Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas Day Picnic 2007

Christmas Eve
In early afternoon sunlight, a huge hare loped across to the woodland from the edge of the lake. It seemed strange that the approaching vehicle had not disturbed it, but that it only moved because we had climbed out of our car. We were investigating a site for our Christmas Day picnic. Despite the symbolism that I have now read about hares and their association with disappointments and disaster, I sennsed that the site had been hallowed by the hare! Hares are also a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The symbol of The Three Chasing Hares has been used from East to West of the World and the Three Hares Project offers very interesting reading material.

On Christmas Day the freezing fog was lifted by the warm sharp sunshine, creating crisp, clean, breathless blue skies. The ice on the lake was several inches thick.

Our picnic menu consisted of
Crevettes with Mayonnaise Sauce
Beetroots with a Vinaigrette dressing and Watercress
Pot-Roasted Biche and Roasted Potatoes
M&S Luxury Christmas pudding flambéed with Armagnac with Crème Anglaise Sauce
Chocolates, Clementines and Armagnac

With the starter and dessert we enjoyed a chilled white wine
Muscat Domaine de Grand Crès Pays d' Oc purchased from La Caviste à Loches.
and with the main course we enjoyed a glass of red Chateauneuf du Pape 2005 kept warm by the hot water bottles and our cauldron fire!

The deer had been studded with garlic, and marinated overnight in flavoured oils, lemon juice, a little red wine, salt, pepper and Herbes du Provence. It had been wrapped in cling film with the juices and refrigerated. Then it was seared on all sides for several minutes. The carrots and shallots (sliced lengthwise) had been sautéed in the juices of the meat. The vegetables were arranged in the braising pan with the meat on top and a little more red wine and any remaining juices from the marinade and pot- braised (with lid) in the oven at180°C for about an hour; It was sliced thinly, served with vegetables and roast potatoes.

Normally we have an alternative festive pudding but this year M& S luxury won the day. It was an excellent pudding and I could not have made a better one!

We took all the hot dishes in their pans inside a haybox! When we arrived at the site we made a barbecue fire and a cauldron fire to keep the food and ourselves warm. The table was laid with festive decorations. We toasted our absent friends and family and thanked France for the glorious lakeside view in front of us. It was as if we were in a film! There was no one but ourselves. Magic!

Moorhens waddled. Robins and wrens tucked themselves between the bulrushes. A coypu shuffled across the ice. Two buzzards mewled and quartered the field, woods and lake for their prey. The donkey brayed. On our journey home Mr Reynard with his blackened brown brush sped across the lane. However, as we completed our Christmas meal, the beating wings of two swans attracted our attention as they flew westwards into the setting sun. Around the lake, the yellow, orange and red hues of the willow and dogwood were in contrast to the bare branches of the trees. All were reflected in the steel blue muted shades of the ice and water.

However, the same hare or another was a corpse on the ice not far from our picnic place. We had not known this. She did not stir. Her vibrant, magical life had been mysteriously abandoned. Death had come and we imagined how her soul mate had sat by her side trying to awake her, nipping at her fur and sprinkling the hairs around her like white petals of a Christmas rose or like a dusting of snowflakes. Hare had mourned beauty and magic. Hare had disappointment, death and yet we hoped rebirth and renewal.
For us, we were strengthened by yet another winter Christmas day picnic. The proximity of the elements makes one realise the fragility of life and that it must be enjoyed whilst we are here. The water's edge was solid and so we bravely slid!

The Shortest Day

We approached the shortest day and longest night with sleepless nights and have taken to drinking Hawthorn berry tea! It works!
Christmas Spectacular in Chatellerault
For the third year we watched a spectacular street parade. A group called "Oposito" presented a stunning Transhumance Parade. Transhumance is when the dairy animals are taken to the higher pastures in the Spring and stay there until the Autumn. In this journey, the mechanical animals, went two by two, as in Noah's Ark. Rhythmic drumming, clashing cymbals, shawms and fire displays encouraged the public to also travel like nomads. Hundreds made this voyage!
Look at these,211.html,206.html

Thursday, 20 December 2007


Where does all the time go ... long time passing?
Living in France just flies by!
We hope 2008 brings happiness for everyone and solutions to the problems of 2007.
Thankyou to all those who sent us "fat round robins" and news of how you have fared in the last year. Sit yourself down with a winter warming drink and fine food and read all about
our French way of Life .
In case you are wondering.... Captain Sensible was named in the days of the Barsham Fairs and the like, because he could always solve problems! Sweet Pea was possibly named, because it rhymes with her initials! When she acquired her little accordion we called our singing duo
"Captain Sensible and his Sweet Pea"! We use these aliases as a form of anonymity for the blogsite:

