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French women “get” fat

Kudos to Mireille Giuliano for writing a global best selling book based mainly on her opinion and personal experience. French Women Don’t Get Fat is a clever representation of how a French woman’s philosophy of food and eating keeps her trim.  It amuses me because Giuliano is french opinion personified, but I agree with her that above all, the pleasure of eating and tasting food is the most important thing.

This book and my time in France so far, has convinced me that French women “get” fat.  They understand it.  They get plenty of natural fats in their diet from the likes of duck meat, foie gras, cheese, nuts and fish.  They eat in moderation the bad fats in their glorious pastries.  When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand how they could resist the incredible displays they undoubtedly walk past everyday.  It’s very hard to avoid a peek in the windows in our local town’s four patisseries – let alone the many other boulangeries!  But after three months, I have arrived at a place where “too much ice cream” keeps me from over indulging.  Don’t get me wrong, when we entertain, we make sure we show off our local “specialties of the region” (a favourite marketing term over here) but day to day, feeling strong, healthy and bien dans ma peau (good in my skin) is more important.

I am here to tell you that the myth that “all french women are skinny and gorgeous” is simply not true.  What is true, is that I could count on one hand the number of obese people I have seen in France.  I’ve travelled to many cities in France including Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Paris, Montpellier, Nice and Narbonne, and I definitely noticed the lack of very overweight people that I had become accustomed to seeing back home in Australia.  Weird huh?

Another truth: you can sit in the main square of any town and several stunning, slim, typically french young things will walk past and you’ll marvel at their perfect red lipstick, the way their scarf matches effortlessly with their tailored look and their shoes and handbag … and their little dog.  Yes it’s mind boggling sometimes, but I simply put that down to sheer population.  France can fit inside Queensland itself and has triple the population of Australia, so of course there will be a concentration of these coquettes, right?

But let’s get back on topic … the point is that overall, French people are healthier than we are and I think Guiliano hints at the main reason why: they have a much healthier relationship with real food.  They avoid fast foods because they have so many other wonderful options.  Their rich history of gastronomie has left them with a plethora of cafes and restaurants in every city (even our local village has over eight places in which to dine, just in the main square) and a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are available at local farmers markets every week.  And here’s the thing: it’s all very affordable.  The French social welfare system even provides “lunch cheques” for some low income earners which is literally a voucher they can redeem for a meal at a cafe.

So I shall join Guiliano and the general French population in enjoying my healthy fats in the magret du canard and Roquefort cheese.  But I will keep my head about savouring their fresh fruit and vegetables everyday and occasionally relishing a sweet pastry.
Here’s a few pics of the food and sights we’ve been enjoying lately …
A day out in Carcassonne … markets followed by a picnic with the castle as the backdrop and the river as the view in front of us.
carcassonne markets picnic 3
carcassonne bridge canal du midi
Charcuterie platters in Limoux and Bordeaux … all in the name of research 😉
charcuterie bordeaux charcuterie jambon
Plenty of home cooked goodness at the Villa …
villa home dinner oysters
A recent trip to Bordeaux left us drooling … and not only for their beautiful red wines …
winery raspberry tartsbrunch
Castelnaudry is the best place to enjoy Cassoulet, a specialty dish of the region … duck, pork sausage and beans. Done right, it’s lovely.
cassoulet
A sublime lunch enjoyed at La Domaine Gayda, one of our many local wineries.  Foie gras three ways, snapper cooked to perfection, Apple Profiteroles and coffee with madeleines by the fire …
snapper gayda coffee fire
Bon appetit!
With grace and gusto, kpx
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Let’s Meat in Lyon

Our little pocket of the South of France has really shown us how quickly the seasons can change around here.  A week ago, we only just made it out of our road, through snow as deep as my five year old is tall and temperatures below zero. And this afternoon, the day after coming home from our road trip, we sat outside in the sunshine and enjoyed wearing only two layers (not our usual five) in a toasty 13 degrees.

