I have previously referred to our time in France - my husband and I lived the dream of many - we bought a dilapidated old watermill in Normandy and renovated it to provide guest accommodation and a restaurant. It was not an easy time, as we faced and overcame various obstacles including a major house fire (we were trapped on the second floor of the mill building), the discovery, after the purchase, that there were plans to divert the river away from the property (who would visit a water mill without water?) and the temperamental and sporadic supply of fresh water. Although the fire was traumatic and set us back financially and emotionally; uppermost in my memory was the worry and stress of trying to ensure that we had a constant supply. Our location was remote and we did not have mains water. We were assured by the previous owners that the water from the bore-hole was plentiful! Ha,ha! They must have been delighted to welcome 'les Anglais' with euros to spend. My fault - I had fallen in love with the property on first viewing and, I suppose, had they told me the truth, I would not have wanted to listen. Well, look at the photo, wouln't you want to live there? An apt example of - act in haste and repent at leisure!
Tables set for dinner, on the island.
The lengths we went to, to ensure a water supply to the mill and guest rooms, knows no bounds! We were the Faulty Towers of France! To attempt to remedy the problem, we engaged the services of one 'expert' - the French love their 'experts' - who confidently told us that the water table had dropped below the level of our well. Sacre bleu! We were 2 days from opening and had a full reservations book. Refusing to believe this, we called in the services of another 'expert' who, with equal confidence told us it was a problem with the old pump. This prognosis was easier to accept. Simple, change the pump. Problem solved! We immediately jumped in the car and sped off to Rouen in search of a very particular type of pump. Alas, and to cut a long story short, this did not solve the problem. Out of money, driven by desperation and needing to trade, we resorted to an alternative source of supply. I can say no more!! The cost of connecting to the mains supply, due to our distance from the village, was not an option at that point in time. Anyway, I think I can safely say that all guests were oblivious to our plight and were not inconvenienced or rendered unwell.
Our guests, in the main, were French, Dutch, Belgian and German with a few Americans and cross channel trippers from the UK. The hours were long but we had fun - well, most of the time! I learnt a lot and I learnt fast. It was often exhausting as my nights shortened and sleep became a luxury. Sometimes dinner spilled over into the early hours of the morning and breakfast sevice started at 0730 hours. Each evening, I offered guests a four-course set dinner with a vegetarian choice. My continental guests were much easier to please (in general) than those from the UK as I received less requests to adapt dishes for particular intolerances or dislikes. I once received an email from a guest, in advance of their arrival, who had reserved for dinner on the evening of their stay with a list of their dislikes. I was asked not to add or offer mushrooms, too much salt, definately no garlic, bacon, pork, shellfish or fish of any kind. Oh, and could they have a reduction on the set meal price (€25.00 for 4 courses including wine), as they didn't want the wine! I did wonder, at the time, why they were holidaying in France!
My great friend and chef, Mac, who visited from time to time, to help or give me a break from the kitchen, is pictured below with my son and kitchen assistant! Sorry, I can't resist attaching it! Taken in Jonathan's cute and compliant days. He's nearly 15 now - need I say more!
Big Chef and Little Chef!
Nearly forgot, I'm supposed to be blogging about food, so here is the recipe one of my favourite and most popular dishes.
Fillet du Porc a la Normande
(For 2/3 people)
1 pork fillet, 200g fresh field mushrooms sliced, 1 leek finely chopped, 1 stick of celery finely chopped, 75g smoked bacon pieces, 200ml sweet Normandy cider, 100ml of cream, salt, pepper and 2tbsp of olive oil.
Slice the pork fillet into pieces of 1cm and pan fry using the olive oil to brown and seal. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the leeks, celery, mushrooms and bacon pieces and saute for 5 minutes (you may need a dash more olive oil). Salt and pepper. I'll leave the amount to you as I am probably over generous with these! Add the cider and simmer for 10 minutes. Return the pork to the dish and cook for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cream. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Serve with new buttered potatoes, rice and/or fresh crusty bread to mop up the delicious sauce!