Saturday, 30 June 2007

Last Night's Dinner - Saturday 30 June

We're cooking dinner every night this week. I thought I'd share this one...

Leek feuillettés

followed by

Chicken breasts stuffed with lemon and sultanas, wrapped in jambon cru with green beans and new potatoes and a yoghurt, lemon juice and olive oil dressing

followed by

Chocolate and orange mousse

Chicken Breasts stuffed with Lemon and Sultanas, wrapped in Jambon Cru Serves 6

1 onion
2 lemons
6 bay leaves
A handful of sultanas
3 slices of stale bread
6 chicken breast fillets
6 large slices of jambon cru (parma ham or similar)
Salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 200ºC

Chop the onion to sultana sized pieces. Finely slice the rind (not the pith) of the 2 lemons and fry with the onion, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt until soft. Then add the sultanas, a good grind of pepper - enough to make the finished stuffing properly peppery - and squeeze in the juice of one lemon and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced. Finish by removing from the heat, taking out the bay leaves and stirring in the juice of the other lemon and the bread crumbs.

Bash out the chicken breasts until flat and about double in size (cover with cling film as you do this to stop the fillets breaking up). Spread the fillet out on its back and pat a sixth of the stuffing into its centre. Roll it and then roll it again in a piece of jambon cru to hold it together.

Cook for 20/25 minutes.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Baux is for Bauxite

Les-Baux-de-Provence (as well as a stunning medieval cliff-top castle and village listed officially as one of France's most beautiful villages) is where, in 1822, aluminium ore was first discovered and mined and thus Les-Baux is the place from where bauxite takes its name.

Massive blocks of limestone were hewn from these hills to be processed into aluminium - at that time one of the most precious metals on Earth. The ore is long mined out, leaving these strange geometrical caves in the rock face.

The quarries are abandoned, but can still be clambered up to.

The only part of the quarry to continue to be used houses an astonishing sound and light show in what is called the Cathedrale d'Image - the image cathedral. But that's another story...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Les-Baux Rocks! - The Eagles and The Faces

Les-Baux-de-Provence (the place that bauxite takes its name from) is a rocky old place - a medieval castle ruin and cliff-top village set above a ravine called the Valley of Hell and said to have been the inspiration for Dantes seven(?) cirles of hell. The Mistral wind cuts through the soft limestone rock to create incredible sculpted shapes, some abstract, some weirdly not...

So here they are, The Eagles...

... and The Faces...

I'll post more about Les-Baux later.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Aliens Spotted Over Ventoux!

Having posted my shot of a storm cloud over Mont Ventoux recently, I was reminded of this shot that I took last summer.

Apparently this classic flying saucer cloud effect is caused by nimbus cloud getting caught in a whirlwind at high level. Strangely I'd read about this in the newspapers only a couple of days before and how such photographs have traditionally tricked people into believing in imminent alien invasion (more convincing in black and white). And then just a few days later I went and saw one!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Chicken Girl

Here she is. The girl who cooks the delicious 'rotis poulets' in front of two full height gas burners on the market at Chateaurenard every Sunday, whatever the weather. And it is regularly over 30ºC(86ºF) during the summer. (I posted about the great chickens that we get from the market, last Sunday - see Sunday-Gone-To-Market Chicken.)

Anyone agree that she has a touch of Zoe Ball about her? Working in that heat would keep any fat boy slim!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Arrival Meal

Saturdays are our busiest days and so we can never cook for people in the way that we would on other nights. That doesn't mean that it can't be either pretty or tasty, though, We offer a simple meal to guests who ask for something on the evening of their arrival. The trick is to combine stuff that can be prepared in advance with things that are simple and fresh. For the guests that arrived yesterday I did this...

Individual asparagus quiches with a salad of mixed leaves, apple, minted cucumber and toasted pistachios...

... with a tomato salad...

... followed by 'Summer Tiramisu' - a cross between summer pudding and tiramisu

Friday, 15 June 2007

When the Rain is Over

Well, we'd always talked about putting a pond in, so yesterday's storm passing created a pond-visualisation-opportunity.

But gardens look great after the rain too. The dust is washed away. The greens are greener. And there's that little droplets of water thing that is so tricky to get right in a still life. So here are a few 'After the Rain' shots.

The First Lily

That's a Lily Lily (Lilium) as opposed to an Arum Lily - see May.

And the First Olives

These little fellers won't be ready until the end of October.

Periwinkle and Pansies

Rustic Corner - with extra rusticity!

This corner of our garden, just as you enter the gateway, has come to be known as 'Rustic Corner'. It's a little more rustic than usual as I really need to set the strimmer on those dandelions!

