chocolate and wine hamper.
However I’m not going to discuss wine this month. I’m thinking about WATER! What I miss most about not living in France is being near water. Our first property was on the Vendeen Corniche. It was called “Les Vagues” (The Waves) and was so close to the sea that, even in July spume like snowballs hit our windows! Then we moved south and bought a flat on the only part of France surrounded by the Mediterranean. Next we moved to Ste. Maxima on the Gulf of St. Tropez. Again fabulous sea views. When my husband was no longer with me I moved to Aix-en-Provence. No, it’s not on the coast, but it is a town built on thermal springs. Aix in Provencal means water!
Jean Cocteau said “Aix, un aveugle croit qu’il pleut. ( "Aix, a blind man would think it was always raining.”)
Why? It’s because wherever you walk you hear the sound of splashing water.There are fountains everywhere. The beautiful main boulevard is called “Le Cour Mirabeau” It’s like a miniature Paris! I shopped there daily! Down the centre of the “Cour” are four fountains, the traffic moves slowly in order to negotiate them. The most famous one is a moss covered rock from which spouts warm water. People flock to Aix-en-Provence for the thermal “cures.” Supermarkets have whole aisles full of various bottled waters. Each “brand name” is bought for different reasons: best for babies, good for slimming, etc.
Hotwells, here in Bristol, was of course a popular place to drink the waters. In the basement of our Post Office we had a well! As I had a vivid imagination, I thought that one day it would make our
fortune!! The four most popular towns for thermal waters in our country are Bath, Buxton, Harrogate and Matlock Spa.
As space is limited I’ll only talk about Bath. When I think about that city, I always remember Jane Austen. We can tell from her many novels how much she herself enjoyed visits there. Bath was said to have been founded in 863B.C. Then the Romans redeveloped it. It fell into decline but was rejuvenated by the visits of Queen Anne. Have you ever drunk the water there? I needed some chocolate afterwards to take the taste away!! The foundation stone for “The Royal Mineral Water Hospital” was laid in 1738 by the Rt. Hon. William Pulteney The hospital (known locally as “The Min”) is now called The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. In 1978, the hospital was the third from last of the English hydropathic hospitals to stop offering hydropathy treatment.
This year a new natural spa hotel is opening in Beau Street. “The Gainsborough Bath Spa” will use water from the thermal springs for a range of treatments. Tempted??
With the weather calling for warming meals, why not make a “Beef and Dumpling Stew”?
I’m sure that many of you have your own recipes. Here is mine. For four people you need about 800grms of braising steak cut into small chunks. Vegetables are your choice but I suggest 250grms each of shallots and carrots. I cut the shallots into halves and slice the carrots. Brown them in a frying pan with olive oil until they have softened. Tip them into your casserole. I use a Le Creuset pot but perhaps you prefer to use a slow cooker. In the same frying pan, but adding some more olive oil, brown your steak on all sides. Don’t be impatient, do this slowly!
As each batch browns add to your vegetables, sprinkle with some plain flour and stir gently. Add good stock, tomato pureé and, if you are like me, two glasses of red wine! The better the wine, the better the dish! Now add a bunch of your favourite herbs plus salt and pepper to taste. I add some garlic. Cover your pot and cook VERY slowly for about 6 hours.
During this time, make your dumplings. Mix 200grms of self raising flour with 100grms of suet (I use Atora but there is a vegetarian version if you are making a non-meat stew) Add salt and enough water to make a fairly firm dough. Shape into “golf ball look alikes”. Take out the herbs and add the
dumplings for the last hour of cooking.
Please ask me if you would like to borrow my book (in English) about Aix-en-Provence
I wish you all a Fun Filled Fantastic February