november markets of réalmont

there was a brief and lovely period where i worked on a chateau 
in lautrec, france. 
some mornings, over breakfast of tea, hot bread and cream honey,
my host, paul,  would ask us
if we wanted to go to the market with him that day.
of course, the answer was always yes and i got to see 
some lovely markets in the local villages.
 one afternoon, he brings us to réalmont:
paul does his shopping, picking up various vegetables and the like.
i explore the market with molly, the other volunteer from the chateau.
we pop into some shops, sift through the market stalls.
buy some trinkets, maybe a croissant
or a bit of bread.
christmas decorations are beginning
 to creep out. i see little wooden toys, trains and tops.
there are stunning displays of charcuterie, cheeses, 
seasonal vegetables...
i buy a bouquet of ail rose, a blushing, fragrant
garlic that comes directly from lautrec. 
the long stems are braided together, 
and i know it will make a good gift for lisa 
when i return to montpellier. 
(way better than ham chips)
there are stalls hawking clothes, of course. mostly cheap,
flimsy things, with garish swirls and odd colour combinations...
watches, random housewares....and then more food.
after we look around, we meet paul for a coffee.
we sit outside, listening to teenage buskers on the guitar,
friends greeting each other, talking, laughing.
everybody knows eachother.
i sip my coffee, eat my croissant, wrap my scarf a bit tighter.
the air crackles with early november. smoky and crisp.
this, i think, might be the life for me. 
a small community, fresh food, old buildings,
and a dramatic autumn. 

plus...look at the size and colour of those mushrooms.


i'm back...and i brought cupcakes!

so it's been three months. no biggie. i really am going to try and post more in the next 5 weeks or so. this is my favourite time of year for cooking...

anyway, here is a nice treat. coffee walnut cupcakes! 
okay, and i'll be honest. i piped like, three of these before getting lazy and just frosting them with a spatula.
these are inspired by a trip to edinburgh, scotland. 

my friend georgia and i were lucky enough to go during the festival fringe and stay with floss, a wonderful friend of georgia's! we spent a large chunk of time seeing plays and being typical festival goers, but floss knew the in and outs of edinburgh and brought us to lots of great local places...a concert at an underground pub, a polish vodka bar...(had cherry almond vodka...fantastic)
floss worked at the queen anne restaurant at the edinburgh castle and one morning, we made plans to visit her there. such a good decision. the castle grounds are dramatic and haunting, and the view is spectacular! 
we walked around for a bit, then spotted floss' restaurant and went off to get lunch! georgia ordered fish pie, and i ordered:
...can you guess? haha, it's haggis! look how cute it is! the other layers are turnips and potatoes, which in scotland are referred to as neeps and tatties.
okay, this was my first haggis experience and i loved it. i have to admit, i was a little nervous on the walk over there...but it's deep,  savory, and a little spicy. and with the creamy root veggies to mix it with...it's good. and warming. and considering how startlingly cold edinburgh was in august, i'm sure it fares quite well once this time of year rolls in.
by the way: for those of you who are vegetarians and still want to try this scottish classic upon visiting, you will very easily be able to find a vegetarian version with nuts and beans, which i've heard is really good. perhaps if i make it up there again, i will try it...
anyway, after our meal we decided to order a pot of tea and some cakes. i ordered coffee walnut cake, which apparently is quite popular in the united kingdom, but i had never heard of it!

 (check out our "reserved" sign. so vip.)
so the other day, i made coffee walnut cupcakes! nigella lawson had a recipe in nigella kitchen and i just switched it into cupcakes. 
this is a snap to make, and you may even already have all these ingredients on hand. 
as a five year old girl in my art class says, it's "easy peasy lemon squeezy."

 coffee walnut cupcakes 
adapted from nigella kitchen

For the cake:
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup plus 2 tsp superfine sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups flour
4 tsp instant espresso powder, or about 2 tsp instant coffee mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1-2 tbsp milk

For the frosting:
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
 Heat oven to 350 F. Line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake liners, or grease and powder well.

Put walnuts and sugar in the food processor and combine to a sandy powder. Add the butter, flour, coffee, baking powder and soda, eggs and combine until smooth. Add milk, little by little, until the batter has loosened up a bit- you don't need to use all of it. 
Divide the mixture between all the cups, slide into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes. 
Once cooked, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the buttercream! Combine the butter and sugar, and then add the hot strong coffee. Mix until a smooth, creamy consistency.
Once the cupcakes are completely cool, frost. And feel free to garnish with walnuts! It was my favourite part!