Saturday, 29 November 2008

Le Pigeonnier

It’s Saturday and the duck is ready to cook at last. (see below Can Do Canard) The legs are already tenderised and soft after the marinade, a quick rinse and dry and they are ready for the oven.
Talking poultry leads me of this beautiful pigeon house at the Château de Brézé, worth visiting alone for it’s quite amazing 12th century trogloditic basements radiating out from under the house and a bottle or two of their wine. Pigeonniers or columbiers in French, often elaborately designed and decorated, were built from the 14th century for status-conscious aristocrats and could hold up to five thousand birds producing eggs, meat and manure as well as much else. The frogblog has a wonderful chain of the consequences of pigeon keeping and diet from kidney failure through prisoners, literally, to their urine and on to glass-making, a must read!
British house-hunters in France have taken a flight of fancy to these pigeonniers and apparently are busy buying and restoring. Just writing that makes me want to sneeze, although of course, I can appreciate the attraction. The people in the photograph of the Château give some idea of the depth and scale of the dry moat.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Can Do Canard

Today I started the process of turning unappealing legs of fatty duck into mouth watering, tender delicacies of preserved meat.
I have, over the years, collected many variant recipes for Confit de Canard, all similar in important processes, the salt, and all alternating in the mix of herbs and spices chosen for the pickle mix. My favourites always include thyme, rosemary and bay because they come free five foot from the kitchen door. Next come what the French call quatre épices (1 heaped tablespoon of black peppercorns 2 teaspoons whole cloves, 2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, 1 tsp ground ginger) and today, a few allspice berries, why not? Always garlic is added and often juniper and some of my own savory salt (winter savory ground with sea salt and dried). After crushing and pounding this lot in the pestle it starts to get more hands on. Wearing nursey gloves I massage this sensually intoxicating paste well into every crevice of duck. Refrigerate. For the next two or three days, I turn and occasionally rub humming as I go, happy in my work. On the last day what is left of the pickle mix is randomly brushed off and the legs dried and covered by an inch of duck or goose fat and popped into the simmer oven of the Aga. Four hours later you can bottle them or eat or both as there is little point in going though the whole rigmarole if you’re making less than a dozen. And damned fine they are to, no comparison to the bought variety. Above is a snap of the altar on which these legs are sacrificed. A nice pomerol is also offered up. Chin-chin.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Dichotomy of Old France and Modern France

Near the mouth of the Loire is the tiny village of Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, made famous, to film buffs, by Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot. A national treasure, you would think, but there appears to be still some resistance to Jacques Tati's work in France. Well that is according to some of the dedicated young French pilgrims we met in the renowned door-swishing/squeaking Hotel de la Plage that seems to be pretty much unchanged since filming in 1952. The problem is “the film openly lampoons several hidebound elements of French political and economic classes,” (
which apparently made it less than popular at home although a huge international hit. I can find little proof of these sentiments in online research and could have made a grave mistake in translation, especially in the heat of flowing armagnac at the bar. (I always believe I parle français fluently when two sheets to the wind, I don’t). Tati loved the old France and mistrusted the sterile development of Modern France as he depicted so succinctly in his satire Mon Oncle, a view that probably endorsed his complete endearment to us foreigners. Treat yourself and watch some Tati this Christmas. Above Nick and Tati, together at last.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Screen Goddess

The last time we enjoyed a jaunt up the Loire we combined business with pleasure. Nick had been invited to add to a retrospective of his work with an interview on his music and memories for Radio Angers, conducted by the ebullient Taran Singh for his dedicated Free Jazz Hour. It was Nick’s 60th birthday that day and although work always comes first for him, he was, I think, a little disappointed not to be celebrating. After the show we looked with more and more desperation to find a restaurant still taking orders, asking locals, getting lost, time ticking. Somewhere in a narrow medieval lane we spotted a tiny bijou place with four or five lively tables. No problem they said and made Nick’s birthday by sitting us next to his lifetime screen goddess, Jeanne Moreau. Santé indeed!

La Bonneterie

Once a year, if possible, we like to take a trip along the Loire, buying wine, drinking wine, talking wine, in our camper van. It’s a perfect way to travel, choosing the route south of the river, just wide enough for two cars, the magnificent embankment la Grande Levée built by english King Henry II. I like to think he tamed the often flooded waters to ensure his supplies of wine in winter months. This long and winding route has beautiful views of the river and the added virtue of deserted 17th century stone quays at river level to park in overnight allowing 5 star views from our mobile hotel.
We have friends who live in Henrichemont and as we near the end of our trip from Sea to Sancerre, we always drop in to see them, collecting our final wines at Menetou Salon. Our friend, (nameless as he always finds some boxes of a very good Sancerre for us that fell off the end of the bottling line sans labels, wink, wink) is a potter as is his wife. In fact there are more than 30 potters from all over the world, working in the hamlet of La Borne on the boundry of the village and it's surrounding area, wood firing and salt glazing in traditional, fearsome, homemade kilns. The earth around supplies their clay, the forests their fuel. Students come from all over the world to seek inspiration and produce their own works of art, which pushes the population of communes d' Henrichemont to about two thousand. And people have been coming and making pots for a long time, certainly since roman times.
In the huge village square, where eight roads collide, a sort of motoring free for all ensues, which makes sitting outside and sipping a Richard tres divertissement for the Henrichemontaises. I took the photograph of a graceful old haberdashers shop front before it entirely fades away, although I believe my friends have plans to save it, hope they succeed.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Winter Blues, Reds and Greens

As winter bites, it's a good time to remember last years fruits and plan for more and better next year. In September 2006 I visited Château de la Bourdaisière in the Loire for the annual Tomato Festival and come away tomato star struck with a great variety of heirloom seeds. All that winter I waited patiently for 1st April to begin to germinate the bounty. Every seed became a seedling so that by May I was giving pots of baby tomatoes to anyone who had a garden, window box or old shoe to grow them in. In the end I freecycled the last to grateful strangers. Wow and how they grew. By the end of the season I had picked over a hundred kilos. Salads, sauces, bottles, jams, pickles, ketchup you name it, we processed it. So here in memory of great harvest are some photographs. My favorite was an orange beef heart-type with a very thin skin, which tasted more like tomato than any tomato I ever ate. There were green stripped zebra types more acid and great for mixed salad de tomato. Black tomatoes from Russia rich and honey sweet. Yellow plum types to make surprisingly smooth and golden pasta sauces. Pointy ones, banana-shaped ones, tiny ones, the choice is yours. So if you fancy having a go, my advice is to look at to supply your every need, I assume they ship to the UK, or get on down to the Festival of everything Tomato, who needs an excuse to visit the Loire anyway?

Loosing My Blogging Cherry

I trying out this newfangled (to me) idea of blogging. No idea how I'll fill these pages being more of a visual communicator, oh and appalling speller, maybe with images. Someone said 'a picture's worth a million words' but Kafka noted 'nothing can be so deceiving as a photograph', especially one edited on PhotoShop my preferred edit tool. So I'll have to suck it and see.