Monday, February 14, 2011


Oh what fun we had!!
I made my first blog baby steps with angelainprovence, but then I went to Food Blogger Camp 2011 and they showed me how I needed to move on (virtually of course).  So now I am all grown up with a new Wordpress site called Provence Calling, I hope you will all follow me there!
Thanks for all your support along the way..... 
À la prochaine mes amis!! 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Swedish Meatballs

How many Billy Bookshelves does the average person buy in a lifetime? I asked myself as I drove towards the new IKEA that has opened outside Avignon.  Every place that I have lived, L.A, London and now France I have bought a set to hold my books.  They are cheap, do the job, (as long as you remember to keep the heavy books on the bottom shelf otherwise the chip board splits) and you can leave them behind when you leave.

I was meeting my friends Neassa and Julie for what was meant to be a day out, but as I grappled with bad time management, slow traffic, and getting lost, I wondered what it was that had made me think that this was going to be fun?  Was this not everything I hate, mass consumerism on an industrial level? 

Having driven twice round the wrong zone industriel, I asked for directions and eventually found my way, over the dual carriageway and onto another zone, to the unmistakable blue building with its giant yellow letters (which stand for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, the name of the founder, his farm and area of Sweden where he came from, now you know!).  I parked the car and headed to the entrance where my friends were waiting for me with smiles and compassion, even though I was the one who was 45 minutes late.   They let me rant as they whisked me straight upstairs to the cafeteria for lunch; we stood in line and looked at all the various salads and options on offer, but we all knew what we were going to have......Swedish meatballs of course!   Luckily, this being France, they also served wine by the glass, which I was in dire need of to calm my rattled nerves!

Neassa, it turned out, was quite the experienced IKEA shopper and showed Julie and I how to stack our lunch trays into the little trolleys, where to get mustard and how to work the drinks machines.  Over lunch she admitted that she used to fly from Dublin to Glasgow with her sister for the day to go to IKEA,  before they built the one in Dublin! 

Having finished the meatballs, downed the glass of wine and tucked into a shared macaroon, (I love how they do these local touches, to remind you which country you're in) everything was once again all all right and I was able to relax and let the IKEA World in.  The shopping could begin! 

We started in the cooking department where we stayed for a good 45 minutes looking at all the sparkling glasses, the pretty paper napkins, colourful crockery, clever gadgets, mixing bowls and saucepans; all of which promised to enhance my cooking and baking skills (it's just a plastic chopping board Julie to Angela).

Next was the bed linen section, where we also lingered quite a while; I wondered how my life might be improved with a malleable pillow or a fluffy under sheet, would I not sleep better and therefore have a more productive day, if I had one?  Would this not lead to a more creative and eventually successful life?   What about new clean sheets and duvet covers that hadn't lost their buttons or gone a streaky blue in the wash?  Would these not hugely benefit my life?

We finished downstairs and went upstairs, (crazy people that we are, we were doing it in the wrong order) and went through the living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen showrooms.  It was like playing in a giant sized dolls house, where all the normal travails of life are swept away and problems solved with clever units and stowaway solutions.

Whilst we were there we bumped into people we knew and got lost and found each other again, stopped for coffee and carried on shopping.   At one point I caught myself looking at the black and white photos of the designers and for a split second, wondered how I might live my life over, go to furniture design college and join the IKEA designer family, so I might always live in a house like this, where life is beautiful, Swedish and ordered.

Neassa and I were looking for a washing bowl that we couldn't find anywhere, even though we'd seen them displayed in the kitchen section and in the catalogue; everyone we asked kept sending us to other departments and by the end we must have walked round the store two or three times in our search.  Finally we gave up and decided it was time to go home and headed to the check out where we were shocked to realise that we had been in the store for six hours!  How had that happened? And how come we hadn't got the one thing we had come for?  It was too much for Neassa to bear and as we were standing in line she decided to make one last attempt to find them; she went racing off and was gone for quite a while and just as I was wondering how I was going to pay for her purchases that I had put onto the conveyor belt, she came flying down the shopfloor, triumphantly wielding two black washing up bowls; success at last!  Now that's what I call determination!

I left Julie and Neassa in the food section buying frozen meatballs and lingonberry jam to take home; I decided to resist and left them to it, I'd had my fill, until the next visit of course. 

Later I was proudly showing the Artist all I had bought, first up was the Parmesan grater that you fix over a tin,  "You can just put the lid on the tin if you've grated too much," I said.

"But how d'you stop it from being forgotten at the back of the fridge?" he asked (some people are so cynical).
Then I showed him the kitchen scales.
"Haven't you got two sets already?" 
"Not digital ones like this," I said, "It does both metric and imperial and it takes the weight back to zero so you can keep adding things to the bowl as you go along."

