Saturday, May 31, 2014


For years I thought these were a kind of orchid as we do have a lot of wild orchids here. I discovered lately that in fact they are muscari - so related to the grape hyacinth. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


This recipe is guaranteed walnut free!

I make this bread all the time - perhaps 3 or 4 times a week. It rounds out a meal so no one leaves the table hungry.  It's very easy and absolutely delicious. If you haven't made bread before it's a  good place to start.  

8 oz plain flour
1 tsp instant yeast
½ tsp salt + more for sprinkling
1 tbsp olive oil + more for drizzling
a little luke warm water

Mix flour, yeast and salt. Add olive oil and enough warm water to make a firm but supple dough. Knead for a couple of minutes till the dough is nice and elastic. Put back in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or a piece of clingfilm.  

When it's risen - about 30 mins - ( or less if it's warm), flour your work surface and press the ball of dough into a roundish shape. Put on a floured baking sheet. Cover again and leave for 10 or 15 minutes. 

Dimple the surface all over with your fingers, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 
Bake at 180º (fan) for between 15 and 20 minutes or till golden brown.
Remove from oven and cut into pieces immediately. It doesn't keep you have to eat it all now!

You could easily adapt the recipe to make more or less. In my case it's usually scaling up. An 8oz foccacia is enough for the 4 of us but if I'm feeding more I'll add another 2 or 4 ounces of flour and just a little more yeast.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

walnut apéro biscuits

There's a new exhibition starting at the Tower on Saturday  - Alain Prillard will be showing his prints, metal cutouts, and a 'cabinet de curiosités' of his assemblages, small sculptures, found and altered objects.  The private view will be at 6pm and, this is France..., will include speeches and if the weather is good an apéro under the plane trees on the village square.  I always make these walnut biscuits and every time I do I'm asked for the recipe. They are the best apéro biscuits you will ever taste!

Here's the recipe and I promise that my next recipe will not include walnuts!

Blue cheese and walnut biscuits (adapted from a recipe by Orlando Murrin)


150g plain flour
120g blue cheese of your choosing (I use St. Agur)
120g butter
pinch of cayenne pepper

walnut halves (about a 100)

about 75g blue cheese loosened with a bit of cream cheese or crème fraiche and a good grinding of black pepper.

1. Mix flour and cayenne. Add cheese and butter and work into a dough.

2. Make 2 discs. Pop in plastic bags and chill for an hour or so.

3. Roll out about as thick as a pound coin - 3mm and stamp out rounds with a 2.5cm cutter.

Bake on a lined baking tray at 160º fan (180º normal oven) for 12 - 15 minutes till light golden brown. Watch them carefully as it can all go wrong very quickly!

Remove to a cooling rack.

Toast the walnut halves for about 5 mins. Cool.

Just before you want to eat them (no longer than about an hour) put a little blob of the cheesy glue on to a walnut half and stick to a biscuit. The biscuits are fragile so it's better to do it this way round than putting the glue on the biscuit.

This makes a lot of biscuits - I've never actually counted (well over a hundred)  but sometimes I make half quantities and other  times I make the whole lot but open freeze half the unbaked biscuits and then pop them in a plastic container and keep in the freezer for next time. 

Update - I've just made and frozen the biscuits for Saturday and the full amount of dough made 160 biscuits.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

gratte pain

My Mum bought this at the brocante yesterday. Apparently it's a gratte pain - a bread scraper. If you leave the bread in the oven too long and the outside is a bit burned you just scrape it off with this tool. It's a gorgeous thing - I love the texture of the metal.

This is an interesting site with lots of fascinating old French tools and utensils. It's in French but you can have it in somewhat approximate English too - good enough to get the gist!


Friday, May 23, 2014

I saw these at the brocante last week. A huge box of serialised romances which someone had collected, bound, covered and looked after.  There's something rather poignant about (presumably) trashy stories being so precious.  It's all so far from the age of the kindle isn't it?

I've put some photos from L'imprimerie Trace on the Tower blog here

Thursday, May 22, 2014

le vent d'autan

About 7pm last night

9pm ish

7am today

We have been buffetted by the vent d'autan for the last 3 days. It blows hard from the South East and it is said that if at the end of 3 days it's still blowing, it'll go for another 3 and if after 6 days it's still going strong then it'll carry on for 9. 9 seems to be the limit. We got away with 3 this time for which I'm very grateful. The photos are taken from the kitchen window looking West. Our weather comes from the West and so we get a good view of what's in store before it arrives. 

I had a rather hair raising drive to visit a print workshop in the Lot yesterday and took lots of photos of beautiful presses and plan chests and lead type which I'll show you later. Also a film of their fabulous Heidelberg press in action which if I can figure out how, I'll upload. (I've never had much success with that - any advice?)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Yesterday I was 48! I had champagne and strawberries for breakfast and was serenaded (if you can be serenaded at breakfast time?) as per our birthday tradition, by Peter Sellers. I planted leeks and John and I put in the stakes for the tomato plants. I rescued tadpoles from my watering can numerous times and had coffee with our neighbours who called by to wish me a happy birthday. I collected my Mum and sister from the airport.  My friend Sarah called by with a beautiful birthday present.  We had a lovely supper followed by opening presents and eating an outrageous icecream cake from chez Boutonnet in Villefranche. A good day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

lauragh valley handcrafts

Please have a look at John and Siobhan's (my brother and sister-in-law) new website.
They live in a beautiful part of Killarney (see photos here) and make pots and paper crafts, raise Connemara ponies and tend their organic vegetable garden.

