Spinach lasagna..and 1001 gardeners’ secrets.

I always think of lasagna as a true homy meal…served with a fresh green salad and a pungent vinaigrette and of course a crusty bread to sweep your plate…It can be served in a large oven-to-table dish, which is what I prefer with a lasagne. It can also be served in portion dishes, which makes it of course a bit more elegant.

Suggestions:

  • You can use any vegetable, but don’t use too big a variety. The same Golden three rule, as for any other decoration-, architect-, flower arranging- subject applies here too. Less says more.
  • Frozen spinach can be used instead of fresh. There is no exact measure…check your dish and measure how much veggies and sauce and cheese you would need.
  • Pasta sheets: Fresh or dried pasta sheets can be used but make sure to use enough liquid in the tomato/vegetable mixture for the pasta sheets to absorb. Pasta sheets can be cooked beforehand, which means more work!
  • I prefer only two layers of pasta and I end with a third layer of vegetbale and béchamel sauce. But if you like more pasta in your dish, make as many layers as you like by spreading the layers thinner.
  • Béchamel sauce: Heat 500 ml milk along with 5 parsley stems, 4 whole peppercorns, a small carrot, branch of thyme and 1 celery stick. Leave to infuse  and to cool completely. Make a roux in a saucepan by melting 1 heaped TBSP butter. Whisk in  1 heaped TBSP flour. Leave to cook on medium heat unitl it becomes frothy…about 3 minutes. Remove the herbs from the milk and add slowly to the butter mixture, while whisking the whole time. Leave on low heat and stir until thick. If your sauce is too thick, add a little milk. I like my sauce like thick cream. I definitly don’t want to plaster a house! Season to taste.
  • This is not a recipe where exact amounts are necessary. Add a little more spinach or less, add more courgettes or less..be interested in what you’re doing, taste and taste again.
  • I serve with a drizzling of olive oil…just to give that bit extra mediterranean touch…

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…1001 garders’ secrets –  Jean-Michel Groult…

As mentioned before, I love garden b0oks…well, all books for that matter…new ones, old ones, worn ones, impeccable ones, thick ones, thin ones, beautiful ones, ordinary ones and all topics…but for today I’ll stick to a little book that gives so much advice on simple gardening. Just 1001 tips to make work in the garden a pleasure. there are many books on the market, worldwide, in all languages, presenting the same. We have all come to a stage where we are forced to do simplify work, whether in a garden or elsehwere. And we have come to a stage where we are forced to consider healthier ways of gardening…letting go of the pesticides in favour of more natural ways…plants, prevention, insects, animals…

My garden is all set for autumn. I’m just waiting for the colours to deepen a bit more before taking some photos. And in a few weeks, I’ll be setting the garden up for winter – wrapping the pots and some plants, wrapping and storing all garden furniture, setting out some winter decorations. But more about that later.   For now there is still a lot of garden reading and writing going on and here is a little taste of a book that inspires gardening all year round.

So, why not get out to the bookstore and find a similar little book that inspires you to go for a greener, healthier but still beautiful and delighful garden, filled with colour and harvests, buzzing animal life and quiet moments of reflection.

All images below taken from the book, 1001 secrets de jardiniers.

…Simple and easy garden care…

* gone are the times where gardening was hard work to keep in tip top condition, even when being a natural garden. After all, we visit a garden to sow happiness, not difficulties. *

…à la cuisine…

* flavour above all else, wild plants, make vinegar!, store dried, cordon-bleu tricks *

…enhance your space…

* keep your garden seasonal, some interest in every seaon. let it breathe some freedom by breaking hard lines with freeflowing and -growing plants, leave some shrubs to grow high and shape onto arches hwich will give as much charm as climbing creepers. *

…baskets full of fruit and vegetables…

* what can be more gratifying thatn harvesting your own fresh fruit and vegetables? but it can be hard work and tiring as well if not simplified and made easy for yourself. *

… a green view…

* See the garden as you wouild see the interior of your home….walls with furniture and decorations and wall hangings. apply the same to your garden…not only a green lawn in an empty garden. See trees and shrubs and creepers and garden furniture as the decorations of your garden and keep it as aestethic as you would your house. *

…348 pages of secrets for a healthy, interesting and inspiring garden, simplified to do it the easy and environmently friendly way…

…à la prochaine!..

Ronelle

Bruschetta with tomato…and a day at Montsoreau brocante.

We will always have to eat. Even if it is just something quick and simple. A bruschetta is just that. Quick and simple.

