Sausages.

As we experience the longest days of the year here in the northern hemisphere its time for BBQs. There are some nice sausages found in France such as the diot or  morteau which are boiled and typically served with potatoes, but for the typical BBQ, the choice of sausage is usually limited to the thin merguez (lamb) or pork sausages (with or without herbs). Toulouse is no exception with its plain pork sausage …except that its version is  thicker and it is  not sold in the usual way (by weight or by number)…img_8825.jpg

… but by length. The photo above shows a typical butcher’s display. The butcher indicates a length of sausage with his hands and once the customer has agreed on the desired lenght, the butcher then tears it off with his bare hands – no knife in sight.

The Toulouse sausage might be famous for its appearance, but not necessarily for it’s flavor. I think that Australian sausages win in that department – with flavors only limited by the butcher’s imagination; chicken and mango, lamb and mint, veal with tomato and onion, beef , vegetarian or even kangaroo!

 

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Out and about in Occitanie

With the numerous public holidays we had in the month of May we did made some local discoveries in our region. But first, here is some geographic background regarding France:

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The Occitanie region is the part of France in which we live (indicated by the dark orange colour on this map). France is divided into 13 regions. There were 22 before but some were fused together in 2016. Each region of continental France is made up of at least 4 departments (there are 96 of these). Departmental numbers are used in France to designate locations. They form the first two figures of French postcodes – for example the postcode for Toulouse is 31000, the “31” representing the department of the Haute Garonne of which Toulouse is the capital

 

So! We grabbed our baskets and headed to the Gers department (department number 32) to join a ‘Salade en Balade’ (a ‘salad hike’). Our Swiss guide Lotti was an expert on the local wild plants and we spent 2 hours hiking through fields identifying and collecting the edible ones.

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Here are just a few of some of the finds: ribwort (plantain), bryony (tamier commun or ‘herbe aux femmes battues’ which was my personal favorite and which tasted a little like asparagus),marjoram (marjolain sauvage), garlic mustard (ailliaire), elderflower (sureau), wild fennel (fenouil sauvage), wild rose (églantier), medlar tree (néflier), linden tree leaves (feuilles de tilleul)

Then we all tasted the flowers on buttered home-baked bread and ate the leaves in a salad accompanied by dishes offered by the participants (I had made a courgette/zucchini and goat cheese ‘loaf’ known as ‘cake’ in French and not to be confused with its sweet counterpart ‘gateau’))

Then off to Sidobre which is a nature reserve  in the Tarn department (department number 81!) which is covered with granite rocks of all shapes and sizes.

There we had our first picnic of the year and rambled over the multitude of rocks

We were also lucky to receive a visit from our ‘old’ friends from Grenoble. Thanks Janet and Denis for making the trek to see us. And when another ‘old’ friend Frank came to visit we went to explore just a small part of the 2700 hectare-Bouconne Forest which is a beautiful spot to visit and which is just a stones-throw away right here in department 31.

So that’s why I can’t stand chewing gum or popcorn at the cinema…or anywhere else…

After getting annoyed at my son for complaining about his sister’s ‘noisy’ chewing, It occured to me that I’ve never been a big fan of exposure to eating noises either (as much as I’d like to maintain a constant mood of ‘joy, lightness and space’).  I mentioned this to my sister whose response was ‘misophonia’. Misophoni…what?

Misophonia (otherwise known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome) is “a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable give the circumstance”. (WebMD)

According to the Misophonia Association,  some of the most common triggers are:

  • Gum Chewing
  • Eating Sounds
  • Lip Smacking
  • Speaking Sounds (s, p, k)
  • Breathing Sounds
  • Repetitive softer sounds like pen clicking, pencil tapping
  • Nasal noises, throat clearing
  • Sucking through the teeth sounds
  • Sniffing
  • Sight of gum chewing or eating with the mouth open
  • Pet licking or nails clicking
  • High heels on hard floorshttp___www.sensor-magazine.nl_foto_2468_615_files_nieuws_chewing-gum-1024_226418k

Oh my! Most of those have the power to drive me to distraction whenever I hear (or even see) them happening. What a revelation!  I can finally blame my ‘intolerance’ (and very possibly that of my son) on a medical condition.  😉

A medical condition for which there is no known cure 😦

Coincidentally, last week someone mentioned the recent craze in which videos aim to trigger the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – which is a nice tingling feeling on your scalp and brain that slowly  moves down your neck and spine – in susceptible people.  Stimuli that can trigger ASMR, as reported by those who experience it, include :

  • Listening to a softly spoken or whispering voice
  • Listening to quiet, repetitive sounds resulting from someone engaging in a mundane task such as turning the pages of a book
  • Watching somebody attentively execute a mundane task such as preparing food
  • Receiving personal attention
  • Listening to tapping, typically nails onto surfaces such as plastic, wood, metal, etc.
  • Loudly chewing, crunching, slurping or biting foods, drinks, or gum

Wait a minute! Listening to someone chew can actually evoke a pleasant response in some people? Surely not! I had to investigate this further. After a quick search I came across all sorts of videos including this one (which contains over 20minutes of  someone whispering and chewing gum). This is totally incomprehensible. To me, this kind of ‘entertainment’ is the very  material of my nightmares.

Interestingly, Psychologists believe that an inability to shut out irrelevant sensory information (ie: Misophonia) could be strongly linked to creativity and above-average intelligence.  What does that say about ASMR fans? (………just kidding ASMR fans.)

