Sunday, 28 June 2015

No fog on the Tyne...

 Posted via the iPad so layout will be strange, until I can log on with my laptop.

The Angel of the North...





We are in Newcastle upon Tyne for a couple of days while Tim does some teacher training at the Royal Grammar School. It is the first time I've ever visited the city, although about 20 years ago we did a trip to Northallerton where Tim had an interview. We spent time looking around the area at houses we might call home, but in the end the job went to a local candidate and we didn't have to make the decision to uproot and move north. On a rainy day we visited the Metro Centre in Gateshead, but that was as close as we got to the Tyne!

The Millennium bridge with the Sage Theatre, Gateshead in the background.



Our hotel is in Jesmond which is a very nice part of the city and close to the school. However, the apartment blocks along the banks of the Tyne are certainly a very trendy place to live and the cafe culture apparent on a sunny afternoon.


The architecture, both Georgian and more contemporary, is impressive. There is even a statue of Earl Grey, the same Earl Grey of my favourite tea fame. I'll have to check that out later as the Blogger app for the iPad is a bit flaky and if I do a Google search in the middle of writing the post when I come back to finish the post some letters mysteriously disappear from the keyboard...NO, I haven't been drinking...well only one glass of wine!



The Baltic Centre contemporary art gallery was amazing, and the ledges around the building a home for hundreds of breeding pairs of kittiwakes. The shop was amazing. Unfortunately Tim was with me, but I might return tomorrow when I hit the shops...alone!



We had intended to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant at our hotel, but were tempted by Jamie Oliver's restaurant in the city centre. We had a delicious burger and pizza served by a very friendly young waitress who took the time to talk to us.




I believe that these pieces of stonework from some of the buildings demolished to build the Eldon Square shopping centre.






We are now back in Staffordshire having driven over 1000 miles in three days. Tim is training some new teachers at the University, and I have walked and lunched on Cannock Chase with friends in true lady of leisure style!



Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Mad dogs - in the garden…

Every time we visit Le Pre Vert we try to do something, in and around the house and garden, which is beyond the usual cleaning, gardening and general maintenance. Last year it was to plant more soft fruit.

Figs…

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Rhubarb…

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Redcurrants…

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Gooseberries…

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Raspberries…

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Blackcurrants…

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Strawberries…

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Fresh raspberries on our breakfast cereal…

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Our priority this year will be to introduce more colour into the garden.

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Although Tim is semi-retired he has been inundated with offers of work, which amount to much more than a full time job! He hasn’t accepted all of these offers, but in the short term we are pretty much certain that our lifestyle of choice will be to travel to France and back to the UK several times during the year, rather like we did when we were working, but staying in France for much longer periods. This has an impact on what we can plant in the garden that will not die when we are away during spells of hot, dry weather. In the UK our wonderful neighbours pop round most days to deal with our post and water the plants, although it has to be said that watering is less necessary, even in the summer!!

So, you will be thinking, what on earth does this have to do with mad dogs!

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Well…around the house we have a huge expanse of gravel, and we planned to create a small herb garden. Having collected some large and small edging stones from our friends Chris&Sally and Jean&Nick, we set about digging into the rock hard soil under the gravel to make the bed. This was more of an effort than we imagined it to be as the soil was so compacted and full of stones and roots, but also working in full sun didn’t help! We mixed four large bags of compost with the soil in an effort to improve the quality.

The prepared herb bed looking a bit lonely…

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Intruders…

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With plants laid out, with more to come…

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All that remains to be seen is whether they survive out next visit to the UK, and although I wouldn’t wish three weeks of rain on our many friends in the Touraine Sud, the odd bit of rain every now and again would be very welcome…

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Muffin making…

I’ve made muffins (these made with my class in 2012 for the Jubilee) many times before with a variety of fillings, but usually these fillings have been sweet. Here in France we often have friends visit for aperos or we serve aperos before a meal. There are around a dozen items which I regularly serve a variation of, but sometimes the need arises to add to my repertoire.

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Today I tried savoury muffins. I couldn’t find a recipe that I was completely happy with (basically because I didn’t have some of the required ingredients!) so based on my research I came up with my own recipe. My idea was to make two types of savoury mini-muffin which I would then freeze and warm up prior to serving. I hindsight I probably could have made three varieties.The two fillings I used were bacon, mushroom with onion and blue cheese with onion.

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The recipe…

SAVOURY MINI MUFFINS CHEZ BROTHERHOOD

Makes: 72 mini or 24 large muffins

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter

2 eggs

250ml milk

400g plain flour

2 heaped teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Fresh chives or rosemary to decorate

Fillings

· 100g lardons, small chopped onion and 4 mushrooms sauted

· 100g blue cheese and a small red onion fried gently

· 100g goat’s cheese and 50g chutney

· 100g smoked salmon and 50g cream cheese

· 100g chirizo and 50g sun dried tomatoes

· 100g mature cheddar and 50g olives

Method

Preparation about 20 mins and cook 15+ mins, but in reality I needed to recycle my muffin tins so the overall cooking time was much longer.

· Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas 6. Grease a muffin tins, or line with paper muffin cases.

· Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

· In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk then stir in the melted butter.

· Sift the flour into a mixing bowl then add the baking powder, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, mix well. Gradually fold in the egg mixture until loosely combined. It may look a bit lumpy, but don’t overwork.

