Wednesday, 28 October 2009

something nasty in the woodpile...


Very probably, have heard munching sounds in it for the last 3 years, but have never quite got down to the dregs to investigate.
I love winter...bleak frozen hill tops, black jagged outlines of trees bent against the wind, endless variations of soup, actually I hate it, except for the WOOD FIRE.
I have always lived with open fires in the house/flat, even in London. When buying a flat there, I was still trying to work out if I could carry wood up 7 flights of stairs, and whether the lease would allow the fireplace to be used. There is something so fundamental about a real fire in a house. The sounds, smell, colour and of course, the true heart of the house warmth.
I was amazed when we first lived in France to find how many people, certainly in this region, rely on wood for heating, often for hot water as well. We were used to fires in the u.k being something extra special. Pub with real open fire....something used for show rather than life saving heat potential.
So this is our wood pile. Part inherited from our lovely previous house owners, part built up by us. Following in their tradition, most of it is raided from demolition sites (with permission bien sur) Jean -Paul put in a massive 'insert' fireplace which burns just about anything. This year we are burning old pine and cypress, spurned by everyone else, and the beams of a beautiful house in Limoux which the Mairie demolished under some spurious pretext. Most people burn oak here, which of course is excellent, slow burning, very hot, unlike rubbish old pine, still waste not want not!
During the few extremely cold weeks, we do put electric fires on when frost bite is looming, otherwise its just the fire, thick socks and duvet layers, and chopping wood..it warms you twice.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bread.

Mark's bread features a lot in our household.
He has always made bread. It started during student days.
People say, wow, have you got a bread machine, I say yes he's that tall lanky one over there....then they say, what is the recipe, I wish I had time , etc etc. Actually its very simple, and despite the fact that Mark is always busy he fits the process in as part of the daily (in fact about every 3 days) routine.
I have nothing against bread machines, except its another kitchen gadget which often appears in vide grenier along with deep fat friers, veg steamers. Do we need so many appliances?
Making bread is also a soothing activity, deeply satisfying apart from the first couple of attempts when one (me) leaves out the yeast resulting in something that would not be on the film set of 'little house on the prairie'.
Here are the basic rules and equipment.
Flour: We buy this in large quantities from our local whole-food shop. Either 'bise' white with a little rough stuff left in, 'complete' which is wholemeal, or 'integral' which is everything, husks, stalks, small rodents...? We go for 'complet', integral is a bit too worthy, and teeth shattering.
Yeast: this little packet in the pic is fresh yeast found in most supermarkets here. Sometimes Mark uses a dried yeast which you mix in with the flour, but prefers the live stuff. There is something profoundly reassuring about the little cube..the smell, the 'realness' '..? don't know, but its a good 80 cents worth.
Water: from tap, or local source, if you have one...see future post...
Good tablespoon of salt.
That's it!
Optional extras:
Sunflower seeds, walnuts, Olive oil, tahini, bit of soya flour, for extra protein bread, olives, cat food(not really), anything you feel like actually.
Equipment:
BIG bowl.
Equally big wooden spoon.
Oven.
Bread tins. These are special, for the job, Mark has old ones from Aunty Nora and from boot sale, they are double thickness and are never washed, just oiled.
Get big bowl, pour in flour, this is a dodgy area. Mark never weighs anything, experiment... I may look for a bit of film I have somewhere of him 'measuring' flour.
Make hole, put in excited yeast (has been put with sugar and warm water for a few minutes)
Mix up to chewing gum consistency, tip out onto floured surface, kneed, put back in bowl, cover with clean (often not appropriate chez nous) cloth. Leave until dough has risen to twice the size, with light classical music, if desired. If dough remains the same after a day, use as door stop, and buy bread machine.
Remix dough a little and put into oiled bread tins. Leave to reflect on life and the future (the dough, and yourself if needed...ha ha) for a bit (about half an hour)
Put in pre-heated oven, 170 approx, for about 40 minutes.
House will infused by wonderful wholesome happy smell. Visitors will be charmed, and nasty post received that morning will seem unimportant.

