GOOD MORNING! A PICTURE POSTCARD OF LE PUY NOTRE DAME

Rue Sainte, One of the many charming

Rue Sainte, one of the many charming “rues” in Le Puy Notre Dame

The sun is shining and it’s 30°C. Medieval Le Puy Notre Dame is full of little tiny rues darting off in all directions and so to relax and discover new walks is one of life’s pleasures here.

This is a photograph of rue Sainte which is a pretty little walk downhill looking towards Cix with a fabulous vista and is one of the most charming rues in the village. I am sure many of our guests will have already discovered this on their walks. We love it! On the roadside there are lots of hollyhocks and rambling roses interspersed with wild flowers and it just gets better as you descend into the vineyards you can see the bunches of grapes are so beautiful and beginning to ripen – it won’t be long before the vendage, (grape harvest), starts.  Perhaps as little as three weeks if the weather holds.

Of course this walk has advantages in that ……. it’s only minutes from the bar too for a glass or two of chilled Chenin Blanc!  Hang on Brian did you say you wanted to come with me!!!!!  Oh no, you’ll already be there.

Looking forward to another day and another lovely walk – perhaps another glass of wine too!

Cheers!
Sheila

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LE CLOS DES GUYONS 2015 GRAND PRIX RETRO BBQ!

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Friends, guests and neighbours under the stars at midnight, very tired but happy, at the end of a fab weekend of festivities

This year was our ‘Twelfth’ Le Clos des Guyons 2015 Grand Prix Retro BBQ which we host for guests, friends and neighbours. As the weather was wet we decided to use our old Wine Chais – always a great venue for parties! Wines were courtesy of Robert Guyons, retired winemaker of ‘Domaine des Guyons’ now our home! – who brought his 1986 Saumur Blanc (a revelation to say the least) and there were many toasts to Robert for his generosity! Food was courtesy of Brian our hard working Chef! Oh and at the end we had a belated celebration toast to Sheila’s recent milestone birthday, with the delectable Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux, which we had been saving for the occasion. It was absolutely divine with our dessert of strawberry tarts!

The 19th Annual Grand Prix Retro of Le Puy Notre Dame (always the last Sunday in the month of July) started with the arrival early in the week of the pre 1935-classic car rally including sidecars and bikes. The village was buzzing with activity including the organising of the route with straw bales for barriers amongst other things. Events started on Friday evening 24th July, with the ‘Grande Regalade’ organised by the village L’Ambiance Ponote, a superb prelude to the weekend’s activities with huge long tables and chairs placed in the rue de la Collegiale for everyone to eat a fantastic meal together. This year we had spit roasted pig on the menu! Everyone had an aperitif brought around the tables by two volunteers with an old supermarket trolley full of different wines including of course Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame, it goes without saying we enjoy a few glasses of the village appellation on these occasions! We said the trolley idea reminded of the hostess trolley service on aircrafts, but of course these guys were far more entertaining with the banter as you can well imagine! This year the weather was unusually windy but nevertheless we soldiered on enjoying the music and singing whilst holding onto our wine glasses for fear of them tumbling from the tables!

The Saturday morning programme started with entrants having a day together rallying around various villages in the Loire (passing rue du Moulin on the way for our guests to enjoy)! Then a nocturnal village race starting at 9pm finishing at midnight! Sunday is the Grande Parade being a whole day of rallying and demonstrations ……… then for us at Le Clos des Guyons a continuation into the night of more food, wine and conviviality!

And so, here’s a toast to the ‘2016 Grand Prix Retro’ and, as it will be the 20th Anniversary, it’s going to be a three-day event …. full of surprises we are told!  We have lots to look forward to and are awaiting the dates to be announced!

Sante!
Brian and Sheila

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Reflections of a Saumur Bridge

The Pont Cessart from Saumur to l'ile Offard.

The Pont Cessart from Saumur to l’ile Offard.

We had just eaten in one of our favourite restaurants,  l’Auberge de la Reine de Sicile,  on the Ile Offard when, walking back to the mainland for the traditional 14th. July fireworks we noticed the Pont Cessart perfectly reflected in the mirror of the Loire.

à bientôt
Brian et Sheila

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A starburst of Lavender

A starburst or rather a lavenburst.  A lavender plant here at le Clos des Guyons

A starburst or rather a lavenburst. A lavender plant here at le Clos des Guyons

Bon été

Brian

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La Rochelle – An annual dose of stress

The horologe (clock tower) in the Old Port at La Rochelle.

The horloge (clock tower) in the Old Port at La Rochelle.

