Monday, 31 October 2011

Homemade Chestnut Pasta

 I’m very excited about this blog. It will be my first ever two-part blog; the first instalment today and concluding chapter tomorrow. It’s just that I have so much to tell you and two great recipes. I’ll be up to the wee hours if I try to write it all out for you tonight. Forgive my apparent lack of commitment, all will come clear soon.

Firstly I really wanted to show you pictures of the boat at this time of year and how she looks a bit like the trees here in France that have lost their leaves for the winter.


Even her usually glossy cap-rail has been covered with plastic wrap to keep the varnish preserved from the weather which is due any minute now. The interior of the boat is quiet and covered in dust covers and most of the crew have left for the winter. There are 5 of us left out of 12 crew. Lunch takes me a measly 45 minutes to cook and although I will adjust eventually, so far I keep trying to over-feed the remaining crew. Well, it is winter and they need fattening up for the cold months ahead surely.

Where did all my blocks go?

Now, autumn being a season of produce and harvest and because I missed out on the whole jam making adventures because I had to go sailing (poor me), I was desperately trying to come up with something interesting I could make with the glut of sweet chestnuts we have here in the cote D’azur. The chestnut festival’s final day was yesterday and I hit upon my great idea whilst rummaging around in the freezer for a suitable Sunday dinner.

The last hour of the final chestnut festival in La Garde Freinet

Rabbit. It is a shame that rabbit is not as popular in the UK as it is in France and I really don’t know why. For sure the wild rabbit is a very gamey meal and probably best suited to the game lover but a farmed rabbit is very mild and basically a lot like chicken. 

I had one in the freezer and as rabbit works very well with pasta I came up with my idea; chestnut pasta!  A low gluten, tasty roast chestnut pasta I could make myself and serve with the rabbit. Now can you see why I am so excited? 

Today I think I will start with the chestnut pasta recipe and follow with the rabbit sauce tomorrow. How will you sleep?!

So a quickie on the health benefits of chestnuts. They have fewer calories than any other nut and are the only nut to contain vitamin C. They have a high starch content and because they are so ‘dry’ can be used as a flour substitute, a fantastic non-gluten alternative. And it made the tastiest pasta ever.

Okay, I’ll stop blathering on and crack on with the recipe.

I don’t have a food blender but I do have a pasta machine. If you don’t have either this is still possible to make so do try it!

For chestnut pasta for 4 people you will need;

170g chestnut flour or 30 roast chestnuts, the skins removed
90g strong white flour
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp fine sea salt

  • I went to the chestnut fare and bought about 30 roasted chestnuts which I shelled and put into my mini food processor to make into flour. It worked! Brilliantly!  If you don’t have roast chestnuts then you can get chestnut flour from most health stores. It’s sort of nice to do it yourself though and I think the chestnuts had that nice smokiness from the good roasting they’d had at the festival.

  • Sift both of the flours into a large cold glass bowl or into a food blender. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, salt and olive oil. Using a fork, start to whisk the eggs and slowly begin to draw in the flour from the edges of the well, incorporating more flour until you have a rough dough. It will get to the point when it’s easier just to get your hands in and bring it all together. If using a blender, blend till the dough forms.

  • Now is the fun, stress relieving bit. Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes on a cold flat surface, sprinkling on more plain flour if you need to. It should be a silky, springy dough and not too dry or sticky. When the dough is fully kneaded, wrap in cling-film and rest in the fridge. This is a good time to start the rabbit dish, the recipe for which I will share with you in the next exciting addition of, ‘An Autumn Boat’!!!

  • Anyway. Once the pasta is fully rested (bless) sift some plain flour over a cold, flat work surface and begin to roll out half of the pasta with a floured rolling pin till it is good and thin enough to cut into tagliatelle or papperdelle or whatever shape you please! If, like me you have a pasta machine then proceed as you would normally and then use the tagliatelle function on the machine to finish. I usually rest the pasta again covered in flour and some clingfilm on a tray in the fridge.

  • When you are ready to cook the pasta, put a large pan of salted water onto boil. The pasta will take just minutes! Literally just 3-4 of them. Drain in a colander and drizzle with some good olive oil.

