Monday 22 December 2014

Poulet au Vin Jaune

is the name this dish would go by, if I hadn't, in cavalier fashion, changed two of the three central ingredients from the original version. One from the early days of Nico Ladenis, you would have to be either extremely rich or merely deeply stupid were you to follow the recipe as NL describes it (and, what's more, insists that it should be made whilst respecting without question the ingredients as listed). Vin Jaune, an obscure wine from the Jura, retails at around £110 a bottle, these days, and morels - even dried - can rarely be found for less than around £25 for a small jar. Forget it! A perfectly serviceable Gewurtztraminer and a handful of dried porcini work quite acceptably, and all without venturing into the territory of a second mortgage*. For obvious reasons, I can't state precisely to what extent these variations take the end result away from what Mr Ladenis had in mind, but this dish is extremely good as described, and has the advantage of leaving plenty of excellent sauce for other and subsequent uses. The first time I tried the dish was several days before I was responsible for the main course as part of our Masterchef Weekend 2014, and I used the leftover sauce to very good effect on spit-roast rabbit wrapped in prosciutto, which had been stuffed with pancetta and fennel seed. And the reason I'm prompted to post it now is because a variation on the same rabbit recipe (except this time, also stuffed inside a suckling pig) will be taking centre-stage for Christmas dinner, later this week. That being so, and with 'programmed eating' in mind, we'll be having Poulet au Gewurztraminer tomorrow evening....and leaving plenty of sauce at the end!

* since first writing this...I have found the source of this recipe, from which NL originally took it - a book edited by Francis Amanutegui, published in 1970; the author is much less inflexible than NL, and states that in the absence of 'Vin Jaune' 'any dry white wine will do'...  

For Four.

Ingredients: 1 chicken, cut into eight pieces: generous handful of dried porcini; 8 oz butter; half a pint Gewurztraminer; 1 pint cream; flour (to sift); seasoning (to taste)


1. Generously cover the porcini with boiling water and leave to sit for forty minutes or so; then, strain the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, and filter the soaking liquid through kitchen paper. Retain the strained liquid and the porcini. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy ovenproof casserole. Dredge the chicken pieces with flour, and season them with salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken in the butter, enough that they lose their raw appearance, but try to avoid letting them brown.

3. Ensure all the pieces are in one layer in the casserole; cover it, and place into the oven, for about twenty minutes. At the end of this time, drain as much of the melted butter as you can from the pan.

4. Put the casserole back on the hob, without lid, and add to it the mushrooms and their soaking liquid (perhaps half a cup of the liquid, not more). Over medium heat, add to this the wine and the cream, and cook at a gentle simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly to become uniformly velvet in texture. Serve as soon as possible once the sauce has reached this point - if left to sit while you get through other courses, it might risk misbehaving!

Sunday 14 December 2014


so far, is being a month of the elements. It began at three a.m. on the 1st, when I was woken by the sound of rain drumming on the roof overhead, and (sighing) I pushed the bedcovers back in order to go and do the usual. Which, when the rain sounds like that, means having to go downstairs in order firstly to lift the rug in the Tinello, and then to see that there are rolled towels along the bottom of the french windows in the Pranzo. Whichever idiot it was who was in charge of works when they last renovated this house was clever enough to direct all of the drainage from the rooftops of the house, the Teatro Lux next door, and the whole of the southern aspect of the church (probably a couple of acres of rooftop, all-told) into one solitary drain, leading from our courtyard; and if that wasn't enough, they then concreted the entire courtyard, thus making it into an impermeable basin. The combined effect is that when - as happens perhaps half a dozen times a year - we get the sort of intense downpour which reminds us that Pisa is in fact only a couple of miles inland, and so prone to marine squalls, then the volume of water is too much for the drain to deal with, and so... it doesn't. Instead, it backs up, the courtyard fills with water with impressive speed (normally, once it has started to back-up, then within ten minutes the entire place is under about a foot of water, and rising), and water starts to come up through the Tinello floor. I'm never quite sure why the latter happens, but it isn't a big deal; generally, a couple of minutes with a mop and bucket is enough to deal with it, and once the floor is dry once more then the rug goes back into place.

On these occasions, almost invariably worst case is that the water level rises in the courtyard sufficiently to lap the sills of the french windows - a foot above ground, and so not too vulnerable - before the squall passes, and the water disappears again almost as quickly as it appeared in the first place. On one occasion, it started to soak in, through the towels, and all looked a bit worrying, before the rain receded, and the water-level dropped once more - and once, when we were away, in London, water had clearly swept in, throughout the ground floor, and rather dramatically caused a low-lying transformer behind one of the kitchen cupboards to blow, leaving the house without power for a couple of days. Luckily, on that occasion, Olga had come in and dealt with all of the clean-up operation before we returned, and we could subsequently only guess at the impressive nature of the event from finding leaves and other debris from the courtyard in obscure parts of the ground floor over the following weeks. That, and the mangled remains of the exploded transformer, of course.

I expected this time to be no different from others. The rain drummed down, I dealt with the rug and the towels...while the storm got markedly worse, with almost constant crashes of thunder and lightning, and the harsher intermittent sound of hailstones bouncing up from the ground outside and ricocheting against the windows. If anything, the rain got more intense, and the water level was already up to the sills. TD was present by then, and between us we gathered every towel in the house, to increase the defence blockade as best we could. At which point, the water started to flow in under the left-hand french window in the Pranzo, and although I tried to hold towels in place against it, the force was too strong, and in seconds water was flowing in and cascading down onto the Pranzo floor like a miniature version of Niagara. Gallons and gallons per minute. Rapidly, we decided to abandon the Pranzo, and made a dam of towels across the bottom of the doorway into the kitchen, to contain the water in the Pranzo (if possible). TD then realised that water was also cascading from the courtyard into the Pantry, and so he rushed off to do the same across the doorway from the Pantry into the Scullery - even the four-footed's bed had been called into action by that point, and was sacrificed to the greater good as part of the dam structure. He didn't mind at all, as he was finding the whole event quite exciting, until he got shouted at for getting underfoot as I was lifting the dining chairs out of the water to put them on top of the table, after which he retreated to a far corner of the kitchen, to watch events from a distance, in cautious silence.

