December 2011

So we watched the Jamie Oliver Christmas shows. Now, we love Jamie Oliver (not in a sexual way, you understand). His early TV shows were superb, as were his first books, and together they made a huge, lasting, positive impact on our cooking. He’s gone on to do Great Things, and we wish him and his expanding waistline all the best.

Excited by some of his seasonal recipes (although a bit weirded out by the number of supermarket packets being used – we’re more used to Hugh’s way of doing things), Her Outdoors made the waffle and hot chocolate breakfast on Boxing Day. Here’s the proof:

I hope I’m not too late to say: Don’t try this at home. It’s utterly inedible. Far too much baking powder and the salt was overpowering (we did substitute salted butter ‘cos we don’t have anything else, but even without it, it would have been an awful waffle). The hot chocolate was OK – superbly thick – but there were complaints of powdery nature. After a single bite each, we gave it all to the pigs and chickens, and Jamie’s reputation took a savage beating.

Although this experiment was a disaster, the idea of waffles and hot chocolate is a good ‘un. And fortunately, Her Outdoors has huge experience in pancakes and waffles, having lived in California for many years. So she took the waffle recipe from “Joy of Cooking” and the real hot chocolate from The River Cottage Family Cookbook, with a couple of minor modifications, and made this:

It was sublime. Exactly what we would have wanted on Boxing Day. Light, fluffy and filling waffle with a rich, sweet and chocolatey drink on the side. Proper – as Jamie would say in the old days – pukka tucker.

This field was prepared by our first set of pigs a few years ago, then harrowed a bit by Pepito but not planted (ran out of time) a year later, then scraped a bit by a tractor and part planted (which the deer ate) the year after that, then double ploughed and double harrowed, rocks removed by hand, hand sown and harrowed again for good measure a few weeks ago. But that’s not important right now.

What is important is that the bit nearest the camera on the left had a few tractor buckets of Pepito manure added to it over the first 30 metres or so (that’s about 30 yards) and that bit’s doing best of all. Plus, that whole left side was sown by Her Outdoors and seems to be doing much better than my half. (The first bit I over-sowed so that doesn’t really count.) And we’re not quite sure why.

But everything in life is an experiment. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this and coming back to the field study from time to time, not least to show Ben and Anna from flirtingwithyurting how their help has helped us.

Merry Christmas by the way.

Her Outdoors set up her stall today for the Lalinde Christmas Market. But just over seven billion of you couldn’t make it (the parking would have been a nightmare) – and if you’re one of those, this is what you missed.

So our mushroom experiments began with the funky looking helvella crispa as described immediately below. Some time later, a trusted neighbour introduced us to the Coulemelle (Parasol Mushroom in English, macrolepiota procera in Biology) seen in a post well below that. Then we tried the also-impossible-to-mistake coprinus comatus (Shaggy Ink Cap, Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Mane) and thought we were doing pretty well, adding one mushroom a year to our diet.

Then 2011 happened. Our first new mushroom of the year was this beauty:

In English it’s called the Beefsteak Fungus (in French, the Beef Tongue, which looks more accurate and, in Latin, fistulina helpatica). Again we checked with our books and pharmacist and we were blessed with finding a textbook example to make it easier to swallow. I now check the base of every tree I pass on the off-chance I’ll spot another, which slows down my walks through the woods – another bonus.

And a few weeks ago, a former neighbour told me about the rosé des prés (Field Mushroom in English, Meadow Mushroom in American, agaricus campestris in Latin) which immediately became Our Favourite Mushroom. A small one, freshly picked, entirely dominates whatever you put it in – and this morning I came back from feeding the animals with two, plus a half dozen Elfin Saddles.

Got to love the rain.

Eating foraged mushrooms is an unnerving experience – especially the first time – very especially when you have young children who couldn’t fend for themselves if you fell dead into your risotto. Which is why we only eat mushrooms that cannot be confused with anything else.

Like this one.

It’s called Helvella crispa (or White Saddle, Elfin Saddle or Common Helvel for short) and is the wildest looking wild mushroom you’re ever likely to pick. It can’t be eaten raw and is a bit of a pain to clean, but well worth the effort.

It’s actually the first wild mushroom we ever ate.

First we looked it up in two mushroom books, which are both in French to add room for error. Then we took it to a pharmacist trained to give safety advice on mushrooms, who didn’t recognise it (a bit of a worry there) and had to call us back to confirm its edibility (which is a word I’ve never written before). Finally we ate it, probably on toast with some cream – and lived to write the blog.

Ever since, we’ve waited for it to appear on the same patch of drive, never knowing exactly when that will be. One year a wild boar got to them before we did (presumably the don’t-eat-raw law doesn’t apply to them) but yesterday I made a momentous discovery while chasing another hunting dog. There’s a second patch of them in the old pig area.

Or at least there was until just before dinner last night. Yum.

The craftiness of Her Outdoors continues in the run-up to the mid-Winter festival. She made this awesome sock monkey using this website, having been inspired by these designs. All she used was a pair of socks, some stuffing, a needle, thread and a couple of hours.

Back in May 2007, I hinted at some books that have profoundly influenced my thinking. I said they “might be a bit New Age for your tastes” and left it at that. (What a book tease.)

But I recently got a message on a Popular Social Networking Service from a former colleague who said I lent her one of those books and it also had a profound influence on her. It just so happens that this was the book that started me off on a journey from the kitchen table in an apartment in Minneapolis to this old garden table in a yurt in the Dordogne.

Who knows where it could take you?

The book is called “Journey of Souls” by Dr Michael Newton. In a sentence, it’s about what happens between the point of death and the point of re-birth, using case studies from many clients under deep hypnosis to tell the whole story. Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for reincarnation and it was great to read about the process in more detail. But it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, so I’ll say no more about it for now.

The other book I’ll give you (it’s nearly mid-winter, can you tell?) is far less challenging. It’s called “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by the astonishingly named Audrey Niffenegger. You may have read this already, but I’m re-reading it now and it’s just as good the second time round. Unwaveringly brilliant (and unless I’m mistaken, a key source text for the current series of “Doctor Who”).