Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the table.... something new comes out and bites you. The latest idea to give a whole new meaning to the term "cheese board" was highlighted in Phillippe Samzun's article "Cheese? It's childs play!" in La Nouvelle République of 15 December 2014. Here's what he said.

A cheese maker from Fondettes has created a board game dedicated to the cheeses of France. A sort of Monopoly in soft cheese for children and adults.

Play and learn! Photograph - La Nouvelle République

Charles de Gaulle used to say that a country possessing 365 different sorts of cheese was by  its very nature ungovernable. Today you can find 1,200 ... how well do you think President Hollande can get away with it?

Cheeses are the speciality of Jean-Louis Bulté. This chap lives in St Maure - which places him already in the lap of destiny - and he runs three creameries at Fondettes, Bléré and Loches. (*) Creameries which, from now on, will be selling a home made board game dedicated "to this jewel in the crown of our national heritage".

In the matter of board games, his wife got there before him. "She's mad about history, and she created Histofoly, and it's now sold at the Chateaux of Chenonceau and Amboise. JTS, a games producer in Joué-les-Tours, encouraged us to do it again."

It must be said that, in this matter, there is what to say and what to do. Expert in AOP (**),  Jean-Louis Bulté is unstoppable on the subject of cheeses with a powdery crust, pressed cheeses cooked and uncooked, soft cheeses with a washed crust, blue cheese, goat cheese and the "petits laits" name given uniquely to Corsican cheeses. The proliferation of brands is a result of the work put in by the dairy industry to try to soften the blows of the economic difficulties they are encountering. This board game results from the same sort of logic.

"It's a game and educational at the same time. The principle is simple. You have to bring together, on one card, a whole family of cheese. The first to have filled their plate is the winner."

Getting there, but not a winner yet.
 Amazingly, the only cheese picture in my photo library -
a St Maure (left)  and a Pouligny soft goats cheese,
both from our neighbours at Pré,
served with love at La Promenade, Le Petit Pressigny in August 2012.
The hole in the St Maure is for the traditional straw.

In total, there are 640 questions, some of which are designed for children, colour cubes, puzzles, stories, with the possibility at the end of the day of becoming unbeatable on the subject of the cheesemaking, maturing, salting processes; an expert in raw milk; a know-it-all about PDOs (***). Aside from which, a player might just end up the possessor of a degree of competence running France!

* La balade des fromages, 6, rue du Général-de-Gaulle, Bléré. La passion des fromages, 9 rue de la République, Fondettes, La crémerie du Château, rue Picois à Loches. 
** Appellation d'origine protégée.
*** Protected Designation of Origin.

The game is for sale for 19.90 € in the three shops.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Energy weapons

Until last month I had never made flapjacks. My past experience was of something dry, gritty and overly sweet. Imagine! Then I tried Gaynor's flapjacks, and they were quite a revelation. What on earth had I been missing? Gluten free, too.

I started with the recipe for "Basic Flapjacks" in the BBC Good Food "Cakes & Bakes".

You start with the basic ingredients:
175g/6 oz butter, cut into pieces
140g/5oz golden syrup
50g/2oz light soft brown (muscovado) sugar
250g/9oz porridge oats
Now that sounds like it might be a little bland, and more than a little rich. Some dried fruit, nuts...
I reckon you could go up to 250 grammes more of dry ingredients without your flapjacks falling apart through stretching the "glue" too far. They're a little crumbly, but that's flapjacks.

Sultana, apricot, walnut and pumpkin seed flapjack
You could try a combination of
  • walnuts - broken into pieces and lightly toasted in a dry frying pan until crunchy
  • golden or dark raisins - halved if they're very big
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sultanas or currants
  • ready-to-eat dried apricots, quartered
  • ready-to-eat dried figs, quartered
  • pistachios, roughly chopped
  • stem ginger, roughly chopped
  • glacé cherries, quartered ....
You can buy most of these, and the oats, from the Bio Co-op, serve-yourself from dispensers into a paper bag, an ecologically friendly distribution method and good value for money. Not the stem ginger, though they may have it elsewhere.

Line a 23 cm/9 inch square baking tin with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180°c /170°c fan assisted / gas mark 4.

Put the butter, golden syrup and sugar into a medium saucepan (I weigh them into a pan, and take away the weight of the spoon from the weight of the syrup-plus-spoon). Heat gently, stirring from time to time, until the butter is melted, then stir vigorously until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats. Keep stirring until all the liquid is mixed in and all the oats are coated in butter. Add the additional ingredients and stir again to mix thoroughly.