Monday, May 19, 2014

market day

How would you like to do your weekly shop here?  

Every Thursday from 8am till about noon.

 Fruit, vegetables, olives, spices, cheese, yogurt and milk from the farm, meat, live fish, chickens and fowl,  ditto dead, ditto cooked, bread, honey, fresh butter,  saucisson (pig, cow, horse, donkey (not kidding)) vegetable plants, flower plants, paella from the paella man who has bread, sausage and red wine for breakfast at 8am, eggs from farmer's wives who stand with their produce in baskets at their feet, unwanted kittens, hand woven baskets, buckets, the itinerant knife sharpener who turns up sometimes, hand carved spoons, wine (in bottles or dispensed  straight from the tanker into your jerrican for 1€ a litre). It's all there!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

garden salad

Even though we can get locally (polytunnel) grown salad all Winter long, there is nothing like salad straight from the garden.  The first salads of the season are the best of all, taking a leaf or two from each plant and  adding whatever herbs are also making an appearance: sorrel, chives, parsley.  I know the season has changed when salad takes the place, most days, of soup at lunchtime.

The salad in the picture was greens from the garden with a little bit of chopped red pepper, some black olives and the tiniest bit of leftover blue cheese - it made such a difference though - perked the whole thing up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Anyone thinking that it is permanently warm in the South of France is, well, wrong! As I write it's pouring down (watering in the newly planted veg patch - silver linings and all that!) and about 8º. I like weather though - (the only thing I don't like is extreme heat and we don't have too much of that) and I'm very keen on stoves (we have 4) and burning wood and am sad enough to tear out stove pictures from magazines and stick them in my sketchbooks...

Off to my shed to weave and tend the fire.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

from the kitchen window


I'm late with the garden this year - May already...! However the great thing about vegetable gardening in France is that people don't often sow their own seed. For things like beans, radishes etc yes but for chard, beetroot, salad, leeks,  brassicas, tomatoes, peppers and the like you can buy small plants (cheaply) on the market. So if like me you've let things slip you can catch up pretty quickly.
I spent a couple of days this week yanking out weeds, mostly buttercups, from the veg patches and yesterday my friend Claude came with his rotavator and dug in cow muck and made the soil (heavy clay) workable.

I also have three new raised beds where I'm growing salad and greens and it'll be interesting to see how they work  - whether they'll be easier to water and keep weed free. It's definitely a plus being able to tend them without stepping on the soil.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

endive salad

The weather is wildly variable here at the moment. One moment hot,  the next rainy and cool. Lunchtime coincided with a sunny half hour today and so we were able to eat outside.  I make this salad a lot - it's the best thing to do with endives (chicory) as far as I'm concerned.

Wash and slice some endive ( we were three at lunch and I used two).  Arrange on a plate or shallow bowl and top with some crumbled  blue cheese - it should be Roquefort but I just don't get Roquefort at all. Just too overwhelmingly salty for me which is a shame as it's our local cheese. I prefer the rather déclassé St. Agur (shhh).  Top with some walnuts and some stoned black Greek olives and a little chopped parsley. Dress with a vinaigrette.  I haven't specified quantities, just add the amount of each ingredient that pleases you.

Bon Ap!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

biscuit head

stone sculpture sauveterre de rouergue

Is this a carving of someone eating a biscuit...?!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


 lovely door furniture

dubo, dubon, dubonnet 
the old post office

the governor's house (under restoration little by little for years)

Friday, May 2, 2014

trofie con salsa de erbe e noci

Coming back to France last week I bought a copy of Vegetarian Living magazine at the airport. I've not seen it before and it's pretty good. There was an article with some recipes by Antonio Carluccio and this one caught my fancy as it's walnutty and I love walnuts and we have tons (7 trees worth each year).

Carluccio specifies last season's walnuts which may seem a bit pedantic but since acquiring my own walnut trees, I realise that the shop bought nuts I've been eating all my life were far from last season's. The difference is huge - that bitterness you can get in walnuts just isn't there. The flavour is softer and creamier - gorgeous - and we eat them in all sorts of ways.

This recipe alone was worth the price of the magazine. I shall be making it forever.

Antonio Carluccio's Trofie con salsa di erbe e noci
(serves 4)

150 g shelled walnuts (last season's)
1/2 tbsp each of chopped fresh oregano, rosemary and sage
a few basil leaves, sliced ( I didn't have them)
10 g coarse sea salt ( I put in less, to taste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
about 6 tbsp olive oil
80 g grated parmesan

In a pestle and mortar, crush the walnuts with the herbs, salt and garlic . Add the oil and 60g of the parmesan and mix.

Cook your pasta and drain, saving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water and adding it to the sauce to loosen it a bit. Mix the sauce into the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and chopped basil. (I sprinkled with some chopped black olives)

The next day I used the  leftover sauce to spread on  apéro toasts - heaven!