Friday, October 23, 2009

Nettle Soup

With gloves on, cut the young shoots of nettles to fill a collander.
Wash carefully to get rid of sand etc.
Fry onions in a little oil.
Add salt and herbs like bay leaf, sage, thyme, etc.
Add a peeled and cubed potato or two.
When the vegetables are done, fish out the herbs.
Add the nettle shoots and cook a few minutes longer. It may seem there are too many nettles, but no, they will shrink.
Puré the soup. Check the seasoning, and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and soldiers.

(For you pacifists: soldiers are strips of stale bread, fried in butter!)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Clockmaker

In a little street, just off the cathedral of Argentan, the clockmaker has his atelier: Le Diable au Cadran (The Devil in the Dial). It is a small shop, chockfull of clocks that tick and chime like crazy. There is hardly room to manoevre, but the clockmaker is at ease in his domain.
He is a man in his forties, who used to be a journalist. Those must have been his young and wild years, when he drove dashing old-timers and went out drinking with his pals. Now he has become more philosophical.
His French is beautiful, his tongue caressing the words as he speaks . A smile on his face, warmed by the thoughtful wisdom in his heart.
P. and I love going to his shop. To see the craftmanship, to hear the man talk clocks (our clock!) and books, and to hear about his general outlook on life.
And frankly out of sheer curiosity: to see a tiny glimpse of what makes this clockmaker tick!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Renée's Apple Pie

Renée brought us this apple pie not too long before she became too ill to cook. We ate it at the table outside in the mild autumn air.
When we arrived at the house last night, the dark red Calville apples were beckoning me, so I got to work immediately.

Caramelize 10 sugar cubes in 1/2 a glass of water. I.e. cook in a bubbling boil for 2 minutes. Take off the heat and pour into the mould.
Mix 100 grams of soft butter with 100 grams of sugar. Add 2 or 3 eggs, depending on size. Then 100 grams of flour, pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp baking powder (or alternately use self-raising flour).
Peel and slice 2 or 3 apples, (mix with some cinnamon) and lay in the caramel. Top with the batter and bake for about 1/2 hour in a 180 degree oven until golden.

There is nothing wrong with eating home-baked apple pie with morning coffee, after an afternoon walk, and for puds in the evening!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Prison Yard

Z. lives on a council estate. Three U-shaped buildings of four storey flats around an empty space. City planners must have spent many meetings discussing what to do with the secluded space in between. They thought: the people living in the flats need green parkland. They need some benches and a pick nick table. They need a playground for the children.
So they went to work. Grass in the middle, and curved borders full of bushes. An occasional tree to offer some shade. A pair of swings here, a slide over there. The city planners must have been very pleased with the result. They have created a beautiful garden for the tenants of the flats.
Being city planners they also foresaw that on a council estate not all residents really show the respect for their environment that they should. So they made sure the fourth side of the yard was shut with a very high iron fence with spikes on the top. Thus the garden can only be reached through a gate.
Yesterday Z. and I went there with the children. It was a glorious autumn day, mild and sunny. The children loved it. They swung on the swings and ran through the grass.
They were the only ones. No other children, no adults sitting on the benches exchanging gossip. No one, except cats and pigeons.
And no wonder. The place feels like a prison yard dressed up as a park. Once you’re inside there is no way out. And all the while you’re there, you are watched by the nosy neighbours who are lurking behind their luxaflex. The playground is no playground; it is just a few apparatuses scattered about. What mother would let her child play in such an inaccessible place?
On my way home I passed another playground. It was in a small square between the terraced houses. Children were running around. Mothers could watch them from their front doors. There were no trees and no bushes. No beautiful parkland.
But it was welcoming and effective.