Friday, October 31, 2014

France et Moi with author Ann Mah

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris about what France means to her. You can read my review of this delicious book that has now been released in paperback, here

I'm delighted that the publisher has kindly allowed me to run a giveaway for one lucky reader to win a paperback copy of this book (US residents only please). Just email me at with Mastering the Art of French Eating as the subject before 11th November 2014. The winner will be the first name drawn at random. Good luck.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Ann Mah Mastering the Art of French Eating
Ann Mah
Ann Mah is a journalist and author of a food memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and novel, Kitchen Chinese: A Novel about Food, Family, and Finding Yourself. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, South China Morning Post, Bon Appétit, and other publications. In 2005, she was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship. Ann divides her time between New York and Paris, but loves eating everywhere.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Ann: I love the connection between food, and place, and history in France, the sense of continuity, the way a recipe grows from the land, takes root, and is cooked and eaten in that same spot for hundreds of years.

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Ann: I was six years old and on a family vacation. We arrived in Paris in the midst of a high-summer heat wave. Every aspect of the city assailed my senses from the seesawing sound of the sirens to the imprint of wicker café chairs against my legs. I didn’t like everything, but it all gripped me under a spell I would come to know was Francophilia. Meanwhile, my fifteen-year-old brother was at the peak of his rebellious years. He spent a lot of time plugged into his Walkman while my parents coped by drinking red wine.

3) When you first arrived in Paris what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Ann: The opportunity to travel around France, researching the country’s culinary traditions was both the best and most intimidating experience.  I’m an introvert, so it took a fair amount of gumption to introduce myself to strangers and start asking them quite intimate questions. In the beginning, I felt awkward travelling alone – especially dining alone in restaurants, when it felt like everyone was staring at me. But after the first few trips, I started to enjoy being on my own, creating my own schedule, eating when I felt hungry, and dropping everything to, say, hunt down an obscure buckwheat farmer.

4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Ann: There are pairs of words I can never keep straight—like “borrow” and “lend”—and according to a French friend, my pronunciation of “sweater” (un pull) and “lightbulb” (ampoule) is indistinguishable. But here’s one of my favorite food-related stories:

Soon after I moved to France, I was invited to a cocktail party in Provence. I had just completed a seven-week French immersion program and I was eager to test out my brand new language skills. But when I found myself being introduced to the village mayor, my heart started to pound.

The mayor had a bald head, intelligent eyes, and was missing a finger from a hunting accident. He was interested in my husband’s job as a diplomat, and in the various countries we had called home. “Did you enjoy living in Beijing?” he asked in French.

“It was a wonderful experience, but sometimes challenging,” I said. “La ville est très salée.” Everyone within earshot laughed uproariously. It took me a minute, but eventually I realized that somehow in my fluster, I had confused “sale”—which means dirty—with “salée,” or salty.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Ann Mah Mastering the Art of French Eating5) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty and you traveled widely tasting and researching for you book, but do you have a favourite regional dish?

Ann: It’s impossible to pick a favorite but some of my fondest memories are from my trip to Brittany, a region I loved as much for its buttery buckwheat galettes, as the warm welcome I received there. Being invited into people’s homes, cooking homemade crêpes, listening to their childhood stories – these were experiences that touched me very deeply.

6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Ann: I’m a sucker for the most basic stuff: a baguette “tradi” (it tastes best when you break off the heel and eat it on your walk home) and chocolate éclairs.

7) Is there anything French you won’t eat?

Ann: I will try anything. But I am embarrassingly squeamish about most offal.

8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? Maybe a hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Ann: Perhaps a Beaufort, from the Savoie? It’s an aged cheese perfumed with the wild herbs and grass of Alpine pastures. It relies on hard work and tradition, which are qualities I admire very much.

9) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Ann: The drink? Champagne. Even saying the word brings a smile to my face.

The nibbles? I’ve been craving gougères for several weeks, especially the oversized ones sold at the marché bio on Boulevard Raspail. I love the crusty exterior contrasted with the spongy, cheesy layers within. They’re delicious with Champagne!

The location? I often dream about our living room in Paris, tiny but bright with afternoon sunshine, strewn with my beloved flea market finds.

