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Saturday, 13 September 2014

The (nearly) $100 Roast Chicken

Firstly some background on Bresse Chickens with credit to Wikipedia….

The Bresse is a breed of chicken originating from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region of France.
The birds are highly valued for their gamey depth of flavour, yet with fine, tender flesh and delicious, clean-flowing fat. Roughly 1.2 million are raised annually, but such is the demand inside France that few birds make it out of the country.
The most typical examples, known as Bény, have a distinctive red crown, white feathers and blue feet, making up the colours of the French flag, making it an ideal national mascot.
Poulet de Bresse are reared to exacting standards by small farms in a small designated area around the city, protected under French and European law (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) since 1957 - the first livestock to be granted such protection. AOC status was granted based on the unique characteristics of flavour given by local soil and grain, as well as the dedication of the local farmer's association to protecting quality. For example, stocks are limited by the size of the farm - with a minimum allocation of ten square meters for each bird.
Hopefully that will help to explain why we were fascinated to try one…we’ve been buying ‘poulet fermier’ mostly (a local farmers chicken that is raised organically in lots of space and very tasty and slightly more expensive although still very affordable) but having heard so much about the famous ‘Bresse chicken’ (one of Hestor Blumenthal’s favourites apparently), we found a lovely butchers and proudly asked for a Bresse Chicken.  We were presented with a lovely looking chicken with crown and head intact (I can confirm the red crown and white feathers) and feet still attached (I can confirm blue feet) – the lovely man asked if I wanted them to which I must have made a face as he laughed and discarded them and then asked if I wanted the giblets to which I of course said yes (I know better than to turn giblets down in France – don’t wish to be totally frowned upon!) and so he proceeded to cut them out as they were of course still attached – he asked if I wanted them back inside the bird or on the side and if I’d like him to tie the bird up for roasting…….well as you can imagine all this took some time and we were totally sold on the bird at this point and as he or she had been so totally personalized there was no going back.  And then we were presented with the bill – CHF 77.50 for a bird weighing 1.8 kg (less than 3.5lbs) – we were both absolutely stunned and a little horrified but to our credit (or perhaps proving our stupidity) we played it cool and smiled and thanked the man, paid for the bird and left (never to return).
We are having this tomorrow and although it’s bound to be a one off experience we are both actually quite excited to be trying our first Bresse chicken and feel that it’s money well spent on research – after all if they’re that good, perhaps it’s a breed that we can one day raise in France!

Tony will be heading back home to France on Monday so next week may be a little touch and go as we get used to not being with each other – it’ll be tough especially after spending the past 4 ½ months literally living in each others pockets!  But we’re both very happy with Geneva, I’m enjoying my job (hope they’re enjoying me!) and we think the next few months will be the toughest as we work out the logistics but if we can limp through to the New Year (preferably limping with a few visits and the odd snowboarding trip in between) we think we’ll have it worked out by then and hopefully Tony will be getting happily stuck in to the renovations and improvements ‘chez nous’ in France.

I shall leave you with a few photos – we had a day off on Thursday to celebrate Jeune Genevoise which apparently is where people from Geneva used to fast – not being from Geneva we didn’t think it important that we should fast and so we popped over to France for lunch – a beautiful town called Yvoire just 40 minutes away and sitting on Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman for us locals!).  Quite a treat as you can imagine to have a bank holiday on only my second week of work!

With love to all – a bientot!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Learning how to live in the ‘City’

For those of you used to Cayman, you’ll understand that Geneva even with only 200,000 people is a big city – for those of you in London, Hong Kong, Paris, New York or Miami (or almost anywhere else), you’ll think I’m talking nonsense….so I’m talking to those of you in Cayman!!

I shocked myself today when I got on a tram going home for lunch and almost on auto pilot I purposefully didn’t make eye contact with anyone and clutched my handbag tightly under my arm.  It didn’t even occur to me what I’d done until I got home and thought about it and mentioned it to Tony.  As sensible as this behavior is in any city, it saddens me somewhat given I’ve been used to Cayman and of course more recently rural France where I’ve been told off in a supermarket for asking where a product is before saying ‘bonjour madame’!

I think this new behavior will serve me well but I do miss making eye contact and saying ‘bonjour’ to everyone you meet accompanied by a handshake or a kiss (depending on whether you’ve met them before – a handshake if you haven’t, a kiss if you have….or 4 kisses if you live in our area of France and 3 if you live in Geneva!)

