Monday, March 30, 2015

A wild Sunday in out of season rural France

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Gardening inspiration
I will be honest and admit that there isn’t really much about my rural life that could ever be described as wild, but yesterday came pretty close. With the change from winter to summertime I lost an hour of my beloved sleep, but there was no chance of a lie-in, as I was required to perform my civic duty as a councillor at the bureau de vote from 8 to 10 o’clock, but at least the Maire was generous enough to provide coffee and croissants. The weather was as dull and damp as it could be and so I returned home to find a dull and fed up husband who needed an outing to cheer him up as even the research on my patisserie purchase had failed to raise a smile (see here). 

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Recycling in the garden
Our local big town was hosting its annual plant and garden fête that we have visited a number of times over the last ten years. It isn’t quite Chelsea, but in it’s own small way it offers ideas and the hope of better weather (it’s always held on a rainy weekend) and gives us that taste of exciting summer days to come that we desperately need at the end of winter. We enjoyed a mooch around, took some photos, picked up some flyers about forthcoming gardening events, bought some seeds and a small plant. 

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Living roof
I always come away with big ideas and this year the living roof fired my imagination. We will need to replace our canvas pergola soon and I would love a wooden frame with green living roof to give us a shady spot on the terrace for outdoor dining. It might come to nothing, but at least the cheerful coloured plant displays lifted our spirits.


French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Cheery colours

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Salon du vin Niort
We then decided to throw caution to the wind and have a peek in the exhibition hall next door that was holding a wine, food and chocolate fête – as if I could have turned my back on that. Our 3€ entry fee gave us a wine tasting glass that we clutched carefully as we entered and started our tour. Being British, wandering up to strangers and demanding a free sample of their wine doesn’t come easy, especially when you glance at the price list and realise that no matter how delicious it is it won’t be coming home with us. One of the first vintners to offer us a smile and encourage us to step up with our glasses turned out to be an Englishman from the Domaine du Poujol. His family have been making wine in the hills above Montpellier for twenty-one years and we learned a lot from talking to him. We bought a lovely pale rosé and spurred on with a little wine in our systems moved expertly from region to region sampling reds and rosés and making a few more reasonably priced purchases along the way. Not being used to mid-afternoon drinking (honestly) it wasn’t long before my cheeks were flushed and head slightly spinning. Ade was driving and sensibly made use of the spittoons provided, but the more I sampled the more it upset me to throw it away. Thankfully there were food tasters on offer too including a delicious organic chocolate and hazelnut spread.

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Chocolate at the salon du vin et gastronomie

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Charcuterie at the salon du vin et gastronomie
We certainly came home in better spirits than we left and will now look forward to opening our new bottles, but I do hate it when an innocent afternoon at a garden show gets hijacked by a naughty wine fête, don’t you!

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Rosé at the salon du vin et gastronomie

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My patisserie challenge, la cornuelle

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge corneulle des rameaux boulangerie lent Palm Sunday
My patisserie challenge la cornuelle

Welcome to my 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. 

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday in Lent, or Rameaux in French. In our local area, the departments of Deux Sevres, Charentes and the Limousin have a speciality treat that is eaten today called the Cornuelle. It is a delicious buttery biscuit, triangular in shape, with frilled edges and a hole. Traditionally it would have been sprinkled with anise seeds, but it is now more common to use red and white aniseed flavoured sweets. Depending on your beliefs there are a couple of stories behind this tradition. In the Christian explanation the three sides of the triangle represent The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and the hole is where a sprig of Box would have been placed when they were sold at the entrance to church on Palm Sunday.

The other story behind this Easter biscuit really made me smile. There is often a link between religious festivals and pagan beliefs and with this time of year being a celebration of spring and new life it is thought this triangle shaped biscuit represents the female reproductive organs. Oh yes, this really is a polka dot lady-garden biscuit, but it gets better. Available in other boulangeries, but sadly not ours, is the gentleman shaped version, but this is not a flat, decorated biscuit, oh no! The male version can either be a brioche or a cream filled choux bun and going by the pictures in our local paper is a very representative version. I shall leave the rest to your imagination but I have to say only in France could it be traditional to sell a cream filled willy on one of the most religious Sunday's in the Christian calendar. Vivre la France.

Don't forget to join me next week to see my next choice from Bernadette at the boulangerie.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts, in case you missed them:

This post has been linked to Paulita's Dreaming of France weekly link up. To read more click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book review of Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran

Today I'm taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for Scent of Triumph: A Novel of Perfume and Passion by Jan Moran.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World WarSynopsis provided by the author.
Perfume is the essence of beauty, the heart of illusion, the soul of desire. It is my past, my present, my future. —from the journal of Danielle Bretancourt. 
When French perfumer and aristocrat Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for the remains of her family, relying on the strength of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a British shipping heir and Royal Navy officer. Finally, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.
Amidst the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Danielle works her way up from meager jobs to perfumer and fashion designer. Still, personal happiness eludes her. Can her sheer force of will attract the elusive love she desires, or will it only come at the ultimate cost?

