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Monday, 22 February 2010

Sad but necessary

Because my long divorced ex-husband is using this blog for stalking information on me, I have decided to close it and no longer post anything new. This is a decision that I have not come to lightly, I have really had to put some thought into this choice, and it breaks my heart to leave, since it is so healing, this writing and communicating, but I really have no choice.
Thank you to everyone who has commented and left nice messages and has followed me this far.

I will get in contact with some of you directly.

Quiches from Kitty,

LaCheshireChat x

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Tuesday's morning market in Mûr-de-Bretagne

It's a tiny affair, the Tuesday market. Since it is raining, only the butcher

The Butcher's stall at Mur sm.jpg

and the fishmonger

Fish Van sm.jpg

arrived to set up, no sign of the green grocer or the Couscous lady (stop snickering!)

I just took this picture, so you can see, despite the on and off drizzle, the loyal housewives and househusbands are out in force to get their fresh fish and meats.

Tuesday market.jpg


Sunday, 12 April 2009

Happy Easter!


Saturday, 11 April 2009

Roscoff's Globe Artichokes are in season, you know

I was at the wholesalers in St Brieuc on Friday to pick up provisions for both the Tea room and the food I am making for AIKB for Monday's Easter Fair. There in the fruit and veg section were crates of our local Breton globe artichokes, which I just adore.

This is a picture I took at the Pontivy market, the mobile phone camera compression doesn't do the startling purple against the vibrant green any justice. I must go back with my digital camera and try again. But, don't you just love these artichoke cut flowers?


Now, usually, I will just buy a nice plump artichoke, cut off the stem so it sits upright, wash it really well and leave the water in the leaves to aid in the steaming, wrap it in microwave cling-film, set it in a microwave safe bowl to catch the water run off and nuke it for 6-8 minutes or so. You have to let it sit after you take it out for two minutes, still wrapped in the plastic wrap to finish the cooking. It's done when one of the bottom leaves pulls out easily and the flesh is tender. What could be easier for a quick snack? I am very happy eating this with some Best Foods (or Hellmann’s) mayonnaise or just some lemon mixed into softened demi-sel butter or even Beurre Blanc, if I'm feeling adventurous (and not lazy.)

However, sometimes you want something a bit more chi-chi for dinner guests; so, may I recommend this excellent recipe I use from Gourmet magazine?

Whole Stuffed Artichokes Braised in White Wine by Marie Miraglia
(With commentary and additions by Kitty)
Makes 4 first-course servings.
From Gourmet Magazine March 2002

If you have a pressure cooker (and I just bought myself one for my birthday, stainless steel, and it’s big enough to can in,) then by all means, do the artichokes in there! It takes a fraction of the time (1/5, for the pedants) and the leaves get so tender... Mmmmm. You can make the stuffing the day before and just keep it covered and chilled in the fridge. The fiddly bit is trimming and you need to do that either just before you cook them or do as I do and trim them and then place in a large pot of salted, well-acidulated water. (That’s half a handful of sea salt and the juice of a big lemon [or 4-5 Tablespoons if using squirty lemon juice] in 3-5 litres of water.) Weigh the artichokes down with a plate and a heavy can or two of something and place the lot in the fridge overnight. If I get an artichoke that is slightly past its prime, I do the same salty-lemon water thing and it plumps it right back up.

OK, stuffing the artichokes is pretty fiddly too, but, Oooh! Is it ever worth it!

For stuffing artichokes:
2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs from an Italian loaf or ‘pain’ (4 oz)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Parmesan Cheese (1 1/2 oz)
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced sweet soppressata (dried Italian sausage; 1 1/4 oz)
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon sea salt (Only ever use sea salt! How many times have I told you?)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium artichokes (8 to 9 oz each)
1 lemon, halved
4 thin slices provolone cheese

For cooking artichokes:
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Special equipment: a melon-ball cutter; a 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker or a wide 4- to 6-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid

Make stuffing:
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Spread breadcrumbs in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven until pale golden, about 10 minutes. Cool crumbs completely, and then toss with parmesan, garlic, parsley, soppressata, zest, salt, and pepper. Drizzle oil over crumbs and toss to coat evenly.

