Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book review of Finding Shelter by Emma Lee

French Village Diaries book review Finding Shelter Emma Lee animal rescue Poitou-Charentes
Finding Shelter by Emma Lee
Today is #WorldAnimalDay so it seemed an appropriate day to review Finding Shelter: One Girl. One Camera. One Thousand Rescue Animals by Emma Lee, a memoir of a year spent helping out at an animal refuge in France. Woven into her beautifully written (from the heart) account, Emma fills us in on her early life, explains how she came to be living in France and the events that occurred that led her to becoming committed to helping out at the refuge.

In places, this is a very funny book and anyone who has ever owned a dog is likely to be chuckling away and agreeing with her at some point, even if some of her stories are a bit yucky. However, this is also a very emotional read too. As Emma cries over the lives some of the dogs have had, her writing made me cry too. Emma is honest, both with her descriptions of the glamour, or should that be poo-paddling, of the daily life of a volunteer at the dog refuge, but also when she talks about her past. Her admission that more than once her animals have saved her was very moving and she is now giving back. Emma is on mission, powered by emotion, grief and compassion, her aim is to get all the oldies at the refuge adopted. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be going towards updating the digital technology at the refuge to enable more dogs to find their forever homes.

I am sure this book will encourage more good people to take action and help, like Emma and her friends. I’ve known Emma online for a number of years and even met her a few times, so some of her stories and the people she writes about were familiar to me, but this is a book all compassionate animal lovers will enjoy, even the bad bits helped me to understand what goes on in the refuge world. It is hard, it is sad, but it’s certainly not all bad. Take a cosy seat with your favourite pet on your lap, a box of tissues to hand, a hot chocolate ready to drink and curl up with this book today.

French Village Diaries book review Finding Shelter Emma Lee animal rescue Poitou-Charentes Refuge de l'Angoumois
Refuge de l'Angoumois
For those readers who are in the Poitou-Charentes region, the refuge Emma helps at has an open weekend on the 10th and 11th October and The Hope Association who raise funds on behalf of many animal charities will be holding their three day book sale on the 16th to 18th October. I’ll certainly be at the book sale; it’s an event I never miss.

Finding Shelter: One Girl. One Camera. One Thousand Rescue Animals is available in ebook format and a link to Amazon can be found below.

French Village Diaries book review Finding Shelter Emma Lee animal rescue Poitou-Charentes The Hope Association
The Hope Association

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Walnut, Apple and Quince Tart

French Village Diaries walnut quince apple tart autumn recipes
Walnut, Apple and Quince tart

I’ve been rooting around in my dusty archived files looking for this delicious recipe that I originally posted on my old blog in October 2011. I had a real longing for this sweet and sticky tart, no doubt due to the fact that I’m just starting to collect this years walnuts and my kitchen is overflowing with ripe apples and quinces - I make no apology for the fact that most of my recipes are seasonal. This tart is equally as delicious when made with sliced apples or sliced quince although the original recipe (given to me many years ago) was just for a walnut tart so feel free to omit the fruit, but I think the crisp pastry, the fruity layer and the sweet crunchy topping all work very well together.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4.

Grease a flan dish (I use a 30 cm one) and line it with pastry (I use 100g butter rubbed into 180g plain flour and a pinch of salt, then brought together with a beaten egg and a small amount of water if necessary. This is then wrapped it in clingfilm and left in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling out). Ready-made pastry would work just as well, and would no doubt look far neater around the edges than my attempts, but I don’t worry about that as long as it tastes good.

Prick the base of the pastry with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans and blind bake for about ten minutes, until it is just starting to colour. Allow to cool slightly.

Spread a little quince jam all over the pastry base, then lay thinly cut slices of quince or apple, slightly overlapping each other, and sprinkle them with brown sugar. Place in the fridge while you prepare the walnut topping.

French Village Diaries walnut quince apple tart autumn recipes
Walnut and Quince tart

3 tblsp butter
100g light brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
60ml of walnut liqueur or Cointreau
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g shelled walnuts

Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and then add the beaten eggs, liqueur and vanilla essence and mix well. Stir in the walnuts then pour this mix over the quince and carefully spread into an even layer. Bake until golden brown, approximately 45mins Gas 4. Allow to cool before serving.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Grange 87 cycling holidays in the Haute-Vienne

French Village Diaries cycling holidays Haute-Vienne Limousin Grange 87 Eyemoutiers Lac Vassivière
Grange 87 bike storage area

A few weeks ago I was out and about exploring somewhere new in France, moonlighting in fact, for the great cycling website Freewheeling France, but thought it only right to share my mini adventure here too. My brief from Lyn was simple, make contact with Paul from Grange 87, arrange a visit, go out cycling and then write about the accommodation and cycling in the area. The first thing I noticed when looking at Eymoutiers on the map was that the topography was very different to here. We live in a relatively flat area and many of our roads are long and straight. Eymoutiers is an area that has lots of gradient shading and even the straight roads look like a very shaky hand has drawn them. We were definitely headed to the hills and the land of the lakes, challenging terrain for the leisure cyclist.

