Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year


We have just spent a lovely week in the UK celebrating Christmas with our families. With family aged from 6 months to 89 and a half years old I have enjoyed everything from baby feeding, playdough cookie cutting with a three year old, 'hanging' with my chatty teenage nephews, family meals, quiet evenings chatting over a glass or two of wine and even assisting in the delicate task of manoeuvring Great Nana and her wheelchair over the doorstep. We are often asked what, if anything, we miss from the UK and time with family is the main thing, hence this past week more time was spent cuddling babies and catching up than blogging!




Our journey home yesterday was made in record time, less than 12 hours door to door, helped by Eurotunel squeezing us onto on earlier train and despite hitting some bizarre 'end of the world' weather in Northern France. The sky we were driving towards was heavy and an odd yellow/grey colour when all of a sudden we were driving through hail that had settled like snow. It was limited to a very small area and had unfortunately caused a nasty pile up involving about eight cars on the opposite carriageway. Hopefully the only damage done was to the cars and not the drivers or passengers, but it was rather sobering. Further south as we drove through the Loire at sunset an enormous wild boar crossed the road in front of us and ran as fast as his short legs could carry him (which seemed surprisingly fast) across the fields. This and the deer grazing was a bit different to the squirrels and swans we'd seen (and Mini had chased) in Surrey and Berkshire.

It is lovely to be back in our quiet French village where a trip to the boulangerie takes more time than you think as there is always someone to talk to. The sun has shone all day and the animals are happy to have us home, especially the cats even though they have been well looked after. The ducks have obviously been affected by the mild weather as they have started laying eggs, so it will be a delicious duck egg New Years Day breakfast here tomorrow.

My New Year resolution is to be more organised - after eight years of living abroad and travelling back regularly to visit family, I managed to arrive in the UK in December with no coat for Ed, no shoes for me, except a pair of high heeled boots which are not great for dog walks in the park or down the Basingstoke Canal, and none of my usual ribbons and bows to wrap the Christmas presents - hopeless! Ade has already put the Christmas decorations away and from tomorrow we will be clearing out the junk, room by room ready for a more organised future. I am a long term sufferer of piles (thankfully of the paper kind and not of the medical kind) and I do have a tendency to squirrel things away as 'one day' they may be just the thing I need, but no more as we are in danger of being buried alive. Please wish me luck, it may be quite traumatic and it will be quite a task.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading and to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year. Here's to 2013 the year of organisation!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier book review


Here is my last Paris week post, a review of The Paris Lawyer - a mysterious thriller set both in Paris and also in the beautiful Creuse department, written in French by Sylvie Granotier and translated into English by Anne Trager of Le France Book.

The Paris Lawyer book review

Young and ambitious lawyer Catherine is given her first major case and is desperate to prove herself to her boss. However Catherine has a troubled past, as a toddler she was the only other person present when her Mother was brutally murdered, a crime with no obvious motive and no conviction.  Her father has never spoken of the trauma and she has spent her life struggling to get away from her past. But the past has a habit of catching up with you and she ends up coming face to face with hers – and it isn’t nice.

The story twists and turns, the misery and pain of her childhood flashes back to her when she least expects it to, her life and the case she is working on seem full of lies and deceit and who to trust and believe is a tough call. How will she cope in court, will she discover the truth of her Mothers death and will her Father ever open up and talk about her Mother? It is a book with a lot of questions and a good read that keeps you interested and guessing until the end.

The Paris Lawyer is available in Kindle format from Amazon.

I hope you have enjoyed our week in Paris and I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Kissed in Paris by Juliette Sobanet book review


Author Juliette Sobanet loves France, especially Paris and Lyon and enjoys setting her novels here. Her first book, Sleeping with Paris, was my first Kindle read and I loved it. It contained a lost soul searching for a new life in Paris, a hunky Frenchman, lots of chocolate and also one of my favourite lines in a book:

"I thought my heart was going melt into a puddle right there on the cobblestones"

What girl doesn't love chocolate? Well, you won't believe the role chocolate plays in this book, but if you think romance, Paris, and a sexy Frenchman, you will be along the right lines, and I'll be honest, I'm not looking for much else in a girlie book! I really enjoyed this book, the characters were great fun, and Juliette's love of her time spent in Paris and Lyon, really came across. I found myself looking for any excuse to open it and carry on reading; even if it was only for a five-minute drive into town.