Christmas Eve 2006 We wined and dined with our French neighbour eating" fruits de mer" and other delicious delights for 9 hours. Therefore on Christmas Day not hungry and with foggily inclement weather we skipped the outdoor picnic! To our surprise whilst wondering what to do for the day, we were invited to a Christmas Day evening meal with other friends so we stayed the night in their gîte with a Champagne brunch the next day! On our return home we stopped to see yet more friends and had St Stephen's day festivities with them! Evidently, they were expecting us having sent us an email that very morning but we were unaware of that! This family also had a New Years Eve dinner in their workshop. We made a savoury spinach and pear roulade for the entrée . Lucy, Tom and Sweetpea played trumpet, guitar and accordion, respectively for a midnight cabaret.That night we slept on airbeds in the workshop not quite under the stars nor workbench! It was cosy next to the woodburner with the gale blowing outside. New Years Day was 14°C so we ate brunch outdoors! On Epiphany, a Swiss-French lady interrupted our private ceremony of singing "We Three Kings" as we cut into the traditional French Pithiviers Gateau (whoever receives the hidden token is King for the day!) and invited us to join a new activity group of creative artistes.
January Bal Folk dancing, a visit to Fontevraud Abbey for Captain's birthday, a visit to scrapyards at Villeperdu, Art Exhibitions and Bird Watching kept us occupied. The temperature plummetted to minus 7 and snow fell.
February Captain Sensible had the flu but recovered sufficiently for a week's holiday in warm and sunny Spain where peace and beauty reigned in the mountains. The views of the terraced almond, olive, orange and lemon trees were stunning. We clambered around the high rocks of abandoned Moorish castles and discovered that the magic of the fortress of Guadalest was lost to modern tourism. Passing through the Pyrenees and seeing the snow on their peaks was unbelievably beautiful.. Back in France walking, dancing and a village repas of Cassoulet were enjoyed. The Activity Group prepared for a Mardi Gras Carnival Parade. Sweetpea played her accordion whilst the children danced in the streets. Then real 'flu' returned with a vengeance for Captain Sensible and he had to be hospitalised overnight as his temperature was exceptionally high! He never really shrugged off the after effects until well into the Summer.
March The rains continued and some rivers flooded more than once. Springtime flowers and insects were flourishing. Summer seemed to arrive at the lunar eclipse. The tractor and manitou removed the lawn in front of the house and in April more machinery dug the trenches and prepared the footings for a garden room and porch. Walking, dancing, gardening, socialising and helping various friends kept us active. Throughout the Winter we helped Sue to develop her stamina to walk the Great Wall of China to raise funds for a Cancer charity. She did it in May, by which time we also could walk a half marathon!
April What is it about French plumbing? Mr and Mrs Mop came to the rescue for the very minor flooding problems when the toilet cisterns overflowed and the fosse-septique played up! Spring had officially arrived but thunderstorms and cold winds indicated otherwise!! We were still burning logs!! We organised Easter egg treasure hunts and sports day races for the children, made Simnel Cakes and Hot Cross Buns. We were delighted to spend Easter weekend with Jennie and Dave and their family who were on holiday in a large gîte in the Vendée. Their son Tom and Sweetpea's son Seb were very good primary school friends. It's very quiet here but just listen to the frogs, crickets, dogs, donkeys, sheep and lambs, flies, bees, hornets, herons and other birds. The cuckoos and exquisite nightingales sang their opera night and day.through until August. Sweetpea saw a trail of 49 pine processionary caterpillars, minding their own business, nose to tail, marching in single file down the road!! They are very dangerous. An animal will die of asphyxiation if it ingests their hairs!! Big Feet became unpopular because she captured and killed three grey-long-eared bats! Sweetpea's daughter and her partner stayed for 7 days. It was a wonderfully warm week. The garden ran amok without a mower for two weeks, so we were pleased when they helped us strim, mow and weed the neglected vegetation. The 2nd annual Onion Launch took place and the boys won first prize!
May Spring and Summer disappeared. Cold winds blew. It was dull grey and inclement! Our winter wood arrived. We started to give TEFL assistance to the children of my piano teacher, who wishes them to copy our English accents! She says it will be Sweetpea's turn to perform in the annual music concert next May!! Our neighbours helped to mix concrete for the foundations of the veranda. The cement mixer was fixed onto the tractor’s trailer and driven back and forth from one site to another minimising the hefty work. We went to cookery lessons where we watched international chefs prepare our four course lunch! It was a very unique experience. We listened to Titi Robins Trio perform at Fontevraud the long barrel vaulted hall which had been a gaol and before that a nunnery. Above and below each window there would have been one cell room and one nun. Then, the stone vaulted ceiling, stone walls and wooden floor would have experienced silence. Now the one long room was filled with sound. The ceiling was covered in wooden marquetry, held aloft by oak beams and pillars. The walls were still stone but the floor was carpeted. The acoustics were excellent. The accordion breathed and at times sounded vocal in a jazzy, bluesy, fashion, sometimes almost mute and sometimes roaring into elaborate syncopated sessions supporting the oud, the guitar, and the many different drums. Feet and hands could not be stilled. The music oscillated between India, Africa, Spain and the World in a complex fusion of rhythm, melody and harmony.
June Winter in Summer. Picking juicy, red, sweet-sour cherries where the cherry trees were laden with red jewels, was ridiculous wearing a winter coat and hat. At least 5 hours picking and more hours stoning were slow before the relatively quick process of making confiture and clafoutis! Rain rain and more rain hampered the laying of concrete and progress of the verandah. Last year we watered plants but this year the local pond is the fullest we have ever seen it! The fields are lush green. In some fields the hay harvest appeared to be ruined . The cereal harvest has started. Midsummer and the longest day have passed. We went to various places in search of old oak for the verandah. Before a 12th century ruined tower a local told us that we were "never lost" in France because one can always find one's way! Nearby was the "Saut de la Brame" where we descended through damp and dripping trees, downhill to the river rushing and leaping across huge, stone boulders. In the winter the river must be even more reckless but in a hot, dry summer, I expect it is a fun place to swim or bathe. The French Heritage weekend coincided with the Feast of St Jean. We were invited to organise another games and sports event for the children. This time we included an egg and spoon race for Mamas and Papas and another treasure hunt with sweets and drinks from the Mayor. In the evening, after a free cold buffet we listened to a Spanish music group. Later, Sweetpea played her accordion whilst people walked sedately around the "feu de joie" holding the lampions. Captain S said it was a cleansing and spiritual experience. We were home at about 2am. Through woodland and alongside ancient dry stone walls we investigated "loges", small conical constructions built as shelters for the vineyard workers, now fallen into disuse. The terrain now covered with trees, wild hellebore and ferns reaching towards the sun.
