French cuisine.

The talk at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, a cooking demo, plus a short trip to France have kept me busy for the last few weeks.

France was utterly splendid: autumn colours, 25C temperatures and masses of delicious food.   I was particularly entranced by small savoury enriched dough buns flavoured with smoked salmon.   The “Angevine” dessert of orange sorbet drenched in locally produced Cointreau was divine.   Even an excellent lunch in a supermarket restaurant was three course, cost about £12 and was cooked on-site.   Lots of experimenting ahead to recreate inspiring recipes.

We meandered through the cobbled streets of Angers, on the river Maine (near the river Loire), in the warm evening.   The city boasts a top reputation as an education centre symbolised by the vast sculpture of an open book created in local slate.   The bars, cafes and restaurants teem with university students making the population’s average age one of the youngest in France.   All this youthful exuberance lives, works and plays in happy harmony below the huge, fortified chateau’s vast medieval towers and walls.   Enthusiastic singing rang through the streets until the early hours of the morning yet there was no evidence of over-indulgence, misbehaviour or police.   A happy place to learn and live.

Driving on French motorways is another different experience.   Traffic levels are unrecognisable for those familiar with the frantic density of the M27, M25 and similar here.   Toll charges doubtless play their part but do mean that the French equivalent of A roads are also well maintained and, often, dual carriageways for local drivers.   Probably more significant is the very low number of motorway junctions meaning that drivers all tend to be travelling long-distance rather than the UK’s hopping-on-and-off traffic.   As a result, we were usually driving with one vehicle on the horizon ahead, another far behind and the odd lorry in-between.   Car travel without aggressive blaring of horns, gesticulating drivers screaming past or the cut-and-thrust of road rage.   Car travel is probably less easy around Paris and other big cities but our three and four hour drives were more peaceful.   Just what I need with the PTSD remnants from the accident.

I do wonder if some motorists’ frustrations and rage are symptoms of the fury they feel about life in general: constantly under many pressures; trying to make ends meet; not achieving life recognition or satisfaction?   Perhaps the false sense of anonymity, the power and protection of a vehicle, the chance to be fully in charge of one’s destiny create irresistible opportunity to vent one’s despair?

The most telling comment of the week was that we can’t expect European levels of social spending from American levels of tax.   Would a more equal economy would make everyone happier, less frustrated and angry?

Back at home, our 96-year-old lunch guest enjoyed the treat of Sunday roast.   This hardly merits a recipe as the rosemary-studded and seasoned lamb shoulder was sat on chopped onion, carrot and celery with about a litre of water.   Everything was sealed in a foil parcel and thrown into the oven at 70C, Gas S.   Twenty hours later, the lamb was gingerly removed to a board and the bones slipped out into a pan with all the vegetables and cooking liquid.   Lamb rewrapped and returned to the oven at 50C/Gas even lower.   Pan boiled to reduce the stock, bones and veg discarded, stock thickened into gravy.   Roast potatoes and fresh vegetables cooked: lunch done!

Next free on-line cooking demo: 1030 Monday 14 November featuring butternut squash soup and a ginger cake.

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