Friday, January 30, 2015

It's Croissant Day

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Croissant Day
Thanks to the wonderful world of social media it has come to my attention that today is Croissant Day and I really couldn’t let that past without a small celebration. I am still in love with the buttery, flaky croissants from our village boulangerie, even after ten years of living almost next door, oh yes, I am close enough to smell them as I open the shutters in the morning. My perfect day would begin with a fresh coffee, a square of dark chocolate and a warm croissant, in fact I would happily start every day like this, but the calorific content means it is something I have learned to savour and enjoy on a Sunday or a special occasion only.

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Croissant and jam

We are a little bit of a divided household when it comes to how to eat the perfect croissant. Ade and Ed are red jam men and slather their weekly croissants with strawberry, cherry or plum jam. Raspberry is occasionally considered, but only if it is seedless. I am of the opinion that a croissant is so perfect that apart from the coffee and dark chocolate it needs nothing more, except perhaps a sunny terrace on which to eat it. What we are all in agreement of is that a croissant must never be dunked into your coffee, what were the French thinking of!

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant, coffee and dark chocolate

I do have a little tale to tell about a croissant breakfast taken in the Cevennes on one of our road trips. Holidays are deemed to be special occasions so a croissant for breakfast becomes the norm when we are on a road trip. When we checked into the small hotel in Meyrueis we said no to their full breakfast and started the following day with a lovely walk around the village and a bit of people watching as the market was setting up. We then returned to the hotel where their small terrace was bathed in early May sunshine and asked Madame if it would be possible to have a coffee and croissant on the terrace. She assured us this was no problem, so we sat ourselves in the sun and waited. After quite a wait we were beginning to wonder just how long it took to pour a couple of coffees and plate up a couple of croissants. It was then we saw Monsieur pull up on his bike with a bag of croissants in his hand, fresh from the boulangerie we had walked past down the hill. Oops! We did feel rather guilty, so made sure we enjoyed every mouthful.

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant for breakfast on a sunny terrace

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The most amazing shoes in France

One of the things I love about blogging is that it encourages to me to look out for the small details; the little things in life that many people don't notice, but for me scream ‘blog post’. This post is one that has been inspired by one of these brief observations.

The other evening I was in a meeting; a two-hour meeting, with many speakers and all in French. Some of what was being said was interesting, some of it I didn't quite grasp and some of it wasn't relevant, but overall I remained focussed and learned a lot. However, towards the end a French lady stood up to talk and I was immediately drawn to her feet and the most amazing rainbow shoes, perfectly set off with plum coloured tights, that I had ever seen. These were so eye-catching I was totally mesmerised by them and therefore have no idea what she was talking about.

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The most amazing shoes in France

My reaction surprised me. I'm not a girl who likes to shop, I wouldn't recognise a Jimmy Choo or a Louboutin if I tripped over one and the most frequently worn shoes in my cupboard are my dog walking shoes. I was dressed, as usual, in a pair of Ed’s cast-off jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, set off with a scarf and a pair of tan boots so old I can’t remember where I bought them, but I’m pretty sure they were from a budget supermarket. I had meant to smear on some lipstick before leaving home, but I forgot, although I did manage to run a brush through my hair. So it was something as a shock for me to have such a ‘thing’ for a pair of shoes. Of course even if they had been for sale I wouldn't have bought them as despite feeling ‘bien dans ma peau’ (good in my skin), I think only a French woman complete with her mystical je ne sais quoi would be able to get away with wearing them. On a more practical note as they are not cozy house slippers, sensible dog walking shoes or chicken shed boots, they wouldn't be very useful for me anyway. But I did find myself thinking what couldn’t you achieve if you had the balls to wear these shoes? Answer, nothing, as I’m sure with these shoes, everything would be possible.

UPDATE: thanks to the power of social media I've found out you can buy these beauties on Amazon, but at £134.99 I might just look at the pictures!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book review of Fat Dogs and French Estates by Beth Haslam

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Book review Fat Dogs and French Estates

My review today is for Fat Dogs and French Estates - Part 1 by Beth Haslan, a newly released memoir about a journey to France with a difference. Beth, her husband Jack and their two tubby dogs Sam and Biff are in France to begin the search for their dream property like many have done before, but theirs is not quite a run of the mill wish list. Beth and Jack are keen on the great outdoors, so are looking to buy an estate with land, wildlife and a habitable but modest property, certainly not one with lots of bedrooms or a swimming pool. How hard can it be?