At the " Guingette sous les Peupliers" by the river, we ate moules et frites, cheeses and fruit tarts and danced waltzes and polkas. The marquees were decorated with leafy branches and brightly coloured lampions. It had been a clear night with all the stars quite evident. Another time, by the same river, we ate our picnic laying out a cloth on the bench table for our still warm quiche. A pastry brisée tart shell was filled with pre-sautéed leeks, sliced mushrooms, and garlic, on top of which sliced raw onions and a large handful of rocket leaves were scattered. Our very first cougettte had been sliced and arranged in a circular design. Four eggs, seasoned and whisked with a little milk was poured over the vegetables and baked at 200°C at the top of a pre-heated oven until golden and firm. We ate this with our first crop of cherry tomatoes. We followed up with a slice of home-made chocolate roulade and fresh fruit accompanied by mint tea from our flasks. A Competition of Decorated Bicycles awarded Arthur the Pirate a first and Pink Papillon a second in the children's section. Lavender Girl won first adult prize followed by The Fisherman's Picnic. It is now official that June is the wettest month, as April was the driest month since records started. On the very last evening of the month, the skies clear and we see the full moon on a Nocturnal month. At midnight after a 15 km two hour walk we drank Sangria outside the mairie. In the morning we had a Bucks Fizz brunch with our friends. Perfectly boiled eggs,baguette, croissants, cherries, marmalade, fruit salad, cheeses, chocolate and strawberry gateau. We left over full in a deluge of pouring rain.
July Captain S battled further with the construction of the verandah and garden because of the rain and high humidity levels! The torrential rain fell for the wine degustation, and on the marquee under which we ate rabbit paté, faux filet served 'bleu' with the famous "Jacky Dallais" mashed potatoes, cheeses, and crème caramel. The "four" (outdoor bread oven) of our neighbour was lit for the first time in 60 years and Captain Sensible sampled the roast cochon. We were able to bake bread and pizzas in the beautiful round warm oven. We saw our first Fire Salmander and various green lizards. We heard the "Desert Rebels" and watched folklorique dancing from Daghestan. We have written about the events of August September October November and December on the blogsite. The first weekend of August had been the hottest and the most humid weekend of the year! We entertained friends and family, visited local towns, villages and events including firework and music spectaculars.
In September we participated in a Moroccan dinner soirée, spa therapy and folk dancing, joined new walking groups, visited local chateaux, and indulged in the local Monsieur Haydn Festival of Chamber music. The Captain's daughter visited but it was too short to show her all that we enjoy. Friends moved to other countries and parts of France. Captain Sensible worked almost non stop on the verandah and became frazzled and frayed around the edges with the frustrations of constructing in old oak, green oak, and old materials to produce in as far as possible an authentic looking front structure for the house. It already looks beautiful and one can begin to appreciate the benefits for when it is complete. There are complimentary comments from visitors and neighbours but the task has been overwhelmingly challenging. Sweetpea feels next to useless because she has not been able to discuss the technical difficulties and can only really be a skivvy. In October we collected several trailers full of roof tiles and ascended and descended the ladders until "voila" the roof was tiled. Now there are other problems of penetrating wind and rain had to be solved. At the Garlic Fête we purchased onions, garlic bulbs, apples and saucissons from the market stalls. We also discovered a very pretty blue woodburner in excellent condition for only 35 euros! It is heavy, but we hope to install it somewhere near the verandah for evening warmth!
In November Captain Sensible tries to continue but the wind and rain arrive and good days are fewer and shorter. At the Fête des Vendange we enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon watching the finals of the running races. We were impressed to see so many runners of all ages! We missed the Chestnut Fair but were invited to an Art Exhibition where Guests of Honour displayed their paintings and sculpture. Captain Sensible and I voted for an extremely detailed fantasy of village life as the winner! It reminded us of The Alhambra in Spain. In fact we were invited to go the artists' studio but we declined! The paintings were valued at 6000 euros minimum! Sweetpea caught the Speedferry and enjoyed independently travelling to England to see family and friends and to stomp on the beaches of East Anglia. It was both stimulating and exhausting during the two weeks, with a day on Seb's boat and a day at the Tate Modern , London. She was sorry not to see everyone! The weather turned very cold with minus 5 temperatures and severe frosts. This made a two hour walk particularly beautiful. We danced for 6 hours the following day!
It is December and we lurch towards the end of the year! Some good friends that we had not really seen since August came for lunch and tea. They too had been busy with renovations.
Generally our language skills have improved, but it is still difficult to understand others and frustrating to feel understood. Captain Sensible has achieved the impossible with old oak. It has been a formidable task but he is a perfectionist and is known for his perseverance. The challenge of the construction has to be seen to be believed and understood.Well done to him.
The saddest part of December and of our lives together has been that Little Feat has died. I have already written about this on our blog site but we are very sad and so is Big Feet. There is a BIG HOLE - no “thump” as she descends from the mantelpiece—no “meep” as she asks for food! - no heavy immovable lump on as she sometimes slept on our beds!
We prepare for winter hibernation and some free spectaculars in the coming festive week.

