Living well for less in France

Living well for less in France

Wednesday, 7 September 2016



One of the easiest plants to grow and care for and it  will reward you with...

LEAVES  to use in cooking all summer long and right up to the first frosts

FILLING LARGE GAPS  in spaces in the garden where little else will grow. You can leave this  for a lovely display of purple flowers rather than for harvesting leaves.

ATTRACTS  POLLINATORS ideal when planted beside strawberries, fruit bushes and trees


It likes well drained sandy soil. It tolerates really well with dry conditions and likes medium to full sun. Plant in SPRING...but only when the ground has warmed up.

Perfect also in well draining pots.

It easier just to buy a plant than grow it from seed unless you intend to have a large harvest.

Ideal to plant beside similar herbs/plants requiring little rosemary and tarragon.

Avoid fertilising too much..this will make the plant bigger but will reduce the potency of the taste.

If you are using leaves on a regular basis then you will naturally be cutting it back. However at the end of the growing season you need to cut the plant back to half it size into a nice rounded shape.
It can very quickly get out of control....and will lose its flavour in the process.

Main plants will begin to lose strength of flavour after about 4 years.


Take a 3inch cutting from the tip of the stem and put it in a pot of Sterilised soil or vermiculite.
It should begin to root in about 6 weeks
Transfer into a another small pot of potting compost.
Once the root ball has formed it can be planted straight into the ground or into pots.


  • Hang in bunches in the kitchen..out of direct sunlight till dried. Once dried keep in airtight jars
  • Sage vinegar....add sprigs to jars of apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar to use as a marinade or dressing. Takes about 2 weeks
  • Sage Oil...same as above but use olive oil
  • Ice cubes....put about a tablespoon of chopped leaves into each ice cube square then top with water, Freeze. Use as needed adding directly to soups and stews or defrosting and draining to use fresh.
  • Sage Butter. Mix chopped leaves into the butter and use a spread on warmed baguette. A nice change from garlic bread
  • Infuse dried leaves with honey to make a tisane/tea


What springs to mind when you think of sage...


SO.....who doesn't remember growing having sage and onion stuffing with your Sunday roast chicken.

We didn't grow sage when I was young and the only sage and onion stuffing I knew then came out of a Paxo box!!!

There is no comparison to the real stuff. 

sage and onion stuffing balls



 Layer sage leaves on the top of chicken breasts or thighs then wrap the breasts in parma ham.

Place chicken in a lidded oven dish or wrap in foil.. Pour over white wine to cover. Bake on a medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes...depending on the size of the chicken breast.

If you wish to brown off the meat  you can take the lid off for the last 5 minutes.


If you follow my website you will know I have several recipes for pesto...nettle being a here is another one to add to the repertoire.
3 garlic chopped
half a cup of walnuts or pine nuts
one cup of fresh sage leaves
one cup of parsley
quarter cup of olive oil
salt and pepper

just whizz it all together and serve with pork or chicken.

Just a few of the simple recipes I use.

Bon appetite!!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Coping with the heat in your garden

How is everyone managing in the garden now we are having day after day of searing heat.

Our whole veggie plot is looking particularly sad. No matter how much you water the plants are suffering in the intense heat. The soil is dry and lifeless.

Our French neighbour says the biggest problem is the difference in the temperatures between day and night.He also said that most French people were expecting a bad year due to the phases of the moon in 2016.
I have written about lunar planting before both on my blog and on my website... and having just been for a birthday treat to the Astrofarm  at Confolens, where I spent a day...and night...learning about Astronomy..I am more and more convinced it is correct. Of course it's not just planting...Its the whole gardening thing...planting, transplanting, cutting back and composting   It's a whole science in itself.
Following it can certainly do no harm.

JULY is a busy time in the garden ..most of your produce is going to be ready and you need to do something with it. Its not a job you can put off otherwise your produce will be OFF by the time you get round to it,  As well as enjoying it fresh from the garden...and believe me there's nothing nicer than just stepping out of the kitchen door to pick what you need....fresh and full of nutrition... how are you going to preserve what you have grown.