 And so, the storm passed on, the rain stopped, the thunder and lightning faded into the distance...and the Pranzo was two inches and more under a sheet of water, which reflected the lights from the display cabinets rather prettily, I thought, with reflections of the glass and porcelain inside them, and reflected light shimmered up across the ceiling beams as I waded through the water and started to bale. TD was dealing in the distance with the flood at that end of the house - the Cantina was at least six inches underwater, he reported later - and he got the technological benefit of using the karcher to suck water up by the gallon before depositing it down the sink in the lavanderia, while I baled out the lake in the Pranzo by the age-old expedient of mopping it up with towels and a bucket. Eighteen towel-loads wrung out equalled one bucket-full, to be emptied into the kitchen sink, and then another eighteen, and then another eighteen, and then another eighteen, and get the idea. I think it was after about the fifteenth or eighteenth bucket that I actually began to see little islands of tile appearing here and there above the surface of the water; and then the little islands became an archipelago; and then, it was a floor with puddles on it, rather than vice versa.....and eventually, I was able to remove the towels from the doorway, and (sort of) declare victory.

By the time it was fully light, the house was damp, but no longer flooded, tea had been made, and TD retreated to bed once more, mug of tea in hand, while four-footed and I  regarded each other somewhat balefully, and decided to get on with the day.

So, that was element number one: Water.

Element number two would have to be Earth. The storm gave way to a week or ten days of gloriously sunny weather, perfect for gardening, and the start of the chores I'd lined up for winter. I extended the beds at the top of the North Lawn, to allow for division and replanting of bearded irises, as well as a whole lot of Munstead Lavenders to go in, and I put four new hydrangeas under the edge of the pergola (Kokonoe Tama, Anthony Bullivant, Merveille Sanguine, and Paniculata Sundae Fraise); at the other end of the garden, I put in a couple of hundred flagged iris bulbs (Hildegard - a pale blue, to mix in with the Purple Sensation already there from last year), and added an Indigofera Gerardiana and a Loropetalum to the shrubbery, and replanted a whole lot of bergenias which looked in need of a less sunny spot before next summer;   then, I cleared out the area under the Camellia grove at the end of the agrumi lawn, added a couple more camellias (blush pinks, but nameless) to take the grove down to the edge of the lavender path, and transplanted about fifty ajuga plants from the lower shrubbery, and mixed them in with about forty tiarellas, which I hope will spread to become dense underplanting beneath the Camellias as they mature. Finally, before the weather broke, I planted ten new bamboo plants (phyllostachys bissettii) along the southern perimeter of the garden, which should become a dense screen within a year or two, and shield us from the increased noise and activity that seems inevitable now that the Seminary has handed the pavilion over the the Scouts for their future use.

Loads of earth was involved....wet and rich and dark...and most of it seemingly attached to the four-footed's paws. (I don't understand why it is that the cats, who also come and watch as I work, remain as clean and unsullied at the end as they were at the outset). Four-footed loves gardening, and always joins in enthusiastically, before managing to carry much of the garden back indoors with him again, about his person. Which he knows he does, and by the time I catch up with him, I invariably  find he has already put himself in the bath and is patiently waiting for the water to be turned on and for his paws and tummy to be washed and dried. Actually, he isn't merely 'waiting', since he loves the process almost more than anything else, and the expression on his face as he sits in the bath is a mixture of anticipation and accusation, as though daring me to say that he doesn't on this occasion actually need a bath.

So, plenty of Earth, as element number two.

Element number three: Fire.

The Poles turned up, two days ago, and with minimal fuss and chaos, installed the stovepipe for the wood stove in the kitchen, which has stood there for the past two years merely as a decorative object, while we summoned up the courage to initiate a process of making holes through walls and roofs in order to render the thing operational. As the choices seemed to be either GianCarlo or the Brazilians, our hesitation was entirely understandable. In either case, the process would have resulted in the whole house being  shrouded in dust and clogged with rubble, with who knows what irreperable damage to life and property along the way. Enter Kristoff and his team, and the work was carried out with so little disturbance you'd barely know they'd been there (under the careful and meticulous guidance of the TD, I must add...Kristoff initially appeared to have some ideas of his own about how it should be done, and was firmly but politely put right back on track by the TD - and kept there - with results as indicated). In drilling up through a 40 cm wall, to emerge on the other side of the wall and one floor up, and then to make a hole through the roof exactly the size to accommodate the stovepipe, the Poles made less mess than the four-footed manages on any standard gardening afternoon. And they didn't even jump in the bath and look accusing straight afterwards!

And so, for the past two evenings, the kitchen has been truly home-and-hearth-like, with flames dancing exactly as ordered, and all well with the World.

So by my reckoning, the only element still lacking for the month is Wind - and doubtless Christmas will take care of that! (Later note - it did, but not in the way expected...we had a gale on the day after Boxing Day, and the Christmas tree, out in the barn, blew over rather dramatically in the middle of a tremendous downpour...uprighted subsequently, it resembled a slightly drunken actress, unsteady onher pins, for the remainder of the Christmas period).

Tonight's dinner (post flight - we're about to leave for the airport):

Bouchées à la Reine

Roast Beef, etc

Apples baked in Cream, Brown Sugar and Cinnamon

Thursday 6 November 2014

November Garden

We have had weeks and weeks of (almost) unbroken Indian Summer - which goes some way to make up for the dreariness of the non-summer which preceded it.

The last gasp of greenery, before it all drops...

 The four-footed, on a mission...

Grey Cat, looking winsome, as she tries to ignore the fact that to have reached this spot on the office balcony, she can only have walked right through the deeply-for-cats-off-limits house!

The last al-fresco fact, the last time we ate outside was just before the end of the month. The barn will now be mothballed until Spring for dining, but we can sit beside the wood-stove instead, at the far end of the barn, and convince the locals that we are indeed mad, to be outside at all at this time of year.

Parthenocissus, framing the view of the agrumi lawn.

Last roses - although, in fact, they will probably linger on with infrequent blooms right through until Christmas. This one is Alec's Red - an amazingly fragrant bloom, like concentrated turkish delight. 

And the vivaio, in the old well-house, with the trays of plants at various stages of preparation for transplanting - here: tiarella convoluta, sweet woodruff, and munstead lavenders...

acanthus seeds, bearded iris (I'm not sure what kind, collected from a rather fine germanica we inherited in the wasteland of the garden when we arrived), crinums, dietes bicolore, and a disparate collection of libertia and surprise lilies.

And even a hint of mists, if not of mellow fruitfulness.

Today, of course, we have rain, and a house full of Polish builders, who are - with admittedly impressive housekeeping skills along the way, from which a variety of Brazilian and Italian workmen of our acquaintance could learn much! -  making a complicated hole through an old and very thick wall, to allow a stovepipe to travel from the kitchen on the ground floor and emerge in the dressing room on the first floor, from where it will be childsplay (famous last words) for it to emerge through the roof, and we will thereafter have a fully-functioning wood stove in the kitchen, at long last, with dancing flames, and the whole home-and-hearth thing all ready for the onset of winter. Against a background of drilling and vaccuuming, the four-footed is looking distinctly thoughtful and sticking close, at my feet as I sit here and type.

