Printemps…Spring in France

Ok, I was going to write something dreadfully interesting about Cluny or Lyon, but the thing is, I was on the 6.05am train into Brisbane this morning, had a gruelling day in the office – including being a guest judge for the office bake-off (oh the pressure) – and didn’t get home until…well, you don’t need to know the details.

Suffice to say that my brain isn’t working at the moment, so I’m taking the easy way out and sharing some French spring flowers with you. What’s not to love about that?

Blossoms

and…just because I can’t help myself…

Irises

and for something a little different…

Tulips and other bulbs

Most of these pics were taken in Lille – at the beginning of our trip.

and some token daffys…

Chateau Flowers

Wisteria

Full disclosure – I have enough pictures of wisteria and lilacs to fill multiple posts…here are just a few.

Lilacs

We had to stop for photos every time I saw it.

Just because

Yes, I happened upon some bluebells too… If you’ve read Wish You Were Here you’ll know about my fascination with bluebells.

Market Flowers

and finally…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Dijon

Last week I told you about the cooking class that we did in Dijon with Alex Miles. If you missed it, you’ll find the link here.

I ran out of time to talk about Dijon itself. To begin, it’s about more than mustard – although mustard is, of course, part of the Dijon story…as is wine.

History

The history of this part of France is mind-blowing. We’re talking all the way back to Julius Caesar, the Gauls and years ending in BC.

Slightly more recently than that – between the 11th and 15th century – Dijon was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy. There was a particularly golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries when the Duchy challenged the power of France itself. These years were full of stories of assassinations, treachery, back-hand dealings, illegitimate children and power-broking. It’s the stuff that entire mini-series could be written and produced around. Just imagine – sumptuous costumes and tapestries, tales of treachery, treason and lust.

But, I digress. There were four Dukes of Burgundy in these golden years: Phillipe-le-Hardi (Philip the Bold), Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless), Phillipe-le-Bon (Philip the Good) and Charles-le-Téméraire (Charles the Bold who later became known as Charles the Reckless). At this point, I’m wondering what I would be known as. I’m thinking a play on my maiden name. Joanne-le-Lion au Coeur.

Each of the Dukes married extremely well and their courts were sumptuous indeed – full of the best in tapestries, music, sculpture, gastronomy and fine arts. At least, that was until Charles the Bold managed, unbelievably, to milk dry Burgundy’s extremely wealthy coffers…but that’s another (long) story.

In any case, it’s this history that makes Dijon so interesting now. The wonderful medieval and renaissance buildings are a direct result of the golden years of the duchy as the finest painters, sculptors and architects were brought to Dijon.

The pics

This is a fabulous city for walking around – and not just for the architecture.

Don’t forget to check out the details.

We had eaten way too much to sample any of the excellent food Dijon has to offer…maybe next time.

Sadly we spent only a few hours wandering this city – we could have spent days.

We visited Dijon as part of a longer stay in the Burgundy region. If you want the details of where we stayed, check out this post.

 

 

 

 

Soupe a l’oignon…a cheat’s version

Soupe a l’oignon in Paris

Of course, I’m still a tad obsessed about all things French at the moment. I’m slowly working my way through blogging our travels back in April and May and I’m playing around with story ideas in my head.

Another thing that I’m doing is attempting to recreate some of the tastes that we experienced in France. That goes with the story ideas…naturally.

I expected the food to be good, but I also expected to be overwhelmed with way too much cream, butter and rich sauces that sat heavily on my tummy. What I didn’t expect – and probably should have – was the simplicity and seasonality we found and enjoyed.

F, the friend that we stayed with at Lille and road-tripped with for a couple of weeks, cooked a lovely meal on our first night in France that was quintessentially French – without a heavy sauce in sight. It was roast beef studded with garlic and herbs, painted with mustard and served with a roast potato and pea salad. For sweets, she doused some new season strawberries in crème de cassis and drizzled over some cream. Parfait et très français.

