Life in the Loire on lock-down. 25th April. Day forty two.

It’s a happy day today. Rosie’s birthday.

I’m sorry I can’t see her in person but I know she’ll have a happy day and it will be one she won’t forget. We spoke early this morning and she was busy replying to a whole myriad of messages on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. I sent a card a week ago but it hasn’t arrived. Thankfully her present has.

She, like me, loves to cook. More of a dessert person than me I guess although she makes a mean onion tart. She’d been hoping to have a big party with all her friends and had been batch cooking in preparation. Looks like her quiches will have to stay in the freezer until 4th July (the rescheduled date). One thing’s for sure. When they all get together again it’s going to be one hell of a party!

Another cookery book for Rosie’s collection

It’s also Anzac Day today. A day when our friends in Australia and New Zealand commemorate their war dead. I was particularly touched by a story posted by Susan Walter, an Australian who runs a small business similar to ours in the Loire. She tells the story of Muriel McPhee.

In the First World War collection in the National Museum of Australia, there’s a display of beautiful lingerie, part of 100 items made my Muriel McPhee for her trousseau. Apparently she had a sweetheart before the war but he never came back. Her family never knew she had kept the trousseau and the only item ever worn was a black net mourning overdress. She never married but always kept a photo of him on her dressing table.

So many stories of terrible loss during the First World War, and so many people left behind without husbands, sons, fiancés, fathers and of course mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers.

Changing the subject. Baking again today. I spotted a recipe posted by Kathryn Gordon that I fancied – spiced molasses cookies. Kathryn is a chef instructor in the professional Pastry & Baking programme at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and leads an annual culinary course here in the Loire. She brings her groups to see us a for an in-depth introduction to Loire valley wines. We’ve several dates in the diary this summer but I fear the tastings won’t happen. I’ll make her cookies instead.

We had scrambled eggs on sourdough toast for lunch in the garden with a small glass of Cabernet Franc. The rest of it has gone into a beef casserole (sort of Bourguignon) that is slowly simmering in the oven for dinner. We convince ourselves that if we drink wine out of a tumbler it doesn’t count. Who are we kidding?

Rosie made a mistake on Facebook this morning that has had me tittering to myself on and off for the past couple of hours (definitely the right verb there). In replying to a friend of ours, Walter (a chef from Texas), who left her a lovely birthday message on her timeline, she replied saying thank you and that she had a lovely day planned including Champagne and nipples. When auto-correct lets you down eh! It really did me good. I haven’t had the giggles like that in a long time. You know, the sort of uncontrollable laughter that just bubbles up every time you think about it. And Walter was so polite in his response. “Wow what a great way to celebrate”, he said.

Of course she meant Champagne and nibbles!

And the fun for her birthday continued when at 15h00 a group of 20 of her friends and family all connected on-line to wish her a happy day.

The beef is now lovely and tender after gently simmering in the oven for 3 hours on a very low temperature. A few new season’s potatoes from the Ile de Ré cooked with a sprig of mint from the garden and some of those teeny baby carrots will be served alongside. I love long slow cook dishes. The aromas permeate the house all day reminding you that something good is on the way. If I’d have been a bit more organised I would have cooked it yesterday. The flavours develop even more overnight.

We enjoyed a glass of Leduc Frouin’s fresh and frothy Crémant de Loire before dinner and with the beef, a bottle of Sebastien du Petit Thouar’s Amiral 2010 Chinon.

Beef casserole with baby carrots cooked in orange juice and butter

Amiral is a ‘press wine’.

Red wines are fermented with skin contact and when the fermentation has finished, the wine is drained off from the tank. This is what we call ‘free run wine’. The skins left in the tank are then pressed. It takes quite a lot of pressure to extract this wine and it’s naturally coarser, more tannic and richer. This is ‘press wine’. Producers may blend in a small percentage to add structure, tannin and weight to another free run wine.

In the right hands, and with lots of work in the cellar, it’s possible to produce something really interesting with 100% press wine. Amiral is a rich, spicy, robust wine that has at least 3 years ageing in oak barrels. It needs this long to soften, mature and develop. Sebastien will only make it in ‘good years’ (years that are sunny and produce wines that have rich fruit and concentration).

It’s a delicious wine that is certainly not typical of the wines of the Loire valley. We serve it during our tastings and it always hits the spot with wine lovers that seek out bold, rich wines.

Perfect with a rich beef casserole.