Trim and stuff artichokes:
Cut off artichoke stems and discard. Cut off top 1/2 inch of one artichoke with a serrated knife, then cut about 1/2 inch off all remaining leaf tips with sturdy kitchen shears. Rub cut edges of leaves with a lemon half.
Separate leaves slightly with your thumbs and pull out purple leaves from centre and enough yellow leaves to expose fuzzy choke. Scoop out choke with melon-ball cutter, and then squeeze some lemon juice into cavity. Trim remaining artichokes in same manner.

(If the artichokes have spent the night in the fridge, turn them upside down and let them drain for five minutes or so. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice to the centre cavity.)

Spoon about 2 tablespoons stuffing into centre cavity of each artichoke and, starting with bottom leaves and spreading leaves open as much as possible without breaking, spoon a rounded 1/2 teaspoon stuffing inside each leaf. Top each artichoke with a slice of provolone.

Cook artichokes:
Put water, wine, oil, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in pressure cooker (without insert) or pot and arrange stuffed artichokes in liquid in one layer.
Seal pressure cooker with lid and cook at high pressure, according to manufacturer's instructions, 10 minutes. Put pressure cooker in sink (do not remove lid) and run cold water over lid until pressure goes down completely.
If using a regular pot, simmer artichokes, covered, until leaves are tender, about 50 minutes.
Transfer artichokes with tongs to four soup plates and spoon cooking liquid around them.
I will happily eat this as a light lunch in summer with some chewy, slow-ferment rye or pain de campagne and demi-sel butter, a glass of Pinot Grigio and a perfectly ripe white peach for dessert.
Bon appétit!

Monday, 06 April 2009

Loving at a distance.

Lisa made a comment to me the other day as we were musing over her Birthday Cocktail Party and the characters who attended, “Why do perfectly normal, intelligent women stay with such horrendous partners?” We were thinking specifically of this lovely French woman, quite a beauty in manner and face, who is not only a kind soul and sweet, perfectly mild-mannered and a sensitive artist… but is also physically and emotionally abused by her lugnut of a husband. He refuses to go take a driving test, as it’s ‘beneath him and besides, that is what the femme is for, non?” (‘Uproarious laughter’ on his part, yeah, more like ‘Fear of Failure’ is my firm opinion.) So, of course, she is always and forever the ‘designated driver. This was a problem after the party as I had made her several drinks including a LARGE Long Island Iced Tea and she was, frankly, snockered. Her husband still insisted she drive home, against all my and other’s protestations and even though we arranged someone to take them home and bring them back the next day to pick up their car, they disappeared off leaving the rest of us fraught with worry for their safety.

(DON’T drink and drive, please? It’s just stupid for everyone concerned. OK?)

So why DO people stay with unsuitable partners? Partners that can be a hindrance, destructive to the soul, a drain on the other’s personality and resources, partners who do nothing substantial to advance the other’s life, who control and manipulate and belittle… and bully. Why?

Well, just so you know, I don’t have an answer, I can only offer my own experience and take on the whole subject, because I have definitely been with boyfriends who tried to control me, (later, dude) then married a man who had developed passive-aggressiveness into an art form, (later dude) then lived with a complete psycho who needed to control every aspect of my day, (later dude) then finally married yet another man who, upon reflection was also a control freak and bully… (Wait for it… later, dude.)

Anyone notice a trend?

I suppose with such a pedigree as mentioned, I should have developed some kind of  innate capacity to ferret out and distinguish the character flaws that lie within those who choose bullies as life companions, and if not, certainly the flaws that lie within myself, but, I honestly don’t have a clue.

Is it fear of the unknown? Once you are in a situation, no matter how bad it is, it’s easier than changing because at least you know what you are in for? Better the ‘devil you know’?

