Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I absolutely love hot cross buns and Easter without them just isn’t complete. A few years ago I managed to buy some gluten free ones in the English food shop in Lyon but they were a bit crumbly and just weren’t worth the expense.

I’d kind of put hot cross buns behind me, what with Little Miss Piglet and work keeping me extra busy. That was until I watched the Great British Bake Off on BBC last week!

They made the hot cross buns look so easy to make and I was virtually drooling over the television screen. I decided there and then that I was going to make them and two days later I found the recipe and decided to make them during my lunch break!

I don’t know about you but when I look at a recipe I often think to myself “wooah, that’s way too complicate, I’ll never manage”, which is probably what I would have usually thought about the hot cross bun recipe. But this time I didn’t, and I just dove straight in…


After relentless kneeding I made a sausage

After gatherting together all of the ingredients and trying to decide what the closest French equivalent was to some of the items, my dough had risen and I started making the buns. By this time my lunch break had finished and I was on borrowed time!


Ready for the oven

It was a proud moment when the buns were finally ready to go into the over, but also an unsettling one. My oven is temperamental and cooks far too quickly even at low heat.

So, instead of leaving them to cook, I kept a beady eye over them and they only burnt a little bit.

The finished results were delicious and we really enjoyed them as did our French friends with whom we shared them.


A bit burnt but still delicious

If you want to try and make these yourself here is the recipe I followed: Great British Bake Off Hot Cross Bun Recipe. Do let me know how you get on!

Happy Easter!

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Mention France to anyone and more than likely they will think of French cuisine. The French are renowned for their excellent food and for the important role that food and meal times play in their culture and that is something that I have really come to appreciate.

After years of learning and appreciating the importance of meal times in families, I’ve now discovered meal times also important in a busy hospital environment. Twice this year I have been in hospital at lunch time and have been provided with food and watched as nurses, Doctors and technicians stop and have their lunch too.

The first time I was in ER and they were keeping me in to see a specialist. As I was there at lunch time they served me a tray of food. Nothing exciting. Just some mashed potato and something that bore a resemblance to chicken, along with a salad and yoghurt for dessert. But still, I was in an ER department, not exactly where you’d expect to get a free lunch!

The second time was yesterday. I had to spend the day at hospital in Lyon for testing and to see various Doctors. As I had to be nil by mouth upon arrival (and boy did I complain about that!) I was promptly asked what I wanted for breakfast and fed within minutes of my blood exams. How relieved was I? They certainly knew how to get me in a good mood and even when they told me they’d forgotten to book my MRI scan I was not that bothered.

After a morning of hanging around, having x-rays and enough blood taken to feed a vampire I had chosen to sit in the corridor avoiding all the sick people in the waiting room as I didn’t want to deal with any more germs than Baby Piglet brings home.
I was so engrossed in a novel that I didn’t notice it was lunchtime that I was taken my surprise when a nurse came and said that my lunch was being served. She seemed surprised that I wasn’t already in the lunch room with the other patients.

Off I trotted and was greeted by ten or so patients cheerfully tucking into lunch. I was asked to take a seat and then was served up a four course meal: red cabbage salad with a bread roll to start, chicken and almond tagine with vegetables and semoule for my main, chocolate éclair for dessert and yoghurt for my second dessert. Wow! Only thing missing was a bottle of wine!

To be honest the food was quite bland but there was salt and pepper available and it was more than edible. It was much better than a sandwich or McDonalds which I thought that I’d have to go out and get for my lunch (there is a McDonalds opposite the hospital). The chocolate éclair was heavenly and as I was later told by a Doctor to lose weight I am so glad they provided it and I ate it.

You’ve got to hand it to the French though, the food I ate yesterday was far better than some of the meals I paid to have out in the UK!

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On Saturday, Mr Piglet, Baby Piglet and I descended on the in laws in Provence as we were going to a concert in nearby Vaison La Romaine and had persuaded Mr Piglet’s Mum to babysit and me to leave Baby Piglet for the evening.

Even though we had lived with them for three months and I had tried to eat my way through all the local restaurants and gourmet stops, there were still some stones left unturned. One of which we got to try on Saturday lunch time, the fabulous L et Lui restaurant in Saint Paul Troix Chateaux.

