Monday, September 8, 2014

Book review of Saving Our Skins by Caro Feely

My review today is for Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France by Caro Feely, her second memoir about family life on an organic vineyard in Saussignac, Dordogne and one of my favourite reads this summer.
French Village Diaries book review Saving Our Skins Caro Feely Dordogne wine organic Summersdale publishers
Saving Our Skins

Following on from Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France her first book about the early years setting up their organic vineyard, (see my review here) this is another great memoir written from the heart. With regulations, bureaucracy, weather and other things sent to try the patience of a saint, life isn’t always easy for Caro and her husband Sean who often seem to be living on the edge and following the fine line between coping and disaster. However, little by little they start to see the signs that their hard work and determination (which they seem to have in bucketfuls) is paying off. It is an uncomfortable read in places, but sharing the bad as well as the good meant I felt their excitement when there were things to celebrate. There is no doubt they have established a name for themselves in the industry and winning the wine tourism awards was a fantastic achievement.

Caro’s passion for their organic lifestyle meant this book was not only entertaining but informative too. If you are in anyway concerned or interested in the safety and quality of the food you eat and going organic, this book will enlighten and educate, without preaching. She certainly made me sit up, take note and left me determined to make a few changes little and often about what goes into my shopping basket. According to Caro, vintners in France are heavier users of toxic chemicals than the farmers and many of the products they use recommend staying out of the vineyard for 48 hours after usage. This really grabbed at my attention and more so when she explains that grapes are not washed before being crushed and made into wine. The first farmer in France to have his illness officially linked to the use of pesticides and chemicals was a winegrower who coincidently lived in Ruffec, only twenty kilometres from where I live. He died of his leukaemia. Caro also talks about the apple farmer in her village who openly admits to NEVER eating his own fruit because of the chemicals he uses on them.

French Village Diaries Organic Charente Vineyards
Organic Charente vineyards
Reading Caro’s book really set the cat among the pigeons and led me to search out alternative products. In doing so, to celebrate our tenth anniversary of moving to France Ade found himself accompanying me to Cognac for the open day at a local(ish) organic vineyard. We took part in their treasure hunt, a four-kilometre trek around the vineyards searching for hidden questions about wine production and then enjoyed a tasting session. Thankfully having read this book I was able to answer a few more of the questions than I would otherwise have done. Something life in France has taught me is that less is more and learning to live by this means I am now happy to spend a little bit more on a locally produced organic wine even if it means drinking a little less. I also feel happy that by making small changes each week to what goes into my shopping basket, I’m not only making good choices for my family but also doing my bit to support the organic farmers like Caro and Sean.

Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France and Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France are published by Summersdale (who sent me a copy to read and review) and are available in ebook and paperback format. Links to Amazon are below.

To find our more about Sean and Caro’s vineyard, their selection of wine and events see here. To read her France et Moi interview with me see here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book review for I Looked For The One My Heart Loves by Dominique Marny

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris
Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for I Looked for the One My Heart Loves: A Novel by Dominique Marny.

Synopsis ­- provided by the publisher
Anne and Alexis are separated by war as children and reunited later by destiny. A powerful and dramatic love story that spans decades in spite of its seeming impossibility.

Anne, 9, and Alexis, 11, grow up together in the Montmartre area of Paris. While she has a major crush on him, he merely sees her as his friend’s little sister. After WWII begins, the two are separated as their families flee Paris to avoid the German occupation. When they say goodbye, Alexis promises to always protect Anne.

Anne holds on to this promise for years as she constantly thinks of Alexis, wondering where he may be. Anne grows up, finds works in an art gallery, and marries a kind, devoted man with whom she has two children. But her heart still belongs to Alexis and she never stops looking for him. Their paths cross fatefully one day in Brussels many years after they were separated.

Alexis, living in Canada and soon to be moving to San Francisco, has a family of his own; a wife in constant depression and a son. Despite their responsibilities to family and the geographical distance that keeps them apart, Anne and Alexis find a way to love one another, secretly yet passionately.

But after all this time, will they ever manage to be truly together, completely?

My review
I found this to be a dark and dramatic love story and while I didn’t always agree with their decisions and actions, it was a compelling storyline that never failed to make me want to read more.

