30 Nov

Joyeux Christmas, everyone!

The season is nearly upon us, and I am dreading it. Not so much the shopping for presents (I love it!) and even less the preparing of the feast (as if!). No, what I am dreading is the writing of the Christmas cards. Or rather, I would be dreading it if I actually wrote any. You see, even after all these years in this country, I have not fallen foul of this most bizarre of British obsessions.

It is simply not a French ‘thing’ at all. Some people do send cartes de voeux for the New Year, but even that is nothing compared to the frenzy that seizes a whole population around the beginning of December. In our household, the ordering of the cards from various charities has been done, and the address book has been checked. All that remains now is spending hours writing the darn things.

My role usually involves buying the stamps and sometimes writing the addresses on the envelopes, but I will not do more. End of discussion. Oh, and I will push the boat out enough to take them to the post box, but that’s all. Well, almost. Apparently, it is also my job to find a neat way to display the hundreds (at least it seems that many) of cards we receive every year. But I will NOT be drawn into writing any.

So, if any of my dear friends happen to read this, now you know the truth! And if you happen to receive a card from me, you’ll know how lucky and treasured you are.


23 Nov

Astley Castle

 Nestled in the Warwickshire countryside, Astley Castle is a simply stunning place. Winner of the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture, it is imposing, yet charming; sombre, yet utterly comfortable; and most of all, romantic beyond belief. I have been lucky enough to stay there last year with a group of friends and even luckier to be going back later this year. I doubt that we will have the chance to visit again next year.

So I have decided to make the most of it again this year. I am lucky to be only one of the several cooks coming to the gathering, and we always share the pleasures of feeding the group. I will of course be bringing a couple of cakes to make sure that we can have a proper tea upon arrival on the Friday afternoon. After that, I am not sure which meal I will be cooking. I think I may be in charge of breakfast on both days.

Others will provide us with grand meals, keeping us all fuelled for the walks, visits to antiques market and endless (and very competitive) games of croquet. I hope that my friend Dan brings Hector the dog, a wonderfully placid English setter who loves long walks and the wood burner stove, just like me.

I will be sure to update you after breakfast…

11 Nov

Salted or not, here I come!

I’m talking butter, here. Like Marmite, this issue divides the nation. Let me be clear from the start: it is salted for me, end of. I love the stuff. I guess it’s the Breton in me, making me think that this predisposition is genetic. To be honest, I don’t recall which type of butter was used at home in my early years, but I have a feeling it was beurre doux and not the beurre salé I invariably use on my tartines now.

Of course, baking and cooking use a lot of unsalted butter, and I am going with the flow there, although I stubbornly use my favourite brand of salted butter to create the perfect garlic butter for my world famous(-ish) escargots.

My problem lies in restaurants. To me, even the best of butters, like Echiré, is incomplete without the crunchy flakes of sea salt I’m obviously addicted to. That’s where the salt and pepper set comes in handy. While I trust the chef implicitly as far as the seasoning of my meal is concerned, I simply cannot do without salted butter. Do I then breach restaurant etiquette if I spread some butter on bread and then salt it myself? I would never dream of doing it as a guest at your table, so why do I do it at the chef’s? It’s a mystery, but the stomach wants what it wants…