We took advantage of the kid’s school holidays and drove to Grenoble to stay with a friend.  Five years ago when I started to welcome au pairs into our home in Australia to help me cope with three children under two years of age, I never knew the depth of friendships we were creating, and how well these girls (and a guy in there too!) would get to know and love our family.  What a treat it has been to continue our wonderful connection with some of these young ladies in their home country. We were invited to spend a few nights in a small town called Voreppe, just out of Grenoble and an hour south of Lyon.  It cemented for me two things: I much prefer to spend time in smaller villages and towns than larger cities; and you can’t pay for the experience you get when you are hosted in a family’s home and are gifted the opportunity to see how a real French family lives, day to day.

Voreppe

We were well and truly spoilt for space, comfort, good food and wonderful conversation, despite the challenges of a language barrier. Our friends really went all out to show us their “specialties of the region”.  So much so that we ended up having a joke at each meal time about how if something is a “specialty of the region”, it must be eaten, no matter how much fat or sugar is involved. We happily agreed to share in the specialty of the region for January – a croissant consistency pastry that was laced with praline walnuts. The kids thought it was Christmas when this was served for breakfast!  And as there is a specialty patisserie product for each month (brilliant marketing or respected tradition??) we also had to sample February’s bugnes. These are sweet, crunchy pastry layers that taste like they’ve been deep fried – but in a good way – and dusted with icing sugar.  They’re delicious and delicate and indulgent and leave me feeling like the French have a secret I don’t know about or an iron will that keeps them thin.  Incredible how they resist these temptations.  I’m sure there is a gene in a French person’s DNA that doubles their rate of metabolism – it just doesn’t make sense.

The best dishes were the traditional French dinners they cooked that included Roti de Veau aux Chanterelles (Roasted Veal with Chanterelle Mushrooms in a Cream Sauce – best bit about this dish was that the mushrooms were hand picked from the forest and dehydrated at home!), Pommes de Terres Dauphinoises (Potatoes Dauphinois), Boeuf aux Carottes (Slow Cooked Beef and Carrot Casserole) and a dish I’d never seen or heard of before called Quenelles. The best way I can describe these are a cross between gnocchi and cannelloni or boiled bread dough and pasta – they soak up whatever you cook with them and in our case, it was a simple and very tasty tomato and olive sauce.  Interestingly, when we ordered these a few days later in Lyon, they were made from fish and had a consistency similar to tofu.  So I’m left thinking there are at least a couple of versions.  Both were yum.

Veau de chanterelles
tomates
dauphinois

What struck me most is the simplicity of how the French eat.  You even see it on their restaurant menus.  As an example, Boeuf aux Carrottes.  Beef with carrots.  No apology, no fancy dress-ups, just humble food served with love. What the untrained palette may not realise however, is that the dish is slow cooked, sometimes over two days.  And most French people have been taught the art of saveur (flavour) so that a generous amount of garlic is used, the right herbs are added at the right time, and they are never shy with salt and pepper (I rarely need to season food after it’s served).  And of course with each main meal we are first offered a salad and before dessert, a plate of heavenly cheeses.  I swear I will never tire of tasting new cheeses. Charles de Gaulle once said that “a country with over 350 kinds of cheese is ungovernable”.  Well, I’m afraid I don’t need to worry too much about the government here as it will probably never effect me directly.  So until such a time, I will push on in pursuit of those 350 kinds of cheeses, and be grateful for each morcel.
fromage assiette

Speaking of cheese, we went on our friend’s recommendation and took a day trip to Annecy, an hour and a half from Voreppe.  It’s in the Savoie department and is the home of the original cheese fondue.  I’d seen it on the map before and knew it was close to the Swiss border, but other than that, I was grateful for someone else to play tour guide and show us around.  What an unexpected delight! It’s by far the prettiest city I have seen in France so far and the most unique given it borders France’s third largest lake and juts up against the mountains, giving us ample opportunities to take some breathtaking, postcard-worthy photos.  The architecture reminded me of Switzerland and the canals through the old town reminded me of Venice, but it was the cheese fondue we ate for lunch that reminded me of being a kid again!  I had a great time, swirling various charcuterie cuts, fresh rye bread and pickles through the thick, gooey cheese, that was both sweet and creamy all at once.  I had to fight off the kids to ensure my fill.  That meal will be one we remember, punctuated by how cold it was outside despite the brilliant blue sky and sunshine, and how warm and cozy it was inside the Savoyard restaurant.  A brilliant day.
annecy 4 annecy 3
annecy annecy 2
fondue

