Well, that was one long week. My apologies for the lengthy gap, but for the past two months, every time I tried to start writing it was coming from such a dull, soggy place full of micro-details of kitchen installation and delivery disasters I soon stopped. In conversations with friends or my kids, I could hear myself rapidly becoming a travaux bore - only one notch up the tedium scale from the swimming pool variety. Also, you may have noticed, it’s been cold. Properly cold. Heating will not be installed chez moi for a while yet, so, with the exception of my first professional photo shoot in my amazing new kitchen, (more on that below), “cooking” has mostly consisted of quick dashes to the kitchen to toast bread and heat up soup.
One cute-but-cold kitchen
There was nothing else for it than to make a warm bed nest, close up the rest of the house, and go out a LOT. But I eventually became so utterly inhabited by, and fed up with, The Cold, I decamped twice to cosy Loire Valley hotels (only two hours’ drive away) for long weekends with friends and bubble baths. And it was bliss. We had foie gras and oeuf meurette (not on the same plate) in the sun (in t-shirts) on Fontevraud square before visiting the breathtakingly beautiful abbey where Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, were buried. I say were, as sadly their remains were dug up and scattered during the Revolution. But their incredible tombs or effigies are still intact and sit peacefully and majestically in the gigantic abbey.
Fontevraud Abbey. (Richard front right, Eleanor back left)
We visited Villandry Castle’s extraordinary formal gardens with a dramatic storm cloud backdrop as we walked, and a piping hot crèpe au beurre afterwards, and stopped at the charming marché de Montsoreau for goat’s cheese, the first asparagus and strawberries. Here’s where we stayed, and though perhaps not for the coolest cats amongst you, the service was adorable, the rooms spotless, the courtyard charming, the wine list pleasingly local and the food fresh, simple and good value. Best of all, is its location - I recommend it. Another super charming Loire Valley small hotel is Hotel Diderot in beautiful Chinon, owned by American food writer and prolific jam maker, Jamie Schler, and her husband, Jean Pierre.
Buying local cheeses in Montsoreau
When Trish met NEFF
Spring has sprung at last. The gloom is lifting, slowly, my house is warming up and becoming a real home where I can actually cook, and at last I can get into my Substack stride.
First of all, some proper news. I’ve teamed up with The Gloss and NEFF Ireland to produce seasonal home cooking recipes over the next three years. The Gloss is my long standing writing home, alongside Hachette France, who publish my cookbooks, and I’m delighted that the posts and book will be designed by their fantastic team, and go out on their channels, to be relayed by NEFF. The recipes are separate from my monthly food column in The Gloss magazine, and will replace my weekly online offerings. We will collate the recipes into a book which will be published in Ireland for Christmas - and if you are in Ireland, look out for news of a special event we have planned for the launch.
As part of our partnership, NEFF has kindly given me a super sophisticated steam function oven, a vented induction hob and a hefty gas wok hob to play with. My cooking habits are about to be transformed, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiments and (I hope) progress with you. This is, of course, a paid partnership, but it’s important for me to say here that it is a genuine love match, after a long engagement period, with The Gloss as the canny matchmaker, NOT a hasty, arranged marriage. In dating terms, think of NEFF as the gorgeous, cool guy who catches your eye and seems aloof and unattainable, but in fact has been wanting to meet you for ages. The timing just had to be right, and here we are, happy together.
Me, with my snazzy Neff appliances.
Despite all the angst of managing the installation work and the deliveries, I absolutely loved the challenge of integrating super sleek, state of the art NEFF appliances into my 19th century home kitchen. I’ll be sharing lots on how I’ve imagined and organised the space around them (not least as it is an absolute obsession of mine, and I need to get it off my chest) and how not much of what I had originally visualised actually came to pass. I’d love you to subscribe to read and exchange with me about making a new house into a home and more. Details by clicking on the button.
New French book
I wasn’t sure when, or even if, I would ever write another cookbook. But with gentle coaxing and shaping of ideas from my wonderful French editor, Lisa Grall, a new book idea has slowly emerged from our exchanges and conversations over the past year. A cookbook is always a delicate balance, a complex dance, between a writer’s voice, a reader’s needs and desires and a publisher’s commercial vision, and I am always awestruck when all three eventually come together. Twenty years after Petits Plats Entre Amis and Mes Petits Plats Préferés, my new book once more comes from my home kitchen, as I entertain friends and family in my French countryside cottage.
I can’t believe my luck at still getting to do this job after all these years, and this time round, I’m hoping to bring you on the journey. Over the years, in Ireland and in France, I’ve run many ‘Cookbook Workshops’, where I’ve coached budding cookbook authors as they hone their ideas and create their pitches for publishers and agents. This year, for my Substack subscribers, I’ll be sharing my own book-making process as it happens, from the original idea, through the fleshing out of a synopsis, towards chapter-crafting and recipe development, and finally, styling and photography. If you’d like to join me, and have access to personalised advice, plus lots of other writing and recipes, please hit the subscribe button.
My wee store
With my house move, A French Table had been put on hold. But I am constantly gathering new treasures (oooh the cutlery) and more will soon be added online. For subscribers, there’s a first look at all new items and a 10% discount on any purchase.
What an absolute joy to see the asparagus appear at the market. Just like strawberries, who cares if they cost more than all the other vegetable shopping combined? They are worth it for all their winter-busting perkiness.
I have always preferred green asparagus. They are so much easier to prep than their paler cousins, with on top, that gorgeous colour and beautiful crisp whiskers when roasted. My memories of floppy, watery asparagus served at my ex-parents in law’s table put me off them for decades, but today, I had the lovely purple ones in the picture, and was properly hungry. I wanted to do something substantial and warming with my spears, not just a quick dip in beurre blanc.
So I made this dish - an ‘orzo risotto’ - and really, you should too. I steamed the tops of the spears in my NEFF oven, (which also roasted them slightly on the combined function, intensifying the sweet flavour) while simmering the ends with shallots, a bayleaf and a garlic clove. I cooked about 300g (I wanted seconds) of orzo in the hot stock, seasoned, and added a tablespoon or so of fresh tarragon while it was cooking. Once the orzo was nice and gloopy (if you have too much liquid, ladle some out at this stage, or add more if it’s not loose enough) I added a dash of cream and the asparagus tops, cut into two or three pieces. I stirred and simmered again for a few minutes, then added some grated cheese and let it melt into the mixture. Served with more shaved cheese and tarragon on top, and plenty of black pepper, it was divine.
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What a gorgeous kitchen! And yes, like you, I prefer green asparagus. A joy to read, thank you