The Secrets of Pistoulet

An enchanting fable of food, magic and love…

“Far away in the remote, untraveled southwestern French countryside, en route from the enchanting old city with an ancient cathedral to the mystical Pyrenees which appear like a mirage at the most unanticipated moments, there is a small village which contains two homes, an eleventh-century church, and a very special farm known as Pistoulet.

Hidden from most everything, Pistoulet is an unknown paradise with magical powers. There are unusual creatures inside and out. Everyone who passes through Pistoulet has a story which unfolds during their visit to the farm. All who spend time at Pistoulet leave with their hearts transformed.”

… and so begins a magical tale of transformation.

Not a children’s book, but rather an exploration into a children’s way of seeing the world. It is delightfully full of hope and healing through fiction and food, beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, letters, mysterious maps and diary entries.

The recipes are on little pull-out cards with titles like ‘Potage of Spirit’, and  ‘Potage of Strength’.

Because we all need a little extra courage sometimes, and Borage flowers are plentiful at least in this area of the world right now, here is a recipe for you:

TEA OF COURAGE

For those shy souls who are afraid of their own potential

When the summer sun rises high in the sky and the star-shaped borage flowers turn from pink to blue remove the flowers and the youngest leaves. Acquire water from the clearest spring which has traveled many miles from the tallest mountains. Bring the mountain water to a boil and place the borage flowers and leaves in the bubbling water. Cover and let steep until the magical power of the flower has infused with the spirit and strength of the water.

CAUTION: Serve only to those who are truly in need. This infusion has been known to turn the meekest souls into BRAVE HEARTS. Be prepared for a complete transformation of personality.

This a stop off in France on my journey ‘Around the world in 80 Books’. Published way back in 1996, this book must have been a real joy to create for Jana Kolpen and Mary Tiegreen. It is a feast for the imagination, and I defy anyone not to feel at least a little bit better about the world after reading it.

In The Kitchen

Blueberry ClafloutisVegetable PaellaRoasted Tomatoes

Kitchen WindowsillSauerkrautChelsea BunsTomato Soup

A couple of weeks ago I enrolled on an online course called Whole Food Kitchen. It is run by Heather of the beautiful blog that I have followed for many years called beautythatmoves. The course is an in-depth journey to transforming your kitchen and eating habits towards a largely whole food diet.

In our home, we probably eat about 60/40 home cooked food and easy packaged food from the supermarket. I would like to increase the amount of whole food we eat, and Heather’s course is inspiring me to do just that. I like the way she gently encourages small changes and a slow thoughtful approach.

While I can cook fairly well when I put my mind to it, I am often tempted to slip back to old habits and just throw something easy in the oven or buy packaged cereal and baked goods rather than make them myself. It is the process of immersing myself in Heather’s kitchen, her ideas and recipes and those of other course members that inspires me to do better in my own life. Cooking can be a grind and a chore or it can be a meditative soulful experience, it is this latter attitude that I hope to cultivate more in my own kitchen.

Above are a few pictures from my kitchen taken over the last few months before the course started. There is blueberry clafloutisvegetable paella, roasted plum cherry tomatoes, sauerkraut, and thick tomato soup. The lovely chelsea buns were made by Emily in her school cookery class. They were delicious, and I’m trying to talk her into making them again 🙂

For the Love of Kale

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Picking a bunch of flat-leafed kale from the garden and cooking and eating it the same day. I just don’t think I’ll ever get fed up of this seed to plate ritual.

Last Autumn I sowed the seed in shallow drills, watered, and here it is a few months later ripe for harvesting. I’m slowly learning this patience thing.

I know kale is super fashionable right now, with everyone in the cookery blog crowd making kale this and kale that, with a hundred varieties of kale chips in between. Still, I think it’s a band wagon worth jumping on. Kale has been in and out of favour throughout the centuries, maybe now it’s here to stay.

I was reading Lindylit’s blog post yesterday, and she reviews the book Mariana by Monica Dickens written in 1940. There is a lovely quote in the introduction:

“Mary realises she could never consider living in France. England, ‘looked so right and so comfortably unexotic, like a cabbage.'”

It is one of those perfectly English things to say, I think. And very true… though I would include the rest of the British Isles too.

Here are a couple of my favourite useful Kale-ish web pages:

How to grow kale in your garden

Spaghetti with kale and lemon

Summery kale, tomato and corn salad

Garlicky kale with red beans and rice

Or throw it into a goat’s cheese frittata, blend with lemon juice, garlic and cream cheese for a kale dip, or use in just about any recipe that calls for cabbage.

