Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, breakfast in the vineyards

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
An early morning bike ride

Welcome to another Lazy Sunday in France, although if I’m honest all our days feel lazy days at the moment, thanks to the current heatwave and I’m not complaining one bit.

To beat the worst of the heat we are up at 7.00am, which I guess isn’t that lazy (unless you compare us to our French neighbours who are in their 70’s and up by 5.30am, summer and winter) and off on our bikes by 8.00am. We return for a dip in the pool, a morning coffee and tackle the chores before lunch, this could be mowing, roasting the glut of courgettes or housework. Lunch of a salad made with garden produce and eaten in the shade, is followed by another skin-cooling dip in the pool and then I retire to a darkened room. 

We usually love the fact that our house faces south and that each room has a huge window, that we fling open most mornings to let in the light and air, however in a heatwave, the shutters are kept partially closed, and the dark rooms have a cooler, cave-like feel to them. We have also moved downstairs into the guest bedroom, which is around 5º cooler than our upstairs room in the eaves. 

My siesta begins with a chapter or two from the latest book on my kindle, before my eyelids feel heavy and I succumb to real sleep. There are no rules for sleep in a heatwave, but I am usually to be found awake again before 17h, just in time to check the thermometer to see how hot it has been and put some thought into what is for dinner. 

Aperos in the shade (we are avoiding the sun at the moment), a late meal on the terrace, a watering and picking session in the potager and another dip in the pool before bed, and sleep comes easily, despite the heat and my afternoon nap. This is a routine I could get very used to.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
The Charente vineyards

This morning our bike ride was rather special. Having done two morning rides of 20kms on Friday and Saturday, increasing it to 30kms this morning seemed like a good idea, especially when Adrian promised me a breakfast picnic in the vineyards. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
Wind turbines and vineyards

The roads were quiet as we made our way up to the ridge above St Fraigne, just over the Charente border, where vineyards and wind turbines command the best of the views. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
A breakfast picnic in the vineyards

We packed the croissants I bought at the village boulangerie, a flask of coffee, two china cups, a square of dark chocolate each and something to sit on, and had a perfect breakfast, just the two of us. It was a memorable moment and something I hope we will repeat again before the summer is over.

If you are a writer, blogger or run an independent business in France and have something you think would be ideal to share in a future Lazy Sunday in France post, please do get in touch.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Boys are Back

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Ed in London with his Ride London 46 finishers medal

After two long weeks home alone, Adrian and Ed are back in France and I’m happy.

Ed profited from Adrian’s UK work schedule to spend some time catching up with family and friends, as well as cycling his 80km charity bike ride. Thank you to everyone who sponsored him; he well and truly smashed his £200 target and has so far raised £388 for Mind, The Mental Health charity. The weather in London on Sunday was horrid; cold, wet and breezy which is the worst combination of conditions for cycling, so well done Ed.

One of the things he did while in UK was make plans to meet up with his friend Mary. Adrian and I have been friends with Mary’s parents for about 25 years, my wedding car was Mary’s mum’s cabriolet Mini, we all worked in London in our pre-baby years and regularly spent many a fun weekend at Mini shows or camping together, so you could say Ed and Mary have known each other all their lives, but have probably only seen each other a handful of times since we moved to France fourteen years ago. Social media obviously has a big part to play in Ed keeping in touch with her and his UK friends, but I still think it’s very special these grown up kids, who enjoyed ice creams together as toddlers, now choose to hang out when Ed is visiting the UK.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Courgette and tomato tian

The evening the boys returned home we were in party mood. A roast pork dinner served with a courgette and tomato tian (recipe from Mardi’s cookbook), made a welcome change from spiralised courgette salads for me, and as the sun set, Ed played his guitar on the terrace and we caught up with each other’s news. It felt like we were on holiday and with no school, no library and for the moment, no work for Adrian, the holiday mood has continued.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back

Yesterday Adrian and I treated ourselves to morning coffee at the village bar before settling down for a languid afternoon in the garden, watching the birds foraging for food. With my feet up on the reclining lounger, I quickly got swept up in Susanne O’Leary’s latest summer read A Holiday to Remember, which is the sequel to The Road Trip. Then again at 34º and an orange heatwave alert I felt justified in my laziness. Adrian, however, went out on his bike!

