Sunday, 31 January 2010

Tartes aux Poires et Amandes

After the 10km walk, those whose turn it was, produced yummy tarts, tea and coffee.
Take some pastry. Layer it with sliced or halved pre-cooked pears. Melt 100g butter with 100g sugar and add ground almonds and two egg yolks. Pour over the pears. Whisk the egg whites with a little sugar and pour over all. Bake in a hot oven until cooked.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Happy Marmalade Making Day to my dearest and only daughter

Beauty in a jewelled jar.
I am the Marmalade Queen.

Every year for 37 years and more, I make marmalade according to a Cordon Bleu recipe which has been tweaked with various "Sweetpea" variations so that every jar of every batch tastes differently by the time I eat the delicious citrus preserve. By my own fanaticism, I am obliged each January, to seek out vendors of Seville oranges to make sufficient marmalade for 52 weeks of the year, FOR ME TO EAT ON TOAST, and for gifts, if I think the person is truly worthy of such a treat. I joke! Some people though have been gifted such a jar and don't know the golden treasure in their hands!

I just want to say a very Happy Birthday to Felicity because I have an enormously fond memory of being as huge as an elephant and unable to walk, let alone stand from the chair, unless hauled up by my husband. I had refused to go to hospital all day and for several days before that, just so that they would not induce me, like they did with my son, and just so that I could get the oranges preserved into the jars! When I arrived at hospital and told the nurse (nay, the ward sister!) that I was having the baby she laughed condescendingly. Of course, a woman of my size WAS pregnant! ... But I WAS HAVING the baby...the waters broke as soon as I arrived in the toilet area and out the new one popped, like a little fish, an Aquarius...I lost more than 3 stone immediately which is why the nurses just couldn't get me warm! So Happy Birthday, my lovely one! Enjoy today's holiday! AND thank you for always wishing me a Happy BIRTH day!

Back to the treasured golden substance! Most Seville oranges are organically grown and I think they don't have wax on them. About 5 years ago I was so proud as to have organic oranges from a farm which was being articled in the Telegraph. What luck! I had bought 4 crates before I knew that. That's about 120 oranges or more! I made marmalade every day for over a week! MMMMMmmmmm! A sticky business and hands need much moisturiser afterwards.

This year I zapped two batches in the food processor and then because I felt I MUST, I hand-sliced another two batches. IT is so therapeutic to feel the sharp knife melt through the cooked skins, and for me to create long thin slices or shorter ones or to chop them finer still.
I love to tie the citrus pith and pips into the new pure white muslin cloth. Over the years it will become stained despite being washed! I love to watch the liquid boiling in the pan, changing colour and texture according to how much sugar I add. I try to go easy on the amount of sugar as I don't like marmalade to be over sweet! I don't like commercial pectin so add several lemons to the oranges. Even so, our current gas hob just does not bring the temperature up to create an excellent rolling boil, as did my gas hob at my previous home. It's an important stage in the making of the marmalade and I can't blame the maufacturer of the hob as it is first class hob for all other purposes. However, I content myself with a more runny model of marmalade than eat manufactured substitutes of a setting agent. I do add some whisky or brandy, ginger and or cinnamon and a variety of other flavourings according to my whim or plan!
That's all I'll tell you! My daughter has orders to make me the marmalade if at any point in the future I cannot make marmalade. I have to confess that for one year after a major op I was unable to lift any pan and indeed warned not to. Fortunately, I had sufficient stock to carry me through that year and I think the year afterwards when I could not locate the orange beauties in Châtellerault. BUT now a special stall sells them, as marmalade making with 'des oranges amères' has become more popular with the French.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Le Quotidien

It's almost the end of the month! I just can't believe that one twelfth of 2010 has happened.

I am not much further on in my quest but it isn't for want of trying. I've just got to get out and about, do more searching and MAKE A DECISION!