This year, as is normal, we headed down to La Rochelle for the start of the national celebrations of Sheila’s birthday. Like the Queen these celebrations normally go on for several weeks but the first event is always our annual pilgrimage to La Rochelle where at midnight we order two glasses of bubbles and raise a toast under the clock tower in the Old Harbour.

What is also understood is that we really need this wine because getting there involves an immense amount of stress. Every year is different but a lot of stress nevertheless.  The reason for this is that Sheila foolishly chose to be born in the same week that La Rochelle hosts the “Francofolies” a huge rock and pop extravaganza which attracts more than 400,000 people in the week and this year French icon Johny Halliday (the French Elvis) is appearing. The resulting traffic chaos is helped by the city closing the largest car park and turning it into a tented city.  In addition the road system has been partly pedestrianised and becomes incomprehensible not helped by the installation of hydraulic ramps which stop you going anywhere where you would remotely want to go.  I’ll just relate our experiences over the past three years:-

Old Port La Rochelle

Old Port La Rochelle

First year: I spent the compulsory hour trying to fathom the temporary road system.  I suddenly swapped lanes on account of there being a bloody great lump of concrete lying in it.  As a result someone hammered on their car horn and gave me a load of abuse.  I of course retaliated with the statutory finger as tradition demands.  He then screeched back in reverse, wound his window down and called me a bastard.  I told him to go **** himself.  He then opened the car door.  I opened mine.  He then had a change of mind and charged off down the road leaving a smell of burning rubber.  By this time everyone behind was banging their car horns and shouting abuse.  Rather than fight the whole of La Rochelle I wearily conceded defeat and drove on.  Welcome to La Rochelle.

Second Year:  Couldn’t get anywhere near the hotel and so, having dropped Sheila in the vicinity,  (“Can’t walk very far because of ma back”), I finally parked the car in the Place Verdun, a Himalayan hike from the hotel.  It is so far away from the hotel that seasons can change by the time you finally reach your destination.  And the season did change.  As I trudged up the streets with my bag over my shoulder and hauling Sheila’s container behind me, the heavens opened and torrential rain was bouncing from the pavement.  Despite using several bars as temporary shelter I was totally drenched by the time I reached the hotel.  I stood in front of the reception in an ever increasing pool of rainwater with my hair plastered to my head.  “Is it raining”?, asked the receptionist.
No, I just had an idea that it would be fun to jump in the sodding harbour I thought, through gritted teeth.
“Oh you should have said”, the receptionist said helpfully, “we would have lowered the ramps for you”.
“Might have been a good idea to tell me that before I walked from the Place Verdun in a monsoon”, I growled.
“It’s on our website” she smiled.
“No it isn’t”.
“It is”.
“Isn’t”
“Is”
“Isn’t”
She then cleverly avoided a diplomatic incident by offering us an upgrade to a room with harbour views which would have cost about a zillion Euros to rent normally.  So, as usual, greed overcame my principles.

Franco Follies, La Rochelle

Francofolies, La Rochelle

Third Year:  Having been driving around in circles for even longer than normal I finally lost it and drove up a one way street – only to meet someone coming the other way.  We exchanged the customary robust greetings, complete with gestures but this time we both clearly felt that honour had been upheld so continued serenely on our way.
La Rochelle?! overall, it would be less hassle to spend a weekend in Baghdad.

This year: praise god, there wasn’t any great problems apart from waiting on a car park for half an hour hoping someone would soon leave their car parking space for us to jump into and Sheila being in a foul mood because the weather had turned gloomy and windy or some other reason any or all of which was undoubtedly my fault.  But she cheered up when we found THE most amazing restaurant for her birthday evening about which I’ll do a separate post shortly.

Bon Vacance!
Brian

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The Singing Nuns of Doué la Fontaine

A group of Nuns enjoying themselves - no reason why they shouldn't of course!

A group of  Nuns enjoying themselves during a fête- no reason why they shouldn’t of course!

Went to our nearby town of Doué la Fontaine the other day where there was a fête in progress.  I forget what the reason for the festivities were, (if any is needed), but everyone seemed to be having a good time including the nuns who were singing and dancing along with the best of them!

à bientôt
Brian

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Roast Pork Stuffed with Boudin Noir, Apples and Sage

Roast Pork, black pudding , apples and sage

Je suis CharlieThis is what we served to our guests as part of the main course and it was very well received.  It’s basically the side of pork after the loin has been removed.  Depending on what side of the pond you’re on it’s either belly-pork or pork-belly.  Here in France it’s call the “poitrine” and whilst a lot cheaper to buy than prime cuts with a bit of work it can be a really impressive dish.  It’s true that it can take a while to prepare but not that long and it’s quite simple, even I can do it, and with the addition of carefully chosen ingredients it can be really stunning.

