>Winter sun and light / Le soleil et la lumière d’hiver


Today has been a perfect Languedoc winter day.  The light is so bright here when the sun shines and the air is so clear in winter that everything looks in focus.  Even though it may be only 12 degrees C, the sun feels hot on your face, so long as you’re sheltered from the north wind.

light   sky_1_1_1

Aujourd’hui il a fait du temps parfait de l’hiver languedocien.  La lumière ici est si éclatante quand le soleil brille et l’air est si clair en hiver qu’il semble que tout est au point.  Mème qu’il ne fasse que 12 dégrées, le soleil sent chaud sur ton visage, si tu es à l’abri du vent du nord.

Good weather for working in the garden, so we cleared some more ground. / Du bon temps pour le travail au jardin, donc on a nettoyé encore de terre.

croustillous   salad_1_1 daurade_1_1

It was market day, so for lunch we’d bought a croustillou (pork rib) for me and a dorade (sea bream) for Lo Jardinièr to eat with freshly picked spinach, rocket and sorrel leaves and a glass of red wine from Domaine de Montesquieu.

Docking the Bay

It seems strange now to remember how we used to try to persuade our little bay tree to grow in a pot on the terrace in Wales.  Here bay trees grow everywhere, like weeds, and we use the leaves in cooking every day.  One huge bay tree grows in our neighbours’ garden and overhangs the fence just where we want to build a cold frame.  They were there today so we asked if they minded if we cut one of the branches.  ‘Coupez, coupez!’ was the answer, so Lo Jardinièr sawed it down.  There’s still a lovely big tree left, but it won’t shade our cold frame now.

cold frame_1_1 sawing bay 1_1_1
sawing bay 2_1_1 On a coupé une branche du laurier sauce qui donnait de l’abri au coin où nous voulons construire une serre.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

A few hours early, here are some flowers for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day:

lemon flowers jan_1
lemon flowers/ fleurs de citronnier
vinca - jan_1_1
the Vinca has flowered all winter/  a fleurit tout l’hiver
doorstep plant_1
Osteospermum on the front doorstep / au seuil
pansy on the balcony / pensée sur le balcon

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

PS Our order arrived from Seeds of Italy today, so we must get on with making the cold frame!

>More tomatoes / encore de tomates


Another way of bottling tomatoes /

Une nouvelle façon de conserver les tomates

Halve 1 kilo of Roma tomatoes and put them on a baking tray with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bake in the oven at 170°C for 45 – 60 minutes. Put the tomatoes in a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil.

Coupez en deux 1 kilo de tomates Roma et mettez-les sur un plaque de four avec du sel, de lhuile dolive et du vinaigre balsamique. Faites-les cuire au four à 170°C pour 45 – 60 minutes. Mettez les tomates dans un bocal sterilisé et couvrez-les de lhuile dolive.

We had a few tomatoes left over that wouldnt fit in the jar. I arranged them on plates with little goats cheeses, added some oregano leaves, salt an pepper and a little olive oil. It made a delicious first course.

Il y avait quelques tomates qui restaient. Je les ai mis sur des plats avec des petits pelardons de chèvre, des feuilles dorigan, sel et poivre et un peu de lhuile dolive. Cétait une entrée delicieuse.

It was market day today and as usual we went to the fish stall. We bought pageot (pink bream) for Lo Jardinièr and squid (encornet) for me. I made aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) to go with them.

Mercredi, cest le jour du marché à Gabian et nous sommes allés comme dhabitude au marchand de poisson. Nous avons acheté des petits pageots (dorades roses) pour Lo Jardinièr et des petits encornets pour moi. Jai préparé laïoli pour les accompagner.


1 egg yolk / 1 jaune dœuf

2 large cloves garlic, peeled / 2 grosses gousses dail épluchées

salt and pepper / sel et poivre

a squeeze of lemon juice / un peu de jus de citron

300 ml olive oil / huile dolive

Crush the garlic with the salt. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice. Pour the olive oil very slowly onto it while whisking until it has all emulsified.