Marmalade has been made and is being made. That's an easy decision to make each year. Two batches down and maybe three to go to ensure I have supplies for the year. David groans when I open a 5 year old jar which is sumptious! He thinks I should sell it at Harrods or somewhere better... It was hand-sliced! This year though I thought I would hand slice the peel the machine zapped the two batches! I have reduced the number of sweet oranges and sugar in my recipe and method followed during 40 years of loving MY marmalade. The result is a wakey-wakey, sharper, brighter taste. But of course, the flavour changes as it matures in the jar! I managed to buy 60 Seville oranges, then became seduced by the lemons, limes, grapefruit and sweet oranges. However, the latter have been eaten. They were delicious. Normally I don't like eating raw oranges unless I am in Valencia.

Captain Sensible has had his birthday ...see previous posting on this year's marvellous magical mystery tour. Are we both eligible for train or bus passes in France? Must investigate. However, I know because I tried it just before Christmas, we can get reduced costs at the cinema! My daughter's family is off to Mexico. Lucky treat for the three of them. My son is trying to get the sandschool completed, repair burst water pipes and find daily paid work. My partner is making photographic slideshows. Cleaning the house, tackling my muddles, becoming engrossed with computer activities, and cooking, appear to absorb my energies. We recommenced walking with the group. My piano lessons require practice at the keyboard. I have also started a new venture of pottery lessons. FUN! as I get to learn French. Likewise at our TEFL lessons.

This week I managed to persevere with a telephone call, speaking French to an administrative officer when she insisted I should telephone another number where they could speak perfect English because my French was "not perfect!" I stuck to my guns 'in French' and explained that we had conversed several times before Christmas without too many communication difficulties, and that despite the 'reputation' that some Brits have of not trying to speak French, I AM trying. She then became extremely helpful, even speaking English. Voila! it was a Friday afternoon so I think I will excuse her!

Each day brings something new ... but the days are passing too quickly!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Dining Clangers - gaining and failing

The freezer needs to be emptied to make way for the little lamb! And so... if you like lamb then try this.
French Braised Lamb
with Juniper, Garlic and Rosemary

Shoulder of lamb, deboned and cut into just over 1 cm thick slices like chops! Put 8 slices into a dish with large sprigs of rosemary in between, about 4 or 5 cloves of garlic crushed finely, 1 large onion sliced thinly (the recipe preferred several shallots), 4 to 8 juniper berries, half of which I lightly crushed. The recipe suggested more than this and I think the flavour was far too strong. I have read that one must go easy with juniper berries as evidently they are a diuretic and must not be served to pregnant women or people with renal difficulties. Then add 400ml red wine, salt and pepper. Cover with cling film or a lid and Marinade overnight.

Take out the meat from the juices and saute in olive oil to seal the meat, briefly saute the onions, add the rest of the sauce and braise on top of the oven or in a covered casserole dish in the oven. We put ours on top of our woodburner as it is winter and the heat coming from the Nestor Martin is brilliant. You'll have to judge when the meat is tender and slow down the cooking appropriately. This time the meat appeared to be ready far too early for our guests and unfortunately the "chops" started to break up which rather ruined the presentation. It went well with a Bordeaux.

We served it with mashed potatoes. Again these were not the best we've done. I'll blame it on the French pdt!!! Also the leeks that I braised were 'pas bon'. They were the last of those from our garden and really were only fit for soup!

The Soup before the main meal was 'Broccoli, Lemon and Sweet Potato' but I won't serve soup again before a casserole even if it is Winter! Never mind.. the cheeses were good ... a Valençay in peak condition which was the most popular. Some Cheddar and Blue Stilton from England that friends collected for us graced the platter. We rarely succumb as we love French cheeses!

A very Citrusy Lemon and Lime pudding was delicious, but I got my timing wrong... it should have been served when the little puddies had risen and not fallen! This we served with a dessert wine called Coteaux de L'Aubance which also goes well with chocolate! This wine was a gift from out TEFL friends. It is a wine we had never heard of ... and we will definitely seek it out again. A trip to Anjou is forecast!!