We inherited an old seed sowing machine when we bought the house. Lindsay's mum, Moira, cleaned it up and varnished it and then we parked it here. A couple of weeks later, a neighbour, Toto (another of those double names that you find around here), dropped by with a tray of marigold seedlings as a house warming present. We planted them in old pots that I'd found abandoned behind a shed and grow them on top of the seed sower. Four summers on, I'm still growing marigolds from the seeds gathered from those that Toto brought us, and they're still doing well, I'm sure that you'll agree...

In the centre of the marigolds is a lantana, which Lindsay's parents bought us. The combined yellows and oranges grouped on the red seed sower work very well here.

Actually, we don't have many yellow/orange summer flowering plants as I find that they can look pretty garish in the full sun of Provence. Take sunflowers for example - there's nothing subtle about them, is there? However they are so over the top and Provencal that I can always find room for them. I grow them in the vegetable garden as they work well in rows.

Generally I prefer cooler blues, whites, purples with reds and pinks as highlights.

Oh, by the way, the little tomato transplants made it through the storm...

Stormy Weather

5.44am: CRACK! And white light fills the house. I'm sure that lightning bolt hit the field behind us. Surely even Lindsay wouldn't have slept through that one? (Although she has slept through big ones in the past. Once, at an early hour of the morning, a clap of thunder broke that sounded like someone had just dropped a grand piano from a great height onto the roof just above our bed. Didn't stir!)

After this morning's strike, I got up and disconnected the computer - just in case - and went back to bed. Thunder and lightning crashed around for another hour although never as close again, and it rained hard for several hours. Good for the garden, generally, although I haven't been out just yet to see what the damage to my recently transplanted tomato plants may have been.

There've been storms throughout France this week and it looks set to continue next week. Last night up in Saone et Loire where my parents used to have a house (350km north of here) there was 1m50 of flood water in Marcigny and a mud slide in Iguerande!

We seem to avoid the majority of the storms that hit this area by dint of our geographical position - the surrounding hills tend to break the worst weather before it reaches us. Look at this fantastic sorm cloud I photographed building on the plane behind Mont Ventoux on Tuesday...

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Sunday-Gone-To-Market Chicken

Lindsay and I dropped by Chateaurenard market this morning. It's just a local market - no competitor to the internationally famous markets of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or St-Remy-de-Provence - but very good and the centre of local life on a summer Sunday.

One great aspect is the fantastic 'poulets rotis' stall, where chickens (and a variety of other meats) are spit roasted in front of giant gas burners, whatever the temperature. And the chickens are so tasty. (I didn't have my camera with me, but I might go back with it next week for a few pics.)

We had ours with some boiled broad beans and Ratte new potatoes (Ratte because they are somewhat rodent shaped, I assume) tossed in butter, chopped mint leaves and a little coarse Camargue salt. (Beans, spuds and mint all home grown too!)

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Vivre Cote Sud

We spent Friday in Aix-en-Provence, meeting our friend Lana and her niece Caitlin for lunch before all four of us heading off to the Vivre Cote Sud home design salon.

Maisons Cote Sud is a very cool French home design magazine. Each month it publishes a magazine dedicated to contemporary interiors and gardens of the south of France and the Mediterranean. As such, Provence is the magazine's spiritual home, and thus Cote Sud is one of the principal points of reference for many of us living down here and interested in interior and garden design. That's not to say that we're slavish devotees, just that its a major source of inspiration. So when Cote Sud announce that they are hosting a salon in Aix-en-provence, many of us make a bee-line for the event.

Last year was the first year that Lindsay and I attended the show and we were delighted to find that rather than being held in a dingy edge-of-town exhibition centre, someone had had the inspired idea of taking over one of Aix's town centre parks as the venue - the show centred on the park's square pond. It's not a big show and the quality of the exhibitors can be mixed, but some of the stuff on show at the exhibition was great and it's all done with so much style, that the show itself is an inspiration.

One of this year's innovations was the introduction of outdoor air conditioning - a system of tubes suspended above the exhibitors' stands intermittently sprays a fine mist over the passing crowd - much welcome in 30 degrees.

Another new thing was a small showroom space put together by the Cote Sud team - I love those tilting Italian shutters.

And here's Lindsay appreciating the shade of a beautiful rustic cane roof.

Finally - a couple of detail shots...

Palette of Sorbets

We just had lunch in at Le Passage in Aix-en-Provence, prior to going to the Vivre Cote Sud home design show and all four of us couldn't resist the sorbets that we'd been watching passing buy - a 'palette des sorbets'.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn - It's a Barby Inferno!

(Apologies to fans of The Tramps)

I have mentioned that it was my mum's birthday the other week. My dad just sent me this picture of me barbecuing for the family... (That's my concerned looking mother, left, and aunt in the background.)

[My first tip for BBQing is get the coals well lit in advance so that they have died down to an intense glow without any flames.]

Well - those greasy Spanish sausages soon put an end to my BBQ best practice demonstration. They were good though - a kind of chorizo with a mild aniseed flavour.