It was this menu that I wanted to play with for our Bastille Day dinner. Herby roast beef with potatoes roasted whole with garlic, rosemary and salt, and green beans with shallots and a simple mustard vinaigrette.

What I really wanted to start the meal with was onion soup or soupe a l’oignon – even though it can be almost a meal in itself. The last time I made it though, it was so deep and rich we couldn’t eat anything else afterwards. Plus the house reeked of onions. Having said that, it was a beer, onion and cheese soup – is there any wonder it was heavy?

Onion soup made the traditional way, though, is both a taste sensation and a labour of love.

Aussie author John Baxter attempted the traditional method of soupe a l’oignon when writing about it for his fabulous “The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France.” The beef stock itself took almost a day to cook, reduce and strain. Then the meticulously finely sliced onions were slowly caramelised – this part took another 40 minutes or so – before cognac was added and boiled off. A roux – butter and flour – then formed the base of the soup itself to which the jellied consommé from the previous day’s efforts was added. Cheese croutes completed the dish. After almost 2 days of labour, he got la soupe.

This recipe is much easier than that – it’s also the no tears version. You get the caramelised sweetness from the roasted onions without the (sometimes therapeutic) stirring, and the depth of taste without the heaviness of beer or beef stock.

Just take 4 onions, peel them and slice them in half from root to tip. Pop into a roasting tray with salt and pepper and dots of butter – about 40g – and put in an oven heated to 200C. Cook them until they’re dark and toasty on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. I turned them twice and cooked them for a total of 45 minutes.

Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut the onions into wedges and put in a saucepan with 1 cup of white wine. Let the wine bubble down to almost nothing and then pour in 1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock and allow it all to simmer happily for about 20 minutes.

Onion soup is usually served with cheese croutes – thinly sliced and toasted slices of baguette with gruyere or emmental or some other melting cheese floated on top of the soup. You’re supposed to toast the bread, top it with cheese, pop it on top of the soup and put it all under the griller until it’s bubbling and rustic, but I don’t know how my bowls will go under the griller, so I melt the cheese on the toast and put it in when it’s all done.

As for a photo? Sorry, I’m yet to master making beige soup look anywhere close to good.

 

Cooking with Alex…

When we first planned the itinerary for this road trip, a cooking class was on each of our wish lists. And preferably in Burgundy. But not a commercial cooking class, we didn’t want one of those. We were after local food, local markets, and a small group. Something personal with real stories about eating and living in France. Our day cooking with Alex Miles was all of this. And more. But I digress.

We meet Alex outside Dijon Railway Station, near some coffee shop or another. We had no idea how we’d know him, but he came straight up to us. Obviously, we looked as though we were waiting around to meet a chef for a day of cooking in Dijon…

Alex, a New York pastry chef (amongst other things) in a previous life, has called Dijon home for the past 30 years or so. Over coffee and home-made mini muffins that he produced from his bag, we chat about food and cooking, and life in Dijon.

Onto the markets – which are, as an aside, fabulous…but, of course, I’ve already told you about them, here.  Alex seems to know everyone and at every stall, after he’d made his purchases, a muffin comes out of the bag for the proprietor. Alex has a smile, a bonjour, and a muffin for everyone.

Dijon Markets

Back in Alex’s apartment, we head into the kitchen to start preparing lunch. Before I tell you about lunch, a few words about Alex’s kitchen. Aside from having my dream stove (check it out in the pic below), there is not one inch of space in this kitchen that isn’t utilised – and absolutely nothing is wasted.

I asked about the dark powder in one of the spice jars. It was, Alex told me, vanilla powder. When he’d extracted the seeds from the vanilla pods, he dried the pods and ground them into this deep, fragrant dust. In his words, the amount of garbage most of us have is insane.

The spirit of the leftover that we talked about the other week – remember when I told you about the savoury cake? – is continued here. Bones and leek tops are reserved for stocks and leftover vegetables become soups. The base of the pate we’re served with our kir (blackcurrant liqueur in white wine) is another example of nothing going to waste. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 part leftover chicken or duck
  • 1 part sausage mince
  • 1 part liver
  • 1 part veg

It’s all then bound together with eggs and flour and cooked in a loaf tin

Also on the appetiser plate is jambon persille – essentially a ham terrine with parsley. It, like the crème de cassis we have in our wine, is a Burgundian classic. The persille we’re eating was bought at the markets, but in the name of research, I’m going to have a go at making my own…but that’s for another day.

