fragrant fun at Fragonard

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All the girls are now at university so we are officially empty nesters. With that in mind we decided to take a few days off and are currently enjoying warm weather and the local rosé in the south of France.  St Paul-de-Vence to be precise, and very lovely it is too.

As we are only half an hour from Grasse it was not difficult to persuade the Boss that a little detour around the Fragonard museum and factory would be a pleasant way to spend the morning.

The museum was small but fascinating with fine examples of toiletry bottles and equipment from as early as the sixth century BC, the latter in such superb condition that at first I thought it was a copy.  But the jewel in the crown is the factory tour.

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The bottles of essential oils alone were enough to woo me.

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The bottle went on and one.  To be honest I am not sure what is in them, but they were so beautiful.

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Originally extraction was either cold press, where each flower was placed on a rack of animal fat (cow or pig) for twenty four hours and then replaced daily for a  month until the fat was soaked with the flower essence.  It was then washed with alcohol, the alcohol evaporated away and what was left was the absolute.

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Racks for cold press.

More robust plants were heated with the oil over a few days and then washed with alcohol as above.  Today they have perfected a slightly more rapid option using alcohol directly, or the good old maceration and still method.  (See my post here about how to make your own rosewater – but sadly not essential oil!)

The perfumes (at 76% these are the perfumes not the eau du parfum nor eau de toilette) are blended in these huge vats.  Perhaps not quite as romantic as those rose petals we soaked in water to make perfume for our mothers, but a little more effective!

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I am wearing this particular perfume today/

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Some of the equipment looked like giant coffee machines!

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For reasons known only to Fragonard, you can buy egg boxes of soap.

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This process was a little more familiar (soap making not egg boxes – most of our egg boxes are full of real eggs from our real hens!)

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Lots of mixing, shaving and mixing again.  Mind you their equipment is a little more sophisticated.

They also run workshops where you can mix your own perfume.  Sounds fun at two hours and might give it a go.  Particularly when I learned it takes six years to train as a Nose.  That’s as long as a doctor!  This is the play laboratory.  Apparently a real one has 2,000 to 3,000 different scents to choose from!  This Libran would find that a little overwhelming.

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And finally of course to the shop!  The prices were actually quite reasonable (especially with my 10% discount voucher acquired earlier in the day!)  So a few purchases were made.

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Today is Farmers’ Market day in St Paul-de-Vence so it will be cheese I will be smelling and tasting!

Love Gillie x

to sieze or not the day

Horace

Horace has a lot to answer for.  Often regarded as the first autobiographer as well as a superb poet he also was either right hand man or court puppet, depending on your point of view, to Octavius during the transition from Republic of Rome to Roman Empire.  He also coined two of the most misused words in poetry: carpe diem.

From the first book of Odes, the words carpe diem are frequently translated as “seize the day” and often quoted alongside six equally misused words: live each day as your last.  I have recently had good cause to consider these six words.

My eldest daughter has been travelling in southern Mexico. She was travelling with a friend who returned at the end of last week, my daughter is due to fly back tonight.  Like parents of most young travellers we watched her Facebook page and kept in touch with the occasional text.  Then on Saturday morning I woke up to the news of the devastating earthquake in Mexico.  It took me a good five minutes before I linked Mexico, earthquake and my daughter.  And then I went into panic mode.  It went a little like this.

  • Main damage is in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Check where daughter was last seen.  Chiapas.
  • Check last message from travelling companion.  Daughter due to leave Chiapas for Oaxaca.
  • Contact travelling companion.  Daughter said she was going to spend her last few days on the coast at Puerto Escondido.  The coast, the nearest part of the country to the epicentre.
  • I send emails, texts, messages to her.  None are returned.

I tell myself she will be fine.  Then I ask myself why should she be fine?  Why should ours be the story with the happy ending.  I watch the numbers of deaths rise alarmingly.  I remember what I said when she left.  It was something like “have a lovely holiday and take care” followed by a kiss and a hug.

I fire up all the networks I know and help and support comes pouring out of the woodwork.  A friend of a friend is married to a Mexican military official who will check casualty lists.  Old school friends offer somewhere for her to stay when (if?) she is found.  People offer help with repatriation when (if?) she is found and she can’t get to her flight.  Somebody knows a BBC journalist in Mexico and asks if I would like her to make contact.  Anything, yes please.  This was a little odd as I then found myself on the M74 heading up to Glasgow to drop another daughter at university and conducting a live radio interview at the same time (I wasn’t driving!)

