Thursday, 28 November 2013

Watch the Birdie! Lessis More N°147

Usually I post my Less is More challenges over at The Teapot, but the wibsite is taking forever to load and I don't have much time. I'm thinking it may be time to transfer from the wibsite to another blogsite. While the wibsite was down last time I wasover with Wordpress for a couple of weeks: I may go back there...but whatever I do, I'll let you know.

ANYWAY, I'm just sneaking in under the wire (14 hours to go!) with my Less is More challenge card, and, again, I don't think they really qualify, as there isn't a lot of white space on them! However, they were both inspired by the challenge
They are both Christmas cards and they do both use a bird (or two.) (and a cat!) but I do strongly suspect they don't really meet the Clean & Simple rule. Despite that, do you like them?


I think I might add the greeting "Love & Peace this Christmas" It was all hand drawn - no stamps - and coloured using water colour crayons.
Here's the other:

Sorry, you'll have to lie on your side for this one - I haven't quite got the knack of editing photos on this site!

Again, hand drawn & coloured, with the sentiment "May your Christmas dreams come true". Actually, I hope this cat's dreams don't come true, as I rather like the bumbling little robin!

Which do you prefer?


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Foodie Blast from the Past

When we were first married, in the late 1980s there was a BBC programme called "Food & Drink", an eclectic mixture of recipes, food news, wine recommendations and cooking. It was  hosted by Jilly Goolden (wine), Chris Kelly (food news) and Michael Barry (chef) with guest appearences from Oz Clarke amongst others.

We really enjoyed it (I think it made us feel domesticated and grown up!) and I remember that one feature recommended a Gerwurztraminer wine to go with Chinese food: up until then I had never (a) thought there WAS a wine to go with Chinese food or (b) liked the Germanic "flowery" wines. This changed my mind, as we sat eating Peking duck (from the Sainsburys down the road) and drinking Gerwurztraminer - midweek! How decadent!

In my old recipe book, that I started when we got married (again, that made me feel very grown up!) I have various recipes written down & stuck in, including several scribbled down from the "Food & Drink" programme (it was before the days when you could just "go on the internet" to print them off). So today I'm going to share a couple of these recipes with you.

Serves 4
175g penne pasta
14 oz tin of tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
5 oz mozzarella cheese
4 oz grated parmesan
2 tbsp chopped basil
black pepper 
(sorry about the mix of imperial & metric. Just how it was written down!)
1. Cook pasta
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the tomatoes and oil, breaking the tomatoes gently with a spoon (you can get chopped tomatoes now, you know!)
3. Add the mozzarella, half the parmesan, the basil & pepper. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat.
4. Drain the pasta & put in an oven proof dish
5. Pour the sauce over & mix well. Top with the remaining parmesan
6. Bake in a pre heated oven (200°C/400°F/GM6) for 10 minutes
7. Serve

Yes, I know that this is just pasta in a cheesy tomato sauce, but I do remember feeling quite proud when I served this up at one of our first "dinner parties" - I served it to mum and dad on one of the few times they visited us in our first proper house in Milton Keynes. I remember Dad sitting in the armchair, complaining about acid reflux (not after the meal, I hasten to add!) - unfortunately, the first signs of the oesophagal cancer that took him a couple of years later. Sigh. Of such memories, good and bad, are our lives made up.

Here is another Michael Barry recipe I cooked for "dinner parties". I use speech marks, as I feel "dinner parties" give the impression of something quite formal, with several courses and finger bowls. I suppose "meals with friends" might be better - but that doesn't sound quite special enough. It used to be a big thing having people for dinner: it meant we were growed up!

Anyway, this one was even more of a favourite - but was only for special occasions!

