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8 Nov
Autumn in La Liviniere

Autumn colour in La Liviniere

It’s here!?!!

I must admit I often feel flat at this time of year, well for the first few weeks anyway – no more bare legs and t-shirts, no more swimming outdoors, cold dashes out of the shower…  But finally I somehow get into the swing of it and embrace the warm fires inside, the hearty meals and walks in the brisk air.  And after so many years of braving the cold INDOORS when I rented in Australia, I am loving and embracing the central heating everywhere.

Autumn in the Minervois

orange plane trees

I must admit I took this shot a while back, but I still love it

Autumn plane trees

Plane trees along the Canal du Midi

Yes, Autumn has arrived but thankfully with all its magical colour.  It’s making me think ORANGE!

kids marvelling at the famous 'Baked Bean'  parked on a village street...the lady owner steps in, la proprietaire de la voiture,  ...Rrrowrrrr

kids marvelling at the famous ‘Baked Bean’ parked on a village street
…the lady owner steps in, la proprietaire de la voiture, …Rrrowrrrr!

I’m loving this colour right now and thought I’d put together a few of my favourite ‘orange’ pictures…  And f you’ve wandered around this blog already, you might have picked up on the fact that I do have a little thing for collages.  I’m pathetic, once I like something, I can’t stop! (my lovely girlfriends had diagnosed me at the age of 14 with O.C.D).

So hulahup, Barbatruc, here’s another one for you.

Orange collage

Or-ange Co-llage


Gratin d’Endives au Jambon

29 Oct

Witlof, Chicory, Endive… also known as the ‘Pearl of the North’ in France

‘Witlof’, ‘Chicory’, ‘Chicon’, ‘Endive’, ‘Belgian Endive’… I’m never quite sure what to call this vegetable.  Each country seems to have a different name for it.  In Australia for example, we call it ‘witlof’?  Here in France it is called ‘endive’ and would you believe it has been grown commercially since only the 1930’s.

Whatever the name for it, since moving to France I have developed a huge liking for this interesting vegetable from the Chicory family.  Thanks to Benji and his mum, I was introduced to a beautiful new ingredient and a few recipes that are now  family favourites. Even our six-year-old loves eating them.

Endives are so verstile – they make a great salad when served raw with vinaigrette drizzled over it or, the particular family favourite, when braised with white wine and lardons and parsley, over a gentle heat for a few hours (the longer the better, you want them to caramelise!).  You can serve this dish on its own or it makes a great side dish to lamb chops, veal or pork.

During the first few weeks of us living back in Australia in 2004, I decided to prepare the family favourite for our  friends who we were lodging with.  I was so excited to share this newly-loved vegetable of mine.  After quite a search, I finally found them in a fruit and veg shop in North Fitzroy.  I filled the bag, enough for four people and when I went to pay I nearly fell over.  They were so expensive!  I concealed my shock and quietly paid the money, vowing never again to buy this vegie in this suburb again.  I at last appreciated why Claude (my Frenchie – amazing cook – friend who was living in Western Australia with his NZ wife), when he had yearnings for a good old endive dish, would only use three or four of them in a gratin.  Braising them en masse was a complete luxury.  Anyway – big sigh of relief – the dish worked out pretty well that evening, but not to be repeated for quite some time!

Here in France however, they are cheap and we eat them regularly, especially around October.  A few years ago, I had to prepare a lunch at the last minute for some friends of friends travelling through the area.  I added pan-fried chicken thigh fillets and julienned carrots to a pot of left-over braised endives and the result was really delicious.   One of our lunch guests, the owner of a well-known bakery in Melbourne (yeah, not much pressure), was keen to get the recipe.   High five!  I was tres contente.  I’ve been adding the chicken and the carrots for many a meal since.

But much to my husband’s relief (I’m someone that could eat the same dish 4 times in the one week if I like it), I’ve branched out and tried a new recipe  – the traditional ‘Gratin d’Endives au Jambon’ (Endives and Ham Gratin).  Once again, as is usual for all the recipes I prepare, this is pretty simple and easy to make.  It is a particularly good dish for the Autumn-Winter months and with today’s maximum temperature reaching six degrees celsius, I think I should get to it and make some.

Here’s the recipe for you…  (I should tell Claude I’ve finally made it)

Gratin d’Endives au Jambon (serves 6)

Gratin d'Endives

Gratin d’Endives


(note:  my quantities are always on the generous side – I prefer to have left-overs than not enough!)