to all our friends and family in England, France and around the world.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Goodbye Little Feat 07-12-07

Yesterday we travelled south to purchase more oak beams for the verandah project. We had left the cats not realising that one was really not so very well. She had been looking poorly and not eaten but we thought it was because she had indigestion from eating vermin. Little Feat was not at home when we returned at about 6pm. She never goes far from home and the wind and rain were wild. It was too dark to search for her and although we called frequently she did not return until 4am the next morning, wet, bedraggled and very tired. She had difficulty lapping water. It was in answer to a prayer that she returned home. It was nicer than dying without us, in some cold outdoor nowhere. We wrapped her in a towel and placed her in front of the woodburner. Sadly, the vet identified that she had kidney failure and the blood results showed that her kidneys were only functioning at 10% of a normal level. Therefore, to be cruel to be kind we agreed to enable her to die with dignity. Whilst stroking her and looking into her sorrowful dark eyes we thanked her for her life with us and for her friendship. In tears and sorrow, we buried her near the gates where once she sat sentry on the stone pillar observing all that happened in the lane. We placed her cardboard coffin near the rose bush, scattered ashes from the woodburner amongst the earth and planted pansies and "purple princess" tulips on her mound. Despite her quirky character when often she would resist the cooching that we tried to give her, never wanting to be carried, we remember her life within ours. Such is life and death.We are heartbroken. a>Little Feat arrived with her sister in August 2002. Yvonne assured us that the two tortoiseshell "calico cat" kittens were twins but how could we choose? We became their adoptive parents. At first they were given the highly prententious names of Shiraz and Syrah but in telling them apart we described Shiraz as the one with the big feet and Syrah as the one with the little feet. Big Feet has genetically mutant feet. Her front paws have seven claws and her back paws have six. She became known as "The Mutant Killer" because of her genetically modified "pattes" and because of her ability to kill moles, baby rabbits and birds! Her sister, thus became known as "Little Feat" because we also named her after the group from the 70's. Her paws were normal. Little Feat was also the runt of the litter. She always continued to have her meepy, rejected, "I am unloved", look. However, she was sometimes dominant and her greed made her obese. We affectionately named her the "The Fat One".Her presence in our lives will be remembered and she will be sadly missed. We could tell the weather and the seasons by her behaviour. When the weather was cold she would take up her place centrally positioned on a towel on the stone mantelpiece above the woodburner, hanging her tail or paws just over the edge to catch the heat. She would only move when it became too hot or because she was hungry! When the weather became warm she would patrol the lane immediately outside our house, watching the stone walls for signs of potential titbits! In her younger life she would sit sentry on the gate pillars of this garden and of our former garden in England. From this vantage point she could watch the "neighbours". She was always affeared of George the ginger tom and of Merlin the dark, menacing incomer who had designs on her maiden form! She always escaped to the high wall surrounding our courtyard garden or to the total safety of the kitchen where she could look disdainfully down from the windows upon such hoi polloi.
Little Feat loved leather and the smell of shoes. As a kitten she especially loved shoes and would try to bury herself in a shoe, tumbling all the while. She Her leather fetish extended to the leather coats of François and Pierre. She appeared to prefer men, but especially loved the author Neil, greeting him with her tail in the air and making somersaluts of affection over his smartly polished brown shiny shoes.
Remarkably , we were once astounded to see her walking on the ridge of the roof and along the guttering of an 18th century house belonging to the author Elizabeth Jane Howard. Little Feat was a predator on the birds that were nesting below the eaves.She was like a trapeze artiste as she pawed unsuccessfully to reach the baby blackbirds.
Little Feat liked to stay at home whilst Big Feet like to travel.
Big Feet would trot through the courtyard to the shared alley, and to the busy road. She would listen and watch for traffic and when confident that it was safe would cross the road at a diagonal towards the bridge spanning the River Waveney. Along the pavement or on the bridge parapet she would pass strangers and those who knew her. On the other side she would descend into the garden of the man whose moles she had kindly removed. Then she re-negotiated the traffic to again cross the road. Here she may have had to take shelter under parked vehicles from dogs with their owners who also enjoyed walking on the common ground. Before passing along the footpath to the common gates she would check out the safety factors. Then quickly she would make a sprint under the gate to go-a-hunting or walk in the long grass and say hello to the two cows that used to pasture there until only a few years ago. Sometimes she would complete this journey with us. We would encourage her to keep safe on the journey and she would walk with us as far as the weir and return. She wanted to walk on the wild side of the river with us, her servants. Sometimes we would have to carry her in order to protect her from dogs or other danger.

We gave Little Feat and Big Feet a home, with warmth, shelter, and our love. We did our best to protect them from feline diseases and rabies and brought them to France. In France they have walked faithfully with us for at least an hour at a time. Though lately Little Feat would wait at home! They have loved the freedom of the countryside and have appeared to be happier here than in the confined courtyard where town cats predated. We were never their owners, only their staff.

Big Feet has also looked unwell, but after a blood analysis the vet has confirmed that her kidneys are healthy.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Woolly Jumper revisited

A sheep has strayed out from our field and arrived by the front gate.... yet again, wishing to return to it's flock. We opened the gate and herded it up the garden to the next gate, but no,it preferred to push / pull herself through the fence!! Would you believe it? It is Number 5041, the woolly jumper has become a pullover.... as she pushes and pulls herself through our fence!!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The Tail End of Autumn

The surprise of the morning was a gift from one of our two cats! On our doorstep was the tail end, so to speak, of a rat-like animal, later identified as a Garden Dormouse. Evidently, they are rare, vulnerable and endangered. Ours lost it's life!!! The Little Footed One showing signs of sickness and indigestion was identified as the killer cat. The Garden Dormouse, Eliomys quercinus, is a rodent about 10 to 15 cm long with a tail adding another 8 to 14 cm. The coat is grey or brown with a white belly. It has black eye markings , like a bandit, relatively large ears, short hair and a white tassel at the end of it's tail. It is nocturnal, sleeping in s a spherical nest durng the day. It eats large insects such as grasshoppppers , beetles , snails, and also eggs , baby birds, mice, spiders, berries, fruits, acorns and beechnuts. They mate between April to June and have three to seven in the litter. After two months they are independent but are not mature for one year and can live for 5 years. They are also cannibals and sometimes eat their mate!!! They are to be found in woodland or fruit growing regions, the Alps and are common in Southern Europe.
The previous evening we listened again to an unusual bird, which a few days earlier David and a friend had seen flying near the house and barns. For some reason, after several days of thought, the name, nightjar, occurred to me, because the sound is a jarring cry! To the internet again, and the RSPB site became immediately very useful, because in one click of the mouse, one can hear and identify the recorded song. Yes we have a nightjar near our house! The night jar, Caprimulgus europaeus, is nocturnal and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn. The male nightjar's churring song, rises and falls with a ventriloquial quality.With pointed wings and a long tail the shape is similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. The cryptic, grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime.It lives on the ground of heathlands, moorlands, open woodland with clearings, and in recently felled conifer plantations. It has an almost supernatural reputation with silent flight and a mythical ability to steal milk from goats.
They are numerous in southern England and at Thetford forest, Minsmere and North Warren in Suffolk. They are also found in parts of Wales, northern England and SW Scotland.
Nightjars arrive in UK between late April to mid-May and are best looked and listened for at dusk on warm, still, summer evenings. They mainly leave in August and September.

