Himself has created a Book for me, volume 1, the first of a series, currently it will be four or five! Watch this space !
Last month, Himself had yet another birthday! Well better than the alternative is what I say! #2 daughter the willowy brunette asked, if it were a significant birthday, my reply was you are only ? ( thats a secret, but you may guess!) So yes! But of course you only have a first birthday once, or twenty first, or even a hundredth birthday just once!
Having had the first of his birthday dinners , in Northern France, this time it was with kids and spouses in London. Having been completely underwhelmed by our Michelin star experience, I decided to try a different track, but booked equally a long time ahead.
Back in the Spring, well Valentines day to be precise, himself discovered a small restaurant in Marylebone, London called Roganic. And although this restaurant is fairly new, it started out life as a Pop up, and four years it was re-incarnated into a full blown proper restaurant. It is the brain child of Simon Rogan and his first restaurants are in the village of Carmel in the Lake District, L’Enclume, plus a farm, plus a shop, plus Aulis, his development kitchen. Now in London there is Roganic, and another Aulis, and likewise in Hong Kong. As of this October there is another restaurant , again in the Lake District, Lake windermere, called Henrock. ( my only fear is that he will run out of steam and some will close ( as in the case of Jean Christophe Novelli or of a lesser chef, Jamie Oliver).
So back to Roganic, Marylebone, on the back of our February visit, I researched Aulis and found that it was in Soho and held just 8 people. it is possible to book just for one, or as I did I booked the whole 8, and I booked it in March just to be sure.
It is very much an experience, two chefs create in front of you and they are very creative, and such nice young men to boot. I had informed them ahead of time that my daughter in law, the lovely Helen was pregnant and as such was not drinking alcohol, nor eating un- pasteurised milk or cheese and no shell fish.
Upon arriving, down a tiny street , in Soho, we actually wondered if we had come to the correct place. In fact it reminded me of an old song Green Door. Whats that secret you are hiding behind the green Door?, Well it wasn’t a green door, I think it was black, could be wrong, but the street, or more of an alleyway is very non-descript and the kitchen has white out windows, next door to a tanning salon. Willowy Blond and husband arrived first and did begin to wonder. But all was well.
The chefs were a delight, and had taken on board my requirements, and so when we had bubbles, Helen also had bubbles but the non alcoholic kind, likewise with white wine, and likewise with red wine. To be honest with you, the menu gives Nothing away, so be prepared to sit back, watch, eat and enjoy.See if you can follow the menu and match them up with the dishes served.
Having just returned from another wonderful trip to Greece ( yes Greece) for a week of golf, I pondered on what to have for breakfast. Himself was dispatched to the local convenience store ( all of two minutes walk away) to buy milk and he returned with the paper ( Sunday crossword time) and some berries.
Whilst he was gone, I surveyed the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cupboards. I found porridge oats, cream, nuts, apples and honey.
Bircher Muesli sprang to mind.
Many years ago, I used to make this on a regular basis, but somehow it fell out of fashion ( with me at least) , but we ate it for breakfast in Greece and now it was time to revive it in W1.
Personally, I hate buffets, the constant flow of people wandering, surveying, munching whilst trying to decide what to eat and then overloading their plates, their eyes too big for their stomachs. However, I have to acknowledge that for breakfast at least it works. Here at the beautiful Weston Resort in Costa Navarino ( now owned by Marriott) the buffet is very much Not American in style. Lots of different breads, yoghurts, pastries both French and Greek, fruit, cold meats, cheese and fish as well as cooked foods and of course freshly made omelettes, or poached eggs to order, And fresh Bircher Muesli, along with an assortment of nuts and dried fruits. Bircher Muesli was developed by a Swiss Doctor, Maximillian Bircher-Brenner for his patients and is a popular breakfast German speaking countries.
Therefore, daily I had the Bircher Muesli topped with nuts and dried fruit.
Hence, my decision to make it this morning, when basically the cupboard was bare ( well, kind of).
To make, very simply pour the boiling water over the oats and leave to soak for maybe just 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the apple, and sprinkle over the lemon juice. Add the honey, along with the yogurt or cream and basically you are done.
Can be made by soaking overnight and finishing in the morning but I prefer this quick method. Of course it is way too easy to make too much, and it will thicken a lot if left for a day, but can be easily diluted by doing some milk. Serve topped with nuts and berries, mango, bananas, raisins , peaches or nectarines.
