Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Her Morning Elegance

Take some clever and witty stop action, add a truly brilliant concept and you get the following video which I ran across this morning.
I found it so completely delightful, technically so very well done plus it gave me such a giggly, happy and uplifted feeling, that I just HAD to share it!

Please, enjoy! I hope you like it as much as I have!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Tartiflette or "Bacon, cheese, potatoes, onion; what's not to like?"

Mmmmm... cheese....

If you live in the Alpine (meaning - actual Alps) Haute-Savoie region, you get to ingest a lot of hearty food, quite often based around cheese. I don't see this as a bad thing, but then, I'm not lactose-intolerant. Cheese Fondue, Pizza Tartiflette, Raclette, oh... and this particular recipe that follows.

Now, for the life of me, I have NO idea why I have never thought to attempt Tartiflette myself, but have always bought it, frozen, in a bag and just sorta re-heated the stuff either in a frying pan on the stove, or dumped into a casserole, and heated until done dish in the oven.

Tartifle means potato in the Savoyard dialect. The actual dish Tartiflette, features a raw milk, semi-pressed cheese (that resembles Brie in appearance) plus said tartifles or potatoes. According to a Haute-Savoie site:
"Tartiflette cheese is produced in the Grand Bornand, the Aravis and the Clusaz regions. There is a long history behind this cheese. In the 13th century the farmers rented their mountain pastures and paid the owners according to the quantity of milk produced. Thus, on the day the owner visited the pasture to collect the rent the farmers would only partially milk their cows. A second milking produced a very rich fatty milk, which in turn was used to make the Reblochon cheese. ‘Re-blocher’ means ‘milk a second time’."

Well, the other night I saw a block of  Reblochon 'Tartiflette cheese' at Leclerc, thought about it a bit, then decided the cheese, potatoes and other ingredients cost about half what the frozen package costs, plus it would make a lot more. And in these rather difficult economic times, we have to eat as cheaply, but as healthy, as possible. And look! There's a recipe on the back of the cheese pack! Cool.
So, I bought the less-expensive Leclerc brand and gathered the other things I needed.

Of course, any recipe is just some sort of starting place, as far as I'm concerned. So, I changed it, a bit.

Older daughter doesn't care too much for Reblochon, so she gets the Mozzarella covered bit. Clean potato skins are full of fibre plus add a bit of texture, so, I did not peel the potatoes. Many recipes call for cream or leave it or the wine out entirely. For me, the crème fraîche and white wine addition added a real lushness. I mean, I can microwave a jacket potato and cover it in melted cheese and bacon. If we are going to the trouble of making a dish, let's go all the way! Allons-z!

(serves 4-6)
1 1/2 kg potatoes (3lbs) scrubbed well and sliced thickly
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
200 g  lardons fumé or smoked streaky bacon, diced (8 ozs)
25 g butter (1 oz)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or squished
150ml (5 ounces) white wine (1 wine glass... ish)
1 small 25cl (8 oz) container crème fraîche or sour cream
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 ripe (if possible) Reblochon cheese (500g) or Crémier de Chaumes, Epoisses or even Brie.
2 balls of fresh Mozzarella 125g each (8-10 oz total) or the equivalent in shredded. Or use Pizza cheese mix.

Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes until just fork tender, approximately 10-15 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.
Sauté the onion and bacon in the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat until the onion is soft and sweated, but not browned.
Add the garlic and stir that into the onions and bacon. You want to just cook the garlic until it becomes soft and fragrant. At that point, add the white wine, the creme fraîche and mix well.
Place the sliced potatoes across the base of an oven-proof dish, either earthenware or Pyrex, (I used a Lasagne dish) then season the potatoes with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and pour over the onion/bacon/crème fraîche mixture.
Cut the Reblochon cheese in half so you end up with two rounds, and place them cut sides down over the potatoes/bacon/etc. Sprinkle the grated Mozzarella or cut-up fresh Mozza balls into the spaces where the Reblochon rounds don't reach..
Bake for 10 minutes in that pre-heated oven, then reduce the heat to 180C/350’F/gas mark 4 for a further 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Serve with crusty baguette, a bit of green salad and some cornichons. A glass of that white wine wouldn't go amiss either.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow Update: 10-Jan-2010