The company? My husband, who loves Champagne as much as I do. And our baby daughter, who always squawks for a sip. I sometimes dip my finger in the glass and let her taste the wine. (Full disclosure: Since this is cocktail hour, it would be wonderful for her to join for a few minutes and then be whisked off to bed by her nanny :)

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Ann: I’m writing a novel set in Paris and the vineyards of Burgundy—it’s a love story with a secret buried at the heart of a family wine cellar. I’m enjoying every drop of the wine research!

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Ps I can’t wait to read the novel!

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris is published by Penguin Books and is available in hardback, ebook and paperback (from today in the US and from 20th November in the UK). This book would make a perfect Christmas gift for any food loving Francophile. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book review of The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman

My review today is for The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman, an historical novel set in Corsica. I’ve never been to Corsica, but the descriptions Vanessa gives of the wild and rugged coastline and untamed mountains gave me a detailed image in my mind, which was perfect as the backdrop to the turbulent storyline. It has also made me determined to visit one day.

French Village Diaries Corsica The House at Zaronza A Tale of Corsica Vanessa Couchman
The story begins in the present when a young woman arrives in Corsica trying to piece together her past, but with almost all links extinguished can she shed any light on what happened? All Rachel has to go on is that her grandmother lived in Zaronza and her name was Maria, and she hopes that by staying there it will help solve the mystery. What she finds on arrival at the guesthouse is another mystery involving the love letters between a schoolmaster and his secret lover. Rachel is certain that by trying to unravel this story she will find answers to her own past.

Rachel uncovers a memoir and we find ourselves in the remarkable life of an extraordinary woman, who defied what was considered the norms for a lady of her position. She wasn’t afraid to stand alone and act to make a difference. She suffered, both at the hands of those she loved and from the circumstances she found herself in, but she was always caring and determined. The story was powerfully written and gripping. The characters were strong and believable. It covered a fascinating period of history from an unusual angle, highlighting the role of a woman from Corsica during the First World War. This book was like unwrapping a parcel, as every layer unfolded it added a little more, but always leaving so much more to discover.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and I’m looking forward to reading more from Vanessa. The House at Zaronza is published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon are below.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

FrenchEntrée Photo Competition

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition
FrenchEntrée Launches Photo Competition to Find Essence of France

I love France and am never without my camera when out and about, either locally, on the bike or when on a road trip to the South of France. The scenery, the architecture, the style of the villages and the landscapes change from one area to another so I doubt I'll ever tire of sightseeing in this beautiful country. If like me, you love France and can't help but snap away, you may be interested in this photo competition to find the Essence of France, launched by FrenchEntrée. Here is what they have told me about it and the super prizes on offer:

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition

FrenchEntrée, the French travel and property specialists for overseas buyers, is launching a competition to find the best images of France taken this year.

Photographers of all ages and abilities are invited to upload pictures of their French travels to FrenchEntrée to win a high specification camera from the Olympus Travel range.

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition
 Essence of France photo competition
The competition celebrates the 10th anniversary of the website, which has been re-designed to appeal to increasing numbers of users accessing it from a tablet or smartphone.

The winning photographer will receive an Olympus SH-60. The winning image will be publicised via Twitter, as well as printed in the January edition of FrenchEntrée, the beautiful magazine version of the site. Runners up will receive a subscription to the magazine.

Justin Postlethwaite, Editor of FrenchEntrée, says, “France, through its glorious beaches, villages, cities and immensely varied and beautiful countryside, continues to attract artistically-minded visitors who want to discover its authenticity.

“We are looking for images that sum up France, from quintessential scenes, landscapes, festivals, events or even cityscapes - pretty much anything that would inspire friends and family to try out this wonderful, and still changing country.”

Olympus SH-60:
French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition Olympus SH-60Thanks to the Hybrid 5-Axis IS normally found in D-SLRs, the compact SH-60 effectively counteracts blur in all five directions.  So effective, you can actually make a movie as you run.

The SH-60 has a high-zoom lens that lets you get close to the details from up to 40cm away – perfect for creating fascinating still shots or smooth 1080 full HD movies. Packed with Photo Story, this pocket-sized wonder lets you create an artistic collage for sharing on social networks or printing.

Competition details:
Participants are asked to register on the site. Once registered, they should submit photos to, along with their name, plus their FrenchEntrée user name, email address and a brief caption about the photos (i.e subject, plus details on where and when it was taken).