I think certainly guilt is wound in there somewhere, obviously; the bully will make you feel like you have done something to degrade THEM, they are, in fact, the victim; the whole mess is actually YOUR fault. You put them there, if they hadn’t been with you they could be happy, thinner, more wealthy, successful, with or without children (you pick) or any number of ‘could haves’, ‘if onlys’ and ‘would haves’ phrased in such a way to make your culpability curl up and ooze like a salted slug. Is it really your fault? Are you solely to blame with the situation that you find yourself in right now? No, it never is, it is the interaction of the pair of you, it is your particular mélange. However, people who try to control, in my opinion, would try that with anyone, regardless, because of some deep-seated deficiency or defect within themselves.

I remember one comment from husband #1, “All these years I wasted on you, I could have been with someone who mattered.” Hmm… yes. Indeed, dear, you could have. And seeing as you did go back home to Mommy, I suppose you got your wish in the end. Just sad there are laws preventing that whole Oedipal thing, huh? (Sorry, Clockwork Tomcat, if that hurts, but if you insist on reading your Mother’s Blog, you will find stuff out about your father, you know.)

My women friends, at the time, could see the mess I was in and they ALL brought up the subject in subtle and not so subtle ways. I remember in particular one brilliant afternoon at Mission Beach in San Diego as a group of my women friends sat around, laughing and chatting, sharing a picnic as we watched our toddlers play in the sand together. One of my oldest and dearest friends just blurted out to me, “When the hell are you just going come to your senses, girl, and leave that lazy jerk of an alcoholic bully?” Her comment completely shocked me because, well, I hadn’t even really considered leaving in concrete terms and it would take an additional two years to finally walk out.

Funny how those who love and care for us can see, in many ways, so clearly our own situation whereas we cannot.

Maybe it is just apathy? You get so numb from life with that person that you can’t manage or even imagine anything else? Your creative thoughts are so dulled you can’t think ‘outside the box’? This is your lot in life and you just plod indeterminably forward, keep your head down, don’t rock the boat, live your day by heartbeats, listening to them tick away. The seconds ticking away your life, one after another as you walk on eggshells and try not to upset the applecart (or any of the other clichés liberally sprinkled in this posting.)

Knickers’ elastic, that’s what I call it, when you get to that point you are so stretched that something just gives, and after, everything is different, everything has changed and you can’t possibly in your mind go back to where you were before that happened. You have tesseracted* into a different dimension and life is no longer as it was. That’s when it’s time to make the change and move on, well; it always is for me, at least.

These knickers’ elastic moments stand out, as well, in my mind. Particularly the one when I left the girl’s father, I had just had enough and over the course of an evening spent in Chester, thinking and mulling over my life, something snapped, I realised life did not have to continue in it’s downward spiral and that was it, I could never go back after that. I was just a different person in the morning, changed forever… and for the better. The penny finally dropped.

I think I want to wind this up by saying that finally, it all comes down to choice, what you choose for yourself and your own life. I can’t judge anyone but myself and my failures and successes; I certainly can’t use the same determiners with anyone else. My life is completely different than anyone else’s (boy, howdy) and what works for me won’t really work for anyone else. (As my darling Saligo Bay puts it, ‘You are unique, like everyone else.')

So is this my answer? Did I find one finally? Or is this a Kitty Cop-out?

No, just something I have had to come to terms with myself when I observe my acquaintances, friends and loved ones in difficult situations themselves. It is all about choice, they have it, I have it and so do you. You and I and they all choose what we do with our lives and that includes choosing to change… or choosing to continue on with the status quo. In the end, all any of us can do to help is to love our friends, voice concern, be there for support, let them know you are there and you will always be available. Then you must do what is possibly the most painful and difficult thing of all, but, is truthfully and ultimately the best for each of our loved ones: let them decide for themselves their own life’s path and how they choose to walk it.

Saturday, 04 April 2009

It seemed like a good name at the time...

