On the Way to France: Plans and Shopping Lists.

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While we’ve been in the UK we’ve debated our travelling preferences – what do we really enjoy and what makes us stressed? What is the right balance of rest and activity? How far do we want to drive? How much culture do we want, how much do we eat out, how much time do we spend on outdoor activities?. As a result of some rather desultory introspection (it’s not really our thing), usually accompanied by a drink or two, we decided that mountains are our thing. I think that pretty much everyone can admire a mountain view and mountainous terrain supports our favourite pastimes of hiking and biking (and a bit of skiing). Plus mountains are usually cooler (we get grouchy in the heat) and they always bring a smile to our faces.

Our trip to continental Europe this time is going to focus on the Pyrenees. We’ll travel around the mountains on both the French and Spanish side until the weather becomes so foul that we’re driven to lower altitudes. Then we will get a bit of culture and perhaps some beach time in central and Mediterranean Spain. Importantly (for us) we will be returning to the UK for the festive season. Our attempt to enjoy Christmas and New Year in Spain last year just didn’t work. It reminded us of the one time we tried spending Christmas Day just as a couple; Paul ended up doing DIY and I pottered in the garden – just another normal day. We want to be close to friends and family to get that festive feeling.

As we drove to Folkestone to catch our train under the channel, we pondered our pre-embarkment shopping list. Last year we loaded up Bertie with the contents of our kitchen cabinets, full of money saving bulk buys and multi purchases. We’ve just about managed to get through all of that and have got into the discipline of having just one of each store cupboard essential in order to avoid impractically stuffed cupboards. However there are some things that we have found difficult to obtain while in foreign countries; not impossible, our last purchase of Fish Sauce was from an Asian stall in the food market of Florence, but finding them is mostly about luck.

We wanted to make sure we had enough of these items to last us the next three months. Here’s our list of those peculiarly British items that were on our shopping list (including those cross cultural ingredients that we have adopted into our everyday lives):

·         Gravy Granules (I’ll make do with bouillon powder and flour for thickening, but it’s nice to have some gravy granules for emergencies)

·         Golden Syrup (I managed to make a reasonable imitation last year, but Paul still prefers the real thing)

·         Mint Sauce (I also managed to make some mint sauce, but again it didn’t get the full seal of approval)

·         Tea Bags (okay, lots are available but I’m not a fan of Lipton’s Yellow Label and I do like a standard British cuppa, despite taking my tea black)

·         Squash/Cordial (makes the drinks in our Camelbaks taste less like plastic)

·         Salad Cream (yuck from me, a must have for Paul)

·         Heinz Tomato Soup

·         Chutney/Pickle (all those cheeses need an accompaniment – our favourite suppliers are Cherry Tree and Tracklements)

·         Rice Wine (I find it gives that extra something to stir fried veg, dry sherry will do at a pinch)

·         Hoi Sin Sauce (yummy with Duck or Salmon)

·         Fish Sauce (great savoury seasoning for many things, not just east Asian dishes)

·         Mango Chutney and Lime Pickle

·         Hot Madras Curry Powder (the most versatile curry powder)   

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