I’m quite a foodie but I’m also very conservative and have been known for always choosing the “safe” option. I appreciate good food but am often left disappointed in restaurants which has led to me spending more time cooking at home than eating out.

L et Lui had caught my eye whilst I was staying with my inlaws earlier this year. I was fascinated by the terrace that was hidden behind a red wall and by the blackboard outside announcing that there was “no menu”. What could this mean?

My investigations enabled me to discover that the food served was seasonal and changed daily according to what vegetables and produce was available. Whilst pregnant I wasn’t keen, fresh produce was of no interest to me as I was only attracted to ice cream and junk food, plus I had eaten far more leaks and seasonal produce between February and April than I ever cared for so tempted I was not.

Come the summer however I was keen to eat out and now that Baby Piglet is keeping more sociable hours last weekend was the ideal opportunity.

I was delighted to discover the garden, beautifully shaded by a variety of trees, offering a secluded, calm space within the town. Private and cool, despite the 30 degrees Celsius on the thermometer.

The waitress gave each of us a menu, which I opened to see a list of drinks and some text explaining that in fact there was no menu. Perplexed, I wondered what this meant and I looked around to see if there was a blackboard. Just in time the waitress came back and asked each of us if there were any foods we didn’t like or were allergic to.

A short while later she came back with an amuse bouche to whet our appetites:

Soft cheese with what looks like grass but is actually a variety of herbs

The tastes were truly amazing and even though it felt like I was eating grass and I was very skeptical I was surprised how each item was like an explosion of flavour in my mouth. The disavantage of not having a menu is that you have to have a good memory to remember what you ate (or write it down) and unfortunately I have neither a good memory or the forethought to write things down before I forget. I think some of the herbs we ate were mustard and garlic but have no idea on the others.

After we had a salad and watermelon:

The salad was courgettes with raviolis and apricot dressing with some herbs that I can no longer remember what they were and the watermelon was a watermelon and red pepper juice. They were absolutely delicious!

The main course was seabass with boulgar and the dessert was a type of Panna Cotta. By the time the main course was served I was totally engrossed with the food and savours that I forgot to take any more photos!

I wasn’t too keen on the panna cotta dessert but I’m not a great fan of Panna Cotta at the best of times.

The three course menu was 27 Euros or you could have two courses for 22 Euros. Given the freshness of the produce and the variety of flavours as well as the fact that most of the produce came from the owners garden I was very impressed. The food was as good as some of the Michelin starred restaurants I had eaten in for a fraction of the price! A definite recommendation if you should be nearby.

Do you like to try different foods when you eat out or do you prefer sticking to the “safe” options?

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Despite the horrendous weather we’ve had (who stole the summer?), we’ve been enjoying settling into the new house and the company of having friends over even though entertaining has become rather more complicated since the arrival of Baby Piglet.

Before, I was known for extravagant feasts and for spending hours in the kitchen slaving away to make the perfect Thai dish or a 6 course meal with different flavoured palate cleansers. I thought nothing of trawling Lyon for the right ingredients and then making rice powder from scratch so to make authentic foreign cuisine for my guests (I never cooked French).

But lately I’ve been looking for easiness. Mr Piglet and I lived on ready meals and frozen pizza for two weeks when we moved into the house with Baby Piglet and since we’ve been grabbing a bite to eat here and there. Not exactly what you want when you’re nursing a baby.

So I’ve been looking for quick and easy healthy options which will allow us to eat better and also impress our guests with something they haven’t tried before, without the need for me to spend hours in the kitchen.

Zero points for presentation!

Lazy Melon Starter
I have borrowed this recipe from a friend who did it for us and I have already done it twice for two separate lots of guests in the last week and each time they adored it! It is cheap, seasonal and a spin on the original melon parma ham combo.

For 4:

2 x melons
1 chorizo
Balsamic vinegar
Porto (optional)

Chop the chorizo sausage into small cubes and gently fry in the balsamic vinegar. Add a splash of Porto if you wish. Leave to simmer for the sauce to reduce and become syrupy.

Cut the melon in half and de-seed the centre.