The best part of the evening was the convivial GandL company ... it was good to see friends that we had not seen for some time.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

This is a recipe for Lamb Tagine with Artichokes and Lemons

1. Chop the half leg of lamb or more or of other joint into cubes ...ish ...
2. Chop 2 onions and 2 cloves of garlic as finely as possible without becoming manic and sauté in olive oil.
3. Combine the meat, onions and garlic and add 4 large teaspoons of tagine spices to include cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, parsley, curcuma, salt and pepper.
4. Cover with plastic film and marinade in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
5. Heat a frying pan, brown the meat mixture to seal in the juices. Use extra olive oil if you wish.
6. Add some saffron stamens, paprika, meat or vegetable stock or water. You can pre-soak the saffron in water if you wish. We certainly don't use stock cubes so I added some leftover-efforts of wine-making from several years ago which was made from elderflowers from a cemetery cycle ride visit. It became halfway between a wine and a vinegar because it was not fermented at a stable temperature ...... so waste not, want not.... I used it as a cooking wine and I think it was the last bottle from 6 years ago!!!!!!
7. We put the tagine on the woodburner for slow cooking during the day whilst we went out on the MMT! The wood burner is a Nestor Martin and we can cook casseroles on top.
8. After several hours of slow cooking, take one preserved and pickled Moroccan lemon, (make your own about now for next year or buy expensively from the supermarket) cut it in half and remove the flesh and pips ... chop the rind into small pieces and throw into the tagine. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes more or less!. After that when you are almost ready to serve, add however many artichoke hearts out of a jar or can that you would want to eat, and heat and serve with couscous.

PS. If you have the tagine pot you could put this into the oven on a very low heat, escape for the day and return to heaven!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Chenonceau for the Magical Mystery Tour

It has been Captain Sensible's birthday and he tells me he is not afraid to be proud for the approach of a 66th year and the achievement of the age of 65.
For the last 5 years, at the instigation of an idea by my daughter, we have been on a Magical Mystery Tour for each of our birthdays. When Captain S was 60 we went to Ely, Norfolk because Mr Oliver Cromwell is one of his greatest heroes. He, that is, Oliver Cromwell, evidently wanted to give one man (one woman) one vote, but life didn't work out that way for another 400 years! Now I am in UK as a woman I can't vote for UK! Silly!
After the very first Magical Mystery Tour it was not so magical when we returned home (in UK) to discover that the neighbours had made a hole-in-the-party-wall, but that is another story and an anniversary that is probably best forgotten!

Today, we went to a French chateau, Chenonceau. It was delightful, and to think that the motto, inscribed on doors and floors, was something like, "If I finish this construction then I will be remembered." Thomas and Catherine have certainly been and still are remembered since those medieval times. Unless we get that motto graffitied onto the floors and ceilings we won't be remembered at all for our small efforts on house renovation.

However, major renovation works being executed to the façade of Chenonceau Chateau, to the tune of 40 million euros did not detract from our pleasure, and of course every house needs maintenance! Look carefully... the scaffolding shroud is imprinted with the image of the chateau. The chateau has 9oo thousand visitors each year.

O, how I wish I had been such a woman as the six who influenced the development of such a fine building. I am wondering whether the Menier family who own this historical giant, and who were famous for making chocolates and who oncc influenced , and for all I know still influence this magnificent chateau, have been bought out by the Nestlé entreprise?
Quel horreur? ou peut-être pas?

It has been a very good MMT (Magical Mystery Tour), starting with a lengthy drive through the fog (le brouillard) to arrive at snow on the ground after St Aignan-sur-Cher, when in our region the snow has disappeared. Perhaps the comment that "warmer weather starts south of the Loire" is a truth.
Morning coffee at halfway of the journey was a disappointment when we chose a very French looking café-bar...the bitter coffee was not improved by the cold interior, absence of ambience and no nearby boulangerie to provide the expected croissant. But at 2.60e for two coffees can one complain?
For lunch we bought brilliant french-style pizzas from the boulangerie at St Aignan and these went well with our regular flasks of tea for me and coffee for him. Then we did not eat or drink for 7 hours.
Our evening meal starter was a tartine of grilled aubergine with prawns and a little spot of wasabi. Then, with a marinaded half leg of lamb from one of the former grazers surrounding our land, I created a lamb tagine with tagine spices, paprika, and saffron from Preuilly-sur-Claise saffron market (worth every euro). I also added prserved Moroccan lemon and whole, jarred artichoke hearts. Mmmmmmm. Served with was excellent with a bottle of Anjou.