Dinner this evening, at ths rate, is anybody's guess - it rather depends on the state of the kitchen as the day progresses! Sandwiches, maybe....

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Galmiche's Lemon & Lime Tart

It seems inevitable. Whenever I trumpet a technique as being 'the best way of making...', you can be certain that at some future point I will discover one I think is better. I know I've posted at least two different methods for puff pastry, several years apart, and I'm conscious that I no longer follow the method I described on here for making farmhouse bread (the rising times are shorter, but I now let the flour and most of the water stand for half an hour before first mixing in the yeast - it makes it rise better; the additional step is apparently called 'autolysis'. It works.). In his 'Pedant in the Kitchen', I remember Julian Barnes getting quite aerated on one occasion about the fact that when he rang Jane Grigson ( a  mucker of his wife, so he had the phone number to-hand) to check the detail on one of her recipes he was trying to follow, not only could she not see what his problem was in understanding what she had written, but she further frustrated him by saying airily at the end of the conversation that anyway she 'didn't do it that way any more'. Which I think completely threw him, as the concept of there being more than one way to achieve the desired result was not something he wanted to hear, as he struggled with beating meringue and adding flavouring, or whatever it was, and all he wanted to know was what was 'the right way'. Choice was an undesirable additional that he could do without!
But, the fact is, that all cooks change their minds regularly about their preferred ways of doing things ....sometimes, I suspect, from boredom, and sometimes because they really have found a better way.

Anyway. Lemon Tart. For years, I've been doing it the way I posted on here in 2009 - five years ago! A light lemon-flavoured custard of cream and eggs, set gently inside a pre-cooked shortcrust pastry shell. It is very good....I wouldn't knock it. But this one - recently discovered from Daniel Galmiche's deceptively straightforward Brassierie Cookbook - is better! The appreciative noises around the table at the first mouthful will attest to that. The flavour is intense and edgy, and show-stopping.

For one nine-inch tart (halve the quantities for a 7 inch tart):

Ingredients: shortcrust pastry, made with 10 oz plain flour, 8 oz butter, half tsp salt, and 50 ml water; 1.25 cups sugar; 1 cup lemon juice; zest of 2 limes; 7 eggs; 1 cup cream.

1. Roll the pastry to line the tart form, and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour; heat the oven to 180 degrees C, and bake blind ten minutes with the weights inside and another five without - the pastry should be fully cooked, and biscuity. Reduce the overn temperature to 100 degrees C.

2. Add the sugar to the lemon juice in a small pan, bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce to a low simmer for ten minutes - the quantity should reduce a little over this time. Then, add the grated lime zest and leave to cool, off the heat.

3. Beat the eggs with the cream, and add this to the cool lemon/ugar/lime mixture. Allow to sit for an hour, for the flavours to blend together.

4. Carefully, pour the cream mixture into the tart shell, and bake for approx 45 minutes at 100 degrees C.  Allow to cool before serving. (One additonal option is to sprinkle the surface with icing sugar and brown it briefly with a flame thrower, in order to give the tart a crisp surface; allow to cool once more before serving, if you do this.)

Excellent with vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Pain de Campagne

is how this is described in Robuchon's 'Cuisine Actuelle', a book I have owned for several decades (I think I bought my copy when it had just been published for the first time), but which for some reason I've only recently started to dip into with any serious intent. The Technical Dept disputes the 'Pain de Campagne' moniker, as he says true P de C would not use rye flour, and down in Belforte - where they did their years before the mast, living as true french peasants, and so ought to know their stuff - they also thought it was not exactly the real deal - although good - and thought instead it was more like something they recalled as 'Grandmère's ' loaf. The book was fronted by somebody called Patricia Wells - an american foodie, who's gushy outpourings not infrequently lead her into factual errors in the course of her translation - and so it could be that the error in naming lies with her, and not with Mr R himself. 
When it comes down to it, though, it doesn't terribly matter, as the recipe produces an excellent loaf, which will remain fresh for far longer than you will ever need it to, since the more-ishness of this bread means it doesn't sit around for long at all!

The recipe calls, in part, for 'unbleached plain flour', which can mean anything or nothing, and choice of flour will depend on what you prefer from the choices you have readily available. The first few times I made this, I used 'Gran Tenero 00' as the 'unbleached plain' element, and the result was pretty good - but more recently I've taken to using Manitoba instead, which has a higher gluten content, with the result that the bread rises more fully during baking.

Oh, and for those who do not knead by hand (guilty, as charged - life's far too short), one tip attached as a footnote to this recipe which I have found to be revolutionary, is that when kneading only a small amount (for one loaf, say) then it is much better to use the paddle attachment than to use the dough hook (counter-intuitive, I know), as this results in a dough which has been more thoroughly kneaded and will therefore have a much firmer texture. Simple, but worthy of note. 

For one large loaf:

Ingredients: 425g 'unbleached plain flour'; 225g rye flour; 15g fresh yeast; 16 fl oz tepid water; 1 tsp sugar; 1 tbs salt; 1 tbs clear honey.


1. Crumble the yeast into half the water, add the sugar to this, and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

2. Add the yeast-liquid to the mixing bowl, add half of each of the two flours, and mix briefly for two or three minutes. Cover the bowl with a dampl cloth, and leave to prove for half an hour.

3. In the remaining 8 fl oz of water, thoroughly dissolve the salt, and add this to the mixture in the bowl. With the paddle at low speed, gradually add the remaining plain and rye flour, and then slightly increase the speed to knead the dough thoroughly.

4. Knead for five minutes, then add to the mixture the spoonful of honey, and knead for a further five minutes. The dough should be relatively firm by this stage. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for a minute or so - I'm not sure whether this is because the warmth from your hands has some alchemical effect, or whether it is only by working it in this way that you can be certain the dough is firm enough; certainly, if it is too sloppy to be able to knead properly by hand, then you must add more flour until the dough is firm enough to be able to work by hand. Return the dough to the bowl, cover again with the damp cloth, and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes. ( I always leave it in the oven, with the door closed, and a roasting pan filled with biling water in the bottom of the oven).

5. Take the risen dough form the bowl, and one more knead it on a floured surface for a minute or so, before forming it into a ball, and puttting it onto a greased baking tray.  Flour the surface of the dough generously, and loosely place the damp cloth back over it. Leave in the warm place to rise again for an hour.