After Voreppe and Grenoble, we ventured in to Lyon.  It reminded me of braving Paris by car a little. It is a very densely populated city, although this was only apparent to us by buildings and cars, not necessarily people.  Lyon is France’s “second city” or the “city between two rivers”.  The waters of the Rhone and Saone mucked up my usual stellar navigation.  We stayed in the Croix Rousse district which was probably just as well.  It sits very high up on a hill overlooking the city – breathtaking views on a clear day – and meant we could squeeze plenty of high intensity training into our days of eating. Histroically, the area was famous for it’s artisan silk weavers.  Les Pentes are the famous stairs that take you from the city centre to the top of the hill in twenty minutes depending on your fitness levels.  Driving would probably take just as long once you deal with the horrors of parking, zigzag turns and miniature roads that spit you out at one end only to confuse you with endless one way streets as your next option!
les pentes lyon

I read up on Lyon before we arrived – I am always keen to find out what the food specialties are of each region.  One thing France does well, is clearly define which regions own the origin of certain products.  And from all the reading I did, the theme I picked up was meat, meat, meat.  This quote from an article in The Guardian summed it up perfectly: “In a dining establishment in Lyon, you can eat pig fat fried in pig fat, a pig’s brain dressed in a porky vinaigrette, a salad made with creamy pig lard, a chicken cooked inside a sealed pig’s bladder, a pig’s digestive tract filled up with pig’s blood and cooked like a custard, nuggets of a pig’s belly mixed with cold vinegary lentils, a piggy intestine blown up like a balloon and stuffed thickly with a handful of piggy intestines, and a sausage roasted in a brioche (an elevated version of a “pig in a blanket”).”  The only thing I would add to this is pig trotters, which appeared on more than one menu I read.

I am indeed a meat lover, but the Lyonnaises takes it one step further. I must applaud them for owning the “head to trotter” philosophy and not wasting any beast’s innards, but I wasn’t in the right stomach-space to go forth and sample all these local delicacies.  Mike managed an andouillette one night (a sausage made from pork intestines) and enjoyed it – I did taste the very rich dish and didn’t mind it, but I did prefer my simple chicken and mushroom dish.

The charcuterie is a different story altogether – we sampled some sensational rosette salami and brought more home – it didn’t last a day. And for the first time since arriving in France, we walked Vieux Lyon (the old town) holding Nutella crepes, which are an institution anywhere in France. It wasn’t quite as romantic as I’d envisaged with three kids faces resembling those of “vegemite kids” gone wrong, but the washing was worth the memory.

After all this meat, we came back to our villa and all I wanted to do was cook vegetables.  I went a little overboard (as I do, occasionally) and ended up with a twelve veggie casserole – thirteen if you count the herbs. Not very French at all – I’m sure they would think it far too complicated.  But it tasted great, the kids ate it happily, and it lasted two nights.  And it had twelve vegetables in it – did I mention that?  It’s not pretty so forgive the lack of images, but it tastes good, which is most important.  Here’s my “recipe” … hopefully this will inspire you to make your own creation using the veggies your family loves. I’m calling this dish my anti-Lyon casserole.  No apologies 🙂

Vegetable Casserole

Ingredients – serves 10-12 people

1 bulb garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 large red onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
5 carrotts, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/2 bunch celery, leaves removed, sliced
1 eggplant, diced
1/2 cabbage or kale, sliced thin
1 large zuccini (or 2 small). diced
10 button or cup mushrooms, peeled and quartered
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 x 400g cans of whole tomatoes and juice from 1 can
1 bunch parsley
300gms lardons or diced bacon
1 cup of water
3 tbsp vegetable stock
1/2 cup red wine
30gms butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated cheese – cheddar, emmental or parmesan
1/2 cup flaked almonds
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prep all your vegetables.  Start with the sweet potatoes, and get them on to boil. Once they’re very soft, add the milk, a tablespoon of butter and a pinch or two of salt before mashing.  Set aside.

Heat a large frypan with the remaining butter and oil and saute the leeks, onions, garlic and bacon for five minutes. Once softened, add the carrots, celery and mushrooms to cook for 5-10 minutes before adding the red wine.  Allow to simmer vigorously until the alcohol has evaporated and the liquid has thickened slightly.

