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Dry January? Pas ici

551408_10150589524436887_1789486133_n A glass of Savagnin, walnuts and Comté cheese

After two weeks in my native city of York, reveling in cosy pubs which resemble someone’s “front room”, with much consumption of local ales and not so local headache-inducing red wine, I have returned to Salins Les Bains. My mum and dad affectionately refer to it as “Salty Baths” in broad Yorkshire accents. It’s a spa town in the Jura mountains – think Harrogate, in a disheveled French way, nestled in a lush forested valley; the tall townhouses,  their grey shutters nonchalantly hanging off in places. Anyway, after my festive break, I was hoping to give my liver a rest and follow the wonderful initiative of “dry January”, but alas “NON”. Christmas and New Year are not separate entities here, but “Les fêtes de fin d’année”(end of year festivities).Revelry starts with advent and goes on until the end of January.  In France, you officially have the whole month of January to wish a happy new year to friends and family. This is great, as the event is not concentrated into one night, with the  looming pressure of “what are you doing for new year?”. However, it’s not so great for my liver and general energy levels. A happy new year must be wished to all friends and family and not just by uttering the expression, but by toasting it with an “apéro” ( a few – or often a lot of-  drinks and nibbles). This often prolongs itself into a full blown meal. Epiphany is also celebrated here, on the first Sunday in January, to mark the visit of the three kings to the recently born Messia. This involves “la galette des rois”, a puff pastry tart with a frangipane filling. The one who almost breaks their teeth on the little figure inside(anything from a plastic smurf to a hand-painted Virgin Mary) will apparently have good luck for the rest of the year. Oh, and he/she also has the pleasure of sporting a cardboard crown for the duration of the meal.

So, how to remain frugal at this time of year when expenses have been stretched already with Christmas.Although French festive fayre  is not particularly thrifty ie. oysters and foie gras, washed down with gallons of “Crémant du Jura”, the Franche-Comté region‘s sparkling wine, there are ways of getting around this in an equally tasty way.

DSCF0044 Bleu de Gex, Comté and goats’ cheese, on a very frugal cheeseboard(a slice of wood foraged from the forest, abandoned by the lumberjacks)

Make a fondue!Get your fondue set out of the loft. It has probably been in hibernation since fondue parties were in fashion in the 70s. This is  unfair, as this dish is traditionally an excellent way to use up tired cheese and stale bread. It literally means “melted” and is, in effect, melted cheese, into which you dip little chunks of bread. This is perfect for those old bits remaining from the Christmas cheeseboard. In this region, it is generally made with Comté, but Swiss fondue(being about an hour from the border)is also interesting and often has three types of cheese (gruyère, raclette and vacherin, for example). Jazz it up, as the French do, by adding a glass of white wine when it starts to melt(again rather thrifty as you can finish off those rather difficult to drink, unwanted wine gifts). You can also add pieces of garlic. I like to add a good teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard. The vinegar cuts through the richness of the cheese and makes it easier to digest.If you don’t have a fondue set, you can always improvise with a small camping stove and pan!I did this once when a friend had borrowed our equipment.

Make a huge stew that you can reheat several times for various friends’ visits.

DSCF0041Last night, at the neighbours’ flat, our stew simmering on the stove, in front of Sarah’s inexpensive Christmas tree, sketched onto a wall that needed painting anyway.

A “pot au feu” is a simple recipe of meat, vegetables and a bouquet garni, left to simmer for at least 3 hours. It can also be cooked in wine or beer, depending on the region. Here, with pork or chicken,  we would use a bottle of local white wine, the Savagnin grape variety. Last night, with the beef, I used up what we had, ie. a bottle of dry cider that had been opened and had gone flat. You can also use beer. Frugally speaking, it’s a brilliant way to make use of the so called “cheaper cuts” of meat, which can be a bit gristly and fatty but add great flavour to the stew. As they are cooked for hours, they become tender and succulent. You will also find that it gets better each time you reheat it. You can always add more cider or beer if it gets a bit dry.

Claire’s “Pot au Feu”

Ask the butcher for the following cuts of beef: brisket, round and marrow bone(paleron, macreuse and rond de gite), or simply ask what they have that would be good for a slow-cooked pot roast.

Brown them slightly in a knob of butter, in a large pan.

Add a couple of carrots, onions, celery sticks and a leek. You can roughly chop these, but I prefer to leave them whole, which suits the slow cooking and gives a rustic appearance to the dish.

Pop in a bouquet garni, or as I did yesterday, unable to face the torrential rain in the garden to collect some herbs, simply added some dried bay leaves and dry thyme in a jar, along with a teaspoonful of mustard seeds.

Pour over a 75cl bottle of dry cider or beer.

Add some water to cover the ingredients, if necessary.Season.

Leave to cook on a low heat for at least 3 hours.

Bon appetit! Now for the galette des rois. Hmmm think i’ll try and make one with walnuts rather than almonds. We have an abundance of nuts, due to the fact that we produce walnut and hazelnut oil (more about that another day!).Check out our website http://www.huileriedeclairette.com/en

As a friend said in a text the other day “Bonne année. Je te souhaite ce que tu mérites”.

I love this philosophical, Spinoza-esque new year’s wish: “Happy New Year. I wish you that which you deserve”. Spinoza was one of Nietzsche’s mates who didn’t believe in fate, rather in almost mathematical results, caused by actions, thoughts etc….

Don’t just presume a happy year will happen, just like that. Make it happen! Happiness is a by product of what you do. Make a hearty stew for friends or use up some old cheese. I guarantee fulfillment, well at least a step along the way!


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