Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A simple and delicious recipe for courgettes

french village diaries courgette zucchini cream
Courgette (zucchini) cream
It is that time of year when those of us who are growing courgettes (zucchini) are struggling to keep up with the supply, not that you will hear me complaining. I have spent many happy hours in the kitchen (hence the lack of blog posts) slicing, dicing and grating courgettes into quiches and soups for lunches, caviar for aperos, risotto and curries for dinners, cakes for desserts and chutneys and relish to store. This week, however, I have found the most simple and tasty way to cook them ever. I give you courgette cream.
french village diaries courgette zucchini cream
Roasted and ready to freeze

Wash and dice your courgettes.
Add to a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil.
Roast until soft, but don’t over do it. I find about thirty minutes in a moderate oven is perfect.
Leave to cool.
Purée with a hand blender.

Your courgette cream is now ready to use or to freeze for winter use. I freeze in ice cube trays and then bag up the cubes. Until you try it you will not believe how creamy it is, honestly.

For a delicious dip I mixed a couple of teaspoons of pesto with a couple of tablespoons of courgette cream and natural yoghurt, perfect with our current glut of cucumbers from the garden. I am also just a little bit too excited at the thought of adding a handful of cubes to my pasta sauces, casseroles and stews this winter. Vivre le courgette!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Faire sonner le tocsin

French Village Diaries Church bells 100th anniversary First World War
Our village church bell
Faire sonner le tocsin, to ring the alarm bells.

This is a public information post for Friday 1st August 2014.

The Prefect of Deux-Sèvres has given permission to all the Maires in the department to ring their church bells to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the general mobilisation of troops for the First World War. I’m sure that this will apply to other departments too, so do not be alarmed if you are in France on Friday 1st August and hear a cacophony of church bells ringing at 16h. Just take a moment to stop and think about the events that were about to unfurl one hundred years ago. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book review of A French Renaissance? by Eamon O'Hara

My review today is for A French Renaissance?: An Irish Family Moves to France by Eamon O’Hara. I really enjoyed this gentle and amusing memoir about an Irish couple, Eamon and Tanya, who move to Brussels for work, become a family with the arrival of Ned and Astrid and decide to make a new rural home in The Lot, France.

French Village Diaries book review A French Renaissance Eamon O'Hara The Lot FranceWith their hearts set on the full fairytale French life, they find their modest chateau, with two towers and plenty of acreage, but even in the early stages their journey was not without a bit of heartache. I could almost hear Eamon’s lilting Irish accent as he took me with him to follow their dream, holding my hand to guide me through some of the more difficult situations they found themselves in. Their first few months of settling two young children into a new life, while coordinating building works to get the B&B up and running, and welcoming their first guests in the gîte, were more the stuff nightmares are made of, but an essential phase in the relocation process. As someone who has house-hunted in France with a pre-schooler, has experienced ear-splitting storms that come with rain so fierce it forces its way indoors and has had fun and games with local trades people, I could commiserate and/or laugh along. For those still in the dreaming period, hoping one day an idyllic life in rural France could be theirs; read this book, take notes and remember what you’ve read – you have been warned.

I might envy him having a tower to write in, but knowing how much time and effort goes into mowing and maintaining our modest acre of orchard, he can keep his forty acres and his tractor, although I can honestly say I have never read such an emotional chapter about tractors. Ever!

This is one of those memoirs where I have to ask – where did you find the time or energy to write it? Although, it was nice to read that they still made time, every now and again, to sit back and enjoy the beauty of their new environment. The Lot region really shines from his descriptions, so much so it made me want to plan a visit. You can see more information on staying with Eamon and Tanya at Laborie here.

A French Renaissance?: An Irish Family Moves to France is published by Orpen Press and is available in ebook and paperback. Links to Amazon are below. You can read more from Eamon on Facebook and on his website.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cycling in the Pays Basques

French Village Diaries Hotel Bellevue Cambo-lesBains Basque Pyrenees France
Hotel Bellevue Cambo-les-Bains
After Biarritz it was only a short drive to our hotel in Cambo-les-Bains, the very pretty Hotel Bellevue, and our view over the mountains was indeed beautiful. There was off road parking for the car, a quiet swimming pool and a clean, bright and fresh smelling room (with a well equipped kitchen area) and balcony for our glass of rosé in the evening sun. However we needed to earn our apero so set off to explore on the bikes. 

French Village Diaries Hotel Bellevue Cambo-lesBains Basque Pyrenees France
The balcony Hotel Bellevue
I will admit at this point that after five minutes on the bike I lost the plot attempting to cycle the downhill ski runs that were masquerading as roads heading down to the river. I’m not great at climbing up hills on the bike, but a slow plod and lots of rasping breathes and I eventually arrive to crash out on the grass in a sweaty heap, it is difficult, sometimes it feels impossible but it isn’t scary. Fast descents whether on skis or wheels freak me out. I have no sense of exhilaration in freewheeling downhill, I don’t feel in control and I’m scared of falling off. Ade reckons I was born without a fully functioning adrenal gland and he may well be right.