6. Forty minutes into the rising time, pre-heat the baking oven to 250 degrees C. Twenty minutes later, after an hour's rising, remove the damp cloth and make a few slashes in top of the risen dough, to allow it to rise properly when baking.

7. Bake for twenty minutes at 250, then twenty minutes further at 190 degrees. Keep an eye on it towards the end, to ensure it doesn't get too dark on top - if it seems in danger of doing so, and you want to take it out of the oven several minutes short of the specified time, it is properly fine to do so.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Finally, summer...

While the UK appears to have been sweltering, in Tuscany we've had the worst weather for July in living memory. Rain, followed by more rain, and then.....rain. In July. When, normally, there would be weeks on-end of cloudless days, and every morning would start with yet another clear blue sky.....and, by now, I would be getting more than a litle thoughtful about whether the water supply would keep going until the arrival of rain in September.

And cold, too. In any normal year, the dining room is mothballed from mid June for the next three months, while we dine either in the barn or else in the courtyard. Well, this year, it has been un-mothballed on quite a few occasions, and we've supped indoors, to the sound of the rain cascading down torrentially outside the windows. When I was having my hair cut, the other day, Monica reported grumpily that her friend had just spent a week in Ireland, where they had day after day of temperatures in the thirties, and sun the whole time (mind you, conversation with Monica is generally of the downbeat if-your time-has-come-then-there's nothing -you-can-do-about-it sort of cheeeriness, so no change there), while we here in Pisa were suffering a summer the like of which she'd never known before!

You might think the italians would be blasé by now about sunny weather, but in fact they seem to need it, like  Dracula needs sundown. Default mode for any italian is to spend the day at the beach if they possibly can - which may go some way towards explaining the current state of the italian economy. Bad weather in summer sends them into a frenzy of despondency.
So, now, even though we're already into August, they can start to cheer up. The sun is out, the forecast is good, everything is green and lush and growing like crazy, the wells are full to overflowing, and all just in time for the annual shut-down.

Tonight's Dinner:

Savoury Clafouti.

Salmon, in chive sauce, on potato and thyme galettes.

Chocolate petits pots à la crème, with lemon madeleines

Thursday 24 July 2014

Crème Brulée Pomme Verte

There's a lot to be said for a well-made Crème Brulée...including the fact that they aren't that easy to find. There seem to be many ideas of what constitutes a good one - how thick or how light, with or without the addition of soft fruit or other things to be discovered under the Crème, and whether the crust should be light and delicate, or dark and practically impenetrable - and even more different methods of making the thing. I've tried versions from Pierre Hermé, Loubet, Leith, Galmiche, Marco-Pierre...and probably many others that I can't even particularly remember. Almost all use bains maries; some pre-cook the crème as a custard, and others go straight from the egg mixture to the oven; temperatures and timings vary wildly, and so do the end results.
This version was discovered somewhere on the internet by the Technical Dept - I suspect it might have been on the Vedrenne website, in fact - and passed on to me. Technically, I don't think it can be bettered, and it has become my standard.

I first discovered Vedrenne Pomme Verte sirop a decade or so ago, when I was in search of Vedrenne sirops at a reasonable price, and tracked down the UK importer - a genial chap, based somewhere in Oxfordshire. He was quite happy to supply me, as long as I bought a minimum of a case of a dozen litre bottles at one time; and since the case could be mixed, I happily chose at random from a whole list of flavours I'd never previously heard of, to supplement the Framboise, Cassis, and Pêche de Vigne flavours that were what I was really after. And amongst them was Pomme Verte. A novelty, smelling intriguingly of almonds, I was initially at a loss about how I could use it - as with all sirops, the flavour disappears if cooked too robustly. In practice, it is good if added to other things, to give them a kick...a spoonful added to apple sorbet as it churns, for example, or added to the custard for a tarte normande, or a flavoured filling to go inside a crêpe. And, for something like crème brulée, it is perfect.

Oh, it is excellent also in a large,chilled gin and fact, I'm almost tempted to say that that is its best use of all!

If you leave out the sirop in this recipe, then the recipe works either as the base for a differently-flavoured Crème Brulée, and if you don't bother with the burnt topping, then the recipe is effectively the same as for a petit pot à la crème.

For two individual servings.
Ingredients: 125 ml cream; 125 ml milk; 3 egg yolks; 15g sugar (for the base); 2 tbs Pomme Verte sirop; caster sugar, for the topping.


1. Heat the oven to 90 degrees C.

2. Put the cream and milk into a simmertopf, and leave over a gentle heat for a few minutes, to heat through.

3. Beat the egg yolks and 15g sugar, until pale yellow.

4. Add the heated milk/cream to the egg mixture, along with the Pomme Verte, and whisk to incorporate.

5. Divide this mixture between two ramekins, and place in the pre-heated oven, on  baking tray (no bain marie!) for 40 minutes. At the end of this time, they should be quite firm - if they aren't, they should firm up whilst cooling after they've been taken out of the oven.

6. Once they have coled down - after twenty minutes or so - place in the fridge to chill for at least two hours.

7. Thirty minutes or so before serving, sprinkle the tops with a covering of caster sugar, and use a blowtorch to caramelise the sugar to a dark brown. Place the ramekins back in the fridge after this, until you want to serve them.

For perfection, serve with puff pastry sugar twists.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Garden Update

As usual, Tempo Italia has got the forecast wrong almost every day this week. Thursday - a dry day, according to TI - saw thunderstorms and downpours; today, is apparently cloudy, with a maximum of about 25 degrees (the photographs were taken about twenty minutes ago, and show a somewhat different story,  with a  temperature way up in the thirties...too hot to be doing anything other than a little light pruning,in the shade, and definitely not the serious hoeing I had in mind).

The mallows are in bloom - and will flower now through  until the end of the summer - and the hemerocallis are showing their colours in staggered glory. The roses are getting into their stride for their second flowering of the year (apart from the climbers, some of which will favour us with the occasional flower, from time to time, but they won't repeat their earlier magnificence again until next year).
Tulbargias and agapanthus are also coming on strongly, and as the arborescens and quercifoglia hydrangeas start to show signs of fading, the macrophyllas are still doing well, and buds on the paniculatas are gathering strength.
And, as ever, we have an eu-sized fruit glut. The red plum tree is almost done, having furnished fruit for jam (around ten kilos), tarts, sorbet, consumed with yoghurt, and given to friends; the yellow plum tree is groaning beneath the industrial quantities of large, succulent fruit (which we haven't even started to pick, yet); we've just picked the nectarines, which will keep us going for quite some time; fortunately, the remaining peach tree is a late-fruiter, so we have a bit of a breather before that has to be dealt with, but in the meantime the fig trees (both purple and green) will be will the pear trees, and the apples soon after that. The quinces are a whole other issue - but one where I can happily leave the fruit on the trees until well into the autumn. And then, of course, there are the almond trees and the hazelnuts...which are wondeful in theory, but where dealing with the shells is a whole different kind of challenge.
Oh, well. There are plenty worse problems to have than that. And for now, I think an undemanding wielding of the seccateurs on the roses around the upper terrace, and then a refreshing glass of white wine before siesta beckons...