As I have just finished reading her second book, Kissed in Paris, a review of it seemed a good idea to bring in some love to Paris week. Paris after all is THE city of romance and who doesn’t want to be kissed in Paris? However, what could be worse than being sent there, alone, on business, and the week before your wedding? How about the fact you wake up in Paris to find your clothes, passport and purse have been stolen? I have to admit to liking my girlie chick-lit reads to give me a warm, squishy feeling inside and the start of this one was quite the opposite. However, like all good things, I just had to wait. Chloe, a self-confessed control freak, finds herself way out of her comfort zone, in big trouble and alone in France. Left with nothing but a skimpy red dress, after a night with a notorious conman, she finds herself chasing through France with a Frenchman claiming to be a secret agent and promising to help her. Things don’t run smoothly and every time they seem to be close to retrieving her passport, something else goes wrong. The plot is a little far fetched, but no more so than other chick-lit or chick-flics, in fact the more I read the more the similarity to the film French Kiss (I love that film) struck me. There is the slightly shady Frenchman, the slightly naïve American girl, the drip of American husband-to-be and the chase across France. Kissed in Paris is a good read, the pace moves well and there are some nice hidden surprises (and warm, squishy feelings) towards the end.

Juliette is currently working on her third book, Dancing with Paris (A Paris Time Travel Romance) , which I am looking forward to reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Angels of Paris by Rosemary Flannery book review


Welcome back to Paris week, one of the (many) beautiful things about Paris, for me, is her architecture and I think it is no understatement to describe her as beautiful. Here is a little known fact about me, I am the sort of person that enjoys walking around cities without looking where I’m going, as I love looking at the tops of buildings, balconies, windows, shutters and rooftops. Strange but true, and I love that I see beautiful things some people don’t see. I now know I am not the only one as Rosemary Flannery has written a book called Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour Through the History of Paris. Published by The Little Bookroom, New York, this little hardback book with it’s pretty powder blue cover is an architectural tour of Paris and the many angels that are there if you look for them. An original idea that makes a perfect, unusual gift for any lover of Paris. Rosemary has lived in France since 1989, has dual French-American nationality and enjoys sharing her views of Paris through the media and by giving tours.

Macaron Angels, Angels of Paris by Rosemary Flannery

I have spent many an interesting coffee break dipping in and out of this book. I flick through, stop at a photograph that catches my eye and have a read. Each angel has an address that handily includes their local Metro stop, and a short description of why they are where they are. Most of the angels have just over a page of text, so nothing is too heavy or in depth and the quality of pictures is excellent. My favourites were the Macaron Angels above the Boulangerie-Patisserie Maison Keyser in the 5th arrondissement. These two cheeky chappies set above the shop façade are pouring down chocolate and vanilla macarons. The Rococo Angels to be found at the Presbytery Church of St Merry reminded me of young boys planning a prank raid on the balcony above them, “you go first”, “no, you first, I’ll follow you”.

Rococo Angels, Angels of Paris by Rosemary Flannery

This book is small, but hardback, so unless you were travelling very light it would easily fit in your luggage. It will be with me next time I am in Paris, but it is also just at home on the coffee table, ready and waiting for a quick five-minute mini-getaway. Don’t forget, next time you are in Paris, don’t just look where you are going, look up too and you will be amazed by what you see.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest post from Susie Kelly


Having read, enjoyed and reviewed Susie Kelly’s book The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette where she cycles from Versailles, east through Paris and along the Marne Valley, following the route taken by Marie Antoinette, see here, I thought it would be nice to ask her to do a Paris related guest post as part of Paris week. I was delighted she agreed, and here it is, over to you Susie.