Then there was the egg timer, (What's wrong with the one you've already got?  Its not yellow and it doesn't ping) the soap dishes, the toilet roll holders, a doormat, a bag of candles.....
"Did you buy any meatballs?"  He interrupted.
"I didn't know you wanted any"  Sometimes you just can't win!
Here's a recipe for making your own meatballs.
Swedish Meatballs
250g minced pork
250g minced beef or veal (or you can use just pork)
One small onion or I/2 large one, chopped finely
2 slices of stale bread crusts removed or 60gms breadcrumbs
250ml of milk (or enough to cover bread)
I egg
Pinch of Allspice
Sea salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
10 gm chopped parsley (or other herb that you prefer, dill might make it more Swedish)
2 tbl Olive Oil

For the sauce
300 ml beef or veal Stock (home made or stockcube)
1 tbs flour
60 ml cream or crème fraîche (optional)
Lingonberry Jam or Redcurrant Jelly

Pour enough milk over the bread slices to cover them and let them soak for five minutes or so.
Finely chop the onion and mix with the mince, the egg, Allspice, salt and pepper.  Add the soaked bread with the milk.  Make sure your hands are clean and get in their and mush it all together.
Then form the mixture into balls, whatever size you want, remembering that they will shrink a bit.  You can now put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up, or continue on to the next stage.

Keep away from Kat!
 Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and when it is hot, drop in the meatballs and fry until brown on all sides.
Remove the meatballs from the pan, pour away excess fat or any burnt bits, and stir in the flour.  Mix this in, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan and then gradually add the stock, stirring all the time to avoid lumps.  Bring up the heat and continue stirring.  When the sauce starts to thicken, add the lingonberry jam and the crème fraîche, or cream, or neither.  I'm not keen on creamy sauces, so added a slosh of red wine instead, to give it a French twist and used rosehip jelly, (as I'd skipped the lingonberry jam section) which my friend Celia had made.
My meatballs
 There are many different versions of meatballs and they are made the World over.  My mother who was German, and sadly passed away exactly a year ago, used to made what she called Buletten, which we anglicised to 'Bullets'.   She made them as above but shaped them more like small hamburgers and served them without a sauce with mashed or boiled potatoes and vegetables.  I also remember when I was young, a woman who sometimes looked after us as children during the holidays, Frau Messersmidt, used to make them by dropping them into boiling water and then adding a white sauce.  The variations are endless.

Whilst in IKEA I came across Phillip and Jude Reddaway who own a beautiful old priory called La Madelène from which they conduct wine tours of the Rhône region.  I did a three day course with them two years ago and learned a lot about the local wines and so I asked Phillip to pair a wine with the  meatballs and this is what he came up with.

"At this time of year I`d go for a red and one not too grand/expensive, not overly intense - in fact a good Cotes du Rhone or better still a Beaumes de Venise Cru level red. The latter is made in the village better know for sweet muscats but their reds - elevated to Cru level in 2005 - are fruity and fresh , with more acidity and zip than say a Gigondas or a Vacqueyras. Excellent examples are made by Domaine des Bernardins, Chateau Redortier and Domaine Pigeade, the price around €6-8. The freshness should marry well with the slight spiciness of the meatballs. In a few months time when our weather has started to warm up I might go for a Tavel rosé, a style full of summer fruit flavours but with sufficient weight to pair with a meat course. My tip: the Tavels from Domaine Maby, price around €8."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When not in Provence, in Mexico

However beautiful it is where you live, you sometimes have to leave, so that you can come back refreshed and with a clearer perspective on your life.  Hopefully you will also have learned something from your travels.

With this in mind I went to Food Blogger Camp 2011 at Grand Vales Riveira Maya,  half an hour from Cancun airport at Playa del Carmen.  It was a long haul for me to get there from Provence and took three days with stops in London and New York; but the long journey was forgotten once I was there.  It was a beautiful, all-inclusive, resort with two huge pool areas.  Every morning I swam in one of the pools and wondered how rich I had to be to have a pool like this in my garden.  It was very long, so I had a lot of time to ponder on it.

Each morning we had seminars given by leading food bloggers and photographers, Jaden Hair, Todd and Diane, David Lebovitz, Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson.  They all shared their tales of how they got to where they are now and gave us advice on how we might follow in their footsteps.
Each of them was generous with their insights and experiences and each had a different angle to show.

I learnt how to use my camera, which I had had for two years and never moved the dial from auto. I learnt how to use light and depth of field to give different effects and create different moods in a photo.
I learned technical things like how people can find me more easily, how I need to use multiple skills and to develop personal branding.
I had to write more often and be consistent, to know my intentions and what I am trying to achieve with my blog.
I should always be generous and give feedback to other blogs but not use it for self-promotion.
My blog should be about me and my individual story and I should be focused and know my audience.
I also learned some clever food styling tips, and even though I've been around food stylists for years, working on commercials (it usually was more about how to get a perfect head of beer, or how to make instant noodles look appetising) I learned how the professionals make delicious food come off the page and make your mouth water.

