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Smack Dab in the Middle of France and a Heatwave

Well we made it!  Actually we we’ve been here a couple of days but as I get older jet lag gets harsher.  We flew Air France this time round and I have to say it’s not too bad!  Food was edible, not a guarantee.  And the flight attendant presented the wine label when I asked for the Merlot.  Though for red wine it was that or nothing!

I’m stuggling with the French language.  The hearing part.  I saw what I thought was the drink cart coming down the aisle so I went over in my head what to say in French to ask for the merlot and water.  He rapidly said something and I responded with my sentence.  He looked blank.  Not a good start!  I asked my husband if I got it wrong and he pointed out I was asked what I want to eat.  Sigh.  I actually said the sentence correctly but was answering the wrong question.  Things haven’t improved much on that front but I’m forging ahead the best I can.  

 
Driving hasn’t been too difficult.  I went a bit overboard with printing out maps of our route because I don’t sleep on planes and it makes it difficult to do tasks.  We only struggled a bit round Paris because given the fact that the roads here can have 3 or more numbered names some weren’t on our maps from Google.  But we got it sorted.  There was a comedy of errors at the toll booth when it was time to pay.  Fortunately no one was behind us until the end, unfortunately not a soul to help us either.  We pull up, as you do, and put the ticket in.  Good so far.  Tried to pay with a credit card, didn’t recognise it, tried another with same result.  Eventually it spit out the ticket, just as the wind blew and it grabbed the ticket.  For about five minutes we were scrambling to find it.  We did just as a truck pulled in behind us.  We decided paying cash was the way to go.  

  
But other than that everything else was smooth going.  I do love the rest stops on the motorways in Europe, you can find real food.  And thank goodness we have air in our hire car.  It’s ranging from 90F/32C to 100F/38C this week.  The only saving grace is that the humidity is low.  If it was like it is back home we’d be having 95% humidity.  But it’s still a bit much.

    

We’re in a lovely gite.  It’s in the middle of nowhere so it is very quiet.  The villages are near ghost towns but I’m not sure if that’s because of the hot weather.  We have struggled to find a farmer’s market but we have it on good authority that there is one in Noyant tomorrow and a good one in Samaur on Saturday.  We’ve had to make do with the Super U.  Not impressed with that!  Can’t for the life of me find fresh herbs and when you buy produce you have to put them in individual plastic bags.  I’m not giving up though, this is France!  The good stuff is somewhere.

We did find a nice restaurant yesterday for lunch.  I had a delicious salad with bacon and a soft boiled egg.  The bacon was divine.

   

I tried for the first time duck confit.  Oh my that was good.  A bit heavy for the heat but worth having.  

 
We did a bit of exploring today and went to the Château de Lathan.  A small family owned one but they are doing a lot of restoration of the parks and gardens. I don’t envy them!  But they seem to be getting through the large list.

 
I think we’re going to have a grand time here.  A much needed break! 

Cedar grilled salmon 4 2015

Salmon Grilled on Cedar

Timing is everything.  I wanted to have a nice Father’s Day meal but needed to make sure I cooked something that was in my dad’s diet.  That also had a lot of flavour.  Conor from One Man’s Meat posted a wonderful salmon that immediately went on my list.

And fortunately our local kitchen store had cedar planks!  I picked a meal that could be grilled or served cold as I wanted to be able to enjoy the meal and company without being chained to the kitchen.  Luckily it was a gorgeous day so we set up a table at the bottom of the back garden in the shade.  Perfect so the dogs could be there and not bother anyone.

The longest bit of the prep is soaking the cedar plank.  I picked out a pear cider from Ireland.  I love pear and sage.

Cedar grilled salmon 1 2015

Soak a cedar plank for at least a couple of hours in the cider. Put something to hold it down as it will just float otherwise.

Cedar grilled salmon 3 2015

I found a lovely piece of wild sockeye salmon for this dish.  Season with sea salt and pepper.  Lay a few fresh sage leaves onto the fish and then a couple of slices of lemon.  Place the empty plank on the grill to heat up.  Once the board is hot place the fish onto the plank.