I think back to the time she left and wonder if I should have said more, should I have lived that day as if it were her last?  I am now in serious mother panic mode, but on the outside am all calm and positive.  Only my feet are paddling furiously under the water and going nowhere.

We arrive in Glasgow, still no news.  I have been welded to my phone all day.  We go out for a meal and for the first time in my life I have my phone, screen up in front of me on the table.  All those times I have sneered at people who can’t leave their phones for one second and I have become that person overnight.

Late that night standing in the co-op whilst the twins pick up some fruit and yoghurt one of them yelps “She is active on Facebook!”  Frantic punching of keys and we phone her.

She is fine, she is safe and she is well.  She had not been in Puerto Escondido, she had not been in Chiapas, nor Oaxaca city.  She had been up in the mountains.  They had felt the quake and it had been terrifying, but in the middle of nowhere, with no telephone or internet connection they had no idea of the devastation elsewhere.  It was not until they got down to Oaxaca city that it dawned on them that they had had a very lucky escape.

I have no idea what the other people in the Co-op made of our happy little family squeaking and shrieking as we headed out onto Gordon Street, but who cared?

She isn’t home yet and today I am hoping to find out if she has made it to Mexico City where she can catch the first of her planes home.  If not, well we’ll sort something out.

Going back to saying goodbye to her before she left. If we truly are to live each day as if it were our last then we would not really be living at all.  We would be forever fearful of what tomorrow might bring, we could not seize this day because our minds would be forever concentrating on the next day.

Carpe diem is correctly translated as “pluck the day”, perhaps no better than “sieze the day” in its intention?  However, as with all things context is vital.

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – sieze the present, trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.

Now things start to make a little more sense.  Perhaps it is wise not to trust tomorrow entirely, because the lack of flexibility that would ensue would make for a very fractured and disappointing life as things fail to go as expected.  On the other hand, to have no trust in tomorrow is equally unhelpful.

So I have my own tenet.  I won’t seize (or pluck) the day, nor will I live each day as if it were my (or even my daughter’s) last.

I will live contentedly.  I will enjoy this moment and at the end of each day I ask myself if I had a good day.  If I did I spend a moment or two reliving and enjoying it.  If I didn’t, then I look at where I could have, if at all, improved upon it and then I let it go.  It is been and gone and tomorrow is another day.  To be trusted a little but not to be entirely depended on.

love Gillie x

autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

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Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

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We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x

 

plastic free july

I’ve covered this before, funnily enough in July!  I was very good, I avoided all sorts of plastic I otherwise took for granted but then as the year wore on I fell off the bandwagon.  So I thought I would assess how much I had managed to stick to.  I was pleasantly surprised.

 

  • Stainless steel straws.  I have struggled to get the girls on board with this but small steps.  If I go out I take my own straw.

 

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  • Glass coffee cup.  I don’t have takeaway cups anymore.

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  • Stainless steel lunch box

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  • Bamboo cutlery, none of that nasty and easily snapped plastic rubbish thank you 🙂

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  • Enameled mugs, plates and bowls for picnics.

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  • Portable BBQ, we have a lot of BBQs on holidays and now we don’t need to buy disposable ones.  We even have our own flint but that is a bit hardcore!

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  • Beeswax food wrap.  I made my own, but you can easily buy it now.
  • Leftovers always go in a bowl not in foil or cling film
  • Stainless steel wineglasses.  We still have glass ones, but these are the every day ones.  Less broken glass.  Also much nicer for picnics.

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  • Onya vegetable bags rather than plastic bags at the greengrocer/supermarket.  This has caused a bit of a stir at some tills, but so far nobody other than a chap in Romania has actually refused to let me use them.
  • Who gives a crap bamboo loo roll and kitchen paper.  It comes wrapped in paper not plastic  (which makes excellent wrapping paper for people who don’t mind the words!)  Also they donate 50% of profits towards building loos in the Developing World.  So win win.  I also have reusable kitchen roll which is fab.  It is sadly in a plastic box because all the metal ones were HUGELY overpriced.  I’m still looking.

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  • I keep all my paper bags.  Very useful for ripening fruit and vegetables and storing mushrooms.
  • I think it goes without saying that I never travel without my parachute Onya shopping bag.  No plastic bags thank you.
  • We rarely drink fizzy drinks but we do drink a lot of fizzy water.  I have a Sodastream now.
  • I mainly drink loose leaf tea and make my own herbal teas.  Most (not all) teabags contain plastic.
  • I bulk buy and refill wherever possible.  Sadly much that I bulk buy still comes in plastic (washing liquids, oils in particular)  I’m working on that.
  • Compost, compost, compost.  We had to build a new compost bin so I am starting from scratch and it will be a year or so before I have my own compost supply, but when I do I will not need big plastic bags of compost.