Serving options: Either pour the sauce mixture into the centre of the melon and serve the half melons as they are with the sauce, or cut the melon into smaller portions (with skin removed) as drizzle sauce over (as shown in picture). I served the melon as shown in the picture as we were 5 in total and not huge eaters!

Do you have any quick and easy recipes that I can try? Do share!

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I am not a domestic goodness. In fact, I don’t even feel like an adult. I feel like a big kid who’s playing house and even has a baby doll to dress up. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) my sheer tiredness and aches and pains prove to me every day that this is real life and not a game. Some things still feel like a game though. Probably because they are new and interesting, such a far cry from life in the city.

We have lots of fruit trees in the garden; red & orange raspberries, cherries, loganberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, apples, 4 different types of grapes, peaches, wild strawberries, walnuts (or brain nuts as Mr Piglet calls them) and mures (which I don’t know what this is in English and Google translate hasn’t been very helpful). Some of our French family pointed out that we had so much fruit we should make jam. We’d never made jam before.

Fruit picking in the Piglet garden (which is rather overgrown!)

As a fan of kitchen gadgets and always on the look out for ways to save time, I’d already spotted that my bread machine could make jam as well, so there would be no standing slaving over a pot for me. I made the most of having guests and quickly managed to organize a competition to get the fruit picking done. Perfect after dinner exercise with ice creams as the prize!

Mr Piglet and I spent the rest of the evening washing & weighing fruit and sterilizing jam jars. We ended up with 2 jars of loganberry, 4 of raspberry, 5 of blackcurrant and 4 of redcurrant. Proud of our accomplishments I quickly sent an email off to my parents bragging of our new domestic goddess status.

Next morning, my Mum had replied asking how we had set the jam. “Set the Jam?” I had no idea!

I quickly ran downstairs (it was 5am in the morning) and looked at a jar of blackburrant jam. It wasn’t jam, it was coulis – it hadn’t set!

Gah! What a nightmare, “what had we done wrong” I wondered? Why didn’t they mention this setting business in the jam recipe in the bread machine book? So much for saving time with shortcuts.

Thankfully most of the other fruits had set which was lucky, so when Mr Piglet woke up we started the process again and thanks to some Twitter research, we reboiled the jam with more lemon juice and this time round tested for setting point. It worked!

So we now have our own jam enterprise with plenty more fruit on the trees but no more jam jars. I now have a valid reason to hoard jam jars.

We have jam!!

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All house hunting has been pretty much on standby this week as Lyon and most of Europe got a major dumping of snow and roads and motorways became best avoided if possible.

So I’ve been able to enjoy a nice relaxing week of home and work and what better way to start the month of December than with a blanket of snow? Even my blog has snow on it although I’m not quite sure how that happened but I’m not complaining!

Major snow dump in my back garden

I’d been feeling pretty down in the dumps because we’ve decided to have a stay at home for Christmas this year and I hadn’t been feeling at all Christmassy. But snow in December is not something I can remember ever having seen before and it has really got me in the mood for Christmas. Poor Mr Piglet however is getting rather fed up of me constantly singing out of tune Christmas tunes and I’m sure he’ll soon be ready to pay me to stop.

Prize from Littlewoods Europe

We’re off to get our Christmas tree today, but in the meantime I’ve been enjoying setting up an advent calendar. I was lucky enough to win this hand crafted, wooden advent calendar on the Littlewoods Europe Wordless Wednesday competition. I’m really glad I did, so a big THANK YOU the LW team! There’s nothing more magical for me than the opening of an advent calendar each day and I’m sure little Piglet will enjoy it for years to come also when she arrives!

Better not eat too many of these... Delish!

I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t been having a moan about something though. This time it was the lack of British Christmas products in France that set me off as I had yet another craving for a Mince Pie. In the good old days when M&S were still here, I needn’t go without anything, however, not many expats live around here and there aren’t any Brit food stores (the closest one I know of is Jim’s near Geneva). So imagine my surprise when I was in Monoprix yesterday and came across Mince Pies?! I yelped with excitement causing a stir amongst fellow shoppers who all turned round to investigate what was causing my excitement. I stuffed four boxes of them into my trolley, vowing to go back and get more if they were nice. At 3.50 Euros for 4 they weren’t cheap but they made my day and sometimes happiness doesn’t have a price.