At this point, I transfer the vegetables to a larger cooking pot to accommodate the remaining ingredients. Combine all remaining ingredients except the broccolli (these need to be gently steamed separately) and add the stock and water.  Stir to ensure all ingredients are coated and lower the temperature to a medium level.  Cook for 20 minutes until the carrots are just starting to soften.  Stir regularly and add extra water if needed.

Once cooked, transfer to a large baking or lasagne dish and top with the mashed sweet potato.  Smooth the mash over the top to create a “crust”.  Sprinkle with the grated cheese and flaked almonds and cook until the top is golden – approximately 30 minutes.  Serve with steamed broccoli florets.

Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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Dinner and a Show

I accidentally just made a great salad.  It was an accident because it includes lentils which I usually avoid.  The bottom line is that I’m about to serve duck for dinner with a side of lentil salad … I’m sure I’ll come up with a more creative name for it by the time I’ve finished writing this post but that’s what we shall call it for now.  So what’s the show you ask? A series of SMS messages coming at me every minute or so from my husband who is currently sitting at the Limoux piscine (piscine = pool: I use the French translation because it’s his favourite french word).  He very gallantly volunteered to help with swimming lessons for the kids school in May.  His help was gratefully received … and then they sent a note home.

“Please report to the Limoux municipal pool on a cold Monday night in February so that we can check if you actually can swim.  We will be the judge of your swimming capabilities.  Please don’t wear boardies – we want to see what you really look like under those winter coats.  Wear DTs (as us Aussie’s know them) or tighty whities.  And what we’re not telling you is that we will first make you sit through a lecture on what we will actually be teaching the kids – because it’s very important that you know all this three months out from the actual lessons.  On a Monday night.  In the cold.  Thirty minutes from home.  Oh and by the way, the lecture will be all in French so you won’t understand a word.  But it is polite to sit through it all with an impressed look on your face, and nod occasionally to show your interest.  Thankyou so much for your help – we really appreciate it.  We couldn’t do swimming lessons without the valuable help from parents like you.”

So, as you can tell, I may be inflating this story just a little, but the officialdom around ten swimming lessons in a country school for no more than 27 students is slightly amusing.  One thing is for sure, I will not be nervous about my children participating … I think their safety needs will be well-covered.

Allow me to double back to the type of swimwear that parents were asked to wear … just in case you missed it.  If a good-looking Aussie guy walks into the pool trying to wear boardies, he will be forbidden to swim.  This is what we had heard, so I decided to double check with our go-to man here in our little village, Monsieur le Mairie.  He answered me in French and said “yes that is correct, you need to wear tight swimming costumes, although a lengthier short is allowed, so long as it is tight.  And he must also wear a rubber duckie around his waste.”  He said this to me with a straight face so it took me a second to appreciate that he too found the requirements a little stringent.  Nevertheless, it meant hubby had to take a trip to town to invest in some tight togs so he didn’t offend.  Let it be known that I did not assist him on this particular shopping trip.

All photographic evidence that I tried to collect of his black and fluro pink (yep, that’s what he bought) swimming shorts has been destroyed.  Hubby has a background in security so there’s no way he was going to let those photos slip through his grasp.  I’m not sure why he felt he needed fluro pink shorts, but all I got by way of explanation was “they looked red in the store … they were definitely red when I bought them” from a very grave looking face indeed.

So imagine the show I enjoyed when he proceeded to keep me updated on the whole hilarious night via SMS while it was actually happening.  His french is improving so he picked up a phrase here and there.  They covered a policy that was created in 1937 and is still effective today.  Really?? They drew stick figures so all the parents could understand what the swimmers would be taught.  And they explained that any “helper” on their mobile phone WHILST in the pool would not be covered by insurance should anything happen to a child on their watch.  Gee I’m glad that was covered – now it’s clear.