September days are normally bright and sunny, however thanks to the tail end of Hurricane Henri, wet and wild were more accurate descriptions of the weather that week. Not ideal cycling weather, but hey-ho, we packed our long-sleeved gear, our rain jackets and our smiles and set off. Unusually for Adrian we left a bit later than planned and every tractor, slow moving digger and doddering old dear that it was possible to meet on route was out in front of us. At least it wasn’t raining; in fact there was a hint of sunshine in the air, which lasted precisely as far as the border between Poitou-Charentes and the Limousin, when we seemed to find ourselves within the clouds.

French Village Diaries cycling holidays Haute-Vienne Limousin Grange 87 Eyemoutiers Lac Vassivière
Eymoutiers is about a forty-five minute drive from Limoges, which has regular flights to the UK, and for a small town in rural France it has managed to retain a lively community with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. Paul and his wife Frances were very welcoming, even surprising us with lunch and dinner invitations where we got to know them and chatted away like old friends. Grange 87, their two-bedroom rental apartment in the centre of town, is beautiful and has been designed with the cyclist in mind. The first thing you see is the spacious ground floor secure bike storage area, complete with hanging frame should you need to work on your bike. Upstairs the open plan living area is light and airy with beams that add character, but didn’t provide a hazard for Adrian’s head. The kitchen with oven, induction hob and full size dishwasher mean self-catering would not be a problem, but with a selection of restaurants in town it isn’t essential; the perfect mix for a good holiday in my opinion. We managed to sample two cafés and two boulangeries during our stay, but there are more, awaiting our return.

French Village Diaries cycling holidays Haute-Vienne Limousin Grange 87 Eyemoutiers Lac Vassivière
Grange 87 accommodation Eymoutiers

The double bed was one of the cosiest and most comfortable I have ever slept in and there is also a twin bed room plus sofa bed if necessary. The shower room is fitted out to a very high standard and the warmth and power of the shower was perfect for my cold legs after a wet bike ride. The attention to detail throughout the apartment can’t be faulted, including retro cycle themed decoration and the free wifi was fast compared to what we have at home. If you enjoy cycling holidays in France I’m sure you will have a very happy holiday here.

I have to admit we have pretty much avoided the Limousin area since a family holiday in August 2002 when two weeks of rain and temperatures ranging from 10 to 14 degrees kind of put us off returning. This area of the Haute-Vienne is called the Parc natural regional de Millevaches en Limousin, the land of a thousand cows and during our 23.5km bike ride around Lac Vassivière a French cow related expression came to my mind.
Il pleut comme vache qui pisse!” It’s raining like a pissing cow!

French Village Diaries cycling holidays Haute-Vienne Limousin Grange 87 Eyemoutiers Lac Vassivière
Circuit des Legends, Lac Vassivière

Although we set off in the dry and enjoyed a sunny early evening stroll around Eymoutiers, we had only just begun our afternoon cycling tour of the lake with Paul when the rain started. Lac Vassivière is a short drive from Eymoutiers and has real cycling heritage as it has been used three times as part of a time trial course in the Tour de France. This cycling fame has been preserved in the Circuit des Legends route named after Raymond Poulidor, the Haute-Vienne’s most successful professional cyclist. Our clockwise route was a beautiful ride with ever changing views over the lake that even the rain and misty clouds couldn’t spoil. There were hills, but nothing too strenuous and the route took in the large dam and shady forest sections as well as stretches that followed the many beach areas, but the lake is so large and such an interesting shape it is not possible to see it all from any one position. I have never cycled in rain so hard that it was running down the road like a river, but it was still a good fun afternoon. My socks were so wet I had to squeeze them out and as for the puddle my lycra shorts left on the seat of Paul’s van on the journey back to town, oh la vache! (another French cow related expression meaning an exasperated oh no!).