Tonight's dinner:

Prosciutto and Melon.

Rabbit in white wine and celery; fennel in cream and pernod.

Tarte Bordaloue.

Friday 20 June 2014

Courgette Tourte

This is a hybrid, from Roux (from their Carrot Tourte, which has apparently been on the menu at Gavroche since the dawn of time), Grigson (who gives a recipe for courgette tart which works on the basis that enough other things are added to give the thing a semblance of flavour, given that in Grigson's opinion, courgettes are a junior relation of the vegetable marrow and therefore essentially worthless), and Wolfert (for the idea of courgettes sliced thinly, and then sautéed gently in butter and thyme).  The structure is really that of a pithiviers with a steam hole in the top. Overall, the result is light, delicious, and generally likely to get the tastebuds working overtime.

For Four, as a starter.

Ingredients: Puff pastry, sufficient to make 8 x 10 cm discs, when rolled to a 2mm thickness (if using commercial pastry, I imagine this equates to less than a normal 'packet'; if using homemade, then pastry made with 250g flour and 250g chilled butter will give you more than enough for this recipe, with enough left over for something else); 60g butter; 1 clove garlic, minced; 2 medium-large courgettes; half a medium onion; quarter cup cream; 2 tbs grated parmesan; 1 tsp dried thyme; 2 tbs olive oil; 1 sprig rosemary; 3 tbs cream; half a cup of dry white wine; salt and pepper.


1. Finely dice the onion and one of the courgettes. Melt a third of the butter in a small pan. Sauté  the diced onion and garlic for several minutes, until softened, and then add three quarters of the diced courgette. Cook this mixture until thoroughly collapsed, add the cream and continue to cook until the cream has visibly thickened;  remove from heat, stir in the parmesan, taste and season accordingly.

2. Finely slice two thirds of the remaining courgette, and finely dice the remainder (to be added to the unused dice from step 1). Melt another third of the butter in a large frying pan, with the oil,  and sauté the slices at high temperature, just to colour; turn them half way through. When cooked, sprinkle lightly with salt and with the dried thyme.

3. Roll out the pastry to 2mm thickness, and cut out 8 circles of 10 cm diameter. In the centre of four of them, cut out a circle approx 2.5 cm in diameter (I don't have a cutter this small, and so use the large end of a piping nozzle as a guide instead). Egg wash, made from 1 beaten egg and a little water.

4. On each of the four intact circles of pastry, make a layer of sautéed courgette slices, leaving a rim of uncovered pastry of approx 1 cm all round. The point of this step is to make a membrane that will stop the courgette filling leaching into the pastry as it cooks and making it soggy, so there should be no obvious gaps in this layer. Divide the courgette-parmesan mixture in four, and place a heaped tablespoonful on each pastry base. Lay a second layer of courgette slices over the top of the mixture. Brush the exposed edge of the pastry with water, and then place the lids over each tourte, and ease down to meet the exposed lower rim. Press together to seal.

5. Place the tourtes on a baking tray. Brush the surface of each one with egg wash, and leave in the fridge for at least twenty minutes.

6. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, and bake for fifteen or twenty minutes, until puffed and brown.

7. Meanwhile, sauté the remaining diced courgette in the remaining oil and butter, until softened, then add the white wine, and simmer for ten minutes or so. Blend this mixture, then add rosemary, finely chopped, and cream. Check seasoning, and simmer until slightly thickened.

8. Once the Tourtes are baked, spoon some sauce onto each of four plates, place Tourtes on top, and serve.

Sunday 1 June 2014

And so, it begins...

the summer watering. In fact, we've been relatively fortunate in not having much hotter weather before now, since this has meant much more opportunity to ease into the watering-dominated mindset that will be the rule between now and the inevitable rain in September.

With twelve separate battery-operated watering sysems around the place, all of them due to operate at different times during the day, and all of them prone to battery failure, split tubes, punk connections, defunct timers, or blocked filters...not to mention the more serious problems, like stripped casings, or the fuse going caput for the pump in the well-house keeps us on our toes. It is almost inevitable that just at the moment when one is sitting back, secure in the knowledge that the garden is happily being hydrated all by itself, the eye is drawn to a hydrangea suddenly alarmingly on its last legs, and all due to the over enthusiastic activity of a hedgehog, possibly, or else a dog having tripped over a tube in pursuit of an interesting smell in the undergrowth. Dogs aren't the best at reporting back that they've just disconnected the water supply to the lower pasture, and are prone to wander home instead in search of dinner, oblivious to the chaos they've left in their wake.

And it isn't just getting the thing back working properly as it was doing this time last year, but remembering to include coverage of all the additions to the garden since the system was last needed, back at the start of last autumn. It seems slightly incredible, but I realise now that over a hundred new plants have been introduced since October, all of which need to be plumbed in...hydrangeas (28), dwarf bamboo (36), large bamboo (5) roses (9), camellias (5), azaleas (4), bergenias (6), calycanthus (2), abelias (6), catalpas (3) a couple of dozen things which have been relocated or divided or whatever, but which in their new positions risk being left high and and very definitely dry. Technical Dept is working his way through the list, but every so often there's an Emergency Ward 10 moment, when somebody realises a plant has been overlooked and is gasping, and immediate attention is needed in the form of yet more black tube, and an appropriate dripper or mister or spray.

Fortunately, the water supply is seemingly endless (which is, of course tempting fate, merely to say it). We've always thought the supply from the larger of our two wells is astonishingly generous, and we began by thinking the well must both be enormously deep, and that it refills, once used, very quickly; then we thought that there must be a very large underground cistern of some kind, which holds vast quantities, or that the well linked with a fold in the aquifer. Whatever the explanation, it has obviously always been like that, as old maps of Pisa from several hundred years ago actually pinpoint the well within the city plan. Now, however, we think we've got the real explanation: a relatively recent topographical survey has revealed that in Roman times, in addition to the Arno (Arnus) running through what is now the centre of town, there was also a second river called the Auser, which appears to have been connected in some way to the Serchio, Lucca's rather unlovely river.

