Olive Picking in France

At this time of year I keep seeing references to olive picking (in warmer climes than the north of England, granted) and it always brings back happy memories of the time we spent living in the South of France, when one of our last tasks before heading back to England was harvesting the olive trees in the grounds of where we were living!

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We set about the task on a late October weekend in 2011, which started bitterly cold but we were soon in shorts and t-shirts as the sun burned through.

We used various methods of removing the olives from the trees, little rake type things, a good old shake, and then climbing up the branches like ten year old boys when we couldn’t reach the best crops!

All, well most, of the olives would land on to giant nets that we’d spread around the trunk of the tree, which we’d then gather together when the tree had been harvested.

The nets were then emptied into a homemade contraption borrowed from the next door neighbour, to remove any leaves and stalks from the olives as they were loaded into crates.

The crates were then emptied out on to cloths in the garage for the olives to dry out a bit, before being crated up again and taken to the local olive press!

Of course it would be rude not to indulge in the french way of life whilst we were undertaking this quite laborious task, so a good Provencal lunch was laid on every day, and we celebrated our achievements at a local restaurant which is a converted olive mill!

Unfortunately we returned to the UK before the local olive press opened for the season so we weren’t able to see our harvest being processed, however the other members of our team sent us photos of the occasion!

To see more photos from our adventures in France, check out this post

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Happy Days

As you’ve probably guessed by now if you’re friends with either of us on Facebook or Twitter, we’re now back in the North of England after a wonderful summer living in the South of France. Here’s a little photo gallery selected from the 1,657 photos we took over the last 5 months!

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During the summer we came across the Zac Brown Band, and this song seems to sum up our time in France. Listen to it while you’re browsing through the slideshow 🙂

We’ve had a wonderful summer in France and we’re now back in England with family and friends, looking forward to Christmas.

As for next year, who knows! Our house is still up for sale and we’re hopeful that it will sell in the new year, which will signal the start of a whole new adventure!

But we know one thing for sure, wherever we are, we’ll be living Happily Ever After.

Helen & Rich xxx

Posh Pot Noodle!

I was feeling quite domesticated the other day, so when we had a chicken salad for lunch, I decided to use the remains to make a chicken stock.

I was going to freeze it but the following day the weather was decidedly autumnal, so a warming soup was definitely in order! I found a recipe on the internet that I could adapt (I didn’t have everything it called for) which also included noodles; handy as I’d made Singapore Noodles for dinner the night before, so I could use up what was left in the packet.

It was only at the end of preparing the soup, once I’d added the noodles, that I looked back at the original recipe and questioned whether I’d read it right, as there seemed to be more noodles than soup… which was when I realised that I was meant to be adding rice noodles, when in fact I’d added significantly larger egg noodles!

All was not lost though, because it looked and tasted remarkably like a really nice chicken pot noodle! In fact, I take that back, it didn’t taste like a pot noodle, it tasted better, and contained all fresh ingredients!

Here’s the gist of what I did:

  • Strip the remaining meat from the carcass of the chicken (sorry, squeamish people and vegetarians!) set the chicken aside and put the bones in a pan of water with some roughly chopped veg, I used one of those stock veg packs you can buy. Season and allow to simmer gently for about 2 hours.
  • Strain off the stock and put about a litre of it into a pan (freeze the rest if there’s any more).  Chop a couple of fresh carrots, sticks of celery and an onion and add them to the stock and simmer for about 10 minutes til the veg is softened.
  • Chop a leek finely and add that and a small tin of sweetcorn to the soup, cook for a couple of minutes then add a strip of dried egg noodles.
  • Chop the chicken that was left over and add that to the pan and cook for as long as the noodle packet instructions tell you to. Make sure the chicken is piping hot before serving!
  • Done!

Hope you enjoy!

Helen x

Power Cut, Part 2

Previously…

So we’re still in the dark, and Rich has been dispatched to find pizza, as it doesn’t look like we’ll be cooking tonight and quite frankly I’m starving. I have opted to stay here for reasons of a health and safety nature, as the fire is lit and I wouldn’t want to leave it unattended. Nothing to do with the open bottle of red wine. Whatsoever.

Before he left Rich said ‘will you be ok on your own?’ Kind, thoughtful husband. ‘Of course!’ I replied, thinking of the cosy fire and aforementioned vino. After helping him manually wrestle open the electric gates (we’re not posh, everyone round here has them, probably French law or something) I strode back up the drive quite enjoying the adventure. It’s only about 50 yards but for that short time I felt like a member of the Famous Five, wellies on, torch in hand.