Cedar grilled salmon 4 2015

The tricky bit here is you don’t want the grill to get so hot that the board catches fire.  And you want the fish to cook somewhat evenly.  While this was cooking I also grilled steaks marinated in Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic, thyme, sea salt, and pepper.  It’s my favourite marinade.

Cedar grilled salmon 5 2015

My family loves cheese so it’s rare we don’t have a cheese plate going.

Cedar grilled salmon 8 2015

I wanted it to be a little festive, ok a lot festive, so I made the Kir Royale with champagne and chambord.  Drop in fresh raspberries and off you go!  It’s delicious.

Cedar grilled salmon 7 2015

The salmon was a hit among the seafood lovers of the group.  It didn’t overpower the flavour of the salmon but the pear and sage were wonderful.

Cedar grilled salmon 6 2015

It was a beautiful day with good food and no where to be.  A perfect afternoon celebrating my husband and my dad.  What more can you ask for?

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 4 2015

Spicy Sausage and Bursting with Pride

It’s been quite the week with the kids and the end of year celebrations.  Even though I’m not a fan of so called graduations at a level below the end of high school I still enjoy cheering them on.  Our son had his 5th grade recognition and received the President’s Award for Academic Improvement.  Each child had to do a mini speech about their favourite memory from school.  They did really well.  It’s not easy speaking in front of a crowd.  And the poor kid was struggling through a cold from hell.

Our daughter had her 8th grade recognition yesterday.  Somehow she managed to go four years straight without missing a day of school.  I have no idea what that is like.  I was always sick growing up.  She also achieved high honours 11 out of the 12 quarters.  We are so proud of our kids and what they have achieved so far.

It’s quite something to see how they are doing on their journey.

We had a chilly day a week ago and my son requested pasta so comfort food was on deck.  A local farm had some lovely jalapeno sausages.  Good ones too, not like the mealy ones we kept getting at the co-op.  So I’ll have to buy them as she has them!

Because of the jalapeno I wanted to go with Mexican flavours to highlight the heat.

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 1 2015

Begin by browning the sausages in the skillet with a bit of olive oil.  Brown all the sides but don’t worry about cooking all the way through.  They’ll be finished off in the dish.

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 2 2015

Set aside and add a few cloves of garlic, chopped, and a few mushrooms, sliced.  Saute until the garlic is softened.  Then add chopped peppers and scallions.  Cook for a minute or so then add a chopped tomato.

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 3 2015

Add a cup of homemade stock and bring to a simmer.  Slice the sausages and add to the mixture.  Next add a tablespoon of lime juice, a tablespoon of chili powder, a couple of teaspoons of cumin, and salt and pepper to season.  Chop up some fresh cilantro and stir in at the end. Once the sausage is cooked through add the pasta and toss well.

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 4 2015

Top with a bit of sour cream and shredded cheese.  I really liked this as comfort food.  Loads of flavour and colour.  And it chased away the chill.  :)

Pomegranate chicken 4 2015

Pomegranate Chicken and Don’t Be Cruel

If people want plastic surgery that’s their business.  Though vanity can get many into trouble.  It gets a bit obvious.  But hey if they want to muck about with their bodies regardless of the outcome that’s their business.  But I really have a problem when people extend their vanity to their dogs.

I took my goofy dogs to the vet the other day and there was this little doberman puppy with its ears taped up.  Without thinking (something I do a lot!) I asked what happened to him.  They replied that it is normal to do this.  I said if it was normal they would be born that way.  I was so disgusted!  Our neighbour did that to his boxer as well.  The poor thing was taped up for over a year.

Of course they were a bit snarky about it and while I was weighing Murphy he overturned a cookie bowl and I had to wrestle them off the cookies.  So much for keeping my dignity!

I asked the vet if he really performs these unnecessary procedures.  Being that it was his first day he said he would ask his dad who owns the practice.  Though he did say they are between a rock and a hard place because if they don’t do it and do it safely these people would go elsewhere and possibly harm the dogs more.  I really would they would ban these procedures.