Serves 2 (?)
1 duck breast
1/4 pint water
1/4 pint stock
juice of 1 lemon
juice 1 orange
4 oz soft dried apricots, cut in two
zest 1/2 orange
1 dsp cornflour
tagliatelli, carrots & mangetouts

1. Fry breast very quickly & trim off the skin
2. Pour most of the fat away. Cut the duck breast into chunks
3. Replace in the pan with everything else except the lemon juice & cornflour. Cook for 15 minutes over a medium heat.
4. Cook tagliatelli, & stir fry the carrots and mangetout in a little oil. Mix these together & pile onto serving dish.
5. Remove the duck, & place on pasta
6 Make a slake of cornflour & lemon juice, and add to sauce. Boil rapidly, stirring, until sauce is thickened. Pour over the duck & pasta & serve (topped with flaked almonds, if desired)

I'm glad I managed to find time to write this post. It has made me smile with my memories AND given me ideas for two meals this week. Huzzah!

Yesterday's rather hurried (and unexciting!) post is over at the Teapot. Only a couplee more days to go and I'll have blogged every day in November: woo-hoo!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Another quick post

Shepherds pie tonight!
Roast chicken tomorrow
Chicken & pasta on Wednesday
Who knows what after that?!

Busy, busy! Sorry about this.
Time to breathe tomorrow (I think!)
Speak to you then!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Thankful Day

Today has been full of things to be thankful for:

# A wonderful church service
# A wonderful church service,that my French friend Danièle enjoyed. She said she would like to go again
# A delicious Thanksgiving dinner with people from Church
# Meeting Caroline and Peter
# Getting together via Skype with my dear friends that I made in September, over in Toulouse
# Being made to think about things about myself that I like & things that I"m good at - isn't it difficult to admit these things to ourselves?!
# A planned evening with Dear Mr FD - sipping wine and watching (maybe) Doctor Who
# New work tomorrow - yes, there's a long journey to Clermont in (possibly) freezing foggy weather, but I shall meet up with colleagues I've not seen for a bit

Thank you, Father.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Saturday 23rd

Today's post is being hosted by The Teapot
It could be entitled "Adventures with Baking Powder". But it isn't. Here's a clue

Friday, 22 November 2013

Power on! Power off!

Due to the snow we had a power cut from midnight to about 10h today. Since then it's been going on and off.

But at least I managed to post today!!!

It's amazing how everything relies on the power - we have been practically useless without it. Our fire, our phone, the cooking, lights, heating...everything!!

I'm stopping before the power goes down again and I lose this!!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

RECIPE: Lemon Pudding

I have just typed this out for a student - we were talking about "retro desserts" and this dessert that my mum used to make for dinner parties in the eighties/nineties was discussed. Caroline asked for the recipe, so I typed it up for her. And now you can share it too:


110g butter
170g sugar
Trifle sponges/ boudoir biscuits/home made sponge cake
4 eggs (separated)
Juice and rind of 2 lemons
+  55g sugar
Juice 1 lemon

1.       Mix the 55g sugar & juice of lemon together. Soak the sponge in the syrup.
2.       Cream the butter & sugar together
3.       Beat the egg yolks & lemon juice and rind. Add to butter mixture.
4.       Beat the whites until they are stiff. Fold into the mixture.
5.       Layer the sponges and the butter cream mixture in a container that can be frozen. Start and finish with a sponge layer.
6.       Freeze for at least 24 hours.
7.       To serve either: turn out as a block onto a plate, and serve in slices
                       Or: defrost for about an hour, turn into a serving bowl and gently mash so that the sponge and buttercream are mixed together. Top with fresh whipped cream and nuts. 

Thinking about it, if you wanted to swop the sugar/lemon syrup for a lemon liquer, like limoncello, that might add another dimension!

It's not a very pretty looking dessert, but I remember that I loved it! My neices still demand it when they visit mum.
I've called it M'Nan's Lemon Pudding, as Rose & Ruth still refer to mum as M'Nan (= "My Nan".It's to be said in a strong scouse accent!)

This picture has a slight look of M'Nan's Lemon pudding, but it uses ginger nuts & ginger nut crumbs on top...which make it look very pretty!

Thanks to everyone who has commented recently. I'll make replies to your comments at the weekend when I have slightly more time to consider my blog posts.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

SNOW Take 2

I've just realised that my previous post was short and a bit ungracious of me! So I'm posting a little more.