The closing date is Friday 14th November. The winner will be announced on Monday 1st December.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book review of Promises to Keep by Patricia Sands

French Village Diaries book review Promises to Keep Patricia Sands Provence France

French Village Diaries book review Promises to Keep Patricia Sands Provence France
Promises to Keep
Synopsis from the author:
Falling in love with the south of France was no surprise to Katherine. Choosing to walk away from her past and start over was completely unexpected. A new country, a new lover, and the promise of a bright future beginning in mid-life … who knew?

Now there were the exciting dreams of restoring the property on the Cap, of beginning a new career, of experiencing the traditions of Christmas in Provence, of falling even more deeply in love with the man who inspired these hopes.

It was all so perfect, until it wasn’t.

She had embraced new possibilities in life and given her heart only to discover something was being kept from her. Something terrible from her lover’s past. Something that could destroy everything.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, had become her mantra. Would it be enough?

My review:
Katherine found happiness in Provence, where she spent time on home exchange holidays following the break up of her marriage and the death of her mother. In book one we left Katherine at a critical life-changing moment and this book follows the first few months of her new life in the south of France. There are delicious descriptions of market produce and no shortage of stunning scenery brought to life; from days out in the hilltop towns and cycle rides along the coast with the new man in her life. I really felt that I was there along side her as she became a part of the local community. There are loved up picnics, lie-ins and preparations for her first traditional French Christmas, shared with a special person in her life once more; real romance that warmed my heart. I especially enjoyed their weekend sightseeing in Lyon. It is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and more so now thanks to Patricia’s cleverly written chapter. She left me feeling more knowledgeable in what I want to see when I get there.

However, life (even with love in Provence) is not all rose tinted. There are dark secrets from a past forgotten that come back to haunt them, just when they are getting their lives back on track. Things happen to scare them and fear taints their happiness. The cleverly written suspense about what was happening really drew me in and there were times when my imagination was running way ahead of what I was reading and I was expecting all sorts to happen just over the page. Everyone was a suspect in my eyes, so much so I was left feeling a little under whelmed when things did come to a head. It does seem though, that their life is likely to be full of drama for a little while longer. I’m sure there is more to tell and I am looking forward to the next book where I hope Katherine will learn more about her friend Simone, a new character that Patricia has dangled temptingly in front of us.

If you love romance with a twist of drama and a taste of Provence, I’m sure you will enjoy this book.

Promises to Keep - A Novel (Love in Provence Book 2) is available in ebook format and The Promise of Provence (Love in Provence Book 1) in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below. You can read my review of The Promise of Provence here. If you would like to read more about Patricia’s love of France you can read my France et Moi interview with her here. Patricia is also the co-author of Cooking With Our Characters: Fifteen Recipes from Characters in Our Books a recipe ebook that features some of the delicious food Katherine learns to love in Provence.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book review of Naked in the Wind by Shirley Ledlie

My review today is for Naked in the Wind: Chemo, hairloss and deceit by Shirley Ledlie. This memoir is Shirley’s story of her battle with a French drug company when the combination of chemotherapy drugs she was given for her breast cancer left her with an unpleasant side effect. Having come through the cancer treatment and at a time when life should have been getting back to normal she was told some devastating news that would change her life forever.

French Village Diaries books reviews Naked in the Wind Shirley Ledlie France memoirs medical health
This is a very personal journey full of raw emotions, anger and pain; it is not an easy story to read, but it is one that needs to be shared. Shirley came across as a very strong lady who stuck to her guns and stood up to the big boys when most people would have crawled into a corner and cried. She may have shed many tears, but she has also bravely bared her soul in order to tell the world the facts and risks that the drug company and experts wanted to keep hidden. Alongside the difficult times Shirley shares stories from the happier days when her family had just begun their new life in France, which were very entertaining.

Writing can be very therapeutic and I hope that writing this book has helped Shirley emerge from the dark and lonely place where she found herself battling not just physical and emotional symptoms but a team of corporate lawyers too. This was a very inspiring and page turning book that women all over the world should read.

Naked in the Wind: Chemo, hairloss and deceit is available in paperback and ebook format. If you are quick, the ebook is reduced to only 99p (99c in the US) for this week only, as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Please do share this book with your friends, thank you.