8-10 endives (depending on size)

8 slices ham

60g butter

60g plain flour

200g Swiss Gruyere, grated (the AOC Gruyere ‘Alpage’ or ‘Reserve’ are incredible! – and even available in Australia)

1 litre full cream milk

salt, pepper

olive oil


Trim stems off endives, pull off any discoloured leaves, then cut in half (I do this to help with cooking them through and browning)

Fry the endives in a pan over a low-medium heat with a little olive oil.  As they begin to brown (or burn!), you can pour in a small amount of white wine to keep the pan moist.  Fry until golden/dark golden and moisture has evaporated

(NB: some like to steam or boil the endives to part cook them but I prefer to fry them as I find there is too much liquid in the baking dish later when serving)

+ Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (about 7 or 8 on my gas oven) +

endive 1

Fry the endives until golden

While the endives are cooking, prepare the cheese sauce (I like to grate the cheese before beginning the sauce so that your hands are free to keep stirring – and ready to be added when needed)

endives 2

While the endives are cooking, prepare the cheese sauce

Melt butter in large saucepan

Heat milk in a different saucepan (it helps reduce overall cooking time if the milk is warm)

Stir in flour with a wooden spoon and cook for a few minutes over a gentle heat, stirring continuously.

Once it becomes a golden paste, pour in heated milk gradually, stirring continuously

(NB: How much milk you add depends on how thick or thin you like your sauce – my husband likes it thin and runny but I like it thickish and runny – so you may want to use less or more than the 1 litre.  Just remember it will thicken over the heat eventually!)

add salt, pepper to taste

Once it comes to the boil, add the cheese and stir until melted.

Remove from heat.

Oil a large gratin/ baking dish

Gather your endive halves, wrapping two halves inside each slice of ham (as though it’s a whole endive)

Place them in the baking dish and pour cheese sauce over the top – add a little extra grated Gruyere if desired

endives 3

Place the wrapped endives in an oiled gratin/baking dish.
(there’s 10 and not 8 in this one)

endive 4

Pour the cheese sauce over the endives and sprinkle with grated Gruyere

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden

et Voila!

endive 6

Ready to serve

Simple Country Lentils*

28 Sep

(* this dish is a version of the one listed in the fabulous “French Farmhouse Cookbook” by Susan Herrmann Loomis)

a simple lentil dish

a very simple lentil dish – minus the sausages

Nothing like keeping the monsieur happy – and at this time more than any other. Harvest time means good, honest, country cooking and this very simple (the best kind!) lentil dish is a winner in our house.  It’s easy and so versatile – it’s great on its own or delicious paired with country sausages, pork chops, lamb chops, whatever you feel like.  They say that dried pulses were a staple in many homes during the harsh Winter months, a time when people also consumed more preserved, salted meats (no wonder I feel like large slabs of juicy ‘petit sale’ with my lentils).

porc demi-sel

pork for your fork
(‘petit sale’ or ‘porc demi-sel’)

And it’s another one of those dishes that tastes better and better each day it gets older!

I first tried this dish here in France at Benji’s parents’ house.  A large cast-iron pot was plonked in the middle of the table and we helped ourselves to this comfort-food’ – the country sausages (mmn, like a bit of country saucisse, but not these!!) swimming in a dark brown-green mass of  steaming lentils, with dollops of Dijon mustard, soaking it all up with crusty bread and wine.

I’m wondering if it was the first time I’d had ‘Puy’ lentils?  These are a dark green/grey coloured lentil commonly found in ‘Le Puy’, in the Auvergne area of France.  Grown in volcanic soil, they are very small and lovely to cook with as they retain their form.  Until that time, all the lentil dishes I’d tried were mostly Indian influenced, eg dhal, using red or brown lentils.  Come to think of it, I used to eat a lot more ‘Asian’-influenced dishes in Australia.  Coriander, soy sauce, chillies and limes were far more common sights in the kitchen than wild thyme, bay leaves and olive oil.  Who would have thought…

Simple Country Lentils


500g green Puy lentils (this will serve about 6 people)

2 onions, diced

4 carrots, chopped

250g salted pork, cut into chunks (optional)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 sprig fresh thyme

bay leaf

country sausages/ frankfurters (1-2 per person) – (optional)

parsley  and mustard for serving

pepper to taste (if you are using the salted pork you will not need to add any salt)


Fry your onion until golden in a generous amount of olive oil, in a heavy casserole pot

+ During this time, boil a full kettle of water for pouring over the lentils later – the hot water greatly reduces the cooking time +

Add the roughly cut chunks of salted pork and fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently

Add the carrots and the garlic, give a good stir

Now add the lentils, stir well

lentils 1

add the lentils and stir

Pour boiling water to cover well.

N.B. During the cooking, you will find that the lentils soak up a lot of water, you may need to add a second pot of boiling water over the mixture if you have no liquid left.  I know, it may look like you are drowning the lentils with water, but believe me it does dry up!

lentils 2

pour boiling water over the lentils etc and then cover

Add herbs and pepper to taste.  

