now blogging at www.katesplates.com.au


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Farewell Grace and Gusto … Bonjour Kate’s Plates

It is mostly with excitement that I introduce to you all my renamed blog … this will be my last post on Grace and Gusto … after this, my publishing home will be Kate’s Plates.

So why the change? I started blogging about eighteen months ago to see if it was something I enjoyed and something I could stick to. I didn’t want to invest too much time and money into a blog before I knew I would take it seriously. It seems I have done that, I’ve loved the learning process (although I do cringe at some of my old posts which won’t make it on to Kate’s Plates!) and I want to keep going. Grace and Gusto was a very personal name and it really does reflect me as a person but it doesn’t mean much to my audience. Some have even confused it with Grace and Gutso! At least that can relate to food!

Kate’s Plates is easier to remember and clearly represents what I write about … food. It came about a few months ago when I realised I had an alarmingly strong passion for collecting vintage plates. Alarming because I’m not yet sure how to get them all home from France to Australia! I may sell them online one day, but for now I’m having too much fun keeping them all to myself. It’s a joy to hunt for them at a local vide grenier (garage sale) or brocante (second hand) store and of course I love plating up delicious food on them. They make my food look beautiful and they all have a story of their own. Last night, I served dinner on a beautiful plate that could be between 65 and 95 years old! Imagine if it could talk! I’d love to know what dishes it’s held and the story behind its previous owners.

In our recent move to Quillan, I got to unpack everything we had stored during our summer roadtrip. It was like Christmas! I left my crockery boxes until last – I had really missed not being able to select one each mealtime. They all arrived safe and sound … except for this one.
broken plate

I must admit I actually shed a tear. This was truly my favourite cake stand. When I first saw it in a brocante shop, I just knew we were meant to be together and it ended up being gifted to me by a family member. I’m sure a few eyes are rolling, but you can see how passionate I am about vintage plates, and why the new blog name works so well.

If you have been subscribing to Grace and Gusto, thankyou. I’ve loved having you on the other end of my posts and have appreciated every comment. I continue to write for myself but it certainly does give me a warm fuzzy when someone else loves what I write too. You will no longer receive notifications from Grace and Gusto, so please head over to www.katesplates.com.au and pop your email address in the top right hand corner to receive future posts from me. I’m about to post a lovely Spiced Zucchini Cake recipe so subscribe now so as not to miss it.

You can also follow Kate’s Plates on Facebook if you’re not already, and also on Instagram.

Thankyou for being with me on this journey so far and don’t forget I love to hear from you so keep the comments and questions coming!

For the last time, with grace and gusto,

kpx

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Village Life

It is day six of chapter three in our family adventure.  [Actually it’s now day ten – I’ve been distracted after a busy weekend!]. Chapter one was six months in an idyllic villa on two acres amongst the vineyards – blissful to say the least. Chapter two was an eight week road trip through France, Italy and Switzerland where we created a lifetime of memories.  We stayed in everything from a camping ground to a rustic stone house to a chic, Scandinavian-designed loft apartment. Fourteen kitchens later, I am setting up “home” in an apartment in Quillan, a village in South West France at the foothills of the Pyrenees. The apartment is directly above a bustling (during the warmer months anyway) cafe and overlooks what becomes the market square for the village every Wednesday and Saturday morning, set against a backdrop of glorious, looming mountains.

mountains

The view from our rooftop terrace up to the mountains

market day

Market Day in the village square – view from our lounge room window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In one way, I feel as if we are starting from the beginning again – figuring out where to shop and dine, establish which local doctor we should use, learn what days the bins go out, figure out how we can out smart any parking police by knowing the best spots each day and of course, get to know some locals! We have made some headway on the latter already. Our neighbour happens to be Australian and his wife is Vietnamese. They have already proudly shown us their garden allotment where they produce most of their own fruit and vegetables and they gifted us a beautiful Courgette Precoce Maraichere. It’s a huge pale green variety of zucchini (often called a marrow) and I turned it into dinner (see recipe below).

marrow

The enormous marrow as well as garden fresh capsicum, cucumbers and beans (so sweet they barely made it home!)

It’s human interactions like these that help me settle into our new way of life. It should feel “normal” by now, given we have been in France for almost nine months. I am amongst (mostly) french people. I understand them and mostly, they understand me. As the kids started their new school this week, it gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned on this journey so far. There’s a story behind every one of them, but I’ve selfishly listed them quickly so I can remember these lessons and apply them elsewhere. Some of them are profound, some may sound petty, but each and every one of them has been a small win on a particular day when things may have been a little challenging and some are life lessons we need to be reminded of constantly.