What to do with fois gras and a blow torch
Giving the food that smokey taste
In the afternoons we got to watch and photograph the resort chefs cook their signature dishes, some even posed for us, so we could learn how to take a portrait shot.

Oh and there was the whole of the beach front to explore or just lie down on on a sun lounger whilst someone came and brought you a bucket of water on ice and Pacifico beer.  If you wanted a snack, they'd bring you that too.  Or you could swim up to the poolside bar and order a margarita.

So now that I am back in Provence, I'm reflecting on all that I have learned and hoping that the experience, along with better photos (out of focus pictures aren't funny, they make people feel sick)  and a better site (moving to Provence Calling soon, thank you Garth) will give you, my readers a better time when you are reading my blog and that you will tell other people about it and I will get many more readers, who will want to follow my blog and make lots of comments. And that some time soon I will be able afford a pool that I can swim in every morning before sitting down at my desk.  But that was another thing I learned, not to do it for the money, but for the pure joy of it.

With thanks to Kerry Gold butter and Grand Velas for their kind sponsorship. I was truly spoiled rotten and my craving for Mexican food and Margaritas is sated for the time being.   Also thanks to Kate Moeller for organising everything and always being helpful and patient, no matter how stupid the question.  It was great to meet fellow bloggers, and to share their experience and to feel the comradeship of community and realise you're not alone in the strange world of blogland.
And this was entirely made of butter
Read more from others who were there (just don't compare their photos with mine!)

Food Blogger Camp 2011  (David Lebovitz)
What I learned in Mexico (Pinch my Salt)
Food Blogger Camp 2011 Grand Velas (Dinosaur Dishes)
Health through Food & Friendship at Food Blogger Camp (Awake at the Whisk)
Escape from Grand Velas (Undercover Carerer)
Food Blog Camp: Seeing the Light (Confections of a Foodie Bride)
Food Blog Camp-Cancun (What’s Gaby Cooking?)
Food Blog Camp 2011 (Mommy Cooks!)
Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Food Blog Camp 2010 (Adventures of an Amateur Foodie)
Hola from Riviera Maya (Savuryandsweet)
Food Blogger Camp Riviera Maya (Family Fresh Cooking)
Pool Time! Video (Matt Bites)
Food Blog Camp (Steamy Kitchen)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in Provence

The other day, about a week before Christmas, the Artist and I took the dogs for a walk in the foothills of  Les Alpilles, a nearby mountain range.  We actually walked further than we meant to; it was a cold but sunny day with blue skies.  Suddenly we heard the sound of bells, I walked on ahead, with The Artist staying behind with the dogs.  There in front of me was a herd of dark brown goats with horns, about 100 or so, and to one side was the goatherd standing with two dogs that looked like scruffy black poodles.  There was also a huge dog, like a great dane, a real hound, pale in colour, who came lolloping up to me to check me out.  I put out my hand to stroke him, but he didn't want to be stroked, he just wanted to know who I was and whether or not I posed a threat.
I talked to the goatherd for a while. 
I said his was quite a different sort of job and he said different from what?  Well, you know, I said, from what most people do.  I asked him if he spent all his time in the hills and whether he lived nearby in a cabane, (a traditional stone cabin you see scattered throughout the hills) he said he did and gestured to somewhere ahead.  He asked me where I was from and made some quip about the rain in England.  He told me that the big dog was there to guard the goats from wolves, I asked him where the wolves were, and he said up in the mountains where they spend the summer and he told me the little dogs were there to herd the goats.  Actually, they hadn't done such a great job, because later we came across a goat on its own, looking rather lost.  
Dogs with Goats in background
On Christmas Eve I thought about the goatherd when I went to the local tourist office to find out which local Church performed a traditional Midnight Mass.  Apparently there are some still conducted in the old Provençal language and include a pastorale,  a living crèche, where people from the town are dressed as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men etc. and Provençal carols are sung accompanied by the tambourine and flute.  Also, apparently, at certain churches, they have what is called the "Pastrage" when a shepherd brings in a new born lamb on a cart to be offered as a gift for Jesus, he is accompanied by other shepherds with their ewes.  I wondered if this might have included the goatherd I had encountered.  But I never did find out;  every year I have the intention of going to Midnight Mass but somehow by 11 o'clock, after a few glasses of wine and a few mince pies, I can't quite summon the energy to go out into the cold and I put it off until the next year.