So here I am back in the house, by the fire.

It’s very black outside those windows

In the five months we’ve been here, I have never heard that owl before.

That sudden flash of light was just the reflection of my torch as I moved. Of course it was.

I’ll put some music on…. Oh wait, we took the batteries from the radio to use in the torches. Well I’ll just enjoy the sound of the fire crackling instead.

That scratching noise is just a twig against the window pane, nothing more sinister than that.

Blimey, every time you open a door in this house, another one bangs shut. It’s just the draft. That always happens.

So glad that the last thing I did before I finished working tonight was write some creative copy for our 6 Mastermix Halloween albums.

Much later…

Electricity, our Constant Companion

I’m writing this blog post by candlelight, as we are in the middle of a power cut. We were just about to start cooking our evening meal when we were plunged into darkness (and coldness, as we have just started using electric heaters)

Of course, I won’t be sharing this post with you until our power is restored. Nor will I be cooking, ringing anyone (mobile’s gone dead, good timing) or checking Facebook or Twitter. We’re going to have a heck of a lot of food to go through when we’re powered back up, in fact a fridge and two freezers full. Not to mention all those plums I’ve frozen for future batches of jam.

I suppose you could say the phrase ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ is quite apt at the moment, but there’s two sides to every story. We’re now sitting beside a roaring log fire, surrounded by candlelight, in a little cottage in rural France. It’s a ‘school night’ but suddenly red wine seems appropriate… Surely it’s allowed under the circumstances?

As for what we’re going to eat tonight… That’s a whole other issue…

Ce la vie!

One hour later…

Variations on a Hommous Theme

Hommous / Houmous / Hummus / Hummous – delete as appropriate! I have never quite decided how to spell it… Anyhoo, that’s not my point, this is:

I have been making quite a lot of the stuff recently since I’ve stopped eating bread, as I’ve had to seek out alternatives to the usual lunchtime sandwich, and I much prefer to make it from scratch rather than have the shop bought stuff. Trust me, it’s quick and easy!

I found a recipe on the internet (after searching many websites and deciding they were all pretty much the same anyway) but I’ve also been experimenting with variations, so we don’t get bored of the standard houmous fayre (there we go, I have settled on a spelling).

I thought I’d document a few of my variations, so I don’t forget them, and so you can try them too if you wish!

This is the standard method I follow, most recipes call for tahini to be added, but you try buying that in France! So I leave it out and I don’t think it makes any difference. I have to be honest, I tend to add a touch more olive oil to compensate for the tahini, just to reach a nice creamy consistency. I use my food processor to blitz all the ingredients, and one tip I can give is don’t be afraid to keep the processor going for quite a while, until the chickpeas are well and truly mashed up. When I first made houmous, I thought that it was impossible to get the same consistency as the shop bought stuff, until one day I left the food processor going and wandered off. When I came back – perfect texture! It also helps to keep stopping it and scraping the bits down into the bowl!

Sundried Tomato Houmous

Large batch of sundried tomato houmous with some parsley sprinkled on top!

You need a jar of sundried tomatoes in oil. Leave out the lemon juice from the original recipe, and replace the olive oil with the oil that the tomatoes are preserved in. Chop up about 6 of the sundried tomatoes (or more if you feel like it, or have a jar to use up) and add them to the processor. Don’t make the mistake I did and add whole ones – the processor will not chop them up at the same rate as the chickpeas and you end up with whole tomatoes floating around. Kinda nice, but requires a knife when eating!

Basil Houmous

Stick to the original recipe (lemon juice optional, depends how you feel) and add a nice handful of chopped fresh basil leaves. I also have some basil infused olive oil, so I use this instead of the standard stuff. Yum!

Chilli Houmous

Fresh chilli that went into a batch of chilli houmous!

Standard recipe but with slightly less olive oil, and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce (preferably Scrummy sweet chilli dipping sauce, but as I’m not selling it at the moment I grant permission to use other brands!) Also, depending on how hot you like your chilli, add a freshly chopped chilli and garnish the top of the houmous with some!

Other ideas I’m pondering over at the moment include cucumber & mint, black pepper, and walnut (if the tree in the garden ever gives up its fruit!) I’ll keep you posted on how I get on!