Sunday, March 24, 2019

Update on my 2019km cycling challenge


French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
#KTTinyTourer Ile de Ré

2019 Cycling Challenge

This year, with my new bike Katie the Tiny Tourer, I have challenged myself to cycle 2019km, which is a significant jump from the 700km I managed in 2018. As the end of the first three months draws near, I thought it would be a nice idea to update you on how I am doing.

I’ve never really been keen on cold winter rides and even less keen on wet and windy ones, so I was expecting to complete the majority of my kilometres during the summer months. However, a new bike, a challenge and the need to have something positive to focus on (Brexit still pops into my headspace all too often and with negative effects), combined with mild weather, and I have done better than I thought. Splitting the kilometres over the months equally, I should have cycled 505km by now, whereas I’ve actually managed 611km.

Ile de Ré

So far it has been a case of little and often that has accumulated my kilometres, but we have also had a couple of proper days out with café stops, picnics and fun in the sun on the Ile de Ré. On our last visit I couldn’t resist treating Kate the Tiny Tourer to a mascot, something small and fun that can travel with us as we make our pedal-powered way along the back roads of France. 
 
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Annie the Ile de Ré donkey
I’m delighted to introduce you to Annie, the Ile de Ré donkey. Fascinating fact time: the Ile de Ré is probably the only place in the world where donkeys traditionally wore pyjamas and I think you’ll agree Annie looks particularly fetching in hers. Donkeys were used on the island for agricultural work, kelp harvesting on the coast and working on the salt beds, as well as the main form of transport between the villages. The salt marshes on the island attract flies and mosquitos that attacked the donkeys, so to protect them they were dressed in trousers made out of recycled shirts. 
 
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Ile de Ré donkeys
In the summer you still see dressed-up donkeys, as the tourists like it (possibly more than the donkeys), but at our out of season visit the donkeys were happily munching the grass and wandering around naked.
 
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Cycling the Canal de la Garonne Cicerone guide book

Canal de la Garonne

Next month, if all goes to plan, I should get even further ahead of my target as we make our way from Bordeaux to Toulouse along the Canal de la Garonne, on a six-day, 350km tour. Adrian has the route and accommodation all sorted, has ensured we have enough spares and luggage to carry everything, and has even planned for emergency coffee stops. As we will be early in the season and following the towpath, rather than back roads from village to village, this time we will be taking our new lightweight trekking stove and Bialetti coffee pot with us. We just need to create ourselves a Bialetti bracket to hang the coffee pot from a bike, photos to follow, I promise.

Yoga

We still have a few weeks left to get as bike fit as possible before we set off and thanks to Marc, my new yoga teacher, I’m feeling in good shape. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed a regular yoga class until Phoenix Yoga set up a couple of weekly classes in a nearby village, but I’m loving it and even hoping Adrian will join me.

Friday, March 22, 2019

France et Moi with author Karen Clarke

French Village Diaries France et Moi Karen Clarke
France et Moi interview with author Karen Clarke

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week to coincide with the release of the first book in her French Café series, I am talking to author Karen Clarke about what France means to her. You can read my review of Escape to the Little French Café here.

About Karen

Karen lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband and three grown-up children where she writes romantic comedy novels.

Over the years she’s been a secretary/bookkeeper, a wedding photographer, a pub manager, worked in a supermarket, a newsagent's, and as a librarian - all good for story ideas. 

She now writes full-time, and is the author of the popular BEACHSIDE and SEASHELL COVE series. When she’s not writing Karen reads a lot, enjoys walking - which is good for plot-wrangling and ideas - watching boxsets, baking and eating cakes. 

France et Moi

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’?

Karen: Everything about it, from the culture to the landscape, the appreciation of food and wine, and the respect for work/life balance – and the sunshine. Oh, and eating snails!

2) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?

Karen: It has to be my honeymoon in Paris, for obvious reasons. It was my first time in France, and I remember being amazed by the Eiffel Tower, which was taller than I was expecting.

3) How does France inspire your writing?

Karen: The language definitely inspires a sense of romance, and I was drawn to the Ile de Ré in particular by its vista of wild beaches, cobbled streets and pretty harbours, and knew I had to set a story there. 
 