As we chop vegetables for our spring vegetable starter (I’ve already blogged the recipe – you’ll find it here) Alex prepares the rabbit in mustard sauce – Dijon mustard of course. Alex has sent me the recipes and given his permission for me to share them, so I’ll do that over the next few days. Oh, if you don’t like rabbit, this mustard sauce works really well with chicken as well.

Next, we prepare the Crème d’Amande or Almond Cream for the tart – Alex has already made the crème patisserie and the Pâte Sablée aux Amandes or sweet almond pastry. Treat the pastry as you would a woman, he says.

Finally, it’s time to eat – and drink…so we do. First, the spring vegetables…

Then the Lapin a la Moutarde, rabbit in mustard sauce…

Local cheeses,

and finally that perfect pear tart.

In order to walk off at least some of that fabulous food, Alex leads us on a walking tour around Dijon and presents us with a praline brioche – another classic of the region. It’s the perfect way to finish a fabulous day.

this photo was taken in Lyon

 

If you want to know more about cooking with Alex Miles in Dijon, you can email him at alexmiles47@gmail.com or check out his website here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Melbourne

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the weekend that Ms T and I do our annual weekend away in Melbourne. It’s something that we’ve been doing for years now – since she was about 10, I suppose…maybe earlier. Over that time we’ve shared it occasionally with friends and, on one occasion, with my sister and her daughter, but mostly it’s just us.

What do we do? Mostly walk and eat and talk…and talk and eat and walk. Sure, there’s a little bit of research for whatever it is that I’m writing – or intending to write – but generally, I come back with more ideas than what I’ve gone down to research.

Dumplings

Of course. Hutong is my fave purveyor of dumplings in a city that knows its dumplings, but we were after a quick snack in lieu of the lunch that we missed out on due to a delay of the Jetstar variety. Something to keep us going until dinner.

Shanghai Dragon Dumplings (at least I think that’s the name) in Russell St did the job – and for less than $20.

Pasta

Not quite in the cheap eats category,  is the Cellar Bar at Grossi Florentino in Bourke St – at the Exhibition Street end. We love it here and always – even in the middle of winter – choose to sit outside on the street.

This time we each had possibly the best plate of pasta in recent memory – Tonarelli alla Gricia, Guanciale, Pecorino. A simple Roman dish with just three ingredients – pasta, pecorino, and guanciale or pigs cheek. That’s it. Delicious.

Plus, we had room left for dessert at Om Nom.

Dessert

This was our designated splurge for the weekend – Om Nom at the Adelphi Hotel in Flinders Lane, just up from Swanston Street. We’d booked a table for dessert only.

At the reception counter

Hilariously we’d just finished raving about how fabulous three ingredients could taste and how you didn’t need to do unnecessary stuff to food. ‘Who needs foams and gels and spheres?’ I asked.

And then we walked into Om Nom. These desserts – and the cocktails – are unashamedly theatrical. All of it is unnecessary, yet at the same time, so beautiful that you can’t do anything but appreciate it.

Ms T had strawberries and meringue – that was obviously so much more than that. Liquid nitrogen was involved.

I had an apple and coconut splice – which was, in essence, an apple and coconut splice. Was the foam required? Nope, but when the syrup that was poured over by the executive chef dissolved the foam almost before I could get a good photo of it, it left behind little drops of pure coconut. Clever.

Apologies for the pic quality – the lighting wasn’t good.

Walking and Exploring

This is such a great city for exploring on foot – and we always try and throw in one destination foodie place to make the walk even more worthwhile. On this trip, we were heading up into East Brunswick via Carlton – and back via Fitzroy.