  • Serve with the rabbit sauce coming tomorrow in the next exciting addition of blah blah blah…

As you can see the pasta had a lovely ‘marron’ colour and wasn’t at all crumbly or difficult to work with and tasted delicious

Thanks for reading such a long and maybe slightly over-excited blog. I think perhaps tomorrows will be slightly calmer. But no promises. If you need any help with any of this then do feel free to contact me on the gmail address at the top of the page.

Á Demain!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Chestnut Festival and De-rigging

As the days begin to shorten here in the South of France, the boat is being stripped down to her winter coat. Sails have been washed and scrubbed, hung out to dry and are now in storage. Blocks have been de-rigged, the coins, sheaves and forks removed, labelled and bagged up, ready for sanding.

Sanding blocks. Now there's a job. There are about 200 of them. Between us we will be fingerprint-less and pretty bored, wondering was it really a year since we did this last?

Lines and rigging are slowly being removed from Mariquita, down to the bare minimum and stored in our container here in Cogolin Marina. Our container becomes both storage and workshop and will gradually get colder as the weeks pass requiring us to wear layers of clothing and rig up heaters in the vain attempt to keep reasonably warm and newly laid varnish to stand a chance of going off.

The work does become quite tedious. I am now part chef, part maintenance man, spending a fair ammount of my evenings trying to remove varnish and paint from my hair and teak dust from my eyes. However this is all offset by the simple pleasure of having weekends off. Hooray for weekends off!

And this weekend was the start of the Chestnut Festival. The Fetes de la Chataigne starts today in the village of La Garde Freinet where our crew house is and will continue next weekend ensuring we have all had our fill of roast chestnuts, pig roast baguettes and confitures. Market stalls selling produce from jams and honeys to saucisson and cakes fill up the market square in the village and thousands of people come from far and wide to sample, buy and eat and of course to drink rosé.

The chestnut was an important food staple in the past as wheat and potatoes were hard to grow in this area, so the star of the show, the chestnut, is celebrated this time every year in La Garde Freinet which is surrounded by chestnut groves (Chataignerales). You can buy produce made from chestnuts of every concievable style. Chestnut jam (confiture marron), sweet chestnut purees and and chestnut honey (miel chatignier) are but a few of the varieties and you can be sure to find chestnut ice cream, cake and crepes filled with sweet chestnut purees and cream.

I inevitably came home after a little wander around armed with a chestnut cake and a jar of sweet vanilla chestnut puree. Yum. I think I may sneak up to my room with that, some butter and a pot of tea to picnic on my bed whilst I finish this blog. The cake is lovely, not too sweet and great smeared with butter and the chestnut puree.

Trés bien! 

The weather is definately turning and although the days are still sunny it's becoming quite chilly here now. I've unpacked my winter wardrobe and am cosied up in an old favourite hoody. Unlike Mariquita who looks naked now without her huge mainsail and webs of lines and shrouds, my winter coat is fur lined and many layered, rigged with scarves and boots. And I'm loving it.

Thanks for reading.


The old boys making the tartiflette

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Do’s and Don’ts of Delicious. /dɪˈlɪʃəs/

I’ve just been on a food writing course. I’m sure you’re delighted if you’re a regular reader for reasons I can but imagine. And I’m excited to put into practice all the hunks of useful information I have eagerly digested and present you with perfectly formed prose, without passive verbs, long and complicated words and I’ll try to cut out the irony.  Never, ever use irony.

I do have one little issue with the weekend. It has been bugging me and I’d like to share it with you and see what you think. You see we had a little session on words that we shouldn’t use, over-use or even mis-use, say for example the obvious; nicefineunctuous (which means oily but when it comes to food is apparently rarely used in its proper context). But then someone mentioned the word delicious accompanied by a groan and the implication that it didn’t really mean anything. Some others agreed.

