Pickled for England

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October is well underway and with it comes the time for putting up the foodstuffs for the festive season.

For the Luffy household this means time to make the Christmas Puddings and pickles so that they have time to mature nicely over the next few months ready for December opening.

Today has been pickling day, and I’ve spent the morning peeling little silver skin onions until my fingers smart. This is the tedious bit. They’re now sitting, salted in a bowl, ready for the spiced vinegar to be added.

French folks don’t do pickled onions, but thankfully I can get all the individual components here even though they wouldn’t dream of combining them. Everything that is except malt vinegar, which I suspect my neighbours wouldn’t clean their floors with. I remember once trying to explain malt vinegar to a neighbour and the look of horror that passed over her face was an education.

So I use apple cider vinegar with peppercorns, ginger, mustard seeds and bay leaves, and a very nice jar of pickled onions it makes too.

And if the French neighbours won’t eat them, well, that’s all the more for us.

I like to think that there is a small corner of the Gers that is pickled for England :-)

A chicken dinner hug

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Sometimes when it’s cold, blustery and raining here in London of an early evening, only comfort food will do.

And it’s certainly been cold and rainy here for the past two nights.

In the absence of being able to whip up bowfuls of mashed potatoes with cheese- being in a hotel during the week as I am- the next best thing is sweet and sour chicken and rice from Kam Fung, my new favourite Chinese restaurant in Holborn.

With the rain drizzling down, a quick dash into this welcoming, slightly shabby restaurant with its pink polyester tablecloths and bottles of soy sauce on the tables is curiously comforting.

I’m sure that there’s absolutely zero about this meal that’s healthy.

Much as I’ve tried, I’ve not been able to convince myself that this deep fried, sugar and starch laden plateful rings any bells with the vitamin brigade.

I can’t see that the sauce is glistening with anything other than sweetly sour wickedness, and probably more MSG than it’s sensible to think about.

But oh, it does taste good.

Like a chicken dinner hug.

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.