I just found the film....He seems to be using a nix of whole meal, probably with a bit of white mixed in.



video

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Puritan fridge

This is the hothouse compound fridge. It is under observation by Mark at all times. Mark, not only is post materialist (exceptions for books c.d's and music stuff generally) he is a puritan. If there is more than one small piece of cheese, a couple of eggs and some butter he shows signs of stress. The usual result of this is delicious cake....and then a trip to a shop again to by something to put back in the fridge, probably not the most efficient way to operate...perhaps he continues a close connection with his hunter-gatherer ancestors, in his case, probably more gatherers.
This amount of provisions is also reflected in the 'the pantry' and fruit/veg dept. It can be a bit sad to find, just what you know will be there, no hidden chocolate cup cakes, no multi pack of beef and onion crisps, but it does mean that there is never any waste food, and as long as one can rustle up a quick 'red and runny'* when sudden guests appear all is well.
We have been mainly vegetarian since Mark came back from a trip to India last year with no achy joints. I think we do all feel healthier, and shopping has become much cheaper.
The market here is great, quite a lot of organic veg, and local produce. I love the seasonal aspect to food shopping in France. No strawberries in January, massive gluts of apricots at the right time...jam, pies, stewed and then frozen fruit, a joy in mid-winter.

*Red and runny: something which always starts with oil, garlic, onion, then whatever veg is around, then tinned tomatoes and paste....you know, student food, but we have had some really excellent ones.


How did we get here?

Captains log. Star date 17.10.2009. We are currently in orbit around the sun, the bin men have passed and all animals in the house are asleep, due to sudden onset of winter temperatures.

How did we get here? Are we post-materialists?
What is post-materialism? (I'm not quite sure, but I'll look into it) This is a 'note book' working towards another bigger project, secret at the moment, but we can assure, does not involve world domination or tupperware.

This is our house. An angular cream construction built in 1975 that Mark detested on sight. Its not pretty, and not what an English family would aspire to, but we ended up here by a series of fate episodes. We might have been living in Marseille now, but the realization that we would have been in a flat the size of a bathroom with dogs, cat, boy piano and 20,000 books etc, meant we ended up moving about 300 meters down the road.
Good job. Its very practical. we can make lots of musical noise, lovely voisinage, great garden with lots of scope for growing food things and a short walk into town.
So...post-materialism....
I think I might have always been someone who practices this, not in an intentional way, partly up-bringing, partly as a revolt against the world I used to work in.
I was for many years, a stylist in London (Thatcher 'grabbing' era) and later other cities in the U.K. This mainly involved stress, driving a lot and far too fast in order to put together beautiful photos of food, bathrooms, incontinence pads, or whatever the photographer was working on at the time. Good money, many unpleasant people, impossibly lengthy meetings about...?
A few lovely down to earth photographers made it all bearable, thank you Chris in particular, but I was glad to stop move onto other things. Here is a song I made up while driving around in my Morris traveller on the Acton flyover one particularly horrible day. I used to sing it while in interminable traffic jams, on the way to see art directors.

Sing in manic Gilbert and Sullivan style...

I sat in a meeting this morning, talking for hours about something,
I don't know what, probably not a lot..... the futility and banality of styling.

I drove from Derby to London, after the meeting to get one,
That elusive little thing, a gold plated Prada thong...the futility and banality of styling

The client said I've changed my mind, there's something else for you to find,
A purple three legged giraffe, and a fur covered black corner bath...the futility and banality of styling,
I'm welded to my car, I drive from near to far, I think I'm going insane, I've run out of cheques again.....

The stylist, what fate does await her, when I arrived at the studio later,
the prop vans stuck in Gwent and he should have been in Kent...the futility and banality of styling,
I'm welded to my car etc...

When I got home this evening, the answer machine it was bleeping.
There's been a change of plan, take it all back when you can.....the futility and banality of styling,
I'm welded to my car etc

And etc etc, it did help.

So, there is a bit of info on me and why I don't feel the urge to re-vamp the kitchen.
More soon.