French Village Diaries cycling holidays Haute-Vienne Limousin Grange 87 Eyemoutiers Lac Vassivière
Lac Vassivière, Haute-Vienne/Creuse

It was a shame the weather wasn't kind to us, but having some great cycling routes proved to Adrian that you can still have fun, even if the weather isn’t perfect. Paul is really keen to encourage cyclists to experience this area that has something to offer for all levels and abilities and I think Adrian has his sights set on conquering Mont Gargan, a real mountain just south of Eymoutiers. I know we won’t be leaving it another 13 years before returning this time. 

Thanks Lyn, Paul and Frances, we had a great mini adventure.

Click here to read my accommodation report for Freewheeling France.
Click here to visit the Grange 87 website and book your next cycling holiday in France.

Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post and I was not paid to write about our visit.

This post has been linked to the All About France blog link run by Lou Messugo. Click here to read plenty of other posts all about France.

Lou Messugo

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review of In the Shade of the Almond Trees by Dominique Marny

French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees
In the Shade of the Almond Trees

Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour for In the Shade of the Almond Trees: A Novel by Dominique Marny via France Book Tours.


In the aftermath of World War I, a family estate hangs in the balance. For generations, the Barthelemy family tended to the olive trees of Restanques, a sprawling property in Cotignac whose olive oil and almonds were as incredible as the countryside that produced them. But all that changed when war came to France. Robert Barthelemy never returned from the trenches, and without him, the farm is beginning to die. His widow has lost the will to live, and only the fierce efforts of their daughter, Jeanne, have kept the creditors at bay. Jeanne is spending an afternoon at home with the family's grim financial statements when a handsome stranger appears on the front steps. His name is Jerome Guillaumin and he is a brilliant botanist about to embark on a journey around the globe. From the moment they meet, Jeanne is struck by feelings she never thought possible: feelings that could save her life or destroy everything she has ever known.

My review

This novel is set in the years directly after the First World War and as well as beautiful descriptions of it’s Provencal setting and the olive and almond tree orchards, that conjured up perfect pictures in my mind, there was lots of historical interest added in as well. From the seedy back street life in the docks of Marseille to the perceived ‘comfortable’ life of the wealthy land owners, albeit those who were struggling to survive in difficult times, to the lives and background stories of their workers, the olive and almond pickers, the farm hands and the serving staff. We are shown a snippet of the real Provence of the period and this all added to the story for me, making it a very enjoyable read.

I really warmed to the character of Jeanne, a strong and independent woman who despite her young age takes on the task of running the family estate, pretty much alone. A young lady in her position should have been concentrating on finding herself a husband and starting a family, however she has a lot of responsibility resting on her shoulders and is unable to give in to her passions, unlike her mother and her brother.

Throughout the novel, a varied cast of characters comes and goes, but not all the visitors arriving at their door are genuine, some are only out to make the most of their situation, but can Jeanne know who can be trusted? Is her love for her family estate and her ideas for it’s future enough to keep it going? I for one had my fingers crossed for her from quite early on.

This would be an ideal book for readers who enjoy historical fiction set in France.

About the author

French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees - Dominique Marny Dominique Marny was raised in a family that loved art, literature, adventure, and travel. In addition to being a novelist, she is a playwright and screenwriter, and writes for various magazines. Follow Open Road Integrated Media on Facebook | Twitter Subscribe to Open Road Newsletter
Visit the author's website (in French) Follow her on Facebook


French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees

In the Shade of the Almond Trees: A Novel is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book review of Christmas Confessions and Cocktails by Vicki Lesage

French Village Diaries book review Christmas Confessions and Cocktails Vicki LesageMy review today is for Christmas Confessions and Cocktails: A Humorous Holiday Memoir with Sassy Drink Recipes by Vicki Lesage, the latest in her Paris Confessions series of memoirs. This book is written in the same fun lively style of writing that I have come to expect from Vicki’s memoirs about her life in France, but this one was a little different. I found a more mellow side to Vicki here; the wild party girl was somewhat replaced by someone to whom family life is obviously very important, as important in fact, as having a good time.

This book includes twenty-five fun snippets of her life, loosely centered on the Christmas theme; both before and after she moved to France and many of these snippets are from times in her life when her family is together and celebrating. As usual she includes the bad as well as the good, but all are told in a way that made me smile. At the end of each one is an invitation to join her in a celebratory cocktail (or two), well, OK it is just the recipes, but it felt like she was inviting me to join in her fun. Cheers Vicki, thanks for another fun read and have a great Christmas!

All of the books in Vicki’s Paris Confessions series are available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. A free taster of her memoirs can be found in her ebook memoirette Petite Confessions: A Humorous Memoirette with Sassy Drink Recipes .

You can read my reviews of her other books here;