Here are a couple of favourite barbecue accompaniments:

White Bean, Orange and Bacon Salad (Serves 6 approximately)

Open a large tin or jar of haricot beans (experience shows that the ones in jars tend to be better quality - larger and less mushy) - drain and rinse the beans and allow them to drain.

Fry a finely chopped onion with a handful of lardons (bacon cubes) and the grated zest of an orange. Allow the onion to brown slightly and the bacon to crisp a little around the edges.

Then chuck in a about half a cup of chopped fresh sage and squeeze in the orange's juice. Turn the heat to high for a few seconds and let the orange juice de-glaze the pan and the sage to wilt but not cook. Then turn the heat off.

Toss the beans with the orange/bacon bits, dress with a drizzle of olive oil and taste - season accordingly and add white wine or cider vinegar or lemon juice if you think the salad needs a little edge.


Try white beans, onion, rosemary and lemon. Or the same with flageolet beans.

Rosemary Potatoes

(Great with old or new potatoes)

Clean but do not peal sufficient potatoes for the number of guests expected then add a few more as these are very more-ish. If they're small (egg-sived), reckonn on 2-3 halves each. If their bigger then you can reduce the quantity accordingly.

Halve the potatoes longways (make a mental note of the quantity). Put them in a bowl, add a spoonful or two of water, cover them with cling film and microwave for a few minutes until they start to soften. (If you are preparing quite a few, they may need to be redistributed in the bowl to ensure even cooking, but take care at this time not to break the spuds as they need to keep their form. Note - We find that the microwave damages the potatoes less than boiling.)

While the potatoes are par-boiling in the microwave, nip out to the garden and pick a rosemary tip for each potato half - each a couple of centimetres long for little spuds, a little longer for bigger ones.

When the spuds are soft to a sharp knife, drain them. Oil a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil.

Place a rosemary tip on the baking tray and put a potato half, cut-side down on top of the rosemary. Repeat for the other potato halves. Drizzle (or brush) their backs with a little more oil.

When the barbecue is going - hot coals, flames died down (see above) - before cooking the meat, put the tray of potatoes on the barbecue to cook. After 5 minutes, check the potatoes - as they cook, they press the rosemary flat onto their faces. When they are nicely golden, browned around the edges and the rosemary is good and flat (it'll turn very dark - almost black), remove them from the heat. If you are doing a lot, then do the next batch at this point. To finish the potatoes put them skin side down directly onto the barbecue grill, to cook their skin and get that char-grilled stripey effect. You can do this while cooking the meat, or beforehand if you think they'll get torched by the Spanish sausage inferno! If so keep them wrapped in foil to keep them warm.

Serve them face up on a platter with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.

[I'll try to remeber to photograph these recipes next time we do them.]

Monday, 4 June 2007

Marseille's Much Better

Marseille has had a bad press. People imagine it to be some kind of French Naples - a scene of unrelenting crime and squalor. And sure, it's a port town with a long history of rebellion and scant disregard for authority. There is definitely a dark side to Marseille. But it is also a 2,500 Mediterranean city with a colourful history and vibrant culture. It's worth taking time to get to know.

We were there recently with my parents and aunt and uncle, who were all very pleasantly surprised. We ate harbour-side in the old port (still the heart of the city) before taking a boat trip out to the Chateau d'If, the ancient fort-turned-prison lying just off the coast. (And if you think that rings a San Franciscan bell, well I would argue that there's a few other similarities between the two cities. Just climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde and compare the steep streets to those of Telegraph Hill. Or enter the city on the elevated highway through the port district and passing 19th century warehouses converted to high tech offices. There's less mist, certainly - more that special glittering Mediterranean light that the artists came for.)

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Bed Head(s)

Visiting Mas des Grand' Terres this year won't reveal quite as great a range of changes as previous years. The initial project phases are complete now and this winter and Spring were more about 'bedding in' - working on upgrading details of the gites. Lindsay recovered another sofa for Cote Est. I'll be doing some new photography in this gite in a few weeks time, so anybody who's been before can see how things have changed and those who haven't been can be tempted once again.

In the interim, I was upstairs changing the link between the 2 gites to improve its soundproofing. (This is filed under dull-but-important and doesn't merit a photograph.) At the same time I made headboards for the single beds in the twin rooms.

The beds can be pushed together to create a large double - 6ft/1.8m wide...

We're very pleased with the new bed heads and hope that you will agree that they pull the rooms together nicely.

If you'd like to see more of Mas des Grand' Terres and find out about the holidays that we offer here, please visit our current web site -

I'm afraid that, as with any project where things are constantly being updated and improved, the site lags a little behind. To catch a glimpse of the future, take a sneak peak at our new but incomplete site for new pictures and more detail of accommodation options - New Site.