 

Where I have not done so well.

  • Animal feed.  All bar the chicken pellets come in big plastic sacks.
  • Even bulk buying liquids means I have to buy in plastic even if I am buying less plastic than if I bought individually.
  • I tried a bamboo toothbrush and still use it for travelling but I couldn’t give up my non-compostable electric one.
  • All toothpaste comes in plastic whether it is paste or powder.
  • We can’t get milk in glass or waxed card containers.
  • I have fallen up on buying pre-packed food (meat, vegetables, cheese, deli produce) I need to get back on the wagon again.
  • I stopped making my own bread, yoghurt, kefir on a regular basis.
  • I haven’t been very good at keeping cardboard boxes and so have often used plastic postage envelopes for parcels.

Still not bad, plenty of room for improvement but now I can see where I have to work.

Why don’t you give it a go too  Plastic Free July.

the upcycling cycle

I love social media, to be specific Facebook.  I quite like twitter and Whatsapp is great for group conversations but if I want to waste an hour without noticing then Facebook is the place for me.  I follow news outlets, political parties, craft groups and an upcycling group.

Upcycling- the new shopping.  Don’t buy something new, don’t throw away something old, upcycle it into something totally different.  It  ticks all the boxes for the eco-friendly.  You can create new, useful and beautiful objects from stuff that would otherwise go in o landfill, and at the same time you are not buying new and unnecessary stuff that will probably end up in landfill in a few years time anyway.  Perfect.

Or is it?  There are two types of upcycling projects.  The one where you find something lurking around the house and instead of chucking it out a light bulb goes off in your head and you say “wow this cracked decanter that hasn’t seen a bottle of wine in decades would make a perfect lampstand”.  Using my highly accurate survey methods (i.e. asking around, looking on social media and following a huge range of upcycling blogs etc) about 80% of potential crystal lampshades will remain as cracked decanters; 10% will get part way there and will metamorphose into decanterlamps that are missing vital parts and will never make the full transformation; 5% will be transformed but never switched on and will remain in the workroom/shed and a lucky 5% will shine bright on the table shaming every failed upcycler who comes into the room.

The second type of project is that created by the pro-active seeker upcycler.  This character scours markets, auction houses, freegle, swap and sale groups and second-hand  and charity shops actively looking for potential projects.  No three-legged chair is without potential and nirvana is a pile of pristine, unwanted pallets.  It is also not unheard of to purchase new (“what?!”) items purely in order to turn them into something else.  I will confess to  having fallen into that category.  Why buy something already made, when I can buy the constituent parts and make it myself.  We are not talking saving hundreds or even tens of pounds.  I suspect my rather lovely cake tin stand would have cost as much to purchase ready made as it did for me to make it (but it wouldn’t have wobbled quite as nicely as mine does).

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Returning to my highly tuned research methods I had assumed that these projects would have a higher success rate.  The people who take the the time to seek out the unpolished gem and part with hard earned cash for it are surely not going to let it languish unloved in a shed?  These are people who frequently sell their completed upcycles.  They have a vested financial interest in getting the job done.

Ladies and gentleman, we are all the same.  Whilst there are of course exceptions to every rule (and the standard deviation for my statistics here is probably in the region of +/- 2,500 or thereabouts!) the proactively sought and paid for projects stand just as much chance of making it to that final 5% as granny’s whisky decanter did.

As the build on the Barn and Gin Gan comes nearer to completion we have to move even more stuff out and rehouse it in our now smaller home.   The picture frame that I was going to turn into a gilt mirror, the china kept for mosaic work.  How long have I had them?  Have they magically transformed themselves in my absence?  Reader, they have gone.  Perhaps somebody else would like to house them in the vain hope that they might one day make a mosaic effect mirror?

mango mango mango

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There is nothing like a mango, nothing that I can know.  With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.  One of the many, many bonuses of being in SE Asia is the proliferance of mangoes.  Back home we usually only have two choices of mango (Kent and Keitt) both of which are relatively bland compared to the huge choice available across Asia.  Mango is sold on almost every street corner in Thailand, chopped up in little bags with convenient little wooded sticks to avoid getting your fingers sticky.  As the girls will confirm, any attempt to prevent my fingers getting sticky and dribbling food down my front is bound to fail.  I am the messiest eater I know.  As a result when travelling and needing a snack to keep me going I avoided the fresh variety and instead stocked up on dried mango.  The only problem was that I could eat an entire family sized bag in one sitting, and frequently did!

