Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In Love

I'm in love with a new cookery book.

It's true I've had special ones in the past...

Robert Carrier, so sophisticated for show-off dinner parties when I first started living in London. Some recipes so well used that the pages have split apart.

A brief fling with the Galloping Gourmet, but that didn't last long. His recipes haven't stood the test of time.

A somewhat daunting all 1,235 wafer-thin pages of Constance Spry, a luxurious Christmas present from my parents, much thumbed for ideas over many years, but often put aside in despair for something simpler.

And now - it's all too easy to reach for the internet. Pumpkin soup? Cheesecake? Pear and almond tart? Stuffed courgettes? Just google it.

No, this time it's different.  A "hold in my hands, leave it on the kitchen table" recipe book I reach for, use and love every day.

I've always had a soft spot for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  I like the way his cookery programmes link us back to where our food comes from and help us understand what the implications are if we choose to eat meat and fish. He shows us by example what it means to honour the food that we eat.

This year he has excelled himself with his new TV series and book:  River Cottage veg every day.

As a would-be but lazy (and definitely not nut roast) vegetarian living with a carnivore who is prepared to humour me, I quickly run out of ideas for what to cook. So we ring the changes between vegetable curry, roast veg, an occasional vegetarian moussaka and (through summer) lots of salads and Italian antipasti.  After a while, it gets very boring.

And then Hugh's new book appeared like the cavalry over the horizon, every recipe a joy - bursting with interesting combinations of flavours and textures.  Even my carnivore is asking for more.

His salads are a revelation.  My current favourite? Warm salad of rocket, mushrooms and roasted squash.  Today my eye's been caught by carrot, orange and cashews (with a touch of cumin).  Looks delicious.

I can see that this love affair is going to be a long relationship.  And I'm sharing him. I've started buying copies for friends!

Must dash - got a salad to make.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The last but one ...

... of our butternut squashes that grew on the bank behind the cottage, chopped up with some carrot and thrown in a big saucepan with lots of chicken stock and simmered vigorously while a diced onion, garlic and ginger are sweated down in butter; all to be added to the pot, plus chilli and black pepper, medium curry and a bayleaf; then whisked creamy smooth and back in the pan on the heat for two large dollops of crème fraîche to be stirred in.

Soup just right for a misty, chilly November lunchtime, together with Tod's sour dough rye bread.

We're thinking about moving back down to the cosiness of the cottage.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

These Mellow Days

This time last year we had already fled down to the cottage in search of warmth and comfort.

This year, we are still in our draughty old house, relishing the mild November days, leaving the kitchen door on to the veranda open so that the dogs can wander in and out at will. We sit outside, tea mugs in hand,  faces turned to the sun. Too hot as I dig over a new bed where more roses will go, I strip off my sweater.  The tomatoes on the vines behind the pool house continue to ripen and each morning there is a fresh flood of bright blue morning glory on the pergola at the back of the cottage.

These mellow November days are a gentle antidote to the fear and uncertainty around the world economic situation.  Long may they continue.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Wet Weekend

Not much going on.

Bertie has just been "done".  Hence the hood and the carefully arranged T-shirt.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Harvest and a Château Garden

About ten days ago I helped with a harvest - of chasteberries, which grow on Vitex Agnus-Castus bushes.  We have one in the garden at the back of the cottage.  It has pretty blue flowers that in autumn give way to small, peppercorn sized berries used in herbal medicines.

The technique for harvesting is to have a large box or basket hung at waist height and to rub the flower heads between one's hands so that the berries fall off into the receptacle.  A group of us worked our way steadily bush by bush across the fields high above the Garonne valley, chatting in French and English in the mild October sunlight.

The berries are so small and light it takes many bushes to make up a single barrow load.  And the bushes (grown organically) are not uniformly productive.  Some are satisfyingly laden and the berries drop in a rattling cascade into the boxes. Others, frustratingly have no more than a few fruit that have to be laboriously picked off.

Among our number was a local gardener, who, to my delight, turned out to be the creator of a medieval garden that enchants us attached to a château in the centre of Gontaud.

Over months, walking Vita round the village, we had peered over the high garden walls and peeked through ajar gates to marvel at the transformation, with trees uprooted, arbours planted, parterres dug. Passionate about his creation, he took us down into the village and in the late afternoon sunlight after we had finished harvesting, we wandered along formal pathways, among the roses, vines, herbs and vegetables while he recounted what he had done.

A beautiful end to a satisfying day.