I have figured out how to add images taken with my phone directly into Blogger, whoohay! let's hear it for technology! so without further ado, I give you the current state of our snow coverage here in my part of Central Bretagne. Yes, that's right, just right around 49 cm accumulation, so far, which has completely brought travel on public transport to a grinding halt, closed schools and even stopped Recovery Vehicles from being able to rescue motorists; people have to just leave their cars where they end up, lock up, and come back later. We are still under a 'Vigilance Orange' for this region, with MORE snow to come over the next few days, so, who knows how much we will eventually end up with? Certainly the older residents down our road have said they have never seen anything like this happen to this area ever, and since most are in their 80's and 90's, I have to take their view as pretty accurate, at least for this area of Côtes d'Armor.

The 'Centres d'Accueil' in the region, which deal with those less fortunate, the homeless, the people managing on or below poverty level, have been opened and the services strengthened, something I do appreciate in this culture, you won't starve here as long as you avail yourself of the Public Services.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Vigilance Orange and Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne

So all of today, our region, along with several others in Bretagne, Normandy and the Loire, is under a heightened weather alert for 24 hours. This basically means the rubbish and recycling trucks were cancelled (and I could sleep past 6.30 on a Wednesday,) ALL local buses and school transport is cancelled (but my oldest daughter still tecked into collége as THEY aren't fermé,) and people are advised to stay home unless directly necessary since the gritter trucks have NOT been past on anything save the major highways.

Now normally I wouldn't care a bean, since I can just curl up with my youngest daughter and two purrRRrrRRring cats in front of the (electric, oil-filled) fire and stay warm, drink chocolat chaud à la ancienne, turning the vile box of chocolate truffles we received as a obvious afterthought from a friend, into something actually de-lish.

(OK, now on THAT score, just say, "I'm sorry, I completely forgot to get you anything, can I make it up later?" when I hand you your carefully wrapped and thoughtfully chosen present, don't put us in the sitting room with Gran, who is deaf, and your nieces and nephews who are on The Sugar High from Hell, and bustle off to return with a box of truffles (minus one) shoved into a Christmas gift bag and spout, "Happy Christmas! I know how you love chockkies!" I mean, please?)

So normally, I'd just be happy to watch the flacons de neige fall from the sky and marvel how this 'light dusting of snow' (by Vermont Standards) has basically gridlocked Central Bretagne.

But TODAY is the first day of Les Soldes d'Hiver - the Winter Sales, here in France, which go on for 6 weeks, then end. Period, by law, stop.

Now, as someone who worked many years in Retail in California, (May Company, Mikasa, etc. 'Which would you rather do? Work in Retail or drive a nail through your hand? Hmm... how big is the nail?') my first thought was, "Seriously? You have a 'Sale Season' twice a year mandated by law... and you can't just have for instance, a One-Day Sale, whenever you please, outside of that? You must be joking." But it's the truth. If, for instance, your business is closing down, (as Vétimarché is doing right now all over France,) you have to apply to the Government for a special waiver that has a start and end date, you have to pay for this privilege and a copy of the 'writ' giving express permission must be posted on the premises. Whoa.

Ah well, the Sales will have to start without me today, however, it better be nice for the weekend, since I want to take my girls, and the money I've set aside, and go shopping in either Saint Brieuc or Lorient or possibly Rennes.

But for today, I think I'll just sit here and admire this falling snow outside my window. And have another mug of Hot Chocolate.

This recipe that follows is one that was served here in France to Aristocrats before that whole kerfuffle in 1789. Now it can be enjoyed by any citoyen, and you as well, I hope. Then at the end, I give my quick version.

Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne
This recipe is prepared the day before and gives 4 cups.

125 ml (1/2 cup) water
150g (1 cup) bittersweet 65% chocolate chopped or chocolate chips
650 ml (2 2/3 cups) milk
Vanilla extract and pinch of cinnamon to taste

1. Heat water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
2. On low heat, add chocolate and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has completely melted.
3. Add remaining ingredients and heat slowly, stirring constantly just to the boiling point. Remove from heat.
4. Maturation: Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. Service: Heat the chocolate in a double boiler or in a large microwave safe container in the microwave. When heated, use either an electric hand blender or a immersion blender to whip and aerate the hot chocolate.

The extra step of 'Maturation' allows the chocolate to absorb the milk proteins into it's structure and gives a thick and luxurious 'mouth feel' which is usually achieved with guar gum, or the like, with instant.

Now MY quick take: Put 4-5 crappy truffles and a couple squares of plain, dark chocolate in an inch of water in the LARGE mug or a glass pyrex measuring cup. Zap in Microwave until the chocolate is warm and stirring with a spoon makes it go completely smooth and gooshy. Fill the mug or pyrex container with about ½ whole milk and nuke it again for a minute, take out and stir, zap again and stir. When the chocolate is completely blended in, add a bit more milk and microwave one last time. I like a pinch of cinnamon and a drop or two of pure vanilla extract and YOU can add whipped cream or marshmallows, if you so desire, but, it's actually great just as is. Enjoy!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy Birthday baby!

My littlest kitten is 10 today! Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Savoury Bread Pudding or An Excuse to Make More Stuffing.

The last week in November here Chez Nous went really well; we were graced with family and friends coming together to celebrate something that we Americans hold quite dear: Thanksgiving. Now, no, not just an excuse to eat but a moment in time where we stop, look back on what has gone on over the past year, give thanks for what we recieved and then look forward to the next year. That's the custom in my family, and it reaches back as far as I can remember, in a mostly unbroken chain throughout my life.

My family are Christian; on my Mother's side it stretches back to the first Quakers who came to the American colonies, my great-great-something Grandfather and great-great something Grand-Uncle. My Maternal Grandfather was a farmer and a preacher in rural Alabama from just before the turn of the last century. I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible school from the year dot. I was baptised and confirmed. My Father used to run Bible Studies in our huge living room during the 60's. I sang in the church choir every Sunday morning for years. In fact, my parents met each other in the church choir in Chattanooga, where my Mother was working for the TVA and my Father was helping to run my grandparents' hotel and restaurant business.
So you could say we were 'Churchy', I suppose, and you might be right.
We, (my Mother, Father, Sister, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and I,) always celebrated the Christian Year and I can say this quite matter-of-factly, I have my Faith and it's private to me.

However, it has always been accepted in our family that one should 'lead by example' and that the quintessence of a person is discovered by how they act and behave towards their fellows in real life, not the words they spout. Also that a person's Faith is highly intimate and private to that particular individual. Consequently, I won't try to convert you to my way of thinking and you shouldn't try to convert me to yours. It's just not respectful. It's like saying the way YOU think, or what you believe to be true is inferior to my mindset so I need to *fix you* and change your own 'personal to you' way of thinking or your belief system, and well, excuse me, (and I look at quite a few door-knockers out there) as far as I'm concerned, that's just not on. Therefore, if you are ever curious, you may ask me about my Faith, but - I won't offer unprompted. That's just the way I am. Period. End of discussion.
So there you have it. That's my 'Religious Rant' for the year over. Thank you for listening.

The ten of us for Thanksgiving dinner turned to nine at the last moment when one of the guests on the morning of the party was diagnosed with the A1H1 virus, (which has been given the charming sobriquet of 'Swine Flu' by the media,) and they wisely but sadly had to send regrets. They were very sorely missed by all who attended, but with this Influenza Pandemic and how it has been touching so many in the local area, their choice was the best taken. So as to partially make up for their lack of partaking of the feast, a goodly portion of food was wrapped up and sent home to them, which they were then able to nuke and enjoy a few days later.