· Divide the mixture into two portions and add any two of the suggested fillings or come up with ones to your taste!

· Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and no more than up to 3/4 full (this allows room for the muffins to rise).

· Bake for 15-20 minutes for the mini muffins until golden brown, or longer for larger ones. ** Depending on your filling you may need to be flexible here**. You can afford to taste the odd one to check!!

· Remove from the oven and serve hot or cold.

These will freeze once cool. To serve warm for a few minutes.

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It feels a bit odd because in my former life ‘method’ was always followed by ‘fair test’, ‘results’, ‘conclusion’ and evaluation.

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No doubt the ‘evaluation’ will come fairly soon. As the old saying goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and we await our next set of  guinea pigs, or perhaps that should be ‘friends with taste’…

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Testing out Windows Live Writer for Blogger. Looks like it is working again!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Retired and happy...

 Caution: iPad posting which will be edited later!

The rain at the end of last week caused many of our cherries to swell and split. Still fine for pies, crumbles and conserve, but not so good for the fruit bowl. I picked 1500g of the better ones, washed them, stoned them, boiled them with sugar, added a dash of Amaretto to half the mix and Sakura (cherry blossom liqueur which we brought back from our trip to Japan) to the remainder and turned the cherries into a delicious (even if I do say so myself) conserve.




Conserve cooling it was clear we needed something to eat it with so I quickly knocked up a batch of scones using a Mary Berry recipe. I didn't roll out the dough thickly enough to get a good rise, but the mix was VERY sticky (as the recipe suggested it should be) and difficult to work.



The scones taste better than they look, and were served warm with a little butter and cherry conserve.

Today is Wednesday so we are off to Loches market for a wander and a spot of lunch. It surely is a hard life...



Saturday, 13 June 2015

All part of the journey...


We've just had a very nice week in the UK. Our flights from Tours to Stansted were cheap at 17€ each way, and car hire for the eight days was 88€. In total this is about £115, plus, of course, fuel from LPP to Tours and from Stansted to Staffordshire. We think that with the addition of shuttle, tolls and extra fuel that this is around one third of the cost of driving the whole way - not to mention a whole lot less effort!

Normally our flight of choice would be Limoges to East Midlands,  as we prefer to drive the extra miles in France than the UK. However the added bonus of flights via Stansted is that we could spend the night with my brother, who lives near BurySt Edmunds, in Suffolk.









We took a leisurely drive across having programmed the rental car sat nav to take the shortest route. The journey took us through rural Leicestershire, which is an absolutely beautiful county with wonderful villages and impressive scenery. Bury is a lovely little town packed with tea shops and the kind of small independent stores that I love to browse around.




















We sat in the Abbey Gardens for an hour or so listening to an open air production, enjoying the shade, reading our books and, in my case,  having a short snooze! After a little fun finding our car we headed off to West Stow for a cup of tea, a dog walk (not the one above!) and a tasty evening meal at the Cadogan. 

We've really enjoyed our flying visit, catching up with friends and family. Apart from breakfast we've hardly eaten in, and to round off our stay in Bury we are all going to eat breakfast at one of those delightful tea shops I mentioned earlier...

(posted via iPad, just in case the layout is a bit odd!!)

UPDATE: We actually ate breakfast at the Officer's Mess. It was pouring with rain and a trek around Bury wasn't as appealing!!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Busy in the kitchen..


**Apologies for the font size, line adjustment and spacing caused by the problems with Windows Live Writer and Blogger. The problems aren't visible on the edit too and I've spent too long fiddling now to waste any more timel!**

The theme for the May meeting of the Clandestine Cake Club was ‘vintage cakes’. The venue varies, and this month was to be held at the beautiful home of David and Jane who were very generous hosts. 

The Loire Valley branch, set up by Jean Lacey, is going from strength to strength. This time there were seventeen delicious cakes, many reminding me of my childhood.


Tim chose to make a Battenburg cake; mainly for the architectural and engineering nature of the construction and because it would be a challenge even for the most accomplished baker. It is fair to say that Tim is a novice baker, but nevertheless he remained undaunted by the task ahead.


His recipe was from the BBC Good Food website which he followed almost to the letter! The only exception was that we didn’t have the Squires rose food paste so used about 100 drops of pink food colouring – thank you, Jean. He also omitted the almond essence from the pink cake adding rose flavouring instead.


He cut some pieces of wood to the correct size so he could cut his cake perfectly to size and shape for stacking…









We forgot to take the photograph of the assembled stack, sandwiched with apricot jam with added rosewater and covered with berry jam – the apricot having run out!!

Rolling the marzipan…




Covering the cake…





The recipe was enough for three cakes, which were all of identical size, but with different levels of ‘finish’.






The finished cake ready for eating…



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My offering was Sachertorte, the original recipe is locked away in a vault somewhere in Austria, but Mary Berry was kind enough to lend me hers. You can find it on the BBC FOOD website. The only changes I made were to increase the quantities by half again, used gluten free flour and chocolate and added a couple of tablespoons of strong black coffee dissolved in warm water, which I’d read about in a different recipe and I thought would be a good addition.




Just some of the very impressive array of cakes on offer…






Thanks to Jane and David, Jean and to our fellow bakers and tasters for a wonderful afternoon.