So back to dinner … duck is very popular here in France.  And they’re huge!  I don’t really want to know why they’re so huge; all I know is that they taste amazing and it is by far my favourite meat dish here.  I’ve been practicing cooking duck breast quite a bit since we arrived so now I think I have it just right.  Here’s my recipe for duck breast and lentil salad.  If I just change it to French, I have my exotic title: Magret du Canard aux Lentilles.  Perfect!

magret du canard

Magret du Canard Aux Lentilles

Ingredients – serves 4-5

2 large duck breasts (or 4 small)
1-2 tbsp orange blossom honey
1 cup green lentils
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup slivered almonds
50gms fresh rocket
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, fan forced.  Put a large saucepan on to boil with the lentils and 2 cups of water.  As soon as the water boils, turn down the temperature to facilitate a gentle simmer for a further 20 minutes.  Add the cumin to flavour the water.

As the oven is heating up, put the slivered almonds in to brown for 5 minutes and cube the sweet potato.  Once the almonds are brown and fragrant, roast the sweet potato cubes for about 30 minutes with coconut oil, salt and pepper.

Prepare the duck breast by drying it in a paper towel.  Rub salt into the fat and turn a large frying pan on high heat. Cook the duck breast fat side down to render the fat for about 5 minutes.  It should be a lovely golden colour. Remove from the pan and place on an oven tray, fat side up.  Drizzle the honey over the fat and place in the oven to finish for about 15 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 180 degrees as you put the duck in.  Keep the duck fat left in the pan for tomorrow night’s roast potatoes!

Meanwhile, add salt to the lentil water just as it’s finishing, and drain.  Add to a bowl with the rocket and almonds. Add the sweet potato once it’s cooked and caramelised.  Dress the warm lentil salad with olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss and serve.

The duck breast should be a dark pink to pale brown colour.  Slice diagonally and plate on top of the lentils.  Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto, kpx


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French Lessons

Oh how I wish the title for this post was original … but I couldn’t resist borrowing it from Peter Mayle, author of A Year In Provence.  He wrote French Lessons in 2001 to share stories from his time visiting small villages across France during their local food festivals.  He’s been privy to the inner workings of truffle hunting, the craziness of vineyard marathons that include regular stops for a glass of wine and many other food fantasies and celebrations.  I was glued to every page as you can imagine (on a side note, Mayle has written dozens of books on topics you wouldn’t expect … I’ll leave the research to you if you’re interested).

I’ve been keeping a record of the curious little lessons I have picked up over the last five weeks since we left Australia. Some are no surprise but still get me thinking … others are lessons I didn’t expect to pick up.

Here’s a (not so) quick summary:

* French people are not house proud the way we are.  They don’t spend a lot of money on decorative items or fancy furniture, and they’re not particularly worried about their gardens either.  They don’t often entertain friends at home – they’re more likely to go out to a restaurant or cafe.  And an “appo” or drink after work is more common than a full meal out with friends.

* The cafe culture we know and love in Australia is surprisingly not as entrenched in the French culture as you might expect.  It’s not easy to find a really good coffee – trust me I have tried – and not once have I seen anyone doing their work commute with a takeaway coffee in their hands.  The coffee is often filtered, not ground fresh and extracted, and I hate to say that on occasion, we have been served a café crème (flat white) that was microwaved to heat the milk!!!  A super quick summary of my usual coffees in France: un café is our equivalent of a short black (although often not as strong); une noisettte is a short black with a dollop of frothed milk – similar to our macchiato; lattes and flat whites both fall under the category of un café crème; and every time you order one of these is like playing Russian roulette.  Those who make coffee at home do so with a filtration machine.

* The French love their systems and paperwork.  They all agree it can be painful but “it’s good for the economy” – it creates jobs.  The social welfare here is very visible – plenty of offices in the main street that claim to be able to offer government assistance to anyone who needs it.  The mentality in general, is also that the community and, above all, the government should look after it’s people – it’s their responsibility.  One hilarious example of their love of systems for us, was when I enthusiastically volunteered my husband to help with school swimming lessons in May.  Thinking it would be as straight forward as it is in Australia, he agreed happily.  Then we received a note from the Directrice of the school explaining that he would need to drive half an hour one Monday night in February (still very cold weather in case you’re wondering) to a village pool nearby to take a test to ensure he was in fact a capable swimmer.  The external examiner would asses his swimming skills before reporting back to the Directrice on his verdict.  I’m glad my hubby can’t speak French very well at this stage – you can imagine his reaction.  It went something like this …. “I’m Strayan, I can swim!!”.