Whilst I was out and about in the city, I was full of admiration for how beautiful Lyon looked under the snow and managed to brave the ice like temperatures outside of my car to take some pictures:

Have you had snow this week and has it made you feel festive?

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I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week both here and on the blogosphere in general as I decided to take some me time in honour of the French holiday season.

Last weekend we went back to Lac du Bourget and spent a great weekend in the rain, constantly hoping for it to stop so that we could get out on the lake and wakeboard. After hours of watching the drizzle and storms, the clouds finally dispersed so we made a mad dash down to the lake, jumped on the boat and went out. Five minutes later, the clouds started to gather again and we just made it back to shore before the mother of all storms rained down upon us. No wakeboarding took place 😦

So quite a disappointing weekend really.

View from the house - how I would love to have a view like this

Our next trip was on the Monday back to Aix les Bains and was more promising. We spent the first afternoon baking cookies with Hubby’s Godson and the little cousins. Cookie making with a 2 year old, 6 year old and 9 year old is an interesting experience. Once they were finished I had to keep reminding myself not to eat them as I had watched the dough go all over the floor, in and out of the kid’s mouths, behind their ears, in their hair…

Hubby monkeying around

After a while the sun decided to come out and we went up the mountain to a monkey park. I say monkey park as it is an activity park where kids and adults swing from trees like monkeys. The French call this accrobranche (accro for acrobatic and branche for the tree branches). For ages I thought it was called aquabranche and had something to do with water. How very wrong was I! Needless to say I was not equipped: heels and palazzo pants aren’t quite the right the right attire for walking on a tightrope or swinging amongst the trees and nobody could care less that I had a swimming cossie and towel in my bag.

Not being able to do anything and faced with waiting in the cold for hours (14 degrees!) whilst everyone perfected their monkey swings (how appropriate!) I was relegated to looking after the two year old and helping him around the kiddies course.

It was not easy as I had to keep hooking him up and I think the other parents considered that I was a Mere Indigne (not a good mother) as after all, who would take their kid to a park dressed like I was? I must have been a funny sight as I tried to scramble up through the trees so that I could unhook and rehook him all whilst he was wailing or looking at me as if I was an idiot.

On one part I got stuck and couldn’t get down, so there I was with a two year old stood 3 metres off the ground hanging by a rope and me, stuck. Thankfully a parent came to my rescue (or more so to the child’s) and helped me out, all whilst I was trying to explain that he wasn’t my kid and I had no idea what an accrobranche was! Thankfully we were able to complete the course unscathed and the little boy enjoyed it so much that he he looked up at me expectantly and asked if we could do it again. I told him that no doubt his Daddy would take him another time… I was not going to risk his or my safety anymore than required in one day!

It was 14 degrees at the Monkey Park!

After that we went down to the Beaux-Parents for a few days where the temperatures were stifling (39 degrees, what??) and I convinced my Mother-in-Law to teach me to make legumes farcies (one of my fave French dishes). She was very patient and spent a whole morning talking me through the family recipe – I didn’t realize it would take so long to make! You can see the recipe in my latest Expat Focus article here.

So quite a funny week and oh yes… how could I forget? I quit smoking! Desperate not to pile on the pounds I have taken up a new hobby to keep me from nibbling or becoming anxious – fly swatting! Seriously, at the BP’s I spent hours swatting flies. It’s like keep fit. Keeps your mind off the ciggies, off  food (essential) and gives you a full body work out at the same time! So far, the scales have stayed the same and I’ve managed to stay off the weed so to speak so all’s good.

Fly Swatting Results! Yuck!

Happy Fly Swatting Day everyone! (because I decided that today is fly swatting day)

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Coming back from Corsica I decided to have a “clear the freezer” week. Having checked my bank balance upon my return, I ws sent into a state of shock to see we’d spent far, far too much money and that Hubby and I were going to have to live much more frugally for the rest of the summer. How we managed to spend so much I don’t know, I didn’t even think Corsica was expensive compared to the South of France or even some places in Lyon! I think maybe mischievous TomTom had got hold of our Carte Bleue too?

