On the last Saturday in July I was standing behind a table lined with rows of vegetable tarts and meringues, little delights that I had made and was now meaning to SELL! “How utterly odd” I thought to myself, after years and years of going to markets, buying delights, to be at the opposite side of the table presenting people with my own little creations. And how fun! Growing up this was not really a scene I could have imagined, nor was having 7 kids, countless dogs or basically anything that’s happening in my life today, including writing a cookbook. I was recently reminded of how unpredictable life is, how the wars we prepare for are not necessarily the wars we fight. This reminder came from an unlikely and, frankly, a rather unwelcome source – but it did serve its purpose, at least I am writing about it now. Some person left a comment on one of my instagram photos, one where I am coming out of a pastry shop with my two daughters and a dog in tow. It’s a beautiful green storefront with the most sumptuous pastries on display and I’d like to think we all look very content. The comment (which I deleted – but now sort of regret having done that) said something along the lines of this: “You promote childbirth and cooking but women should be in boardrooms making important decisions as CEO’s”. One has to wonder if the commentator thinks that CEO’s never buy pastries, even on weekends, or perhaps that they don’t have children. Maybe just that they’d look miserable buying strawberry cakes with their kids because they’d much rather be … in the boardroom. I suppose a top CEO would have a nanny, and a personal assistant for buying pastries but let me go on record and say that even if I was the president of France I would still buy my own pastries. My life was always filled with food and cooking but being practical I did actually prepare myself for the boardroom. I studied business and finance, I worked in business development. I am quite sure that had I persisted I might even have made it to the boardroom. Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the boardroom, it’s a perfectly acceptable room. No worse in fact than the kitchen, the little shop, the atelier, the classroom or any other room I can think of. I guess what I am getting at, is that this little comment reminded me of how grateful I am to have had a choice. A choice that my grandmother and great-grandmother perhaps didn’t have. They were never destined for the boardroom, they didn’t get the chance to choose. Choice is freedom. Finding something you like to do, something you are, hopefully, reasonably good at and then having the chance to do it – that is the path to a good life, the path to happiness even. So to the person who left that comment I’d like to say this: “I understand where you are coming from, thanks for the input – but your comment would have been more appreciated had it been less aggressive and more polite. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it.”
p.s. Since I am opening a little table d’hôtes/ chambres d’hôtes, with cooking workshops etc I guess I am technically the CEO of that operation. I will still be buying my own pastries though.
Meringues at midnight
I had originally planned to make duck burgers for my stand at the Fête de village in St Christoly. But there wasn’t enough time and we didn’t really have the facilities to fry burgers at the square. Next time! This time I just wanted to make something light and tasty that everyone likes and could be made in advance. Tian tartlets seemed to fit the bill, all the ingredients are in season, they are easy to make, lovely to look at and so tasty with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil. The real challenge was making a hundred meringues with one oven. Meringues take more than an hour to cook and as I wanted them as fresh as possible most of the“meringuing” happened after midnight on Friday night and then in the early hours of Saturday. The whole family helped out (some more and others) slicing vegetables, carefully arranging them on top of the tarts. Thorir went on an excursion deep into the forest to gather bunches of fern that we meant to decorate our table with. When we decided not to use them (mainly because we ran out of time) he contemplated selling them but as Médoc woods are 50% covered in fern he realized there wasn’t really a market for it. We had a small worry that all our efforts would be in vain, what if nobody wanted tian tarts and meringues, especially since they were waiting for duck burgers. The small queue that waited for us when we arrived was most encouraging and I am happy to report that everything we had sold in under two hours. We had our share of little mishaps, I sprayed creme chantilly over a woman who was very gracious about it and Louise fell and got herself a bloody nose, her first ever.
In the end we ran out of cream, out of sauce, so we started giving the meringues for free. The two tian tarts we gave to a lovely couple, readers of the blog who had come all the way from Bordeaux to have duck burgers. Hudson and Louise, ever competitive, were mesmerized by all the money that we put into an old biscuit box. Hudson even embarrassed me by counting it from time to time in front of everybody. The best thing about that box though was taking money out of it and using it to buy food from all the other stands around us. We had the tastiest duck sausages from one stand, Moroccan biscuits from another. Oddur bought some wine, the kids some candies. I can’t think of a more fabulous, old-fashioned experience than staying up late, making little “plats”, then taking your efforts to the market and trying out what the others have to offer. It is country life at it’s best.