Traditionally, on Christmas Eve families get together and eat Le gros souper, the big supper before going to Church. There is much symbolism attached to the this meal;  it begins with seven different meatless dishes which relate to the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary and finishes with les treizes desserts, the thirteen desserts relating to Jesus and his twelve Apostles.   The dishes are laid on three white table cloths (one on top of the other) between three candle sticks with white candles, symbolizing the Holy Trinity and hope.  I'm not sure how much of the traditions are adhered to, but it does seem that a lot of oysters and seafood are eaten on Christmas Eve and there are booths everywhere selling oysters by the dozen on the side of the road.  That was a tradition I did manage to partake in and jolly good they were too!

Things eaten traditionally on Christmas Eve
  • Soupe de Poisson – Fish Soup
  • Escargots – these can be bought prepared from your Butcher and heated up in the oven. 
  • Cardoon and anchovy gratin
  • Salt Cod with a tomato and wine sauce – Morue en Raito
  • Oysters
  • Green Salad with garlic croutons 
  • Cheese, including Goats cheese
Dessert – Les Treize Desserts -   This is a Provencal tradition, the following are laid out and left on the table to snack on during the festive period

  • Dried figs, almonds, walnuts and raisins, dates, these are known as les Mendiants
  • Two types of Nougat, one dark made with honey and almonds, one white from Montelimar
  • Oranges, tangerines, pears, apples, grapes. The fruit varies and sometimes quince or grape jelly substitute some of the fresh fruits.
  • La Pompe a L’huile – a type of Fougasse (a pastry usually savoury with olives or bacon) made with olive oil, orange flower water and brown sugar. Can be bought at your Boulangerie.
Provence Sunset

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Allouettes Sans Têtes, or Skylarks without Heads (not for Vegetarians)

La grande surface, or shopping centre outside of town, was long ago embraced and fully adopted by the French, emptying small towns of their shops, including ours which locals will tell you, was once a thriving metropolis, but is today full of boarded up shops, now used as garages or front rooms.   A few have none the less survived.  We have plenty of boulangeries-pâtiseries, bakeries, including one bio, organic, and a few Artisanals, which means they actually bake the bread and cakes themselves, rather than buying in the frozen dough and cooking it in one of those weird shelf ovens.  We also have two or three greengrocers, a couple of butchers, one inside the old town walls in the old shopping arcade (dating back to Medieval times) grandly called Les Halles and the other outside the walls  next to a Lidl.  There are also a few Halal butchers, which have the best and cheapest lamb, fresh harissa, various Moroccan groceries and a constant supply of parsley and coriander (cilantro). Yesterday, the fridge being somewhat empty as I had just got back from an extended stay in England, I decided to go to the butcher outside the town; we have some friends staying and I got them to drive as its just too far to walk (well, I’d just driven 1,200 kilometers).

I knew that this butcher was popular amongst the locals, as it sells good quality locally sourced meat, pas trop chère, but I didn’t realise how popular as I had never been there on a Friday evening before.  It was packed with an older, definitely French crowd from our town and environs. It looked like couples night out, as most of the women were accompanied by their husbands.  Buying meat for the weekend is obviously serious business!  There were 4 butchers serving, giving each customer their undivided attention and there was much laughing and joking going on besides the fetching, weighing and wrapping of meat.   No one was in a hurry and we stood in line and patiently waited our turn, passing the time looking at everything displayed behind the glass case.  There were vol au vonts overflowing with mushroom sauce, pastry cases with cheese sticking out of each end, pig trotters covered in a sauce, cow's tongues in a sauce, tripes de Caen, tripes a la provencal (one looked brown and the other red, personally I don’t like tripe, where ever it comes from!), pate en croute, all types of sausage, boudin, or blood sausage, merguez, spicy lamb sausages, Toulouse and plain pork.   There were also saussisons twisted round rails on the wall, presumably drying out, all the various cuts of meat, pork, lamb, beef, chickens, rabbits and a duck with its head on.

At the back of the shop a woman was preparing the specialty of the day, which my friend told me were called allouettes sans têtes, skylarks without heads.  I soon found myself singing the song we were taught as children in French class and which thanks to wikkipedia I am able to copy here:

Alouette, gentille Alouette   Skylark, nice skylark
Alouette, je te plumerai      Skylark, I shall pluck you
Je te plumerai la tête          I shall pluck your head
(Je te plumerai la tête)      (I shall pluck your head)
Et la tête                            And your head
(Et la tête) etc etc.              And your head, etc.etc

the song continues adding all the other bits of the little bird that will be plucked le bec, the beak, le cou, the neck, le dos, the back, les ailes, the wings, les pattes, the feet, et la queue, the tail. Each time a part of the bird is added, you repeat all the other parts, so it goes on and on,  presumably it was meant to teach us the French words for parts of the anatomy, and I remember our French teacher, Madame Gailleman patting the parts of her body that the song referred to whilst singing the song.  It is however only after all these years, that I have finally realised the true meaning of the words of the song, (and who knew that the verb plumer  - to pluck, would stand me in such good stead in later life?) 
It got me thinking how in England we have a completely different, more romantic notion of the skylark as portrayed in Ode to a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert -
That from Heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
And how interesting it was that two countries, geographically so close, could be so differently inspired by the same bird. 
Needless to say, after all this musing, I had to try the allouettes sans têtes, (to be referred to as just allouettes from now on) which were in fact thin slices of beef rolled up with meat stuffing.