I’m confused. Does not the word delicious mean that something tastes really good? A word that plays seductively with the tip of your tongue, committing you to three consonant-laden syllables. I have quite enjoyed using the word delicious in the past on my blog and am very aware of being a regular user. Have I been an embarrassingly naïve food blogger? Six months writing recipes and food stories and nobody said anything! Feels like I’ve been wandering around in public with the back of my skirt tucked into my knickers.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of delicious  is; ‘highly pleasant to the taste’. It then goes on to state that the word’s origin is from Middle English, 'also in the sense, characterised by sensuous indulgence’. Now I like that. I’m not sure though that when telling you how good a particular recipe is that I should be replacing the word delicious with the fact that it is ‘characterised by sensuous indulgence’ too often. You might get the wrong idea about me, what with that and my knickers.

What words can I use to replace it with I wonder that simply define how good, good food is? Scrumptious, yummy, delectable. All reasonably good foody words I suppose. I am wondering however, how easy it’ll be to slip back into old habits having exhausted my small repertoire of non-delicious words.

Maybe I could somehow organise with my computer that every time I write the word, one of those angry red zig-zaggy underlines will, as it commonly never fails to do, remind me of my mistake. It could tut at the same time to make me feel suitably dense.

In conclusion, I therefore forecast henceforth that I will indulge in breaking all the aforementioned rules of writing, what I learned last weekend and sanctimoniously fraternise with humongously complicated words in a desperate attempt to avoid the use of one innocent and fittingly descriptive one.

Oh, the delicious irony of it. 

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Magical Sugar Plum Crunch Cake

When I say that this is a good one, I mean, this is a seriously good one. I’m not allowed to carry many cook books with me on the boat due to the weight and size of them. Circa 90 odd cook books on a racing yacht would be ridiculous, there’d be no room for the crew and we wouldn’t win anything. However, the joy of this recipe is that it hails from one of those little ‘Good Food’ mini books that I won’t be keel-hauled for. It’s the BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes book. It's about 12cm by 12cm and when it comes to good cakes; it’s a little gem of a book. I know; ‘Good Food’, It’s not exactly cool or writen by some groovy, fashionable ‘Nottinghill-type' patisserie, recently published and going large. Or something I found in some back-street dusty book shop in Marseille. It was £4.99 from WHSmiths I think; can’t remember now. But Since making this cake, I’ve never let it out of my sight.

France has almost as many plums at the markets as you guys in the UK. The early cold snap last Christmas in England followed by the warm spring and then wet summer has been great for the fruit and berry produce and this recipe is a must for using up some of those excess plums you might still have.

It’s soft, it’s moist and so moreish, it’s indulgent, it’s almost better than chocolate and believe me, I’m a chocolate cake kind ‘a gal. I will always go chocolate ice cream over berry ice cream. I will always go for chocolate fondant over an apple tart in a good French restaurant but this cake and the best chocolate brownie in the world would go neck and neck for me in a cake-off.

If you dread the rainy, cloudy days of autumn, really, this cake could turn it all around for you. Have I gone too far? I don’t care. Here it is;

For Sugar Plum Crunch Cake you will need

2 eggs, plus 1 extra egg yolk
140g/5oz butter, softened
140g/5oz golden castor sugar
140g/5oz self-raising flour
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
200g/8oz plums, stoned, half roughly chopped into pieces and half cut into wedges. (I always add a few more plums if I have to and it doesn’t affect the final result)

For the topping

1 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
200g/8oz golden castor sugar
25g/1oz rough sugar pieces or sugar cubes roughly crushed


  • Preheat your oven to 160ºC/Gas mark 3/fan oven 140ºC. Grease and line a 1kg/2lb loaf tin.. Lightly beat the eggs and extra egg yolk with a pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla extract.

  • Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl with a handwhisk until light and fluffy. Really, try not to skimp on this part; you really need the butter and sugar to lighten considerably for a good cake. Then, pour in the eggs a little at a time beating well between each addition. If it looks like it’s curdling, add a tbsp of the flour to help bind it. Fold in the flour and orange zest and 2 tbsp of the juice and then fold in the chopped plums.

  • Spoon into your prepared tin and scatter the plum wedges over the top and pop into your oven for 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

  • When it has cooked let it cool for a few moments before turning out onto a wire rack. Mix the lemon juice and castor sugar with the remaining orange juice and pour over the cake. Sprinkle over the roughly crushed sugar cubes and set aside.

