Anyone up for a quick history lesson? I hated history at school … plus all my lessons were in French so I barely understood what our long suffering high school teacher was talking about. But it turns out when you live amongst history, it’s actually fascinating! I picked up a book from the very well stocked book shelf in our apartment called Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. I read it in just a few days. It’s set in our local area, in the Haute Vallee of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, and tells the story of the last Cathars (medieval Christians considered heretics) in the Languedoc area in the 14th Century. To think the same mountains, rock faces and caves we drive around today bore witness to the horrors that went on nearly 700 years ago! Mosse’s book depicts the sadness and desperation that whole communities and villages must have experienced as they fled to the mountains to hide from Catholic soldiers whose sole orders were to exterminate the Cathar people. They took refuge inside caves the size of cathedrals for months but their refuge became their tomb as all entrances were sealed by their predators and whole families laid down beside one another to endure long, painful deaths. It wasn’t until 250 years later that their remains were found “… bones and shadows and dust…” and the secret of their tragedy was revealed. How deeply haunting.
There’s nothing quite like spooky stories to captivate the attention of children, and whilst my young kids are not ready to hear the truths of how horrific war can be, it once again occurs to me that living overseas for a period of time is one of the best educations for some kids … and some adults! I read recently that you come back from travelling with bigger minds and smaller egos. I hope this will be true for us … !
I have new friends popping over for apero on Saturday afternoon, and in typical French style (despite these new friends being Australian!), I started pondering what small snacks I would serve. One custom I will try to keep to in Australia, is the way the French start their evenings with an aperitif and just a very small offering of snacks. I know in Australia, I am guilty of offering too many canapes before main meal so that by the time we get to dessert, everyone is too full! It is quite common here in France to simply sit on a champagne, spirit or local wine for a good hour or two with a small bowl of nuts or a few olives to accompany it … and that’s it. It’s true you are ravished by 9 or 10pm when dinner is served, but you feel much better for it once you begin to work your way through entree, main, cheese and dessert. In France, less is more.
So I pulled out an old recipe for Sweet and Salty nuts. A friend recently told me she makes them all the time which brought me great joy, and so I thought it was safe to share it again with you. It’s super easy and allows you to select your favourite nuts – the spices and seasoning works with any raw nuts. They keep well in an airtight container but they never last long … they’re too moreish!
Sweet and Salty Nuts
500gms nuts of your choice (I used blanched almonds, pecans and cashews)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves or nutmeg
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1. Roast the nuts in a moderate (180 degrees) oven for 10mins or until fragrant
2. Mix the sugar and spices together in a bowl
3. Heat a large frypan to medium-high heat and pour in the roasted nuts
4. Immediately add the sugar and spice mix and stir continuously for 10 mins or until the sugar has melted – the sugar and spices will stick to the nuts.
5. Remove from the heat to cool completely before storing in an airtight container