Spread the mixture across the bottom of the tin, pressing it firmly down and into the corners and edges with the back of a spoon or spatula, and smoothe the surface. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes, then cover the mixture with another sheet of greaseproof and press down firmly with a flat object or roll with a cylindrical jam jar or something like a child's rolling pin. If you can make up a 23cm/9in square wooden stamp for this purpose, so much the better.

Mark the surface into squares or bars with the back of a knife or a spatula while still warm. Allow to cool completely. in the tin. Cut along the marked lines and break out the individual flapjacks.

Store in an airtight tin or Tupperware box, away from mice, particularly the two-legged variety.
Extra crunchy

Friday, 5 December 2014


Our chickens are settling in, apart from Shirley, who left us to become Big Daddy. She/he was exchanged for Blanche Dubois, who is definitely female (until she starts crowing).

Here is Blanche between the two survivors of the first tranche. That's Marion on the left, yes, the one with the developing crest and wattles. Marion bullies the others somewhat, and always gets to the food bowl and the snacks first. They adore chickweed, and their next favourite is the skin of a roast pumpkin.

Three little girls from school are we
 Here comes Alice. She gives Marion as good as she gets.

Werk definitely cluck cluck werk.

And this is Marion.

Cock-a-doodle Whoops...

Sorry, Marion Morrison who has turned into John Wayne, you're coq au vin, when you've put a bit of weight on. I've just seen an excellent recipe...

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Crocodile parsnip

That's not a parsnip!

That's not a parsnip either!

Now that's a parsnip....
Nearly 1.5kg of parsnip, actually. The variety is "Guernsey", I've been sowing successfully from the same packet for three years, which is meant to be impossible (always use fresh seed for parsnips, "they say") and despite our extremely stony soil, few of them are forked. This is the same batch that appeared in a post of  April 2013. Despite their size, they are not woody, except where those side roots join in. Just sweet and delicious.

In France, panais tends to be somewhat looked down upon, as a humdrum dish for starving peasants, but lately they have come back into fashion. So far we have made an excellent sausage and bean hotpot covered with slices of parsnip, potato and carrot; a parsnip and pumpkin soup, with Sweet Dumpling and Gold Nugget squash; and a roasted vegetable accompaniment to a roast chicken (thanks Gaynor and Tim, it was meaty).

The big one remains, challenging and taunting us. We'll put him in a sand box in the barn to keep him moist and juicy until we're ready to eat him. There's another sowing for Christmas... and the chicken we called Marion Morrison is turning out to be John Wayne...

Friday, 21 November 2014

Chooks - at last!

As a city girl born and bred, I didn't know the first thing about chickens, except that Old Dai Cox, my dad's farmer neighbour in Cowbridge in the twenties and thirties, kept Sussex hens, and logically referred to a singleton as a Sussec. Dad, from whom I inherited my love of words, thought this was great fun. Gradually a desire grew in me, to have a Sussec too. Which is why we are now proprietors of a trio of cross-bred Orpingtons.
The henhouse is a little palace, supplied by HRH Hill Ltd of Hounslow who wholesale chicken houses, and Amazon France, who retail poulaillers.

"The Monmouth", or possibly "The Devonshire" with Tim at the wheel
Of course, there had to be modifications to it - a solid base with wheels at one end and handles at the other, so that the whole thing could be moved from one place to another. Various reinforcements, particularly the replacement of most of the hinges with more solid ones, and the addition of catches at the front of the roof to stop it lifting in high wind. The stencil "hut 17" on the side is to come.

Releasing the wheels

Des. res. - the roosting area, with hay for home comfort.

The roof lifts off too. The metal handle is to close the internal door and shut them in.

Roger brought the hens over today and we settled them in the new house. He has six to part with and these were the easiest to catch on the day. While I went to get the camera they took themselves up the ramp into the roosting box where they couldn't be photographed. Problem: one, or possibly two, of them could be a cockerel. We don't want a cockerel, and no way do we want two. The neighbours have more than enough cockerels for us, thanks. The prime suspect is the biggest and boldest of the three. They didn't have names, but garden chickens should have names. I suggested the name "Shirley" for the possible male, after Shirley Crabtree, alias Big Daddy, a well known British wrestler. The others had to have a female-name-that-is-actually-male too. Welcome Alice (Cooper) and Marion (Morrison, aka John Wayne). We shall see.

Get off your horse and drink your milk!