We’ve now completed our first week in Geneva which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed although I think Tony is very much looking forward to not only getting stuck in to the renovations but harvesting what’s left of the garden – we’ve been tracking the weather and depending on what our neighbours have had (we did ask them to help themselves in our absence) I have a feeling Tony will still have nearly 100 sweetcorns, 40 pumpkins, a ton of aubergines, green peppers, cucumbers, leeks, celery, beets and still to come cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower & brussel sprouts – he’ll be busy!

On Sunday, I scouted out a local church and asked Tony to come with me to check it out, it was an evangelical Baptist church and I really enjoyed it – all very casual (not just in Geneva standards, for example I was over dressed in jeans!!) and there was a sermon by a missionary who’s been serving in Senegal – digging wells all over the region and dodging the ebola virus – absolutely fascinating listening to people who really dedicate their lives to making others’ lives better and of course spreading the gospel.  I sat next to a lovely lady and when we got chatting I discovered she was from Jamaica having moved here from Miami 5 years ago and works for the United Nations – this is such a fascinating place and like Cayman in the melting pot aspect but just 4 times the amount of people in the pot!

So it’s my second week of work and we’re celebrating ‘Jeune Genevoise’ with a bank holiday on Thursday – I’m still not sure what that is but I shall be happy to celebrate it!  I’ve also been asked if Tony and I would like to sign up for the annual company skiing weekend in January – I had to think about that for all of about 5 seconds on my first day before deciding we should really show willing and join everyone on the mountain – Tony and I are as good at skiing as we are at ‘apres skiing’ so I think we shall have fun.

I’ve found an apartment which has views of the mountains and despite being on the 4th floor, there is no elevator in the building so I guess I’ll get to keep both warm and fit!  That said, there’s obviously room for anyone that wishes to come and visit….

On that note, I shall leave you with a couple of photos of the water shoot that can be found on Lac Leman (apparently only called ‘Lake Geneva’ by expats and foreigners!!)

With much love from us here while it’s still warm in Europe – I’m not sure I can keep the positive vibes going as winter sets in…….only time will tell!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Leaving the Farm and arriving in the City

A card from my sister who knows I'm a little nervous about the next chapter! :)
As I type, I can no longer claim to be ‘pretending to farm’ as I’m just off out to shop for a nice coat to see me through the winter in Switzerland where I shall be shunning my wellies (photo below) in favour of my Louboutins (the ones I just received from my sister for my birthday - photo also below!) and instead of discovering the wines of Bergerac and Pecharmant I shall be discovering the wines of Switzerland.   I should note that we’ve already discovered some fabulous Pinot Noirs…..I think we’ll do well here!

Before packing up the farm, we invited 4 friends from the hamlet round for aperitifs.  We had a lovely evening and upon arrival, one couple presented us with a bottle of champagne to wish us well and another couple who make and can their own pates, presented us with 4 cans of home made pate – one each of wild boar, pork, duck and deer – we are very much looking forward to sharing them with new found friends in Switzerland!

We drove to our new home and I am so pleased we decided to do that because it meant we got to bring some of the bounty from the garden with us and on our first night we enjoyed a beautiful recipe for ‘Vegetable Tian’ that a friend shared with me recently and it so perfectly uses so much of what we have in the garden right now, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, onions & garlic – I’ve posted it below if interested in a really tasty vegetarian meal or if simply trying to deal with a glut of vegetables from your garden!

Vegetable Tian 
Olive oil
1 x Onion, chopped
2 x Garlic cloves, crushed/chopped
8 x Large Tomatoes
Chick Peas (I used a can, drained & rinsed)
1 x Aubergine, sliced
1 x Courgette, sliced
Parmesan, grated
Salt & pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
Add 6 of the tomatoes, chopped (preferably peeled but not essential – for easy peeling – pour boiling water over them for 60 seconds – remove and peel)
Preheat oven to 180/350 degrees
Reduce the tomato sauce and then stir in the chick peas and add salt and pepper
If not using an ovenproof dish, pour the mixture into an oven proof casserole dish and alternate slices of tomato, aubergine and courgette in a layer over the top, sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over the slices and cook covered in the oven for 30 minues – remove the cover and add the parmesan – turn up the heat a little and continue cooking for another 20 minutes until the cheese is golden and the vegetables are fully cooked

Serve with fresh bread – bon apetit!
I also added extra aubergine and courgette to the tomato sauce – this isn’t necessary but I have a lot of aubergines and courgettes to get through – it was still delicious!