This book launches the reader straight into the not so unusual husband and wife bickering that a long car journey invariably creates. Beth has an amusing style and is very tongue in cheek ‘moaning’ about her grumpy husband and his antics. By the halfway point I’d decided that this good-natured grumpiness (mainly on Jack’s part), rather than being a domestic disaster actually showed the strength in their relationship, as without a solid foundation Beth wouldn’t have been able to entertain us with such honesty. I always looked forward to seeing how Jack would react when yet another viewing didn't quite live up to expectations.

The book moved at a good pace, with lots of interesting facts about the areas they visited (I felt I was a more appreciative ear to these snippets of information than Jack was) and lots of humour too. Beth is a great storyteller, especially when describing the characters they meet on their search and the somewhat bizarre (and dangerous) situations they often found themselves in. All too soon I had reached the end and was left wanting to know more as Beth and Jack were still on their journey and still searching for and viewing domaines. Thankfully I have insider knowledge and know that part two is well on its way, so the rest of their journey will be told very soon, phew!

I can recommend this book to any memoir lovers wanting a good chuckle, especially if the house hunting process in rural France and the quirky characters you are likely to come across interests you.

Fat Dogs and French Estates Part 1 is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My patisserie challenge

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My patisserie challenge eclair au chocolat

It’s Sunday (again) and time for part two of my 2015 patisserie challenge. This year I have decided to buy something different from our village boulangerie every Sunday and to enjoy the simple pleasure of treating myself each week. Last week I sampled and shared the buchette de noel.

To begin with I have decided to stick with the familiar and revisit some of Ed’s favourite patisseries, as he is far more the connoisseur than I am. My choice this week is the éclair au chocolat or chocolate éclair, although there is a big difference between the two. The chocolate éclair made in the UK is a choux pastry case filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate. The French éclair au chocolat is filled with a chocolate crème patissiere (confectioners custard). Just one bite of this gooey, chocolaty delight and I was firmly in the French camp when it comes to the filling. It is a little sweet, but accompanied with a strong espresso coffee it is just perfect and in my opinion, not as rich as the whipped cream version from across the channel. I can certainly see why Ed would ask for one of these as often as possible when he was younger.

Although it was a cold and frosty start to the day, the sun is now shining and I think a bike ride will be the perfect way to ensure these extra patisserie calories don't stick around for too long. Please do come back next Sunday and join me as I tuck into another delight from Bernadette at the village boulangerie.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winter in the gardening club

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Smoked trout at Restaurant des Canards
A cold morning complete with a crisp, sparkly frost that clung to the grass well after my mid morning coffee wasn’t the best of days for gardening. It was however the perfect day for the gardening club’s annual lunch. A roaring fire welcomed us at Restaurant des Canards where I feasted on delicious locally raised smoked trout fillet, followed by pork that seemed to melt as my knife and fork approached it, served with creamy potato gratin and asparagus. I was feeling very satisfied and content and then came the difficult bit, choosing from four delightful sounding desserts. I’m not the best decision maker and to choose one over the others seemed almost cruel. Thankfully they took pity on me, played to my greedy side and presented me with a plate containing a small taster of them all. The tart lemon meringue offset the sweet apple pie, the warmth of the cherry crumble was perfect with the cool of the Eton mess with it’s crunch of meringue adding texture and it was all brought to perfection by the espresso coffee. I truly enjoyed every mouthful.

French Village Diaries Restaurant des Canards Chef Boutonne gardening club
My personalised dessert platter
I will admit to having post good food heavy eyelids, but an afternoon on the sofa with a book wasn’t to be. The cat demanded feeding as I walked through the door, the dog sensed my overindulgence and dragged me out for a walk and when Ed got home from school he needed taxiing to his music lesson before being fed this evening. Never mind, at least I'd had a lovely time with great food and lots of chat and laughter. It really helped up my enthusiasm levels for getting back out in our potager patch where the weeds seem to have taken over, again.

I’ve been a member of this local club since they asked me to be the guest speaker at their AGM last year, something that would have been far scarier if they weren’t the nice, friendly and fun bunch that they are. If you live close to south Deux Sevres and would like to learn more about gardening in a fun and relaxed way please let me know. New members are always welcomed, expertise isn’t required, just a love of gardening.

For more inspiration about gardening in France, you might want to check out French Dirt, a must read memoir about a year in a potager in the South of France.