Pilez lail avec le sel. Ajoutez le jaune dœuf et le jus de citron. Versez lhuile dolive peu à peu, très doucement, en le battant au fouet pour émulsionner lœuf et lhuile.

pageots – encornet – aïoli

And some friends had given us some lovely fresh figs –

Et des amis nous ont donné des belles figues fraîches –

>Lunch in the garden on market day

Before we lived here all the time, at the beginning of each stay we used to be overcome by the choice of food available in the shops and markets and wed buy far too much, take it home and wonder how we were going to eat it all. We still get a bit carried away sometimes, tempted to try some of everything in case its not there again next week.

Theres a nice blog I visit sometimes called Feast with Bron where Bron tells us what she cooks with the food she buys in Borough Market in London. Here in Gabian we have everything we need in the village. This morning the market was rather depleted by the unexplained absence of the vegetable stall – which luckily we didnt need this week as we have plenty in the garden. The fish and charcuterie stalls were enough for us.

Im not very keen on bony varieties of fish – except for mackerel and sardines whose flavour makes the fuss worthwhile, I think. Lo Jardinièr loves most kinds of fish. Pas de problème – he has fish, while I have something from the charcuterie stall. Today he bought a marbré (according to Alan Davidson in Poisson de Méditerranée, this is the Roussillon name for this fish, but its used here in the Languedoc too, in English its Striped Bream). We also bought some galères, crayfish (which I do like), which Ill mention later in this post. The fish, as Ive mentioned before, comes from Valras-plage, so fresh its often still alive when it arrives here.

At the charcuterie stall we bought some sheeps cheese, butter, sausage, some pork ribs (plat de côtes) (these werent for today, but for the next few days!). I bought some merguez, spicey lamb sausages, for my lunch. All these came from well within 100 kilometres of Gabian, up in the mountains to the north.

After several days of heavy rain (again!) it was a treat to be able to take our lunch to the garden. Lo Jardinièr barbecued the fish and merguez, with slices of courgettes Id cut from the plants just minutes earlier, skewers of onion and bayleaf, and some skewered garlic cloves (left in their skins, which burn leaving a delicious soft clove inside). We ate these with a salad of leaves and herbs Id just picked from the garden and decided this really is paradise!

courgettes and onions ready to barbecue
salad of lettuce, rocket, oregano, savoury and garlic

The white wine came from Domaine des Pascales in Gabian and the red from Domaine Estève in Roquessels a few kilometres away. All the ingredients for our lunch came from Gabian or very near, except the olive oil (Spanish) and the coffee (Italian). We’re very lucky to have such an abundance of good things.


In the evening we cooked the crayfish – just boiled them for five minutes, then took them out of their spikey shells and ate them with mayonnaise, potatoes from the garden and oignons doux (sweet onions). The crayfish were sweet too, but still nothing to rival my favourite crustaceans, the giant prawns which are called gambas here. I had gambas cooked in a very southern way in a restaurant the other day, flambéed in pastis. I’m going to try this at home soon.

>Sustainable fish


Kates post ‘Fishing for facts’ on hillsandplainsseedsavers.blogspot.com got me thinking about sustainable fish. We almost always buy our fish from a stall in the market here in Gabian. It is all caught from the family boat which comes into Valras-plage, less than 40 km from here, and is brought here fresh, sometimes still alive. This seems to be a good way to buy fish. I do still have questions about sustainability though, and it seems hard to find answers to them. You can find lists of fish to eat and fish to avoid at www.fishonline.org but this site is centred on the UK and its advice applies to fish available in the UK. I havent been able to find a similar list for Mediterranean fish.

Apparently the Mediterranean represents 1 per cent of the worlds sea, but about 9 per cent of marine biodiversity. This makes it vulnerable to exploitation, but also a wonderful source of seafood.

