Changes afoot!

Week 6 of the lockdown in France – still doing fine here in Saint-Chinian!!  We’ve had some rain this week, which has been incredibly beneficial for my garden and for nature in general!!  I swear that the potato plants pretty much doubled in size during the three days of soft drizzle!  As I am writing this, the sun has come out once more, and everywhere is beginning to dry out a bit.  It’s still too wet to work in the garden this afternoon, so perhaps I’ll clean the windows instead?? 🙂

Here is a picture I took the day after the rain stopped:

You may know that I’m heavily involved in organising the music festivals in Saint-Chinian.  Our July festival was scheduled for July 19 to 26 this year.  Was because the committee members (of the association which runs the festivals) have had to take a good and hard look at the facts and pronouncements by the French government, and in the end we came to the conclusion that we had better postpone that festival until 2021.  Very sad 😦 , but we had to think of the wider implications for our public and musicians.  Three of the concerts from the July programme were rescheduled and added to the September festival, which will now run from September 2 to 6, 2020.  Of course there is a question mark hanging over that too, but we’re trying to stay positive!!  🙂

Here’s a little summary of what we’ve had to postpone/reschedule:

This is a very difficult time for all of us, but my heart goes out especially  to all the performers, musicians, singers and actors who are deprived of their public!

I am very much looking forward to the day when I will once again be able to attend live performances in person. It will certainly be a moment of intense emotion!  In the meantime, take good care of yourself and continue to listen to music as much as you can!!

Locked in

We’re into week five of the lockdown – at least I think we are, I sometimes lose track of time! 🙂  Last Monday, we had some good news – sort of.  Emmanuel Macron announced that France should gradually come out of the lockdown from May 11th onwards.  There were no indications as to how it could work, but no doubt the details will follow.  Of course, that means that we’re in for a little more than three weeks of staying at home!!  😉

Last Sunday being Easter Sunday, I had planned ahead and bought a piece of saddle of lamb from Boucherie Gerard, my local butcher.  Along with most food shops, Corinne and Nicolas Gerard have stayed open throughout the confinement.  They’ve been incredibly cheerful, and it’s always been a joy to shop there!

I wanted to roast the lamb, but as the joint was relatively small (700 g) I figured that a traditional roast would be somewhat tricky to pull off successfully.  I briefly considered cooking it at a low temperature (80 degrees Centigrade) for many hours but I dismissed that idea too.  In the end, I hit upon cooking the lamb saddle in a salt crust.  I’ve  cooked things in salt crusts a number of times, and it has always worked well for me.  In fact, I’ve previously written about that way of cooking here.  In an old copy of House Beautiful I came across an article by Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in Manhattan, in which she gives directions for cooking beef tenderloin in a salt crust.  I used that as my inspiration!

To begin with, I browned the joint all over in a frying pan.  I started in a ‘dry’ frying pan, i.e. without any fat, and I placed the joint with the skin side in contact with the hot iron first.  It soon started to give up some fat, and that was all I needed to help brown the rest of the meat.  It was quite smoky, so I was glad to have an efficient extract fan above my cooker!

While the meat was browning, I prepared my salt crust.  In a large bowl, I beat an egg white until it was foaming, then I added two kilos of coarse sea salt (kosher salt) and a little water.  The texture was that of sand that’s damp enough to build a sandcastle with.  Below is a picture of the lamb nearing completion of the browning:

I placed a layer of the damp salt mixture on a baking sheet, and put the lamb on top of that:

I then encased the lamb with the remaining salt mixture:

Once it was all covered, I put it in the oven, which I had pre-heated to 130 degrees Centigrade.  Gabrielle Hamilton gave the roasting time for her tenderloin as 45 minutes and I stuck with that.

Here’s what the lamb looked like when it came out of the oven: not all that different to when it went in!! 🙂

I left the meat rest for about 15 minutes, before I cracked open the crust.  It had set very hard, but a sharp blow with the blunt edge of the cleaver soon made it crack!