* An “Artisan” is someone to be respected for their trade.  It doesn’t matter if they are butchers, bakers, artists, jewellers or pottery experts, they are well respected for dedicating a big chunk of their productive life to one skill set or trade.  When you ask about a certain product or service and you hear the word “Artisan”, you should respond with the appropriate “oohs” and “ahhs” and sound suitably impressed.  Of course they deserve their accolades – this commitment to one trade is not something we see often in Australia.  And given the history France can boast, they often have generations of dedication to a trade to support their reputation.

* Une vie cachée est une vie heureuse.  I found this saying quite fascinating … told to me by a french person.  “A life hidden, is a happy life”.  This sums up a philosophy I am beginning to suspect is fairly typical around here.  People are not exactly transparent about their struggles or challenges.  They’re quite happy to talk about society in general in terms of what’s difficult, but vulnerability is not something that comes naturally to them.  It’s true this is probably also the case in Australia, and certainly I am a foreigner so I’m not going to be someone they open up to quickly.  But the people I have met have shared enough with me to help me understand that people keep their business private unless it’s absolutely necessary to share.  Food and politics are the most common topics of conversation, and everyone is encouraged to share their opinion on these.  Get them talking about food and you have a great conversation starter!

* To find the gold, you need to go looking for it!  The cold weather, coupled with the ancient buildings that almost always look “closed” means it’s difficult to see what’s really happening in a village unless you’re brave enough to peek in windows and open doors without knowing what you’ll find.  The most memorable encounters so far have been when, despite being outside my comfort zone, I dared to open doors to cafes, shops and wineries that looked closed up, only to find the heating is on, the lights are burning and there is a hive of activity inside!  I thought I would walk into a room where people stop and stare at the obvious foreigner who has stumbled into somewhere she shouldn’t be.  But it’s all been in my over active imagination.  Walk in like you own the place, or admit up front you’re an Australian tourist, and they’ll happily share their passions and pass on referrals to other places to explore.

* I was surprised by the number of English people in our part of the South of France – many of them have come here to retire.  I wondered if the French were sick of them “taking over” or if they all kept to themselves.  I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that many (but not all) English people who live here do speak the language quite well and have deliberately integrated amicably.   Historically, the French are grateful for the English who came in and bought up properties and kept village economies alive when the French couldn’t do it alone.  We have been so warmly welcomed – we could easily feel at home here.

And finally, this may sound overly simple, but a very wise woman once said that “people are people”.  And I’ve thought this more than once since being here these last five weeks.  A smile goes a long way, as it does anywhere in the world. Knowing the basic pleasantries of “Bonjour Madame”, “Merci Monsieur”, “S’il vous plait” and “Au Revoir Mesieurs Dames” is greatly appreciated by the French.  They delight in foreigners who speak their language well and are quick to compliment them.  I have bravely (perhaps a little naively) stepped out and extended an invitation to lunch at our villa, not knowing if a Sunday was the right day to do it, not knowing if the town Mayor would think me weird for inviting him despite having just met him and having never met his wife.  But I believe that when your heart is right and you express yourself through your true passion, there is no language barrier.  I am pleased to say that I received a very warm acceptance to my invitation (from the Mayor and another four families!) and I have thoroughly enjoyed preparing to receive our first lunch guests.  I have done a little research to make sure my menu is in line with the French culture but I also know that if I do something a little different or if everything doesn’t go quite according to plan, people are people, and my new friends will be patient with me and appreciate the sentiment more than the details.

I will finish with some pics from my morning at the Carcassonne markets … this is still my absolute favourite thing to do in France … wander through the markets, try the amazing produce that these passionate people grow, and practice my sing-song-y French pleasantries so that I can get to a point that they don’t even suspect I’m not a local :).

kalecheesecabbage flowers

Green Cabbages                               Artisan Fromageurs                                            Les Fleurs

applesmarkets_coldmarkets

Les pommes                                       Mad foodie in 2 degrees             Even the crates are gorgeous

oliveswitlofolives2

Les olives                                             Witlof is in season                        Markets are a way of life

