Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Watching Le Tour de France Paris 2015

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Team Sky Chris Froome Yellow Jersey
Chris Froome, Tour de France, Rue de Rivoli, Paris

We are just back from a rather last minute quick break to Paris, a lovely surprise by Adrian to mark the end of a long five-week work contract in Cambridge. With him working away I was left home alone to deal with Ed’s exams, a 12-hour drive to UK (and back again), a poorly cat, who last week sadly left us after 17 years of love and cuddles, as well as the normal day to day activity at home and in the village. A night in Paris to experience the final of the Tour de France was the best idea ever and we had a great time.

The plan had been to arrive at the hotel as close to checking in time as possible (which we did, to the minute – Adrian is quite precise about timings), then head out to reacquaint ourselves with Paris and watch some of the ladies cycle race, La Course, before selecting a good spot to watch Le Tour finish. Sadly we had to make do with watching La Course on French TV in the hotel room as it was pouring with rain, but we weren’t going to let a bit of damp and chill spoil our chances of experiencing Le Tour final.

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Rue de Rivoli
Rue de Rivoli, Tour de France
With a slight improvement in the weather we staked our spot on Rue de Rivoli, just after the 1km to go flag and next to a bouncing German woman and her husband – I’m guessing her constant bouncing (to keep warm) had put off anyone else from crowding in next to her. With the peloton making ten laps of the 7km circuit around the Jardins des Tuileries and down the Avenue des Champs Elysées we got to see quite a bit of action. On the first pass the Sky train (the term used for a line of cyclists all from the same team) was leading the peloton and being cheered by the multi-national crowd. Having seen so much in the press about the abuse they have received on the Tour, it was nice not to experience anything other than cheering in Paris. The other cycle passes gave us breakaways (individual riders heading out front) to cheer on and the lead-out trains of Lotto Soudal and Etixx-Quick-Step, taking their turns for their sprinters André Greipel (who eventually crossed the line first) and Mark Cavendish. We were able to recognise a few riders as they flashed past including the white jersey of Nairo Quintana, Mark Cavendish’s unmistakable shape, Chris Froome in yellow and the members of his team. Just opposite were a group of Welsh supporters who were stood over one of the Metro air vents (warm air would have been very welcome) helping their Welsh flag to fly high and proud, and yes Geraint Thomas did notice them as Sky lined up for their final cycle past. 

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Team Sky Chris Froome Yellow Jersey
Team Sky, Tour de France, Paris 2015
Once the cloud had lifted a little (we almost saw the sun) the Patrouille de France were able to make their fly past overhead, but Paris, how could you be so cold? Even with walking shoes, socks and raincoat my fingers were numb, my lips turned blue and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in July before. Even the rather too-close proximity of the German man behind me didn’t offer much in extra heat! After three weeks in the saddle I’m sure the riders were extremely happy and relieved to cross the finish line for the final time, but not quite as happy as I was to get back on the Metro and begin to thaw out. Why oh why didn’t we pack our gloves?

French Village Diaries Tour De France 2015 Paris Patrouille de France
Patrouille de France, Paris Tour de France 2015

For first-timers at Le Tour in Paris I think we did well to find a pretty good position, being within the last kilometre rather than outside it and if we go again I’d certainly be happy to be in the same position. However, had we braved the pouring rain and got out earlier we might have been able to do slightly better, maybe on the Champs Elysées to watch them on the cobbled stretch or at least in sight of the big screen at Place de la Concorde, but we would have probably needed medical assistance for hypothermia. We certainly got to experience the atmosphere and see all we needed, with the exception of who crossed the line first, but a replay on a TV in a bar on the way back to the Metro filled us in nicely.

We have only been fans of Le Tour since 2012, thanks to the Wiggo effect, but have managed to catch live action in Tours in 2013, London in 2014 as well as Paris in 2015. Would we do it again – you bet; we are already looking forward to next year.

I will post more about Paris, our hotel and food in my next post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Garden produce show

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening
Ready for the garden show
Yesterday, with a little trepidation, I took part in my first ever garden produce show, organised by the local gardening club I joined last year. As I am now on the committee I found myself taking an active part in organising it, despite my lack of experience, which was a little daunting. My main role was to drum up enthusiasm and ensure as many members as possible felt comfortable entering something. We are only a small club and our show was very much run for a fun afternoon, (we are a long way off being an RHS event like Chelsea) and as there were plenty of entries and lots of laughter, I think we succeeded.