When it was my turn to be served, I asked how best to cook them and got various replies from the butchers and the other customers; the gist of which was to fry them off with onions and garlic and then cover with wine, herbs and stock and cook for a couple of hours in the oven.  I also asked how many I would need for three people, the answers differed depending on the size of the person; the fat butcher said two would not be enough for him, one of the women customers agreed with him, which caused great hilarity; another thinner butcher said that two per person would be plenty, and so I decided to follow his advice and bought six for three people.  Meanwhile one of the butchers had started singing

"Tea for two, and two for tea" (italicised due to his French accent)

Apparently he had learnt it at school, (whilst we were learning how to pluck a skylark!) Soon the other butchers joined in and I found that I had become the centre of their singing attention.

Afterwards I went next door to the vegetable shop to buy a cabbage which I decided would go very well with the allouettes.  The only ones they had were enormous and it occurred to me that they would be perfect for making stuffed cabbage, carrying on with the theme.

So I went back into the butchers, it was less crowded now and the butchers on seeing me burst into song on cue,

“Tea for two and two for tea,“ 

It had become my theme and I was obviously going to hear it every time I stepped into their shop.  I bought some stuffing, fait a la maison and asked if I could have a bone for my dog, which the butcher went off to get from the cold room in the back.
When I got back and unwrapped the bone, I saw that it was bigger than my dog, Ralph’s, head, and as it was a very good veal bone, I decided to make stock with it.   When the Artist inquired as to what I was cooking, he suggested that it would be perfect for making a consomme for a Bullshot, a cocktail he used to drink at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair.  Personally I thought it would be perfect in my sauce for the allouettes!  Strange how one ingredient can inspire such different dishes in two people…

Photo by Neassa Grennan

Recipe for Veal Stock
You can also use beef bones
3k Veal Bones
1 Onion
Tops of 3 leeks or 1 whole leek
1 Celery Stick
1/2 head of Garlic
Tomato paste
10 Peppercorns
Bunch of Thyme
2 Bay Leaves

Preheat the oven to 200℃
Put the veal bones in a roasting tray.
Roast in the oven for approx. 30 mins, turn
ing once.  Then rub the tomato paste into the bones and add the coarsely chopped vegetables and roast for a further 20 mins.
Then put bones and vegetables into a large stock pot, along with the herbs and peppercorns.
Deglaze the roasting tray with boiling water and add to stock pot.  Cover the bones and vegetables with cold water and put on medium heat to simmer then turn down the heat and simmer slowly for between 4 and 12 hours.  I actually put it on a low heat overnight.  Skim the surface every now with a spoon to remove the scum.
When the stock has cooled.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer and put into the fridge to chill.  A layer of fat will form on top of the stock, remove this and either freeze for later or use for whatever recipe you want to make. 

Bullshot Cocktail
8 cl Consommé (made with beef or veal stock, eggs, eggshells, ground beef and tomatoes)
5 cl Vodka
Dash of Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco
Salt and Pepper
Mix all the above with ice in a cocktail shaker, strain and serve in a tall glass.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Supper Club

