Saturday, June 23, 2012


We recently went to the international, secular charity and community, Emmaus.  We just hopped on a public bus as we are car free and within fifteen minutes after leaving our small city, we were in the countryside. 

Wheat interlaced with bright poppies

An overcast day, but thankfully no rain

I have a thing for undulating farm roads

 A window-framing old vine adorns a small stone building

There are so many aspects of living in France that I appreciate and one of them is encountering charming visual vignettes:  a curtained-with-exquisite-lace tiny window, deeply set in a thick stone wall; a terracotta flower pot exuberately filled and bolted smack on the middle of a stone cottage's wall; and the scene below, a thin strip of a flower bed flanking the village main street, not to mention the matching roof tiles on the property's entrance pillar. 

Emmaus was founded by Abbé Pierre, a much loved figure in France.  His idea was to help down-and-out people by giving them work and a place to stay, thereby creating a community.  There are many interesting stories about him, but one of my favourites is during a deadly frigid Parisian winter decades ago he burst into a radio station and did an impromptu broadcast that people were dying from the cold in the streets.

Emmaus collects unwanted furniture, clothing, appliances and the like, selling them to the public.  Former homeless people work in the stores while living together close by.  The Emmaus at Angouleme is situated in what I suspect is a former paper mill.   It is a large property located just outside the city among vineyards and wheat fields.

The kitchenware shop along with a food truck greets you once entering the sprawling compound.  Naturally, I checked out the china and glasses as I am always on the hunt for photography props for this blog.  Just as naturally, The Calm One wandered off into the electronics building.

That's a painting of Abbé Pierre on the food truck

Down this quiet alley is where the community lives.

Nice palm tree on the left!

The electronics shop is on the front right

The upstairs book hall in the main building is marked by a leaning tower of books

We both spent quite a bit of time exploring the books together

Looking down from the mezzanine book shop, the very spacious hall of the main shop can be seen.

Except for the book shop, all the other shops keep your purchases and issue a ticket which is brought to the cashier in the main building.  Then when you are ready to go, you present your paid voucher at the particular shop to pick up your stuff.  I very cleverly found a petite panier (basket) that accommodated my cups, saucers, and a glass bowl, all which The Calm One carefully wrapped in newspaper provided by the china shop.  With an electronics-laden knapsack, off we went to catch our bus back to the city and our potager.

The Calm One doing his beast of burden number (knapsack is not in view)

In France, it is easy to locate the bus stop you want because the number of the bus is clearly marked on the road.  So yes, I am allowed to leave home alone as it is highly likely I will be able to return.  My lousy sense of direction is legendary--if I tell you to go in a certain direction, make sure you go the opposite as I am never right.  However, I might take the right bus in the wrong direction, but eventually even I will figure out I am going in the wrong direction and correct my mistake!

A solar panel on a nearby house's roof caught my eye.  As this region lends itself to that kind of energy production, hopefully we will be able to get a solar panel for our roof soon.

My share of the goodies cost only three euros--I know, heavy spender!  I especially needed a strong and tightly woven basket for berry harvesting.  My old one allowed berries to go rolling down the garden path where they were mistaken as prey by Dayo the cat.

It is fun to match up cups and saucers as those in the above photo are separate pieces as most of the wares at Emmaus are not sets.  The pretty white and gold cup goes well with both saucers.  Also, noting the origin of the china is interesting--the bone china cup on the left is Limoges, the soup mug on the right is English stoneware, and the soup plate underneath is Italian stoneware.

As our potato crop is just starting to come in,  The Calm One made his speciality, kitchen sink potato salad, the other day and the heavy, cobalt-blue glass bowl looks just smashing with the yellow of the salad which boasts quite a few hard-boiled eggs.  Stay tuned for the recipe and instructions for this family classic.  As I have found a few interesting recipes in that old French cookbook pictured above, stay tuned for those also.   A bientôt!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Make Red Currant two summer recipes

Focused on my garden tasks, I often forget how much Dayo likes to be near me until I just happen to stride by his location to get something from the potting room, and lo and behold, I spot him, the little sweetheart that he is.

Dayo inside a lavender bush

Madame M told me the fruit harvest in France has been adversely affected by the fickle weather--cold, hot, cold, hot.  I got just two cups of red currants this season; last season I harvested about four quarts.  While for the black currants, the harvest weighs in so far as two berries!

Translucent little globes of perky flavour

Happily, two cups is enough for one 250 ml jar of red currant jelly.  One jar of this jelly goes a long way as it has intense flavour which I take advantage of by melting a small amount over low heat for a quick and easy desert sauce.  Red currant jelly requires making a puree first.  Add the berries to a pot, barely cover the bottom with water, and over medium heat, cook until soft, about five minutes, mashing all the while.

Pass the mashed berries through a Foley mill and weigh the puree.

Measure out an equal weight of sugar.

Then follow instructions for regular jam making which can be found here.  Red currant jelly sets fairly quickly, so start testing for setting after a few minutes instead of the usual ten.

Red currant jelly reigns supreme as a glaze for strawberries.  I created an easy recipe for the luscious, jumbo, ever-bearing strawberries--they rival the size of small plums--that are fruiting presently in our patch.  When eating sensibly, that is, when not piling on the calories, focus on flavour.   Large, ripe strawberries stuffed with thick, strained yogurt flavoured with vanilla and topped with red currant jelly supplies just that.

For each serving, strain about four ounces of plain yogurt to which a tiny segment of vanilla has been added and place your straining set-up in the fridge for about two hours--thickening and infusing at the same time!

Almost a third of a cup of whey collected at the bottom.

Slice a bit off the bottom of three washed berries so they will sit flat and carve out a bit from the top of the berry, filling them with some of the yogurt.  Spoon the rest of the yogurt in desert dishes and then place the stuffed berries on top.  Melt  jelly--about two tablespoons per serving--by gently heating it and pour over the strawberries.

Unfortunately, I got a zero appearance from the yellow summer squash seeds I sowed indoors about eight weeks ago.  Since the seeds passed their viability test, I suspect I just did not plant them deep enough in their flats.  I don't care that much for the squash, but I do love to eat the puffy, hot goodness of squash blossom fritters.  Monsieur M caught me coveting their squash plants and asked me what I was looking for.  Flowers, I said.  He graciously let me come and harvest them.

The female flowers should be closed at the top

Yellow summer squash flower beignets (fritters) give two flavours--the mildest eggplant one of their petals and the other of the sweetest globe artichoke of their bottoms.  I gently snap off the female flowers at the end of five-to-six-inch-long squash, choosing flowers that have recently closed which will act like a pillow of hot air steaming the insides tender when being sauteed.  The flowers that do not form on the ends of the summer squash are male; they are edible also and their larger size is perfect for stuffing.  Both flowers are necessary for the squash to form, so keep that in mind when harvesting their flowers.  Mix up 1 part of grated Parmesan to 1 part of flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Beat an egg in a separate bowl.

Wash lightly if required and pat dry the flowers, dip them in the beaten egg, and dredge with the flour mix, rolling them around and filling the crevices well with the coating. There usually is some left over egg and cheese/flour, so I mix them together and shape little patties which get sauteed along with the squash flower fritters.

I add what is left over on the breading plate into the bowl with the eggs

Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with olive oil, and fry till golden on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.  Blot with paper towels and serve piping hot.  I eat them just as is for supper, but they can also be served with a regular meal.

Bon appétit!

Michelle's Astuce

Any bits of used vanilla pod can be washed, dried, and then put in the sugar bowl.  Voila!  After a day or so, vanilla sugar is yours to sprinkle.