The Auser snaked around, and bifurcated and had secondary channels all over the place, one of which appears to have run along what is now the north  boundary of our garden, before going along what is now the north wall of the church, and then looped up to the football stadium (as is) and down again, to bifurcate once more, and run north and south of the Campo dei Miracoli. In fact, it just brushes against the site of the Leaning Tower, and is probably the reason for the lean. Because, although it hasn't been visible for many centuries, it appears still to be there, but underground. Hence the reason for the tilt, as the river washes through the foundations of the Leaning Tower, and for our seemingly endless supply of water, as we drain off hundreds of gallons of water on a daily basis, with no apparent loss of level (well, not before the water table drops, by the end of the summer, at any rate). Which is all to the good for both Galileo and me.

Tonight's dinner:

Fettucine with Walnut Pesto.

Veal in a curry-infused cream sauce; basmati  rice.

Coffee-meringue vacherins, with creme chantilly and blackberries macerated in orgeat.

Friday 23 May 2014

Scallops with Leeks

From Roger Vergé. Not only is this quick, easy and delicious, but it has the advantage of providing an excellent sauce - and I mean really excellent! - which can subsequently be used to lift other dishes that might otherwise be a little pedestrian. The first time of making it, I used the sauce afterwards for two other dinners: firstly with pigeon (boned and roast, and served on a bed of braised cabbage), and later on with ravioli, with a duck stuffing. Somehow, away from its original use the sauce loses any suggestion of fishiness, and becomes just anonymously good, but completely beguiling, whatever it accompanies. There's almost an argument for making  the recipe, just to have the extra sauce around for later.

For two.

Ingredients: 6 scallops, coral on or off, as you prefer; approximately 1 cup of dry white wine; 2 oz butter; 1 medium sized leek; quarter cup of cream; salt.


1. Melt half the butter in a shallow pan, add to it the finely sliced leek, cover with water (just - you don't want it to swim), salt lightly, and cook gently for about twenty minutes, until the leek is properly soft.

2. Towards the end of the leek cooking time, melt the remaining butter in a small pan, and to this add the scallops, each sliced horizintally in half. Add the wine, and cook for a minute oir two, just until the scallops are firm.

3. Drain the leeks of their cooking liquid (but retain the liquid), and divide between two heated plates. Put the cooked scallpos on top, and then combine the cooking liquids from the two pans, add the cream, and boil down rapidly, to reduce. As soon as the sauce starts to thicken, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, then spoon some of the sauce over the scallops, and serve immediately.

With luck, you will have a decent amount of sauce left over, to be used subsequently practically on whatever savoury dish you feel like.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Puff Pastry - the acme!

Years ago, I blogged the method I used at that time to make Puff Pastry.

Well, now I have a better - much better !- one. From the ever-reliable late Gaston Le Notre's technically splendid volume on pastries and desserts, this version produces pastry which puffs stratospherically every time, with a lightness and a buttery richness which is completely incomparable. There are a few tricks to getting it right:

1. Work very quickly, when rolling and folding the pastry. The longer you take, the longer the warmth from your hands is causing the butter inside the pastry to start to melt, which causes holes, which leads to disaster.

2. Use plenty of flour when rolling. And I mean plenty. This means that if any butter does start to poke through, the sprinkled flour reduces the risk of the whole process descending into a chaotic sticky mess.

3. When rolling the pastry before folding it, roll almost to each end of the strip, but never completely over the end - I'm not entirely sure why this works (TD has explained it to me, but...) but  by not closing off the ends of the rolled pastry, it seems ultimately to allow the pastry to puff much more majestically.

4. Make a large amount of pastry in one go, rather than faff around with making a smaller quantity. The quantities given here might seem improbably generous, but you can either put some into the freezer for a later date (something I generally avoid, as the freezer for me represents a gaping pit into which things have a tendency to disappear, only to emerge once more several aeons later as intriguing packages from another age - I now try to work on the basis that if something isn't going to come out of the freezer again and actually be consumed within a week or so, then it shouldn't go in at all), or else plan your menus to use the pastry up over three or four days. The last time I made a batch f pastry this size, within the course of a week, it was used for Sea Bass & Fennel en croute (main course), carrot tourte (starter), Feuillete of Leek and Chicken Livers (starter), Tarte of Sun-dried tomatoes and Chevre (starter), Apple croustade( dessert), and Tarte Tatin (Dessert). 

Ok. The process:

Ingredients: 500g flour; 75g butter; 1 cup water; 2 tsp salt; 500g chilled butter.


1. Process everything apart from the chilled butter into one homogenous lump. Wrap in clingfilm, and leave in the fridge for two hours.

2. Take the chilled butter and between two sheets of clingfilm, press it roughly into a square approximately 7" x 7". (I do this manually, by pressing down with my hands; some people talk of needing to use a rolling pin or a heavy weight to do it, which I don't find necessary. You might want to cut the butter into bits and reassamble them, to facilitate manipulating the butter more readily into the right size and shape that you want to up with).

3. Take the base pastry from the fridge, and on heavily floured surface, roll it out into a square about 14" x 14 " - you need to be able to put the square of butter onto the square of pastry, and to fold the pastry such that the butter is completely enclosed.

4. As stated, put the square of butter onto the centre of the square of pastry, and fold the pastry over the butter entirely to encase it. Immediately turn the pastry package over, so the join is underneath, sprinkle it  generously with flour, and roll it into a strip about 24" long x 6". Fold the strip legal-letter-style into three, then turn it over, with the join underneath; sprinkle with flour and roll again into 24" x 6"; and then repeat this a third time, before wrapping the folded pastry in clingfilm, and placing in the fridge for an hour. (Hint: when rolling the folded pastry into a strip, I find it helps to start by pressing down half a dozen times or so with the rolling pin  to flatten the pastry, before then quickly rolling the flattened pastry into the requisite strip. Doing this reduces the amount that the pastry is worked, and is therefore a good thing.)

5. After an hour,   take the pastry from the fridge, and repeat three times the rolling and folding process, remembering to flour generously at every stage. Then, back into the fridge for a further hour, before repeating a further three rolls and turns. The pastry can then be used - although, should you be so minded, a further hour's rest and three more rolls and folds can't possibly hurt.

After that, the world is your oyster!