Every Tuesday night a group of friends organised by Carole, a nurse living in our town, got together and dined at our local restaurant. They were all professional women, and included male partners as well, but were collectively called “Les Filles de Mardi,” (the Tuesday Girls). As the Artist and myself often dined in the same restaurant, we gradually became absorbed into the group; we didn’t have a lot of choice, they were very noisy and you either joined in or stayed away. At the end of the evening, the restaurant’s owner, Manou, played old French tunes and everyone got up and danced; her partner, Patrice, who was also the chef, would come out from his kitchen (where he spent the minimum amount of time) with his beret and Che Guevara t-shirt and joined in, usually railing against some con politician or policy of the day. It was always a social event and introduced us to all the people we know in our town.
Sadly Manou and Patrice hung up their aprons (well Patrice anyway) and they sold the restaurant. This left the Filles without a permanent meeting place. Other alternatives were tried, other restaurants, going to each other’s houses and bringing a dish, but no permanent solution was found until finally Carole asked if I would like to host the evenings chez moi. And that’s how the Tuesday Night Supper Club began.
Everyone pays a set fee.  Its mainly the same crowd, but I have also introduced new people into the group which has resulted in a little unintended match-making! Two couples have got together so far, Francoise and Laurent, who had gone to school together and lived in neighbouring towns, but whose paths had not crossed since, and Carole and Frank, who live in the same town in adjoining streets, but hadn’t met before.
Everyone is French and includes a teacher, a nurse, a judge, a fashion researcher, a chiropractor, a kitchen designer, two dental technicians, a tax inspector, an accountant, a builder, a children’s author, a physiotherapist and B&B proprietors!
Luckily, our local market happens to fall on the same day as the supper club and so I buy most of the produce in the market. I always do a fish and a meat main course, which takes care of most people’s dietary, needs (one eats no meat, one no pork, etc). I never know how many people are going to come. Carole calls up all her friends the night before to see if they’re coming and I send out emails with a menu, but I’ve since realised that French people aren’t tied to their computers as we are and rarely check on their mail. The other week Carole told me that not very many people were coming and as I hadn’t had any replies to my emails,  I extended the invitation further a field to people who hadn’t been before. As people knocked on the door, the Artist and I looked at each other with fear, as everyone who I thought wasn’t coming arrived! We were 16 in total sitting round our table!  Luckily we have a big table and luckily I had bought a huge piece of pork that I thought would last us through the week if it wasn’t eaten; it was, every last morsel!
The first guests arrive around 8 and the last around 9; this is the apero hour when the guests chat and mingle with a drink, usually a Kir, a Ricard or a glass of wine. They help themselves to various hors d’oeuvres, usually toasts with tapenade (olive paste) and parmasan, or home-made pate. Last week I served a bowl of Tellines, which I had bought in the market, they are tiny clams, raked up in the shallows of the nearby Camargue beaches and are sweet and succulent. You cook them for one minute, or until their shells open up and then dress them with olive oil, garlic and parsley.  Unfortunately, one of the shells fell on the floor and our dog, Ralph, pounced on it, feigning starvation as he does, and one of the guests, Anna, tried to take it off him,  fearing he might choke.  I was in the kitchen at the time and I heard an angry bark and then Anna came in holding her bloody hand.  Luckily she admitted it was her own fault.  (The Artist thinks the dogs should be locked up, or made to stay in the courtyard, but they give so much entertainment value it seems a shame to me).

Once everyone has arrived and is sitting down, the first course is served. Last week this was Soupe de tomate et basilic avec des chevre toasts (tomato and basil soup with pesto and goats cheese toasts); I then served Merlan au Fenouil – (whiting with roasted fennel) and a roti du Porc, (roast pork) with beans and potatoes cooked in the oven on a bed of salt (a suggestion from the market stall holder where I bought the potatoes, guess what, they were really salty!). For pudding I served a plum crumble with homemade ginger ice cream, (the French love le crumble!) then coffee accompanied by a delicious 10-year-old rum from Martinique that one of the guests had brought.
With dinner finished, the music is turned up and everyone has a dance.  Carole is doing Salsa classes so she shows us her moves as she dances to some Latin number.   Most people leave around mid-night (they all have to get up and work the next day) and I start to load the dishwasher.
Everyone is always very complimentary about my cooking, even though it doesn’t always go quite right (I’d left the goat cheese toasts too long in the oven, and they became more like chevre brulé). They seem to find it very amusing that I am English but cook Provençal dishes and they like that all my ingredients are fresh and not swamped in heavy sauces (they’re all perpetually on diets). One of the guests even said that my cooking was une chose perdu (forgotten art). Praise indeed!
I’m not going to make a fortune, (I just about break even as the wine and aperos etc, are all included)  but it pays for my habit, which is buying and cooking food and saves the Artist from having to eat it all by himself (all be it with a little help from Ralph!)

Le Menu
Apero Kir – Vin Blanc, Ricard, Vin Rouge
Soupe de Tomates avec des Toasts de Pesto et Chêvre chaud
Rôti de Porc Florentine ou Merlan au Fenouil
Crumble aux Prunes avec Glace de Gingembre
Le Vin – Domaine de Lansac Sauvignon Blanc,  Rosé,  Rouge Classique