I’ve always loved it around here – the mix of student accommodation, vintage shops, Victorian-era architecture, cafe culture, and Little Italy represents Melbourne in a nutshell. All up we covered about 10kms return…which helped justify pizza!

We walked up Lygon Street past Trades Hall (where I attempted to bore Ms T with a lesson about the 8 hour day and the trade union movement in Australia – her eyes glazed over very quickly) and detoured off to have a look at Melbourne University. This was, of course, when the rain started. By the time we reached the cemetery though, there were glimpses of blue sky again.

Speaking of which, if you’re into exploring interesting cemeteries – and yes, I am – this is a fascinating one. Burke and Wills are buried here, as is Frederick Federici (said to be the phantom of the Princess Theatre), and a whole host of prime ministers and premiers.

Pizza

It wasn’t all just aimless wandering – we did have a destination in mind: 400 Gradi in Brunswick.

This place has won awards for its pizzas – proper awards – and it’s easy to see why. Stupendously good pizza – and well worth the walk.

Street Art

A Melbourne post by me wouldn’t be complete without some street art.

Hosier Lane…

And elsewhere…

and finally, an ode to spaghetti…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Sentence a day – June

June is done and we’re into the middle of winter. I suspect that I’ve acclimatised as I’ve really felt the cold so far this winter. Don’t look at me like that, the nights can get a tad chilly! Besides, I’m writing this at the airport in Melbourne where it’s really cold. Anyways, enough of the complaints, let’s wrap up June – in a sentence, or two, a day.

1. The morning spent writing at the Surf Club and the afternoon spent baking cookies and lasagne. This is what the first day of winter in Queensland looks like.

2. Friends up from Sydney for the weekend. Made a French Savoury Cake to go with tonight’s bubbles.

3. Fish and chips on the beach for lunch.

4. Monday morning walk, work, lunch at Korean, and a sad goodbye as my friends head back to Sydney.

5. Walk and work.

6. It’s cold – yes, even in Queensland. It’s a wear your uggies to work kind of day. Luckily I work from home. (As an aside, this isn’t me working…)

7. If you can’t say anything nice, talk about the weather – I worked and it rained.

8. Hairdressers, more rain, some baking, and some words.

9. Woke to the sad news that Anthony Bourdain had died. He travelled the way I like to travel – street food, real culture, to the gritty soul of a place.

Street art from Hosier Lane – I’m disappointed that someone has tagged this.

10. Lunch at Saltwater and finished binge-watching Collateral.

11. Queens Birthday holiday in Sydney so I have the day off – sort of, I still did a few hours. Anyways, a walk this morning and a picnic up at Mary Cairncross Park. And a photo of One Tree Hill.

12. Way too nice a day to be stuck inside working…just saying.

13. Take yesterday and repeat.

14. Back to back meetings and friends up from Sydney for the night.

15. Nambour Show Day so a public holiday. Dinner at Maroochy Surf Club with friends and a big win on the meat trays.

16. Off to Sydney – where it’s cold. Unplanned drinkies tonight with a girlfriend to watch the Socceroos.

17. Took a long walk around the city, lunch at the Opera Bar, and a look at my fave tree. You can read about it here. Shivered through the bus ride home.

18. Wind is icy this morning and I think I’ve put on every layer I brought with me. Good to see my colleagues in the office, and dinner in Castle Hill with friends.

19. Woke after a bad night feeling completely wrecked – too many late nights I suspect. Rainy and cold getting into work this morning and a weird pink sky tonight on the commute home.

20. There was an accordion player busking in Wynyard tunnel this morning playing “The Final Countdown”. Not only was I singing it all day, but it was weirdly uplifting. Out for dinner with friends – I’m way too old and tired for all this gallivanting on a school night.

Wynyard Tunnel

21. Heading home after work today. Jetstar flight right on time. #winning

22. Lunch at The Dock, blue skies and coffee with a friend.

23. My first attempt at homemade crumpets declared a success.

24. Can’t be faffed driving around looking for a carpark in Noosa so a redraw from the Decision Bowl had us having lunch at Rice Boi. Good result.

