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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The weather is back to chilly, like it was 8 months ago on that Canadian Sunday night when we discovered that there was a third of us in the making. The full cycle is almost complete and he’s now ready to land on firm ground after months of growing, kicking, hiccupping and moving around with little notion of gravity. We don’t know much about him or when he will be here, and this mystery adds to the excitement of welcoming him to his new world.

Here are a few things we know about him however; he hates the beeps at the supermarket tills, same for Beck, but enjoys reggae a lot, and he’s long and lean according to the midwife.

As I was showing the nursery in progress to Ed the other day, he said that it was like waiting for a very special guest, like David Bowie. I’m still trying to make sense of the comparison, but I think you really need to be an Englishman to understand it fully. Anyway, our own little glam rock star will arrive in a week or so and his new quarters are now ready. The bags are packed and I’ve prepared his very first outfit, with his first woolen hat and his spaceship pyjamas, Petit Bateau evidemment.

The tiny outfit has pockets, I know they are purely for style and cuteness, but what if one wanted to take this feature seriously? What would we put in his pockets? his oyster card? the keys to his crib? who knows… I’ve put his socks in there so they don’t get lost in the bag.

While he was growing, a lot of things happened. We got married on a sunny June day. Despite the Dallas-style drama that surrounded the wedding, we spent a wonderful time with the lovely people who surrounded us with much love, kindness and marvellous attentions. We laughed a lot with our wonderful European friends and family who stayed with us for a few days. In the end, this will be the memory I will cherish most in the years to come.

Ed started his job right after this and our quest for a new nest could finally begin. It started with St Albans, which had a lot to offer but the housing market was rather hectic. We then tried Bath which proved very frustrating on many levels. Finally, Ed suggested Oxford, and after a few twists, we finally settled here, on Osney Island, which consists of three streets hugged by the river on one side and the canal on the other. It makes the place especially quiet and cosy.

Maybe deceitfully so.

We were slightly alarmed by criminality at the beginning -and I had lived in some dodgy areas in Paris, where stabbing happened in broad day light. Posters indicated that the place was not what it seemed, and I instantly felt like in the midst of one of the most terrifying episodes of Wallace and Gromit. One poster exposed the ongoing milk theft on Bridge street, and it deterred the criminal by warning that surveillance was now in place. Another poster with the picture of a grey tabby moggy called Toby, appealed to the residents of the island to call if they saw him.

Now, I’m not a crime expert, but it doesn’t really take much logical thinking to link the two together. Toby wherever you are, next bottle is on me!

We’ve adjusted really well to Oxford now, and what is there not to like? In many respects, it’s just perfect, especially with a little Ziggy Stardust coming soon. It’s a foodies and walkers heaven. Endless walks in the countryside and by the canals and rivers are on offer. Also, there is lots of foraging, pick your own, farmer’s market action going on here. This year is probably the best we’ve eaten in a long time. After much struggle in Canada, with lack of cheese and the price of food, this spring and summer, we ate mostly, seasonal, local, organic, home-grown food. And it keeps on coming as Ed brought 5 kilos of apples yesterday, but he’s come back from work with all kinds of fresh goodies over the last few months; from prize-winning beetroots, to giant marrows, quinces, blackberries, plums, etc. This was great timing as I was eating for two this year: this baby’s developing taste buds have been spoilt.

There will be more good food to come very soon when our little astronaut finishes his trip in space oddity. I already find myself drooling in front of the cheese section at the supermarket. Yesterday, I stared at a Reblochon so intensely that some shoppers seemed a bit spooked. Carla Bruni gave birth a few days ago, not that anyone really cares, it seems. The Guardian pointed out that she must be relieved since in a recent interview she confessed she couldn’t wait to get over pregnancy and be able to drink and smoke again. In my case, it will be all about Serrano ham, blue cheese, raw fish and poached eggs buried in hollandaise sauce.

But I’m in no rush, after more than 8 months, I can wait another week or two for our intergalactic guest to land.

Ground control to Major Tom…

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L’artichaut

As I started Budgie Diaries, I realised that my first impulse was always to write about food. Being in France obviously made matters worse. In order to satisfy this craving,  I thought I would start another page where I could archive my everyday cooking and share one of my main passions/obsessions. I’ve called it L’artichaut because someone once told me that it was a very underrated vegetable, and I couldn’t agree more.

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The world is our oyster

After two weeks and a half in France, this is going to be another food and sea related post, no surprise there, as we are mainly travelling by the coast and when not at the beach, we are mostly shopping for food or sharing delicious dinners with friends. La vie est cruelle en France, ah oui!

So to recap a bit, in Normandy, we had the wonderful squid that Marie Astrid fished and then cooked for us and that was quite a special start. Then, inland, we had more meats and charcuterie, nearly overdosing on l’andouillette – a deliciously fragant and tender sausage that you grill on the barbecue.

Things became fishy, though, when we spent several days in Brittany. Ed had been surfing in Morgat in April this year and had found a great spot on the beach where he found a whole bunch of mussels. So when we went back there, his first job was to check on his tasty little friends and he filled a whole bag of them. I had foraged the odd fruit for jams or mushroom before, but seafood was definitely a new frontier, mainly, I have to admit, for fear of food poisoning.

We went back to le camping des Pins in the evening and Ed prepared his booty with what he found in the camper van, the result was quite amazing and the recipe will follow. No food poisoning the day after, so now a new world of foraging started.

We didn’t have to wait too long for a new raid on shellfish. We arrived on Sunday evening in the South West of France, in Les Landes, where Sylvaine, one of my oldest childhood friends lives, in a beautiful restored old farm, in the midst of the pine tree forest. I asked incidentally if there were good fishing spots around and she said we should go for oysters in the Arcachon Basin. Fun prospect, even if I never eat oysters.