I liked the character of Anne and enjoyed her childs-eye view of the outbreak of war and the occupation years in Paris. The fear and frustrations of a child on the brink of womanhood trying to understand an adult war came across really well. A young boy’s promise on the eve of the Paris exodus lit a flame in her heart that she was unable to extinguish, despite him never returning and even after learning to enjoy being loved by her husband and family. I felt it was a shame she couldn’t let go of her past and by hanging on she was never fully happy with her life, something her husband seemed to appreciate. A nice touch was that as time passed it was also through Anne’s eyes that we saw other major events like the Paris student riots in the sixties and the Americans landing on the moon.

Alexis was a mysterious character at the beginning of the book. We never saw much of him and when we did he didn’t offer much information, all of which added to his intrigue. Not finding each other again wouldn’t be much of a story, so I just knew he would reappear, but I never had any idea what the outcome of each meet would be, or what their future would hold. There is happiness and exhilaration for the two of them, but secrecy, frustration, sadness and pain too, and can there ever really be a happy ending for a situation like this? Well, I will say the end of the book was a real surprise to me.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris

About the author
Dominique Marny was raised in a family that loves art, literature, adventure and travels.
In addition to being a novelist, she is a playwright, screenwriter, and writes for various magazines.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review I Looked For The One My Heart Loves Dominique Marny Paris

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

No September, not yet.

No, I’m just not ready for September, for La Rentrée (back to school), for the shorter days and cooler nights, for autumn or for our lovely summer to end, especially as the weather is giving cloudless skies and warm, sunny days again.

We have been out and about as much as possible this summer, despite August being an unsettled month and a lot cooler than we have ever known it in the ten years we have lived here. I appreciate I have been a bad blogger, but there just aren’t enough hours in my day, sorry. The weeding, ironing and housework are also suffering from neglect, but family time together was our main reason for making the move to France and this summer we’ve made sure we have taken the time to explore more of the French countryside, often with our bikes. With Ed back to school tomorrow there will be plenty of time for dusting and writing. My head is full of words and my notebook full of half written posts almost ready to be shared.

My freezers are filling nicely with healthy homemade food to keep my spirits up this winter. My jams and chutney supplies are stacking up, but keeping on top of the freshly picked produce has almost been a full time job, especially as I hate to waste any of it. The tomatoes were hit with the dreaded blight, but quick action meant that we still have a good quantity of ripening fruits; the pears have been an amazing crop both in quantity, quality and flavour, we have had more beans than ever and the courgettes and squashes are superb. The one upside to disappointing August weather has been the lack of watering required in the potager, although the weeds too have benefited from the warm, wet conditions.

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
The Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
Picnic time
To celebrate the end of the summer holidays we spent a day in the Marais Poitevin yesterday. We have been returning to this tranquil gem since 2005 and whether on foot, by bike or by barque are never disappointed. Yesterday we hired a barque to explore the waterways around Arcais for an hour and a half, stopping to picnic along the way, before taking to the bikes for a 20km ride. Now Ed is a teenager and taller than me I sat like a queen at the front of the boat and let the boys do the rowing. With the arrival of September we are just out of season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which is no bad thing. Taking a boat out with Ade is a bit like a military operation and Ed and I have been drilled in how to row in an efficient manner and keep a steady pace. When the waterways are busy with families going around in circles (an unacceptable manoeuvre for our boat) and causing hold ups, it can get a little stressful on board. Halfway through the bike ride we stopped for a beer in a pretty riverside location complete with artwork and a chatty Poitevin mule in the field. Once back at the car we treated ourselves to an ice cream before heading home. It really was one of those great days out that for just over 30€ had ticked so many boxes; picnic, boat trip, bike ride, beer stop, ice cream, beautiful scenery, great weather, wildlife and family fun in the fresh air. I’m already looking forward to the October school holidays.

french village diaries marais poitevin deux sevres france barque Arcais picnic
A barque from Arcais on the Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin vendee france art
Riverside artwork Marais Poitevin

french village diaries marais poitevin vendee france poitevin mule
Poitevin Mule

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.