Now the turkey was, by French standards, massive; a rather astonishing 11.5 kg (or just shy of 25 1/2 pounds in Old Money) of very well-fed bird. The crop still had a few bits of whole dried maize and wheat berries inside. Charming.

(I'll point out now you never run into the crop and other bits such as the feet and ALL of the neck with the dangley head still attached when you get an American frozen Butterball turkey or even a fresh Free-Range Bronze turkey. So let's deduct 500g for the bits that went straight into a pan, did not pass go, did not get used for stock but were cooked in a small covered saucepan for our two cats to happily dine upon afterwards. Both Angel and Triskel were very thankful indeed and spent the night purring in laps, with happy cat smiles affixed.)

Now I would really like to show you the pictures I took of Monsieur Dinde covering most of the 45 cm oven top since you will remark, "How the devil did you get that thing IN there?" but since I have misplaced my lead to transfer the images over, we'll all just have to imagine LARGE turkey, tiny oven. (When I find the fool usb-thing, I have oodles of fun stuff to Blog about.)

So, let's just get on with the recipe, I think.

I have used a variation on this recipe for years; it's how my Mother did the stuffing or dressing for the turkey. (Stuffing if it's cooked in the turkey, Dressing if it's cooked outside the turkey. Your mileage may vary, but that's how we define it.) The Epicurious recipe found here is a great place to start... or just use it as is!

So here we are, into the new year and I got such a hankering for stuffing I was beginning to even consider roasting another damn turkey. Plus the girls love it. And I have all these bits of fig and walnut bread left over from our Champagne and foie gras orgy on Christmas Day. What to do?

I know! I'll concoct some kind of yummyness by using 6-8 large eggs, some milk and chicken stock, rather creating a kind of custard to pour over the bits of bread, oven-roasted marrons or chestnuts; smoky lardons of bacon and fresh sausage meat (both meats pre-cooked first before assembly); quartered whole mushrooms sautéed in demi-sel butter with chopped celery, chopped Roscoff rose onions instead of leeks, a sprig of minced fresh sage and a couple peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples; a couple handfuls of dried cranberries and some chopped toasted pecans; fold this all together and dump into a large buttered glass baking dish and call it Savoury Bread Pudding! It actually worked really well, and the only thing I'd do differently would be to skip the milk and just use the chicken stock and eggs... but then it isn't really bread pudding. Also, it's rather nice after it's cold, just sliced and eaten as a snack, as I'm doing now.

Try that stuffing recipe from Epicurious, you'll never consider Paxo ever again... or Mrs. Cubbinson's.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Bonne Année! Bonne Santé!

The title of this post is the merry and happy greeting I will repeat to everyone I encounter over the next few weeks, until I've seen everyone at least once. 'Happy New Year and Good Health.'
I like it. It's fast, kind and allows you to greet people you might not ordinarily speak to.

2009 was a time of enormous upheaval here, for me, health-wise. However, I am now off my arrêt de travail which means I can go back to work. I've finished with the casts, the wheelchair, the crutches, the five-times-a week sessions of physiothérapie. The only thing that ISN'T completely gone is the pain, but, thats a 'time will tell thing'.

So, basically, early June, I had to travel to Paris to go pick up my daughter's UK passport so she could go to Martinique on a school trip (seriously, a School Trip to the Caribbean. I was lucky to visit the Los Angeles Science or Art Museum or go to the La Brea Tar Pit when *I* was 11 and on a school trip.) As I was heading out the door, so I could catch the 6 am bus to get to the station to get a TGV to Paris, I tripped in the darkened corridor and fell OVER my foot. And felt something go 'snap' and then my foot went all floppy... and, oh heavens... pain. I knew immediately I did something, and not just a sprain, however, I HAD to get to the bus, I HAD to get that passport. So steeling myself with a 'You can do this, it's for your daughter, you dumb twit, just WALK!' I limped to the bathroom, grabbed some codeine, some Zaldiar, some paracetamol and some Nurophen, got to the door, got my backpack, my laptop, a bottle of water, locked the door then staggered to the bus stop in the early morning chill.