A bientot mes amis,

kpx


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Lost in France

I just got home from being gloriously lost! On my way back from a neighboring village market, Madamoiselle GPS decided to take me on a picturesque version of the homeward trail. I was cursing that my good camera wasn’t with me because the sky was so blue despite the chilly temps. I could have stopped and taken phone photos but I was running late to pick up the kids from school for lunch.
I meandered through narrow roads only to turn the corner and be greeted with sweeping golden fields of a crop I must find out about – rye maybe? And then the next bend presented me with buildings from centuries ago – now used as farm barns or not used for anything at all other than to delight tourists like me who get lost on country roads. The landsacpe on the way to the market was silver.  Everything was coated in what looked like a fine spiders web, glistening from time to time. The sun only rises here at 8.45am so you can imagine it takes the countryside a little while to wake up when the sun is so lazy. But on this trip home, the colours have all changed to golds, greens, yellows and oranges – all offset beautifully by the bright blue sky.
Foggy trees
A foggy morning shot from last week
Accompanying me in the car was the rich smell of roast farm chicken I’d just bought and une baguette ancienne still warm from the boulangerie oven. This sensory overload is what gets me about France – the simple things in life are so rich here. Country living is one thing but in this corner of south-west France, they don’t know how good they’ve got it. I am looking forward to getting lost on that road again and I’ll take my camera so I can share it with you. I passed a tomato farmer too – I bet they’re amazing. We’ll go back together and taste them.
In my following posts I will back fill you on the journey so far and how we’ve come to settle in these last two weeks in our little piece of French country paradise.  But before I go, I’ll leave you with how I learned to make pasta carbonara like the french do.  So simple, but rich with flavour.  They use lardons which is essentially cubed bacon but in France, you buy the bacon meat in a slab from the butcher and cube it yourself (or you can buy it pre-cut from the supermarket but it kills the romance). The meat is smokey and cured and has a different texture from what we’re used to in Australia.  And it seems the French use lardons in as many dishes as they can!  I don’t blame them – it tastes divine.
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Country markets in Mirepoix
Les Pâtes à la Carbonara
Serves 4-5
Ingredients
500gms good quality bacon, cubed or diced (lardons)
200gms fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg yolk per person (save half the shell for presentation)
3/4 cup Creme Fraiche or pure cream
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely diced
500gms fresh pasta
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed is best
Method
Get the water for the pasta boiling with a teaspoon of salt.  Add the pasta once boiling and cook accordingly.
Meanwhile, add a little olive oil to a hot pan and saute the garlic with the lardons for approximately 5 minutes.  Add the cream and turn down the heat a little.  Stir regularly and add salt and pepper to taste.  After 2 minutes, add half the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the pan with the cream sauce.  Stir to coat and serve immediately. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and complete your creation by serving the egg yolk in its shell on top.  The kids have a ball mixing this extra bit of sauce into the dish!
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Bon Appetit!
A bientot, kpx


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Mindful of France

Today marks the “30 days to go” point.  My mind reflects my surroundings … half-packed boxes, scrawled to-do lists, piles of things with sticky notes on them and of course, baking on the bench – which is my form of procrastination.  I should be focused on packing a few boxes a day or crossing at least one task off the to-do lists, but instead today, I reveled in the opportunity to bake a birthday cake for a friend.  It made me realise cooking is my grounding point.  It’s the space in which I feel most calm, most purposeful, and most effective.

My body is still here in Australia but my mind is very much wandering through the green vineyards of the French countryside or staring out my new bedroom window at the ice-capped Pyrenees.  Not exactly helpful but something I can’t seem to change. Just like when I was back at high school, I know I’ll leave the bulk of the workload until the last minute.

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This will be my last post from Australia … next time you hear from me, I will have two feet firmly planted on French territory.  I will be practicing my sing-songy greetings “bonjour madame” as I waltz into the boulangerie each morning and my mind will have clicked over to thinking in my heart language.  I have so many thoughts and questions about what that time will look like and how it will feel.  How will the kids adapt?  Will they feel a connection to France as I do?  Will hubby love the space and time to think?  Will he really enjoy not being able to communicate as he so often jokes about?  What sort of new rhythm will we find?  How will my schedule differ?  Can I really step away from being busy and involved in so many projects, to simply focus on family, writing and my new purpose (whatever that may be) overseas?