Despite the fun, relaxed atmosphere I was promoting I don’t mind admitting that in the days leading up to it I was a little nervous. I was really hoping my vegetable garden wouldn’t let me down at the last minute as having a set of three identical sized, not too big, not too small, of each fruit or vegetable to be entered, that are ready to pick on the day isn’t as easy as it sounds. I was a little disappointed with the courgettes and beetroots, but entered them anyway, however the plums, chillies, yellow patissons and onions were looking tip top, or so I thought until I added them to the groaning vegetable produce table. The judges were kind enough to give my pretty patissons the second prize (there were some very nice and shiny red onions that won), which I was very pleased with.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening
Second place patissons
I had saved a couple of jars of 2014 chutney and one of relish to enter and here I was very nervous. I know my family; especially my mother and father-in-law love my chutneys, but what if the judges didn’t? I’ve a bit of a reputation for chutney making, especially courgette chutney so this category was a real test. Alas, the winner of this category wasn’t one of mine, but again I was awarded the second place for my courgette and windfall apple and pear chutney with piment d’Espelette, phew!

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening chutney
Second place chutney
I also baked a cake, a recipe I have used many times, but still found myself checking and rechecking my measurements and method, as well as fretting while it cooked. Would it sink? Would the almond flavour come out? Would the windfall pears cook enough, but not too much? Yet again I was piped to the first post (by a delicious lemon drizzle cake) but I was very happy to be awarded (another) second place prize.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening cake
Second place pear cake
The final category I entered was the handicrafts with a bit of a blast from the past, a cross-stitch sampler I completed in 1991 and has been hung on various different walls since then. This time there was no first or second place for me here, but I did get third place and I think three seconds and one third for my eleven entries in five categories, in my first show was respectable enough and gives me room for improvement next year.

French Village Diaries Garden Club Show potager orchard vegetable gardening cross-stitch sampler
Third place cross-stitch sampler

Monday, July 20, 2015

My patissiere challenge, the religieuse

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge Religieuse boulangerie France
My patisserie challenge, religieuse

Welcome back to my patisserie challenge. It has been many weeks I know, but going away and indulging in a daily patisserie, followed by a busy and somewhat stressful time coordinating Ed’s Brevet studies/exams (he passed), Adrian’s work (five weeks back to back commuting from rural France to Cambridge), stuff going awry at home (see here) and a very poorly cat, plus a well earned break for our village boulanger has meant time and tastings have slipped somewhat. My plan at the beginning of the year was to enjoy eating something different from our village boulangerie every Sunday, but I was getting dangerously close to having sampled all there was to offer, however yesterday I was delighted to find something I had yet to try.

The patisserie in the spotlight today is the religieuse a double-decker choux pastry bun that might just hold the secret to the perfect patisserie portion. The religieuse, which can be chocolate or coffee flavoured (I chose chocolate as I’m a chocoholic), is so called as it apparently looks like a Nun, or at least I’m guessing that in 1850’s Paris when it was invented, Nuns looked squat and rounded rather than chocolate covered. The two buns are stuffed full of either chocolate or coffee flavoured crème patissière and coated in a glossy ganache that again is flavour coordinated. It is then decorated (and held together) with delicately piped buttercream. It is very pretty to look at and truly delicious to eat, I especially liked the dark chocolate ganache topping as it was slightly bitter and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate filling. Having eaten and very much enjoyed the rich and chocolaty larger bun, I was delighted that the experience wasn’t yet over and although two big buns would have been too much, a second smaller one was just perfect.

I have yet to try making my own choux pastry, but as there is a great step by step guide and recipe in Teatime in Paris by Jill Colonna, maybe this summer I might.

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

Happy it's Monday again

French Village Diaries Life in France Summer holidays
I'm happy it's Monday

I was quite glad to wake up this morning and find that it was Monday and the start of a brand new week, as the last two weeks have been hectic and I’m rather pleased to see the back of them.

