot, although it’s so clear today that I expect the temperature will drop near zero tonight.

Friday, 3 December 2010

From a frosty garden

We’ve had a couple of very cold nights, below freezing with frost in the garden.  Not nearly as cold as further north, and no snow here at all, but it’s still been quite wintry.  There were a few olives left on our Lucque tree, that weren’t quite ripe when we picked the others, but they seem to have gone rather mushy as though they’ve been affected by the frost, although I’d be surprised at this since some varieties aren’t harvested until January and there are almost always freezing temperatures before then.

Red cabbages and cauliflowers
The artichoke plants will soon recover
IMGP3790 Lettuce, which will also recover, we hope. IMGP3791-1 This little radicchio plant looks completely unaffected by the cold.
IMGP3798 The frosted aubretia  leaves looked pretty in the sun. IMGP3799 The broad beans have been protected by the layer of bamboo leaves.
Frost melting on the palm leaves.
IMGP3802 Low sun sparkling through the fence.

And the building work goes on

IMGP3794 IMGP3805

Above right, two big machines and a lorry…. it’s very noisy in our garden now.  Above left, you can see how close the work is to the garden.