The day I picked the kale I simply sautéed it in butter and garlic. Delicious. A little slice of England on my plate. 🙂

Deliciously Vintage

P1020868   This is a book from the library chosen by Emily. The two of us generally can’t go into the library without coming home with some kind of cookery book. This one – Deliciously Vintage by Victoria Glass

“Sixty beloved cakes and bakes that stand the test of time”

There are a lot of tempting sweet treats in this book. So many familiar names like the jammie dodgers pictured on the cover, butterfly cakes, madeleines, battenburg, florentines, and all kinds of cookies and muffins and more. There are beautiful pictures of every recipe throughout this book (an essential in any cookery book to my thinking). Just browsing through it is a treat in itself. I have been trying to cut down on the number of sugary desserts we consume in this house, but I can’t  resist making a home-made cake or cookie once in a while. Emily recently made pineapple upside-down cake (not in this book) in a school cookery lesson and brought it home for us to share. It took me back to the experience of making it myself at school – many years ago – that was probably the last time I ate it. It’s a typical 1970’s pudding popular here in the UK – easy and cheap to make. You’d think times would’ve moved on in school cookery classes, but apparently not. For a few minutes I was right back there in the old classroom with the crowded tables and the heat of several ovens, and us children banging pots and pans and inadvertently showering the floor and each other with flour. It’s a strange thing how the taste of a certain food can take you back to a very particular time and place. Food is a very connecting thing. Shared by us all. The way it engages our senses of touch, taste and smell, it connects us with our memories and with each other in a special way, particularly when we are involved in the cooking itself. I chose the recipe for ‘snickerdoodles’. A traditional American cookie with a cinnamon sugar coating. I’ve never made or tasted them before, but they were easy to make and melt in the mouth delicious. Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy in the centre. And the added bonus of a house filled with the fragrance of baked cinnamon cookies which lingered until the next day 🙂

Snickerdoodles

300g/1½ cups caster/granulated sugar

225g/15 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

345g/2⅔ cups plain/all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

For the cinnamon coating:

50g/¼ cup caster/granulated sugar

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

(2 large baking sheets, line with baking parchment) Makes about 60 Cookies

– Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF) GAs 6.

Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the eggs and sift over the flour, cream of tartar, baking powder and salt. Mix until the mixture starts to come together, then use your hands to bring the mixture together to form a dough. Put the cookie dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

Dust your hands with flour and roll the dough between your hands into hazelnut-size pieces. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl and roll each ball in the sugar until thoroughly coated. Place the balls of dough on to the baking sheets with about 5 cm/2 in. between each one. Flatten each ball slightly with a palette knife.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until firm. Leave the cookies to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

And try not to eat them all at once 😉

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In the Kitchen

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I don’t know about you but there’s something about the cold winter days that makes me want to spend longer in the kitchen. Usually baking something unhealthy (but tasty) like cakes laden with lemon icing or chocolate something or other. I haven’t completely stopped making that kind of thing but I am trying to err more on the healthy side.

So I thought I’d share a little of what’s been going on in my kitchen lately.

I made a North african squash and chickpea stew from River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (bit of a tongue-twister that one). I got this book for Christmas. Loads of recipes I would like to make from here in my bid to eat/cook more healthily.

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I made this warm kale salad, stir-frying some kale with chopped baked potatoes, and adding a dressing: natural yoghurt, lemon zest and juice, pepper, garlic paste, chopped chilli and a little grated cheese all shook up in a jam jar and dotted over. Kale is probably my favourite of all vegetables these days. I only discovered it few years ago, so I have to make up for all the lost years of living without it.

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And an apple pie, of which I shall not show you a picture of the cooked result, as I burnt the top of it just a tinge. It looked very pretty indeed before it was cooked, so we’ll focus on that if you don’t mind.

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Lastly in my kitchen, here is my Christmas cactus. Flowering at last in January, but well worth the wait.

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So, what’s been going on in your kitchen lately, any tasty ideas to share?