Pork bao

25. Ms T in Sydney for the week. I’ll see her in Melbourne on Friday.

26. Fun fact – in Cantonese wonton literally means “swallowing cloud” because they float in the broth like small clouds. That piece of trivia is much more exciting than my day – which was grey and a busy one in the office.

27. It’s raining again – some half decent words were written to try and get me out of the timeline tangle I’ve written myself into.

28. Missing my Nan today – she would have been 100. Man, she would have loved that – any excuse for a party!

29. Did you know that Speedo, the Aussie swimsuit company, was founded in the 1920s in Sydney by a Scotsman – Alexander McRae – who was born in a small highland fishing village near Loch Kishorn? Neither did I. In other news, off to Melbourne for a long weekend with MsT. Flight delayed, dumplings for lunch, best plate of pasta in recent memory for dinner, and something simply stupendous for dessert – but you’ll need to tune in on Thursday for the details.

30. A walk up to Brunswick for the best pizza ever. Seriously. Shopping this afternoon and continuing the Italian theme for dinner at Cecconis. Oh, how I love this city…I truly think I could be Italian…just saying

What I read

June was a huge reading month – all of the above. My read of the month? Lisa Ireland’s The Art of Friendship.

What I watched

  • Masterchef (of course)
  • Collateral (on Netflix)
  • I’ve just started watching Secret City on Netflix and am hooked. Canberra has never looked so interesting.
  • Shakespeare and Hathaway (ABC)
  • Poldark (ABC)

What I listened to

Aside from the usual podcasts I listen to while I’m working, I’ve discovered Branch Out – the podcast from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. It’s for research purposes.

How was your month? Read, watched or listened to anything great?


The Decision Bowl

Each Sunday morning we’d have the same discussion. It usually went along the lines of “what are we doing today Mum?”

That problem has now been solved. Enter the Bowl…or The Decision Bowl, to give it its full title.

The bowl, an old Chinese bowl which used to hold a candle that I’d bought at the markets one time, now holds folded pieces of paper on which are written Sunday lunch destinations.

The process is simple: anyone can add to the bowl, with the draw happening on a Wednesday night – in case a booking or preparation is required.

The rules

Of course, there needs to be some…

1. It must be cheap eats or moderately priced. Nothing with the main course over $25.

2. It can’t be in a food court (that rule is for my husband). It can, however, be at a shopping centre as Betty’s Burgers has just opened at Sunshine Plaza saving us the trip to Noosa.

3. You can’t just specify a cuisine eg yum cha – you have to also name the restaurant/cafe (that rule is also for my husband).

4. You can’t write the same place down more than once (yep, also for my husband).

5. We can’t visit the same place more than once a month. The next time that spot is drawn out, you have to choose something different from the menu.

6. A veto is permitted under the following circumstances:

  • A special event could impact access or parking eg Mooloolaba Triathlon.
  • There’s a weather event that will impact the chosen option eg it’s peeing (word changed as apparently my parents now read this blog…) down and we’re supposed to be having fish and chips at Mooloolaba Beach

7. Each member is allowed one veto a quarter and must thereafter smile and deal with it.

8. Every 6 weeks the draw will be made from the Brisbane Bowl.

9. Each person can exercise a wild card once a quarter and choose wherever they want – as long as it isn’t the Japanese noodle place at the food court in Sunshine Plaza (yep, that one is there for hubby too).

10. Hubby, as designated driver, retains a free veto for any distance over 40kms if he has driven over that distance in a single trip during the previous week.

11. Family commitments, special events eg birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or illness override all of the above.

12. No variation to the rules is permitted unless the whole family agrees.

13. Any disputes are to be adjudicated by Mum.

14. Kali, Adventure Spaniel, does not get a vote – mainly because she’d always agree with Mum.

The story so far

Week 1: Woombye Pub

An old-school Queensland pub, we chose to eat in the front bar from the counter menu rather than head out the back to the dining room.