Last night, too, in the house, we found a European centipede, a Mole cricket and a huge black spider with eyes on stalks. They were all removed to the outdoor world!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Pumpkin Recipes

Prepare a smallish pumpkin or even a butternut squash by peeling the skin, removing the seeds and cutting into crescent shapes. Baste in olive oil, season with salt, pepper, tabasco, soy sauce, sugar and cinnamon. Roast in the oven (200C/400F/gas mark 6) for about 25-30 minutes until browned and caramelised.
Make a prune and onion confit with about
Heat some olive oil and add 500 g peeled shallots. Fry until brown and golden. Season with salt and pepper and add some whole garlic cloves. Add 400g stoned prunes and enough water to just cover. Simmer on a fierce heat, until it is all absorbed, adding water a little at a time, until the shallots become golden and caramelised all the way through but still maintain much of their shape, and the prunes are soft with some dissolving into the sauce. The whole thing should take about 20-25 minutes. A few minutes before the end, add a handful of blanched almonds and heat. This is better if made before the day you wish to eat the meal.

Serve the roasted pumpkin crescents with a couscous made with saffron and parsley or other herbs and with some of the prune and onion confit. The confit can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for several days.

Take a small pumpkin. Chop off lid. Keep. Peel off outer skin keeping some skin on the bottom of the pumpkin if you wish. Scoop out all the seeds. Find a round casserole dish that the pumpkin will sit into comfortably. Note that as it cooks it will fall into position!Now make a minced beef stuffing with 300g of steak haché ( minced or chopped beef or maybe lamb) Onions, garlic, red peppers, courgettes etc can be sautéed. The sauté the meat separately. Combine and add seasoning. We added ground coriander but any combination of herbs and / or spices could be interesting. We also added canned red kidney beans. Some tomato purée will help to thicken the vegetables. Put the combined mixture into the pumpkin.
Put the unpeeled pumpkin hat / lid on, including the stalk if it has one and roast until ready. Cover it with foil for part of the cooking time. Take off the lid and add grated cheese and grill or further bake in the oven. We served it with rice. Delicious!
Omit the meat for a vegetarian recipe.
This gave sufficient for at least 4 very generous servings.

Memories of Autumnal days

Well ... after the initial inspiration for starting this blog, factors such as energy and stimulus have recently appeared to be lacking in the literary direction. In wishing to create an interesting website as well as a positive portrayal of living in France, it is also for my pleasure that I like play with words. It takes time to write.

Seasons disappear. Autumn will become Winter. The nights will draw in, the days will shorten, the temperatures will fall. I predict a cold winter because the berries have been on the bushes since late August. The elder flowers and berries were too early.

Captain Sensible is fighting a valiant battle with the inclement weather that we have recently had. Having worked with old oak and green oak for the first time, he says he feels frustrated because it is slow progress especially with the rains we have recently had. Sweet Pea thinks his work is excellent... but as she cannot even use a hammer correctly she would never have dared to start such a project.

And now ... we are approaching the end of October. The days have clear, blue skies with a crisp, fresh air quality. There have been at least two mornings with below zero temperatures and hence frost.

And now, still with this article not yet published, December arrives!!! It will be published in retrospect!

Let's go back to August...

The first weekend had been the hottest and the most humid weekend of the year! We rocked in the hammocks. Our garden provided us with haricot beurre beans and mirabelle plums.

After mid August Family and Friends arrived. The warm weather enabled us to enjoy an evening barbecue, sitting in front of the fire until just after midnight.

At Angles-sur-Anglin we re-discovered a fabulous street theatre group - artistes in the Soup Kitchen were in action but as it was late afternoon they were making hot chocolate drinks, toast and jam. Musicians, actors and actresses entertained us as we sipped our kir in the centre of the town.

The weather turned colder, the hirondelles collected on the telegraph wires. We thought they had migrated but later in the month they returned to wheel in the blue skies. On the 22nd of the month we celebrated our second anniversary of leaving England and moving to France.

Six Friends in France - August 2007
Captain Sensible and his Sweet Pea entertained two friends and their two friends in our two bedroomed cottage, sleeping ourselves downstairs on the sofas/settees. Given the recent cold winds, rain and early autumnal weather we rejected the idea of sleeping under canvas in the garden preferring the warmth of an indoor lifestyle. It was cosy and comfortable.

Day One
Warm winds and sunshine enabled us to welcome the evening arrival of our guests on the unfinished verandah. It was good to see such friends as if we had seen them only yesterday!

LASAGNE BOLOGNESE for 6 persons.
In a wide based pan sauté 2 medium onions, 4 small shallots and 2 chopped garlic cloves in olive oil until soft. Empty from the pan. Add chopped courgettes and chopped red pepper to your liking and sauté in more olive oil. Empty from the pan once cooked.
Saute 450g quality Steak Haché (minced beef). Use a wooden spatula to break it into smaller pieces as it cooks. Whilst this is cooking, add salt and pepper, fennel or celery seeds, dried or chopped fresh herbs, bay leaves and a good pinch of cinnamon. Once cooked stir in a little flour until absorbed, then add some white or red wine, tomato purée or tomato sauce to make a moist mixture. Add the vegetables and more sauce or wine as necessary. Stir until the mixture is like a thick chunky sauce.
In another pan make a roux of 75g hot butter and 75g flour. Add a little milk and stir continuously to beat the roux. Gradually add more milk and beat until it is a thick creamy sauce. Add some grated hard cheese and seasoning.
In a large oven proof dish (I used a 30cm square brown earthenware dish), put in a layer of
good quality ready to cook lasagne pasta, the mince mixture, a little creamy sauce mixture and repeat until the dish is full, ending with a layer of pasta and then creamy cheese sauce. Scatter with grated hard cheese and maybe grated mozzarella cheese.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes 190°C Gas 5. Remove from the oven if you are not ready to dine. Cook for another 15 minutes approximately when the top should be nicely golden brown.
Cut into portions and serve in the centre of individual plates with a glass of red or white wine or water.
Measure 150 g butter, 75 g sugar, and 225 g plain flour into a bowl and with your fingers mix lightly together until it is a crumbly mixture.Add a small pinch of edible lavender flowers. This is optional. Continue using your fingers and press the mixture into a 20cm diameter glass flan dish. Break an egg into a cup and whisk with a fork and pour over the shortcake. Bake in oven 190°C for about 5 minutes. Take out and arrange the pre-stoned mirabelle plums on the top leaving no gaps. Scatter with a very light sprinkling of caster sugar, and for the courageous a small smidgen pinch of dried lavender flowers. Bake in the centre of an oven for about 30 minutes, however, depending on the fruit it may take longer. You can serve it warm or cold as it is, or with a dollop of crème fraîche, yoghurt or cream. As a variation you could use fresh stoned apricot fruits.
Day Two
International Chefs presented their cookery school in their own home. We enjoyed good company whilst being shown how to create a most magnificent meal. Our menu was:

