Back at work, the first words that greeted me were along the lines of: ‘Hello! You look so brown! Did you have lots of great food?’
And, of course: ‘Are you looking forward to eating back in England again?’
Well actually, the answer is yes.
It’s a challenge – but one of the things I return with a sense of, is wanting to continue the cooking I’ve enjoyed in France. And that’s even more so this year, after feeling that I’d made such progress with getting a feel for the cuisine of the region – and cooking from French-language recipes.
The biggest issue is not a new one – bread. It’s no surprise that the French do less home baking than the British – they don’t need to.
With decent bakers everywhere, often baking twice a day, you can easily access impeccably fresh bread. And not just freshly baked, but delicious to eat. And a Percy Ingle loaf that stays ‘fresh’ for a week is most certainly not the same thing.
But after travelling back to Blighty on Saturday, the tiny farmers’ market on Sunday at least gave me the chance to get some food in without resorting to a supermarket – so quality fruit and veg was not a problem.
And Fin & Founder might have had little to offer on the same day, but they did have some decent pieces of salmon fillet.
I marinaded two pieces in lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic and paprika for a couple of hours, before covering the dish with foil and roasting at 150˚C for 20 minutes.
Taking a leaf out of the Pay Catalans book, I served it with a little rice, plus some aïoli – the egg free variety, with just garlic (a couple of cloves from the 2kg I carried home), a pinch of salt and then virgin oil – and a couple of baby orange plum tomatoes.
The drizzle of Balsamico didn't quite work – it was too thin. But the intention was there.
The garden has gone a little bonkers in my absence. There are loads of ripe tomatoes, so it’s pretty obvious one thing we’ll be eating in the coming days.
The chilies are coming on well too. And then there are the beans: a single runner bean is ready for harvesting, while there are four borlotti beans too.
But with myriad flowers now decorating the bamboo frame, together with around 16 baby pods, it’s a safe bet that there will be loads more borlotti to come. And there are even a small number of new broad bean flowers.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the grapes are swelling too.
The weather might have improved, but given what we had for most of the spring and summer, I’m still of the opinion that getting any sort of harvest this year is close to a miracle.
Planning for the start of the week obviously demanded a visit to La Bouche – there was no cheese in the house, to start with – and also produced three Toulouse sausages.
Those formed the centrepiece of last night’s dish. A mini harvest of the available borlotti beans saw those podded and boiled gently for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, a shallot, a couple of cloves of garlic and a stick of celery were chopped and placed in a pan with some olive oil. After they’d softened gently for a couple of minutes, the sausages were added and the cooking continued gently for a further 20 minutes, turning the sausage a couple of times.
The borlotti beans were added to the pan, together with half a dozen ripe, skinned tomatoes from the garden.
It was served with rice, which – and my solitary runner bean, which was divided into four pieces.
I’m not claiming these things were perfection, but at least they continued in a decent vein.
Whether I can maintain it remains to be seen.