Although the weather was a bit iffy at times, the sunsets were beautiful and to be found on the golf course, Olive trees in abundance as well as Quince and Pomegranate.
With himself being absent from the family home, it was time for me to play. He used to be away from home all the time but now rarely, so this was chance for me to play around ( in the kitchen of course).
Himself, is the king of Oysters Rockefeller, and in future, I think I will leave it to him! However, I was in “Whole Foods” and they had beautiful oysters and I couldn’t resist. BUT, I had almost forgotten that he was not around and so it was left for me to shuck them. Oh No ! Now I do have the best ever cheats oyster tool, but even so, it still takes time and I only had nine of them. When he makes Oysters Rockefeller he adds a little bit of this and little bit of that, one has to say it is his Pièce de Résistance, and in future I will leave the task of making them for me.
Another dish I played around with was buffalo mozzarella in a spicy tomato sauce.This I had on the Girls Golf trip to Catalunya in the summer and it was really delicious, and oh so simple to recreate at home.
To recreate this yummy dish, which can either be a starter or a main, with salad, I took some pre- prepared sauce, either as above or arrabiata sauce. I added some stock or cream to thin it a little, some chopped spring onions, some chopped chillis and finally some chopped coriander. Just heat the sauce and pour into a bowl and add the buffalo mozzarella, 1/2 of one if for a starter or a whole one for a main course.
And finally another attempt at my favourite cheese tart. I managed at last to get the recipe from Fred at La Grange in Morzine. I know before I even step a foot in the door that this is exactly what I will order. Once upon a time it was my starter but nowadays, I have it as my meal along with some potatoes and salad, it is perfect.
Using either bought or your favourite pastry recipe or even a bought pastry case, it needs to be baked blind , which means weighting down the pastry which has been lined with grease proof paper and filled with some form of baking beans. Bake for about 20 minutes at about 180 C. Remove from heat and add one chopped onion.
For the filling
400 grams Abondance cheese
250 grams Gruyere, Emmental or Beaufort cheese
150 grams of Tarentaise! Actually I have failed to find this cheese, I asked on the local market and they told me that it is a goats cheese which is more or less only in season in the autumn, consequently I used some hard goats cheese.
4 beaten eggs along with 250 mls cream and 1 oz flour, grate all the cheese add it all to the cream and eggs, a protein nachos of nutmeg and another of cinnamon and bake for about 25 minutes at 200 C or until golden brown and firm to touch. Best eaten warm with a salad.
This week has seen me running around Les Hauts de France ( formerly known as Pas de Calais, Nord, Aisne, Oise and Picardy……… Picardy being famous for the WW1 song, The Roses of Picardy, and less romantic the Battle of the Somme). The French government are trying to reduce the bureaucracy ( there are over 35,000 mayors) and have reduced the number of regions from 22 to13.
And so it was that I was recruited as the Granny, to help out #1 daughter and her son, to be a family enjoying the obvious and not so obvious attractions of Northern France.
And it also happened that my sons godmother arrived from Texas the day before we had to leave ( alarm set for 4.30am). We set off from Dover on a P and O boat to Calais. Many years since I have traveled on one, and I am sure that this one was from a bygone era ( circa 1985), it certainly looked like it needed some TLC, but never mind, we decamped to the lounge and traveled in relative comfort.
Off the boat and onto Lille, which is now the capital of Les Hauts de France. After battling with a hotel manager, who had definitely perfected the Gaelic shrug we found our film crew and the lovely guys who were going to drive us around the old city in some ancient Deux Chevaux. Tradibalade is the company and oh what fun! Actually, we once owned such a vehicle and on our move from Brussels to Normandy, just me and the dog, drove along the autoroute, around Paris in this car, even having to move into the slow lane with the trucks, going up hill !
In the front car, was the driver, our cameraman Joe with all of his equipment and Jon the director, in our car was Olivier, our driver, #1 daughter and Sam in the back seat and me in the front. We raced around the old town in true French fashion, even driving side by side on wide boulevards ( I guess anything goes when filming) with us waving to the crowds as if we were royalty or even famous. Finally, Jon was happy and we were free to explore the delights of Fred, the home of the unbelievable cakes called Les Merveilleux. The line was out of the door and minions behind the scenes frantically making more to replenish the ever decreasing window display. We actually bought some, but then left them in the car, forgot about them until Young Sam declared that they had melted!