I cut a baguette into slices, spooned some tomato paste on top with a slice of cemembert cheese,  and lastly added a slice of semi dried tomato in olive oil and freshy shredded basil. Place onto a grill for a few seconds and serve with freshly milled pepper and a sprinkling of fleur de sel.

Last year, when we arrived back home, I wrote about my little village Montlouis sur Loire in this post:  Scorpion fish with citrus salad.  We are now back again from our time in correze and this morning I took my camera and sketching stuff and headed for our bigger town Tours, a place I really love for its architecture and green parks, tree lanes, fresh markets and yes,  its shops and people. I wanted to show what I see. But it  started raining. I ran for cover and enjoyed a coffee and croissant while waiting for the skies to clear. When that didn’t happen, I bought a cake and on impulse decided to drive to Montsoreau where there is a “puce”(fleamarket) on today. It is a quaint little village on the Loire and it just feels like holiday being there. The spirit today was one of holiday indeed. The clouds made room for the sun, which had me take out my purse way more than initially planned.

…a large platter…

…old prints…

…my weak spot – story plates, and tasses de cafés

…les puces de montsoreau…

…à la prochaine!..

Ronelle

Tomato and goats cheese tartlet…and a love for white: in the kitchen.

Tomatoes can be used in so many forms and a small tartlet is one of them. Combined with some goats cheese, a few chopped olives, some torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil, served in a pastry cup and voila, you have a starter, or amuse bouche, or even a main meal served with a green salad.

VF: Avec une tomate on peut toujours s’amuser dans l’esprit estival – mettre ensembles dans une coupe de pâtisserie, les tomates avec un morceau de fromage de chèvre, des olives, des feuilles de basiliques, un filet d’huile d’olive et on sert pour une amuse bouche ou une entrée ou même un plat principal, accompagné d’une salade verte.

Suggestions:

  • Use any other cheese, like mozzarella or a piece of camembert or brie.
  • Use a puff pastry instead of Phyllo pastry. Adapt the baking time(longer).
  • Instead of marinated tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes can be used in which case the tomatoes should be halved, the seeds removed and slightly sautèed before hand to soften them.
  • Add some chives or finely sliced spring onions to the tartlets.
  • Taste for seasoning, before adding any. The goats cheese and marinated tomatoes add enough flavor and salt.
  • Adapt the size of the tartlet for a starter. for an amuse bouche, a 5 cm size is good, for a starter, move to a 7 cm size and for a meal with a green salad make it even a little bigger, depending on the size of muffin pan/tart pan available.
  • To make a lighter version for health/diet…use a thin phyllo pastry, spread lightly with melted butter, use fresh cherry tomatoes and substitute mozzarella cheese.

If I say that I love white in the kitchen I know there will be  quite a few readers out there who will eagerly say the same.

Je sais qu’il y a plein de gens qui, comme moi, adorent utiliser le blanc dans la cuisine.

White in the kitchen is, apart from being practical, also beautiful, economical and fun. A white plate is a showcase for all foods, from a simple sandwich ton elaborate cooked leg of lamb. Combine different whites with different textures on the same table.

Utiliser le  blanc dans la cuisine est pratique, beau, économique et n’oubliez pas..amusant! Une assiette blanche est une façon parfaite de  faire une ravissante présentation.

…don’t overlook a little humor(un peu de gaieté dans l’assiette)…

My mother had the most beautiful complete tea sets; the teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug, cups and saucers, the cake stand and dessert plates. They were white tiny pink flowers, white with blue forget-me-nots, white with colored musical notes, pretty and feminine. She used a whole set at a time, especially on Sunday afternoons for tea; serving a tart on the cake stand, sprinkling colored sugar in the sugar bowl and warm tea leaves in the teapot with a tea strainer on the side. That is how it was in those days.

Today we mix and match. In our clothing and on our tables. I sometimes wonder whether I’m disturbing he3r peace in her hereafter life with my massacring her tea sets by mixing and matching;  the teapot for flowers, the cake stand for soaps in the bathroom or the cups for mints by the side table…or maybe she is watching me with a smile, shaking her head and thinking…”how much my little girl loves my tea sets!’…

Je me souviens des sets à thé complètes de ma mère…très féminines, très belles. Les théières, les bols de sucre, les assiettes de dessert, les tasses et ses soucoupes. Elles était blanches avec des petites fleurs en roses, des petites fleurs du myosites. Elle servais du thé et une tarte les dimanches après-midis à l’heure de goûter..comme d’habitude a l’époque.