Antonio Carluccio’s ~ Simple Cooking

This is a book I recently borrowed from the library… the world ‘simple’ on a book cover usually gets my attention. Simple cooking is just about the only kind of cooking I’m capable of most days!
Chef Antonio sure has a passion for Italian cooking. He explains his beginnings as a student in Vienna managing on a low budget and you can see this down to earth influence in his work. A deep knowledge and love of Italian foods based on simple ingredients but using the very best available to the cook. 
This book is full of gorgeous photographs for most but not all of the recipes. Except the odd use of a few things like tripe, calf’s liver, swordfish and truffles(which I won’t be buying anytime soon), most of the recipes contain basic ingredients that are freely available. The author also includes ways to vary the dishes using other ingredients that could be included.
The chapters include: starters and salads, soups, pasta, gnocchi, polenta & rice, meat, fish, vegetables and desserts. Recipes like Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Chilli; Potato Dumplings with Gorgonzola Sauce;  Sicilian Vegetable Stew; and Baked Courgettes with Tomato and Taleggio stood out for me. I am looking forward to trying some of these in the coming weeks.

In the Kitchen

I don’t what it is about the cooler days, but it makes me want to be in the kitchen more baking sweet somethings and then eating them all (with a little help from my children – only a little, mind you). Last week it was chocolate chunk cookies and peach cobbler.
The green courgettes are from the garden, the sunshine yellow courgettes and apples were from my neighbour – how lucky am I to live next door to a gardener with apple trees? He has plum, damson and pear trees too, some of them dangle temptingly over the fence. But, sadly, they are too high to harvest, so fall to the ground and form a brown mush for the insects and animals to feed on.
What am I going to do with this huge pumpkin that has been sitting on my doorstep for the last week? The children didn’t want to carve it this year, which is fine, but now I must find some good recipes. On the US blogs I read, pumpkin is everywhere at the moment. It seems us British just don’t use it that much. I don’t know how many American recipes I have read for using shop bought pumpkin puree, something I’ve never even seen for sale over here. No doubt it’ll turn up soon. Anyone know of some good pumpkin recipes?
Oh, and have you ever tried rolling pastry with flour  all over your hands and a kitten trying to claw its way up your leg? I don’t recommend it, you are liable to get into quite a tizzy – I speak from experience. Here’s a picture of when she’s looking all cute – hmmm. Me? A mischief? – as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth!
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Red Onion Pickle Recipe

Autumn slowly creeps in, and so too does an overwhelming urge to put stuff in jars. Jams, chutneys and pickles… all nature of preserves. That very particular, if sometimes cloying, fragrance of vinegary sweetness permeates the house. But what a delight to see those jars once made. All lined up with their earthy colours – deep purple, russet, fiery red or piccalilli yellow. We capture the colours of autumn in jars like fireflies to warm us through the winter months.

This is a very quick, easy and useful recipe, especially if you have a surplus of onions. White onions or sliced shallots would work just as well. It is actually based on a recipe I found in the summer edition of The Simple Things magazine. We have it as a side dish, with burgers, or with cheese in sandwiches and wraps. 

Recipe
1 large red onion, sliced
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 garlic clove, halved
¾ tsp salt
225g granulated sugar
120ml cider or red wine vinegar
  • Add sliced onion to a large sterilised mason jar (or recycled jar in my case) with peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic and salt. 
  • In a small saucepan, bring sugar and cider vinegar to a boil. Slowly pour liquid into jar and seal. Set aside to cool, then chill overnight.
Adjust the quantities any which way you like – this is not one of those recipes where you must stick to precise measurements. Make as little or as much as you like. Maybe it would make a nice gift too, if you had some prettier jars than my recycled ones 🙂

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Homemade Lemon Curd ~ Sunshine in a Jar!

Lemons and raspberries are my favourite fruits, and this is the perfect time of year to enjoy both. I’m sure I’ve never seen raspberries as cheap and plentiful as they are right now. It must be a good year for them. 
Raspberries are perfect to eat on their own, but lemons need a few extras to get the most out of their flavour. I use them for homemade lemonade, on pancakes, in salad dressings, a morning glass of lemon water and this recipe – lemon curd. 
Shop bought lemon curd simply cannot compare with the homemade stuff. So creamy, intense and flavourful – the taste of summer – perfect on breakfast toast. 
I made some this weekend, and already half a jar has disappeared! And no, not just by me I might add… though it’s very tempting to be sure. The gentle stirring of the gloopy golden mixture, for half and hour or so while the mixture thickens, was very meditative and calming. And the house was filled with the scent of lemons for a long while after.
It is a simple recipe, taking little time, yet it can be enjoyed for a good three weeks or so after. It’s more perishable than the bought kind, so needs to be refrigerated*. Though it hardly lasts long enough to spoil in this house. 
By the way, I am wilfully in denial about the quantity of sugar and butter that go into this… I advise you do the same 🙂
Lemon Curd

