Monthly Archives: February 2011

>TEA AND BARE NECESSITIES

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On Friday, I spent the morning cooking a full English to a TV crew from a French channel (more on that soon!) and it got me thinking about Englishness and things… What is “English”?

Listening to the radio while cooking later in the day, I caught a young student who was wondering about “What constitutes English culture” and he clearly did not know… He even claimed “English” culture did not exist anymore. As a French woman living in London, I feel there is a strong national identity surrounding me. But how would I define it? So I wondered… and pondered…
…And listed a few things that are Truly English :
A full fry-up early morning in a greasy-spoon caf’
Bunting and cream teas, especially served at a village fete – or a Royal Wedding!
Tolerance and sympathy (preferably given with a cup of tea again)
The Monty Python
The red pillar box above
Upstairs-Downstairs
The class system – And being proud of it, whether you’re working class or upper stock
Public schools (that are anything BUT public)
Contradictions in terms (see above)
Feeling free to add new words to the vocabulary – and not being hung for these neologisms
A kind of stubborn bravery against adversity (as in the Blitz, The IRA Terror years…)
Absurd and charming eccentrics…

I was in John Lewis earlier this week (very English, that) and encountered a man who was putting up with tremendous care and patience little standing labels on multicoloured boxes.
-Could you please, Sir, tell me where I can find bedding and things? I ask.
-Sorry Madam: I am a customer! Says he with a short self-excusing giggle and he still progresses with straightening the small wobbly labels, in his steadfastly manner.
“Very English, I though: A polite refusal of service.”
He could just as well have been a true OCD afflicted customer, of course. Who knows?!..

So back to what constitutes proper “Englishness”… In her funny and well observed book “Watching the English”, Kate Fox tries to give a pretty complete answer in 400 or so pages! My radio caller could have done well to read her but I myself have the answer in three little letters:
TEA.

“Tea-making, writes Ms Fox, is the perfect displacement activity: whenever the English feel awkward or uncomfortable in a social situation (that is, almost all of the time), they make tea. It’s a universal rule: when in doubt, put the kettle on.”

Trying to explain the components of the full English breakfast to the TV crew yesterday, I felt I never quite got to convey properly the delicate nuances and the paramount importance of tea-making in the English culture. Tea is what fortifies and bonds the nation, before you even mention the Queen. Republicans and anti-monarchists – if they exist- would agree with that: Tea is the essence of Englishness. Being of equal importance to a Chelsea supporter, a financier or a builder, it is the drink that suits every possible social occasion and every possible setting. It is “le mot juste” whenever a word is needed and even more apt when none are required. In “The silence of Colonel Bramble”, André Maurois, describes the return from the Front of two new recruits clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress and the Colonel first and only order is to “fix those boys a good cup of tea”!

The English like their tea either the colour and taste of cement with plenty of milk and sugar or a light golden brew with neither. It is the drink of choice with a full English breakfast or with an afternoon tea – two meals the English have mastered to perfection.
These are my own two favorite mealtimes, which is lucky because I live here!

On Sundays, my British husband proudly cooks up the traditional spread best loved by the children: fried eggs, black pudding,  Cumberland sausages, baked beans, roasted mushrooms, eggy bread and bacon rashers… The list is endless and frequently changing depending on our imagination or degree of hunger.

But whatever is prepared is always served with plenty of strong tea and lots of warm … baguette- this is certainly my influence, I confess. All in a spirit of “Entente Cordiale”, bien sur.

So where do you get the best fry-up in London? Obviously, in a “greasy spoon caf’, of which only a few remain around Spitalfields or Bermondsey markets essentially… I have one current favourite and this is where I took my French TV crew to sample a full fry-up: A quaint little number in Hammersmith, Plum cafe on Crisp rd, one of the best places to sample the best meal in Britain with the day’s newspaper.

PS: The pillar-box picture is from a sweet little blog called “Little devil’s adventures”, with thanks.

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>Your favorite blog is in the News!

>My blog featured in LondonMacadam! (CLICK TO JUMP IN)
 I am so pleased to be mentioned in that magazine : Every French person I know here reads it or knows of it: I will have to deliver now and be much more regular at posting – Half term over today, that should help!

There is something about children: I love spending time with mine and absolutely can’t do anything remotely serious when they are around… It’s so much more fun to bake cookies, visit old dusty museums or feed the ducks one more time together! Lets have another round of chocolate chip cookies, please…

>Fwd: Chinatown: year of the rabbit

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Celebrate London : Chinatown on the Year of the Rabbit!

Dragon

wishing tree
chinatown
 
 
 The Rabbit symbolizes such character traits as creativity, compassion, and sensitivity. Rabbits are friendly, outgoing and prefer the company of others.
The Chinese new year, every February, is the occasion for Chinatown in Soho to strengthen its Chinese heritage and for us to go and eat Dim sums, share a few fortune cookies and admire the dragon parade and the chinese acrobats. The date coincides with the birthdays of my two youngest children so it is an excuse to have fun and celebrate with sparklers and a big colourful crowd. Every year, we have lunch at Chinatown restaurant, 30 Gerrard street, one of the best places to eat in Soho. Before going home, I do a spot of shopping in the chinese supermarkets of the same street and return with a bag full of exotic ingredients to provide inspiration for the months to come!
Don’t you love living in a city where you can change country just by jumping into an other postcode?!
My little sensitive and affectionate rabbit (born in 1999) loves it!

