Location: Rennes to Dinard, France
I finished packing and unfortunately the gite owners weren't home so I couldn't say goodbye. I sent them an email instead.
Brian, who has been staying at the school itself, gave me a lift to Rennes. We parked under the Saturday market, and then wandered around the market together. Brian then headed off to his ferry at Caen, and I headed to the train station for my train (which turned out to be a bus) to Dinard.
I checked into my hotel, the Printania, which is rather run down but had some interesting antique Breton furniture. I changed then walked around the coastline around the headland, along the beautiful beach, and around the next headland, then back again. I stopped for a drink and ice-cream on the beachfront then walked back. Dinard has a wonderful tide-filled lido pool.
Then I had a light dinner and read in the hotel's lounge for a bit, before bed.
Friday 13th, and the last day of cookery at the cooking school.
We started the day by de-bearding mussels (rejecting any that wouldn't shut), then they went into the pot. After cooking we rejected any that wouldn't open.
We also put together a salad with the leftover chicken breast. We did a big salad with mushrooms, and (knowing I dislike mushrooms) another smaller version with asparagus.
In preparation for later we also prepared a ratatouille (lots of chopping for everyone), deboned a rack of lamb, and stuffed it then rolled it for roasting. Finally we prepared the layers for the almond, liquorice and white chocolate cake. We should have a nice simple evening.
Before eating, we trooped outside to the courtyard and practiced tossing like a chef, with salt in a frying pan.
Harder than it looks! Then we did some group photos.
- mussels soup with saffron
- chicken salad with mushrooms/asparagus and pancetta
Several people went for a walk to the nearest village after lunch, but I missed their departure because there is a competition to guess how much butter we have used during the week, so I was doing a calculation. I made it 2.3kg but I think I will round it up a bit because there had certainly been some extra used for frying and the sauces, beyond what is in the recipes.
I then went back to my gite and read until it was time for the evening meal class. Back to the school and everyone had dressed up a bit. Most preparation was already done, for our evening meal of:
- foie gras with a pear salad
- stuffed rack of lamb with ratatouille and tarragon sauce
- almond, liquorice and white chocolate cake
It was a jolly evening of preparation, with the aperitifs starting early. There was a quiz by Niall, one question each. Mine was 'what is the Breton way of saying "cheers"?' It's something like ya-mad.
At the evening meal we had our butter use competition. Everyone else was guessing far too high, 4.5kg upwards, so I felt safe in guessing 3kg. I was spot on, apparently, and was rewarded with a bottle of French mead. Then we did a graduation ceremony, with certificates, hand shaking, and trying on Paul's cuisine medals.
Lots of hugs goodbye, and I hung around for a drink outside with the die-hards, before heading home to bed.
Location: Kerrouet, France
Today we had a free day until 6pm. This was good because we were all in dairy food comas and desperately needed a lunchtime off. I caught a lift with two other singletons on the course to Dinan where we managed to find a parking space despite the market, and then walked into town. We first went to the market which was interesting although not huge. Then the two guys had not been to Dinan before so we walked around the town and I showed them the lovely little half-timbered cobbled street down to the port and back. We had lunch down at the port, and bumped into several other participants on the course throughout the day.
After arriving back at the school, we all went our separate ways for a couple of hours. I read my book in the sunshine. I then returned to the school for the evening lesson.
Today was a fish day. We started the lesson by deconstructing langoustines, which is quite easy when you know how. Then we created langoustine stock and langoustine mousse for starter, filleted the turbot for main, and made the orange cake for dessert. It was quite an easy day today. We also got the rest of the pasta out and made tagliatelle. While we were all busy Niall made us a drink containing grapefruit syrup and rosé wine. We christened it the Pink De-Niall (denial) which works on all sorts of levels (he is a gay Catholic Irishman for example) and he was absolutely delighted with that.
All the food today was pleasant but I do not think I will be in a huge rush to make any of those recipes again.
Location: Kerrouet, France
Another big day of cooking. For lunch we prepared:
- French onion soup
- vegetable and nut ravioli
We also deconstructed the rabbit, and prepared the chocolate cake in advance for tonight as well as the vanilla ice cream to go with it. The ravioli was a lot of fun. We had loads of stuffing, so we practically had a production line going in the end. We made about a hundred and ten ravioli. See the photo!
In between lunch and dinner I jumped into a car with one of the other singletons here. We went to a town called Moncontour.
It was an interesting town with a citadel which I believe from reading fantasy novels means a town whose fortifications are made up of the roads and houses and gardens and walls winding up the hill to the major fortification at the top of the hill. That certainly seemed to be the layout in this case. Another interesting aspect was that all the shops and businesses had a painted sign like a pub sign. It was very attractive. I took lots of photographs of them.
