Saturday, November 26, 2011

A French Christmas with Oysters Galore

This year, 2011, will see us celebrating Christmas in France for the second time. Last year was okaaaay. As I recall, we rose late, called family, opened gifts galore, gorged on smoked salmon and eggs, cooked a large dinner that no one wanted to eat - although, of course, we finally managed to force some down at about 6pm. Later we watched some Christmas telly on our very small TV, played card games and went to bed.

One of the best parts of the day for me, was the view out of the window. It looked like this.

Looks like something out of a magazine doesn't it? It was magical. The view is the reason we bought the house - Serious. I call the house my Labour of Love. Because it is.

We usually see our friends who also live in the village, and this year will be no different. For a while we have been threatening to do a curry cook-off, and I think that might actually happen this year, so I will shortly be packing my spices and Indian recipe books to take with me. What fun!

We always throw a nice dinner for our friends too, and for several years we have admired the wooden baskets of oysters from afar, but never cooked them. This year we thought we would get some and serve them to our friends for a starter. This is what I plan to do with them. It's funny talking about packing my recipe books, but with no access to t'interweb, what's a girl to do ? Actually, I secretly love planning my Christmas meals and packing my recipe books, something old stylee about it don't you think ? I also enjoy packing up all those lovely ingredients in anticipation of the delicious meals to come.

This is taken from my newest Christmas recipe book Celebrate Christmas

I plan to serve a 'mixed oyster platter' with a selection of oysters made according to the recipes below.  To accompany this we will drink chilled, dry (sec) bubbly blanquette. Oh yes, and let's not forget a little bit of baguette to soak up the juices. Yummies!

Oysters with bloody mary sauce

24 oysters on the half shell
3tbsp tomato juice
3tsp vodka
1tsp lemon juice
0.5tsp worcestershire sauce
1-2 drops tabasco
1 celery stick
1-2tsp snipped chives

1. Remove the oysters from their shells and set aside. Wash the shells in hot water and pat dry.

2. Combine the juices, vodka, tabasco and worcestershire sauce.

3. Cut the celery stick into julienne strips (eg v.v.thin) and place in the base of the oyster shells.

4. Top with an oyster and drizzle with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

Champagne Oysters

*I will use blanquette in place of Champagne, the grapes for which are grown in the vines that surround the village. It would probably be a criminal offence to not use blanquette.

1 French (it had to be didn't it?) shallot, finely chopped
150ml champagne, or sparkling white wine*
150g unsalted butter
2tbsp creme fraiche
2 egg yolks
500g rock salt
24 oysters on the half shell

1. Put the shallot and 125ml of the champagne blanquette in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Simmer until reduced to 1tbsp. Strain into a heatproof bowl, discarding the shallot.

2. Place the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, until thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and stir in the creme fraiche.

3. Whisk the egg yolks and remaining champagne blanquette in a separate heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water until the mixture forms ribbons when drizzled. Remove from the heat and fold into the butter mixture. Season to taste.

To serve - spread the rock salt on a tray and arrange the oysters on top. Spoon a teaspoon of the champagne (oops! I mean blanquette), mixture onto each oyster and cook under a moderate grill for 1-2 minutes until golden brown.

Finally, recipe 3.

Oysters wtih prosciuttio and balsamic vinegar

24 oysters on the half shell
2-3tbsp balsamic vinegar
6 slices proscitto, each chopped into 4 thin strips

1. Remove the oysters from their shells and set aside. Wash the shells in hot water and pat dry.

2. Replace the oysters and put them on a baking tray.

3. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the oysters and arrange a coil of prosciutto on top.

4. Season with black pepper.

5. Cooked under a hot grill for about 1 minute, or until the prosciutto is starting to crisp.

That's the appetiser prepped, now what to do for the main course ??

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Park Run and Mammoth Mattresses

Today I wanted to run a race called Iceman this is now one of a series of off-road races on army training ground, which gives a nice technical (e.g. difficult) run. But, alas it was not to be... BB had told me that our new hi-tech Mammmoth 'sports' mattress was due to arrive 'any Saturday' so I couldn't sign up for the run for the fear that we would then get an email announcing the impending arrival of said mattress. So, I did Banstead Woods parkrun instead.

As you can see from the above photo, it's a little hilly but very pretty. I always extol the virtues of the Parkrun weekly 5K race. It's free, you get a properly recorded time emailed to you, and you are running as part of a larger group, so as well as trying to beat your own best time, you can race the others in the race too, and be part of your local running community. Or, you can run at a more leisurely pace.