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Moules frites

Dinner last night, following a kir in the shade, was a summer favourite for us; moules frites. We’d bought the Atlantic moules direct from the producer when she visited the village in the morning and as I’ve been at work by the time she arrives, this was our first moules frites of the season and delicious it was too. It was certainly worth the wait. Their first day back was finished off nicely with an after dark dip in the pool, to help cool us off before bed.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Early morning cycling through sunflower fields

Cycling is something we haven’t had much time to enjoy so far this summer and with soaring high temperatures forecast for the next week, I wasn’t sure I could. However, such was our need to turn the pedals, we were up and out by 8.00am today and enjoying the cool of the morning before a refreshing dip in the pool and a trip to market. The melons and strawberries perfumed the car on the way home and the cheeky croissant and coffee while watching the world go by felt entirely justified after our bike ride. I’m hoping this holiday feeling continues for a while.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Morning coffee and croissant at market

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book review of The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

The Second Footman 
Nineteen year-old Max is the duchesse de Claireville's second footman, but he does not intend to endure the indignities of service for long. He has a plan-to find an aristocratic patron who will become his unwitting accomplice in an audacious fraud. It is true that in 1880s' France, despite nearly a century of revolution and social turmoil, the aristocracy is still firmly entrenched in privilege, and the gulf between the salon and the servants' hall is as wide as ever. But Max is handsome, quick to learn and confident of his abilities as a seducer of both men and women. Whether ladling soup into noble plates beneath crystal chandeliers, or reading biographies of the great generals in his squalid footman's dormitory, he is planning his strategy. He, Max, is the man of the future - ruthless, above morality and sentimental attachments. Yet, when, after a couple of false starts, he at last acquires his patron, he finds himself ambushed by instinctive longings - for friendship, for affection - that threaten his grand plan. 'Be true to yourself...' the saying goes. But to which self? And what is 'truth'?

My Review: 
Max, the newly appointed second footman to the duchesse de Claireville, is straightaway a character surrounded in mystery. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was this mission he hinted at, this plan he was working towards? To begin with I found it a little rambling and felt a bit lost; it’s one of those books that launches you straight in and then fills in the gaps as the chapters unfold. Just as you begin to think you are about to find out, another character’s story takes over the narrative, a trick that kept me reading, needing to know more and Max is certainly a character worth getting to know. I was torn, was there too much hidden in his past to trust him, yes, but then no! He is clever, quick to learn and a lover of books, which gave him a lot of appeal, despite the unknown and the mysteries. 

As well as an observant eye for detail there is a humour to the writing style that I really enjoyed. The author gives a great insight into the houses and lifestyles of the wealthy in 19th century Paris. The rituals, the secrets, the socialising and the contrast with the servants and their lives below stairs, all came to life. He also creates a good build-up of characters and plot, perfectly set for more to come, I hope.

This book is not what I would usually read and with the gay love story, probably not what I was expecting it to be either. However, it is a well written historical romance and there was plenty in the storyline to keep my interest and intrigue.

The Second Footman is available in ebook and paperback formats and links to Amazon can be found below. 

Purchase Link -

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

Author Bio:
Jasper Barry graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English and has worked in advertising, then in journalism. Jasper lives in London with too many books and three obstreperous cats.
Social Media Links – 

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman blog tour

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book review of In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

My review today is for new release In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels, published today.

It is always a treat when reviewing a cookbook to receive a real, paper copy in the post; I’m convinced the whole cookbook experience is improved by flicking through the pages, reading an ingredient list here, looking at photos there and then selecting something you know you need to try out. I spent many a happy moment with my morning coffee, this cookbook and my notebook close to hand. 