I stuck with the salad theme last week as the warm weather continued.  A while back Chica Andaluza blog about a chicken made with pomegranate molasses.  It looks amazing.  But it was too hot to bake so I mixed it up a bit so I could grill the chicken.

In a bowl mix the following:

8oz of plain greek yoghurt

2 Tablespoons of pomegranate molasses

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1″sq/2.cm of fresh garlic grated

1-2 teaspoons of chili powder

1/2 teaspoon of garam marsala

Season with sea salt.

Pomegranate chicken 1 2015

Mix well and add the chicken to marinate for at least an hour.

Pomegranate chicken 2 2015

Heat the grill to medium. I ran into a bit of trouble with the chicken sticking which was unfortunate as it left some of the flavour on the grill!

Pomegranate chicken 3 2015

For the dressing I mixed up a bit of olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and white balsamic vinegar.  I also made some croutons.  Slice some bread and butter both sides.  Season with dry rub and cube the bread and brown in a dry skillet.  Slice the chicken and top the salad and serve.

Pomegranate chicken 4 2015

Nice and light.  It was the first time using the pomegranate molasses and I really like it.  Now to figure out what else I can use it!

Bruschetta chicken salad 4 2015

Bruschetta Chicken Salad

It’s a lovely rainy day today.  I say lovely because we’re still not having many of them.  Optimistically we planted more seed to replace those that didn’t come up.  Right now we have one leek and one onion coming up.  Stand back and prepare to be overwhelmed!

For the life of us we can’t grow beets.  We keep trying.  In fact we had one come up a few weeks ago but it disappeared.  So did the carrots!  So we replanted and also sprinkled blood meal round the beds.  I hope we start to make some progress.

The other night I was in the mood for Italian but nothing heavy as it was hot.  I saw various ideas for bruschetta chicken which sounded wonderful.  The drawbacks to the recipes was that they called for store bought dressings.  It’s easy enough to make it from scratch.

In a bowl mix 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar.  Add fresh thyme and finely chopped garlic.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

Bruschetta chicken salad 1 2015

Add the chicken breasts to marinate for at least an hour.

Bruschetta chicken salad 2 2015

While the chicken is marinating prep the bruschetta part of the dish.

Bruschetta chicken salad 3 2015

Quarter the tomatoes and add a few cloves of finely chopped garlic in a bowl.  Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and pepper.  The fresh mozzarella and basil should be added just before serving.  Grill the chicken and the slice it to serve over a bed of lettuce.

Bruschetta chicken salad 4 2015

As a side I also grilled up some veg to make a light supper.  I love this time of year with all the fresh veg.  Not so much the heat but you can’t have it all!

Rhubarb duck 5 2015

Duck a la Rhubarb and the Roller Coaster of a Garden

It’s a bit of a struggle this year.  Our garden is giving us a run for our money with it being inconsistent in deciding what it wants to grow.  Every year there is usually one or two things that are stubborn.  But with the lack of rain in May and the reappearance of rabbits this year we’re not having much luck with the eggplant, tomatillos, parsnips, onions, leeks, and beets!

I have to say though our potatoes are going gangbusters.  So far they are the best we’ve ever had.  We’re struggling to keep up with adding dirt and straw to the towers as the plants grow.  Fingers crossed we’ll get a harvest bigger than what we put in!

A while back when Johnny had the Feed the Piglet blog he sent me a link for a Rhubarb Duck recipe.  Unfortunately the link is now private, though you can see latest posts on Kitschnflavours site.  So I had to come up with my own recipe.  Gasp!

Rhubarb duck 1 2015

Rhubarb is a perfect pairing with duck with the tartness of the rhubarb and the richness of the duck.  Slice 2-3 stalks of rhubarb.  Finely chop a handful of fresh thyme and half a sweet onion.

Rhubarb duck 2 2015

Score the duck skin and season with sea salt and pepper.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet and place the duck skin down.  You don’t want a high heat for this because you want to render the fat without burning the duck.  Once the duck has rendered turn it over to sear the other side.

