Inspired Living in France, and then some.
Five years ago, my partner Andrew discovered a farmhouse deep in the South of France. He fell in love with it and snapped it up immediately. Having only visited France briefly many years before, I had never ventured past the bustling streets of Paris. I’ve always loved Paris, for me it’s a city that is very liveable. My definition of liveable is a place you feel at home in, with Paris, I’ve never felt out of place, I feel relaxed, inspired and very very happy.
Over the last 5 years, we have become to know France just like we do Australia. It is our second home now, and a place we spend more and more time in each and every year.
The farmhouse was originally a 3 bedroom maison and is situated around 14 kilometres from Confolens. Confolens is a small village located at the confluence of the Vienne and Goire rivers. This location is at the origin of its name. Confolens is also near the point where the Charente and Limousin regions meet, hence the name sometimes used to describe the area is “Charente Limousine”.
The farmhouse is made of stone, and is now over 285 years old. My partner being a seasoned interior designer, set to work to breathe life back into the bones of this abandoned stone house we now call home.
I would love to talk more about the renovation, but I will leave that to Andrew who was very hands on with every detail to ensure he renovated the farmhouse in a way the French people would love and appreciate, along with a few special home comforts. He wanted to create an environment that was relaxing. A place to call home.
“What I want to talk about in this blog post is some of the inspiration I get when we head back to France each year.”
For me, my food and wine fetish is a big part of the experience, but there are so many other elements that make it such a special place.
If I had to sum it up in 3 words, I would probably say France for me is about Lifestyle, People and Food. Maybe not in that order, but I’m sure you get the idea. I spend a lot of time cooking food, but even more time sourcing it from local producers, market stalls and other places we come across on our road trips.
Each summer, we make the journey to France, always via the fastest route with the least lay-over time. We usually just want to get there as quickly as we can. We load-up our movie playlists hoping that by the time the movies are finished, we’d be arriving in Dubai for the shorter journey onto Paris.
The shorter journey provides an opportunity for a sleep to prime ourselves for the long day that follows.
We aim to arrive in Paris early morning, and after the long haul flight from Sydney, we don’t stop for a rest. It’s straight in our car and down the A10 out of Paris. 5-6 hours later, we arrive in the deep south west.
The drive down is picturesque, something of a story book once we leave behind the city freeways that branch off like an overgrown tree. The fields whether in full bloom or just after the harvest are always photo worthy.
I have so many photos of the same scenes taken at different times of the year, and they are all magnificent, unique and simply beautiful.
“For some unknown reason, driving through the south of France feels like being on the moon, not that I’ve been to the moon of course, but it’s what often comes to mind. I’m not sure quite how else to describe it. It’s magical”
On the open roads in the south, you feel so close to the sky, and traversing the rolling hills, so colourful and magnificent, we get a sense that we are on a different planet all together.
Being practical, before we head to the farmhouse, and even after the long flight and drive, we head to the local supermarket (supermarché). Having loved french food my entire life, a french supermarché for me is like being in heaven. OK, this is a little like the moon, I haven’t been to heaven either, so I’m just guessing 😉
“We usually pick up the staples first, bread, eggs, wine, water, cheese and a selection of cold cuts. Andrew is usually in a big hurry by this stage, and given he is the driver, he’s understandably tired after the trip from Paris, so I need to be fast and strategic to satisfy my french fix.
Sure I could wait until the next day, but I say take the opportunity while you can. I usually make a secret list on the plane, I know which aisle products are located in, and I pretty much make a run for it and fill the trolley”
Speeding through the supermarché I also visit each and every aisle to see what new products have arrived.
I have my own standard list of “staples” as well, which includes a few bottles of truffle oil, real balsamic imported from Italy (the one with the wax seal from Modena), along with jars of gourmet treats and Foie gras. The basics right!
With our supermarché bags tightly packed around our suitcases, we take the short drive to Abzac. Arriving at the Farmhouse is always a big treat, especially for Andrew who redesigned the 285 year old structure, from the interiors, exteriors and surrounding gardens with the help of very talented locally based builders and craftsmen.
As we drive down the tiny country road in our little Fiat (with Baguettes poking out the back) the farmhouse is smiling brightly in all her glory, bathed in the south western sun.
“Our french neighbour Elisabeth who cares for our olive trees during winter has the shutters wide open, allowing the stone house to breathe in the fresh air and sunlight.
Elisabeth is also an incredible gardner, and she often greets us with a basket of home grown vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, spinach and other seasonal produce. You can always taste the earth in produce like this.’
The first two days for us usually involves a major clean up, both on the interiors and exteriors, the time speeds by whilst we do this, and before we know it, we are relaxing in the terrace enjoying a glass of french bubbles, and a plate of simple french fare.