For the ‘aperitifs’ with the neighbours, I prepared a rose wine cocktail which actually went down surprisingly well – I’m always nervous about introducing new things to our neighbours so although very surprised (and we did have pastis on standby just in case) I was pleased that 2 healthy sized jugs of this rose wine cocktail were consumed during the aperitif hour (which actually lasted for 3!) – the reason I wanted to make a rose wine cocktail is because I read my ‘vin de noix’ recipe wrongly and bought 5 litres of rose wine when I should have bought 5 litres of red wine so I rectified my mistake to make the ‘vin de noix’ which left me with 5 litres of rose wine to do something with – if any of you have a glut of cheap rose I can highly recommend this as a tasty pre dinner drink…

Rose Sangria
3 litres Rose wine
Strawberries, quartered
2 peaches, peeled and chopped
1 bottle sparkling wine

Prepare the base a day ahead or at least the morning of by pouring the rose wine into a large jug (or a couple of large jugs) and add the fruit and leave so that the fruit will flavor the wine.
Just before serving add the bottle of sparkling wine – mix lightly and serve
A votre Sante!

With that I shall say ‘a bientot’ and hope that in the not too distant future I can share some fabulous food and wine tips from ‘La Belle Geneve’!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Jamming, Canning, Freezing & Packing up for the next chapter

Tony and I can’t quite believe that having arrived here in May, the time has now come to start the next chapter and so this week finds us finally purchasing a chest freezer so that when Tony returns from settling me into ‘school’, there’ll be plenty to keep him fed for the foreseeable future but equally importantly and given we now have over 100 ears of corn ripening and about 50 pumpkins coming in (the largest of them is already over a metre long and apparently not yet ripe – we’ve had the neighbours round to inspect and advise!), it’s going to be important to freeze what we can so that we can enjoy the bounty in the coming months.  The cauliflowers are also just starting to appear but still no sign of the broccoli or brussel sprouts yet so those should still be a few months away which is just as well as our freezer is still only a small chest freezer with a 210 litre capacity and I’ve already managed to half fill it with individual portions of lamb stew, lamb curry (recipe below from my sister – it’s an excellent one to use up leftover lamb, turkey or chicken), beef bourgignon, moussaka, lasagna, courgette soup, courgette cake and carrot soup, much of this made with our very own vegetables now that we have celery, carrots, onions, courgettes and aubergines ripening as I type!

Chicken Curry
Serves 4

4 x Chicken Breasts, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon Vegetable oil (or sunflower)
Half a sweet pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch ginger
2 medium chillies
4 cloves
1 tsp turmeric
3 tsps garam masala
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
2 dessert spoons of natural plain yogurt
Fresh coriander
Salt & pepper

1. Make a paste with the sweet pepper, garlic, ginger & chillies.  Set aside for later.
2. In an oven proof pot, heat the vegetable oil until hot.  Add mustard seeds, cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds & onion and fry until onion is soft.
3. Add the paste made earlier, fry for a minute and then add the rest of the spices and fry for a few minutes.
4. Add the chicken and cook until browned.
5. Add the tinned tomatoes and the yogurt.
6. Put on a lid and cook in the oven for an hour at 180 degrees.  Check half way through and stir – if needed add a little water.
7. Add salt & pepper to taste, and sprinkle on the fresh coriander leaf.
8. Serve with pilau rice & naan bread.

1. Use lamb steak instead of chicken.
2. Use lamb mince instead of chicken, and add some frozen peas.

Our neighbours just popped round last week with an enormous bucket of raspberries which would have been impossible to eat in time and so I made a few pots of raspberry jam and having been to one of our local markets on Saturday where I found some lovely Charlotte strawberries at an excellent price, I purchased a few kilos and also made a bumper batch of strawberry jam.  The same neighbour who gave us the raspberries also mentioned that he had more tomatoes than he could use and so asked if I’d help myself if we could use them and so I’ve also spent the better part of an afternoon this week peeling and boiling tomatoes and the cupboard is now stocked with jars of fresh tomato sauce, all properly sterilized and should be good to use over the winter once the fresh tomatoes have all disappeared.  Whilst chatting with him as I was ‘legally scrumping’ his tomatoes, he asked if we wanted to plant some raspberry plants in our veggie patch and if so, he’d be happy to give us some of his plants for planting during the month of November (apparently the right time to get the raspberry plants in the ground) and so I’ve asked Tony to follow up with him – fresh raspberries will be a phenomenal addition to our garden next year.

We had our last visitor for the ‘season’, my father arrived last Thursday and returned home on Sunday, literally a flying visit but a lot of fun and of course the time flew by – the day before we enjoyed a lovely lunch ‘chez nous’ with some friends who are currently living in the UK but who we’d last seen in Cayman and prior to that we had a few days with some friends we’d last seen 15 years ago (Cayman friends again but last seen at a wedding in Scotland!) who now live in Austria – it’s been a fun couple of weeks and a little busier than we’d originally planned however it turns out that’s been a good thing as it’s taken my mind off the apprehension that the next chapter brings – although I’m sure it will all work out, it will be the first winter we’ve spent outside of Cayman in 20 years and so I am packing my thermals and figure if I am prepared for the worst I should at least remain warm even if I experience the worst!
(some photos below of the last week spent with friends and family).