Rhubarb duck 3 2015

Because this was a big piece of duck I finished it off in the oven.  While the duck cooks add the rhubarb, onion, and thyme to the skillet.  Saute to soften the rhubarb and onion.  Grate an inch square (2.5 cm sq) of fresh ginger into the skillet.

Rhubarb duck 4 2015As the rhubarb cooks down add a cup of chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  It was interesting because I didn’t add any citrus to this dish but there was a definite citrus taste to it.  Must have come from the rhubarb.

Rhubarb duck 5 2015

Once the duck is cooked to medium let it rest before slicing.  Unfortunately we had a tough piece of bird!  I cooked up some mashed potatoes and pan roasted Brussels Sprouts.  The kids enjoyed this what with their love of duck and rhubarb.  It was mine to screw up!  :)

Grilled Pork Salad 2 2015

Grilled Pork Salad With An Asian Flair

I heard from my mum this morning and she wanted to know what I was feeding my kids as they are growing like weeds!  I wish I knew!  I know it can’t just be they have a tall dad.  I have one as well but I didn’t get very far with the height thing.  And I did eat my vegetables though for all the good it did me. :)

It is strange coming into the last bit of the school year.  Both kids are finishing up at each of their schools and getting ready to move up to the next school.  Which means a flurry of celebrations and year end events.  A lot of lasts.  My son’s school has a cookout for the whole school with activities outside.  They finish off with a water balloon toss with the oldest students and the teachers.  They absolutely love that bit!

A big change from when I was a kid though would be the new tradition of having a graduation for every level of school including preschool!  At least our son’s celebration is called a recognition instead of graduation.  It’s a bit much.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m insanely proud of our kids.  I love watching them grow and becoming fabulous people.  They are really coming into their own.

The other day I planned on grilling pork in an Asian marinade to put over salad.  Great plan until I realised we had run out of gas for the grill.  Plan B was grilling on the stove top.

In a bowl mix together the following:

4 tablespoons of peanut oil

3 tablespoons of oyster sauce

3 tablespoons of rice vinegar

1 tablespoon of lime juice

2 tablespoons of amino acid

3-4 finely chopped garlic

A couple of teaspoons of cilantro

Grilled Pork Salad 1 2015

Marinate the pork for at least an hour.  Also, take some of the marinade and marinate a few mushrooms.  If you are lucky enough to have a working grill on hand, grill away until the pork is cooked.  Otherwise continue with plan b.

Grilled Pork Salad 2 2015

While the pork is resting grill the mushrooms.

Grilled Pork Salad 3 2015

Slice the pork and mushrooms and top your salad with them.  For a dressing I quickly mixed up a bit of peanut oil, rice vinegar, and lime juice.

Grilled Pork Salad 4 2015

A great light meal for the hotter weather.  And we’ve since rectified the gas situation so no more plan b for the time being!

Olaf birthday cake 2 2015

How Many Birthdays Fit on a Cake?

Go ahead.  Question my sanity.  It was my idea to have a family get together where we celebrate 8 out of the 12 birthdays.  Given how this year has gone from on emergency to another in the family and my sister in the middle of her recovery, there hasn’t been time to get together as a family!

I am sure I wasn’t the only one wondering what we were getting ourselves into.  It’s one thing to all get together for a meal but another to get through all the presents and cake in a short amount of time. But it was a lovely day.  The weather was gorgeous and the kids had a great time running about.  I think the cutest thing was my three year old nephew getting a hold of the hose.  This little peanut hosing down his wagon.  And of course when he turned so did the water.  We stayed out of range.  :)

The tricky bit I had to sort out was the cake.  Five of the birthdays were for the kids.  Originally I planned on doing cupcakes but I just didn’t have the time to decorate individual cupcakes, it would be faster to do a cake.  But how to do a cake for kids ranging from 3-14 without making it crowded or corny?

I really wanted each of them to be represented so it took me a couple of days to figure it out.  The littlest one is majorly into Thomas the Train.  He is just enthralled with the whole thing.  My niece loves My Little Pony, my other nephew is into Pokemon, and my son thinks Olaf is the best thing since sliced bread.  And of course my daughter who is becoming a young lady so she’s not into those types of things but she had to be represented somehow.