My review.
This beautiful looking cover drew me in and I immediately found myself in a very engaging book with a storyline that made it very difficult to put down. Danielle Bretancourt is a very strong woman who is determined to do the best for her family despite the horrific and traumatic situations they find themselves in. Her story is set in France, Poland and America during the years of the Second World War where happiness is difficult when family is fighting against family, undercover war work has to come before family and death and destruction are never far away. Danielle’s escape is in her perfume work and her skill and determination means she has the ability to change her life through her work. It is the first book that has ever made my nose tingle, as I could almost smell the fragrance descriptions as I was reading it.

Danielle is torn between remaining in Europe to search for her young son who has disappeared in Poland or taking her remaining family to the safety of America and to a new life that must be built from scratch. Wherever she is she never gives up on her goals no matter how low she gets and she often puts her happiness second to making the right decisions for her family. There are men in her life and she is a passionate woman, but it seems that circumstance always puts the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were many very moving parts to this book that made me cry.

This book is more than just a romance novel and would appeal to those who enjoy reading about the French perfume and fashion industries and those with an interest in historical fiction set during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World WarJAN MORAN is the author of Fabulous Fragrances I and II, which earned spots on the Rizzoli Bookstore bestseller list, and other contemporary novels, including Flawless, Beauty Mark, and Runway. A fragrance and beauty industry expert, she has been featured on CNN, Instyle, and O Magazine, and has spoken before prestigious organizations, including The American Society of Perfumers. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and attended the University of California at Los Angeles Extension Writers’ Program.
Visit her website. Follow her on FacebookTwitterPinterest
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Discover her Vintage Perfume Guide
Go deeper with her Reader’s Discussion Guide

To read what other reviewers think about this book, click on the link below.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World War

This book will be available from Amazon UK in ebook format from 31st March and in paperback from 1st May.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book review of That's Paris by Vicki Lesage and other authors

My review today is for That's Paris: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light that has been put together by a group of authors including memoir author Vicki Lesage whose work I love, and with a forward by Stephen Clarke.

French Village Diaries book review That's Paris an Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light
This is a fun read, easy to dip in and out of and contains a good mix of fiction and non-fiction stories about Paris, written by native Parisians and those who just love Paris. Some are real life experiences by those who have made Paris their home, some are travel memoir snippets of time spent in Paris and some are short stories with emotion, romance and Paris as the perfect backdrop. I especially enjoyed the short stories that were written in French as although my French is now quite good I rarely choose to read in French so it was a good test for me. Don’t worry though if your French isn’t up to reading as the translations are provided too, which is a nice touch.

Some of the stories are from names that are familiar to me but the great thing about an anthology is that it gives an insight into authors whose work I haven’t come across before and I now have a list of names to look out for. Not all the stories were quite as much my thing as others but there were some very special ones that will stay with me.

Proceeds of this book will benefit the charity Room to Read, which promotes literacy and gender equality in education. That's Paris: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review of A Spell in Provence by Marie Laval

My review today is for A Spell in Provence by Marie Laval.

French Village Diaries A Spell in Provence Marie Laval book reviewWow, what a page-turner! I was spell bound by this dramatic read from the very first chapter. I started reading on an afternoon and I had to force myself to stop a few chapters from the end, as it was already way past my bedtime. It was a book that had to be read to conclusion and even then it played on my mind long after I’d finished reading it.

Set in a small town in Provence, we meet Amy Carter at the start of a new adventure. Following her redundancy, she leaves the UK and uses all her savings to restore a run down farmhouse, Bellefontaine, and fulfil her dream of running it as a small and friendly guesthouse. Although she has made a few friends, not everyone in the village is pleased to see her and at times she feels very alone, especially when strange things keep happening to her and the house. She is determined, strong and although the village stories about centuries old religious practises on her land intrigue her, she is not about to believe them or be intimidated by them.

Her neighbour, Fabien Coste is a very important landowner whose family history is surrounded in local mystery and who Amy tries to distance herself from, but with little success. When things go wrong he always seems to be just around the corner offering her help and advice and although falling in love was never in her plan she finds it hard to fight her feelings. There is passion, mystery, dark goings on, history, myth and fantasy all woven into Amy’s new life. When she learns of mysterious but deadly links between the men from the Coste family and the ladies of Bellefontaine she is determined to investigate the past, but at what cost to her future?

A Spell in Provence is available in ebook format for only £1.99 and a link to Amazon can be found below.