Then back to the cooking school to prepare and eat dinner. Dinner was:
- salmon with goats cheese and peppers
- rabbit with mustard sauce
- chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream
Top dishes of the day, the soup, ravioli, and rabbit.
Location: Kerrouet, France
Day 2 of the cooking school, and I am still full from yesterday. I just had a yoghurt and a mouthful of juice for breakfast before heading over to the cooking school to start on lunch prep. For lunch today we prepared:
Foie gras terrine (this is actually in advance preparation for later in the week)
- pan-fried halloumi with coriander and wholegrain mustard sauce
- charentelle risotto
We also prepared the salted caramel ice cream and chestnut cake for this evening's dessert.
After lunch about half of us went over to a local town called Josselyn. It had a large castle and a pleasant river. We walked along the river and stopped to hear a narrative about the legend of the Barking washerwomen. We had a quick drink then headed back to the Cookery School to start preparing the evening meal.
On tonight's menu was:
- pan-fried scallops with cider apple & curry sauce, with wilted spinach
- duck breast with grape and black pepper sauce, pomme de terre Anna and roasted pear
- chestnut cake and salted caramel ice cream
Top dishes today from my perspective were the charentelle risotto, the apple/curry scallops, and top of the pile the duck breast (yum!)
Location: Kerrouet, France
Day one of the cooking course and by the end of it we already felt like we had been here for a week. We started by completely deconstructing a chicken, taking off the wings and and back for stock whilst retaining the leg and breast for use during the rest of the week. We then used the bones from the 10 students (plus some vegetables) to make a giant vat of chicken stock which we will use today and for the rest of the week in various dishes.
We then learnt how to debone the chicken legs in a way that retained the general shape of the chicken but just removed the thigh bone, knee and shin bone from the leg. It left a hole through the middle of the leg that we would later use to stuff with a chicken mince and mushroom mixture for dinner.
We spent the rest of the morning preparing lunch which was:
- Butternut squash soup with home made croutons
- Provençal salmon fish cake with home made tartar sauce and celeriac remoulade
We then had a three hour gap in the afternoon. The weather was not very nice and I think all of us went home for a bit of a nap.
Back to the cooking school for 6pm, we immediately started in on the three courses we were making for dinner which were:
- artichoke in a citrus soup
- charentelle stuffed chicken leg with tarragon sauce and creme fraiche potatoes
- apple gratin with homemade buttermilk ice cream.
The Provençal salmon, stuffed chicken leg, and apple gratin were my favourites of the day.
Location: Dinan, UK
I had arranged a lift from Dinan to the cooking school at 1.45, so after breakfast at my B&B I went out exploring again. There was a nice little cobbled street that I had gone partway down yesterday but I carried on down it today. It went a lot further than I thought and it was absolutely full of half timbered houses. Really pretty. There were lots of art shops as well. It took me down to Dinan port and I then went for a nice walk along the river.
I made my way back up the hill to my hotel to await pick up by my lift. My lift was being offered by 3 American ladies who are also attending the cookery school. They seem very pleasant. We made our way to Kerrouet which took about one hour. They are in one gite and I am in a different gite. The owners of the cookery school showed me to where I was staying and I met the owners who are English. I then settled in before heading back to the cookery school for our evening meal. We are not cooking tonight.
Everybody met up at 18.00 and we all introduced ourselves and where we had come from. There are some other people attending on their own as well. Then we settled down at the table and were served four courses of evening meal. They were delicious and we did not have to do anything towards them. The hard work starts tomorrow.
Location: Dinan, France
Day 1 of Ali's trip to France without Jase.
Jason has managed to end up with 1 week's less leave than me, so I have come to France on a cooking holiday. Jase kindly dropped me off at Stansted airport this morning. Despite his complete hatred of budget airlines the flight was easy, half empty and I had a group of three seats all to myself.
I arrived at Dinard airport to find it is absolutely tiny and there is no real transport. My choice was to hire a car or or take a taxi to Dinan so I took a taxi. My first language challenge a little earlier than expected.
After checking in to my hotel I went for a walk around Dinan. It is a pretty fortified town with lots of half-timbered overhanging buildings. Tudor style, but French. I realised I was not doing things in an organised way, so I took a little train around the town for 8 euro and the commentary. It was great!
That gave me a few ideas for things I should go back and see in more detail, such as churches. So I did that, then sat in the English garden with a book and some greengages for a while, and then went and had crepes for dinner.
Location: Canterbury , UK
An early start for us today, on the road by 10, for the long drive to Canterbury. After taking an age to find a parking building, we headed off to see the large Cathedral there.
Grabbed a quick bite for lunch at a street food seller, then to the cathedral. Its really big.