Olaf birthday cake 2 2015

Thank goodness for the internet.  A quick search leads to ideas on how to make a character so it actually looks like it.  It’s one thing to freehand volcanoes and castles but I can’t screw up Olaf!

I also did the pokemon circle in gum paste but due to time constraints I went store bought for the rest.  I don’t think I have the skills yet to do Thomas or My Little Pony.

Olaf birthday cake 3 2015

Olaf birthday cake 4 2015Added a bit of flowers for my daughter and a bit of whimsy with yellow.

Olaf birthday cake 1 2015

We had a wonderful day of family, good food, and laughter.  The best bit was my little nephew’s face when he realised it was Thomas on the cake.  :)

Washington DC 2 2015

A Getaway to Washington DC

I can’t seem to shake the pattern of being behind the 8 ball lately.  I have been set back by a bad back, tying up loose ends with the tax season,  and the usual every day things.  We did manage a break with a long weekend getaway to Washington DC, just the two of us.  Despite the scorching heat we had a fabulous time.  A few hiccups here and there but hey that’s traveling.

The beginning of the trip sent home to me that I should listen to my intuition.  We landed at Dulles with several areas to eat. I overrode my instinct to eat there.  Bad move.  Our first stop was the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center which is the Air and Space Annex for the Smithsonian.  All they had for food was McDonalds.  And the food was bad.  We didn’t even finish.  And we had to contend with a woman who was jumping the queue which is not a good idea when I’m hungry!  I pushed back!  The poor cashier had a deer in the headlights look.  She kept yelling over me to go ahead and order while ordering her coffee.  Very strange.  I said to the cashier that at least he has a story to tell now.

The museum itself was amazing.  The amount of aircraft and engines they had was incredible.  I would not like to be the one who had to figure out the puzzle of fitting it all together.

Washington DC 14 2015

For me the coolest thing was the Discovery.  When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut.  Aside from wearing glasses and having asthma I get sick on swings so that dream died a quick death!

Washington DC 13 2015

They even had a Hurricane there.  This plane was critical in the Battle of Britain, particularly how Britain had it down to quickly replace them as squadrons were destroyed.  Noon the next day replacements would arrive.  Pretty remarkable.  Behind it is the Enola Gay.

We found a hotel near the National Mall which was perfect so we could just walk about.  It was strange though, people were fabulous and very helpful and the place was very clean.  But it was trying to hard to be hip and cool.  Which seemed to attract the young party crowd.  The second night we were woken up to a drunk guy knocking on the door and calling out “Where you at?”  He passed out in front of our door.  We did get a free bottle of wine for our troubles and a new room.

The first day we wandered round the memorials.  A few we revisited such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.  We also checked out the WWII Memorial.  While we were there they started a ceremony where vets from that war were wheeled in and honoured.  I was amazed at how many were there.  It was quite moving.  There are several organisations that bring in veterans from the wars and bring them round to the memorials.  It was tough to see at the Vietnam Memorial because they were seeing the names of their friends and family.  I was impressed with the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  It was graceful and powerful.

Washington DC 11 2015

As we wandered we had to have some ice cream.  Medicinal against the heat of course.  There was a beautiful duck who had the begging down to a science.  And he knew when you were done eating because he would then wander to the next table looking his cutest.  He reminded us of our dog Murphy.

There were a few more memorials before lunch.  The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial was very interesting and a lot larger than I thought it would be.  Same with the FDR Memorial, which is incredibly large.  They had outdoor rooms for each of his four terms.  The thing I enjoy about most of the memorials is the quotes.

Washington DC 5 2015

Too often people forget what is important.  It would be nice to think those that visit these memorials come away reminded of what should be our priorities.  I’m afraid I’m being optimistic.

The next stop was the Botanical Gardens.  It wasn’t very big like Kew Gardens and others I’ve been to but it was very enjoyable.  Aside from the varied and gorgeous orchids they had neat flowers like the banana flower which I’ve never seen before.