(Adapted from a recipe by Sue Ashworth from the book Traditional Farmhouse Cooking)
Makes about 750g or 1½ lb
Ingredients

4 Eggs
250g/8oz/1 cup of caster sugar
finely grated rind of 2 large lemons
120ml/4 fl oz/½ cup of lemon juice
250g/8oz/1 cup melted unsalted butter
Method

Whisk all ingredients except butter until well combined then stir in the warm (not hot) melted butter. Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens – this took just under half an hour for me. It is thick enough when you can drizzle a trail on the surface and it doesn’t immediately disappear. 
Pour the lemon curd into previously sterilised warm jars, and seal. Two average sized jars, or three small – as I used here would do the job. The lemon curd will thicken further as it cools. Once cold, store in the fridge. 

My neighbour very kindly hung a large bag of blackcurrants on the fence for me today, freshly picked from his garden. I’m off to investigate what I might use them for. Does anyone have any recommendations?

* Just discovered, thanks to spellcheck, that I’ve been spelling refrigerate wrong my entire life. With a ‘d’ – refridgerate. Must have got it from ‘fridge’. haha.

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All you Knead is Bread

Jay and I baked bread this week. French baguettes. It was an easy recipe (see below). Kind of a throw it all together and hope for the best, which turned out surprisingly good.
I am no expert at bread making, I understand nothing of the technical side or science behind it, but I have made quite a lot of loaves at home in the past. Often in my bread maker, but sometimes by hand too. There is something about the act of baking bread which is very human, earthy and real. Bread, according to Jane Mason in her book All you knead is bread is: “a symbol for everything that is basic and necessary” and I agree. 
I’m not sure why I have this… attachment… even reverence, for the gentle art of bread making. It certainly hasn’t come from memories of baking in childhood, as I don’t remember anyone ever baking bread at home or anywhere else. Surely it is not by chance of a name (my surname is Baker). 
People have made variations of bread for thousands of years throughout the world – it is common ground – it connects us each to one another. It is a food which requires you to press and pull and shape it into being. Patience is required for the rising. Then there is the fragrance of a freshly baked loaf and the act of sharing with family or friends. It is no wonder that the sacred and ritual partaking of bread is part of many religious and spiritual traditions. 
Bread making is a kind of metaphor for living even… as mere dough is transformed into the humble, yet beautiful and useful loaf, we ourselves are ‘kneaded’ and ‘baked’ by our various trials and challenges. It takes time and patience to grow and eventually be useful in some way.  The process must be respected… however humble it may be.
I buy supermarket packaged bread with all its added ingredients, preservatives and fillers, every week. Like most people I don’t have the time or inclination to make all of the bread this family eats. But it’s worth it to take the time every now and then to experience this soul-nourishing practice. And mass-produced baked loaves just don’t come near the taste of homemade. Here are a couple of websites with some useful information, recipes, courses and ideas promoting the making of ‘real bread’ in the UK.
Mary Fisher puts it very well…

“one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. That will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
~ M. F. K. Fisher

Well, we enjoyed it. We got flour all over the place, formed dog bones and other shapes with the dough, played catch with it (!) and kept checking every half hour to see how much it had risen… impatient bakers that we are 😉
Simple French Baguette Recipe
(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients
  • 250g Strong White Bread Flour (+ extra for rolling etc.)
  • 1 tsp of Salt
  • 1 sachet of Dried Yeast
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 180 ml lukewarm water
Method

  • Weigh salt and flour into a bowl, make a small pocket and add yeast. Add oil and enough water to create a kneadable dough. 
  • Turn onto floured surface and knead vigorously for five to ten minutes.
  • Place into a clean oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for two or three hours.
  • Turn back onto floured surface, knead briefly and shape into two baguette shapes before placing onto your baking tray.
  • Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for an hour or so until doubled in size.
  • Preheat oven to 200C. Slash the top of your loaves with a knife and place a tin with an inch or two of water into the bottom of your oven (the steam will crisp up your crust).
  • Bake your loaves for 20 to 25 mins until golden brown (time depends on your oven – I’d keep a close eye on them).
  • Slice, butter and enjoy!
“All sorrows are less with bread”
~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
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