Sunday, 25 April 2010

No shrinking violets here!

I had a truly splendid time yesterday. One of the wine villages, Chaintre, was holding it's annual 'Rare plant fair' which gave me the chance to combine several of my favourite pass times: gardening, being among vineyards and meeting up with my girlfriends, in one blissful, sunny afternoon. I was accompanied by two of my dearest friends, Veronica and Di, two wonderful souls guaranteed to lift the spirits. Veronica was a little sceptical as we set out as she had been to one of these rare plant shows before and had been dissappointed when the rarist plant on offer had been a lupin!

The wine villages of the Macon Village route are splendid, each has at least one chateau and the ornate tiles and towers take your breath away. The vines grow right up to (and around) the houses and if the plot of land is over a metre square, there will be grapes growing on it. We found ourselves ooohing and ahhing at every bend in the road and frequent stops for photos meant the event until it was in full swing by the time we arrived. As we stepped from the car, the smell of sweet lilac and wisteria wafted on the warm air and the heat reflected from the ancient stone buildings added to the already balmy temperatures.

There were plenty of stalls and whilst the plants were not necessarily exotic, they all looked incredibly healthy and tempting. Mark and I are in the process of creating a rockery and adding to our culinary patch so I was particularly keen to root around the veggie stands. Di is starting a garden and was taken by all things delicate, unusual or both. Veronica had filled her wicker basket to bursting point with aromatic herbs and then turned her attention to catching up with old friends, Veronica knows everyone!

Overcome with heat and excitement, we decided to take a breather in the pretty main square. The villagers were selling sugared waffles and local wine at only 1 euro a glass. We found a shady bench and people watched as we sipped cooling drinks. It's so uplifting when everyone around you has a smile on their face. Having placed our entry tickets, now marked with our names and contact details, in an urn to win a prize (another trip to Lourdes?), we completed one more circuit of the fair to ensure we hadn't missed anything. I bought Morocaine mint, some rather unusual tomato plants that promise to deliver black, yellow and orange tomatoes later in the year, a pretty little blue flowering plant whose name escapes me at the moment and an astilby. Back at Veronicas I was presented with a linseed plant from her amazing garden and went home eager to dig and plant and water...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Easter Bugnies

Easter is a big event in France - bigger than Christmas, as one friend explained it 'Babies are born everyday but how often do you get a crusifiction and a resurection in the same week?' Can't argue with that! One of the treats over in our part of the world is the Lyonnaise Bugnes (pronounced boon ya) which is more frequently made as an alternative to pancakes at Mardi gras but also eaten throughout the Easter period. Originally, these delicacies would be offered to travellers on the road from Dijon to Lyon - the invent of the super fast A6 autoroute linking the two cities has put pay to this tradition. As Adam, my partner Mark's son was over for a week, we were invited to combine a cookery lesson with some french tuition at the home of my dear friend and village Post Mistress, Christine. Hopefully you'll improve your language skills as well as your culinary ones by following these simple steps-

Christine's recipe for Bugnes lyonnaises :
300 g de farine (all purpose flour)
3 œufs (eggs)
30 g de sucre en poudre (caster sugar)
120 g de beurre (butter)
1 cuil. à soupe de rhum (desert spoon of rum)
1 pincee de sel (pinch of salt)
1 sachet de levure de boulanger ou 20g de levure en cube dissoute dans un peu d'eau ou lait tiede (sachet of dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast dissolved in a little warm water or milk)
huile à friture (oil for frying - we used sunflower oil)
sucre glace (icing sugar)

We took a basin known as a 'cul de poule' (chickens bottom!) and put the flour and yeast in it. Next we made a well (the french call this a fountain) and, after cracking the eggs and throwing away the shells (coquille, not to be confused with coquin - an annoying person/ rascal) put the beaten eggs into the centre.

The butter was melted with the sugar and Christine told us how important it was to 'wash' (watch?) the butter at this time. The melted ingredients were then added to the eggs (you can add some rum too at this point) and flour and Adam began to stir. 'Puke, puke' Christine said cheerfully. We gave her quizzical looks. 'That's the sound the mixture makes when you stir'. We explained what 'puke' meant in english and decided we needed to find a new word for the sound dough makes.

Once all the ingredients had been incorporated into a doughy mixture, you should set this aside for two hours. We didn't have the time and were too hungry and excited to wait so we moved swiftly on to the next stage - rolling out 'etaler'.

Once the kitchen table had been covered with it's new table cloth of Bugne dough, Adam began the intricate process of cutting the 'pâte' into small strips. I acted as the go between passing segments as they were cut to Christine to deep fry. Small golden pillows of pastry puffed up in a matter of seconds and were lovingly scooped from the oil onto a cosy pad of kitchen roll to drain.

A sprinkling of icing sugar was used to finish these little delicacies and then the best bit - eating them still warm.