Washington DC 12 2015

Washington DC 4 2015

Washington DC 1 2015

Washington DC 2 2015

Of course we searched for fabulous food!  Dinners went very well but with the exception of one breakfast the rest of the meals fell really flat.  Our mojo was letting us down!  The great breakfast I had was crab cake with poached egg and hollandaise sauce with old bay seasoning.  Fabulous flavour.  They just overcooked the eggs so the yolks weren’t runny.  Nuts.

Washington DC 6 2015

I did try something new which was a soft shell crab.  It was different.  Very tasty but the shells still had a bit of crunch to it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m glad I tried it.

Washington DC 8 2015

My favourite was the baked oyster dish with pancetta, pecorino, garlic, and breadcrumbs.  It was served over salt and peppercorns.  It was amazing.

Washington DC 7 2015

I had calamari sauteed in a spicy tomato broth.  The interesting highlight was the crostini with squid ink.  I have never had squid ink so I was looking forward to this. It wasn’t a strong or fishy flavour but it made for an intriguing crostini.  Very delicious.

Washington DC 3 2015

One dessert was a goat cheese cheesecake with rhubarb jam and rhubarb sorbet over a ginger strudel.  Oh my.  We need to figure out how to recreate that.  The strange but good dessert was a honey panna cotta parfait with basil gelee.

Washington DC 9 2015We weren’t sure what to make of it but we liked it.  Not sure we’ll try to recreate it though.

Our waiter for two of the nights was French.  We were enjoying cocktails and wondered how to say cocktails in French.  He said cocktails!  I may be ok on our trip to France. :)

Peanut satay chicken 5 2015

Peanut Satay and My Rain Dance isn’t Working

The dirt is dry.  Bone dry, just puffs of dust.  It does not bode well that we are struggling already and May isn’t over.  Usually we don’t have issues with rain.  But this season we desperately need some rain to fall from the sky.

This past weekend was Memorial Day Weekend in the states and that is also the start of serious planting in our zone.  It also means we have a ton of plants to get into the ground.  We are facing a semi-disaster with the peppers.  Half of the seedlings were small because I was behind the eight ball at the front end in getting them started in the first place.  I tried getting enough water into the raised bed but the small seedlings immediately went into shock and died.  We have some more to try so fingers crossed we succeed because I was really hoping for some home grown habaneros.

We’ve spent every day since trying to soak the beds.  It’s frustrating because we soak them leaving puddles and do that a few times but when we poke the soil it’s still dry!  This could be a long season.

This past Friday I wanted to make one of the dishes my family made for me on Mother’s Day.  Grilled chicken with a peanut satay sauce.  We had plenty of the satay sauce left over so it needed to be used up.

The recipe I got influence from was from the “Appetizers, Finger Foods, Buffets & Parties”.

For the satay mix the following:

2T each of smooth peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime juice

1T of sesame oil and brown sugar

2 finely chopped scallions and garlic cloves

Mix well and set aside.

Peanut satay chicken 4 2015Next the marinade for the chicken needs to be made.

Peanut satay chicken 1 2015Ignore the large onion.  I was originally going to use it because I didn’t have any scallions for the marinade.  But I felt the onion would be too much.  And I forgot to retake a photo!  Ah well.

In a bowl mix 4 tablespoons of peanut oil, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce or amino acids, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lime juice.  Grate about an inch/2.5cm square of fresh ginger and finely chop 3-4 cloves of garlic.  Next add a small handful of chopped cilantro and a chili pepper, chopped.  Deseed it for this recipe because you don’t want the heat to overpower the other flavours.

Peanut satay chicken 2 2015

I chose to use chicken thigh meat instead of breast meat.  One it’s less expensive and two it has more flavour.  Cut it so it is in cubes keeping the pieces in a similar size.  Marinate for at least an hour.

Peanut satay chicken 3 2015

Skewer the chicken and heat up the grill.  Cook the chicken while turning to cook the chicken evenly allowing them to sear on each side.

Peanut satay chicken 5 2015

Serve with the sides of your choice. I like making baked potatoes on the grill, just keep them up off the flame.

Peanut satay chicken 6 2015

Spoon the satay over the chicken and enjoy!  And keep your fingers crossed for some rain!