These are views from my study window at 8.00 this morning - the snow continued for another 4 or 5 hours after that, so I'm sure you can imagine what it was like! At 7.30, Mr FD got as far as the motorway bridge (6 km), saw that the motorway was at a standstill, full of stationary lorries, so he turned round & came back. Unusually, the snow ploughs & gritters were slow to get the roads cleared. I was due to borrow my friend's car to go to my lessons, but it's an automatic and useless in snowy conditions (especially on the climbs and descents) so it was considered more sensible to cancel lessons.

Mr FD doesn't want to miss another day of his course - and more snow is forecast overnight - so now the snow has stopped for the moment, & the roads are relatively clear, he is going to go down to St Etienne today and stay in a budget hotel overnight. It will be an extra cost, but it seems a sensible thing to do. I will have to snuggle up to my hottie bottle and whichever cats choose to join me!

We lost power at about 11.15, so I spent a while in bed, reading, and then we had lunch. As our friends have a wood burner and gas hob we decided to go up there to warm up and have a cuppa!! We have a wood fire, which is in the big downstairs room, which does give some heat to the rest of the house, but our granule burning stove in the living room - which is the main source of heat - is electrically operated. Our cooking is all electric too, so we didn't have the means to really get warm. The electricity came back on again round about 2.30 pm - but with more snow forecast I'm not sure whether it will go off again. I certainly won't be watching live TV tonight - the satellite dish is completely covered! - but I can catch up on stuff that has been recorded. I could have a White Queen fest, as I've not seen ANY of the series that was shown in the summer. Hmmm. That's a very appealing thought!


40 cm of the stuff.

Mr FD couldn't get down to St Etienne for his course; I couldn't get to Roanne for my lessons. Power went off for 4 hours. Going to snuggle up in my slanket near the fire.

No more from me. But at least I managed to post today...

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cats I Have Known

When I was young we had a cat for a few years - our cleaner brought her from a refuge - she (or maybe he) was called Tuppence, and was a sleek tabby cat. I don't have photos of him/her but remember one of him/her standing proudly in the rowan tree in the garden

This isn't Tuppy, but it could be!

S/he was adopted in order to catch mice, but was totally uninterested in the catching process! The only time I remember seeing him/her with a mouse was when Little Nipper caught one
This isn't OUR Little Nipper, but it could be!

Tuppy trotted proudly aroud the house, carrying the dead mouse, with Little Nipper still firmly attached! "Look mum! Look what we caught together!!"

Unfortunately Tuppy came to a sad end when s/he ruptured his/her diaphragm with a too-ambitious leap. We were all so upset that my mum vowed never to have another cat!

 Since I left college there haven't been many years when I have been without a cat. First I adopted Sophie, when I lived in London in a shared house. She was beautiful, but evil. When I had to move to a flat on a busy road Mr FD's mum & dad took Sophie on. She used to sit on the arm of a chair, and when their 3-legged old cat Pookah went by, Sophie would drop onto his back so he collapsed under her. Cruel. She met her fate being run over by a tractor.

 This isn't Sophie, but it could be!

Then when we got married we adopted Manda. She had belonged to people who lived along the balcony to us, but who had gone back to their native Italy, leaving Manda in the care of Jack, the old guy who lived next door to us. He had a bruiser of a cat (called Buster, I think) but Manda was a bit too girly to fit into this masculine household, so when I won a competition with a prize of 384 tins of Kit-e-Kat, we offered to take Manda on.
This isn't Manda, but it could be!

She lived with us through two moves, and became diabetic when she was about 16 years old. She was finally put to sleep at the age of nineteen-and-a-half, when she just became too old to be comfortable. She was soiling her bed, and couldn't walk far. It was sad - but she had reached a great age.

We moved to France and quickly adopted Pomme and Biscuit. You will have heard about Pomme, 
 This is Pomme

and seen photos of her, but maybe not Biscuit. When I went to the refuge I knew I wanted two cats. Pomme endeared herself to me by jumping onto my shoulders and purring into my ear: she was about 2 yearsold. And then I saw poor Biscuit (only she was called Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) by the refuge.)