  • My family means more to me than I can ever put down in words. The gift of time and experiences with them in France is something I will remain humbly grateful for.
  • I’ve learned to drive on the right (wrong?) side of the road.
  • I’ve learned to be a more skillful and alert driver (I can hear my husband scoff) … mastering small spaces is survival in this country!
  • I’ve learned the difference between jambon (ham) cru, cuit and sec … this may sound like one of those petty ones, but the day I figured this out was the day the clouds parted and the sun shone through!
  • I’ve learned to take even more time to prepare and cook … it’s my happy place, my therapy and my art
  • I’ve fallen in love with vegetables all over again … they taste so good here!
  • I’ve learned to truly appreciate nature and the seasonal produce she bares. I love seeing an abundance of fresh courgettes in summer and dreaming up new ways to eat them all (I’ve included one way in the recipe below).  I indulge in blueberries in summer knowing they’re simply not available from October until May. It becomes a real treat.
  • I’ve learned to be more patient. In France, you wait a lot. Often. In nearly all situations. Shop vendors are more interested in finishing their conversation with one customer than they are with serving the next. I respect this and am learning to wait patiently and to enjoy the process of a real conversation with each person I meet rather than it being simply a transaction.
  • I’m learning that the digital economy here is not what we’re used to in Australia. Emails get answered when its convenient – face to face interaction takes precedence. Websites are rarely optimised or user friendly and it’s considered normal that the wifi rarely works perfectly.
  • I’ve learned to have a great respect for the history and culture of this country and how it impacts people beliefs and attitudes towards food and their craft today.  The word artisan is not just a marketing term – it holds great value and will often mean (if you ask and listen) that there is a beautifully rich family history associated with their work.
  • I’ve learned to have more grace with people … one person’s opinion about something doesn’t mean they can be labelled or stereotyped. They are a whole person and it’s my responsibility to understand first rather than be understood. Having French as a second language is the best tool to force you to use your ears and mouth as God intended.
  • I’ve learned to ask questions, ask for what I want, ask if I’m making sense, ask if I have understood correctly and ask about anything that is unclear. It’s the only way we can get by here but having the courage to ask has always meant we have made things happen and discovered new things.  When we open doors, open our mind and open our heart, the experience is always richer.
  • I’m learning the beautiful side to village life is that you can see and hear everything that’s happening outside your window.
  • I’m learning that the drawback of village life is that you can see and hear everything that’s happening outside your window.
  • I’m learning to live in old buildings and accept that a part of life here is that there is always something that doesn’t work all that well. Strangely enough, I get by with very few dramas.  My expectations are changing for the better.  I get resourceful and find other solutions.

 

courgette farci ingredients

Market fresh produce

This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure as we become accustomed to village life, we will no doubt learn many more lessons. For now, I am enjoying this quaint, walk-everywhere lifestyle. I can walk to the butcher, the baker, (no candlestick maker in town), market, cafe, restaurant, school, doctor, river, pool, gym, cinemas and even a local brocante store! I have spotted a piece of land available in a community garden and perhaps, with a few lessons from my earnest and eager neighbour, I may even get my hippy on and grow a few vegies.

There’s nothing that inspires me to cook more than super fresh locally grown produce without chemicals and with loads of love. I took the enormous courgette and decided to do a courgette farci. It sounds so much nicer in French … Stuffed Zuc is the Aussie translation. This is a perfect midweek meal and one you can change up depending on what’s in season and what’s in your kitchen. Don’t overcomplicate it with too                                                                      many flavours, just season well and enjoy the flavour of the vegetable.

Ingredients

marrow 3

A few fresh vegies is all this receipe needs

2-3 large zucchinis or marrows or 1 smaller one for each person eating
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200gms smoked bacon, diced (lardons)
150gms cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
half bunch of parsley, finely chopped
200gms rice
200gms grated cheese (I used emmental)
salt and pepper to taste

Method

marrow 4

Scoop out the seeds to allow room for the stuffing

Prepare the rice in a rice cooker, on the stove or in your Thermomix. This can be done in advance and set aside. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil to medium high and saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the bacon and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook for a further 3 minutes until the tomatoes just start to soften. Turn off the heat and set aside.

courgette farci 1

I used left-over stuffing in a tomato and capsicum and served it all up!

Wash the marrow or zucchini, trim the ends, slice in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds. Reserve for use in a stir-fry or vegetable stock. Combine the rice with the bacon and tomato mix, adding an extra tablespoon of olive oil if needed.  Stir in the chopped parsley (reserving a little for the garnish) and ensure it is well combined. Spoon the rice mixture into the hollowed out zucchinis and push down to form a mound on the zucchini. Sprinkle with grated cheese, season again and put into the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the marrow is cooked through and the topping is golden. Serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley, a side salad and crusty baguette. This could easily be a vegetarian meal – substitute the bacon for olives and add a dash of lemon juice and lemon zest to the rice mixture. You can also substitute the rice for chick peas, cous cous or breadcrumbs – the options are endless.

I’m off to slow cook some lamb for dinner … despite the intense blue sky and glorious September sunshine, the mornings and evenings have quickly become cool enough to hint at Autumn … cool enough for some good ol’ roast dinners.

With grace and gusto,

kpx