The roughly crushed sugar cube pieces soak up the lemony, orangey juices and give the cake that magical sugar crunch. Best served still slightly warm with a cup of tea after a long walk kicking leaves in the woods…

Oh stop it.

It’s all starting to happen here in Provence. A few doors down the Renault garage are selling chestnuts as a culinary aside to changing tyres and fixing my habitually returning Clio. They sell them by the kilo in newspaper for a couple of Euros, raw or roasted. The smell is wafting up the road and could be a plan for my lazy Sunday. If I buy enough of them, monsieur Renault might go easy on the bill when I next take my car in. Maybe I should take him some cake.

Thanks for reading


Friday, 7 October 2011

Celeriac, Bacon and Sage Soup and a Mistral

As I write a Mistral is belting the back of the crew house with a force that could smooth out the knobbles on a celeriac. It’s been blowing since yesterday and was fully expected because my lips and hair began to dry and crack up, the approaching wind sucking up any moisture that originally had me looking slightly less shrivelled. I’m going to need to order some more face cream.

If you have experienced this regional wind in the South of France you’ll understand when I say that you really can tell when a Mistral is due; you can feel it in your bones. It is a strong, dry wind that hurtles through the Rhone valley, accelerating as it heads for the coast and the back of the crew house which faces smack-bang in the middle of its path. It can go on for 2 to 3 days and quite happily reach speeds of up to 90 kilometres an hour. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it is doing right now. I’m a little concerned the windows might not hold out.

But back to my handsome little celeriac and his knobbles. Apart from the fact that this is great root-vegetable season, the crew needs large doses of soothing, healing food at the moment. Most of us have suffered or are still suffering from the end of season St Tropez man-flu/cold. Also our bodies have suffered from the excesses of classic yacht sailing and classic yacht drinking and socialising for far too long. 

We need healing food; we need soup.

I made this soup yesterday for lunch on the boat and it was just what the Doctor ordered. I am a little obsessed with celeriac and so was hugely excited when I pulled it out of the fridge and discovered a perfect little bunch of sage I’d bought and forgotten about, sitting underneath him. What a great little team was formed when bacon lardons were added to the mélange. The sweet, gentle notes of celeriac team perfectly with salty bacon, both accompanied beautifully by the masculine flavour of sage. Be careful with your seasoning, a small amount of salt to start and build quietly as you go and just before you serve. A bit like leek and potato soup, it’s easy to get to the wrong side of seasoned and the subtle balance of flavours will be lost to salt.

I kept the soup nice and chunky, it’s not one to puree due mostly to the lardons and besides who doesn’t prefer a big bowl of chunky soup when one is in need? 

For celeriac, bacon and sage soup you will need;

1 celeriac peeled and chunked into bite sized pieces
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g bacon lardons, unsmoked
2 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
1.5 to 2 litre’s of chicken or vegetable stock


  • Heat some sunflower oil in a large pan and then add the onions. Gently fry for a few minutes until starting to soften but not colour. Then add the garlic and continue to sauté for another few minutes.

  • Put all of the chopped celeriac in with the onions and stir well to coat all of the celeriac in the onion and garlic mixture. Leave this to sauté, stirring occasionally for about 5-8 minutes. Add a good tablespoon of the chopped sage, a good pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar and stir well before turning the heat right down to low and covering with a lid.

  • After about 5 minutes remove the lid and add the bacon lardons, stir well then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil then turn the heat to low and let simmer for about 15 minutes until the celeriac is lovely and soft and starting to break down a little.

  • Mash the soup with a potato masher and stir through the remaining chopped sage. Season to taste with salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

I served this with a Waldorf type salad and garlic bread, the walnuts and apple in the Waldorf marrying so well with the soup. And garlic bread always pleases a hungry crew.

I do hope the St Tropez cold hasn’t broken its boundaries and that you are all sniffle free. Apologies if you too are suffering. I suggest the soup.

I’m wondering whether I should go for a walk. It is beautiful here and it’s been too long since I was able to go for a good long walk. The Mistral brings such clear, fresh weather but I’m a wee bit worried I might get blown off the side of a hill. I’ll put the kettle on and think about it.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cannes to St Tropez. And Stop.