The first week was a week of lasts. The last of my English conversation club sessions at the local college before the summer break, and with staff changes in September it may well have been the last ever. The last of Ed’s music group sessions and electric guitar lessons for this year and I waved Ed off from the gate for the last time to take the eight am bus to school from the stop by the church in the village, sniff. Ed has now finished school, as we know it. He has taken his Brevet (end of secondary school qualification) and has been given a place at a lycée just over twenty kilometres away, where from Tuesday 1st September he will be a weekly boarder. I think I felt more emotional at this important life stage than he did and certainly hadn’t expected it to feel as stomach sickeningly nerve-wracking as it did when he sat his exams, but we seem to have survived. Since school has finished his social life seems to have been a whirl of sleepover parties and celebrations, with emotions running high as they fumble along in the confusing world that is adolescence and independence. As I write this I have been invaded by five extra teens, the pool is crowded and the sound system is blasting their favourite music at a volume to rival a concert at Glastonbury. I'm not used to such noise!

French village Glastonbury
Last Tuesday, while Ade was working away in UK, Ed and I woke up to a house with no power. I managed, eventually, to work out how to flick the all-important switch to get back most things, but we were left with no lights in the bedroom or bathroom and no hot water! The electrician came on Friday and very quickly traced the fault to the pool pump, which we discovered had melted, as had we all in the heat wave, but at least the enforced cold showers were actually lukewarm and quite refreshing. It is amazing how these things only ever seem to happen when Ade is working away, but thankfully the French Air Traffic Controllers cancelled their proposed strike on Thursday and Friday enabling him to come home and pick up the pieces, as buying and fitting a new pool pump is not something I could have done. With temperatures into the high thirties most of last week I had enough to do with all the watering, weeding, picking and preserving the vegetables and fruit etc although Ed is in charge of dog walking and has been persuaded to help around the house a bit more now school is out.

I'm hoping this week will be a bit more relaxed and at least I’ve got the Tour de France TV coverage and Ned Boulting's 101 Damnations book to keep me entertained and lots of courgette (zucchini) cooking to keep me busy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Nuits Romanes in Poitou-Charentes

French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes Gospel singers open air concert

This weekend sees the opening of the 2015 Nuits Romanes (Roman Nights) summer concert season in Poitou-Charentes. Now in it’s 11th year it was originally the initiative of local Member of Parliament Ségolène Royal to highlight the 800 Romanesque churches and abbeys in Poitou-Charentes, as well as bringing culture and the arts to the people. Many of the Romanesque churches in our region are on the pilgrimage route to Compostela in Spain and although we may not be home to the Pont du Gard or the huge arena in Nimes, we are still one of the top regions in France for Roman architecture.

French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes light show on Romanesque church

Advertised widely throughout France, including on the Paris Metro, these free concerts are a great way of highlighting our region and each year many camping car tourists arrive from elsewhere to follow the spectacle around the Poitou-Charentes. In 2014 160,000 spectators enjoyed the music, dance, light and fire shows in villages and towns with Romanesque churches. Even small villages with fewer than five hundred inhabitants can see audiences of around a thousand.

French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes fire dancers

This year there will be 170 evening concerts from 26th June to 5th September, all with free entry and providing a perfect way to spend a convivial evening with friends and family while enjoying the beauty of the architecture and the art of the performers. To coincide with the sailing of the replica of the Hermione from Rochefort to America earlier this year, four American groups will be appearing as guests of honour at thirteen of the concerts, performing Cajun, Gospel, Jazz and Soul music. Many of the events will also be holding a local produce market that takes place before the main spectacles begin at 21h00 and I’m hoping that like last year some venues may also offer a small platter of regional produce. The melon, paté, farci, goat cheese and apple juice handed out for free in Couture-d’Argenson was the perfect end to a lovely evening. I would advise taking your own chairs or picnic rugs, although some seating is usually provided if you get there early, and if you want to make a real evening of it, why not bring a picnic and wine too.

French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes Poitou-Charentes

These are some of the photos I took last year, but for those with the ability to take really good action shots in the dark don't forget to enter the Nuits Romanes photo competition. Full details on the competition and all the information on the 2015 programme can be found on their website here. You can also follow the Nuits Romanes Facebook page here.