So off we go.  Buy the poitrine.  Ask your butcher to remove the ribs or do it yourself.  I find it strangely satisfying but I’ve always been a bit odd!

poitrine de porc

This is one of the few meat purchases which doesn’t really depend on weight but on length. Work out how long you want it to  be depending on the number of people you want to feed. Then visit  your butcher and wave your arms around like you’re describing a fish you’ve caught.  A length of as little as 10/12cms. will easily be enough for 4 people.

Make sure that you choose a poitrine with lots of meat on it as some can be very fatty.  It’s worth going to a really good butcher even if you have to pay more.  And, during the preparation, remove any excess fat that you come across.  If pork fat bothers you you’ll just have to make yourself a green salad instead I’m afraid!
So you’ve got your poitrine and now you’ve got to pretend you’re a surgeon and proceed to carry out the necessary operations.

Boning out belly pork

Don’t worry if you leave more meat on the ribs than you intended, all the better when you turn them into BBQ’d pork ribs afterwards.

Place the tip of a really sharp knife under one edge of the ribs and saw merrily away with the cutting edge inclined slightly upwards so that it closely follows the rib.  Prod around with your fingers to make sure that there aren’t any crafty pieces of bone pretending that they aren’t there.  Later you can marinate the ribs in a BBQ sauce and cook them in the oven, under the grill or even outside, on that strange bonfire thing in a box known, I think, as a BBQ.  This always confused one of my favourite, fictional characters, Rumpole of the Bailey, as he could never quite understand why people didn’t use the perfectly good cooker which was standing redundant in the kitchen. You’ll notice on the picture above that, after removing the ribs there is a section of the poitrine which is standing higher than the rest of the cut.  You need to slice this but leave the far edge attached like an hinge and simply fold it back so that the overall depth of the poitrine is as even as possible making it easier to roll.  The following picture shows you what I mean.

Leveling out the poitrine.

Leveling out the poitrine. You will need to use your judgement on where to slice, always bearing in mind that you want the same depth to the joint.

Now, if you’re still with me, when you’re happy flip the whole thing over and remove around half of the skin as below.  Or all of it if you are strange and don’t like “Crackling”.  If you leave all the skin on it will be difficult to roll.

Preparing poitrine de Porc

After removing half the skin make cuts in the remaining a couple of centimetres apart but try not to cut into the flesh.  Also use the opportunity to remove any excess fat.

You’ll notice that the sheet of meat isn’t exactly oblong it’s more a quadrilateral or, for all I know – or care, maybe even a Triskaidecagon or a Icosagon! Anyway, you need to make it as near as possible a perfect oblong so cut the short sides to make them square with the longer sides BUT, don’t just lob off a vaguely triangular lump but, take your time, and cut in slices, thereby giving yourself bacon for breakfast. Stuffed pork belly, BBQ’d ribs and now bacon.  What value you’re getting!
Now, flip the whole thing over again.  ……..Wake up at the back!! and lay your “stuffing ingredients”  on the flesh after you’ve seasoned it well with salt and pepper and rubbed it into the meat.

Stuffing the rib of pork

So start off with a layer of sage leaves. No need to chop them but don’t use very large leaves and stems as, for some reason that escapes me, they tend not to cook properly even after several hours in the oven and they develop a slightly bitter taste. Then a layer of sliced eating apple, take out the cores and seeds but no need to peel them.  And finally remove the casing (skin) from your boudon noir, (black pudding ) and gauge where to place it to make the whole thing easier to roll.

You know.  I wish I’d never let myself be persuaded to do this, it takes longer to write than to cook!
But hey, ho, onwards and upwards.  Of course you can stuff anything you like into the pork.  Apricots  or peaches would probably work and when the trees in and around Le Puy Notre Dame are full of cherries I’ll try those and the same later on with wild blackberries.

Now we come to the most important, the messiest and also the most satisfying stage of all.  The rolling. The picture below is what it should look like afterwards. Firm, solid and you should be able to bounce it in your hands without it collapsing about you.  If it does artistically surround your feet with a mixture of black pudding, apples and sage – it’s your fault, don’t blame me!

Rolled belly pork

Your knotting needs to be tight, tight, tight.  On this one I strung it longitudinally as well but it’s not really necessary – I just got carried away with the joy of knotting.  Don’t worry if the string goes between the cuts you’ve made in the skin.