Roast Tomato Soupe with Pesto and Goats Cheese Toasts This is a great soup to make at the end of summer when there is a glut of tomatoes and they are practically giving them away in the market.  I have adapted this from Nigel Slater’s recipe from The Kitchen Diaries, Harper Collins (he suggests you chill it, I like it served warm with the goats cheese toasts)
1 Kg Tomatoes
1 large red Pepper or 2 smaller Peppers
2 or 3 Cloves of garlic
3 tbs. Olive oil
1.5 litres of Stock, vegetable or chicken, whatever you have to hand
Small bunch of Basil, leaves taken off the stalks
Day old Baguette bread, sliced
Pesto, bought or homemade
Goats Cheese Log
Salt and freshly ground Pepper
Set the oven at 220℃.  Cut up the tomatoes into eight pieces (or six depending on size), de-seed the pepper and chop into 2 cm pieces (approx) and put into a roasting tin.  Slice the garlic and scatter over the tomatoes and peppers with some coarse sea salt (I like to use the coarse unbleached sel de mer) and black pepper and put into the pre-heated oven.  Cook for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and the skin starting to blacken lightly.
Add the stock (I like to use Marigold Organic Swiss Vegetable Bouillon) to the vegetables, swish it around with a wooden spoon and then transfer the lot into a large saucepan.  Add the basil leaves and bring to the boil, lower the heat and cook for a further minute or two and then take it off the heat and liquidise (Nigel’s recipe says to leave a couple of handfulls of tomatoes and red pepper behind and chop this finely by hand  for a more textured soup).
For the toasts, lightly toast the small rounds of French bread on both sides (and I mean lightly! Turn away for a minute and they will burn) spread one side with the pesto sauce and top with a round of goats cheese, drizzle with a little olive oil and put back under the grill until the cheese just starts to melt.
Serve the soup hot with the toasts floating on top.

Rôti de Porc Florentine This is taken from Anna del Conte’s book, The Classic Food of Northern Italy (Great Cooks). In France pork generally comes without the rind, so this has no crackling, if you are cooking it with the rind, remove it, put the rosemary and garlic mixture between the meat and the rind and replace the rind (she also says to remove it from the last 10 minutes of cooking).
1.5 k Loin of Pork
4 Garlic Cloves, Sliced
3 Fresh Sprigs of Rosemary
2 Cloves
3 Tbl Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Chop the garlic and rosemary together, adding 1/2 tsp or salt and freshly ground pepper.
Make small incisions into the meat pushing in the garlic and rosemary.  Stick the meat with the two cloves and rub with half the oilve oil and the rest of the garlic and rosemary.   Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or so.
When you’re ready to cook the meat, put the other half of  the oil into the roasting tin with the meat and cook in a oven pre-heated to 180℃.  Cook for two hours, basting and turning every 20 minutes.  After two hours turn the oven up to 220℃ and brown the meat for 10 minutes.  Then take the roast out of the oven and leave it to rest on a wooden board for 10 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, pour off the fat from the cooking liquid, add 4 tbls. of hot water and boil briskly on the hob for a few minutes stirring up the bits from the bottom of the tin.
Slice the pork and serve with the cooking juices.

This is very delicious and moist, perfect for an Autumn evening and is also delicious served cold on another day.

Whiting on a bed of Fennel 

1smallish Whiting per person
2 Fennel Bulbs with tops
Knob of butter
1 Garlic Clove
I lemon Zested and Sliced
Dash of Ricard - Pastis(optional)
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper 

Cut the fennel into thick slices, keeping their tops aside.   Melt the knob of butter with a dash of olive oil in a pan and put over a low heat, add the fennel slices and leave to carmalise slowly (30 - 40 mins)
Crush the garlic and mix with the lemons zest, salt and pepper and a tabls. of olive oil.
Scale and gut the whitting (the fish monger may already have done this for you) and cut diagonal slits into the fish, not too deep, about 5cms apart. 
Push the garlic and lemon zest into the slits and put the fennel tops along with the lemon slices inside the fish. Leave to infuse for an hour or so.
When you are ready to cook the fish.  Put the fennel into a baking tray and lay the whiting on top, drizzle with olive oil and a dash of Ricard and put into an oven at 180℃ for approx 30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
Sprinkle with chopped parley and serve.

I'm not going to give you a recipe for Plum Crumble, as desserts are not really my forte.  In fact if you have a good one, why not send it to me in comments.  Ginger Ice cream, is made by infusing warm milk with a thumb size of grated ginger for an hour, you then strain the milk, discarding the ginger and, as Elizabeth David used to say, then make the ice cream in the usual fashion!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Wedding in Provence