My first thoughts were how straightforward the methods were, with clear and concise instructions, which is perfect when encouraging children to get involved. The selection of recipes; from snacks and light bites, to main meals and desserts, gave far more variety than I was expecting from a cookbook aimed at children but did ensure all the French favourites were present. Choosing something to try out proved far trickier than I imagined. Should I give the ‘quick’ croissants a go or choose a ratatouille dish to help me use up my courgettes, or maybe now is the time to give crème brulee a try?
French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
Financiers from In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

In the end my selection was Financiers as I don’t believe I’ve ever tried one, let alone tried to make them, despite living here for fourteen years. The recipe was easy to follow, structured nicely into separate, defined steps, and quick and easy to prepare. The batter it produced was almost elastic, making it easy to work with and it cooked like a dream. What looks deceptively like a little sponge cake is actually slightly crispy on the outside, but moist and almost soft and chewy in the centre. They are sweet and delicious, and although designed as an after-school snack for children, worked perfectly well with my morning coffee too. Just to be sure I had got it right I took some into work with me to see what a real Frenchie thought of my attempt. C’s eyes misted over at her first bite as she declared them delicious and with a taste that transported her back to her childhood. Thanks Mardi, I know I will be making these again.

French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
Financiers recipe from In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

If you want to try them too, here is an excerpt  from In the  French  Kitchen with  Kids by  Mardi Michels.  Copyright© 2018 Mardi  Michels. Photography © Kyla Zanardi. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

I am sure adults and children will both get a lot of pleasure out of this book and I have a feeling my copy might end up in Ed’s university apartment come September, but at least I’ll be reassured he won’t starve!

In the French kitchen with kids is available now in ebook and paperback versions and links to Amazon can be found below.

If you fancy a holiday in southwest France, check out Mardi’s other website maison de la Fontaine here and you can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter too.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, feeling a little sad

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance RideLondon
Ed ready for the off #RideLondon46

Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance and I’m certainly feeling lazy today, but I’m also a little sad.

July has been a great month; the weather has been hot and sunny, Ed got a fantastic result in his BAC exams, the courgettes are being harvested aplenty, the Tour de France (and especially the commentary from Ned Boulting, David Millar, Gary Imlach and Chris Boardman) has been keeping me entertained for the last three weeks, and even though I had to stay up later than normal, I got to see the blood moon/eclipse on Friday night, but as the month (and the TDF) comes to an end, so does my four months at the library and this makes me sad. I have had such a great experience, learned a lot and it’s given me tons of confidence, but sadly I’m missing out on family moments too.

Today Paris will see the final stage of the Tour de France where Geraint Thomas will be wearing a well-deserved yellow jersey and sadly I won’t be there in person, like we were in 2015 (see here for my top tips). I’d love to be there again, one year, although I would prefer the weather to be warmer and dryer than we experienced last time. However, much as I love my French village life and Paris, I’d actually rather be in London this weekend. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance RideLondon
Brompton World Championships
Yesterday evening Adrian was racing with the other woman in his life, his Brompton bike, called Delilah. The Brompton World Championship race is part of the Prudential RideLondon cycling fest that has taken over London this weekend. Dressed in a shirt, bowtie and jacket (there are strict rules of no sports clothing), Adrian performed a running, Le Mans style start, unfolded Delilah and set off on a 16km circuit around London. It looked great fun to watch, thanks to Ed (who had a VIP ticket) for keeping me informed with text and photo updates.
Today will be even more difficult for me in France. Ed is taking part in the Prudential RideLondon 46; a 46 mile/80km sportive around London and the first time he has taken part in an event like this as well as his first experience of cycling in the UK. He has chosen to ride for Mind, The Mental Health Charity and has already raised £240, but I’m hoping he can break the £300 mark by the end of today. Having been stuck in a heatwave for weeks, the weather in London is forecast to be cold, wet and windy today, so please send him your best wishes and if you would like to add to his sponsorship total you can find his JustGiving page here. Ed, I won’t be there to watch you come over the finish line, sorry, but I am so proud of you and all you have achieved this year xxxx

Adrian is also cycling again today, this time on his big bike, and tackling the Prudential RideLondon 100, for the third year running. I’m usually at the finish line along The Mall, but not this year. With work at the library yesterday morning and tomorrow afternoon, getting to London, and back again, sadly wasn’t an option. Thanks to an app on my iPhone I will be able to virtually follow their progress throughout the day, but it’s not going to be quite the same experience as the last two years. I hope you both have fun and please stay safe!

Thankfully I’ll not be alone as I’m spending this afternoon with friends from the village; eating, drinking and dancing as only a French village can. To be honest, any distraction is a good distraction as sad doesn’t even come close to how upsetting it is to read that the UK is free-falling towards a No Deal exit from the EU. Articles like this and this show a bleak future for those of us in the EU.