So, here we go, on Tuesday morning, ready to be covered in stinky sea mud, as low tide of course is the imperative for this type of seafood collecting. We got there and the first steps in the mud were epic and frankly quite ‘degueulasse’. Mud up to the knee, we went on, not really knowing where to search for or what to look for, there were definitely loads of empty shells around, and finally Sylvaine spotted the first bigorneau – winkle – and soon after the first cockle. Collecting winkles is quite time-consuming, they tend to hide in between long algae herbs and isolated from each other. The French say “cueillir les bigorneaux”, picking, like for flowers or fruits, and it does make a lot of sense.

The guys, meanwhile, went on an oyster mission because we had to divide the party into two for efficiency and also because Sylvaine’s 6-year-old daughter yelled and cried a lot because of the mud and the baby crabs crawling around, and frankly, I can’t blame her, when you still wear tiny pink flip-flops, you are probably not cut-out for this kind of adventures yet.

After an hour or so of bending down and picking, we found ourselves with a couple of kilos de fruit de mer for team bigorneau and as the tide was rising, we decided to go back to meet the boys where the cars were parked. They came back with a big bag of 50 oysters all looking rugged in shape and smelling of fresh seawater. Not an appetizing sight for me, but I was glad the other foodies would make a feast of them.

Dinner time came and Sylvaine prepared the cockles in a wine and onion sauce, winkles in her special bouillon, and cooked the oysters in garlic and parsley butter. Absolutely divine and I finally enjoyed oysters for the first time.

We are staying in Les Landes a few more days, heading to the Basque country next week, and then the south coast of Spain, and then Portugal. It’s too early for mushrooms in the Basque country but I’m starting to wonder what natural delight will be up for grabs when we go.

Sylvaine really enjoyed the experience too and she has decided to make it a monthly routine with her husband and daughter. Holidays, as the mind is in that particular ‘everything is possible mode’, seem to be the starting point of many new habits, hobbies or sometimes careers. For now, it just tells me yet again that the world is our oyster, and to parody Pierre de Ronsard a French poet, who, in a sonnet to his lover, asked her to enjoy the roses of her beauty: cueillez dès aujourd’hui les bigorneaux de votre vie –  pick today the winkles of your life.

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A nation of foodies

We have spent most of our first week in the north-west of France
travelling from one relative or friend’s house to the other and while
we stopped at lunchtime for baguette, paté and cornichons picnics,
nights were all about feasting.
A sentence that the exchange German friends we had when I was a girl
said all the time, started to come back to mind last week and suddenly
resonated: to eat like a King in France. Now with the distance of 11
years abroad, I see France as a massive theme park for foodies who
know how to make food special, so much so that each region has its
spécialité.
When I was 6 or 7, I had a French educational board game meant to
teach each department name, its head town and specialty, e.g. Sarthe,
Le Mans, les rillettes. Here one learns their geography along with the
gastronomy and recite it like one would do with times tables: les
andouilles de Guémené, les calissons d’Aix, les huitres de Marennes,
la Bénédictine de Fécamp, le sel de Guérande, la moutarde de Dijon,
etc.
A lot of cheese and wine simply bear the name of the place it’s produced. In
Normandy, there’s actually a village called Camembert and when you
drive through the region, road signs point to cheese destinations:
Livarot, Pont L’Evêque… When we arrived at the Loire Valley, it was
like reading a Carte des Vins: Bourgueil, Vouvray, Saumur and Chinon.
Last year, meandering through the Bordeaux region was a trip in wine
wonderland Saint-Emilion, Sauternes and Pomerol.
When you cross those lands, you see the produce grow or graze: the
vineyards on the side of the road and the plump healthy cows chewing
greener than green grass, the life blood of the terroir. The
generosity of the environment reflects in the local wealth and the
surrounding bourgeois farms, elegant domaines and villages. People
used to get really rich from feeding and inebriating the nation.
Last Thursday, Isabelle, my cousin Jerome’s wife, treated us to a
feast and her real passion for food was contagious. It was great to
talk with someone who knows her Saint-Nectaire from her Reblochon and
where food comes from. A big part of French identity and pride resides
in knowing your gastronomy geography and to me apart from sharing
wonderful dinners with family and friends, it feels good to be home
because all this knowledge surfaces again. The proud seven-year old
comes out in me and recite the local specialities to Ed everywhere
Budgie takes us: ‘Oh! We’re in Brittany, you gotta to try the Kouign
Amann.’

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When we arrived at Katherine’s we started cooking the squid – see recipe below.
Marie-Astrid tells that it’s not the way people would have prepared
squid in Normandy years ago, as here it’s all about the dairy –
butter, cream and milk, and more cream! – and nobody would have cooked
with olive oil, it’s only new generations who have developed a taste
for the southern French style. The recipe is simple and a great way to
work on three fish  dishes: Provencal squid, bouillabaisse and fish
soup.

for 4 people

1 shallot
1 garlic clove
olive oil
6 big tomatoes
500 gr of slices squid
bouquet garni
chopped parsley

Fry the shallot, garlic clove (both chopped roughly) in olive oil.
Skin the tomatoes by boiling them in water until the skin breaks,
slice them and add them in the pot – preferably a Le Creuset type
dish. Stir and lay the squid on top with the bouquet garni and chopped
parsley.
Then cover and simmer slowly for 1.30h.
The following day you can use the remaining tomato sauce and add
chillies and cook in it some white fish and crab if available and you
have a bouillabaisse. Or you can add chillies and any fish for a fish
soup.

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