I could go on for a while about the places we visit, and the road trips we embark on in France, but I will save that for my daily blog later this year. In short, we travel a lot around the south and have visited many villages, small towns and great cities.
We adore the coast line as well, from La Rochelle, right down to the border of Spain, it’s so uniquely french and spectacular.
I also love how the cuisine changes all over France, whilst this is typical in most countries, the differences in cooking styles between the urban areas and country regions are fascinating. From a simple 6 course meal in the south, to a total Parisian dining experience in Paris, seaside lunches, roadside picnics or simply stopping by the river with a baguette and cheese, it’s simple, easy and uniquely french. And delicious.
“I wanted to share some of the dishes I love putting together that are influenced by life in the south west of France, combined with my love of French and Italian cuisine.”
I mentioned earlier about Elisabeth’s Potatoes, these potatoes are fresh from the ground, and still a little soft. They are perfect for a potato, leek and goat cheese flan. I buy the single rolled sheet of shortcrust from the supermarché. The quality of ready made pasty is excellent, and I’ve never been a great pasty chef to be honest. I also don’t claim to be an expert in French food, I create dishes from the heart, dishes that I hope people will love to eat and share.
When I studied to become a chef, at college we used the Larousse Gastronomique book. I love this book, and to this day, I still use the techniques created by the French. It’s the basics in preparing food, and the French treat food with such great respect in it’s preparation and cooking methods.
The potato, leek and goats cheese recipe goes a little like this:
- Around 1kg of washed and sliced potatoes (1-2 cm slices), the softer the potatoes the better. I cook them in boiling salted water for around 5 minutes, remove and allow to cool before slicing
- 1 leek blanched in boiling water
- 300 grams of goats cheese. I like to use Racotin goat’s cheese, I haven’t seen this in Australia, so when I’m in Sydney I usually use a good quality goats cheese that doesn’t break the bank
- 8 farm fresh eggs
- 250ml of fresh cream
- Fresh thyme and chives finely sliced
- Salt and cracked pepper to taste
- A small nob of butter (tablespoon)
- A good swirl of Italian cold pressed olive oil. I find the imports from Umbria to be the best, you can really taste the olives
- A good swirl of truffle oil. White truffle oil is my preference, and it’s OK to use the truffle infused oils as well, it’s the flavour you want more than anything. Fresh truffles are perfect of course if they are in season.
Bringing this all together is really simple. By this stage I’ve pre-heated the oven to 170 degrees (celsius). I’ve also lined and par-baked the pastry in my large flan dish. I use a large ceramic quiche dish. I also grease the dish with a little olive oil and truffle oil. I find it infuses the taste into the pastry which makes it extra delicious, and gives it a nice colour.
With the potatoes and leeks all blanched, I place them in a bowl where I add the cheese, thyme, chives and butter. In a seperate bowl, I wisk up the eggs and cream into a fluffy frenzy, and then add the salt, pepper, and the two good swirls of both the olive and truffle oils, giving it another good whisk. By this stage, the smell of truffle is evident, and I can’t wait to get this baby into the oven.
Pour the liquid mixture into the waiting bowl of potatoes, leek and cheese. Gently fold all the ingredients together. Don’t worry if the potatoes start breaking up, it’s all about combining the ingredients that blend so sensually together.
Once poured into the flan, place in the hot oven and cook for 30 minutes or until cooked in the centre.
I also allow time to cool the flan at room temperature before slicing.
I made this flan around 3 times last summer, and it was a hit every time. All of these flavours being together, and when served as part of a long table feast, or on it’s own with a lentil salad or fresh tomatoes, is truly sensational, simple, and is bursting with flavour.
If you give this a go, leave me a message as I’d love to know what you thought.
I’ve added a few photos below from a long lunch we hosted in France last year.
I don’t have photos of every dish, however I created this menu to be enjoyed over a few hours at a long table. It was designed to be shared and feasted upon with friends.
An Italian influenced long table lunch in the South West of France
- Bread with cold pressed olive oil infused with rosemary
- Sicilian Olives
- BBQ Entrecôte of beef with home made green sauce (Salsa Verde)
- Potato, Leek and Truffle Flan
- Toulouse Sausages with fresh raisons soaked in tarragon wine vinegar
- Tomato and Mozzarella Salade
- Lentil and Radish Salade
- Roasted Beetroot and Goats Curd
- Grilled selection of vegetables (Capsicum, Eggplant, Sweet Potato)
- Caramel Slice
- Selection of French Cheese – Pont-l’Évêque, Le Chevrot, Roquefort w, walnut bread (see my favourite cheeses here)
Wine Selection: Moët & Chandon, Champagne Cocktail, Sebastien Riffault Les Quarterons
Thank you for reading my blog post, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Mike x