The menu in the front bar is exactly what you’d expect it to be from a country pub and the meals are huge. Think chicken parmi, rissoles, fish and chips, steak sandwiches, or, my hubby’s misguided fave, lamb’s fry and bacon (eeeeeeuw).

Week 2: Fish and chips on Mooloolaba Beach

BYO wine and picnic basket.

Week 3: Saltwater at Mooloolaba

I’ve written about here before – on the Sunny Coast blog…you’ll find it here. What did we eat? Fish tacos, chowder with mussels, and mussels.

Week 4 – The Dock, Mooloolaba

Another relative newbie down at The Wharf in Mooloolaba. As an aside, I’m really loving what they’re doing down there – the place has come to life again. The menu is a good one, but we kept it simple with jalapeno poppers, chicken wings and flatbread burgers.

Week 5: Rice Boi

We originally drew out The Beach House at Noosa – the front bar area – but I used my quarterly veto because I just couldn’t be faffed with the palaver that is trying to find a car park in Hastings St on a Sunday.

Next out of the bowl was Rice Boi, a fave of ours. I’ve written about it too on the Sunny Coast blog.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


What I’m working on…

I’ve got myself into a literary pickle of sorts.

It sounded so straightforward when I first thought of it: a loose series of 5 (or 6) books that with stand-alone stories mostly set in Melbourne that have cross-overs with minor characters. Like if Love Actually was a series of 5 (or 6) love stories mostly set in Melbourne where everything and everyone comes together at the end.

How hard could it be?

It started so easily.

I had my characters and I had their protagonists. I even had their suburbs:

  1. Emily (Em) – Richmond – Baby, It’s You
  2. Abigail (Abby) – CBD – Big Girls Don’t Cry
  3. Maxine (Max) – Cotswolds and NZ – Wish You Were Here
  4. Calliope (Callie) – Fitzroy – I Want You Back
  5. Tiffany (Tiff) – South Yarra – (working title) I’m Not in Love
  6. Alice – Prahran – (working title) When Stars Align

I’d even worked out which characters appear in which novels. What could possibly go wrong?

The timeline. That’s what could go wrong.

The hole that I’d dug myself was one where four novels all take place within the same time-frame. Wish You Were Here is the exception – the characters cross over, but the events do not. Alice’s story will take place after Tiff’s has finished, so I’m not too concerned with that one either.

I first came across the problem when I was at copy edit stage of I Want You Back. I’d gone back to check on when a certain two events occurred in Baby, It’s You and discovered that I needed to write another week in. That was a lucky pick-up.

I’m having the same problem with I’m Not In Love, but it’s worse because the action (if action is the right word) happens at exactly the same time as I Want You Back. This means that the three scenes crossover over must have exactly the same dialogue but from a different point of view. Plus there’s a character that also appears in Big Girls Don’t Cry who turns up so I have to get her timing right too.

With all this talking about crossing over, anyone I would think I was that TV medium – is it John Edward? If you’re confused, spare a thought for me. Anyways, I’ve come up with a rough timeline that identifies where the touch points are.

Then I have to write it all without giving away what’s occurred in any of the other stories – the whole idea being that each can be read as a stand-alone novel.

If I was JK Rowling I would have had it all planned out before I even wrote the first one, but, of course, I’m not JK Rowling and I’m not into plotting in advance.

I possibly could have even had an easier time of it if I hadn’t decided so early on that the final three books in the series would be a mini-series of their own. Callie, Tiff and Alice are best friends – of course their stories were going to merge and, dare I say it, cross over.

So yes, I’ve dug myself a hole, now I have to find a way to write myself out of it – by the end of July. How hard can it be?

How to make crumpets

It’s winter – even if the blue sky is telling you otherwise – and at winter your fancy turns to comfort food and cups of tea. And what can be better comfort food than toasty warm crumpets with melting butter and jam – or honey?

Cumulus Inc in Melbourne does amazing homemade crumpets. They serve them with homemade ricotta and rooftop honey. It’s a real brekky treat if I’m ever in Melbourne in the winter.

