I try and do as little work as possible. In the kitchen, this means using the fewest number of pans to generate the least amount of washing up. Here’s something that’s recently become a weekly ritual that provides five meals from a few vegetables.

Last time I cooked the quiche stage of the process, my mate Philippe – a great chef and all-round excellent person (“un bon mec” in French) – had a taste and recommended a couple of spices to add interest, which you’ll see in a minute.

Meal 1 – roasted veggies

veggie preparation

Use whatever veggies you fancy at the time. Probably best to pick these up on the same day as cooking. I went for a couple of potatoes (boiled from cold for a couple of minutes, then fried in a little oil to start giving it some colour), a sweet potato, a couple of courgettes, an onion, some celeriac, a red pepper (out of season, I know, but so good), a couple of large cloves of garlic, and a couple of parsnips. Looks like I forgot the carrots this time. Pour some olive oil over them and some honey, then mix by hand (I added the potatoes after this, to save burning myself unnecessarily).

Bang them in a high(ish) oven until they look like this (it might have been about 1.5 hours).

roasted veggies

Eat as much as you like (including all the potato – it’s a bit weird in a quiche) and leave the rest for…

Meals 2-5 – veggie quiche

Dig out a couple of spices. On the chopping board, below, are some coriander seeds crushed under a sturdy glass and chopped a bit (I don’t have a pestle and mortar at the moment), some paprika and massala.


Chop your leftover (cold) veggies.

chopped roasted veggies

Stick some pastry in a tray that looks like it will do the job (I leave the pastry – flaky or not – for five minutes in a warm room before opening the packet, to make it more user-friendly, and also leave the grease-proof paper under it during cooking). Grate some cheese onto the pastry, then add the veggies (I added the rest after this photo).

quiche preparation

Beat five or six eggs with a fork (I do have a whisk, but this recipe is destined for a new site where we’ll use the minimum amount of equipment as possible). Add some milk (this bottle was full before – so, not too much) and the spices, and some salt and pepper.

quiche mix

Add this mix to the pan.

quiche before

And put into a high(ish) oven for about 35 minutes, until it looks like this. (I take the grease-proof paper off for a few minutes at the end, to crisp up the pastry).

quiche cooked

Eat one portion hot, then have some cold for lunch on three days. Or an easy dinner. Or a breakfast. (There are no rules.)

I’m currently working on a new website with Philippe, where he will demonstrate, though recipes, how to use spices to make restaurant-quality food you can prepare easily at home. When we have a few recipes up, I will give you the name. This summer’s guests at the écovallée yurt camp will also have the chance to cook with Philippe using veggies from just down the field – and eggs, if needed, from the chicken run.

Spring always arrives too soon – and not soon enough.

Too soon, because we’ve got huge amounts of work to do before the écovallée yurt camp opens again at the end of May.

And not soon enough, because only a polar bear would want to live in winter forever. Not that we’ve had a real winter – just a few months of wet weather and no leaves on the trees.

As always, we’re behind on planting, although this new feature should help extend the growing season:

seed tray

It’s a seedling warmer made from pallets I was allowed to take from the local hardware store. It was made to fit this frame that I saved from the dump a few years ago:

seed warmer

Her Outdoors made a greenhouse for it from yurt window material and the hoops were given to us by a friend clearing out their garden. The insulation’s from Christmas and the wall behind is south facing. The warming device was bought new and will hopefully last a long time. The electricity is 100% renewable from French supplier enercoop.

Traditionally, in this part of France, there’s a risk of frost until April 18th. Last year, the problem was our own rabbits who were released by Pepito (the retired working horse) and gorged themselves on 65 newly plated seedlings in the poly tunnel before heading off into the wild. Which reminds me, I need to fence the poly tunnel. Not even sure that’s on the to-do list.

One of the first things I heard about permaculture was how easy it is – a “no-dig” solution to the world’s insatiable demand for food. My mind conjured up images of someone (me perhaps, or Her Outdoors) wafting seed at the ground, then coming back  later to wander through our very own Garden of Eden, trees dripping and ground heaving with all manner of perfect fruit and vegetables. A smallholder’s paradise, where chickens take care of the pests and all you need to do is lie in the shade and plan what you’re going to do with today’s harvest.

It’s an attractive image, especially when you’ve spent seven years creating this:

veggie patch work

This was our veggie patch yesterday (the first time Her Outdoors has been happy to have it photographed). The ground was initially dug over by pigs, and all the “raised beds” were dug by hand, fertilised with Pepito’s manure, wood ash from our burner, rotated to help prevent disease (“help” is a key word here), nurtured, slaved over, repaired using wood from écovallée and stared at dejectedly. It’s been a labour of necessity, love and hope – and if you’ve ever done any gardening (I haven’t – Her Outdoors did this pretty much on her own), you’ll have looked for an easier way to get the results you want.

So when someone tells you about no-dig food production, you look into it.

Having read a bit and watched a few permaculture videos on youtube, permaculture can be fantastically easy. Provided you have the ground terraformed by JCBs, have uncountable tons of topsoil and manure delivered by fleets of trucks, and a huge amount of money to spend on seeds. Oh, and a sub-tropical climate with massive amounts of rain followed by months of sunlight. And plenty of time. And help.

What if you have none of those things?

One answer, found through permaculture, could be hugelkultur. If this is the first time you’ve come across this excellent word, it won’t be the last. Anyone who’s tried it raves about it. 

Last winter, we built a small “flugelbed” (any Swedish-sounding word works for us) in the polytunnel. It wasn’t a real krugelschmugel – more a raise bed half filled with rotting wood and manure, topped with earth from molehills. It’s been great. Carrots thrived in the sifted soil, free from pests who haven’t evolved to fly up to that altitude. Unfortunately, the deer have enjoyed breaking in and using it as a salad bar, leaving beautifully cropped plants next to telltale hoof prints. Our response will be to create a deer-proof fence around the polytunnel when we get round to it, which will surely do… something.

But that’s not the point right now.

The point is that we’re starting our first shnugelbed outside. It’s a very long-term project but one we’re very excited about. Lacking a JCB, Her Outdoors prepared the area to be used by leaving a tarp on the ground for a year or so. After the rain loosened the clay-heavy soil, she spend a few weeks carefully removing the bindweed:

veggie bed digging

Yesterday the hugelproject looked like this:

veggie bed before

All we needed to do next was place the soil to one side of the (uphill is wise here):

veggie bed after

We’ll be returning to this project regularly to monitor its progress. In a few years, the results should be spectacular.

The chickens have grown:

And happily free-range in the chicken run/orchard meadow:

Which comes complete with its own orchid:

(One of seven different types Her Outdoors has found in écovallée this Spring.)

The pigs have grown:

And still plough into food as though they’ve never seen it before:

The veggies are growing:

(These beds account for the majority of our work right now. It’s hard. But it’ll never be this hard again.)

And yesterday, we started our rainy day project, which involves turning this shabby old caravan:

Into a wet-weather heaven for kids.

Even though we have nothing on paper, it finally feels like we’re going to get this project on the ground. Which means we haven’t been completely wasting our time putting up a polytunnel:

Digging our first veggie beds:

Thinking of a way we can use the water that appears at the bottom of Pepito’s field, flows along under the blackthorn, and disappears into a hole in the ground that, bizarrely, we don’t own:

Or getting a job. Like I just did (more on this, later).