Friday 4 April 2014

Holy Water

Intrigued recently by a reference in Madame Prunier's classic tome on Fish cookery to a 'Crêpe Prunier' which contained, amongst other things, a healthy slug of something called Liqueur Trappistine, I've been idly looking into the history of monastic tipples. I'd never heard of Trappistine before. An early volume of Larousse 'Dictionnaire Universelle' stated that it was another name for Benedictine, and is made by the Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Fecamp, in Normandy...although, this factoid was shortly thereafter brusquely consigned to the dustbin in an 1892 article in The New York Times, where the confusion of Benedictine with any kind of Trappistine hooch was shown to be nonsense - as, indeed,  was the idea of  Benedictine monks hoiking up their cassocks to produce industrial quantities of any kind of rather sickly liqueur. To the extent that a liqueur trappistine exists commercially at all, it originates with the trappist monks at the convent of Notre Dame de Tamié, in Savoy...and is first cousin to other, probably equally questionable, gut-rots such as Chartreuse, and the intriguing Cordelière, made by the canons of La Mothe, in Lorraine, and which was of such impressive strength that it was apparently successful in seeing off the plague which ravaged central France between 1630 and 1637.
What was more definitively consigned to the dustbin by the New York Times journalist, in January 1892, however, was the whole load of blarney associated with the benedictines being hard at work churning out their famous tipple by the barrel load. Investigation of a report from several weeks earlier of a disastrous conflagration at the Abbeye de Fecamp, complete with cowled monks battling the flames in a attempt to save their precious production, revealed that there was no Abbeye, there were no monks, and that the whole Benedictine 'story' was a fairytale dreamed up by an imaginative local boy with an eye to the main chance.
What, in this day and age, would be explained as merely a creative approach to marketing. The conflagration had been at his factory, which was of industrial proportions, and certainly had more substance to it than his claim to be following an ancient recipe he had 'found' in an old book, preserved from the monks' library which had existed before the revolution. It even identified by name its medieval inventor, and came up with an apocryphal visit to Fecamp by Francois I, who (inevitably) gave to the drink an unqualified seal of royal approval.
Mind you, the association with Benedictine of all sorts of creative nonsense doesn't appear to have ended back in 1892. A trawl online about the stuff uncovered the claims that apparently it is the favourite tipple of the supporters of Burnley FC, and that the Burnley Miners Club is the single largest consumer of Benedictine anywhere in the world. I say 'apparently' since these claims seem curiously reminiscent of the gem which appeared in Norman Mailer's Wikipedia entry shortly after his death stating that he had been a lifelong supporter of Bristol Rovers, and which was unthinkingly repeated in the obituaries of Mailer published thereafter by certain particularly witless journalists. When it comes to that particular fact, or a mouthful of benedictine, I'm unclear which of the two would be the harder to swallow.

Tonight's dinner:

Courgette Soufflé

Duck Breast, with red-wine sauce; potato galettes.

Tarte Tatin of Apple and Rosemary.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Wine Tart from the Vaudois

This is my version of something which comes from Fredy Girardet - and both the recipe and the author are a splendid new discovery for me. These past few months, I've been aggressively re-visiting the work of 'starred' french (and french-ish, extending into Belgium and Switzerland, and even into the UK, with the Roux brothers) chefs from the eighties, which were IMHO a culinary high-point. Girardet is amongst the previous unknowns (to me) from that period, and his 'Cuisine Spontanée', of which I tracked down a copy in January, has seen much use in my kitchen over the past few weeks.
These days, it's rare that I come across a new recipe which I can't immediately place as some kind of variation on a familiar theme - roasting, braising, boning, baking...the number of techniques available for use is limited, and within them, the changes are generally rung in the form of relatively subtle new combinations of flavours and textures. And, after a while, everything can be pretty much seen to be a first or second cousin of something I know from before - which might sound boring, but in fact is anything but...think of them rather as old friends that one's happy to rediscover!  This recipe, however, I can relate to nothing I've previously come across. The pastry case is not blind-baked...a detail which I found almost sacriligious, and which I mistakenly chose to ignore the first time I tried the is brief and at a fierce temperature...the filling contains no eggs, and rather than being 'set', is effectively 'melted' inside the pastry shell, and then firms properly only as it cools down after cooking.
On a practical level, as long as you have the pastry ready in the fridge, then this is another of those dishes that finds a home in the 'Oh, God - it's that time already, and I haven't even started anything for dinner yet' category. Pre-heat the oven, roll the pastry, mix the filling...all of which might take five minutes, and then let it bake for a quarter of an hour and you're done. If you're really running late, then this is best made as individual tarts, which don't have to cool down completely before being served; if you make a large tart, and then try to slice it before it has properly cooled, then the filling will flow as you cut into the pastry shell, and the result on the plate is less than picture perfect. It all tastes the same, though...

For two individual tarts (for one 8" tart, multiply the filling ingredients by 150%):
Pastry (made with 10 oz flour, 8 oz butter, a pinch of salt and 50 ml cold water - this is enough to make many tart shells, both large and small, but these are the proportions I use to make a standard batch of pâte brisée, which goes into the fridge and generally gets used up over a week. In his version for this recipe, Girardet uses a pastry made with baking powder...don't. I've tried it and the result is sub-standard.); 120g sugar; 10g flour; 1 generous tsp ground cinnamon; 100 ml white wine; 10g butter.

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees C.
2. Roll out the pastry, to line two individual false-bottomed flan rings, which have already been greased, and placed on a baking tray.
3. Mix together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and wine. Carefully pour this mixture into the two pastry cases.
4. Finely dice the butter and scatter it over the surface of the two tarts.
5. Place the baking tray at the bottom of the pre-heated oven, and leave to bake for about fifteen minutes; keep an eye on the tarts as they cook, to ensure the pastry doesn't go too far.
6. Once the pastry has turned a deep brown and the filling has bubbled inside the pastry shells, remove them from the oven, and set aside to cool down for at least half an hour, before serving.

Friday 14 March 2014


has largely passed us by.
And we've headed instead straight into summer.

After a winter that was so short and mild that it was hardly noticeable...not a single frost...

which is mildly unnerving in terms of likely levels of pest-life, later in the year...

but, it has definitely had its upside, in terms of general quality of life during the normally deeply dreary weeks of January and February.

We've had three times the usual level of rainfall for this time of year (but then, who hasn't?), and have wells currently full to the brim...which should stand us in good stead at least until the middle of summer.

Camellias are currently in bloom - although showing signs that they will soon finish, for this year - and the azaleas are now just starting to flower.
The tulips and narcissi, which are heavy with still unopened buds, risk being overtaken by events, given the temperature in the garden yesterday, when I was cutting the grass, and felt that being in shirtsleeves was already 'overdressed'.

And, soon, it will be time to start to plant out the seedlings -several hundred of them - which have been doing their stuff over the past few months in the propagation unit we contrived in the old wellhouse, at the far end of the garden.

