During the first few weeks of January I’ve concentrated on sweets and puddings. Pastry is one of my strengths especially puff pastry which I love. Some of my skills for gateaux needed updating and my classic genoise sponge is now up to speed but my cake decorating skills still need working on. I was especially pleased with my macaroons which after several attempts I got right. My great find was the spruce and lemon sorbet, a good combination of the sharpness of the lemon against the very dry taste of spruce.
There’s so much activity in the forest this autumn. The wild boar still visit every night to dig up the grass and there’s a lot of deer about. I saw a red squirrel a few days ago chomping away on the beech nuts in the beech trees and there’s mushrooms everywhere. I thought I had found a batch of chanterelle and took a sample into the pharmacy but they told me they were not chanterelle.
I have an incredible kitchen. I would call it a semi-commercial kitchen but it’s a really cosy place to be in the winter. I have an Aga cooker powered by electric, not the cheapest to run but it heats the kitchen, it’s wonderful for roasts and the slow cooking bottom oven for stews and ragus. I have a convection oven for pastry and deserts where temperature control is important, induction hot plates because the Aga can’t always be relied upon for that last burst of heat for finishing a sauce and I’ve recently invested in sous-vide equipment where I’m already getting fantastic results cooking red meat. In a perfect world, I’d have a little door leading down to a wine cellar and cold room, maybe one day.
This winter I intend to do a lot of cooking and hopefully perfect what will be my signature dishes when the restaurant opens at Easter. So, I’m going to be talking a lot about and showing off these dishes here on my blog.
I hope you keep following me here, and of course, follow the Les Chênes facebook page @leschenesguesthouse
One night last weekend the wild boar visited and dug up the grass in front of the house. There was no real damage done so we just smoothed out the grass and pushed down the divots so you could hardly see what the boar had done. That was fine for a few days but they came back and dug up the grass again. Very annoying so I looked on the internet and saw you can get various devices to scare the boar away. But, on consideration, I’ve decided not to do anything because I don’t want to scare away the hares that I often see and the deer, it could also upset the birds. I’m just so pleased to be living in such a wild life paradise.
Last weekend it rained every day but the trees loved it, everything is refreshed after the rain and there’s a real feel of autumn in the air. But,today the sun was shining and it was like summer again. I took Fritzy to the nearby lake, there’s a big sandy beach there but it was deserted apart from me and Fritzy.
Work started on the car park construction last weekend. I hired the digger from a local company in Limoges and, thanks to Nicolas the French groundsman, got a good rate. The work is almost complete but before Nicolas, who was driving, could finish the digger broke down and refused to start. Very frustrating because, as it was Sunday, the hire company was closed of course. Anyway someone came to fix it on Monday morning and they agreed to give an extra day for free. Very good but, after just two hours work the digger broke down again. Very, very frustrating as the work is still not finished and has to wait another week for a replacement digger.
At last the weather is milder and I feel I’ve survived the winter. Yesterday was particularly pleasent and I walked (with Fritzy of course) to the little church about one mile away. The church is so small and very cold inside, I’ve been there several times before, it’s always open but I’ve never seen or met anyone there although there must be someone who looks after it. Behind the alter there’s this amazing modern stained glass window, strangly it doesn’t look at all out of place in such an ancient church.
Next weekend I’ve hired an earth mover to do some landscaping around the house. Nicolas who looks after the grounds now is going to do the driving.
It’s been cold here since Christmas although we haven’t had heavy snow there are lots of snow flurries so everyting has stayed white. It’s cold each night with heavy frosts. It all takes a bit of getting used to as this is my first winter staying here full time. The good thing is that I’m learning about how to live with the cold so next year I will certainly be prepared, which I wasn’t this year. At least the evenings and mornings are getting a little lighter but I cant’t wait for the spring.
It’s snowing outside now and quite heavily.
I’m in hibernation mode, it makes me think of Eliza Doolittle:
“All I want is a room somewhere Far away from the cold night air With one enormous chair Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
I would never budge till spring Crept over the window sill”