I’ve never tried making them at home for myself though – until now – and it’s absolutely worth it. In fact, they were so good that I started fantasising about having a BNB somewhere in the country where I’d get up at 5 am to make homemade crumpets that would be served with fruit butter or jams I’d also bottled myself from the bounty that would have miraculously grown in the kitchen garden or potager that somehow produced enough produce to have me contemplating my own River Cottage type enterprise. Yes, they were that good.

I suspect, however, that the closest I’ll get to that particular fantasy will be when I write it into a novel. Which is, of course, where the best dreams belong.

Before I give you the recipe, a couple of hints. These need to cook slowly in order to let the bubbles do their thing. Also, I just used egg rings to shape them and although it gave us a smaller crumpet, they were easier to cook, control and flip.

What you need

  • 1 1/2 cups milk – I used full-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda)
  • 200ml water – not cold, not warm – that in-between temperature.

What you do with it

  • Heat the milk in a saucepan until it is just warm. If you have it too hot it will kill the yeast. Pour it into a clean bowl and stir in the sugar and the yeast. As you let it stand it will start to bubble a bit – t make take about 10 mins to get to this stage.
  • Sift the flour and salt into another bowl and make a well in the centre – which you will, of course, pour the liquid gradually into. Beat until smooth – you can do this by hand if you want, but electric beaters make the whole thing so much smoother.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stand in a warm-ish place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. It should double in volume and be full of airy bubbles. To help it along – if your kitchen is cold, a warm tea towel over the top will help.
  • Mix the bicarb with the water and get your beaters out again to combine it with the batter. This seems like a weird thing to do but go with me.
  • Heat a heavy-based frypan over medium heat and lightly grease with butter. Also, grease whatever metal rings you’re using as moulds and put them in the pan.
  • Depending on the size of the rings, spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the batter into each.

  • Cook over a very low heat for about 5 minutes. You’ll see bubbles rise to the surface and a skin form across the top. You can now loosen the moulds (or take them away completely if they just come loose) and flip the crumpets to cook the other side – they won’t need long.
  • Remove them and let them rest on a wire rack while you cook the rest.

These can be eaten fresh, but I cut them in half and pop them in the toaster.

 

 

Burgundy

I adored Champagne as a region. We had some memorable meals, dranks some memorable bubbles, and had some memorable experiences. If I was pushed for my favourite of the regions that we travelled through though? It would be Burgundy.

I enjoyed Beaune and, although I haven’t yet shown you any of Dijon other than Les Halles, it’s a beautiful city.

Burgundy seems somehow greener, the hills more lush and rolling. There’s definitely more livestock, and the cheese tastes different. Not better, not worse, just different.

Chateauneuf was easily the most beautiful village we visited, and the lilacs everywhere took my breath away.

Not to forget the wisteria, of course…

As for the food? It was richer and heavier than what we’d had in Champagne – more typically French, perhaps – but full of flavour. Yes, Burgundy was everything I’d hoped for and more.

We stayed in a gite in a small village called Marigny-l’Église, in an area known as Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan. Our closest shops were about 8kms away in Quarre-les-Tombes. After a day of touring, we were happy to call in at Quarre and grab a baguette, some cheese and top up our wine supplies and eat at home.

As an aside, we did have one great meal at a restaurant in Quarre called Le Morvan. Two courses 24 euros – excellent service and fabulous food.

kir royale

Marigny-l’Église had one bar/restaurant, but it was only open limited hours and also doubled as the local post office – also open limited hours. Not that it mattered – Quarre was close and we planned ahead.

The gite itself was quite unassuming from the outside but was super clean and had a real cozy charm inside – with everything you need to be comfortable.

We loved bringing our picnic dinners back to eat in front of the log fire – and were grateful that the evenings were cool enough for us to light it.

The best part though was the garden.

Sitting outside in the late afternoon spring sunshine with a glass of wine and a book, well that was pinch-me-I’m-dreaming stuff.

The gite was across the road from the local church – whose bells chimed on the hour from (I think) 8 am until 8 pm.

We found this gite through Air BNB. The link is here.