Tarte Fine of Aubergine, Tapenade and Mozzarella
Chargrilled Snapper with A Mango, Prawn and Chilli Salsa
St Maure's Cheese Soufflé
Tiramisu Boat with Three Sauces

It is an understatement to say how delicious this was. This unique experience of first class world cuisine was sheer delight.

In Angles-sur-Anglin we explored the Low Town insearch of the Stone Loges. These are ancient, small, dry walled, stone constructions where workers in the vineyards, fields and woodlands would once have sheltered from the rain, wind and sun.

Day Three

It was our second visit to Les Flaveurs de la Terre, un Caviste-conseil at Loches. Jean-Christophe LAPLANCHE was a fantastic host. Our picnic menu was:
Anchovy and Vegetable Tart,
Cheeses with Batavia lettuce,
Fresh strawberries with Lemon Cheescake.
There is a deep science to wine tasting AND there is a deep science to the matching of food and wine. Somehow, we have not yet got this right!!! I think our caviste was unimpressed with the challenge of choosing wines to serve with the combination of different tastes, smells and flavours of the ingredients in our menu! Woops.
However, he was absolutely charming, explaining his reasons for choosing certain wines for us to taste, and explaining his philosophy of food and wine. It was a unique experience.
Montresor- un Plus beaux Village de France. Whilst it is quite pretty it does not have the magic and ambience of Angles-sur-Anglin.

Day Four
A rest, computer maintenance, wine shopping and a walk along La Balade des Plaisirs preceded
delicious cuisine from Le Petite Auberge, a restaurant which we highly recommend marred only by losing the car key which several days later was retrieved from the most property section at the Mairie. Marvellous!
Day Five
On the last day of August our guests travelled to a gite in Brittany. We proceeded with nettoyage and a rest from our holiday with friends! My Mother asks if we "potter about". Is THAT what we do? We had an extraordinarily brilliant time, exceeding all our expectations.

No crying over fermented milk

We have again accidentally purchased fermented milk thinking it was fresh milk!

However, with the assistance of the glorious web, fount of all knowledge, we have finally learned more about this particular dairy product.

Lait Ribot is a Traditional Armorique fermented milk which has been made in Brittany for thousands of years since possibly before the Gauls lived there. The brand name is Bridel. Ribotte is an old word for "churn", and in Breton language it is called "laez ribod".

Evidently, the white liquid that remains after the milk has been churned into butter, is fermented. In England we would call it buttermilk. In France it is called babeurre.

We are impressed at how inexpensive it is and obviously it is very nutritious. This evening, we added vanilla sirop and realised the glorious potential of this drink.

We will use it to make galettes and crêpes as it has been traditional to use this instead of fresh milk. It is cheaper than yoghurt and we have already thought of adding fresh crushed fruit and juices to it as a breakfast drink ... AND ... I am going to make sour milk scones and sour milk dough for bread. Just another obsession to keep me occupied and to satisfy our pleasure for food.

The following paragraph was discovered on a Tourist Site for Bretagne, France.
"This pale white liquid, which is also called buttermilk, was kept in the coolest part of the house and drunk to quench thirst. It was delicious in summer with fresh fruit and gave that extra touch to fish cooked in a court-bouillon. In times gone by, it was also used to make a kind of soup. People would mash potatoes in a bowl, spreading them around the edges and then pour lait ribot on top. It was often combined with chestnuts and potatoes at meal times. People would also cut buckwheat pancakes into pieces and dunk them in a bowl of lait ribot. And then of course people got used to drinking it during a meal of galettes and crêpes. Not everyone likes lait ribot but its fans will drink nothing else, except perhaps cider!"

Well ... I'm not that keen on cider but I am very happy to drink this as it will be cheaper than buying Yakult or any other acidophulus drinks for the digestive system.


Sunday, 19 August 2007

Pyrotechnic Panorama

Pyromelodique feu d'artifice.

It was our second year and woops, again the camera batteries ran out of energy. However, we captured an opening cinematographic scene of the castle in all it's pyro-melodique glory! It was exceptional, wondrous and spellbinding.
We found our place three hours before the skies were set aflame with fireworks. Others had already claimed their spot from early morning. On both sides of the river, on the narrow island, on the rues and chemins and on the bridge people brought their foldy-up chairs, picnic rugs and blankets to secure ground space. All was civilised and tranquil. One newspaper reported that there were 10,000 people in attendance. It was fascinating and we were entranced.
For thirty minutes we were to be enthralled. The entertainment was announced by a superb sound system which welcomed us to a cinema. The sound track had included movie themes from Charlie Chaplin , American Westerns, West Side Story, Star Wars and Edith Piaf "The Mome", to name just a few.