( Help is at hand however, as there is a branch of Fred in London, and so more were subsequently bought and devoured.)
So onto Parc Astérix, not somewhere, I would normally visit and especially not on a hot Sunday afternoon, but it was on our itinerary. It is not far from Paris and consequently pretty busy. We sampled many of the rides and even Sam who normally does not like to get even a single drop of water anywhere on himself, was excited by the roller coaster splashing through troughs of water at high speed.
Moving swiftly on to Amiens, where there is a pretty canal running through the town, but the only ( for us) noteworthy visit was the 800 year old cathedral. We ate Moules Frites by the side of the canal ( only after the crew persuaded the owner to move our designated table literally outside of the restaurant). # 1 daughter declared that the Moules were great ( though small) but what about the Frites…. not up to scratch I’m afraid! The 800 year old cathedral, is perhaps the reason to visit, where one can pay for the candles by credit card, though Sam didn’t understand! But don’t go on a Monday, as everything else is shut !
Hence we decamped to St. Valery sur Somme. What a pretty town, if you have not been it is a must. On the Bay of the river Somme, scene of many battles during the first world war, but today it has bird watching, seal spotting, kayaking , steam train rides and miles of bike trails. Bikes can be rented courtesy of Petra, both pedal and electric. #1 daughter took the pedal with a seat attached for Sam and myself the electric. Having never ridden one before it was a first, but am now convinced it is the way forward. Up and down the boardwalk we went, ringing our bells vigorously to warn the amblers that we were coming, This was done with the accompaniment of a Drone, much to the amusement of the bystanders.
Finally we were done, onto lunch, I had to try the local speciality, ” La Ficelle de la Baie de Somme” This is a crêpe stuffed with a duxelle of mushrooms and moules or ham) in a bechamel sauce, gratineé, served with salad and once again frites. Once again the frites left much to be desired, I might give up at this point, and as for the local dish, underwhelming I’m afraid.
After lunch it was the local vintage train, we three had the first class carriage ( the one with the upholstered seats, the others were wooden) along with our film crew, Jon directing and Joe once again with his equipment strapped to him and not forgetting the drone! And then we were done, ready to move on to Boulogne
I have been to Boulogne many many times, but in reality only ever passed through en route to the ferry terminal. The ferry and the hovercraft are no more, but Boulogne has another string to its bow, or there are other fishes in the sea and indeed Boulogne has the largest aquarium in Europe!
We were very fortunate to have early access to this amazing place, which is based on the Columbian Island of Melpelo, which is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the largest sites for breeding sharks of all kinds. Nausicaá is massive, it took 6 weeks to fill with sea water and holds over 1,600 species. It really was amazing and if you are ever near Boulogne, out it on your ” To DO ” list.
We finished off our trip with a visit to Cap Gris Nez area and Wissant beach. For those who think they might do a cross channel swim ( think Sarah Thomas, 37, who has just completed the heroic feat of swimming it four times in a row and swam for more than 54 hours non-stop !)
We had fun driving up and down the country lanes, with Jon asking ” just one more time” or” can we do it with the drone?” and then onto the windswept beach, where the kite surfers were out in force. I was requested to ask one such man if the crew could film him as he took off, but “Non” was the answer, so they filmed others who were already doing their flips out at sea.
Young Sam braved the waves and enjoyed the wonderful sand dunes, but as is typical of out of season seaside resorts, cafes were shut, though it had been market day and we had to follow “Deviation” signs to actually get to the beach.
And last but not least, back onto the P and O ferry, but not without some difficulties, thank you UK Border Force, the crew with all their gear in a white Van and us, with a foreigner in Tow ! What were we thinking !, Anyway we made it, just, the crew wanted to be last on, and we were. A little bit more filming, Sam playing in the kids corner and the Purser kindly taking part as well, but no time to eat, Dover quickly came into view, off the boat and up the motorway to London. Phew hectic 5 days but interesting and fun as well, will I do it again? only if # 1 daughter needs me, and then it will be Of Course !
And as for those Frites, well maybe the French have to do better, this is one where the Belgians certainly excel.