Great beautiful Britain blighted by bread in bags

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I have been back “home” now for two weeks and seem to have arrived with a fresh eye to view my native region. Strangely, I feel a bit foreign  in my hometown, so am perhaps more objective about it, or perhaps romantic or critical.I’m not sure what I feel yet. Whilst pouring my coffee, from my cafetière “for one”, I contemplate….

Things I am enjoying in Yorkshire:

Pubs with open fires and bitter, yet floral, pale ales, which can even be enjoyed alone, whilst reading the newspaper – something I would never have done in rural France. Women were not seen alone in café/bars – or in groups for that matter.My morals would have been severely questioned and quite frankly, people would have looked at me funny.

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Speaking Yorkshire again. There are some things only a person from York will understand ie. “river’s up”.

The dynamics of an English conversation and our ability to “self-mock”.

Sunday roasts, with Yorkshire pudding, like this one at the Wellington Inn in Nidderdale, a fantastic, dog-friendly pub.

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Swaledale sausage and chutney sandwiches, at The Duke of York pub.

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Hearing the seagulls in the morning (living in Eastern France, I was probably in the farthest French corner from the sea). We are only 45 minutes from the stunning Yorkshire coast here.

Walking the dog, without fear of running into a wild boar or a wolf. Only gangs of youths to worry about now – nothing compared to 90kg of charging, tusked beast! I’d prefer an altercation with a “chav” any day!

The patchwork landscape, bordered by hedgerows and dry stone walls.

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Watching almost tame herds of deer, in frosty fields in the morning – they always quickly scarpered in France, probably fearing that I was a hunter.

Lambs running and hopping.

Pavements!

Hearing my four year old niece in person, growing up so quickly and asking very relevant questions:

“Aunty Claire, when you look in the mirror, how do you know it’s you?”

“Aunty Claire, does a booby trap, trap boobies?”

Things I am finding strange:

Bread in plastic bags that lasts 2 weeks. We had 5 boulangeries in a small town of around 2000 people and we bought bread daily, as most people did. Bread had a crust and was aerated with both small and large air pockets in it, not dense and uniform, like an old sponge. Thank goodness I have discovered those who advocate proper bread.The Ainsty Farm Shop, who make a lovely loaf and Via Vecchia makes superior, artisan bread.

Pre-chopped vegetables. When was it chopped and why? I don’t understand. I went on a trip to a major supermarket the other day and was unable to find leeks or lovely Yorkshire rhubarb which were  not already trimmed.I reluctantly bought some rhubarb which I needed to place on pancakes, steamed and mixed with mascarpone and honey, then topped off with almonds. It was actually very good, but surely the freshness of the vegetable is affected when it is already chopped on both ends.I reiterate: all hail great farm shops. I look forward to discovering local markets.

Perfect lawns. When I used to take Milou out in our somewhat wild garden in France, he would dart in and out of the bushes, in between trees. Here he just stands there, glances at the perfect square of the perfect lawn and looks back at me, as if to say what am I supposed to do on here. It appears to be an extension of the carpeted living room, which he actually adores – a giant dog bed to him and he proceeds to lie down. Around this time in France, wild chives would be peeking out of the grass; the first flowers, purple wild cowslips would soon be appearing, along with violets under the trees in the dappled shade. Morel mushrooms wouldn’t be long, if it is a warm month of March, at the bottom of the garden on the rocky rough ground. I wonder about the effects of the abundance of weedkiller, used to create the perfect English lawn. I always remember my dad saying “bloomin’ eck they’re not very house proud here”, referring to the lack of garden fences and dishevelled nature of the house exterior, in the Jura. If that dishevelled appearance means that fauna and flora can flourish, then i’m all for dishevelled.

I feel the need to become a home tourist, to study what lies within these city walls, which once made me feel hemmed in and encouraged me me to leave, by trying to find a frugal style of living in York/ Yorkshire. There is a tendency for rustic, simple good food to be chic and expensive in the UK, which is not the case in France. I intend to search for those hidden gems which contradict this trend.