Aujourd’hui ça change. On fait un mélange de styles et de couleurs, il n’y a pas de règles. Je me demande parfois si ma mère me regarde de si lointaine avec l’horreur quand j’emploie sa théière pour une vase de fleurs, ou l’assiette de gâteau pour les savons dans la salle de bain, ou les tasses de thé pour les menthes dans la chambre…ou peut-être elle me regarde souriante, surprise par ma créativité, et contente de voir que j’aime ses sets à thé..!

…old and contemporary in harmony side by side(ancienne et contemporaine vivent ensemble) ..

…”the hare and the tortoise”(le lièvre et la tortue) – jean de la fontaine…

…every day (quotidien)…

…fish days(les jours du poisson)…

…and mixed days(mélangé)…

…à la prochaine..!

Cheese platter and a tablecloth with a story

I sometimes serve individual cheese platters for the cheese course after the plat principal. I find it is easier to serve cheese this way, than having a heavy cheese board or platter going around at the table with each person having to find a place to rest the platter and cut his cheese. Along with the individual portions, I keep the platter close by, for those who want an extra helping and so the cheeses and their names can be seen.

…plat du fromage…

..st, marcellin, corsu vecchiu, tete de moine, morbier, fourme d’ambert, mango, kiwi and quince paté…

cheese plate

Suggestions:

  1. Serve small helpings of diced fruit in season along with your cheese. It is optional. In France you will very rarely be served some fruit with your cheese, but I find that most people enjoy a hint of fruit on the cheese plate, eevn if only for its uplifting colour!
  2. DON”T forget a good red wine!
  3. I prefer to serve simply une baguette tradition with the cheese, simply becasue the slices are small and crusty and aren’t overwhelmingly heavy and is just perfect with any cheese.
  4. NO butter!
  5. NO crackers!
  6. Honey is also a good accompaniment to some cheeses as well as a quince paté.
  7. Serve a variety of cheese – start from a hard cheese, a soft and creamy one, a blue cheese and a goat’s cheese as basis and add to that maybe an unknown cheese or exotic or an artisan cheese, or your favourite.
  8. Round cheeses are normally sliced from the middle outwards. Triagular cheeses are easiest to lay flat and sliced from the thin end upward to the thickest. A pyramid is sliced from the top to the bottom.
  9. Serve a tete de moine (the frilly cheese in the photo below) on the shaving board(if you have one), as it always pleases the guests to shave  some for themselves.
  10. You can serve thse individual cheese platters as a starter, or as  a small  aperitif before the meal, but then skip the cheese course after the main dish.

…tete de moine, pouligny st pierre, st. marcellin,  fourme d’ambert, morbier, corsu vecchiu, …

cheese platter 1

* I can’t walk past anything that has a story. I own broken cups, and burnt linen and chewed up books and mildewed paintings – all because they have  stories behind them. My wooden floorboards still  have patches of old paint drippings. I left part of a wall unpainted, because we discovered abeautiful old frieze. I refuse to replace the old glass of some of our windows with double glaze, because it is still the original glass and you can see the tiny bubbles and other defects.

…chewed up old medicine journals and letters, dug up from our garden…

..porcelaine pieces dug up from our garden in Montlouis sur Loire…

And so I have this beautiful  antique linen tablecloth with its complete set of napkins, whih I only bought because  it made me cry. It belonged to an old lady, who grew up in a typical bourgouise family. She received beautiful lines for her trousseau as a young girl, one of which was this set of table linen. She used it for her fromal dinners and one evening when entertaining guests, one napkin was dropped on the floor, the family dog got hold of it and chewed it to get to the meat juices  on the napkin. So the elegant old Madame gently washed the napkin by hand, repaired it with needle and thread by hand, ironed it and placed it back with the set. When she got old alone, she went to an old age home, but had no children to pass her linens on to. So she gave it up to be sold. I was heartbroken when hearing this sad tale and couldn’t leave the brocante without it. I trust it is the truth, because I know Madame aux Brocantes, who specializes in old linens, very  well. She always keeps some things aside for me, especially when they have a story behind them.

…tablecloth with a story

Each time I set my table with this beautiful linen set, I fold the chewed up serviette for myself.  I think of  old Madame and hope she looks onto me from wherever she is, with happiness.

* Always interested in how people lived in all ages, I recently got this cute calendrier for 2010, not for the calender but for the content, which holds tips and tales from days gone by.  Some are real good advice and some make you giggle…for you to decide which!

…astuce de grand-mére:

truc et astuces de nos grand-méres

*For whiter teeth – dip your finger in olive oil, rub it against your teeth and keep it for several minutes in your mouth before rinsing, OR, rub a sage leaf against your teeth once a week.