The good news is that it is now possible to get other varieties of Mango in the UK.  One option is to seek out your local specialist Indian supermarket or if you live in Durham the wonderful Robinsons Greengrocers on North Road, but if you are in a specialist shop desert you can find some delicious Pakistani and Indian mangoes in some of the larger supermarkets and I am reliably informed that Thai mangoes will be available this year too.  Get hunting mango lovers.

However, dried mango is readily available and to maintain my mango fix without dribbling down my front I made these yummy mango balls from Madeleine Shaw’s Ready Steady Glow

  • 200g dried mango
  • grated zest of one lime
  • 180g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • sesame seeds for rolling

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Soak the mango in water for half an hour or so and drain.  I kept the water and put it in my water bottle for the next day.

Add the mango to the rest of the ingredients and blitz in a food processor.

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Mould into bite-size balls and roll in the sesame seeds.  Keep in the fridge for as long as you can!

Next time I may pass on the sesame seeds or perhaps toast them first as I didn’t think they added all that much and they kept sticking between my teeth.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of recipe is the total adaptability.  Swap mango for dried apricots, swap coconut for chopped nuts (I’ve tried apricot and pistachio – you can see the little green squares on the left of the top photo – they were delicious and as you can see there are only a few left!)

Enjoy.

Love Gillie x

the kimchi kick

There is nothing like the kick that you get from a good mouthful of kimchi first thing in the morning.  It is the mother of all wake up calls.  But unless you happen to  have a Korean chef living in the kitchen, or live above a Korean restaurant you are going to have to make it yourself.

I have had several goes at  making kimchi with varying success.  I trawled the internet for recipes but I struggled to get the balance right.  Some were too spicy, some not spicey enough.  Some seemed like a vegetable explosion with a shopping list as long as my arm.  Some looked rather sparse.

Then I went on a little cookery books shopping spree and one of my purchases was this

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And there on page 98 was Kimchi nirvana.  Just the right mix of vegetables and just the right balance of spice.

Here it is, with thanks to Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo Classic Cabbage Kimchi (baechu kimchi)

  • 1 large airtight sterilised jar with lid

vegetables

  • I large Chinese cabbage (about 1kg)
  • 50g table salt
  • 70g sea salt
  • 450g daikon radish cut into fine julienne strips
  • 30g chives cut into 4cm lengths
  • 4 spring onions halved lengthways and cut into 4cm lengths

paste

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 20g grated ginger
  • 100g finely chopped onion
  • 1tbsp salted shrimp paste
  • 70g gochugaru red pepper powder (I substituted medium strength smoked paprika)
  • 100ml nam pla
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp coconut sugar (you can use unrefined sugar if you can’t get coconut sugar)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

First prepare the cabbage.  I misread the instructions and separated the leaves, this recipe actually asks you to cut the base off the cabbage and separate the leaves whilst keeping the cabbage intact.  Rinse well and sprinkle the sea salt on each leaf, focussing on the thick base and working up to the thinner peak then place in a bowl of saline made with 1 litre of water and the table salt.  Leave for four hours until the leaves are soft and limp.

Meanwhile make the paste.  This was new to me, I had never used rice flour before and this was a much thicker paste than I had made before.  Mix the flour with 2 tbsp of water with a fork until there are  no lumps and add a further 230ml of water and place in a pan.  Heat to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring all the time until the paste is thick and glutenous.

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Remove from the heat and leave to cool, the paste will become thicker still as it does

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Combine all the rest of the paste ingredients in a food processor with the cooled paste.

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Transfer to a large bowl with the daikon, spring onions, and chives.  Mix well ensuring that all the vegetables are well combined with the paste.

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Now this is where I had to divert from the original instructions as I had separated my cabbage leaves.  I covered each leaf with the mixture and rolled it up.  If you have followed the instructions properly you spoon the mixture onto each cabbage half making sure to cover every leaf with the mixture and wrapping the outer leaf of each half around the cabbage to keep the mixture in.

Place in the jar leaving 3cm between the cabbage and the lid.  Seal tightly and keep at room temperature for two days.  By then it will have started to ferment and will smell a little sour and there will be plenty of juice.  Press the cabbage down into the juice, reseal and place in the fridge.  Start to taste it after a couple of weeks.  The longer you leave it the more sour it will become.  It should keep for about five to six months in an air tight container in the fridge.

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Enjoy

Love Gillie x