I hope you stick around to share this journey with me as I discover the answers to these questions.  It will no doubt be a period of many lessons, realizations and perhaps a few challenges.  My not-so-secret ambition is to get myself invited into the homes of older French people who still cook the traditional way and haven’t yet been infected with the fast-food epidemic that strangles Australians.  I am naively optimistic that they will passionately share their favourite family recipes that have been passed down through the ages.  I imagine myself sitting across the (two hundred year old) table from a man who looks seventy but is actually well into his nineties.  His eyes are twinkling as he retells a story his grandchildren have heard too many times before.  Pride is mixed with nostalgia as he recalls family meals that his grandmother spent the day preparing.  I’m looking forward to having all the time in the world to hear these stories and more, to meet the farmers, and providores of the incredibly rich food the South-West region of France has to offer.

There’ll be plenty of recipes along the way to share with you.  And no doubt much inspiration for my instagram account. Let’s stay in touch online. An Aussie family is about to unplug from their busy life and embark on a year in a foreign country, moving from a big city to a regional village. Most of us don’t speak the language and we have no return tickets.  Our visa will allow us to stay for a year but so far we’ve barely planned the first month! Sounds terrifying and perhaps even a little crazy … but the truth is, this is my dream. And I couldn’t be happier.

With grace and gusto,

kpx


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Breaky in a Jar

I am blessed to be a stay-at-home mum.  Although my “job” requires me to get up early pretty much every morning and sometimes stay up late, I love the privilege of not missing any moments with the kids.  We have friends who are staying with us at the moment, and they both work full time.  It has reminded me of our past life – pre-kids- when we lived to a completely different schedule.  These two are fascinating to watch … they are super disciplined when it comes to structuring their time, and they always prioritise time for preparing nutritious food to take to work each day.  I am impressed!  I can’t say I was quite so disciplined in my days of working a corporate job … rather I looked forward to lunching out and often dining out late at night … sigh … that was many moons ago.

So my guests have inspired me to put this little number together … it’s a fantastic way to do breakfast (or morning tea, or afternoon tea) on the run and make sure you’re getting good quality nutrition.  My next test is to create a nut-free version, pack it in a stainless steel tub from Daiso, and send it off to school to see if that tub comes home empty.  As a side note, Daiso is dangerously good for stocking your kitchen with neat little utensils and containers (among many other things!!).

Let me start with the granola … this really is so simple and you can add whatever your favourite nuts, seeds and dry fruit are.  But stick to these basic quantities as a guide.  For a nut-free version, omit the nuts and add more seeds and dry fruit.

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Homemade Granola

5 cups oats
1 cup nuts (I used almonds, pecans and cashews)
1/2 – 1 cup shredded coconut (check supermarket brands to ensure they don’t contain preservative 220)
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used dried figs, dried apples and currants)
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
pinch sea salt
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees fan forced.

Chop nuts and dried fruit in a Thermomix or food processor.  Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  Pour onto a shallow, lined baking dish (you may need 2) and spread evenly.

In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil, honey, vanilla bean paste and water until dissolved.  Swirl it quickly to combine all ingredients and gently pour over the granola mix on the baking trays.  Using your fingers, massage the oil mixture into the granola as evenly as possible. Smooth again with a spatula to ensure it cooks evenly.

Bake at 140 degrees for 30-45 mins depending on how crunchy you like it.

For a nut-free version, omit the nuts for other dried fruit and seeds like pepitas, sesame seeds, flax seeds, goji berries, dried cranberries, sultanas or quinoa.

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And now for the chia pudding … one of my favourite out and about snacks if I’m stuck without something I brought from home, is a Chia Pod. They’re nutritious and tasty and satisfying … and expensive!  They cost between $3.69-$4.99 each.  This little recipe creates the equivalent for only $1.50 per serve!!  Worth the extra planning to have this in the fridge as a basic.

Chia Pudding

400gms organic coconut milk
50gms chia seeds
2-3 tsp vanilla bean paste

Method

Combine all the ingredients in a jar, shake to combine and leave to set in the fridge overnight.  You can also add berries or passionfruit but just know it will be a little runnier – the acid from the fruit doesn’t help it set as well.

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To Create Your Breaky Jar:

Layer your granola, fresh berries and chia pudding in the sterilised jar and top with more fresh berries before fixing the lid.  Can be prepared up to 12 hours in advance.  Stir or shake before enjoying!

With grace and gusto, kpx

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