French Village Diaries France et Moi Karen Clarke
Escape to the Little French Café
4) The first novel in the French Café series has just been released, but if you were sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what would you order from the waiter?

Karen: Like Natalie in my book, it would have to be a milky coffee and pain au chocolat (or two!)

5) Do you have a favourite treat to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie? 

Karen: Definitely a plump chocolate éclair, oozing with chocolate crème patissiere. 

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

Karen: It would have to be the goat’s cheese, though I’d prefer to eat a Roquefort.

7) In Escape to the Little French Café, your character Nat finds herself up against a couple of French women, what do you think makes French women different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?

Karen: I think French women seem to have nailed looking stylish in an effortless way I’d love to emulate!

8) Ile de Ré, the setting of Escape to the Little French Café is one of my favourite places to explore by bike. If you were to take a day off from writing, would we find you on your bike in France?

Karen: It would definitely be the Ile de Ré, cycling through the salt marshes and along the coast between Saint Martin and Loix. I’m not very sporty (or good on a bike) so it would be perfect as the terrain is mostly flat! 

9) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Karen: If money were no object, I’d buy a villa in Sainte-Marie-de-Ré overlooking the sea (I do like to be beside the sea).

10) Do you have any plans to visit France again soon?

Karen: I plan to visit the Ile de Ré with my husband in the not too distant future.

Finally, can you whet our appetites and give us a hint about what things we can expect from book two in the series?

Karen: In Summer at the Little French Café, Elle Matheson is in Chamillon looking for her birth mother, and ends up accidentally working at the Café Belle Vie, fighting an attraction to a sexy fisherman.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you. I can’t wait to read more in the French Café series.

Karen: Thank you so much for inviting me, Jacqui, I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.

You can find more about Karen at her website here and find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Gout de France 2019 and review of The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil


French Village Diaries #GoutdeFrance2019 The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil
©Goût de France/Good France 2019

Goût de France 2019

Today, 21st March, is #GoutdeFrance #GoodFrance or taste of France day; an annual event where chefs of the world are encouraged to celebrate French food, with the emphasis on fresh, seasonal and local produce. I love French food and I am loving the play on words here too! Goût de, translated, means taste of, but rather than #TasteofFrance day we have Good France day – get a Frenchman to say, “goût de France” and “good France” and they will sound the same.

French Village Diaries #GoutdeFrance2019 The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil
The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil
by Alice Alech and Cécile le Galliard

Provence

This year the spotlight is on the food of Provence and I’m sure you’ll agree, nothing says Provence produce quite like Olive Oil, so it’s a perfect day to review The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil by Alice Alech and Cécile le Galliard. Alice, who lives in Provence, has already published An Olive Oil Tour of France and in this new book she has teamed up with Cécile, a French expert in olive oil tasting.


The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil by Alice Alech and Cécile le Galliard

The main focus of this book is explaining the 7 wonders of olive oil; seven powerful claims about the health benefits to our bodies when we regularly use extra-virgin olive oil, from our brain cells (Alzheimer’s) to our bones (osteoporosis), our hearts (strokes and heart attacks) to our skin (largest organ in our bodies) and more (the big C). It is a lot to take in and backed up by a lot of studies, reports and findings, but it doesn’t feel that it’s written for scientists or food experts, so never swamped me or lost me. Alongside the research there are personal case studies, tips and recipes and it certainly helped my understanding of the different types of fats we eat; good ones and bad ones, as well as explaining the different types of olive oils on the market and what the labels really mean. As you would expect this book promotes the Mediterranean diet and use of olive oil in our kitchens, but that isn’t all, there are beauty tricks too, using olive oil rather than chemical-containing over-the-counter cosmetic products.

At the end of the book there is also a 25-question quiz, with comprehensive answers; whether this is there to ensure we were paying attention as we read it, or to provide a quick and easy reference point, I don’t know, but either way I thought it was a great idea.

