One of the long term plans in coming to France was health. Fed up with rainy grey days in England and longing for long summers, we found our barn in cow country, rolling hills and meadows, where the weather changes by the hour. A temperate area with fierce storms and gales followed by three solid months of heat. Outdoors is the place to be whatever the weather, feeling the rain on your face and the sun on your shoulders.
Solving the weather was one part, eating healthy another. The grand project, now underway and in part completed this month, is to build a raised bed garden to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers to cut for inside the barn. Through the heavy rain and bursts of sunshine in May, we heaved and weeded out about 8 tonnes of earth. Back-breaking work and a few injuries too – a sawn finger and thumb – I almost fainted. Piles of old bramble roots, evil things, like a web of fingers hanging onto the earth, now lie floppy and drying in the sun awaiting their despatch to the recycling plant nearby. Throwing these parasites will be a happy moment as it can take years to rid land of brambles, or Ronces as the French call them. But I am winning the war with meticulous weeding out and poisoning. Pictures to follow in another post later. We are planting a mix to avoid pests and aid pollination. Very excited about this project. We planted approx. 50 potato plants last week, thirty garlic cloves, twenty tomato plants and a variety of herbs including dill as the seeds are good for the homemade bread. The beds will also have climbing roses and marigolds.
I love my vegetables. Doesn’t matter how served – raw, soup, casseroles, grilled, roasted. Versatile, digestible and mainly for us – home grown in the long run, cost effective and healthy.
But the French have no idea of the concept of vegetarian. Quorn does not exist in any form. Soya, tofu is a strange thing to the French. Beef, pork, goose, if it moves, the French either shoot it or cook it.
Surrounded by doe-eyed cows, who, I am beginning to realise as the weeks go by, have wonderful characters…I do not have the inclination to eat beef. Yes I admit I still drink milk, but I just cannot touch beef.
I have gone vegetarian many times in the past and love the forced experimentation it provides you with to vary the meat and two veg fall back. Now my shelves are full of seeds, lentils, nuts and herbs, different flours [ gluten is an issue – thyroid disorder], and dried fruits for sweetening. I make a flat bread each week, a varied mix that I cook on a skillet and have with eggs, or ham, salad and my favourite – burgers.
Burgers if made with chick peas and mushrooms have just the right texture that resembles meat. A basic recipe which is fail safe is as follows:
This will make about 43 burgers, which you can freeze. On the day you need, either leave out for an hour to defrost or a quick 20 seconds in a microwave, before putting on a skillet, or in a frying pan with a little sunflower oil. Cook till firm and golden brown.
The quantities are not precise, but your aiming for a sticky mixture that can be rolled or made into shape.
Chickpeas – a whole large tin
Any other lentils you fancy – a couple of handfuls
2 onions finely diced, or 1 very large onion
A tablespoon of concentrated tomato
Cloves of garlic – about 3
Herbs you love, add a big handful of fresh ones or about a tablespoon if dried
Pepper and a good couple of pinches of ground sea salt
Two large eggs for binding
2 large tablespoons of good olive oil – all aids stickiness
A tablespoon of flour – spelt lovely and strong and lower in gluten
Mix altogether. If a little dry, you can add a little carrot or tomato juice, but not too much.
AND FINALLY – because sometimes you do need some protein and a little meat, we buy a tray of lean pork – about 500grms and mince and add to the mixture. This makes the burgers more filling and good if used in a main meal.
Pork sausages rule in France – sec or dry and hard -are my favourite. We buy weekly from a local butcher who makes his own and sparingly savour little slices when we cook dinner.
Turkey is on the menu occasionally and fish, although in France fish is very expensive. You have to shop around and pick up seasonal discounts. In the local shops the prices are fair, but the taste is worth the extra price over the supermarkets. We buy trays of eggs from the butcher too and the yokes are golden and stand high on the white and taste delicious. I have eggs every day, partially to help with protein as I do not eat meat every day. The burgers come out a few times a week, but some days if we are very busy, soup is quick and digestible.
Last week I made spinach soup with onions and garlic and a left over pepper. Simmered for half an hour, blended to a smooth consistency and put in the freezer. Having a bowl today, I have decided to make on regular basis , or as Tony mentioned today, how about using the nettles instead? Will look into this and report back. The soup had an almost ox-tail taste and I am sure if I hadn’t mentioned it was spinach, no one would know it wasn’t beef. This just goes to show that actually you can make many dishes that resemble meat without having to compromise.
And the benefits so far? In just two months I have lost almost half a stone in weight. Sitting at my desk in England for months on end, with no garden and no exercise was taking its toll on my waistline. Now with the physical work, bike riding, vegetarian cooking and almost gluten free diet, the belt has been tightened about three holes. Progress on all fronts.