So clearing the freezer seemed like a good idea, a better option than bread and pasta in any case. We have one of those American style fridge-freezers (do the Americans call them American fridges too? Anyone?) and the freezer is always bursting full of frozen goodies from Picard, home cooking, frozen veggies and other bits and pieces including 3 bottles of vodka!

After much reflexion, I decided the vodka could stay as I’m sure it’s not very healthy living on vodka for a week and started to attack the rest of the contents vigorously in order to make some type of meal plan. A freezer week normally means for some weird and wonderful meals and sees me having quite an ad hoc approach to cooking.

Unfortunately on this occasion we had some bad family news and my Beaux-Parents came to stay unexpectedly. As I was still trying to live off the freezer I had a route around to see what I could find. I have already spoken of the Belle-Mere’s excellent cooking here so I had to be careful not to disappoint and to ensure that everyone was fed correctly as they needed it.

Some puff pastry, beef burgers and chicken pieces were found so along with the tomatoes in the garden and some mustard from the fridge, I was able to make a bizarre, but tasty meal of tomato tart served with either beef burger or chicken. I think the tart would make a better dish on its own with some fresh salad but that wasn’t an option I had.

So, if you have some tomatoes, some pastry and some mustard here’s something really easy you can try your hand at:

Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart
Serves 4 – 6 people

What you need:
6 tomatoes (enough to cover the pastry) or enough of any type of fresh t’s you can get your hands on
1 Roll of pastry (shortcrust or puff, its the pastry that you buy already rolled out in a circle)
French mustard
Salt & Pepper
Herbes de Provence or other to taste.

What you need to do:
1. Place the pastry on a tray or in a quiche dish. Roll up the edges slightly to form a crust when cooking it.
2. Slice the tomatoes removing any excess juice and pips as you go along.
3. Paste a thin spread of mustard over the pastry.
4. Cover the pastry base with the sliced tomatoes.
5. Season to taste.
6. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees (or as per pastry instruction) for approx 30 minutes or until pastry is golden

You can also add some goats cheese on top but I’m not sure how traditional that is.

Do you have any frugal, fridge/freezer clearing recipes?

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A lovely evening - View from the north - East Lyon region

Sometimes I wish I was more daring. That I would dare to say what I really thought and that I had the courage to stand up and defend myself. I recently wrote an article for Expat Focus and mentioned how I admired the French for standing up for themselves with regards to the Pension Reform. I wish I could do the same, but no, I am mousy me, an English girl that is too polite to rock the boat.

My desire to be more assertive was further increased last Saturday evening when we went to a Birthday dinner celebration at friends.

I’d met their other friends a year ago for the same occasion, so it wasn’t as if I was meeting new people (I am quite shy) so I was looking forward to the evening.

Quickly after arriving however, I realized that I was going to be in for a long, long evening as I remembered my evening of English bashing from the year before. “oh no”, I groaned, “what have I done?”. I longed to go home and to enjoy a nice glass of chilled Rose by the pool, but I thought of my friends who I simply adore, and I wasn’t going to abandon them as they’d moved the party date especially so that we could be there.

As the other guests arrived, they each took it in turn to remark that I am the English girl and that they hoped I spoke French. For goodness sake, they had met me a year ago and whilst I was greeting them couldn’t they tell from what I was saying to them I spoke French? It wasn’t promising that they couldn’t even understand their own bloody language was French and not English as they replied to me!

They hardly spoke to me all evening and any time I did try to speak to them they took the piss out of my accent and launched into private jokes amongst themselves. My friends were dismayed and kept apologizing, they were so embarrassed by their friends but I told them to leave it, it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ruin their celebrations.

So, I attempted humoring the English insulting, ignorant French friends (thankfully not all French are like this, like not all English are mousy like me!) realizing the evening would be extremely long if I didn’t, after all, sometimes you have to make an effort to fit in as people can be uncomfortable with difference. It wasn’t worth the effort. Whilst trying to make conversation with them, my inner assertive voice was dying to scream out “Do not label me, you, you…French PERSON!” but my exterior mouse kept my assertive voice at bay and was more of an ally to them than to me.

