First sign of Spring: wild garlic and walnut pesto

DSCF1077I always know that Spring is here when i’m walking the dog in the forest and we stumble upon a carpet of luscious, green leaves. All of a sudden our nostrils are filled with the perfume of fragrant, musky garlic.I prefer to eat it fresh, but as it arrives in such abundance, I tend to freeze bunches of it. For best results, the leaves should be picked young , before they flower. It’s very easy to identify – mainly due to the garlicky fragrance which is released when when the ground gets warm in the sun, or when you rub the leaves between your fingers.It is found in dappled shade, woodland areas, often near water. In Yorkshire, I used to find a lot along the banks of the river Wharfe. Do be careful though. It could be mistaken for toxic plants such as Lily of The Valley if you are not familiar with it. Its flowers are small, white and star-like. I always blanch it as you never know if a passing fox has relieved himself on a leaf! Wild garlic is wonderful, simply tossed into pasta, in an omelette, a tart etc…DSCF1081

Ail des ours

“Ail des ours”, or wild garlic (one of my illustrations from my camera-less period!)

 

Below is a recipe I am very fond of which works well with walnuts or hazelnuts.I tend to throw everything into the pasta, but if you have the luxury of a blender, you could always mix the pesto in your appliance and add to the pasta afterwards. I do like the simple approach though!

Blanch a good handful of leaves for 3 minutes.

Drain and finely chop them.

Add to hot pasta and throw-in a handful of ground walnuts (or walnut powder if you have it).

Generously drizzle the pasta with some virgin walnut oil. Of course, i’m biased, having lots of oil to hand(we do ship to the UK and Europe, do contact us if you’re interested). You could, of course, substitute the walnut oil for a good virgin (cold-pressed) olive or sunflower oil.

Mix-in a handful of grated comté (or your favourite hard cheese).

Add a touch of cider vinegar and season well.

Serve immediately.

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Scallops before Spring

Pan fried scallops with a walnut-oil and lemon dressing

st jacquesThis is one of the simplest starters to impress your guests, or even yourself with! It makes the most of scallops before they go out of season. I enjoyed some freshly caught scallops in Brittany in December, in a beachfront bistrot, during some unusually mild weather. This was a particularly precious moment, as we live in continental, Eastern France, we couldn’t be farther from the sea. The nearest fishmonger to us is about an hour away, so a holiday on the coast was perfect for enjoying an inexpensive feast of fish for a week. Scallops are in season from October to May, yet sustainable fishing advice recommends not consuming them from April till September, during breeding time.March is time to savour the last of the scallops and a sign that Winter will soon be behind us.

st jacques - Copie

I am always surprised, as with most seafood, that we don’t enjoy more of it in the UK, being an island. Most of our shellfish is exported, bizarrely. and local fishmongers seem to be a rarety. I feel strongly that we should support fishmongers who are always keen to advise on how to prepare and choose your seafood. Such information has not always been passed on from generation to generation as it has in French coastal regions.Fish and chips are great but there is so much more to seafood! Sustainability is obviously much discussed nowadays and for scallops there is a “good practice guide” to help consumers make an informed decision, when buying.There is also an online guide to fish labelling which makes for an interesting read.

Simply pan fry 2 scallops per person(ready-shelled), in a knob of butter for 2 minutes on each side. When serving generously drizzle with walnut oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add a touch of black pepper. A pinch of salt may be necessary but unlikely as you will have an obvious taste of the sea.

You will be surpised by the subtleties hidden in these little blobs of white flesh! The tougher, more bitter, orange part of the scallop( the “coral” or “roe”),  can be an acquired taste. Some people also believe it can contain harmful toxins, although all parts of the scallop flesh are classed as “edible”. I feel the coral cuts through the richness of the white flesh, so adds a positive element to the recipe.

Frugal furnishings for a frustrated seamstress

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It may be March, but it is still rather chilly here. We don’t have double glazing but are, in fact, quite glad, as when you’ve got a roaring fire in the stove, it can actually get too hot and I do like a house that breathes – rather than a stuffy, over-insulated airless space.However, as we have a length of wall which is made up of only windows in the living room, when the North wind starts to blow, you really need curtains to take the edge off.Thick material is a great insulator. At the amazing “Musée des Maisons Comtoises“(Franche-Comté Houses Museum), which I have visited many times, I will always remember  the bedrooms in certain houses, literally alcoves containing a raised bed, cordoned off by a very thick curtain, or sometimes a cupboard door. Logical really, energy saving and avoids wasting heat.

Inspired by those bedrooms and tired of the North wind, I set out to make some curtains. However, my sewing machine, annoyingly is in England, so I wanted something quick and easy without a lot of sewing by hand. I am a real fan of “friperies” & “ressourceries”, French junk shops, often great initiatives which provide jobs for the local community and also recycle old objects, furniture, clothes etc.I found a huge piece of old, thick,grainy, cream-coloured linen. 6m for 5€, bargain!

I also stumbled upon some unusual square, wooden, curtain rings, which seem to have been made in the Jura in the 80s.

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I then discovered these great curtain clips, which simply attach to the material, no need to sew on curtain hook loops etc. I also discovered that my thick linen did not fray when cut. I simply folded over and ironed the top hem, which wasn’t really a hem, but thought 2 layers would make it stronger. A hazelwood rail chopped off one of our hazelnut trees, a mixture of wooden and wrought iron brackets, to fix the rails to the wall and my curtains were born.They may look like something from The Flintsones, but I like to think they have a rustic charm. In any case, we have certainly conserved a lot of heat this winter, which would have otherwise escaped through the meagre windows.