. they can be stored in a cool dry place...perhaps in a hessian sack.  You have  to be very stringent and check each one for any signs of damage, green bits or anything else that means the potato will not store well. Not only will that potato go off but all the rest will too.

This week I have  dug up all of my potatoess as the heat has just burned off the tops and they will not grow any more.  I have individually wrapped in paper a batch and put them in  a cool place in the garage.These will get used first.
The rest I have blanched aand frozen in 2 person portion sizes....some for boiling and some for deep frying..
I am once again disappointed with the Binjte potatoes...they are certainly not the large ones expected. I will try a different variety next years. The poor crop means I only have about a 6 month supply. Any recommendations  for good big potatoes.

Also ready this week were the beetroot, garlic and onions.
The beetroot has been cooked and frozen in batches of slices and quarters and I have also made the usual beetroot chutney.

Garlic has been plaited

 and I am using the onions straight from the ground.

The taste of tomatoes fresh from the garden is will not enjoy the watery tasteless ones from the supermarket after having your own.
Lots of lovely salad dishes and recipes to use these in...also prepare them for fresh tomato sauce to use in pastas

so easy to make....chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, onions, garlic salt and pepper and a tablespoon of sugar.
Throw it all in the pan and cook till soft then whizz it up.
If you do not have a pressure canner then its best to freeze it as there is a lack of preservative in the mix to be able to to just bottle it without treatment.
Unlike chutneys and jams which have sugar to preserve them..foods like tomatoes and vegetables need particular attention. Check out a good preserving site...there is  high risk of botulism if not preserved in the correct way.

For more information on recipes and preserving check out my website which I am updating at regular intervals.

Friday, 8 July 2016




Lavender is not only useful as a natural fragrance in your home or for making lavender bags for your's great to cook with.


You will need...
2 teaspoons of washed and dried fresh lavender flowers
125 g butter
100 g caster sugar
one egg
150 g self raising flour
heat oven to gas 3
Cream together sugar and butter.
Slowly add egg a little at a time beating well in between...if it begins to curdle add a little of the flour
fold in the flour and flowers
Put  teaspoon size dollops on a baking tray  that is covered with waxed baking paper.
They spread so not too close together.
Bake for about 15 mins
as a variation grate in a little lemon rind

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Keeping busy in July in Charente

July is a very busy month for us gardeners.

They say that if you want something done you should ask a busy person.

The busier I am the more I seem to be able to do. I admit that I am at my happiest when I have a number of things on the go and I go to bed a tired happy bunny.

I am a great list maker ...sometimes I even make lists of lists......sad I know....anyway while having my morning lemon juice I write down everything I HAVE to do, everything I HOPE to do and everything I WOULD LIKE. To do.

Of course HAVE TO'S ...HAVE TO be done.They are always top of the list.
As for the rest....well...
The list is a like a never ending story.

As well as always adding to the list there are some jobs you just keep putting off because they are not very appealing even though you know you have to do them sometime.
Also STUFF just seems to get in the way...

Sometimes GOOD stuff the day we sold our table. we got on like a house on fire with the couple who came to buy it so 2 and a 1/2 hours and a few coffees later we realised that the mornings work was out of the window. Love it!
Sometimes BAD. Stuff like the morning we could hear funny noises in the kitchen and discovered we hadn't shut the freezer door properly and everything was defrosting all over the floor. Looking on  the bright side I did get the floor washed!

I wonder if there is anyone so well organised that they actually do everything on their  daily list ?

As I write this now I have several things that appear daily on my list. We still haven't tiled the shower ...on the list since April. Moving the banana tree.....too late now and will have to wait till next year.

Priorities for me are the fruit and veg . That's what is going to keep us fed over the winter.
So top of the daily list is checking what is ready and needs picked, weeding around the plants and looking out for any bugs and diseases.
July is also a busy time to "recolte"  ....collect all your produce....then comes all the preparation, freezing preserve making.
July is the start of most of your first planting being ready for harvesting...beetroot, potatoes, onions as well as strawberries, raspberries and courgettes.
Round courgettes are very popular in France . Courgette farcie as well as tomatoe farcie is a french favourite. Farcie just means stuffed so you can use whatever you like...sausage meat, minced beef, Mediterranean vegetables, mushrooms....that's the great thing with farcies you can use whatever you have.

