Life in the Loire after lock-down. 30th May. Day 20 of déconfinement.

There’s something very satisfying about making something out of nothing. That’s what I did first thing this morning.

Last night when I was preparing the green asparagus (and I say green because you can’t do this with the white version), I snapped off the stalks at the point where they cease to be tender. The tops were griddled and were served with the trout and the bottoms, I put to one side.

Determined not to waste them, this morning I decided to make a chilled asparagus soup for lunch.

I finely chopped half an onion and a couple of spring onions (lurking in the vegetable drawer at the bottom of the fridge) and then sweated them in a little butter and oil until soft. In went the asparagus ends (trimmed just very slightly) cut into 1cm bits and then I topped up with some of my lovely chicken stock.

30 minutes later I blitzed it with a hand held blender. I checked the consistency and it was very fibrous so I decided to pass it through my moulin à legumes (see picture below). Yes, I know it’s a fiddle but it doesn’t take long and I ended up with a silky smooth light soup that has gone into the fridge for later.

The satisfying thing is that is cost practically nothing. The stock I made a few days ago and the asparagus ends would routinely be thrown away.

We decided to go on a bike ride this morning. It’s the first time I’ve been on my bike for 18 months so I knew it would probably be tough.

Despite regularly walking 5 or 6 km, this did not prepare me for the hill at the start of the ride. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do about that. We live half way up a hill. Getting up onto the flat vineyard plateau requires going up a hill.

My bike has 21 gears. I put it into the lowest gear possible (1:1) and off I go. Nigel, despite having had a slipped disc for the past year and done practically no exercise, sails up the hill like a gazelle as I puff and pant, hoping the neighbours don’t see me wheezing and groaning my way up.

I look up at Nigel and announce there’s absolutely no way I can get to the top without stopping.

“Then have a rest”, he says.

Hmm, that makes me dig in. I resolve not to be such a wimp.

Eventually I reach the top as the plateau opens up in front of me. I can feel my heart beating. It feels like my chest is about to explode. But, I manage it, and then we peddle off (me trailing behind) with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs, winding our way through country lanes, admiring people’s potagers and wondering why the viticulteur is bothering to trim his vines when there is nothing to trim.

It feels wonderful and I ask myself why it’s taken so long to get back into the saddle. The countryside is stunning, you see things you don’t see when you’re in a car. You can stop and have a peek in other people’s gardens. The Loire valley is so beautiful. I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to live here.

I’ll probably ache tomorrow. We resolve to do it more often. There’s no excuse at the moment. We have the time. What’s more, going out with Nigel is like having your personal trainer with you. An incentive to get rid of that pesky kilo or two I’ve put on since the lock-down.

I did have a little Lupin and Delphinium envy as we cycled past one particular potager. Immaculately maintained with a mixture of fruit, vegetables and beautiful flowers I found myself feeling very jealous. Our Lupins and Delphiniums are looking very sorry for themselves. I read that they’re not happy on limestone soils but the soils in that potager would be the same so what’s going on there?

Back for lunch I took the asparagus soup out of the fridge. There was just enough for two bowls to which I added a soft poached egg and a few asparagus tips left over from last night’s trout. I then scattered a few parmesan shavings over the top and drizzled a little olive oil over the top.

Asparagus soup with a poached egg and Parmesan shavings

This afternoon I’ve been putting together my monthly subscribers’ newsletter. This month is all about the Guided Summer Tasting Case of course. We’re ready to go and I’ll be sending it out tomorrow. Counting down until we take our first order (she says hopefully).

And so to our virtual dinner party with Ali and Jos this evening. We met at 7pm on Zoom and took it from there.

First off, an aperitif. We had a white port and tonic with a large sprig of rosemary (that tickled my nose every time I took a sip). They had a glass of wine.

We chose the menu in advance (more fun eating the same thing) and decided upon Italian wine for the main course (to match the dish).

Chargrilled smoked salmon with rocket and Parmesan to start with. Easy and pretty on the plate. We compared each others presentation of the dish. For us a glass of Les Perles d’Anne Sophie, a lovely frothy Chenin Chardonnay blend made by Domaine Colin and sold in the Vin de France category. For them, a glass of Portugese white (I can’t remember the grape varieties but 3 completely unknown ones to me). Being in Belgium they have access to a much broader selection of wines than we have here in France (just a teensy bit envious).

Parma ham and sage wrapped veal with tomato spaghetti was next up on the menu. We don’t eat veal so used pork fillet instead. Ali and Jos found some ethically raised veal in their local butcher so they followed the recipe to the letter. Sort of half way between a Saltimbocca and a Milanese. Most of it was prepped in advance and when we were ready to go we took a 15 minute break to bring it all together.

Parma ham and sage wrapped pork fillet with tomato spaghetti

Our wine of choice was a 2017 Dolcetto d’Alba Piani Noce from Parusso.

Dating back to 1901, today the estate has 28 hectares around Monteforte d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto overlooking the town of Barolo and managed by the 4th generation of the Parusso family.

The Dolcetto d’Alba comes from Dolcetto grapes grown in different vineyards around Monteforte d’Alba. The grapes are handpicked and the wine fermented using natural indigenous yeast. Bright and fresh, packed with red fruits and a hint of violets, the acidity paired beautifully with the tomato based sauce that we served with the spaghetti.

A little cheese to follow and after that, Ali and Jos decadently went on to a rather lovely looking lemon meringue pie (sadly they couldn’t beam us a slice over to the Loire from Brussels!).

We settled for a little snifter of rum. Probably a very bad idea.

It was not quite as much fun as being together in real life. That will have to wait. The borders with Belgium are firmly shut at the moment.