Do you have misophonia? Take the test!

The Machines arrive in Toulouse.

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I wrote a post back in September 2015 about Les Machines de L’île in the city of Nantes (on the west coast of France): “an artistic and a tourist project. It is a blend of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and the industrial history of Nantes” (Trip Advisor)

I really enjoyed that site and so was happy to hear that an Urban project created by the same François Delaroziere had opened in Toulouse (in the south-west of Franche and called the Halle de la Machine).  This time we discovered even more amazing creatures. There was the imposant and impressive minoataure -at 12meters high – which we rode along a former runway. And there were the equally fantastic giant spiders – these were all beautifully crafted out of metal and wood with great attention to detail.

What I enjoyed most about this place were the exhibitions inside the huge building: There were sketches and photos of all of the wonderful creatures that Mr Delaroziere  has created over the years and then there were two main themes: music and plants. A multitude of machines had been created from recycled materials with these themes in mind. But even better than the machines themselves were the hosts presenting them. They were real actors and they spun stories about the creations as they demonstrated how they worked. They had the audience spell bound. There was the ‘machine’ to translate plant language, one to play music to them, and an array of other fantastic inventions.

Then there was the artificial snow machine, the wind machine and the strength tester that blew flames whenever the volunteer was successful. These had the whole crowd involved and laughing the whole morning.

Check it out.

 

 

Christmas Downunder

It is a strange idea for those living in the northern hemisphere to spend Christmas in Summer. But as an Australian,  the act of spending Christmas in winter continues to be a very odd thing to me. It just doesn’t feel right. And that’s why for the first time in ten years I felt like I got to experience a ‘real’ Christmas back in Australia: starting with an early sunrise and delightful birdsong ,warm sunshine and blue sky, we discovered gifts under the Christmas tree, then a light breakfast and into the car and off for a delicious self-serve cold *buffet lunch with extended family involving lots of chatting and laughter and over-eating, followed by an optional siesta/nap and then we still had hours of sunlight to enjoy together and to spot kangaroos as the sun was setting.

Here is a very brief summary of some of the things we enjoyed during our two week stay: Getting to know new members of the family and reconnecting with ‘old’, playing with ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Uncle Ian’, eating the famous pavlova dessert and drinking the best coffee in the world (yes, it’s true! Melbourne is reknown for it.), spending time with Grandpa doing numerous things such as learning to throw a boomerang, feeding the horses, collecting the eggs whilst learning the word ‘chook’ which is ‘australian’ for chicken, fishing, spotting wildlife by night), spending a morning with a wildlife ranger as a wildlife ranger (feeding and generally looking after the wallabies, tasmanian devils, possums…), catching-up with friends, eating brunch in Melbourne the morning after the most amazing fire-works displays on New Years Eve, running and bushwalking through eucalyptus (‘gum’) trees (that’s ‘aussie’ for trekking/hiking) swimming and playing on the beach….

Check-out the brunches below:

But to be honest, I also experienced moments of great sadness. The loss of my mum was felt more intensely than usual – fortunately I was well looked after. Thank you friends and family – you know who you are!

I also couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice for my sister to have been there too (but she had made the trek from eastern USA earlier in the year to promote her book). Next time perhaps?

For now its back to cold, grey, wet, short days – with a few street demonstrations thrown in.

*Many people ask what one could possibly eat in Summer to celebrate Christmas! As usual, every family has its own traditions but common dishes include ham, cold turkey, a variety of original salads, seafood, and possibly a Christmas pudding for which each family has their own recipe. But for those who don’t like the pudding  there is always delicious ripe summer fruit.

Mushrooms/champignons

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We missed this local exposition, but it gives you an idea of the important role mushrooms play in the lives of many French folk.

The weather has now turned cold but until a few weeks ago, we were experiencing a very mild autumn and so mushrooms of all kinds were popping up everywhere. But as amateurs, we only picked those that my husband was entirely sure were safe.

Apparently, if you are not sure whether or not your mushrooms are edible, you can take them to a pharmacy. French pharmacists are trained and ‘typically able to identify whether your pick is safe’. But once when we tried that, the 3 pharmacists we consulted were not 100% sure themselves and we had to toss out our bounty.

Given that there are around one thousand intoxications per year, we were not going to take any chances.

There is another risk when looking for mushrooms and that is getting shot while foraging:  Hunting season and mushroom season can over-lap (3 of the 13 people killed from hunting during the 2017-2018 season were not hunters.)

Pickers are advised to:

  • use a wicker basket – plastic bags accelerate the deterioration and the baskets allow the spores to fall out whilst foraging and thus replanting for next year.
  • Separate the different types – incase some are poisonous
  • Pick the stem as it helps with identification
  • and perhaps wear bright clothing so as to not be confused with a wild animal.

There are over 3,000 varieties of mushroom in France. Some of the favorite edible finds include: Girolles, Cèpes, Morilles, Bolet, Chanterelles, Mousserons, Oronges, Coprin, Sanguins, Pleurote, Coulemelle, and Pied de Mouton.

We were happy to unexpectantly find some Coulemelles and Coprins whilst walking in the forest – because you can never expect anyone to ever reveal where to find these fabulous fungi – It’s a competitive ‘sport’ mushroom picking.

Delicious mushrooms! Simply fried in some butter with freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.