Ali got a guided tour handset, and off we went for a wander. Found the spot where Thomas Beckett was slain on the alleged orders of his ex BFF, Henry II. Apparently the phrase Who will rid me of this turbulent priest can be misinterpreted to mean stab him multiple times, cut him to pieces and cut off the top of his head. Who would have thought it. There is a series of large medieval stained glass windows showing the miracles that Beckett's body performed in healing the sick (hence his sainthood). Notably during the dissolution of the monestries Henry VIII had Beckett's jewel-encrusted sarcophagus (in which "the cheapest thing was the gold") broken up and added to the royal treasury, whilst Thomas Beckett's body was supposedly burned and scattered to the winds.
This week we've gone from seeing Magna Carta at Lincoln (negotiation was assisted by Archbishop Stephen Langton), and seeing Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Globe, to seeing the tombs of both Stephen Langton and Henry IV at Canterbury Cathedral. There was also the tomb of the Black Prince (Edward Plantagenet) as well as his armour on display. His epitaph is as follows:
Such as thou art, sometime was I.
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
I thought little on th'our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
But now a wretched captive am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone.
The cathedral was very impressive and took us much longer than anticipated to go through, but as it was the main event, no real problem.
We then visited the Roman museum, an excavation under the streets of Canterbury. Interesting, but not worth the price, IMHO. It costed £3 in our 12 year old Lonely Planet, £9 today. Inflation hasnt been that bad. Could be why we were the only people visiting.
Then to see an old monastery that Henry VIII had dissolved following the split from the Catholic Church. The site was Benedictine and quite large. I imagine the Kings coffers would have been nicely replenished with the value of that estate.
Drive home ended up having an unscheduled stop off at Fay and Robins house due to two accidents on the M25 causing over 1.5 hours delay. Thanks to them for putting on a short notice dinner for two unexpected guests.
Home to an annoyed kitten who hadnt been outside all day.
We just pootled about in the morning, but decided we should do something with the afternoon so we went to Crocodiles of the World. It has a lot of crocodiles, alligators, caymen etc, but we also saw beavers, tortoises, a fishing cat, a snake, and some noisy kukkaburras. So, an eclectic mix. There were some great signs, for exchange this one: "Be safe. Please do not stand, sit, climb or lean on the enclosures. If you fall, crocodiles will eat you and that might make them sick."
Interrupted by a phone call from the estate agent who told us that the viewers we showed around last Saturday had made a ridiculous offer. We turned it down there and then.
Location: London, UK
Today, not Roman but medieval. Went for a trip into London (after a late start to avoid both rush hour and extortionate train fares) to go see a play at the Globe theatre. The Globe is a reconstruction of the original Globe that old Bill Shakespeare used to have performances at.
Had a nice lunch at Williamsons Tavern, a building that was once the home to the Mayor of London immediately after the great fire.
Then, a short walk from there to the Globe to watch the play. Ali had us front row seats, dead centre on the first level, so we could sit and watch the Groundlings (the Globe has a standing only ground floor area that costs only £5) get drenched by the weather. It was not a sunny day.
The play was Henry IV part 1. If you want my opinion, it was slow and difficult to follow. The first act itself seemed to be interminable and I would happily have followed the lead of many other patrons and left in the intermission. However, Ali was keen to continue, so I stayed for the second act. Which was marginally better.
In terms of the Henry series, Henry V is MUCH better. Even King Lear is better (and thats a very depressing play). Id even say that I enjoyed King John more...
[Ali: well I liked it! And it was certainly an improvement on Cymbeline]
Back on the river ferry, then tube and train back to a wet Bicester and very annoyed kitten (who hadnt been able to go outside all day).
Location: Portsmouth , UK
Wet horrible day in Bicester, so off to somewhere sunny. In this case, Portsmouth.
We took a bit of a walk along the waterfront in the sunshine, up to the historic naval dockyard. Saw a statue dedicated to pioneer immigrants, and stopped for a bite on the way, which in hindsight took more time than we had.
Arrived at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Started with a wander through HMS Warrior, a 1860 steam and sail warship that never saw a battle. This took longer than anticipated, due in part to me getting distracted by the various things to look at. Ali was most interested in comparing it with the Corona (the ship the Clements emigrated in) which was half the size but also built in the 1860s.
This meant we didnt get to look over HMS Victory, maybe next time. We did have a look around the boat-making warehouse though. In keeping with the theme of this break, we didnt spend enough time here. Our tickets are valid for a year.
On the way back to the car Ali thrashed Jase in a tightly fought game of crazy golf. (He omitted to record that in this diary entry!)
Last stop off was the Naval memorial to sailors lost at sea in WW1 and WW2. It showed the effect of the battle of Jutland where the British lost 3 battlecruisers and over 3,000 men in a few hours. The list of names was huge, covering the mass of the memorial.
Back home, miserable weather in Bicester. Lit fire, cats and Alison far too excited by the flames. I think Panzer has melted into the carpet.