Right.  If you can’t do a butchers knot then you will not get it tight enough.  If I tried to explain how to do one  you may well finish up throttling yourself so ask that nice Mister Google and practice on a baguette, the cat, your partners arm, (or even his/her neck if things have reached those depths).  If you don’t want to bother then you’ve wasted a lot of time reading this far.  Sorry.  I’ve embeded a Youtube video below which is one of the clearest that I’ve found
The thing about a butchers knot is that, if you yank on one end, it will tighten and tighten until you can’t pull no more.  The problem with a poitrine is that it is actually quite short as your money-grabbing butcher has already lobbed off the valuable loin and is probably sunning himself in Barbados as we speak.  In fact quite often the ends don’t overlap but simply meet in the middle. (the meat meets as it were – with apologies to Douglas Adams).  But although the two sides will probably not overlap it will still be perfectly formed as long as the stringing is…. altogether now, “TIGHT”.  So gently roll/bend it into shape and then encourage it to stay there by applying a moderate amount of grievous bodily harm.  It other words give it a gentle thumping.  When you have taught it who’s boss and it decides that discretion is the better part of valour and that it had better follow your instructions you can then start to string.
I always start in the middle and then string as near as I can to to the ends.  Then simply repeat the process equidistant between the existing strings.  As you’re doing it some of the ingredients will have the cheek to pop out from the ends.  Just cut off the escaping portions to keep your ends straight, that’ll teach ’em.  Now rub salt, (preferably sea salt) and pepper around the exterior of your rolled poitrine paying particular attention to the scoured skin which will become the crunchy “crackling”.  And now, finally my good people, you can put away your knives and that bloody string.  Clean down your chopping boards and dispose of escaping bits of ingredients because now the preparation is essentially finished and believe me, I’m as relieved as you are!

What you do now is to place the joint in the fridge preferably overnight.  Don’t cover it and find some way of supporting it so that the air can flow all around it.  A grill or something.  I’ve used half a dozen walnuts before now!  It looks like a log on legs.  Make sure you leave a container or something underneath as it can sometimes lose a fair amount of liquid.  And that is why you do it – so that it dries out a little.

Christmas day at le Clos des Guyons

Here we are on Xmas day with the stuffed pork, celeriac purée, quinelle of beetroot purée, braised endive, a cream sauce of morilles and cêpe mushrooms  and of course all the traditional xmas veg. L to R:- Sheila, me and the charming Family Hofley from New Hampshire, USA; Pamela, Catherine, (on her birthday), Marc, Maureen,Carolyn, (currently at college in France). Our friends Jim and Sue from the UK were also there but Jim was taking the picture and don’t know where Sue was – probably raiding the wine cellar!

The rest is simple: preheat the oven to at least 220°C, take the poitrine from the fridge, rub some more salt and pepper over the skin and put it in the oven in the middle and crackling side up.  After half an hour reduce the temperature to 180°C and lower the shelf.  At this stage you should be able to see the crackling crisping up.  Get rid of any melted fat from the dish and replace the meat in the oven.  You can safely leave it for a least two hours before checking it. (I heartily recommend a cheap meat thermometer for this).  You’ve now got nothing much to do for several hours so use these free hours to prepare the rest of a meal, read a few chapters of War and Peace or, if you are a masochist, a few excruciating lines of Proust or, if you don’t want to exercise your brain too much, a Tom Clancy.  I would however draw the line at Geoffrey Archer.  If, when you check it, the meat has not reached pork temperature simply stick it back in, forget about it for another hour or so and return to your previous activities.  Of course if you have misguidedly started to read Geoffrey Archer you will now have dumped it in the bin so you’ll have to find something else.

In fact the great thing about the dish is that it is almost impossible to overcook, it’s almost “the longer the better” but, when you do take it out, tap the “crackling” it should not be soggy but have a crispy, solid feel to it.  It is now imperative that you loosely wrap it in foil and leave it to rest for at least 45mins.  For meal planning purposes I’d allow around at least 3.5 hours plus the 45min. resting period.  What? Well , you’ll just have to get up earlier won’t you!  And that’s it, after resting I’d cut it into hefty portions around 10cms. thick and not as thin slices.  Arrange on the plates with your bits and pieces arranged around it and enjoy your hard work – whilst you bore your guests to death explaining how to tie a butcher’s knot.  Me, I’m going to Chez Sonia, the village bar.

Bon courage

Brian

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