The Funky Parrot

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Wine is an important part of life here in the Luffy household, and over the years partner and I have tried many ways of opening it.

We’ve tried butterfly openers, waiters friends, vacuum devices and implements that seem more suited to a life as instruments of torture.

Some didn’t work well at all, some fell apart after a few uses, most were okay but not great, and all-in-all we’d never found that opener with that special something.

Until now.

Enter stage left the Funky Parrot.

In essence a waiters friend, this Alessi-designed device works excellently, is formed of a wonderfully rubbery material that sits comfortably in the hand, and looks like a parrot with a cunningly curved foil cutter as it’s crest. And last but not least it’s hand-painted all over with psychedelic dots like an explosion in a paint factory.

At last an opener that works excellently and that expresses so vividly the “joie de vivre” of opening a bottle of good wine as well as the excellent good taste of it’s buyer.

Should I be worried that a device such as this tells you everything you need to know about it’s owner?

Don’t diss the funky parrot :-)

Walnut Production

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I managed to get down to the old tree at the bottom of our garden at last this morning to pick a few walnuts.

Not a bad haul for ten minutes picking, I thought. My back won’t thank me later but it’s but once a year.

Elegantly attired with plastic bags over each hand – I couldn’t find any rubber gloves in the house – I then spent an hour in glorious sunshine pulling the husks off the nuts and spreading them out on trays to dry off.

Organic – definitely. This tree has never been treated or sprayed and the nuts are straight from the branches as nature intended.

Delicious – absolutely. Whilst still fresh they are milky and quite sweet compared to the slightly bitter dried nuts you buy in the shops.

Autumnal – super-seasonal. What could possibly be more autumnal than picking and eating your own nuts.

Versatile – you bet. These will be used on ice cream, in cakes and in salads.

I used to be a bit blasé and uninterested, but as the years march on I’m feeling more and more lucky to have a productive walnut tree :-)

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Potimarron Season

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Potimarron (also called red kuri squash in Japan and other parts of the world) is a small, orange-fleshed squash with a hint of the flavour and nutty sweetness of chestnuts.

As September progresses, the local markets fill with these little orange jewels and they are prized by the locals for their taste and versatility.

And whereas partner won’t touch pumpkin – potimarron’s big rather overblown cousin – he does like these. Which is a big win-win for Luffy who would roast, bake and puree these like a dervish whilst they’re available given half the chance.

Today I’m going to scoop out the seeds and slice the flesh into chunks which I’ll lay out on a parchment-covered baking tin ready for roasting.

I’ll then add peeled chestnuts, garlic cloves and red onions, season generously, drizzle the lot with olive oil and bake for 30-40 minutes until faintly charred and soft.

I love this time of the year with all it’s orange-fleshed bounty and the return of the oven.

Armies of red squirrels can’t be wrong

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I know I’ve written about this before, but every year the produce from the two walnut trees in our garden astounds me.

I’m ashamed to say that walnuts aren’t my favourite nut by a long way – I find their taste too bitter. We inherited the trees from the previous owner who must have planted them thirty five years ago, and they’re both thriving.

So having a couple of large boxes of perfectly healthy organic walnuts to use up each year is always a bit of a challenge, and I’m steeped in guilt if I can’t find something to do with them.

Apart from support a veritable army of red squirrels, that is, which we manage magnificently in our laziness.

Enter side left Walnuts in Honey.

Shelling walnuts can only be described as a tedious job, necessarily aided by copious amounts of wine on a sunny day. However, this or live with the guilt.

Cracked walnut pieces in a jar. Topped up with honey infused with fresh lemon or orange peel pieces. Sealed and left for a few weeks to macerate, sweeten and tempt appetites when evenings are cold and apple pies, crumbles and sticky sponge puddings beckon.

Figgy Heaven

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I love it when the figs are ripe.

We have four fig trees in the garden here in France, all old and normally prolific in their crop, and between me, the wasps and the birds there are easily enough to go around, especially as partner thinks that they are the fruit of the devil and swears that they shall never pass his lips.

All the more for me then. :-)

This evening I ate lovely black figs (as we call the purple ones) with soft fresh ewes cheese, pistachios, fresh mint leaves and a drizzle of honey.

It may only last a month or so, this figgy season, but whilst it does I’m not ashamed to gorge gluttonously on these wonderful fruits.

I never freeze, can or dry them as I know you can- for me there isn’t anything that can surpass the succulence of a perfectly ripe fresh fig and I’d rather do without for the rest of the year than taint my memory of them at their best.

Signing off now to return to Figgy Heaven.

And how fabulous to have them in your very own garden.

Plain Jane

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As the wheel of the year turns and colder evenings start to draw in, food thoughts turn to more substantial fare.

A few weeks ago in a London Gastro pub, I found myself ordering this. It was black-faced poached lamb sliced onto beans, barley and root vegetables.

How English, I thought.

No garlic. No hot seasonings or herbs that I could taste other than parsley and a tiny bit of rosemary. Some salt and pepper.

White beans, barley, vegetable stock, onions and carrots. Like a lamb hotpot but without the potato topping, and the lamb had been pot-braised but then lifted out whilst still rare, sliced, and returned to the plate.

I almost never cook like this these days, always mixing up flavours and adding garlic, mustard, balsamic or pimento for flavour, but this was good, really good.

The Plain Jane of culinary fare, and none the worse for that.

The flavours still shine when the ingredients are good and the cooking is simple.

Little balls of Succulence

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Arancini.

You’ve got to love those Italians for creating these, if for no other reason on the planet.

Little crispy, deep fried breadcrumbed balls, filled with squidgy, moist risotto rice and a core of something delectable.

Yesterday evening that something delectable was molten mozzarella, but it got me to thinking that we could ring the changes here and go for something a bit more adventurous.

Mushrooms and taleggio, or chestnut and garlic, or caramelised onion and peas. Or roasted and pureed butternut squash. The season is just right to start thinking of amazing taste combinations to tuck into that glorious little central taste pocket of an arancini.

A few of these are often served with drinks or aperos in Italian bars and restaurants, but if there were various fillings I could seriously eat a whole meal made up of these.

In fact, I can feel a serious arancini making session coming on this weekend…