We ate some of a pyramid goats cheese but forgot the salade verte. For dessert we had half an individual citron tart and then raided the box of English Bouja-Bouja hand-made chocolates whilst opening the "Eau de Vie de Cerises juin 2007"as a digestif. I am privileged to enjoy such food with a friend. But it does no good for the waistline!

This is of no consequence when shared happiness, culture, interests and history have been principle enjoyments. At Chenonceau the labyrinth was one of the easiest I have walked ... the glass cloches, willow baskets and plants in the potager were interesting even in the winter ...
I would like to return to the castle in Spring, Summer and Autumn to see the changes.

The day ended with some fine music from Jango! The Rolling Stones.... Dylan... Pogues... The Who...Eric Clapton.

I love this painting that was on display in the chateau.
With thanks to Captain Sensible and his Nikon for the first four photographs of this posting.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

It's Been a Busy Day at Village de Vaux

Late morning, Bernadette arrived with a gift of photos of my 60th birthday. We listened... she talked... and to our surprise we could understand a lot of what she said. She used to go cross-country ski-ing in Les Alpes, where we have been, and like all French people became animated about travel, regions of France and French food especially when we mentioned Tartiflette and Reblochon cheese. She talked about her dogs, her husband's heart operation and her mother-in-law's chickens and cats which she comes to feed everyday. Sadly, Marguerite died a few years ago.

Sweetpea went to pottery lessons and over many things shared laughter especially at a language difficulty when Manique asked her at what time was Haiti. She understood this to be the Caribbean island which has today experienced a devastating earthquake but Manique meant High Tea!!

Everyone loved my hat! My 'poupée cloche' is almost finished! Praise from everyone. The French DO praise! What shall I make now? Eventually I make a decision (I don't know why) that I would like to make a plate with a lizard in the centre. Dominique shows me a circular plate that has been fired but not glazed. It has two small lizards on the edge of the plate! That's beautiful. I commence not really understanding HOW I shall model the lizard! It is half done and I will complete it at the next session.
At the end of the first lesson of the New Year we all shared Champagne, snail mousse in snail shaped cases (yuk) and cake salé.

I returned home to discover ANOTHER visitor has arrived, but we have a rendezvous in the village at a certain hour and so she has to leave. After our rdv we meet another neighbour and we laugh about the French game of horses we played just before Noël ( it was rather like Ludo) and she insists we must come again very soon so that I can win and Captain S can lose! Laughter all round. Such simple pleasures! Then we went to see her son... the one whose leg was badly injured in the woodland ... he is hoping that at the end of the month he can begin to walk to re-educate his leg and foot. His toes and ankle cannot receive the messages from the brain.
No running water in the house but heaps of village camararderie!

We ate a splendid evening meal - we are eating too much again! For the entrée - one Coquille St Jacques which had been taken out of the freezer when we arrived home from our H-S adventures - it had been bought at the Christmas fish market at great expense!!! ... and we sautéed it in butter, added cognac, parsley and crême fraîche. Then we thought we did not have much lamb casserole left from yesterday, but in fact the meal was huge with sautéed leftover potatoes and leftover canned haricots verts. We then indulged in one or two Christmas chocolates which it is necessary to monitor and so I hide the rest of the chocolates in the box from gluttony! We are again trying to limit our wine consumption but lapsed this evening to indulge in an Alsace Riesling which we are exceptionally fond of!

That's the day. We are pooped. The climate is warmer and the sun shone today. The lounge is too hot and so the layers of clothing begin to be peeled off.

Winter Weather, Water and Ice

Still no running water in the house.... but the well water is not frozen so Captain Sensible and his alternative technology background realised we could pump water for washing and flushing. We have also been to La Roche Posay and collected thermal spa water from the source (we hope) for drinking and cooking. When we returned from our travels there was ice in the water closet!!!!!!!

The freeze has ruined the shower thermostat.... this is what happened to two other shower units of friends' last year. If we ever go away again in winter time we will ensure that there is a thermostatically controlled heater in the shower room. Tomorrow we hope it will be warmer to effect a repair.

It's getting almost too hot in the living room with the woodburner on full steam eating the oak logs that our neighbours toiled in wintry conditions to supply.