This isn't Biscuit, but it could be!
Biscuit was a pale coloured Manda, and had been in the refuge for over 5 years. Although I had meant to get a younger cat, her likeness to Manda, her age (more than 8 years) and her sad eyes called to me, and I adopted her.

Unfortunately, she had already contracted a virus in the refuge, and when I got her home she quickly became quite ill. Due to the terrible care offered by the local vet, she sadly died five days after I got her home. My only comfort is that she died somewhere where she was loved, cared for and not in a rather impersonal refuge.

So, having paid a rather large amount of money for a cat who died, I went back to the refuge and requested another cat. They weren't too impressed by this, but finally agreed, so we chose Pumpkin (originally called "Margot") 

This isn't Pumpkin, but it could be!

This is Pumpkin - the only photo I have of her on my camera
Pumpkin had been born in the refuge and we adopted her at about 6 months old. She was a great cat - a real individual who would retrieve things if you threw them. She was "my" cat, and I loved her dearly. Unfortunately, she contracted Feline leukaemia; the vet thinks that her mother had it, and so Pumpkin was born with the disease. Our yearly vaccinations kept her healthy and alive for 4 years, but finally she succumbed to the illness and we had to have her put down. That was a very sad day and despite our other lovely cats, I do still miss Pumpkin.  

Our friend Martine promised us that when her cat next had kittens we could choose one, and so, when on 23rd April 2010 the kittens were duly born, we chose George
George at 3 weeks old

George's brother and sister were adopted too - one (The Tiny Breton) going to Brittany and the other going to the mother of the girlfriend of Martine's son.

 Mum, with (from L-R) The Tiny Breton (black & white), George, and The Other (tabby)

Due to the fact that the people who were going to adopt The Other changed their mind (they didn't want a tabby) this little cat was going to meet her fate in The Bucket. We couldn't have that, so George and The Other (now named Mildred or Millie, for short) came home with us.

This is George at 1 month coming to our 25th Wedding Anniversary party in a basket!
 And this is George a couple of years later, not fitting in his basket!
Then Bib (or Bibendum, to give her her full name) joined the party. 
On 1st June 2012 I found this little baby at the R&D site of Michelin where I was working. If we'd left her she would have died of starvation or been run over by a truck, so I brought her home to stay.

This is my favourite photo of Bib.

She's now much more grown up, but is still a little tinker. She and Millie don't really get on, with Bib being scared of Millie - but sometimes standing up to her from time to time.

I can't imagine being without cats, but I do think that if I didn't have Mr FD to stop me, I might end up like the mad cat lady from The Simpsons, with hundreds of cats milling around me!

And so, to finish on, here's a very appropriate Lolcats:

Sunday, 17 November 2013

La gastronomie est l'art d'utiliser la nourriture pour créer le bonheur.

"Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness"

Just a little gastronomic something I rustled up (not really!)
Mr FD is out collecting wood from a neighbour's wood pile at the moment (The neighbour, I hasten to add, has said we can help ourselves as they are never here in the winter!) and when he arrives back I must go (with joy in my heart and a song on my lips) (and a support belt round my middle!) to help him bring it in and stack it in the cellar. We can't use the potato hatch any more - there's a fridge freezer at the bottom - so we need to haul it in through the downstairs salon and down the steps into the cellar. With my level of fitness (both general and specifically lower back orientated) I can't see that I'm going to be much help, but I feel I should at least show willing (even though I'm not!)

Still, while he wheels wood from woodpile to car boot, I can sit here and blog my Sunday menus-for- the-week post. Mags pointed out that we are halfway through the post every day in November challenge, as though I would be cheering in relief, but actually I have enjoyed doing this. Taking a few minutes out of my day to write something, and to receive the odd comment or two (thanks to all commenters) has been good. I've only struggled once or twice to find topics to write on, and for those times I've referred back to the original challenge at Rosalilium where she gave some topics to use. I've not used them on the right day, but they've helped focus my thoughts. Mags and Pompom also helped with questions to answer.