>Tarte Chocolat-caramel for my Valentine

Nothing is more delightful, decadent and happy than the French 18th century art adorning the walls of the Wallace collection. We went there this morning for a pre-valentine’s day stroll among the paintings by Boucher, Fragonard and Watteau and we ended up staying there for a light lunch served in the airy conservatory cafe.

The Wallace collection is host to a cornucopia of gorgeous and glamourous love scenes painted by some of the greatest artists of the “Siecle des Lumieres”. Its beautiful classic rooms are furnished with pieces that once belonged to the Petit Trianon of Queen Marie-Antoinette. These incredible pieces of furniture were in most cases bought  at auctions held by the revolutionaries and brought to England – which probably saved them from neglect and destruction.

In stark contrast to the shops of Oxford Street that are on its doorstep, the Wallace Collection is a peaceful oasis of calm, beauty and luxury. Away from the mad Valentine’s day compulsive shopping, I had a lovely time, re-discovering Boucher, Watteau, Fragonard and Nicolas Lancret with my daughter. The boys were in rapture in the armours and weapons galleries while we admired the beautiful “Madame de Pompadour” by Boucher and a lovely boy dressed as “Pierrot” by Fragonard.
No art has ever felt as happy, carefree and sensual than the art of that period in France. Boucher paints nymphs and gods, shepherds and milkmaids with a loving, tender and caressing brush. Their naked and offered flesh is as fresh and tempting as a plump brioche or a jug of cream!
If art were edible, one would choose those gorgeously dimpled shoulders and pink cheeks to bite in: They are so far from any idea of real flesh, so close to that of cupcakes – that you can forgive the impulse…

My idea for an equally decadent and irresistible pudding to serve to your Valentine is the following:
 A sinful “Tarte Chocolat Caramel” from a French blog I love by Clothilde Dussoulier.


First make a shortcake pastry and line pie tin. Wrap with cling film and reserve in the fridge.

Ingredients list:
For the caramel filling
Brown sugar 90g
Honey 1 Tbsp
Crushed Maldon salt
Creme fraiche 80g
Butter 30g

For the ganache layer
Dark chocolate 280g
Creme fraiche 80g

Preheat the oven ot 180°. Bake the base for 20 min. Leave on a rack to cool.

Prepare the caramel by combining the brown sugar with a spoonful of water in a pan and let it melt on low heat. Swish the pan around to help but do not let it bubble up. When it turn a darker amber, add the honey and stir, then add the salt and cream.
Remove from the heat to add the butter and blend well. Pour into the cooled baked case and reserve.

Prepare the ganache: Put the cream into the same pan and let it heat up to bubbling stage. Remove from the heat and break the chocolate into it. Blend well with a wooden spoon.
Pour the ganache over the set caramel and cover well and evenly.
Let it cool down then return to the fridge and let it set for one hour.

This is a very indulgent but irresistible pudding to anyone who has  enjoyed “millionaires slices” in their childhood! My daughter, for one, is very partial to it and even if I try to be a good mother most of the time and give healthy options to my family, I feel everybody should be entitled to a fair amount of chocolate on Valentine’s day…

To follow on our footsteps:
The Wallace Collection, Manchester square London W1U 3BN – open daily 10 to 17




>I couldn’t live without…

>… Lemons!
Are they not the greatest of ingredients?! I use them all the time, unwaxed and organic preferably, and they are an invaluable help when planning a detox or just when I need a pick-me-up.

Lemon juice and zest are great anti-ageing weapons because they protect the cells against oxidation and premature ageing.

The oil stored in the zest is a fantastic mood uplifter and booster of your immune system. It has very efficient anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties so I use it in cooking and in the bathroom at the first onset of a cold.

I put a few drops of lemon oil and grapefruit oil in a morning bath as an instant tonic or I love soaking a cloth, putting a few drops of lemon oil on it and letting it dry on a radiator in the living room or bedroom. The smell pervades the rooms throughout the house and it is like walking into a lemon grove!..

The essential oil or the juice can be used directly on the skin (but away from the sun!) and it works well to eliminate body odours or activate blood circulation in areas prone to water retention or dimples!
But its best use in the bathroom is as an adjuvant to rinsing water for shiny, healthy hair.

In the kitchen, half a lemon sprinkled with baking soda is a great tool to scrub wooden blocks or boards. It helps deodorise but also kills off most bacteria in the wood.

During my detox, I drink a hot lemon juice in the morning: Just squeeze half a lemon into hot water and sweeten with a drop of Agave syrup if you find it too sharp. Add to it a pinch of cinnamon or cayenne pepper. This helps to start the day with a clear head and the spices boost the metabolism very efficiently so I burn calories and show TLC to my intestine at the same time. I try to leave half an hour before having breakfast- just time to get dressed for the day ahead!

I’d love to hear of other recipes and uses for lemon, as I am quite sure this golden fruit is worth its weight in gold… To continue!