One of these two men had a terrible accident... the tree fell on him, piercing his leg. He is still immobilised but lucky to be alive. We don't complain about the price of wood for winter warmth.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Colours of Winter.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Returning Home from Freezing Conditions to Frozen Pipes

We're back from our first ever attempt at house and dog sitting and we have to our surprise thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
With regard to the dogs we had been rather naive and had not enquired of their breed and so were exceptionally lucky they were gentle, fun -loving, well-behaved, after-walkies sleepy dogs and were of the variety that did not slobber nor jump up excessively. All 4 were rescued creatures. The two English red setters and the two Greek strays had interesting personalities. Tasha looked like a seal with expressive eyes. She was particularly shy of men but evidently was the leader of the pack! One day whilst Captain S was talking to a male neighbour, she slipped her collar but I managed to grab hold of her and tie her to the lead of another dog. Captain S won her over with loads of affection and biscuits! Becky Boo was reluctant to go out in the cold but when we went a walking she was first to need her lead and when ready to be put on the lead used to lie down submissively and tremble. She had "love me" sparkly eyes and would sit and thump her tail to show us she was beautiful and desired our attention. Mr Hermes, the dog amongst the three bitches, was very affectionate but a hobo at heart. He would return obediently but if we did not put him on the lead, because we were softies and thought he could experience more freedom, he would then absent himself for the return journey and would turn up back at home once he had exhausted his scent trails! Kikidee was the only dog that did not pull on the leash as we proceeded for our twice daily walks. She vied for supremacy. She was quiet and submissive one moment and would roll over and show her tummy as if she were a Greek Tart !! but when released from the lead she would leap, run, jump and bark, especially at and against Tasha as all the dogs rollicked and rolled gleefully in the snow-laden ravines and paths along the mountain valley. They had such fun and enjoyed the freedom of snuffling in the snow, running and chasing each other. I did feel for them when ice in their paws caused them to stop and nibble the cushions of their feet. I prefer cats, but this experience was good because I have so many memories of dogs, my mother having been and still is a doggy judge and a Crufts judge too.
We did this to have an opportunity to travel and to see places that we have never been to. We went to the Alps. I had no idea that mountains could be so enjoyable and that snow could be so pleasurable. Last year we had snow at home and it is so different from UK snow. This was the same ---- dry snow... difficult to form into snowballs. I have loved the freezing conditions and to walk dogs in the open air has been good for the morale.
We laughed so much... at the dogs and we enjoyed each other's company as we expressed wonder almost every minute at the changing views and climate. We met several neighbours who were all very interesting with their stories about how they came to live by the side of the valley and mountain and were even interested in us. We walked and would have walked further without the dogs if it had not been that we needed to return to the house to walk the dogs again. We also had our first experience of climbing mountains, riding in a ski-cabin and walking on a plateau. We took a flask of hot chocolate with a beetroot and goats cheese sandwich for our lunchtime picnic-in-the-snow. What fun to watch the cross country ski-ers passing by! I would love to try that whilst Captain S wishes to travel on a snowmobile.

We bought a plastic sledge, practised toboganning near the house and then publicly on the
man-made snow hill at the ski resort. It was the first time in my life and oh what fun especially when we both sat on the sled and sped downhill.

We were very fit by the end of 10 days!!!!

Food. Oh joy ... to discover a cheese called Reblochon because a friend had warned us of the perils of Tartiflette. I made my own. I later discovered that the cheese I had bought had a red label and that really I should have sought one with a green label as that would have been made by "le fermier." The history of how this cheese came to be made is fascinating. In order to avoid paying too much rent, the cows were not milked fully so that the milk production appeared to be not very good. When the landowner had left, the cows were milked again and this milk was "hidden" and used to make the cheese. We discovered a white wine called Chignan. Delicious!

To get to the point of this post heading.... we have been away for almost two weeks in icily cold Alpine conditions inclusive of two solid days of rain. We have returned home one day later than expected as we waited for the climate in central France to improve. So home again to a freezing cold stone house... even though a neighbour had activated our electric radiators. Now warm as toast with the woodburner on full strength the water pipes are still frozen 24 hours later BUT ... tomorrow is another day and the big thaw will surely arrive.
Each day brings something different and each day brings some joy somewhere.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Epiphanie et les galettes des rois

I can't quite believe that this blog is just over three years old and we have been living in France on a permanent basis for nearly 5 years and two years part time before that! It is time again to be thankful for treasures in France.
It is said that The three kings ... Wise Men from the East ... the Magi ... arrived on the Twelfth Night to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the date for this epiphany was set by Pope Julius II but like many religious festivals traditions this feast day is also rooted in Paganism and Roman Saturnalia. Oh joy that such feasts exist!