This week's gastronomical offerings look like this:
SUNDAY (today)
At Noz I bought something like this, but for pork. (1€ for three bags) As I had a pork loin in the freezer, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try them out. So tonight we're having roast pork loin, roast potatoes (in goose fat. Best Roasties Ever!), carrots, broccoli and (I think there's one in the fridge) roast parsnip. A proper roast dinner; Mr FD will be delighted. I have bought a millefeuille at the baker's this morning, so we'll share that for pudding

Mr FD is going back to college today! He is enrolled on a 9 week course in web development. This will lead to a French recognised qualification, and is only costing 140€ (+ the travelling costs, of course) so we have decided that his enrolment is a case of speculating to accumulate, as hopefully there may be some networking going on for jobs. He's not fasting - he doesn't want to faint of hunger mid-course. I am.
Dinner will be stir fried pork left overs and vegetables in a spicy sauce. Maybe with some noodles.


Uh-oh. Mr FD has returned. Off to haul wood!
And, slightly breathless, I'm back.

For dinner tonight we're going to have Layered Aubergine bake from the BBC Good Food site. I have a squash - not butternut, but tant pis - from our neighbours across the square. Mr FD did some work for them and was paid with a load of tomatoes, a squash and the glass bowl they were all in!
We may well have this with a bit of bread to mop up the plates. Maybe a green salad too.

Not sure who's cooking this one - I'm teaching, so won't get home till 7 pm...but we're not sure what time Mr FD will be getting home from St Etienne. So it's first person home cooks dinner! 
Which is Baked Eggs with Ham Chorizo & spinach - another BBC dish, slightly adapted. It's basically our favourite Kamchatka with a few tweaks.

Fasting again
The usual CuppaSoup combo if needed, plus left over Aubergine bake for dinner. The bake serves 4, and is 359 calories a portion, so fits nicely into the 5:2   "calorie band" - but no bread this time!

Anonymous pasta bakey looking thing that's in an unlabelled box in the freezer. Oooh! Excitement! What is it like?! What are the ingredients?!


This week I appear to have relied heavily on the BBC Good Food site for ideas. It certainly does have some delicious sounding recipes on, so I have high hopes for these three.

Soups this week will include a "Chilli beef and tomato" soup (using up left over disappointingly not very spicy chilli) and probably a "Fridge" soup...I bought a big tin of ratatouille which usually helps with a fridge soup.

I also need to make an uber-simple Banoffee Pie for next week's Thanksgiving Dinner at church. I asked Mr FD if he wanted to come, and at first he seemed keen, but has decided not to come, because he wants to "chill" at the weekend, after driving a lot during the week. I'm a bit disappointed, but hey-ho, what d'you do?! I've asked Danièle if she would like to come - but she can't let me know till tomorrow. If not, I'll go by myself. With my Banoffee Pie.

PomPom: I know what you mean about exciting lives being over rated, but I can't help feeling that very few people out in the Blog-o-sphere really want to read about what seems to be a very unexciting life! Although, to be fair, I enjoy reading about other people's every day lives, so maybe my little joys and sorrows can be interesting! Certainly Mags & you seem to enjoy them!

On the Snow front, we had sleet on Friday - several of my students learned a new word  as I bemoaned the sleet! It was horrid and cold and wet. At the top of the road to Roanne there was about 2 cm of proper snowy-snow-stuff (it's about 200m higher than the village) but the gritters & snow ploughs had already been out, so the road itself was clear. It won't be fun for either Mr FD driving to St Etienne or me driving to Clermont (I'm only once a week) during the winter, but with winter tyres and the good road clearing system here we shouldn't have too many problems. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Friday, 15 November 2013

A Day in the Life

I thought I'd give you a glimpse into my (not very exciting) life, on two days this week

For my lessons at home I am sitting in my study in front of the computer. It's quite cosy, with a petrol heater because that's cheaper than using the fairly feeble electric wall heater (we don't have central heating), although this week it has felt cold! There is a door through to the guest bedroom, which is not heated (as there's no-one staying) so, as the doors don't fit their holes very well in this house, I have an Indian shawl pinned over the doorway to stop the draughts from there! In our house the floors are not parallel to the ceilings, the walls are not perpendicular and the doors don't fit the doorways. I remember when we first moved here, Mr FD was putting up a curtain rail, and he said to me
"Do you want it level with the ceiling, level with the top of the window, level with the floor or at right angles to the side of the windows?! You can choose one!!"

