Canapes at Christmas

It’s been a unique Christmas for Nick and I.  Here we are ensconced in France, enjoying a house that has been out of service for a couple of years.  All our young are Christmassing in their own way this year and we are potentially ‘Darby and Joan’.  We were quite looking forward to a tranquil day with seafood figuring high on the menu.  In the event we were invited over the road for Christmas Eve supper with Daniel and his family and to Brigitte and Georgi on Christmas Day.  All I had to do was make some canapes.

Mind you, this was no light undertaking for someone accustomed to wheeling out a few blinis with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, or some quail eggs with homemade celery salt.  Usually the task of serving a full meal precludes fiddling around with small and toothsome savoury dainties.  I searched the internet and in a few minutes had found some simple recipes.  At the risk of wheel re-invention and teaching the huge foody community in the blogosphere to suck eggs, here are the savouries I produced.

Chicken skewers with satay sauce.  Basically you marinade strips of chicken in a half and half mixture of soya sauce and sweet chilli sauce, then cook them in the oven and serve with a dip of equal parts of peanut butter and coconut milk.

Prawn, chorizo and cherry tomato kebabs.  A fried tiger prawn topped with a slice of warmed chorizo and cooked cherry tomato with garlic slice on a stick.

Mini Thai fishcakes. Rick Stein’s classic recipe which is a gift for me with a freezer groaning with white fish.  I make more, smaller patties and then buy myself out of trouble and use a good brand of dipping sauce from my store cupboard.  We have a lemon tree in the garden which provides a steady supply of fruits all year round, so I use them instead of limes.

Cheese and mustard straws.   I buy a roll of Feuillete pastry from the supermarket, open out the sheet and cover one half generously with grated Red Leicester cheese (which tastes really cheesy and is a great colour), sprinkle with mustard powder and mild cayenne pepper, cut in strips, twist, lay out on a baking sheet and bake.

These found favour amongst our French friends’ palates.  All we had to do was eat our way through homemade Foie Gras, Coquilles Saint Jacques on a bed of buttery onions, and French-style stuffed chicken on Christmas Eve, and jumbo prawns with carpaccio of king scallops followed by Blanquette de Veau on Christmas Day.

On Boxing Day I cooked a big chicken curry for forthcoming guests and we ate carrot and orange soup for lunch and braised quails for supper.  This latter on our knees in front of the tv where we are deeply embroiled in Season 1 of The Killing.  On the 27th we embark on a fresh round of eating and jollification……..

Foraging at its Best

After we waved the Hunters off, Nick and I took a walk to blow cobwebs away.  We went down La Voie Vert, a wide foot/cycle path which has been routed along the old railway track.  It takes us past a small industrial complex, some established houses and some new residential settlements.  One house in particular grabbed our attention, about which more in a later post.  We arrived at the beach road and continued along the wall above the shore and round to the harbour.  The extent of the oyster beds exposed indicated a good low spring tide, with pecheurs a pied very much in evidence in the harbour.

It was bitterly cold but there were several scallop fishers in their chest wading gear scooping their nets around in the receding seawater.  A lone hang-glider attracted our attention as he swung back and forth across the oyster park and adjacent sand flats.

We walked on round and along the harbour wall to get a better view of the figures scalloping between the lighthouse and Ile Tatihou.  As we walked Nick glanced down and spotted a couple plodding around in the mud and drainage channels immediately below us and adjacent to the harbour inner wall.

As we watched we saw them bend to pick up……….. King Scallops – Pecten maximus.  There were some dense scatters of single shells but every now and then you could see them pick up the living article.  They worked their way back and forth along the wall margin, placing the scallops in their tucker bags or throwing them to the edge to gather up later.  Whilst we watched the woman must have found at least 100.

In the past Nick and I have waded around at the water’s edge and just below on those flats, finding stray specimens but we have never taken such a bountiful haul.  This is an expedition we will have to try for ourselves.

Esme comes to Stay

Before we board our ferry we have a last minute hiccup with the door lock of the car in which we  intend to travel.  Out of the blue, on our morning of departure, the car doors start locking and unlocking spontaneously, whilst the car is in motion.  We think we can sort this out in due course, but unfortunately when I make a last trip up the road to return a library book, I hop out of the car to post the book, leaving the keys in the ignition (and my own set in my handbag in the car) and as I walk back towards the car I hear an ominous click 😦  With an hour or so to go before we must leave for the ferry the only course of action that Nick thinks practical is to break the driver’s window with a hammer.

So we get to Portsmouth in time and enjoy a pleasant 5-hour crossing.  It is very late when we reach St V and unload the car of all its goods, lingering only to put necessaries into the fridge and freezer.  Daniel has warmed the house for us and we fall gratefully into our bed.

We have a day and a half to open up the house, shop for provisions and make up beds in readiness for the arrival of Esme and her other half.  These are good friends from Godalming who have found a window to come and renew their long-standing acquaintance with St Vaast and pass a few days relaxing with us.  During their visit Esme and I make a walk around the Hougue and we fit in a day shopping in Cherbourg.  On their last evening they treated us to a meal at Au Moyne de Saire where, as often in local restaurants, I was amused to notice some idiosyncratic and charming English translations for the dishes on the menu.  Thus ‘Foie gras de Canard et la poire et sa gourmandise au chocolat’ translates to ‘Duck foie gras with the pear and its chocolate greed’ 🙂

On their last morning there was the usual last minute round up of French specialities from Gosselin, a hasty brunch and a load up of their car.  Nick and I went to buy him 3 pairs of trousers (he having discovered the previous evening that he had left all his strides in Dorset) and in the melee of departure the carrier bag containing the new garments found its way into the Hunter car, destined for England!  We eagerly await their return in the next few days.

Advent Deliveries

The last couple of weeks in Dorset see us completing our Christmas shopping, thanks to the Internet, writing our cards and assembling a cargo destined for France.  Fortuitously December 1st occurs on Saturday enabling us to drive to Oxford to hand deliver advent gifts to the Cholseys.  Three cheers for Playmobil and Lego who produce worthwhile advent calendars which enable the children to open a window each day and assemble a themed montage leading up to Christmas eve.  Ted has already received his, and Lola’s and Ruby’s advent packages travelled back to Hackney with them when they returned home after their long weekend in WK.  It remains to drop off a few gifts locally, to buy some last minute provisions for France, and prepare ourselves and the house for the off.