Once I was ON the bus, which I'd had to shout to stop it pulling away, I got to investigate my foot. Oh boy, it was swollen, the pain was exquisite and feeling around, carefully, I figured that I hadn't (likely) broken anything.


I love Paris, I really do, it's one of my favourite spots on Earth and to be there twice in one week was just too fun for words. I went to the British Consulate on the Wednesday to get the passport application started and I was now returning on the Friday to (hopefully) pick up the completed passport. The school trip was then leaving on the Monday so, no, I did NOT have a lot of leeway here.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, why did you leave it so late? I'd pose the exact same question myself were I you, Gentle Reader, so as not to go into great personal details let's just say, 'Money, ex-husband who is... erm... well, difficult and having moved, twice, since the last time I'd used it.' Also, when I had gotten notice from the Mairie that my daughter wasn't eligible for an Identity Card, and then had finally found the passport, I'd been assured that she could travel on the expired passport since, 'Pas de souci, she is, in effect, just going to a different Département, Madame, similar to going from here to Pitou-Charentes. Ne vous inquiétez pas.'

See that 'Ne vous inquiétez pas' should have set the Spidey Senses tingling, I've lived here long enough to know better that if someone tells you it's not a problem and not to worry, you should.

On the Monday I got notice that, well in fact, no, there was a slight problem, quite grave, and serious, actually as my daughter WOULD now need a valid passport.


Arranged with work to have the Wednesday and Friday off, spent a glorious day on the Wednesday going to the Consulate so I was the first person in the queue, tearing around finding an internet place where I could receive and print out an e-mail verifying the airplane ticket, having a super three-course menu as I waited for the Consulate to open up again after lunch, then getting all the paperwork turned in and made my way back via the maze that is the Paris Métro to the TGV and then home.

Well, what a difference a day makes (or even, if I was picky, 48 hours.)

As we quickly wound our way North by bus, I carefully calculated the amount of ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine and Zaldiar I could take without doing liver damage, and chased the lot down with the bottle of water. Maybe I should see a médicin in Paris? I bought two cans of Red Bull once I got to the TGV station when it dawned on me. Codeine = sleep. I could feel it beginning already, that dozey, cotton-wooly feeling I get from being on this particular opiate where the world just goes warm and soft and rather nice, in a slurred speech sort of way. Excellent, I'll sleep straight through to Montparnasse... and I did. (Once I got my laptop secreted into my backpack and tucked to the side of me then handed over my ticket, I was out like an incandescent light bulb. In fact the ticket-person had to wake me once we'd arrived.)

Red Bull (2), a Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne and a perfect, pure butter croissant with confiture: Breakfast of Champions.

The Métro, so easy two days prior, was a nightmare; all... those... stairs. My right foot was useless and though I was feeling very little pain, it was indeed slow torture.

However, got there, got the passport (yay!), had lunch, got back to the TGV and finally home again.

(The Parisian restaurant shots are for another story.)

An additional month working with my foot like this, a doctor, an échographie, a month of kinétherapie, another fall, another doctor, another échographie, then a specialist finds me in his office saying to me in Mid-August: 'Madame, you see how when I move your calf muscle, your foot does not move? But on your undamaged leg, the muscle causes the foot to move quite happily. This is because your muscle is no longer attached to your foot. The Achilles tendon has completely snapped. I suggest we do surgery. Malheureusement, I will have to open up the back of your leg to search for the tendon (shudder) but we should have a good result.'

Gulp... ok, as soon as possible, I suppose, yes.

'Fine, be back here tomorrow morning à jeun, nothing to eat after midnight, we do the surgery first thing.'

And we did, and now here we are.

Happy new year!