Family traditions

Auchan supermarket aisles have been packed with school stationery for weeks. The constant flow of Dutch caravans has switched direction, now on their way back from the South of France. The last traces of the Schueberfouer (traditional Luxemburgish fair) will soon disappear. The workload is picking up. We have to come to terms about the fact that Summer is nearly over…

However, with each seasonal change come little traditions that I very much enjoy. End of August, beginning of September is the time for blackberry picking! For my family this is actually a major activity, as we need to provide for the weekly jar of blackberry jam.

One of the many things I love about visiting my family in North Brittany is the abundance and variety of breads and jams, most of which are homemade: rhubarb, apricot, strawberry, orange… A different flavor for each slice of bread or each crêpe (French pancake). We spend hours around the breakfast table and a few hours later we renew the operation for “quatre heure” (afternoon snack). This time of the year, one can find us along the fields, picking blackberries. We obviously compete for the one who will perform the best harvest, which sometimes involves fighting our way through the brambles to get to the best specimen. We finally come back at sunset with black fingers and scratched wrists, but satisfied that we made our contribution and already anticipating the sweet and warm smell that will spread throughout the house in a couple of hours.

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This year I haven’t planned any trip to Brittany around this period, so I decide to take my boyfriend Kjeld on a little expedition in our neighborhood in search for the sought-after berry. I scrutinize the bushes along the roads and fields. But the few I find are either dried out or not yet ripe. It seems that we are either too late or too early. We are making plans to come back the following week, when we finally come across a few splendid specimen! Just enough for a few deserts. This was also a great excuse to discover parts of our neighborhood that had remained a mystery until now. We come across a sports field and a tunnel covered with gratifies we had no idea existed just a few hundred meters from our building.

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Once back home, I decide to use part of our harvest for a apple-blackberry crumble with vanilla custard which will be perfect for our “quatre heure”, while enjoying some unexpected sunshine on our terrace. A little treat filled with fibers and antioxidants!

I must say, I find it hard to believe that Summer is coming to an end, as the weather hasn’t exactly spoiled us this year. I have actually caught a cold, which I rarely do, even in the coldest of winter. I try to do some damage control with my anti-cold infusion with cinnamon and honey known for their antibacterial qualities, as well as ginger, thyme and lemon which hold antiseptic powers.

To put the odds in my favor, I also decide to cook a lamb dish, as it is known to be very iron-rich. Plus it contains heme iron which is four to five times more easily absorbed by our body than non-heme iron contained in vegetables. I used lamb leg which is much leaner (15 % fat) than the other parts (up to 25 % fat). The combination with eggplant, tomato and spices was a great success!

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In a few weeks, the view from our apartment will take on fall colors. Hopefully, we find some mushrooms and chestnuts in the close-by woods. And I am pretty sure I won’t be able to resist the pumpkins that will lure me with their various shapes and colors. I can start cooking comforting and delicious soups again. Simple pleasures that make great weekends at home!

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Anti-cold infusion
(serves 2)

1 thin slice of fresh ginger
1 lemon slice
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp locust-tree honey
1 pinch of cinnamon

Add all the ingredients to the equivalent of 2 cups of boiling water and leave to infuse for 6 minutes. Then filter, relax and enjoy!

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Eggplant lamb curry
(serves 4)

4 slices of lamb leg (about 400 g / 15 oz)
2 small eggplants (or 1 large)
400 g / 2 cups tomato pulp (either fresh or canned)
160 g / 1 cup semolina of couscous
1 onion, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 pinch of caster sugar
salt, pepper

Rinse the eggplants, dry them out, do not remove the skin and cut them in thin slices. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, place the eggplant slices on it, add a bit of olive oil with a brush and place under the over grill for about 2 minutes on each side. Put aside.

Cut the lamb in big chunks and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle with the curry, salt and pepper. Mix well. Preheat a large frying pan (or wok) with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cook the lamb chunks for about 5 minutes while stirring. Put aside in a dish.

Sauté the sliced onion in the same pan with 1 tsp of olive oil. Once soft add the garlic, cinnamon, cumin, sugar, some salt and stir for 1 minute. Add the the tomato pulp, cover and let it simmer over a gentle heat for 5 minutes.

Add the grilled eggplant and lamb chunks in the frying pan (or wok). Cover and continue simmering over a gentle heat for 10 more minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the couscous following the instructions on the package.

When ready, sprinkle the lamb curry with some pepper and the fresh coriander and serve with the couscous.

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Apple-blackberry crumble with vanilla custard
(serves 4)

For the crumble
3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 cm / ½ inch pieces
300 g / 10 oz blackberries
100 g / 3/4 cup flour
50 g / 1/4 cup brown sugar
50 g / 1/4 cup butter, cubed at room temperature
1 pinch of salt

For the custard
2 egg yolks
20 g / 1/8 cup caster sugar
25 ml / 1/8 cup milk
1/2 vanilla pod
1 tsp cornstarch

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, the sugar, the pinch of salt and mix well. Then add the cubes of butter and rub into the flour mixture with your hands, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Place the apples and blackberries into the bottom of a lightly greased baking dish, then sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Bake in a preheated oven 180°C / 350°F for 40-45 minutes until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture bubbling.

In the meantime prepare the custard. Split the half pod lengthwise into two halves, scrape the pod halves and add the pod and the grains with the milk into a small pan. Bring to a boil and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whip the eggs and sugar energetically until creamy and fluffy. Discard the vanilla pod and gradually add the milk to the egg-sugar mix while continuously whipping. Add the cornstarch and mix well. Pour back into the small pan and cook over medium heat while stirring, until the mixture thickens. Make sure it does not boil. Set it aside until the crumble is ready.

Serve the crumble warm with the custard.