Harvesting has been a little later for me this year due to the rain. The rain this year has been both a help and a hindrance. The celery, onions and beetroot have thrived but the potatoes are not very happy. The tomatoes,peppers and cucumbers are craving sunshine. It will be another few weeks before we will be enjoying these.

The raspberries are happily growing wildly!!
At the start of the season   the daily collection  of rasps, blackcurrants and blueberries usually isn't enough for a dessert that day so they go straight into the freezer in my mixed berry box to use for in the winter. Just open freeze them for a few hours and then put them in a container.

In Charente, this year blight problems are hitting both potatoes and tomatoes. Not only has the sale of Bordelaise rocketed there have been reports of it being sold out in many garden centres so treating them is this way has not been possible for those who couldn't get any.

My potatoes are looking a bit sad but its not down to blight...I think the roots were just drowned in the rain.

. I'm really happy with the kiwi tree this year....lots of fruit which I have been thinning out am hoping those left will continue to fatten up. I planted the tree ( its a male/female)  when we arrived in April 2014. Last year we had 5 kiwis that grew no bigger than cherry tomatoes.
Kiwis grow really well in Charente providing you place them in the sunniest spot and make sure they have a good weekly watering and feed.

On another note......forget the work and.......

MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES.....on your  to do list add enjoying the sun while its here. It's late arriving in Charente and there's no guarantee that it will stay so make sure you factor in some
"Repose" time .

We all need to recharge the batteries and indulge in soaking up some vitamin D. After which you will refreshed to tackle your LIST!

Check out my website for relevant recipes for this months produce....courgettes, raspberries, strawberries and beetroot,

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


So here we are the first day of June. Only another 19 days to the first day of summer and when the days will once again be getting shorter.

Known for its microclimate and many hours of sunshine the Charente today could easily be mistaken for the Lake District in the Uk on a bad bank holiday.


What on earth is going on with the weather here. Locals are saying they have never known anything like it. Sunny and 24 degrees one day to thunderstorms, rain and  17 degrees the next.

The pool is up and running but going in when the water is only 20 degrees and the outside temperature less is not very appealing.

The only good thing about all this rain is having a  rest from gardening and watering.. The celery and beetroot are loving it but the courgettes, tomatoes  and aubergines are cringing! Some of the plants may not like it but it isn't deterring the weeds.....out in force!!! Also we seem to have more black aphids it the same for everyone or am I just unlucky this year!

Despite the lack of sunshine We have an abundance of early strawberries...even with the squirrels and mice munching through quite a few of them we are picking a bowlful every day.
 Working on the ONE THIRD PRINCIPLE...we shall be eating a third, freezing a third and now I have acquired a dehydrator I will be drying a third to use in muesli.

I have to admit to over planting on the strawb bed this year but I couldn't bear to part with all the babies and we also acquired some older plants that were being thrown away. I need to look to creating another bed in the garden...somewhere!!! Next year I will take out some of the older plants especially as they are ones that I brought to Charente from the Languedoc.
MMMMM...bit of a strawberry jungle here!!!

The cherries are now also starting to ripen and the elderflowers are plentiful. Elderflower champagne and bottling cherries is next on the to do list.

elderflower champagne and other elderflower recipes  on my website

We also seem to have a bumper crop of artichokes. Last year I only had a few and left them to flower...they are beautiful.Being a member of the thistle family they are like enormous purple thistles.

This year I intend cooking them so look out for some recipes to come on my website.I know they require a bit more work which is why they are not so popular. I would love to find some good recipes as it is such a good production perennial plant. Like the strawberries the plant is going a bit wild and I  will have to divide it next year.This large plant is actually about 8 plants!!  I am considering making an artichoke hedge!!


Monday, 9 May 2016


A quiet day gave me the chance to go out and collect a few more bags of nettles.
Some is to make more feed for the vegetables and the rest I am trying out two new recipes


This is basically a pesto recipe but replacing spinach with nettles.