I ran as hard as I could, for me this was my opportunity to run a fast 5K. The ground looked a little wet this morning, so I wore my new Salomon off-road shoes. I have moreorless total confidence in them, it's like the soles of my feet are little tyres with a mega-grip when I have them on. I felt a little nauseous when the race ended, despite (or because of, perhaps..) a breakfast of one slice of toast with nutella. I have found that bananas repeat, porridge lies a little heavy, and now toast makes me gag. One day, I will find the perfect pre-race brekkie.

The other great thing about Parkrun is that you can be done in less than an hour. By 10am we were in a cafe, I was out of my gym kit, and a mocha coffee was easing the nausea nicely. Yum! We picked CC up and headed home. I already knew my result was around 25:40 something... but I was eager to look up my result from their  official timers. Within hours of running the results are up. I knew I had run a vey similar time last year, I knew there wouldn't be much in it. Imagine my surprise then when I saw that the email title was 'Congratulations - A new PB!' Wow. I thought. Excellent! Then I saw the details. I had improved on my last fastest time by 3 seconds. Yes, 3 seconds. You heard me right - that's three seconds. Actually, I was quite pleased with myself. The last time when I ran and was 3 seconds slower, the race had felt a lot more difficult and 'faster'. Which must mean my perceived effort threshold is higher right ?? Perceived effort threshold - does that even mean anything? Answers on a postcard purlease... All I know is that I ran as fast as I could.

As luck would have it, shortly after we arrived home the mattress arrived. We had toyed with the idea of a memory foam mattress, but just never got round to going out and trying and buying. Then BB mentioned the Mammoth Sport Mattress several times (and I'll be honest, I wasn't really listening..I thought he was telling me about some race in the Outer Hebrides that he might do in 2015, or something). I finally took a look at the site, read some testimonials and we placed an order. I will do a full review when I've actually had a sleep in the thing, but  from first bounces, I can report that it seems promising. The web site explains (in extremely technical terms) that the mattress is not only good for your back, but also offers enhanced temperature regulation. Surely this must mean a more comfortable sleep? It will be interesting to see how much this mattress aids my recovery after a very gruelling race, which ironically due to this mattress's delivery I did not get to do today!

I should just mentioned that I was 10th lady today and 2nd in my age group. When I arrived I did a little scan of the attendess and thought 'Crikey, a lot of blokes, not many girlies....' And I guess that explains my result. The fact there were approx 100 runners, and I was 71st puts my stats a little more squarely into perspective. My final time was 25:41 by the way. I am seriously chasing a 24: Anything from now on. Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, every second is a second closer to my goal. Despite the nausea it was a stunning morning, and I would highly recommend the parkrun to everyone, come rain or shine.

Now I'm turning in and going off to try out that new mattress..took a quick piccie earlier.. see below. zzzzzzzzzzzz.......... :o)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Planning for Christmas

I noticed on Notes from Home website that the next Carnival call is for the subject of Christmas Planning.So, how do I do it ?

I make life really difficult for myself by buying gifts for practically everyone I know. A lot of people that I talk to tell me 'Oh, we only buy for the children now', or they exclaim 'You buy gifts for your neighbours and their children'. Oh yes, practically everyone and their dog is on my list.

You know I love to cook and that extends to Christmas too. In fact, I also make my friend's Christmas cakes and puddings. It's not like a business or anything, basically I charge enough to cover my costs. It's as easy, most of the time, to make 2 or 3 cakes at the same time as one. More importantly, I have all of the equipment - super-dooper powerful KitchenAid, turntable for icing, and I did a course in cake decorating remember ? I can give them a professional looking, handmade, gorgeous cake, wrapped with cellophane and ribbons which makes a great Thank you gift for your host if you are lucky enough to NOT be cooking your own Christmas dinner. They love me for it.

My Christmas cakes and puddings were cooked last weekend. This week they had their first 'feed' - whisky for the Christmas cake and brandy for the Christmas pudding. Of course, I made one for myself. BB and CC don't like Christmas pudding, so I get to eat the lot. Ha! BB loves the Christmas Cake though.

Enough about cakes. All, most of, my Christmas cards are written now. I like them in the post (with 2nd class stamps) on December 1st.  My old university friend tells me she sets her Christmas barometer by the early arrival of my Christmas card. I think that's sweet.

I have an unusual Christmas, in that I don't actually spend it in this country. I flee to my Labour of Love in France, and this year, more than most, I cannot wait! I am so tired, I cannot wait to get there and unwind and forget all of my obligations here for a while. The downside of this is, of course, celebrating Christmas here with family and friends before leaving for France. Fitting it all in is difficult.  Basically, I do Christmas twice. A Christmas tree in England and a tree in France. I have already started stockpiling our favourite foods to take with us to France, especially as some of them we cannot get there. The spare room is filling first.