And so I shall leave you with an ‘a bientot’ and hope I can report periodically on any progress made on the farm especially given that in between all the renovations planned on the property, Tony is also planning to prepare a small part of one of our fields for planting vines next year…..more to come on the future wine produced from ‘Chateau ‘Opwood’!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Pumpkin Dilemma

The 5 pumpkin plants that were given to us by our neighbours really are starting to become a concern not least because we were expecting them to be traditional round orange pumpkins and they’re very long large mostly green although some are totally white.  Having lost control of this patch and lost count of the pumpkins growing in it, we’re not sure what variety they are or when they’re considered ripe.  I took one off the vine while still green because I’d heard from another friend that they should be between 40cm – 80cm long and this one was nearly 60cms so I figured it was probably ready and delivered our first fruit to the neighbour who gave us his plants (sadly his pumpkin plants haven’t yet produced a single pumpkin which is excellent news for us so we finally have someone we can share some produce with – it must be the only vegetable our neighbours don’t have a glut of themselves!!).  They were very gracious in thanking us before telling us we’d picked it too soon and if left it should turn yellow/orange in due course and so we’ve left them alone although there is still no sign of any yellow or orange but they’re getting bigger by the day and so I may have to invite the neighbours round just to inspect and give us some advice on what to do and when they should be picked.  Some photos below of the glut that will soon be coming our way!

In trying to decipher what variety we have growing, I googled pumpkins and discovered that we’re a long way off from winning any competitions as the record for the world’s largest pumpkin is held by someone who grew a pumpkin that weighed in at 2,009 pounds!!  I’m quite relieved that we don’t have that variety growing in abundance although by the end of it we may have that weight in total.

The other exciting development having eaten our way through our first crop of heirloom lettuces, we’d planted a second batch, 9 different heirloom varieties, just before we left for Geneva and Burgundy and some of these are now ready to eat – they’re all spectacularly delicious and there’s just something quite special about making a salad for lunch made up entirely of produce from the garden now that we have the tomatoes we’d salvaged, green peppers, carrots, onions, many more cucumbers (photo of yet another cucumber to be picked this afternoon), beetroot, snap peas and green beans, delicious yellow courgettes and fresh parsley, basil, mint, tarragon, thyme, sage & rosemary.

The item from the garden we’re still looking forward to is the fresh corn – Tony planted 80 plants and we’ve now got 2-3 ears popping up on each plant so there is a corn eating regime in our future and possibly the purchase of a chest freezer finally so that we can store some of this, the freezer we currently have is bursting at the seams with courgette lasagna, our neighbours green beans, courgette loaf cake & courgette soup!

Our next door village holds a night market every Thursday for the months of July and August and last week we invited our neighbours to join us for a bite to eat – it’s always a fun time with a meal of duck and fries or a duck sandwich and fries accompanied by a glass of local wine for EUR4!  This is all enjoyed with a live band playing (usually a local band with an accordion player) and various market stalls selling local produce and crafts and so it was here that we met our local beekeeper.  When we returned this year we noticed that our neighbours had lots of hives on his land, the field immediately next to ours and we can hear them on occasion, apparently the beekeeper uses his land to keep his bees on occasion.  We are understandably very happy to have bees in the neighbourhood to help with the pollination of all we’ve been growing.  But, even better is that we bought his Acacia honey and this was made form the Acacia trees that we can see from our house and were all in full bloom when we arrived in May.  I don’t think I’ve ever had honey that’s literally been made next door and it’s absolutely delicious so we’ll be heading back to the night market tomorrow with our EUR8 for dinner and a drink and a few extra euros for the honey so that we can stock up – it does go particularly well with our homemade yogurt for breakfast.

I shall leave you with another recipe, this one for Spanish stuffed marrow - we tried it with half of one of our neighbours marrows the other night and it was absolutely delicious although still enough to feed 6 people!  I've posted the link below it's a BBC Good Food recipe - I recommend reading the comments before making it (note to cut the canned tomatoes down although I used fresh from the garden, I also substituted parmesan for manchego) and if not overly keen on spice, be careful of the cayenne or do as we did and serve it accompanied by a nice fresh tzatsiki (yogurt, dill, garlic and cucumber) which will offset the spice.

Bon apetit!