La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France. We chose it while on the road, moving home, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, that is back in Ireland.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Lamb for the Freezer

Yep ! You know what's coming. Vegetarians, vegans look away now.

You've still got time.

This is the third year that we buy a lamb from a friend of ours.  We order it in springtime and it is ready end of November. It is very good value, I find, 100 euro (slaughter and cut, included).
But, I've learnt my lesson. I don't want 200 (slightly exaggerated ) chops. I want legs, shoulder for stew or curry, minced lamb for kofte, a loin roast, some ribs and 16, yes, only sixteen cutlets. 
So, this year I asked for the lamb to be just halved. Isn't it strange that 'people' just assume Bert (the husband) is going to cut up the lamb ? Erm ... that will be me. Bert will be hiding out in his office, babysitting the dogs.

It can be daunting to start. But if you have experience in cooking meat that goes beyond a steak or a chop you should know which part of the animal is what. If you don't, the internet is full of good info on this.

 Leg, shoulder and belly

 Cutlets, loin roast and tenderloin (tenderloin is suitable for meat skewers)

The ribs

 I boned the shoulder and cut into cubes for stews. The legs will be roasted and the shanks, yumm, I'm sure I'll find a good recipe for these.

The meat that wasn't too cleanly cut or cubed, plus the belly, got minced.

I cooked the bones in a large pot of water. The 'nice' meat that came off is for shepherd's pie. The not so nice meat was for the dogs. They also got a bit of the stock, but most of it is now in the freezer to add to stews, soups or gravy.

The piggies will leave us this Tuesday, but I promise not to post any butchering on this blog, unless there is a huge demand.

I am now about to take the Christmas decorations out from under the stairs and see if I can make this place feel festive in some ways.
When will you put up the decorations ?
Patricia xxx...x

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Kitchen - The Reveal

This kitchen in our forever home (for now, at least) had to be a place where I wanted to be in, cook in, entertain in, relax in. And it had to open up the house to the stunning view outside.

Stunning view. Tick.

Want to be in here. Tick. Like to cook in. Entertain in. Tick. Tick.

Relaxing. Tick !

When we moved in (April 2013) the kitchen was much smaller. And while maybe trendy and in vogue it wasn't the kitchen for me. You know, me being the serious cook that I am !
Not enough cupboard space or work surface. Not to speak about the positioning of cooker/sink. 
Having to manoeuvre, with a pot full of boiling hot water and potatoes to be drained, from stove to sink, no fun !
The porcelain floor tiles of a highly polished and super white nature where not only a dick to clean, they felt cold and made me feel as if I was forever on an ice skate rink. Lethal !

Never mind. I've kept a tile. And this is what I use it for.

After drawings being made up by the architect and planning permission granted the works started in earnest in July 2014.
The ground works were the scariest part, I found.

The walls went up, roof on, windows in. Plasterers came and went. Flooring in. And the painting could get underway in November. Clémence and Hugo, our fantastic French volunteers at the time made short shrift of that job.

Not only did they do a great job with the painting, but they assembled all the IKEA cabinets, while a friend of ours, who is a joiner/carpenter placed them and added the worktops.

We went for IKEA cabinets, because we like IKEA and we've had plenty of IKEA kitchens before.  
IKEA ? Can I have my bonus now ?
Our choice was the LAXARBY door and drawer front because it has a solid wood frame with a wood veneer panel.
I didn't like the white stained look that seemed to have a pink tint shining through and thus I set to work and painted the whole lot with Autentico Chalk Paint - eggshell. I used Swedish Blue for the island cabinets and Ice Cream for all the others.
In the above photo collage (top right) you can see the difference in colour. The two top drawers are painted, the bottom one is not.
The worktop came from the local sawmill and is Douglas Fir.
I oiled this with white Danish oil, suitable for kitchen worktops.

The floor tiles are Travertine, laid in a Versailles pattern.

I am the proud owner of a double sink under the window to throw dirty dishes into  The one on the island is extremely well positioned to drain boiled potatoes with ease. I also use it for washing vegetables, etc.

And there you have it. Our kitchen, which I started using fully a couple of weeks before Christmas last year. 
Hope you like the result.

Patricia xxx...x

Monday, November 23, 2015

Brawn or Head Cheese

You really didn't want to see this first thing, did you ?
My apologies. The worst is yet to come. So vegetarians, vegans, people who don't eat pork or people who are just squeamish, look away now.
We keep a few pigs and even though I can get a bit squeamish myself, I toughen myself up when it comes to the slaughter and using as much of the pig as possible. Some things get cooked for the dogs, mind you, but in general all is used. So too is the head.
In Belgium it is still very common in the charcuterie department at the butcher's or supermarket to buy slices of  'geperste kop'  or 'kip kap' . The first one consisting of larger pieces of meat and gelatin. The latter is when the meat has gone through a mincer, also containing gelatin, but less visible.  We eat it between slices of bread and spread mustard over it.
I was pleasantly surprised when we moved to France and noticed that you could just buy half a pig's head in the supermarkets. How cool is that ?

