Sunday, 24 February 2013

Putting up tents.

Fifi by the water barrels
I was strimming the reeds in the reed bed at the end of this week, when I noticed that the large white communal tent had gone up at Taizé. Spring is on its way and Easter is just around the corner. Things on the hill are busying up with a veritable army of volunteers (the so called “permanents”) who are preparing everything to cope with the huge influx of people for the Easter meetings. Tent frames are going up all over the place ready for the masses of blue accommodation tents which will be full in a few weeks. It is not surprising then, that we were lulled into a false sense of security about the pending camping weather.

Ice transported to the ditch
Every time low temperatures are predicted, we empty the water barrels at the bottom of our stairs so that they do not get damaged by the ice, so it was with horror yesterday that we spotted that there was an inch of ice on top of the water and the Fifi saving ladders could no longer be moved at all. So with the temperature at –3 degrees yesterday afternoon, there we were breaking ice and carting it off into the ditch along with about 2-300 litres of freezing cold water. I managed to get Fifi to pose for the photo just after we had done the work and doesn’t she look nice and warm with that fluffy fur coat of hers.

We were just in time, it them started to snow and my beautiful view of the tents in Taizé has been somewhat wiped out. So no photo of the tents in Taizé I am afraid, but here’s a nice photo of tents on our campsite, not taken this week by the way !

Non-view of Taizé
Campsite looking out towards Taizé

For more pictures of the campsite or our holiday accommodation click here.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Flower making then another long lunch with delicious potatoes.

An evening's work.
The other week we enjoyed yet another St Vincent celebration where the winegrowers in the area join together on the occasion of their patron saint’s day. After a parade, there is a church service and then a lunch with locally produced wine.

As with every year, paper flowers are made to decorate the village hosting the event. Not just one or two, but thousands upon thousands of the things, roses, wisteria, peach blossom, poppies, anemones and forsythia are just the ones I can remember. This year we decided to join the flower making team in one of the villages. So we turned up, awaited our instructions and we were allocated to poppy making. Cees and I had quite a little poppy factory going by the end of the evening. In all, we made nearly 50 poppies between the two of us in a couple of hours. You can just imagine how many man-hours are needed to make the thousands of flowers actually produced ! All the paper flowers were duly set out in Coretvaix (the host to this year’s party) on Saturday afternoon and that night it literally poured with rain. The blossom, wisteria and forsythia faired quite well, but sadly our huge poppies caught too much water to be at their best come Sunday morning.

Slightly floppy after the rain
But of course, the main event of the day is the lunch and this year they had returned to using the caterer Rose from Monceau-les-Mines and it was truly superb. We started with a terrine of guinea fowl and foie gras with pistachio, the fish course looked interesting, but I was treated to sweetbread vol-au-vent with mushrooms. After a trou bourgignon (local fire water poured over a cassis sorbet) the main course was a mouth-watering braised veal, tomatoes Provencal and pommes dauphine, a plate of cheeses followed and then a variety of delicate desserts with the coffee. We left as soon as the coffee was served at 7 o’clock in the evening - lunches tend to take a long time round here !

The potatoes (pommes dauphine) are worthy of a mention in their own right as I had never had anything like them before. To be honest when I see them on the menu I always confuse them with pommes dauphinoise, which is layers of potato roasted in cream to give a soft succulent finish and brown crust – one of my favourite ways of making potatoes and worth every massive calorie in my opinion, so when the usual deep fried balls of potato coated in breadcrumbs arrive on my plate I am always disappointed. But on this occasion we were treated to an absolute delight of a potato dish, a light crusty potato ball almost like choux pastry or a small Yorkshire pudding but with a potato taste, hollow in the middle, just crisp and delicious.

Somewhat confused at not having received the usual miserable potato balls, I started an internet search and found out that all this time I have been cheated. The disappointing bread crumbed potatoes normally served to the public are imposters, they are not pommes dauphine at all, they are pommes noissettes. So for the first time in my life, at this year’s St Vincent lunch, I was treated to the real thing.

I can’t pass up the opportunity of giving a recipe for these delights.

Pommes dauphine - the real thing.
Pommes Dauphine – makes about 30 potato balls

(sorry about the mixed units, it’s just the way I think..)
5 oz plain flour
4 oz butter
a large pinch of salt
¼ pint milk
¼ pint water
4 eggs - lightly beaten
1 kilo Potatoes, peeled and cut into equal-sized chunks
Freshly-ground Black Pepper

Put the milk and water in a large saucepan and add the butter and heat gently.
When the butter has melted, raise the heat and bring the mixture to the boil.
Add the sifted flour and the salt to the liquid (stirring all the time) and mix it all together.
You should end up with a smooth dough.
Allow the dough to cool slightly, then mix in the beaten eggs, a little at a time.
Cover the pastry and set aside.
Boil the potatoes in a pan, adding a little salt to the water.
Simmer until they are done (test with a knife).
Drain and mash the potatoes without adding any extra liquid.
Mix the mashed potatoes and pastry mix together, adding some pepper.
Heat enough oil to 190ºC so that the potato balls can be deep fried.
Scoop out dessertspoons of the potato/flour mixture and fry them in the hot oil for about 2 minutes – by which time they should be golden brown.
Remove the browned balls with a slotted spoon, and keep them warm in the oven on some kitchen paper.

Absolutely yummy.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Jobs that take months

This last week started with our electricity being cut off. I don’t mean throw a switch - which they did first, or remove the fuses – which they did as a second, I mean literally cut off. In France there are no half measures. A nice man from the electricity company climbed the pole in our garden and got out a huge pair of cutters and literally cut us off.

Out come the cutters
One gone, three to go

So what had we done to prompt such drastic action? Well nothing actually. For reasons that are beyond our comprehension, the electricity company have decided to replace the 10 or so poles that bring the electrical cables to our house and that means installing new cables. The whole exercise has been going on for months and finally, as of early this week, the lovely new electricity poles in our field are connected by new cables to our house. I can’t say we have noticed any difference, but I am sure that the little electrons rushing into our house are much happier having have travelled more comfortably down the new cables. Only the telephone wire to go and then the old posts will be cut down and removed, now that will be fun..
Installing new cables is not a job for wimps

When the electricity came back on, I was able to get down to things and finally finish the bathroom, another job that has been going on for months. So here is the full reveal. Dah dah!

For more information on our holiday accommodation with a revamped bathroom click here.
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