A Wedding in Provence

September seems to be the month for weddings, and a few weeks ago we were invited to our first French wedding.  Well it wasn't entirely French as the bride was Peruvian and the groom was half Norwegian, (half French) and the guests a mixture of all of the above including English (us, the Photographer and his Son who were staying with us).
The invitation stated that the dress code was to be 'tenue de soirée' (black tie or evening wear) which caused quite a lot of anxiety on the Artist's part.  Did he even own a dinner jacket and when was the last time he wore it?   Finally he managed to unearth it and inspected it for moth holes and stains from its last outing and checked that it still fitted him which luckily it did.  Meanwhile, I couldn't find the dress I had planned to wear anywhere!  Was its last foray that good?  I wondered.  I found something else to wear last minute, topped it with a hat, which a friend assured me was what people wore to French weddings (some friend!) and we set off in our finery into the hot midday sun.  It wasn't long before the Artist looked like he'd just come, fully dressed, out of the shower as he sweltered in his wool jacket more suited to English country weddings and I remained the only person wearing a hat besides the groom's mother, who was wearing a headpiece!
The wedding took place in a deconsecrated chapel, which dates back to the 12th century. 
The bride and groom sat in two armchairs facing the altar (or where the altar would have been) with the rest of us sitting behind them on chairs and benches which had been brought in for the occasion. The priest was from the Ivory Coast, and even though there were prayers and blessings, this was not your conventional French Catholic Service.  He encouraged audience participation, throwing questions to the congregation and encouraging clapping and cheering.   It did however go on for quite a long time, and we couldn't understand a word, which we put down to bad acoustics and our bad under standing (the groom's brother however later said he couldn't understand a thing either).  There was much relief, especially from the children who had already wondered out of the chapel, when the rings were exchanged and the register signed to the singing of Ave Maria by the woman soloist.
Everyone filed out of the cool chapel and onto the sun drenched courtyard set amongst the olive and pine trees.  The children threw rose petals over the married couple and everyone else cones of lavender that had been handed out earlier.  A table had been set up on one side of the courtyard and champagne was served whilst the couple posed for photographs and were congratulated with hugs and kisses.  Both the bride and groom were beaming with happiness. 
After half an hour or so, the couple set off in a MG Midget trailing tin cans, with the photographer and his son sitting on the back and all the guests driving behind through the hills of the Allpilles, horns blaring and lights flashing.   Cars driving towards the cavalcade slowed down and hooted back.  After taking the road to Les Baux, the 13th Century city perched on top of a hill, we turned onto the road to Paradou, where we parked our cars outside the family mas and walked through the gates and into the gardens.
We were greeted with champagne and draught beer.  There was a Cuban band playing to one side of the patio; appetisers were passed round, ceviche, prawn cocktail and octopus and the Peruvian cocktail, Pisco Sour.
In the late afternoon sun, with the olive groves to one side and the marquee sitting in the middle of the lawn, the lamb cooking on a spit over an open fire, the band, dressed in white playing their acoustic instruments and people dancing with children weaving in and out amongst them in party dresses, it looked a scene straight out of The Godfather.
As it was getting dark, the Cuban Band put down their instruments and a couple of Djs took over.  We were asked to find our seats under the awning of the marquee.  Once seated, we watched as the bride and groom danced to 'Time of my Life', from 'Dirty Dancing'.  Then a singer, well known in Denmark, apparently, sang Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' and dinner was served.
It started with a selection of cold meats and foie gras and was followed by mechoui lamb, which is slow roasted with Moroccan spices and herbs over an open fire.
After eating, the speeches began. The best man gave a speech, the bride, the groom, mother of the groom and friends.  Then the father of the groom got up and started to make a speech in English about how he had eloped with the groom's mother when they were both 19, but as it was well into the evening by then, he wasn't making much sense and was dragged off by his ex-wife and daughter before he got to the end of the story.  He had however been telling it to everyone earlier, so most people had already heard it.
Next, just before midnight, we were each handed a silver mask that we were asked to put on as the Hora Loca, (Crazy Hour) was about to begin.  The Danish singer sang 'Wilkom, Bien Venue, Welcome' from Cabaret and then the groom's 5 year old nephew did a Michael Jackson routine to Billy Jean.  After this some more singing and 'Phantom of the Opera' was sung, accompanied by someone doing a routine with a mask on a stick and a long cape and someone in a bird costume encouraging everyone to come up and dance.  This was about when I snuggled down on a nice comfy armchair under the stars, the champagne, wine, good food and sun, having finally got the better of me.  My last memories were of the Artist and the Photographer waving their shirt-sleeved arms to Dancing Queen by ABBA.

The next day we went back to the mas to pick up our car.  We joined other wedding guests sitting round the pool; everyone was very relaxed, out of their party gear and skinny dipping and splashing in the water.   Gossip was exchanged over draught beer and food form the night before.  Apparently the brother of the groom had had his way with the 17-year-old baby-sitter in the pool house, whilst she was meant to be minding the babies.  Meanwhile the mother of the babysitter, allegedly, had been playing footsy with the Photographer under the table!
The wedding had definitely been a good one and had all the ingredients of one the world over; love, joy, inebriation and bad behaviour!

Mechoui Lamb
1 whole lamb 20 - 25 kg
For the marinade
10-12 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
5 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons finely ground pepper
1 bunch coriander leaves (cilantro) chopped
250 grams butter or olive oil.
Grind the coriander seeds in a pestle and morter or coffee grinder, mix with the other spices and add coriander seeds and buter or oil. Rub over the lamb.
Light a wood fire in a pit and burn for about 3 hours until it is reduced to hot glowing embers.   Tie the lamb to your spit and cook high above the embers, turning the spit handle and basting regularly with the remaining marinade and/or olive oil.
It should be cooked after about 3 hours.
Feeds 40 - 50 people.