There was a fair amount of salt clinging to the meat, so I used a pastry brush to get it all off!

I had prepared some mashed potatoes, pan roasted vegetables and mint sauce while the meat was cooking, so I was ready to carve and dish up as soon as the meat had been ‘liberated’ from the crust!

The lamb was wonderfully tender, with just a hint of pink all the way through, and a great savoury flavour. No salt is needed with this method of cooking, the salt crust takes care of all the seasoning!

Best of all, after this wonderful meal there were enough leftovers for lunch the next day!! 🙂

Since it was Easter Sunday, there was a little dessert to end the meal.  I cut a few slices from the lamb-shaped sponge cake I had made, and topped them with a little rumtopf, fruit which had been macerating in rum and sugar for some months!  Simple and oh so delicious!!

How was your Easter meal – did you have any special treats??

It’s virtually Easter!

We’re in our fourth week of lockdown in France!  With lockdowns in place in numerous countries worldwide, it will mean that many people will be celebrating Easter this year very differently compared to previous years!  The churches will be closed, large family gatherings are out of the question, and even family walks are restricted.  I’ll be taking it in my stride, but I feel for those whose lives are being disrupted by being confined to their homes!

I’ll be following some of my Easter traditions such as dyeing hard-boiled eggs:

baking Hot Cross Buns:

and baking a cake in the shape of a lamb:

I will probably prepare Easter lunch using lamb, though this time I won’t leave the shopping to the last minute, as I did back in 2012!! 🙂  You can read my story of that Easter lunch here.

The town of Perpignan won’t be holding its traditional Good Friday procession, but you can have a look at what you’ll be able to see next time you visit around Easter!

Traditionally, families in our area of France (and perhaps in other areas of France too?) will go for a walk on Easter Monday to pick wild asparagus for the Easter omelette.  This year being different, perhaps the omelette may have to be made with bought asparagus, but I’m sure the traditional omelette will be eaten!!

Do you have any Easter traditions you’d like to share?

A picture a month

Back in the last century, in 1999 (remember those days?? 😉 ), I worked on a calendar project with a friend.  She was a professional photographer and I had some computer skills, and so we pooled our skills and resources to produce a calendar illustrated with photographs taken in and of the area.  The calendars were sold to visitors and locals alike – they were very popular!  It was a very enjoyable but one-off project.

Many years later, in 2008, I made a photo calendar for a friend, just a one-off for a Christmas present.  That started a tradition which is still going!  For the past eleven years I have produced a calendar each year, using photographs taken mostly around the area.  I have only ever had a small number of them printed, and I have given the calendars as Christmas presents to friends and family.

A recent conversation with one of my brothers sparked the idea of sharing some of these calendars with you.  Here’s the background to the story: The management team of the nursing home where my brother works, recently decided that they needed new pictures on the walls.  My brother had kept all the calendars from over the years, and he felt that these were just the pictures that were needed!  So the calendars were cut up, the pictures framed and hung up all over the place.  My brother now sees reminders of Saint-Chinian throughout the building!

Here are the pictures from that very first calendar in 2009:

2009 calendar cover

The cover

Landscape near Saint-Chinian

Barrel Cellar, Domaine des Jougla, Prades sur Vernazobre

Pear blossoms, Saint-Chinian

Calla Lily, Saint-Chinian

Redcurrants, Saint-Chinian

Echinacea flowers, Saint-Chinian

Geese, Le Bouys, near Minerve

Casa Milo, Barcelona, Spain

Artemis tinctoria, Saint-Chinian

Vine leaf, near Saint-Chinian

Windmill on the hill above Saint-Chinian

Garden of the Gods, Colorado, USA

The pictures from Barcelona and Colorado were the odd ones out in 2009 – I’d visited both places the previous year, which is why the photographs made it into the calendar!

I’ll be making another calendar this year – I don’t think there’ll be any pictures of far-flung places in it! 🙂