I love writing this blog, cooking and communicating, reading your comments and answering them. But meeting people face to face, your neighbours, some readers of Manger, old faces, new faces – that’s even better. That’s what I hope to achieve with my cooking workshops. Meeting people, enjoying food, sharing stories. I may be going out on a limb here, and we are behind schedule, but I am determined to get started with the workshops later this year. All roads lead to St. Yzans.
That Saturday night, exhausted but happy, I made an old-fashioned veal roast with summer vegetables. It wasn’t supposed to be a blog post, it was just something I wanted to make and thought could be delicious. Hudson kept asking me how big his share of the proceeds would be. “Gunnhildur did the most” I said, “So don’t you think it’s fair she gets the biggest share?” I asked. He wasn’t sure about that. In the end we settled it all amicably. Bigger efforts got bigger rewards. That box still stands on a shelf in my bedroom. It’s empty now but for a cheque of 12 euros that someone used to pay for meringues and tarts. I think I’ll keep it as a souvenir of a good day. Sometimes a cheque is worth more than the number that’s written on it.
Tian tartlets (for eight tartlets)
These pretty and rustic tartlets look like small bouquets, perfumed with thyme and bay leaves. the trick is to slice the vegetables as thinly as possible to create a pretty tartlet.
230 g/ 8 ounces x 2 shortcrust pastry/pate brisée
1 small eggplant/ aubergine, sliced finely
1 zucchini/ courgette, sliced finely
2 tomatoes, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
A few springs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C/395°f.
Grease with butter 10 cm/4 inches wide tartlet pans x 8
Use pastry to line base and sides of tartlet pan. Trim excess pastry. Using a fork, pierce pastry base.
Slice zucchini, aubergine , tomato and garlic finely. Line slices alternating zucchini/aubergine/tomato to create a rose-like pattern until you reach the center. Slide in 4 garlic slices between the vegetable slices. Drizzle with olive oil all over, sprinkle salt, black pepper, fresh thyme and 1 small bay leaf (see photo).
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are golden. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before unmoulding.
Old-fashioned summer veal roast
This delightful summer veal roast is so easy to prepare and has become a family favorite for dinner. The tomatoes stand out in this recipe, and the sauce mixed the vegetables and pancetta is heavenly with mashed potatoes.
1.3 kg /2.8 pounds veal shoulder roast(preferably with bone, but rolled is good too)
60 g/ 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, sliced
230 g/ 8 ounces pancetta, sliced finely into matchstick size
2 cups/500 ml dry white wine
80 ml/ 1/3 cup veal stock
3 small carrots, sliced finely
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 celery branches, sliced finely
15 plum tomatoes
1 bouquet garni
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 320°F
In a large cast-iron dutch oven/cocotte, melt the butter and sauté the onions until soft but not browned. Add the pancetta and continue to sauté for 3 minutes, then add the veal and brown the meat on all sides. Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and throw in the bouquet garni. Pour the wine and mix all the ingredients together. Bring to a simmer, add the tomatoes, veal stock & unpeeled garlic cloves. Cover the pot.
Transfer the dutch oven/ cocotte into the oven and cook for 1 hour and thirty minutes to 2 hours, until cooked through and tender. Cut the veal into slices. Serve with mashed potatoes and pour the gravy with vegetables on top.
Vanilla meringues with peaches & cream
Simply irresistible – this dessert literally sold out within minutes!
For the meringues
(for approximately 8 meringues)
6 egg whites (at room temperature)
260 g/ 1 1 1/3 cup caster sugar
50 g/ ½ cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch (maïzana)
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
For the ultra-easy coulis
For the raspberry
230 g/ 8 ounces raspberry, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Blend together in a mixer.
For the apricot
230g/ 8 ounces apricots, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Combine pitted apricots with the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on a medium heat until they are soft and the sugar is melted. Process in a mixer and leave to cool before serving.
1 cup/ 250 ml heavy cream, for whipping
8 yellow or white peaches (count 1 peach per person) – peeled and sliced
Pre-heat your oven 140°C/280°F.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites on a high-speed until frothy. Add the cornstarch, pinch of salt and sugar/ confectioner’s sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually. Add the vanilla essence. Continue to whisk until stiff and glossy. Transfer mixture to a piping bag and pipe meringues (about the size of a medium-sized orange) on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven 140°C/280 F for 25 minutes, then lower heat 95°C/200 F and continue to bake for 1 hour (2 hours if you prefer them slightly crunchier). Switch the heat off and open the oven door. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven. When the meringues are completely cooled, whisk the cream in a large bowl until stiff. To serve, tap the meringues to create a little nest, add a few spoons of whipped cream, scatter the sliced peaches on top and drizzle with the coulis.