This would be an excellent book for those of you like me who prefer the idea of prevention rather than cure and who do your best to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle to help prevent illness. One message that came over for me was the sad fact that we have forgotten the importance of the quality of our food, have lost interest in where our food comes from and what processes were involved in getting it to our plates. What we eat really does have an impact on our long-term health and it has made me think about the oil I buy, and I know I will be adding a tablespoon or two of good extra virgin olive oil into my daily diet.

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Bon apetit and I hope you get the chance to enjoy some delicious French food today.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Book review of Escape to the Little French Café by Karen Clarke

French Village Diaries book review Escape to the Little French Café Karen Clarke
Escape to the Little French Café by Karen Clarke

Escape to the Little French Café

Here is my review for Escape to the Little French Café by Karen Clarke that is published today by Bookouture.

I always get a little over-excited when I stumble upon a new book set in my corner of France, so imagine my delight at discovering this one. Escape to the Little French Café is the first in a series of three, and takes place on the beautiful Ile de Ré, only about an hour and half from home and one of my favourite places for a day out on the bikes.

My Review

Right from the beginning I liked Nathalie, adored her best mate Charlie and laughed alongside them as they put the world to rights in Charlie’s mum’s café on the Ile de Ré. They are both running away from relationship failures and have formed a special bond that only his mum Dolly wishes would evolve to be more than just friends. Nat is a writer, who pens a column for a local expat magazine (just like I do), but while I’m happy with that, she has her sights set on a job at Magnifique, the top magazine in Paris.

Just by chance, reclusive actor Jay Merino is filming on the island and although he never gives interviews, an almost forgotten moment between Nat and Jay when they were 17, gives her a glimmer of hope that the exclusive interview she needs to get her foot in the door at Magnifique, will be possible.

What happens next is at first hilarious, then fizzing with energy and chemistry; so much so my feel-good monitor shot off the scale. I was convinced that nothing could possibly go wrong. I was wrong and I was devastated, but this just showed us a different side to Nat. Determined, resourceful and able to put on a brave face, she is realistic enough to know not all dreams come true and ultimately, she discovers what is really important to her in life.

Even if you don’t know the Ile de Ré, you will feel you do by the end of the book and you will probably find yourself checking out flights to La Rochelle so you can experience if for real. The villages, the lighthouse, the marinas, the stone cottages with pretty shutters and hollyhocks in the gardens are all brought to life. I hadn’t visited for a few years, but after reading this book, I’ve already been back (see here for some photos) and will be returning again this week. Thank you Karen.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in this series. To find out more about author Karen Clarke, join me here on Friday where she will be taking part in my France et Moi interview feature. 

Escape to the Little French Café is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Book review of Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond by Margo Lestz

French Village Diaries book review Berets, Baguettes and Beyond Margo Lestz Semaine de la langue Française 2019
Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond:Curiois Histories of France by Margo Lestz

Review of Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond

My review today is for Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond, the fourth book in the Curious Histories series from Margo Lestz. The thing I have come to love about Margo’s books is that I, a dedicated Francophile of many years, always learn something new.

This book takes the reader on a fun journey of discovery with facts about fashion, food, culture and more. I learned more about Coco Chanel and her rival Elsa Schiaparelli, I was reminded again of the baguette girls of Paris and I discovered that a man called Victor had once sold the Eiffel Tower.

I love the quirky details Margo uncovers, as well as her fun delivery of the stories, meanings and history of all things French. If you’ve ever wondered why France is represented by a Rooster, or why French people never place their bread upside down on the table, or where the Marseillaise came from, this book is for you. 


Semaine de la langue Française et de la Francophonie

Today marks the start of the Semaine de la Langue Française (French Language Week), and with a chapter dedicated to the Immortals of the Acadamie Française, the forty strong team who dedicate their life to preserving the French language, I can’t think of a better book to share in celebration of France and her beautiful language.

French Village Diaries book review Berets, Baguettes and Beyond Margo Lestz Semaine de la langue Française 2019
© Riad Sattouf/ministère de la Culture
This book is a perfect read for every Francophile who wants to know more about France and her ways; delivering the facts with humour and lots of fun.

Further reading 

Margo’s blog (see here) is always a good read and links to my previous reviews and her books on Amazon can be found below.