N.B. You do not need to add salt if using the salted pork (I’ve made that mistake!) – but if you’re not using meat DO NOT salt at this point.  – adding salt to lentils during cooking may toughen them up.  Add it after the cooking.

Cover with lid and let simmer for one hour (if you have too much liquid, leave the lid slightly ajar) – or until lentils are tender.

Voila! – and enjoy with a light red or a dry white…

wrapped in France #2

24 Sep

“1.  a bundle or parcel.  2.  that in which anything is packed, as a case, crate, etc.  5.  to put into wrappings or a container.”  – ‘Package, packaging’ from the Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1981

Do you remember when I let it slip that I have a thing for packaging?  Mmn, yep, still have it and lately I feel like I’m being bombarded with even more wonderful examples of it, everywhere.  At home, at the markets, at the vide-greniers (the village garage sales – something I must absolutely tell you about soon), at friends’ houses,  in the guise of gifts from friends…  everywhere.

Colours, texts, fonts, old, new, shabby or shiny…  I can’t get enough of it – and if there’s a text or a word here or there in French, even better!  It’s amazing how much you can improve your vocabulary just reading the fine print!  (and probably a lot more educational than my dippings into, shock, horror – Voici).

At the moment I’m getting a buzz out of OLD packaging and the eg’s here are from either home (my mother-in-law is a great help here) – or from stands in the markets and vide-greniers.  I understand why people start up businesses selling this stuff – there are crazy people out there, like me, who love it!  But a lot of it can be quite expensive so I’m happy to admire it and ask permission to take a photo or two.  Yes, I think I am mad!

So here’s a second instalment of boxes, tins, bottles I’ve seen here in France lately.  I should add however, that not all these products are French.  Some come from next door in Spain (thanks to Vincent who is aware of my condition) or further afar.  But they seemed too lovely to leave out.

I hope you enjoy them!

tins of pois chiches

Tins of ‘pois chiches’ (chick peas) at the supermarket yesterday. I thought you Miss Nick might like these!

Pineau de Francois Premier

I love this bottle of Pineau from the Charentes – “Pineau Francois 1er” Not only is the label just fabulous, but the sweet, fortified wine, a speciality of the Charentes region (near Cognac, not far from Bordeaux) wine inside, is DELICIOUS! It is a family-run winery, established in the 1930s by Gaston Riviere, with the wine now made by his grandson (who greets you at his cellar in leather pants).  He said it was Gaston himself who designed and drew the label and there is a great quote on it – by him?… the ranslation:
“Women often change, Mad are those who trust them. Only this Pineau remains faithful to his King.”

Olympic Thermor iron

Don’t need one, but loved this box for an iron at the vide-grenier

Ortiz El Velero tuna

Ortiz ‘El Velero’ tuna.
Merci Vinnie.


a few old ‘bonbons’ tins (sweets, lollies or candy to us)

deux pigeons

‘Les Deux Pigeons’ (the two pigeons) allumettes – an old matchbox found amongst other treasures at my mum-in-law’s. Merci Christine!

Chromex hair dryer

…don’t need this either. But just love the bangs and make-up.

Ippodo tea

Adore this tin.
But it went back home with V.

carving knife

I almost wanted to buy the old knife just so I could have the sleeve it slid into!


My body moisturiser.  Mamy  put me onto this.   The ‘pharmaceuticals’ look is big here, but I love it for its smell

apple box

Spied this at Emmaus. Tres simple, no text but I LOVE red apples

Sanchez Romate sherry vinegar

Another item from Vinnie in Spain and oh so delicious, “Sanchez Romate Vinaigre de Jerez” – sherry vinegar

old packets

old packets for bonbons, dried beans, cream cheese…

LEO dried peas

no, it’s not a French product but it made me laugh when I saw this at the supermarket… the first time I read the box I thought it said ‘with sleeping tablet’
You try it!

Kusmi teas

a favourite at home – the whole range is great together


Saw this Offenbach record, “Gaiete Parisienne”, in Emmaus and loved the image

Caille and Yoghurt

The ‘Caille’ desserts are delicious. Seems like this style tub has been used for much longer than I realised.

vw car collage

Once a VW owner, always a fan.
Certainly didn’t need this, but I fell in love with the radio-controlled VW at the vide-grenier.  It is the sedan version of my very first car, a Type 3 station wagon that I called ‘Fritz’. The price was extremely high. But the man was kind enough to let me take the photo.

some sights #5 – images from the Minervois

21 Sep
the view from Chateau Maris
a view from Chateau Maris


the eggs!