At 22h30 the bridge was plunged into momentary darkness where the absence of light and sound hushed those who had waited patiently. The curtain opened for the panoramic screen. The chateau was set ablaze in a fierce, red, fiery furnace. Skies were rent with explosions. Raptures of applause followed shrieks and cheers, all drowned by the warfare of modern explosives. The theatrical scene was set.
All ears focused on the tempered spoken voice of the narrator. We listened whilst the melodies of the music matched the rhythm of the rockets, against the backdrop of a clear summer night sky, above the outline of the historic chateau.
All eyes absorbed the moving image which alternated between light and dark filling retinas with a palette of pastels and a video of vibrancy, as the kaleidoscope of colour erupted and expired. At one time, high in the sky, Catherine wheels free-wheeled, crackled, corkscrewed and cascaded downwards to the castle walls and river. It was as if champagne fizzled and sparkled for the celebration.
We smelled the sulphur from the drifting, smoking cloud of cordite which had played it's part. It had added to the atmospheric ambiance of the drama.

Earlier we had been part of a different international stage. By the side of the river we sat down on a tartan rug with a bottle of Bordeaux rouge, an anchovy tart,a green salad and a Reine-Claude Plum Shortcake. At one point, "un homme" gaped towards our evening meal and expressed homage to our gateau! After all, he only had an almost bare baguette of a sandwich. We proudly explained the ingredients in our home made products. We may be English but we enjoy excellent French cuisine, made by ourselves.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Woolly Jumper

THE WOOLLY JUMPER - a story from April

The sheep ear-marked number 5041 is continuing to escape from the flock of eight sheep and two lambs. It is either very clever or very stupid. It has "une habitude", that is, a habit! It has become an expert hurdler and learned to jump a fence into our meadow. The shepherds have now decided to prevent the flock entering our field through the open gateway because they say they do not know how it escapes into and out of our field. Once in our meadow, the woolly jumper saunters nonchalantly over to the growing mount of rocks and soil on which we have put our grass mowings. We hope this will become a rockery once the sheep do not graze near it. From this small colline the sheep leaps into mid-air with front legs forwards and back legs backwards as in the drawings of "counting sheep in dreams", into the next field where the flock once used to graze. It straightway crops the grass, for it's only intent as an eating machine is to eat! When it realises it is alone, he/she munches in the direction of the gate and with another leap across another barbed wire fence it is cheerful to be on the chemin/lane. Pleased with itself and tail wagging, number 5041 proceeds along the lane to the entrance of the field from whence he came. Friends and family regard it with great interest, bleating all the while but the silly singular sheep cannot fathom out how to rejoin the sheep plural. The rising slope at the gateway makes the fence appear higher than it's high-jump skills permit! We have rescued it more than five times. Ar first it was amusing BUT our sense of humour and shepherding days are numbered. We have tired of this game. Therefore, the lonely mouton awaits the real shepherds who are befuddled when they see him freed from the flock, yet again! This in itself is amusing to us because the French shepherds think it escaped under the gate. Now they have padlocked the gate, added more barbed wire and weighted it with rocks! We have tried to explain, within our language limitations, how the sheep achieves this feat of houdini, but we are still unsure if the two brotherly shepherds comprehend our franco-anglo language. Obviously it is not normal for a sheep to leap! A ewe should chew!

The real shepherds have certainly not understood or accepted our explanation as several days later they are installing electric fencing and repairing our fencing. Number 5041 has continued on a daily basis to ram the fence to greener pastures and every single morning appears outside our gate because it wants to enter the next field to be with it's chums!

One evening one shepherd is looking quite mad, as whilst he repairs the fencing, the numbered one goes on walkabout, appearing in our garden as I had inadvertently left the gate open!! The farmer looks very frustrated as he comes to help me return the sheep into our meadow and so into his. The sheep gets a quick kick whilst receiving the sign of a slit neck!! Although I quipped that it would be fine as a leg of lamb for Easter Sunday lunch which is at the end of this week, there was a hint of remorse in me. I vow that I will not "tell" on it again and I will continue to secretly encourage it back unto the fold as often as I can because as a former vegetarian for 24 years I do not wish it to come to any harm!! The following morning I am seen to be outside first thing in the morning, coaxing the doomed one to re-enter the back field and encouraging it to leap the fence into our garden and then leap again to it's flock. I continue throughout the day to count the sheep .... 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 Ha, they are still all there!!!

A few days later, they are moved from the field adjoining our garden to the barn and field opposite our land. Behold, I see a new born lamb, and on day two, the shepherd proudly shows us the little creature. Woolly jumper has stopped her leaping and has become a contented mother. Would you believe it?

Nanny and company

In June we were extremely disturbed to hear a dreadful crying from an animal in the grange opposite our house. Normally, sheep shelter there and we assumed that a dreadful thing had happened to one of the flock. On trespassing, we discovered that a goat was tied on a short tether and was head-butting the corrugated walls, crying in despair at being a prisoner. This continued for some weeks, even when we expressed our concern to the owner. Evidently, the goat liked to "jump" fences to escape and the previous owner had donated it to our neighbours for "correction". Well, the poor animal was moved to a more distant grange but we could still hear it's mournful cry and wondered about it's welfare and mental well-being. There is no recourse to the RSPCA in rural France! However, with our limited French language skills, we suggested that maybe it could join the flock of sheep in the field alongside our garden, but be on a longer tether so that it could have some freedom. Within the week, there it was in the field with the flock of nine sheep, in complete freedom being no longer tethered, head-butting any sheep that inadvertently got too near!!

We became friends and I would call her to give her extra treats from lawn mowings, weedings or prunings. She loved to eat entire plums, crunching the stones in her teeth! We got a bit mad when we discovered her climbing on our wire fence and ruining it to reach the branches of the plum trees! But then by mid-July the flock changed fields and Nanny and company moved home. In the early morning rays of sunlight Nanny was seen to be practising her mountaineering talents on the dry stone walls.

One morning I took this photo from our bedroom window. It was just after the shepherdess had fed her flock with grain and Nanny had surprised her by jumping over the dry stone wall which separated the larger and the smaller flocks of sheep to eat the grain. The shepherdess was most displeased and shooed her back, where she remained tip-toeing on the rocks! The partridges were also enjoying the morning ambiance.