The advantage of this is that nettles are free and fresh. . The disadvantage is it takes more time and effort


1/4 lb stinging nettles...don't forget to wear gloves when collecting
1/4 cup if mint leaves
1 Clive of garlic...crushed.
1/2 cup toasted pine or walnuts
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Blanch nettles in salted water.
Remove , cool and squeeze out excess water. I lay mine on a tea towel rather than wasting kitchen roll
In a blender mix everything except the oil and cheese.
Once well blended drizzle in the oil while continuing to blend. Add the cheese  also salt and pepper to season.

It will look like this....a bit sort of ...very green!!!

Perfect stirred into pasta and served with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese.
Use as a pizza topping or spread on toasted French bread


Gnudi is a cousin  of gnocchi and until I came across this recipe I had never heard of it before. To be honest we rarely eat gnocchi.which is probably why I have never made it. I have thrown some in with a stir fry to bulk it out but find it a bit heavy to have a whole plateful.

Still... I was intrigued what nettle gnudi would be like and thought it was worth giving it a try

Basic recipe is...
tub of ricotta cheese
2 ozs of nettles...more if you would like a stronger flavour or colour
3 chicken egg yolks
cup and a half of plain flour
seasoning......salt, pepper,
optional additions are Parmesan and garlic powder

Blanch the nettles. Strain and squeeze out the excess water

Whizz up in a processor

Remove the liquid from the ricotta cheese and add to processor along with the 3 egg yolks.
season with salt pepper and other additions

Mix it all together along with the flour until it makes a light dough
Roll in balls...I found it easier to roll up into cigar shapes and then cut equal sized pieces,- and then roll into balls


Flatten each one down slightly....cant say they look particularly appetising at this point

Bring a pan of water to boiling....the wider the better as you can get more balls in!! This recipe makes about 50 balls.

Drop a batch into the boiling water ...they are ready when they rise to the surface.
Scoop out with a slotted spoon or tea strainer.
Place on a tray........don't put them onto to kitchen roll ..they will stick to it.

Keep warm in the oven whilst doing all the batches if you want to use it immediately.

Leave to cool and then open freeze for half an hour then you can bag up portion sizes in the freezer.

You can also pan fry the gnocchi in oil and butter..adding whatever herbs you fancy.

I am reliably informed that Gnudi is much easier to make than gnocchi and can be used in exactly the same way.....with a nice tomato or blue cheese sauce.

So what are you waiting for.....get out and get wild food picking!!! Think of all the health benefits of those nettles and they are FREE!


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Living well for less at the expense of others

Yes you have read the title correctly!

Living well for less at the expense of others!

Have you come across someone like this??????

You see the problem is not the people that do these things...the problem lies with those who are genuinely nice giving people.

We are spotted from a grand distance . An easy target.

How many of these situations do you recognise ?

when out drinking in a group never be  first to the bar. If you are there is the danger of buying more than one round before the night is over.
go to buy your round when people are only half way through a drink...good chance they will say they are not ready and will say they don't want one
as above if you are last to buy a round it's likely some people may not want one
4  out for a meal..and going to share ...only share the bill if what you have eaten is more than the average share
if what you have eaten is less than the average share then you want to pay for  your own
6  in a group out for a meal/ coffee and everyone is paying cash...offer to pay on your card...then pay the exact amount and pocket the excess left for the tip ( oh yes)
7  Turn up at friends houses when it's close to meal times so that they feel they have to invite you to stay
8  Never offer to be the designated driver as you are using your petrol and not someone else's
9  leave your heating off and go to someone else's house where it's warm
10  when having a meal at someone's house rave about it so much that they send you home with that extra portion so you have  a freebie meal the next day
11  there are people who go to charity shops on a Sunday evening and help themselves to bags of stuff that have been left in the doorways...take out anything useful then return the bag
12  borrow something with no intention of returning it or just forgetting....usually dvds, tools!
13  borrow money and make the person you loaned it from feel guilty about asking for it back

These are only the ones we know about...perhaps there are others?????

Is there a term for these people????
 "Sponging"...comes to mind...but yet it doesn't seem to really encompass all of these things.
Perhaps we can think of a word that would be a new addition to the Oxford dictionary.

Answers on a postcard

Of course if you did use these techniques  you will find that what you gain in £'s you will lose in friendship and respect.

Two things that I consider to be worth more than financial gain.