Breakfast is perhaps my favourite meal of the day. During the holidays it’s invariably rather late and it’s one of those meals that just sort of happens, somewhat miraculously it all comes together without any planning. The youngest children will usually have been awake for hours, and they will have had an early morning snack, a yoghurt from the fridge or a banana; they know the routine and wait until everyone else stirs before they attempt anything else.
With five children our numbers become quite large when we have friends staying, which in the summer months is a fairly regular occurrence.
This week we’ve been joined by Roddy’s god-daughter, Jess and her partner, Dan. They have been cycling down through France and have pitched a tiny tent on the lawn behind the summer kitchen.
Their journey started when they came over from Alderney, one of the smallest Channel Islands north of Guernsey and Jersey, catching a lift on a friend’s yacht to Dielette in Normandy. From there they have come down the Cherbourg Peninsula, down through Normandy and the Loire and on into the Vendée and finally the Charente Maritime. It is about 300 miles. They have been staying a few days with us, they are such fun and so great to have around I wish they could have stayed all summer. It is the first time they have ever done a cycling tour or holiday like this, but they are firmly converted, they would do it again in a heartbeat, they’re amazed at how much they have loved it.
They’ve had a fabulous journey, staying at campsites along the way, and in the panniers on their bikes they have all they require – a tent, two sleeping bags, clothing, toothbrushes and lots of suncream. If we didn’t have the children we would love to do this sort of holiday; we always wanted to cycle the western coast of the USA from Oregon down to Northern California, and the classic British route from John O’Groats in Scotland down to Penzance in Cornwall appeals a lot too. We cycle a lot around the local countryside and when our children have all flown the nest we hope we can fulfil this dream; maybe we shall do St Malo in Brittany down to the Pyrenees, who knows – the cycle paths along the west coast of France make almost any route possible.
Despite so many people an empty table slowly evolves into a morning feast with the absolute minimum of fuss. Perhaps the secret is because it is so relaxed. Taking advantage of a full house Gigi will often rope an unsuspecting victim into an early morning game of tennis on the village court, “for a quick game” before they return, a rueful look on one face and appetites raring to go. Someone else might emerge from the pool and an early morning swim, and another will volunteer to wander down through the village to the bakery and collect croissants, pain au chocolat, a couple of baguettes and a wholemeal loaf.
Unsurprisingly, the teenagers are always the last to emerge; they normally appear at the table just as we are about to eat, stretching and yawning having hurriedly scrambled into a pair of shorts and a t shirt as their senses have been awakened by the smell of food – but that’s the beauty of breakfast; no one stands on ceremony, no one has to be there in advance, it’s all very down to earth and uncomplicated, but that doesn’t mean it is any less delicious or nutritious, or any less special. The setting could hardly be more conducive to a great start to the day; in the shade of the lime trees on the terrace, with the morning sun already fiercely burning; we don’t need to go away on holiday, I am just as happy to stay put and let friends come to us!
Glasses and orange juice appear, along with whatever fresh fruit there is in the garden. At the start of the summer this will be cherries, followed by plums, and then by apricots. By now, at the end of August, we are eating the first of our grapes and our own melons. In a couple of weeks the figs will be ripe and they will be taking centre stage but they’re late this year and we’ve only managed to find a couple ripe enough to eat so far.
Yoghurts go hand in hand with the fruit. Plain and unsweetened, I like to buy them in little glass jars which have so many uses afterwards!
Roddy will scramble, fry, poach or bake eggs. There are tomatoes fresh from the garden and anything else in the fridge that anyone wants will normally make an appearance, especially cheese and that oh so British tradition, Marmite! Our hens are laying prolifically despite the heat and there is never any shortage of our own organic free range eggs.
Baked eggs have become something of a favourite this summer; they are quick and easy and made to order! They would make an equally perfect light lunch or supper with some salad leaves or lightly steamed vegetables, crunchy raw carrots or asparagus when it is in season.
Above is our ratatouille version en route to the furnace.
It is such a simple recipe and you can take it in so many different directions. Our favourite versions are :
Spinach and Ham – a handful of baby spinach and half a cup of good quality cooked ham.
Tomato and Basil – a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes or chopped regular tomatoes and a sprig of basil.
Smoked Salmon and Chives – a couple of slices of smoked salmon chopped and a few fresh chives.
Ratatouille with Cheese, Ham and Rosemary – half a cup of ratatouille (left over from the previous night’s supper), half a cup of cooked ham chopped and half a cup of cheddar or similar cheese and a sprig of rosemary.
Preheat the oven to maximum and grease a small ovenproof dish for each portion. Place your chosen filling into the dishes and crack a couple of eggs on top and season with salt and pepper, (for the ratatouille version we sprinkle the cheese on top of the eggs and then season). Bake in the hot oven for 8 to 10 minutes until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, then serve straight away. Below is the finished ratatouille version.
There’s also normally a couple of steaming bowls of hot chocolate; the French dip their croissants into these which is perfectly acceptable here and the kids have taken this little practice to heart; who wouldn’t?
I’m a coffee person, and I love a really good café au lait to sip and savour once we have all sat down. Breakfast is casual, it’s as long or as short as anyone wants it to be, and whilst some may leave with things to do, with plans for the day, others will linger. We’ll plan where we want to go, what we want to do, and what has to be done. It’s the beauty of being on holiday.
The dogs take up residence patiently under the table, they remain for the duration, ever hopeful of a crumb or two.
This morning Jess and Dan’s bags are packed, their bikes are loaded and we are about to wave them goodbye after another hearty breakfast. Bon voyage, bonne route and happy cycling!