Now this is crazy (but beautiful) …LES OUEFS! – these are the egg-shaped tanks used to age wine in the Maris winery.
I keep thinking Mork from Ork is going to crack out of one…

inside the new Chateau Maris cellar

Jean-Pierre in the Chateau Maris winery yesterday (the walls are made of hemp!)

harvest in La Liviniere

harvest in La Liviniere

la liviniere

driving from La Liviniere

oncoming 2CV in Rieux

oncoming 2CV in Rieux

DANGER!!  Blonde behind the wheel

DANGER!! Blonde behind the wheel



Mauzac Nature 2011

Now this was hard, parting with this bottle today to throw it into the recycling bin.  It was SO delicious!! A sparkling white that almost tasted like a very dry cider. Lucky the bottle was big, it went down so quickly!
(Merci Isabelle et Vincent)

last night's tomatoes

Last night’s tomatoes.
Got to make the most of these babies before the season is out.

Saint Chinian flags

Bleu, Blanc et Rouge in Saint Chinian

pooch parade

pooch parade

carca wine shop

wine shop in Carcassonne

door handle

‘une poignee’ (door handle)

hanging the laundry

hanging out the laundry

European Carpenter Bees

European Carpenter bees in the garden

thongs, flip-flops, claquettes

‘thongs’ in my home (yes, not the ones on your butt), ‘flip-flops’ in the UK and the US, ‘Jandals’ in NZ, ‘slops’ in South Africa, ‘schlapfen’ in Austria… ‘tongs’ or ‘claquettes’ in France. I like this one – Lilas said the name comes from the sound they make as you walk? Anyone know if this is right?

window in Saint Chinian

window with ‘fresh’ flowers

Rebecca's curry

Rebecca’s Kerala Prawn Curry, mmmmmn. The onion bahjis were a knock-out too, but my photo didn’t work out

a house inside a building

a house in a house

Grandma's Pussy

‘Grandma’s Pussy’ – from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, Series B, Volume 10

velo in Rieux

velo in Rieux


sunset in the garden

lunch at my in-laws’

23 Jul
mmmn, lunch


Mmn, ca vous donne envie?

This is the un-cooked version.  I just couldn’t resist.  It’s a dish called ‘Andouillette‘.

I’ve got to say that this is one of the only dishes I can’t get myself to enjoy.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been raised well and have of course done the right thing and tried it.  I have tried it many times in fact – each time trying to savour the flavour as much as those around me (not much pressure here – it’s a Frenchie family favourite).  But I’m sorry, everytime I do, I get a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ flavour.  Actually no, I’m lying.  I know what I taste – and it’s a taste I wouldn’t normally associate with fine cuisine.   Getting me?  Sorry, but it does.  You should smell the fumes when these babies are smoking in the pan.  I thought tripe in Mum and Dad’s pressure cooker was bad.

The first time I ate Andouillette the je-ne-sais-quoi flavour lingered in my mouth well into the following morning (I had brushed my teeth three times).  I was horrified and complained to Benji about the disturbingly bad taste.  “Well, it is half made of shit,” was his answer.

Am I making your mouth water by now?  Look it up and see what’s in it.  It’s a delicacy that, in it’s ‘purest’ (and by this I mean ‘smellier’ version) form, you don’t find often, if ever, outside of France.   Strange.

As I don’t tend to serve this at home, my mother-in-law likes to get some in preparation for her boy’s arrival.  They all laugh at me as they’re tucking into it with dollops of mustard, wondering how on earth I can’t adore this dish.  I can only sit there and make cheap comments on the dish’s obvious aesthetic merits and delightfully heady aromas.  “My poor son!” my mother-in-law consoles… “At least here at your mother’s you can enjoy Andouillette!”

mmmn, andouillette

mmmn, Andouillette


some sights #4 – from yesterday (don’t forget the Jubilee!)

4 Jun
gate in Felines

an early morning view

Le Moulin a Felines

Le Moulin outside Felines

vide grenier in the rain

a Minervois vide grenier (village garage sale) in the rain…

vide grenier in the rain 2

Spot the Pierrot (remember them?!?)

inside a shed at the vg

hidden treasures sheltered from the rain in Philippe’s shed

books at the v-g

love the ‘Killdozer’ – and J.T doing the headband

a morning chat

a morning chat with the neighbour…

umbrella lady and her house

…who lives across the road

text books

you can tell we’re in a wine region

HRH and Phillip

love Lizzie (as seen on TV)

Alice's Jubilee Cake

Bravo Alice!

Gruissan blanc

the white was flowing for the ladies

Coronation bowl

Pam’s Coronation bowl…

Pam's treasure cupboard

…and her amazing treasure cupboard (thanks P!)

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