Tonight's Dinner:
Bouchées a la Reine
Boned lamb shoulder, stuffed with garlic & anchovy

Turkish Lemon Pudding

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Chocolate Soufflé Crêpes with Orange Sauce

The recipe - or rather, the version I've always used, as I think it can be found in quite a number of books, these days -  comes from Michel Roux, with the sauce imported from a Fredy Girardet recipe where he uses it to coat a construction of vanilla ice cream encased in a warm crêpe, which is then passed under the salamander. I remember being deeply nervous the first time I made this souffle crêpe recipe, with the misplaced fear that the whole thing was extremely fragile and delicate and that it therefore  risked falling to pieces when being transferred from baking tray to serving plate. In fact, it's perfectly robust, and requires no more complicated treatment than to be scooped up with a fish slice and plated, quite unceremoniously, on a decently warmed plate, before the sauce is poured next to it.

The first three steps of the recipe can be done in advance, but thereafter you need to do the remaining steps just before serving - the oven stage is quick, and it might take only around five to six minutes from starting to assemble the crêpes and souffle mixture to actually serving the completed dessert.

To serve six

For the crêpes:  20g cocoa powder; half tbs icing sugar; 10g flour; 2 medium eggs; 1.5 fl oz cream; 2 fl oz milk. Icing sugar, for shaking over the finished dessert.
For the souffle mixture: Crème Patissière made with 1 egg yolk, 20g sugar, 7g flour, and 80 ml milk;  35g cocoa powder; 4 egg whites; 60g sugar.
For the sauce: grated zest and juice of one orange; juice of one lemon; 140g sugar.

1. For the crêpes, liquidize all ingredients together; using the standard technique, use this mixture to make six crepes, and set to one side. Once cool, use a sharp knife and a cake ring (or any other appropriate sized circular form) to cut from the centre of each crêpe a perfect circle of about 6" diameter. Leave these on a plate covered with clingfilm until needed.
2. If the creme patissière is cold, reheat it gently in a double boiler, and stir in the cocoa powder.
3.  Put the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, and simmer for five minutes or so, until thickened and slightly reduced.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

4. Whisk the egg whites until half-risen, then add the sugar by spoonfuls as you continue whisking until the egg white makes soft peaks. Stir a third of the beaten whites into the crème patissière, and then fold in the remainder. 
5. On each of 2 greased baking trays set out three of the crêpes. To the right of the centre of each one place a generous spoonful or two of souffle mixture - approx 3/4 cup of mixture per crêpe - and fold the 'empty' half over the mixture, to make a semi-circle.  When all six are ready, place them in the pre-heated oven.
6. Re-heat the sauce.
7. Watch through the oven door as the souffle mixture cooks and rises, and fills the crêpes as it does so. It should take about five minutes in total to cook - you'll have to judge by eye when they look done.
8. Take the trays from the oven, shake icing sugar over the top, and quickly transfer the crêpes to warmed plates to serve, with a generous spoonful of sauce poured alongside each one.

Monday 17 February 2014

The Four footed...

...has found some new friends.

The two kittens from the Teatro Lux, next door. One a sleek, elegant dark grey, and the other a very fine brindle, which in italian, rather fetchingly, is called 'tigrato'. History does not relate what happened to their siblings - there were originally five of them, I think - or indeed their mother, all of whom were in residence last summer, and we would sometimes see numerous pairs of bright little eyes gleaming at us from the darkness of the Teatro boiler room, which is behind the gate which leads off our courtyard. Whilst it would be good to think that they all have good, warm, comfortable homes with loving new owners, the standard of care these two get from the people at the Teatro - generally shut up 24/7 in a windowless concrete space, either with constant electric light or else in pitch darkness, and fed in industrial quantities only every two to three days - suggests otherwise. Probably better not to dwell on that detail. Anyway, these two appear to be the remaining cats-in-residence.

And, over the past few weeks, they appear to have been indicating a preference for a new residence, and we have often found them at night on the decking terrace, snuggled up against the warmth of the stove pipe, and, after a while,  with their faces pressed against the windows, watching what was happening inside the house.
Four-footed was fascinated, although I expected ructions were they ever to meet, since he gives short shrift to any cat foolish enough to wander into his garden when he happens to be taking the air.
I started to give them milk, on occasion, mindful of their erratic feeding schedule - although they sometimes seemed more interested in company and in exploring beyond the magical windows than in consuming the milk.

And then, on one occasion, I opened the french windows onto the terrace, thinking it cat-free, and four-footed wandered out, only to find that the brindle cat had been curled up under the over-hanging branches of the orange tree at the top of the roof, and a cautious encounter took place. While I watched, half-thinking I'd witness either a dash across the rooftops of cat pursued by a welsh springer, or else of said welsh springer plunging foolishly into the courtyard below. Neither event occurred, and instead there was a careful (on cat side) and tail-waggingly excited (four-footed) touching of noses, as they made each other's acquaintance. All of which was fine.

Following which, several days later, when the team arrived to plant all of the new trees (yes, they are all in, and look splendid!), I heard feline complaint from behind the door to the cats' concrete cell, which opens onto the lane, and opened it, to find the grey cat there, clearly intent on joining in. Which it proceeded to do, watching as the trees were planted, and socialising intently with four-footed at the same time, rubbing against him, and flirting outrageously, rolling on her (? I'm not sure) back, tummy exposed, and batting at the dog's nose with a free paw.

The long and the short of it is, I think, that the cats are bored. I let them both out of their prison yesterday, and they and the four-foooted had a fine time, playing in the sun and generally enjoying themselves....and then, when four-footed accompanied me to do some work in the old orchard - which the cats probably thought too far-flung for comfort - the cats remained back near the house, and watched as the Technical Department worked on knitting together the bits of fence which needed repairing post-tree-planting (we'd decided in the end that it was easier to take apart the fence, in order to plant the mature catalpas as from next door, and then to repair the fence around the trees).
When it came to bedtime, the cats showed a marked reluctance to go home for the night, and I discovered the truth behind the phrase concerning the difficulty of herding cats - I could get one comfortably behind the door at a time, but never the two of them at the same time, and in the end neither of them would come close enough to be picked up and coralled. So, they stayed out all night, and in fact I think they camped out in the barn, making themselves comfortable on the chair cushions. And, this morning, on four-footed coming out of the house, they emerged from amongst the escallonia, and came running up for attention. I'll take them home later today, as they have to realise that 'home' is where the food comes from, and they don't actually live here, much though they might think it a preferable idea to their current arrangement.

Tonight's dinner (for us):

Poached egg on a bed of onion and calves liver.

Chicken baked in a salt crust; fried breaded fennel.

Wine Tart