In France it is time for Les Galettes du Roi - from now until Shrove Tuesday when Les Crêpes supplant them!

When Louis XIV was King he decided it was pagan to indulge in the consummation of such Twelfth Night mediaeval cakes. He banned them. However, the discerning French peoples found a way around this and redefined the reason for baking, saying it was neighbourly to share such cakes and when there were no more "Kings of France" it was renamed a cake of Equality.

I prefer the Brioche galettes des rois because they contain crystallised fruits. These are Provençal. The puff pastry galettes des rois are filled with frangipane but often one cannot detect the marzipan at all! Inside these cakes for 4, 6, 8 persons, there is hidden a fève / a bean, nowadays a ceramic lucky charm. If you have it in your slice of cake then you are the king or queen for the day and can wear the crown. In shops and at vide greniers you can buy the fèves as some are collectable. We have heard one story that says the bean was often swallowed to avoid the winner buying a round of drinks!!! In the childrens' group, whoever won the charm had to bring a cake the following week!


We have in recent days spoken to French people in French and been able to converse, to be understood and to understand. The French person knows how to profit from every day and every occasion. Each day there is a lesson to be learned.

Risotto for a beginner

I know it is supposed to be easypeasy to make this wonderful Italian dish but I have always been unsuccessful with making risotto. I intend to meet the challenge! With some success the following recipe was quite edible for my first in a long time attempt. This recipe seems to be enough for 4 and as we don't eat huge quantities being relatively small people, when I make it again I will halve the recipe because rechaufféed risotto is not as good as freshly made risotto. If anyone thinks I can improve then please let me know.

I sautéed one large onion and some garlic all chopped very finely in some oil and butter and waited until they were translucent, stirring form time to time. I weighed 250g risotto rice and stirred this in until the rice was coated with the oil and again waited until the grains were translucent. I kept stirring. Then I added 150ml white wine and let it bubble for 5 minutes. I stirred in 500ml vegetable stock in small amounts. As we never use stock cubes, I blended 375g of our very own pre-cooked beetroots into a purée and added water. I again kept stirring.
I added some dry roasted fennel seeds and some fancy mushrooms from a jar. I added some grated parmagiano cheese. One could also add cream! Then I transferred the rice to an oven proof dish, covered it with foil as that dish did not have a lid and baked it in a moderate oven for 15 minutes. It was delicious.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

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Monday, 4 January 2010

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Saturday, 2 January 2010

THE very best HOT chocolate.

When we had a very brief visit to Italy we stopped for a hot chocolate and coffee. I have been looking for a recipe of what it was that I ate/ drank and here it is. Also this beautiful website is such a joy to behold that that I would not dream of reproducing the recipe. Italian chocolate drink is to die for!!!!!!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Tartiflette de Haute-Savoie

Two days ago I made Tartiflette, which we ate half of and the other half was eaten this evening. To accompany it we bought a white wine we had never heard of: Chignin 2008 from the viticulteur, PASCAL RAVIER. It is a wine from Savoie and the name pertains to the region. The grape is Jacquère de Chignin. It is a pale golden coloured wine, holding its fresh, light, mineral taste in the mouth. We later discovered it is good with seafood and also potato dishes such as Tartiflette. This I had heard of as a recipe but did not know what the ingredients were.
So it is an excellent wintry dish served with a green salad dressed with hazelnut oil.

Layer slices of cooked potato and sauteed onions, with maybe some garlic, and lardons (bacon). As I do not eat pork I added mushrooms instead of bacon. Then a Reblochon cheese is sliced in half horizontally and arranged cut side down onto the top layer of potatoes. Bake in an oven about 180℃ until the cheese has melted and crusted on top.

Happy New Year 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR and what a fine one it'll be!!!!!!!

This really is a cheese shop in France!