Last year Christmas dinner was a bit of a waste of time if I'm honest. We didn't eat til 6pm, I was still full of smoked salmon and eggs from brunch at 1pm. It was the first time we had used the cooker so it all took a lot longer than expected. No one really wanted to eat it.  I have already asked BB and CC about Christmas Dinner and they have already said 'No turkey' so it will be interesting to see what we end up with ! I'd be more than happy with some brie, a lump of french bread, my homemade chutney and some warmed red wine. Delish. In France they always sell a deluge of oysters, they are very popular. We have already decided that when we have our friends over for dinner in France we will serve oysters in several different ways. I'm looking forward to that.

Where was I ? Ah yes, gifts. Like I said I do buy a lot, but I would like to think I am 80% finished on gift-buying. Something that may be a little unusual is that I do not buy the gifts that BB gives to his extended family.  It's not that I'm mean or anything.. it's just that he knows them better than me, and quite frankly I'm doing everything else! I will help him with ideas, and I have already started badgering him about making a start. I will be giving my first gifts this Saturday when a friend and her family visit. They are wrapped and ready.

Now on to my favourite Christmas subject - the decorations!!! In my village house in France I go all rustic - it's all candlelights and lanterns and silver. Here, in my London city house it's more glitzy, and modern and red.  I like both. BB hates Christmas decorations, if it was up to him they would go up on Christmas Eve and come down on Boxing Day (26th December). But it's not.  I like them up by mid December at the latest. Although the way I see it once the Advent Calendar is up on December 1, the rest of the decs might as well come out ... The decs in France will go up as soon as we get there as we're getting there a little late. I bought the cutest little candles the other day. I can't wait to get them  out actually. I think I will go Santa's grotto style this year. CC is ten now so I am running out of Christmases to have a really kiddy-styleeee one.

I always make my Black forest trifle too. The recipe was one of the first I put on the blog I think. I LOVE it. Basically chocolate sponge, soaked in kirsch with morello cherries in it, and cherry jam blobbed on. Cover with cherry jelly and leave to set. Once set, cover with chocolate custard, leave to set. Just before you serve, cover with whipped double cream and grate chocolate over the top of that. It's lovely and one of my BB's favourites.

I have by now also dug out my Christmas cook books. I now have three, the Nigella one, one my Mother bought me which is just wonderful (It is called Christmas (Cook's Encyclopedia), and one that I bought the other day which has recipes for oysters in it, so it will be coming with me to France.It is called Celebrate Christmas, it's the newest book in my Cookbook Collection, and I am loving it.

Here's pictures of all of them from Amazon.

Basically, I like to have all of the cards sent, the gifts wrapped and ready to go, the cakes delivered, and the decs up by December 1 - then I can actually really enjoy Christmas. :o)

PS> It is a dream that one year I will make a gingerbread house. The new cookbook has a recipe. None of us like gingerbread, I just like how they look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Facing the Facts

I might as well face the fact that I am never going to find the time to write a novel, well not this month anyway. BUT I am really enjoying the way my run training is progressing at the moment.

My new Salomon trail shoes are great. You can see them here I always find that they take a little bit of time to break in, so I just ran about 4 miles in them last week. They have such an amazing grip, and as I'm quite a baby when it comes to running, and possibly slipping in mud, but Salomon's give me the confidence to go for it.

I've run 13 miles since Sunday with a day off today, so I will do a little something tomorrow. I'm trying to follow my new plan, but it's quite different to my old one. The lack of a new goal is not helping at all. Also my friend is coming tomorrow after school - we are doing a language exchange 'thing'. Basically, she teaches me and CC Mandarin and I teach her and her daughter French. All this puts a strain on my running time.

For the last few days I have been seeing adverts for the 'Marathon de Paris' in the Metro newspaper, you know how much I love all things French and I would love to do this marathon. As luck would have it BB mentioned to me just now, before he went swimming, that Runners World, are looking for five people to coach for the Paris marathon who in return will blog about it. Sounds good huh ?

I've read the small print and it sounds like my dream assignment. Even the training days are in Birmingham - my home town.. Let's face it I am looking for another marathon to complete, and I have far more chance of completing this then a novel. I'm quite excited at the thought! Is it meant to be ??

 Ooh la, la ! Bring it on !!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

Oh crikes, I've done it now...

First I was saying recently that I would love to write a novel over on Warren Caterson's blog butI said that l lacked imagination for a decent storyline, characters etc.

Then over on Cottage Smallholder Fiona was saying that she had signed up for National Novel Writing Month and then ohmygosh, I don't know how it happened, but I signed up as well. Damn ! How am I going to find time for that... ? More's the point, what on earth am I going to write about ???

Food for thought eh? This is going to keep me busy for a while.... (smile)

Well I shall keep you all fully appraised of my progress, you never know I might be the next J. K. Rowling.