>Last days of the year

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The weather has become much milder than it was a couple of weeks ago and the days are getting longer. This evening it was just about light until about 5.30 p.m. There’s a chance that the plants in the garden, which have been in a kind of suspended animation for the past few weeks, will begin to grow again. We still have work to do – clearing the last remaining pepper plants and getting the ground ready for the goat manure we hope to collect during January.

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Even in the very cold weather we’ve been picking leeks and salad leaves, and this cauliflower.




The sea

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On Saturday at Le Grau d’Agde the sea was grey and cold. The statue of a woman represents the women who wait and watch for the fishermen to come back to port. She had no need to worry this time because all the boats were in the harbour. Going through Roujan we were amused to see this large olive tree on the back of a lorry ahead of us. A nice late Christmas present for someone?

Sunday sunset

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From near Roujan we could see as far as the Pyrenees and Mont Canigou (above), which is 2,784 metres high, and the sunlit trees looked golden against the dark sky.






And our Christmas day lunch …

We’ve had to postpone our family mid-winter festivities because of travel problems last week, but even though we were on our own on the 25th, Lo Jardinièr and I had a good lunch!

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Apéritifs in the garden, with some of the olives from our own tree.

DSC00746 DSC00745 Lo Jardinièr opening oysters (left) and beating the chocolate fondant mix (above)

DSC00750 Foie gras with salt, red and black peppercorns and a glass of Cartagène. DSC00752 Oysters gratinées
DSC00755 Leg of lamb slow roasted in wine with garlic and rosemary, with leeks from the garden. DSC00754
Potatoes dauphinoises
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Chocolate fondant.
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And, finally, cherries in Armagnac with our coffee.

We didn’t eat anything else until the next day!

>Weekend treats / Les plaisirs du weekend

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La Jardinièra brought us some ceps she’d bought in the Halles Victor Hugo in Toulouse – lovely, earthy and wood-smelling, we cooked them in olive oil and butter and added chopped garlic and parsley. They were wonderful.

La Jardinièra nous a amené des ceps qu’elle avait acheté aux Halles Victor Hugo à Toulouse – ils sentaient du bois et de la terre. Nous les avons cuits à l’huile d’olive et puis nous avons ajouté de l’ail haché et du persil. Delicieux!

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Shellfish at Bouzigues / Le coquillage à Bouzigues

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Sunday lunch / le dîner de dimanche

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plateau de fruits de mer
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moules gratinées

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And, back home, we found that we’ve managed to grow some parsnips for the first time! They were lovely roasted whole in olive oil.

DSC09319Les panais – ils sont bons rotis à l’huile d’olive.

>Update on the plane trees / Les platanes – mise à jour

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At a meeting yesterday evening the mayor presented the revised plan for the plane trees and it seems that the muncipal council has accepted a compromise. All the remaining plane trees on one side of the road will be stay. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can hope for. What a pity this wasn’t agreed before some of the trees were needlessly felled.

A une réunion publique hier soir le maire a presenté le nouveau projet et il semble que le conseil municipal ont trouvé un compromis. Tous les platanes qui y restent à un coté de la route resteront. Ce n’est pas idéal mais c’est mieux que le projet précédent. C’est dommage que quelques arbres sont déja detruits inutilement.

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Looking north from the bottom of the lane which leads to the gardens, the trees on the right of the picture will be preserved. / Les arbres à droite resteront.

Oysters / les huitres

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Today we bought oysters from the van from Bouzigues and ate them for lunch in the garden, simply with lemon.

Aujourd’hui on a acheté des huitres du producteur de Bouzigues, pour manger au jardin, accompagnées tout simplement de citron.

We’ve started sowing the autumn crops, even though we’ve had no rain yet. We sowed lettuce – Rougette de Montpellier, a good autumn and winter variety – Cavalo Nero kale and turnips.

>It’s Thursday, so it must be oysters / les huitres

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A sustainable supper

We’re so lucky here in Gabian that the coquillage van comes to the village twice a week bringing fresh shellfish from Bouziques.  Oysters seem to be one of the best foods we can get from the environmental point of view … and they’re delicious and very good value.

In the Guardian newspaper last Saturday Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was encouraging readers to eat oysters, raw or cooked.  He gave some recipes – including one for oyster and chard fritters, which I want to make sometime soon, and another for oysters with chorizo.  This recipe was for six oysters to serve six people as a starter – well, here in the Midi we eat oysters in larger quantities than that, but the recipe sounded very tempting.  I had a nice chunk of chorizo which I’d bought from the charcutier at the market yesterday and realised that I could combine this with one of my favourite ways with oysters – huitres gratinées, putting them under the grill with white wine and cheese.