We made the ten kilometres to Hasparren for a refreshing beer, but by sticking to the slightly flatter main road rather than the route we had planned. This made the cycling easier for me, but we had more traffic to deal with than when out and about at home. Cycling here took far more thought and planning than I was used to. Clipping out for junctions on slopes, setting off, clipping in, turning a corner and finding a steep incline, getting in the correct gear, all with a huge truck bearing down behind made me realise my skills, bike handling and confidence need quite a bit of work. It was as much a mental exercise for my brain as it was a physical exercise for my legs.

I was rested, relaxed, refuelled (having eaten a tart Basquaise and a delicious Gateau Basque) and feeling better about our full day on the bikes, until I spoke to the owner of the restaurant. She laughed when she heard of our plans saying she had once cycled the five kilometres to Espelette and would never do it again. This didn’t fill me with the confidence I needed to complete the 50km route we had plotted for the following day.

French Village Diaries Espelette Piments Basque Pyrenees France
Hanging peppers in Espelette
Day two didn’t start as planned as Ade’s bike gave us a moment of de ja vu – an hour spent on the road side fiddling with mechanics and dislodging a foreign body from the gear selector, but we made it to Espelette for a late morning coffee. Despite the hundreds of other tourists who had flocked to this small but very pretty village, we found a shady terrace for coffee that was only 1.30€ a cup. It had even hung out its dried piment d’Espelette peppers on the walls in the traditional way, a sight I had been looking forward to seeing and wasn’t disappointed. Leaving Espelette we climbed the steepest climb I had ever climbed. Until I reached the top, I wasn’t sure that I would make it, but the compact gear on my new bike did me proud. We lunched in Ainhoa, a Plus Beaux Villages de France and just as pretty as Espelette but without the crowds. Our afternoon was spent meandering up and down hills, into and out of villages and enjoying the scenery of the area. We cycled through pepper plantations on the hillsides and enjoyed the scent of the hydrangeas that are as prolific there as hollyhocks are at home. The Basque people we met were very friendly and obviously as proud of their region as they are of their culture. We rarely saw a run down looking house and have never seen so many people out hedge cutting and house painting. My treat for the day was a cherry gateau Basque to go with my beer, yum yum!

French Village Diaries Pays Basques Pyrenees France Cycling Pendleton Initial
Top of the world

French Village Diaries piment d'espelette Pyrenees Pays basque France
Pepper plantations

French Village Diaries gateau basque Pyrenees Pays basque France
A beer and a gateau Basque

French Village Diaries Pendleton Initial Pyrenees Pays basque France
Big mountains
On our last morning we followed the Nive river towards Itxassou and found ourselves a beautiful spot for morning coffee with eagles circling over head. Unfortunately we only managed about 16km as I hadn’t slept too well (the bed was comfy but the room too hot) and the hills were making me wobble.

French Village Diaries River Nive valley Pendleton Initial Pyrenees Pays basque France
The River Nive

It was lovely to experience an area of France I had wanted to visit, but just as lovely to be back in the gently undulating and curvaceous Poitou-Charentes. I’m not sure my spiritual home is in the mountains.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lunch in Biarritz

French Village Diaries Biarritz
The perfect spot for lunch in Biarritz

The same day that the Tour de France boys were leaving Carcassonne and heading to the Pyrenees, we were pounding the tarmac of the dual carriageways for the four-hour journey by car to the same mountains. Our paths were not destined to cross however as we were off to the Basque country with our bikes, to tackle our own mini mountain stage. With friends organised to look after the animals the bikes were loaded into the car and the remaining space filled with muesli bars, walnuts, chocolate, bananas and pasta pots. Despite looking forward to sampling the regional delights of Basque gastronomy, I couldn’t possibly leave home without any provisions; I’m funny like that.

We set off through the sunflower fields that gave way to the Cognac vineyards and that by the time we stopped for coffee had become Bordeaux vineyards. From Bordeaux to Biarritz we drove through the flat forested Landes; baby trees, big trees, fern covered forest floors with pretty purple flowering heather, asparagus fields and huge maize plantations. So different from where we live and where we were headed. Just north of Bayonne we got our first glimpse of the mountains. Huge, looming mountains. Steep, pointy mountains. Mountains that made my short, stubby legs feel weak just looking at them.

With Ade desperate to stretch his legs in the mountains and me pleased to be visiting an area I’ve had on my wish list for a while this was a trip designed to please us both, but lunch in Biarritz was an added bonus for me and a bargain at only 1.60€. We seemed to drive forever on dual carriageways interrupted by roundabouts, through uninspiring out of town areas. Something that seemed even more difficult on empty stomachs, although to be honest wasn’t much easier on our way out of town later. We even found ourselves on the same stretch of road going in the same direction on both journeys. We parked in the Bellevue underground car park and emerged into the sun, to see the sea and all was forgiven until we saw the crowds. After a pretty stroll through terraced gardens we made our way to a waterfront terrace where lunch was served without delay - as I unpacked the homemade quiche and we ate with just the sparrows paying us any attention. A walk along the promenade to see the old fishing port, the rocky outcrops and pretty beach tents and we were happy to leave, although we may return out of season one day. Without the crowds it may be more our sort of place.

French Village Diaries Biarritz
The old fishing port Biarritz

French Village Diaries Biarritz
The promenade Biarritz

French Village Diaries Biarritz
The beach tents Biarritz