Some facts are available – tuna should be line-caught only, stocks of hake are dropping dramatically. But sardines are sustainable, which is good news for me as its one of my favourite fish. We dont buy red mullet any more because they look too small to be sustainable.

Mussels and oysters from Bouzigues – again less than 40 km from here – are sustainable, so we can carry on eating those without guilty feelings.

Im uncertain about mackerel – they seem to be plentiful and quite big … and I like them. What about the cuttlefish I bought today? And I like squid too.

Ill keep trying to find out what is sustainable and what we shouldnt be eating.

Kates post seems to have set off quite a stream of arguments for and against food choices, especially vegetarianism. Like Kate, I dont want to be a vegetarian. I think everyone has to make their own choices about their diet and the environment. Most of the food I eat comes from within about 100 km of Gabian, in summer, spring and autumn most of the vegetables we eat are organic and grown in our garden, we eat free-range eggs and poultry, mostly local cheeses and fish from local boats. Of course I have my guilty pleasures – I like Italian ground coffee, which must add to the food miles or kilometres of my diet, and the occasional steak. Maybe Ill just have to accept that perfection is unattainable!

>Some recipes

>Wednesday is market day in Gabian, as it has been since 1171. At the charcuterie van, which comes from Lacaune in the mountains north-west of here, we bought Spanish morcilla for lunch. These spicey blood sausages are tastier than the local boudin noir, I think, although both are good. They tasted as though they were flavoured with cinnamon, and we found pine nuts in them. I dressed chunks of still-warm boiled potatoes with a dressing made from olive oil, salt, pepper and wine vinegar in which Ive steeped bay, rosemary and thyme from the garden since last July. I added some chopped garlic, parsley and sweet fresh onion, sautéed slices of the morcilla and arranged them around the potatoes. With a glass of red wine from Le Moulin de Lène, just the other side of the hill from here, it made a delicious quickly prepared meal.

The fish stall arrives each Wednesday from Valras-plage, the stallholder selling the fish caught the night before on the family boat. She only sells fish which they have caught, and when its too rough to fish she just doesnt come, so its all as fresh as possible. Today the muge – grey mullet – were still alive. I bought a large one, weighing over 1.5 kg to make a fish stew based on a recipe which Nigel Slater gave in his column in the Observer a few weeks ago. You can see his recipe here

I made some changes, as I usually do since I rarely follow a recipe exactly.

Fish stew – marmite de poisson – for 4 people

1 onion

1 red pepper

3 large cloves of garlic

6 anchovy fillets

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs of thyme

3 twists of lemon peel

olive oil

a large glass of white wine

1 large grey mullet (the stallholder descaled it and cut it into portions for me)

1 jar of preserved tomato passata with green peppers (bottled last July)

1/2 litre fish stock, made with the head and other bits of the fish

2 dozen mussels

I sautéed the sliced onion and red pepper in olive oil until soft and just beginning to brown, then removed them from the pan. As Nigel Slater suggests I sliced the garlic and fried them gently in olive oil with the anchovy fillets and the herbs. When the anchovies disintegrated I added a large glass of white wine, the fish stock and the jar of tomato and green pepper and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the pieces of fish until they were cooked – about 10 minutes. I then leave it until Thursday, when the van from Bouzigues arrives with mussels and oysters. On Thursday evening I cooked about 1/2 kilo of large mussels in a mixture of half white wine and half water with a bay leaf, for about five minutes until they were all open. I shelled these mussels and added them to the stew. When our friends arrived for dinner I heated the stew and when it was simmering added the other half-kilo of mussels in their shells and cooked it all until these mussels were all open. I served it with Camargue rice.

Nigel Slater suggests garnishing it with toasted slices of bread spread with a mix of coriander leaves and chopped fresh red chillies. I didn’t have any chillies so I used a clove of garlic and some smoked paprika and some olive oil with the coriander leaves.

I think it all worked well – the colours looked good and the fish stayed firm – something to remember if you’re using other kinds of fish, as it has to be something that won’t disintegrate while cooking.