I’m very excited for many reasons. The first reason is that I am writing this at all. I have a whole day, internet and plenty to write about and if I’m perfectly honest I’ve missed you. So ‘Hi’, it’s good to be back.

My second reason is that yesterday myself and the other weary crew members of Mariquita moved into our winter accommodation, ‘The Crew House’ in La Garde Freinet, Cogolin, France. And we’re here for a while folks.

3rd reason is I cleaned my computer screen so I can actually see what I’m writing. I didn’t realise it had got so bad. But moving on;

Last night I slept in an actual double bed. In fact right now I am propped up, sitting cross legged with my lap top actually here on my lap, on said double bed. I am no longer sleeping in a fold-down boat cot. If I chose to I could star-fish in it (minus boyfriend). I have a wardrobe, space to swing a cat, an actual dresser to put my mini ‘Boots’ store on display. I have a great view the other side of two large windows in the room and real outside light flinging itself in here willy-nilly like it just don’t care.

I have space and privacy. To be frank I am in heaven.

Mariquita’s race season has ended and before I go any further I’ll just let you know that as well as winning the Monaco classic yacht regatta, we also won the Voile De St Tropez too!  Mariquita does alright for a hundred year old lady. But I would like to mention that the reason that I haven’t sent a blog in ages is because I have been incredibly busy with the Cannes and St Tropez regattas, sandwich making, guests and owners staying onboard, cooking for crew and guests, sailing and maybe a small amount of important socialising. And then I went and caught a cold on top of everything which made all of the above twice as hard. Oh woeth me...

We did do well and it has been a lot of fun with some great sailing. The first two days of Cannes were real nail bighting, howling wind days. We were all harnessed on with the rail fully under the water which threatened regularly to take our legs from under us whilst hauling on the staysail jigger. After the second day of it I was absolutely exhausted. But we needn’t have worried because from then on and all the way through St Tropez, we had nothing. Nadda. No wind what-so-ever. 

As we were the cup holders of the ‘Le Club 55 Challenge’ which falls on the ‘rest’ day of the regatta in St Tropez, we challenged the beautiful schooner Altair to race us to lunch at the famous 55 restaurant. I know, what a bummer eh?

Inevitably and fashionably there was no wind so after bobbing in the right direction a bit faster then Altair we decided to abandon the race and with the help of our engines head straight for lunch and plenty of chilled rosé. What a feast the restaurant had put on for us in such an idyllic setting. Of course, lots of sailors mixed with lots of free rosé is a brave commitment and a guarantee of noise and unruly behaviour. However both boats had owners present so we were forced to behave with a modicum of control and all food fights were subdued and carried out under the table instead.

On our way to Le Club 55 in one of the boats provided

Winning St Tropez regatta was a fitting end to Mariquita’s 100th year and we are proud of ourselves and of the boat. We couldn’t have sailed her any better then we did. It is sad to be at the end of the racing season but have plenty to look back on over the 8 regattas we’ve undertaken since May.

Thats me there checking on the trim.

What now? Well we will begin the task of stripping Mariquita down for the winter. This is her period of maintenance and repair and why she still looks so beautiful at such a grand old age. We will sand and varnish, paint and mend, inside and out. Sails will be washed, rigging dismantled and the crew will go to physiotherapy.

I honestly couldn’t do any more regattas. I am tired and my shoulder is buggered. I have lived on the boat for 6 months with a poky cabin, tiny bunk sharing one small bathroom with 7 others and I’m more than ready to be here in our crew house in my room with a view.

So that’s not the end of 33 Degrees. It’s just another phase of my year on board Mariquita. And believe me, there is plenty to look forward to. If I said; Wild boar, chestnut festivals and mushroom foraging I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m so excited about being here. And of course I will still be cooking lunch everyday on the boat for the crew.

Thanks for staying with me and coping with such a long-winded blog. I promise many recipes and adventures on and off the boat and it’ll all begin tomorrow.

Hungry for the next phase and keen as mustard.


Chris Tibbs, our weather guru explaining about thermals and sea breezes...or just wondering where the wind has gone.

Big boats, little boats, St Tropez.

It might look like we're going quite fast here. But we're not.

Le Club 55

It takes most of the crew to lift the jackyard to be stowed at the shrouds.