As I served up the salad I’d made (Courgette Summer Salad – see recipe here), everyone looked at it suspiciously, muttering that they didn’t like English food, saying it was gross, would give them tummy ache, would make them retch, would be tasteless… So rude! Seething, I would have had steam coming from my nose and ears, but thankfully they were blocked with pollen allergies, I wanted to shout at them. I had not stood grating courgettes and making salad for an hour (I had made enough for 20 people) for them to instantly turn their noses up, like spoiled children, and declare they weren’t going to eat it without even having a taste first! Had I mistaken the evening for La Maternelle school?

So I betrayed myself and told them it was my Belle-Mere’s recipe. As soon as they were satisfied it was French they all tucked in and the compliments flowed. Instantly I regretted what I had said, this wasn’t her recipe, I didn’t know it and had only been inspired by it. I should not have been a traitor and I should have stood my ground and been assertive.

I was dreading dessert. I already knew that under normal circumstances that I was going to be the laughing stock, as I had made a ridiculous attempt at a Victoria Sponge birthday cake and had spotted that I was the only person who had brought something homemade with them.

Can you read what is written?

I had encountered every disaster in the kitchen; my cake wouldn’t rise, it then stuck to the tin and crumbled when I managed to release it and I’d not been able to buy double cream to go inside. I had covered the cake with choccy icing sugar and M&M’s to try and add some height and to cover the monstrosity but I was not kidding anyone.

As the birthday cake was served up, I had an instant pang of pride and the belittling comments of others had no further effect. This was my vengeance. Dry, crumbly cake with lots of chocolate – I hoped they choked on it.

4 Useful Suggestions to Frenchies who meet me from now on:

1. Do not assume that I don’t speak French, just because you don’t speak any other languages don’t automatically think that everyone else is as ignorant.
2. Do not make jokes about me in French. Because you are convinced I don’t speak French you don’t think I’ll understand you. But I do!
3. Do not take the p**s out of my foreign accent: this stems from points 1 & 2 but deserves it’s own point. By this time you’ve understood perfectly well what I’m saying but you still take the p**s because for you it’s amusing. Stop and think: I get this EVERY day!
4. Do not label: okay, I wasn’t born in France but I live here now. Aside from my foreignness I am a real human being, with hobbies, interests etc just like you. I am not an alien from another planet. You can communicate with me.

My tolerance bowl is full, so I strongly, strongly recommend that any Frenchies read the above and pay attention before they meet me. The next person to be so belittling will experience the full wrath of my inner voice. Even mousy me is determined to let it out!!

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Last weekend, whilst melting in extreme temperatures of 39 degrees, I ate a yummy courgette salad at my Beaux-Parents house. Unfortunately I didn’t think to get the recipe and finding myself with an abundance of courgettes today, I thought I’d try my hand at making my own version of it. Without knowing the original recipe I combined some of the ingredients that I’d remembered tasting along with some that I thought would taste nice; notably basil as I’d bought a huge bouquet of basil leaves for just 75 Cents!

Courgette & Feta Salad
Serves 4

Not very well presented but very tasty!

3 courgettes
2 spring onions
120 grams feta or brebis cheese, crumbled
Bunch of basil leaves
Black olives, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar

What to do:
1. Peel the courgettes as the skin can be quite bitter, not quite what you want in a salad!
2. Then grate the courgettes finely, like you would cheddar.
3. Finely slice the spring onions and add to the courgettes.
4. Finely slice the basil leaves and add to the courgettes.
5. Crumble the feta cheese and add.
6. Remove the stones and then finely slice the black olives adding as well.
7. Drizzle everything with olive oil, add a splash (or two!) of vinegar and then season to taste.

Et voila! A different type of salad which you can enjoy on its own (maybe with parma ham?) or as an accompaniment to a summer Barbeque. Bon appetit!

What you need to do

Jardinage Jeudi
Tonight I’m going to have a tomato and runner bean salad with some tomatoes from my garden! After months of waiting and anticipating, I’m finally getting a regular (if not small) crop. I’m only getting a handful at a time and as you can see they’re coming in all sizes. Who else is getting their tomatoes right now?

Tomatoes at last!

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