I ask the butcher to saw the head in half and remove brains and eyes (can't deal with that just yet). When it comes back from the butcher's it goes straight into the freezer until the time comes I feel I can deal with it.
That time came when my mum was here and she prompted me to get the head out.
The recipe I use as a guide comes from a Flemish/Dutch website But as per usual I don't follow any recipe to the letter. Here is what we did.

for the first stage
  • 4 carrots, peeled and halved or cut into large chunks
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and chunked
  • 4 large celery sticks, cleaned and chunked
  • 2 onions, peeled and (no, not chunked) left whole and pricked with 4 cloves each
  • a bunch of thyme, parsley and a few bay leaves
  • 1 pig's head, halved, tongue, included.
  • 4 trotters (if you have them)
  • bones (if you have them)
  • a bottle (or most of it) of dry white wine (keep a couple of glasses behind if you feel like you need it)
  • a scoop of salt (2 tbsp) and black pepper
  • cold water
for the second stage
  • 2 tbsp lard, butter or oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 20 ml plain white alcohol vinegar
  • 8 gelatin leaves
for the first stage
  • Put all the ingredients into a large pot and add enough cold water to just cover everything.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for a good 3 hours
  • The meat should be tender and start falling away from the bone
  • Take the head and other meat out of the pan and let it cool for a while or completely, that is up to you. But it is easier to get the meat off when it is still warm.

  • We (my mum and I) left everything to cool off during the night as it was too late in the day to finish this.
  • Have a few bowls at the ready. One for the good clean meat, one for the stuff that you can give to the dogs, one for the stuff you want to bury in your backyard (or dispose of in an appropriate manner)
  • Start the process of removing every little scrap of meat from the bones or let your mum do this. Just for your information, the tongue needs to be peeled from its outer lining.

  • While she does that you can busy yourself with the stock. When it has cooled it is easy to scoop off excess fat

  • When you've done that bring it back to the boil and cook ferociously till reduced considerably.
  • Strain the stock through the colander, lined with a clean tea towel or cheese cloth that you have positioned over a clean cooking pot.  Let gravitation do it's work, no need to start pushing or squeezing.

for the second stage
  • Sautee the onions in your chosen fat/oil till translucent. You might want to add a splash of the stock if it gets too dry.
  • Chop the meat you want to use in the size that you are comfy with. and add together with the onions to the stock.
  • Bring everything to the boil again, and add the vinegar. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Take off the heat.
  • The gelatin leaves. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Take them out and squeeze the excess water out somewhat. Stir them into the meat mixture. They dissolve pretty quickly.
  • Ladle into a large or several smaller dishes. I used smaller ones, so I could freeze them individually.
  • Leave to cool completely and put them in the fridge overnight.
  • Next day you can release the brawn from the bowls by sliding a knife between meat and bowl. Turn it upside down and voilà 
  • Freeze what you won't be using in the next few days.

This, to me, would make a great contribution to a buffet table, served with cornichons (small vinegary gherkins), mustard and some rustic bread.

NOTE : You can easily imitate the brawn with less provocative meat.  When I was much, much younger I have been known to imitate this with stewing pork. These days you can even buy pig cheeks in the supermarkets, which would work very well. You would have to use many more gelatin leaves though, as you'll miss out on that due to lack of skin and bones.

Bon appétit !
Patricia xxx...x

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Sometimes it pays to look up from whatever you're doing.

This morning the sky changed very fast while I was watching it.

Yesterday we were greeted by white mountain tops.

What a place to live !

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Patricia xxx...x

Friday, November 20, 2015

Back !

You hadn't even noticed I wasn't here, I bet.
It was only a couple of weeks. While my mum was here I rather spent time with her than composing blog posts, that - let's face it - only a few people read. These few people who I am extremely grateful for.
My mum left for Belgium again on Tuesday. We've had a cosy time. I was relaxed, she was relaxed. We cleaned a bit, tidied some and she only managed one morning in the garden, due to weather conditions. My mum loves pottering around in the garden, but she gets frustrated with all her aches and pains. But here she is, anyway clearing and weeding the 'new' herb bed (in use since late summer). We had quite a good harvest of nettles and thistles.

We watched some afternoon movies together on Netflix and sometimes she just sat in the armchair with a cup of tea (and a mince pie) looking out over the water towards the mountains, just enjoying the view.  I sometimes kept my hands busy with crocheting a few granny squares (I don't do complicated)

We went to Killarney one day and the place was heaving. I am not used to being among throngs of people. I couldn't stop myself from buying these three Christmas baubles.

I don't change colour scheme often and these tie in nicely with the one I've had going for a few years.
Usually I buy cheap colourful tat and I go for impact of colour rather than exquisite and expensive one of a kind baubles. I am brash.

My mum and I also tackled the brawn. She told me to get the pig's head out of the freezer and we would do it together. I'm grateful to her because I wasn't looking forward to it.

Recipe to follow.

I've started going to a workshop in the village for upholstery in The Green Chair , the most beautiful shop in Sneem ! That's my ad hoc reupholstery days over. Or not. I will need to attend many, many, many workshops before I get anywhere near a semi-professional standard.
Before that time comes I have another project to tackle and I bought the fabric in said shop too.
It doesn't look it on the photo, so you just have to take my word for it, but it is duck egg blue and it is for this  monster armchair.
I suspect I won't start with this till the new year , seeing I want to do sooooo many projects for Christmas first.

Come back on Monday for the recipe you've all been dying to get your hands on. Brawn or head cheese (eww!)

Patricia xxx...x

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Facebook Tests

They are hilarious, so I do them for fun.
A few days ago I took one to see what I would look like when I'm old.
And here is the result.
You might be an older person, but you still look pretty snazzy. You're definitely going to stand out from the other old geezers at the bingo hall. As long as you take care of your teeth, you've got nothing to worry about: there are great days ahead for you! Show your friends now what you'll look like when you're older, and share your results on Facebook!

I found it funny. My mum too, because she said the woman looks like her.
So we did a reenactment.

Mind you, it was difficult to keep a straight face. :-D

Patricia xxx...x

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