As a joint Birthday Treat for myself and big kitten, last month we went to mercredi lunch at this particular Chinese Buffet restaurant in St Brieuc. (They have sushi! AND wasabi!) It’s really good, extremely fresh, highly popular, always busy and at 11 euros for adults and 7 for children at lunchtime, it’s an affordable treat every few months or so. I can stuff my cake-hole with Dim Sum (my one fatal weakness, good Dim Sum… ok, that and sushi,) there is egg-drop soup, Thai-Beef salad, lots of different (and changing) main course things like Caramel Pork, Chicken with Wood-Ear Mushrooms and crunchy, crispy hot nems… with nice lettuce and delicious fresh mint and dipping sauce. Oooo! Plus there is serve-yourself ice cream for afters and litchi (or eyeballs) and that gummy sesame confection so popular here in Asian eateries. The girls love this place because they can choose the meat and veg they want and then watch it being stir-fried in a big wok over a fierce gas fire; all steam, and flames and noise – toss toss! A bit of drama with your meal.

Anyway, little kitten and I were sitting alone while the others were off getting refills and she noticed a sign on the wall. “Mummy? What’s a WC?” Amused, I asked her, “Well, what do you think it stands for?” She puzzled at the pictogram showing a person in a dress, a person wearing trousers, a child and a wheelchair. “Woman, child, wheelchair? What about the man, Mummy?” Hmm, good rationale. “But, this is France, so… the sign wouldn’t be in English, would it?” More brow furrowing. “OK, it’s pronounced Vey-cey”, “Oh! Toilets!” she brightened. “Didn’t you ever wonder what that meant? I mean it’s actually doubla-vey-cey, but we shorten in to vey-cey. It actually stands for water closet, see? WC or water closet. That’s an English term they use in the UK and it means toilet.”

Big kitten returned to the table and little kitten gave me ‘the eye’.  She obviously wanted to quiz her big sister with her newfound knowledge. “Heh, M… see that sign on the wall? Do you know what it stands for? Her sister looked and then thought about it. ”Could it be… no. Hmmm.” Then a notion came into her head, she sat up straight, blushed and leaned in close to whisper with raised eyebrows and a cheeky grin, “Willy and Couscous?”

It was all I could do not to fall onto the floor and roll about laughing.

Explanation is in order, I think. While at home, we use the correct terms for body parts, a penis is a penis, a vagina is a vagina, however, out in public, we use more delicate and less ‘offensive’ terms. A man’s bit is a willy and a woman’s is known as couscous. I know.. I know… but I made that up years ago when my Clockwork Tomcat was about three and have used it ever since. Seriously. AND I have used it with the girls since year dot. The girls know the difference, I mean we DO use the kibbled semolina product known as couscous as a feculent quite often but the slang term has always been used as well.

How was I to know we would end up in France where Couscous evenings and Couscous as a plat du jour are so prevalent… (snicker)

Friday, 03 April 2009

Waiting for Godot...

I'm so impatient. I really am.

Now, this can be a good thing, sometimes, like when things need to be done, people organised, motivated, that sort of thing. This needs to happen now! Let's go!

It can also be a not-so-good thing when I am cooking Chinese which requires ages of mise-en-place, or baking slow-ferment bread, for instance... or doing needlework... or anything tedious. Like darning socks. Now, luckily, right about the time in any particular task that I start getting sloppy and forcing or pushing things, my anal-retentive obsessive compulsiveness kicks in and I get highly detail-oriented. (My herbs and spices are alphabetised, that sort of thing.)

Good things come to those who wait”… didn’t I already do this theme at one point on Kitty Chat? I think I remember the link to Aerco and George Hahn’s desk with the above quote and the ending, “But only the things left by those who hustle.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, patience. It’s the virtue I need to learn this time around. So, I am constantly beset with opportunities to practice said virtue, which I do NOT possess, no, I really don’t, not in any great quantity. I am, however, endevouring to cultivate patience. Quiet, calm and Zen-like patience.

I think it’s easier to wait when you have loads going on. If it’s just you and the ‘thing’ you are attending, that’s when you have problems… is the thing done yet? (poke, poke) Is it ready yet? Can I use it yet? (poke, poke)

I am lucky that the people who know and love me, understand this thing about me and either adapt for me or somehow fix things so that I don't realise I am waiting... at least, not straight off.

Still, I usually figure it out and get all stressed because of it.

Deep cleansing breaths, Kitty.

Because sometimes... just sometimes, that 'thing' is really, really, really, worth the wait. Regardless.

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