We started with some of our leeks, and onions, sautéed in olive oil and then served with shavings of parmesan.

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Les poireaux sautés aux oignons et l’huile d’olive.  Servir au parmesan.

Oysters gratinées with chorizo / Huitres gratinées au chorizo

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We added chopped garlic, olive oil, white wine and grated Cantal cheese to the oysters in their shells and put them under the grill for about 5 minutes until the cheese began to brown.  In the meantime we cooked the diced chorizo in olive oil, then served it with the oysters and poured the spicy oil from the frying pan over the oysters.

We finished this Thursday evening feast with some of the lovely Spanish clementines which are in all the local shops and markets at the moment.

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We felt we deserved all of this after a few hours’ hard work earlier on, spreading another trailer-load of goat manure on the garden.

>Mussels – sustainable food / Les moules – la nourriture durable

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Each time we eat mussels – and that is quite often since the van from Bouzigues comes to the village twice a week – I become more convinced that mussels and oysters are a sustainable food for those of us who live near where they are farmed.

Chaque fois que nous mangeons les moules – et c’est assez souvent car le camion de coquillage de Bouzigues arrive au village deux fois par semaine – je deviens de plus en plus convaincue que les moules et les huitres sont de la nourriture durable pour ceux qui habitent près des etangs où elles sont cultivées.

The British website fishonline.org gives a lot of information about which fish to eat and which to avoid, not all of it applicable to the Mediterranean. The website is definite about mussels and oysters, though. So long as they are farmed or hand-gathered from the wild, they are OK. It states that:

Shellfish farming is an extensive, low-impact method of mariculture and high quality water standards are required for cultivation of shellfish for human consumption.

As I’ve pointed out before, the high quality of water needed is a benefit as the producers have a vested interest in keeping it unpolluted. So it seems it’s all good news as far as both food and the environment are concerned.

Le site web britannique fishonline.org donne des renseignements de quels poissons sont bien à manger. Si les coquillages sont cultivés ou ramassés à la main, ils sont durables. Et la necessité d’une très bonne qualité de l’eau est un avantage parce qu’il es dans l’interêt des producteurs de garder l’eau saine.

For us, living near the Bassin de Thau where mussels and oysters are farmed, shellfish seem to be the ideal food – fresh, tasty, environmentally friendly … and cheap: only 3 € a kilo.

Mussels with tomato and fennel sauce / Moules à la sauce tomate et fenouille

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We hadn’t thought of having mussels for supper last night, but when we heard the announcement that the coquillage van had arrived we made a spur-of-the-moment decision and Lo Jardinièr went to the place and bought a kilo. We had some fennel we’d bought in the market on Wednesday, so I made a tasty tomato sauce with it. The full recipe is on my mediterranean food blog.

La recette pour ce plat est sur mon blog cuisine mediterranéenne.

PS Michelle at From Seed to Table advises US readers to consult the Monterey Bay Acquarium site for information about which fish to eat:

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

>End of year round-up / Résumé de la fin d’année

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Our family holiday is over now and as always the best part of it has been enjoying being together, cooking, eating, drinking, talking, laughing.  This post is just a brief round-up of some highlights from this last week.

Les fêtes familiales sont finies et comme toujours nous nous sommes regalés ensemble, dans la cuisine, en mangeant, en buvant, en parlant et en riant.  Ici je vous donne un gout de quelques points forts de la semaine dernière.

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25 December sky / le ciel du 25 décembre

On Christmas day it was just about warm enough to walk to the garden at midday and have our traditional apéritif there, although this year rather than cold drinks we had mulled wine – a bottle of Domaine d’Estève red wine heated with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some juniper berries, a cinnamon stick, some cloves and some orange pieces, including the peel. 

Olives

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We took some of our own olives out of the brine they’ve been soaking in for two months, rinsed them in plain water and coated them with olive oil.  They tasted very good, but a bit salty so we’ll soak the others in plain water for a bit longer to get rid of some of the salt.  It was exciting to eat our own olives next to our olive tree, as we did last year at the same time – but this time the olives are bigger and better and there are more of them.

Christmas meal / le repas de Noel

Everyone has different ideas about what makes the perfect Christmas meal.  We’re not very keen on turkey and Christmas pudding, so for many years we’ve eaten our own different choices which change from year to year.  Even when we lived in Wales we didn’t eat a traditional Welsh or British Christmas meal, and here we’ve adopted some of the local festive habits, such as eating oysters.  We started the meal with raw oysters, then had very small cups of oyster soup, foie gras with figs (bought in Pézenas market from the producer), and then gambas (large prawns) sautéed in olive oil with a dash of pastis added at the end of the cooking.