As Stendhal said in “La Chartreuse de Parme”: “A quoi bon chercher le bonheur si loin, il est là sous nos yeux”. In other words, “Why look for happiness, so far away, it is here under our noses”.

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François Hollande, the merits of dry toast and pumpkin pancakes

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“About as much charisma as un-buttered toast” was the description of François Hollande, by the ABC news correspondent, who expressed his surprise at the alleged French president’s love affair , which seems to involve two very beautiful ladies. I found this highly amusing, whilst feeling sorry for Valérie, or “Valou”, who is obviously going through a terrible time.However, I would actually like to defend the case of dry toast!  I believe it can actually be very charismatic. I often toast up stale bread and use it as a cobbler-like topping on a casserole. It’s also great as croutons on onion soup, or bulks up a salad, fluffing-up as it absorbs the vinaigrette. It’s traditionally used here as a base for “croûte aux  champignons”, posh mushrooms on toast, made with wild mushrooms, cream and local Savagnin wine. Hollande’s public image has really gone downhill recently. Although the French media doesn’t seem to be talking about it much, the “moped-riding philanderer” is not a good look.Let’s hope he can overcome these events and become more of a crouton, or a rustic bread salad, the more charismatic kind of dry toast.

Pain de Noix

Pain de noix, on an old plate made in Salins Les Bains, once a thriving crockery-making town.

DSCF0134The frugal tip of the day was given to me by a lovely couple who brought their walnuts to be pressed yesterday morning. If you need to heat the room next door, make a hole in the wall. Although this may not be very aesthetic, it’s actually not a bad idea. I have some friends who heated their house only using a wood-burner, as we do. Their bedroom upstairs had no heating at all. They consequently cut a hole in the floor of the bedroom of around 15cm in diameter, which enabled the heat to float up into the bedroom. If ever it was drafty, they had a disc to cover it, just in case. Saves you installing heating in the other room.

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What to eat today after days of leftover couscous came to an end. In the fridge I had one onion and a bit of pumpkin hanging around. From the latest walnut press, I have some “pain de noix“, which I grate to make a sort of walnut flour. I always have buckwheat flour in the cupboard so decided to make some crepes. This mixture would also work well in pasta with some Parmesan or as a ravioli filling, maybe jazzed-up with Mascarpone.

Pumpkin, Sage and Walnut Crêpes                            

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Ingredients (makes 4 crêpes)

¼ of a small pumpkin or butternut squash

1 medium onion

Sunflower oil

3 tablespoons of ground nuts or “pain de noix”

A knob of butter

A drop or two of milk

1 egg

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·         Put 250g of buckwheat flour in a mixing bowl

·         Place an egg, a dessert spoon of sunflower oil, and a pinch of salt, in a well in the centre.

·         Beat the egg and flour together, gradually, working from the centre outwards.

·         Gradually beat in 50cl of water. The mixture will turn from a rough paste to a silky fluid.

·         Leave to rest for at least an hour.

·         Fry a sliced onion in a drop of sunflower oil.

·         Add the slices of pumpkin and a touch of dried sage or a few chopped leaves of the fresh stuff.

·         Leave to sweat until soft.

·         Mix in 2 tablespoons of grated “pain de noix” or ground walnuts.

·         Add a knob of butter and stir for a minute or so.

·         Gradually add about 4 tablespoons of milk. You can add cream at this stage, but I didn’t want it to be too rich.

·         It should have a pesto like texture. Turn off the heat, season, cover and leave to stand.

·         Place a ladle of the crêpe mixture in a slightly buttered frying pan.

·         Swirl around to cover the whole pan and cook on a high heat.

·         When it starts to detach around the edges and moves when you shake the pan, flip it over.

·         Spread the pumpkin mixture on whilst the crêpe is still in the pan. After a few minutes, flip over one half of it, so it’s like a half-moon.

·         Flip over the whole thing and leave for a further few minutes.

Serve. Bon appétit!