The Common Lizard

The Latin name is Lacerta Vivipara. It is also called the Viviparous Lizard because it bears young lizards in a membrane rather than lay eggs like most other reptiles. It is beautiful with black and brown spots on green skin with a yellow belly. It feeds on insects, spiders and grasshoppers. Evidently it likes heathlands, woodlands, cliffs, mountainsides, hedgerows and quarries. But it also likes our field! It is the biggest lizard we have espied on our land! Smaller ones have been eaten by our two cats! It is also lucky to be alive because two days ago our neighbour, the sheep owner, arrived to cut the long grass with his hay cutting machine on the back of a large tractor! Maybe the lizard raced to the nearest sanctuary. Today, our lizard was spotted at the bottom of the bonfire pile, basking in the sunshine. When I spread the lawn cuttings on the land it quickly darted to it's shelter. So, when it is time to ignite the bonfire we must check that our lizard and other small animals are not living beneath the waste matter.

In April we saw another on one of our walks. It was basking on the footpath but quickly disappeared into the hedge undergrowth.
In July we saw a black and yellow knobbly Fire Salamander on the footpath in the woods. It was one of the hottest days of the year, but in the damp, mossy woods where we walked to shelter from the heat, the mosquitoes ate us alive. The Salamander was fully grown as it was at least 20cm in length. I have read that they can live for up to 18 years. Unfortunately, it was one of those rare occasions when we did not have the camera with us!!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Changing the Face of Our Cottage

The Changing Face of Our Cottage

One Spring morning the digger came and ploughed up the lawn, removing the topsoil and stones to the bottom of the garden. We were left to tidy up the carnage by hand. Days later, after a delivery of white gravel to prevent the yellow clay sticking to our shoes, the bobcat dug out the foundation channels and spread the gravel. Friends came to put concrete in the channels and lay the floor scree. After moving many rocks and stones by hand and with the wheelbarrow, Captain Sensible was ready to build his first ever dwarf stone walls using shuttering. Combining ancient and modern techniques, he has replicated the 200 year old walls of the house. The next stage will be another first - to work with old oak to create a modern winter garden room and summer terrace. Isn't he remarkable?
Is it a lucky day?
We have four leaf clover plants at the bottom of the garden and some have five leaves.

Friday, 3 August 2007

A Menu for our French Neighbours

who expressed raptures about each course.
We have much to learn from their instilled wisdom and knowledge of French cuisine and wine.

We served a simple summer evening meal:
Entrée - French beans from our garden - haricots blancs - cooked in a butter and lemon sauce. We made a pile of beans, added a cherry tomato and a scattering of chopped parsley for colour. Vin de Bourgogne Les Jardins de l'Evêchê Chardonnay
Main course - Salmon Tagliatelle presented on an oval Moroccan platter and served with a rosé wine -Château Sissan - 2006 Bordeaux Clairet
Cheese course - Valençay goat cheese and Brie served with a green salad with dressing
Dessert course - Compôte of Mirabelle Plums

Salmon Tagliatelle for 4 persons

800g poached salmon tail
olive oil flavoured with grated lemon zest and juice of one lemon
450g fresh egg tagliatelle
several stalks of fresh basil with the stalks removed
2 small white onions, 2 long shallots, 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons créme fraiche

Prepare the ingredients:
1. Remove the skin from the salmon and cube the flesh. Set to one side.
2. Chop finely the onions, shallots and garlic.
3. Finely shred the basil.
4. Lightly sauté onions, shallots and garlic in olive oil and lemon juice, then add the salmon pieces, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes or so on a high gas flame, shaking the pan and tossing the fish to cook all over. Leave in the covered pan until you are ready to re-heat when you cook the tagliatelle.
5. Heat a pan of boiling, salted water and cook the tagliatelle for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta well.
6.Serve the pasta on a large, pre-warmed dish. Make a well for the salmon mixture. By now you have re-heated it for another few minutes, added the créme fraiche to make a creamy sauce and thrown in the shredded basil. Serve immediately onto a large warm dish with more shredded basil scattered over the whole. Remember to warm the individual plates.
7.Provide serving cutlery so that everyone can spoon out their pasta and salmon sauce according to taste.
8.Use a spoon and fork to wind the tagliatelle before eating!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Making the most of Mirabelles

Last year our mirabelle plums were golden yellow but this year they have progressed to ruby red. The beautiful jewelled fruits hung amidst the branches like baubles on Christmas trees. Reflecting the light they shone invitingly. I was sad to have picked them because the leafy branches would only be green and brown until next Summertime.

Stone us and eat us, the plum fruits sighed.

So we did.

Measure 150 g butter, 75 g sugar, and 225 g plain flour into a bowl and with your fingers mix lightly together until it is a crumbly mixture. Continue using your fingers and press the mixture into a 20cm diameter glass flan dish. Break an egg into a cup and whisk with a fork and pour over the shortcake. Bake in oven 190°C for about 5 minutes. Take out and arrange the pre-stoned mirabelle plums on the top leaving no gaps. Scatter with a very light sprinkling of caster sugar, and for the courageous a small smidgeon pinch of dried lavender flowers. Bake in the centre of an oven for about 30 minutes, however, depending on the fruit it may take longer. You can serve it warm or cold as it is, or with a dollop of crème fraîche, yoghurt or cream. As a variation use fresh stoned apricot fruits.

Compôte des Mirabelles

1 kg fruit, 200-225 g sugar, 300 ml red wine,
a sprig of fresh rosemary, one or two cinnamon sticks depending on size
or a teaspoon of ground cinnamon powder
plus 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Wash and stone the fruits. In a saucepan bring all to the boil and then simmer gently until well cooked and reduced. Using a slotted spoon or sieve remove the fruit from the juice and reduce the juice further until it is syrupy. Cool and chill. In a small pretty glass half-fill with fruit, then a layer of crème fraîche, more fruit and a top layer of crème fraîche. Sprinkle with a few edible dried lavender flowers for decoration.
The juice and fruits can be kept in the refrigerator in a clean sealed jar or plastic container for up to two weeks.