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oysters served with Picpoul de Pinet white wine
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gambas_1 Gambas are large prawns which have a special spicy flavour.  We sauté them in olive oil and then add either Armagnac or pastis – this time it was pastis, the aniseed spirit which is considered the spirit of the Midi.

We had two main dishes – pigeons for meat-eaters and salt-baked sea bass for non-meat-eaters – both served with sautéed leeks from the garden and potato and celeriac mash.

Salt-baked sea bass

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Baking in salt preserves all the flavour.
We stuffed the sea bass with fennel and lemon slices, laid it on a bed of sea salt and covered it completely with more sea salt.  We put it in a hot oven for about 40 minutes (this depends on the size of fish) and then cracked the ‘shell’ of salt.

Stuffed pigeons with pancetta

pigeons_1_1 We stuffed pigeons with breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots, parsley, garlic, sautéed onion, sage and white wine, put a slice of pancetta over each one and roasted them in a hot oven for about 50 minutes.

We finished the meal with some of the cherries preserved in Armagnac which I bottled last May.

Since then we’ve had some more good meals, including a simple, but delicious soup made with cabbage, chestnuts and white wine:

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And, on the last evening before the family left, a bonite (small tuna-like fish) marinaded in a charmoula herb mix, stuffed with olives and preserved lemons and roasted on a bed of potatoes and tomatoes.  The recipe came from the Guardian weekend magazine but instead of sea bass we used the bonite which I’d bought from our market fish stall a couple of weeks ago and kept in the freezer.

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We served this dish with an excellent bottle of red Coteaux de Languedoc from the Domaine de la Tour Penedesses in Gabian.

Sustainable?

I think that, like us, most people take a break from some of their principles at this time of the year.  We certainly wouldn’t claim that our gambas were very eco-friendly, but most of our other food was.  The fish we ate was all locally caught and the oysters were produced in the Bassin de Thau.  I like foie gras and don’t join in the chorus of disapproval which so often results from any mention of this food.  I don’t think it’s any more cruel than other poultry farming and it’s much more acceptable to me than the battery-reared chickens to which critics of foie gras seem to have little objection.  Anyway, it is very expensive so we can only eat it once a year.  We ate as much as we can from the garden at this time of year, although we did buy potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and tomatoes.  We decided not to have a pine tree this year and instead decorated some arbutus and bay branches from the garrigue and from our garden – this looked pretty and best of all didn’t drop pine needles on the floor!  And, rather than flying, our family travelled to Gabian by train – Eurostar and TGV – a much more sustainable choice.

How do others reconcile treats with principles, I wonder?

>Winter festivities / les fêtes de la fin d’année

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We’re beginning to look forward to next week. For me the winter festivities mean the family getting together to cook, eat and drink, and avoid commercialism as much as possible.

On attend la semaine prochaine avec impatience. Pour moi les fêtes de la fin d’année sont l’occasion pour toute la famille de faire la cuisine, manger et boire ensemble, en évitant la commercialisation autant que c’est possible.

So, what will we cook and eat? Oysters, certainly. The van from Bouzigues will make a special visit to Gabian on 24 December and again on 31 December. People will be seen queuing to buy several boxes of oysters. These are a guilt-free pleasure. As I said in my recent post about mussels I think that shellfish from the Bassin de Thau is one of the most sustainable foods we can buy.

Donc, qu’est’ce que nous mangerons? Les huitres, bien sûr. Le producteur de coquillage de Bouzigues arrivera le 24 et le 31 décembre. Les habitants de Gabian se mettront à la queue pour acheter quelques boites d’huitres.

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I like oysters gratinées, so I shall probably put some under the grill with a little white wine and grated cheese for a couple of minutes. Others we’ll eat raw with lemon juice.

J’aime les huitres gratinées, donc j’en ferai griller quelques pour deux minutes, avec un peu de vin blanc et de fromage rapé. Les autres nous mangerons crues au jus de citron.

Oyster soup / La soupe aux huitres

Last year I made this soup using the recipe in Máirín Uí Chomáin’s Irish Oyster Cuisine. It’s especially good for those who are put off by the sight of a whole live oyster!

Chop 12-18 oysters. Bring 225 ml milk, 225 ml cream and 25 gm butter gently to the boil in a sauecpan. Add the chopped oysters, salt and pepper and heat through. Serve in warm bowls or cups, sprinkled with paprika.

Couper 12-18 huitres. Faire bouiller lentement 225 ml de lait, 225 ml crème et 25 gm beurre. Ajouter les huitres, du sel et du poivre et rechauffer. Servir avec un peu de piment doux.

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