What's behind the curtain?!

It's not a very exciting life - it feels a bit busy at times (like Tuesday morning!) but generally life here is so much less stressed than in the UK. Things will become a bit trickier as Mr FD starts a 9 week course in St Etienne, necessitating borrowing cars on certain days as I travel in the opposite direction! But I am so lucky to be doing a job I really enjoy (especially the face-to-face stuff) and to be finding I have fairly full days in these times when not everyone has a job. I'm picking up one or two new clients as well, so my days are varied and interesting.
My slightly chaotic desk, with a large ginger cat slap in the middle!
George knows how to make his presence felt!

7.00 Alarm goes. Get up, showered, breakfasted, ready for an 8.00 lesson
7.30 Alarm goes. Get up, showered, breakfasted, ready for an 8h30 lesson
8.00 – 13h I have a 45 minute lesson every hour on the hour. The 15 minute gap is used to catch up on paperwork, go to the loo, make a coffee.(Except for between 9h and 10h when I don'thave a lesson, so I have time to do my day’s blog post)
8h30 – 10h I have three 30 minute lessons straight after each other.
13h I should have another lesson, but this is cancelled. A moment to breathe! Mr FD has bought bread, there’s soup already made so I have a sandwich & some soup
10h – 12h Catch up on paperwork, lesson summaries from today and yesterday, and some emails.
14h Back to my desk to catch up on paperwork & preparation for lessons. Also a sneaky internet surf as well. Bib creeps onto my desk and settles down with her head on my arm
12h – 14h Make soup (Golden lentil & chorizo) and chilli for tonight’s dinner. Have lunch (soup & sandwich) and watch “Bargain Hunt”
15h15 Another 45 minute lesson followed by a 30 minute one at 16h30 and another at 17h.
Then it’s more paperwork, as each student requires a Lesson Summary sent to them, and also something to read for next week.
14h – now (14h50) : Surf the internet a bit (waiting for replies to emails) and write blog post for today. Sharing my desk with George the cat who keeps rolling around on top of papers and crumpling them up! At the moment he is very interested in a reel of sellotape and a paperclip!

From now on, this is what is planned
18h15 Go down to cook dinner, slurping back a glass of wine and nibbling on a few snacks. Cook stuffed peppers. Quite nice
16h: Leave for 35 minute journey to Roanne for a 45 minute lesson with a 10 year old boy. This is a pain, but I had a late cancellation of another lesson. I don’t usually travel so far for such a short lesson. Mr FD is coming too so he can get some DIY/ cycling supplies while I’m teaching
19h Eat dinner in front of TV. Watch “It Takes Two” and nibble on a square (or two!) of chocolate.
16h45 – 17h30 Teaching
17h30 – 18h (or so) travelling back
18h 15 + heating up tonight’s chilli and making garlic bread etc. I'm planning on having a glass of beer with my chilli.
23h I’m afraid we do sit in front of the TV all evening – it’s warm and cosy. I knit blankets for Spanish Stray Cats, and also check my tablet from time to time. A cup of tea is sometimes drunk at sometime during the evening.
Feed the cats (they start getting antsy at about 22h30!) and go to bed with my hot water bottle
18h45 – 23h Again, in front of the TV, I fear – but  it saves on heating other rooms, I am knitting and reading blogs and we are together. We know it’s winter, because all 4 cats come and join us...usually Bib on my lap, Pomme and one of the others on Mr FD’s lap and the other on top of the bookcase/ on the back of the sofa/ on the cat fleece on the sofa.
There is cat frenzy at about 22h30 when they think it’s feeding time – mad racing around.Then bed time!