“Although we have lived in la France profonde for seventeen years, we only visited Paris for the first time three years ago. 
Did it live up to our expectations? No, not really. 
It surpassed them. Every corner offered a new and beautiful view. 
It was something of a whistle-stop tour, as we had less than two days to spend. One place I particularly wanted to see was the Conciergerie, and the entrance ticket included a visit to La Sainte Chapelle just a few metres away. I'll be completely honest, I'm not religious, I'd never heard of it and I imagined a dim and musty little place that would warrant five minutes of my time. The only reason I went there was because I had paid for the ticket.
The little Gothic chapel was commissioned in the 13th century by pious King Louis IX to house what he believed to be Christ's crown of thorns and a relic from the cross, bought for an extortionate price from the Byzantine emperor. 
If "Gothic" conjures up a picture of grim austerity, there is nothing of that in this enchanting church. It’s Aladdin's cave and Blackbeard's treasure chest all in one. La Sainte Chapelle is the most exquisite building I have ever seen. Breathtakingly, heart-achingly, overwhelmingly, tear-jerkingly magnificent. My jaw had never spontaneously fallen open before. Until then I had thought that "open-mouthed wonderment" was an exaggeration. 
On the lower floor the vaulted blue ceilings decorated with golden heavenly bodies resemble the night sky. The supporting pillars are painted in voluptuous colours - rich red adorned with golden Castilian castles and midnight blue with golden fleurs de lys. Standing in this glorious church is a truly sensuous experience. It's so beautiful that you feel you want to break off little pieces and eat them.
When it still served as a royal church, the lesser social classes worshipped in this lower chapel, while the floor above was reserved for royalty. It was worth the momentary panic of claustrophobia to climb the narrow stone spiral staircase, because it leads into a radiant jewel-box of brilliant hues. The high walls of the chapel are formed by intricate stained glass windows separated from each other by the most slender of columns, giving the impression that the entire wall is built of one vast pane of bejewelled glass. Sunlight poured through these windows and projected lakes of coloured lozenges that danced on the floor, creating a living kaleidoscope. I could have happily sat there all day.
Earlier when we had visited Versailles, I was slightly repelled by the opulence of the palace, and yet here I was enchanted by the flamboyance of this church. In trying to rationalise these feelings I arrived at the conclusion that while Versailles is a testament to one man's power and self-glorification, La Sainte Chapelle is the expression of one man's love for his god and that is what, for me, makes all the difference. While I don't share Louis IX's beliefs, I can certainly recognise and appreciation his devotion to them."

Thank you Susie, somewhere I haven’t visited, but will add to the list for next time. Susie forgot her camera, but to see some images just click here. If you would like to read more from Susie and her exploits in and around Paris (by bike) I can recommend The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette available online at Amazon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Markets of Paris book review


If you are planning a trip to Paris you need to decide what you want to see and do, and today’s Paris week post will help you find something a bit different from the standard attractions. Markets are a French way of life and despite the supermarkets many French people from all generations regularly buy their fresh produce from their local market. Parisians are no exception and whether it is a tiny weekly street market or a bigger daily market held in an ornate market hall, Paris has lots to choose from. A trip to a market will give you a real taste of real French life.


French Village Diaries review of Markets of Paris

Here is my review of Markets of Paris: Second Edition a guidebook by Dixon Long and Marjorie R. Williams. I fell in love with this book the moment I took it out of the squishy envelope it arrived in (many thanks to the publishers, The Little Bookroom, New York). It is smooth to the touch, with rounded corners, beautifully illustrated, smells divine and is a perfect, handy backpack size.

What can be more ‘French’ than a trip to Paris with lazy days spent browsing and tasting in the fresh food markets or finding a bargain in a flea market? Not much, and this book is the perfect companion to take with you. It is thoughtfully split into ‘arrondissements’ (districts), and then details all the markets: food, antiques, crafts, books and more with opening times and the closest Metro stop. It would be impossible to see and experience all the markets, but this guide is so comprehensive that no matter how short your stay, or which area you are staying in, you will be able to find at least one market to visit.

The pictures by Marjorie R Williams, of the produce, the producers, the galleries and the very Parisian street scenes are miniature works of art that transport you direct to Paris. As if this isn’t enough, there is also an eating out section that explains the difference between the bistro, the café and the brasserie and gives some personal recommendations of places to try. This book, available on Amazon, would be the perfect gift for anyone planning a trip to Paris.

Next time I am lucky enough to be in Paris, this book will be with me, in fact it makes me want to hop on the train NOW and spend some time wandering the markets of Paris, taking photos, eating out and people watching. I may be gone some time, so I will leave Paris week in the capable hands of author Susie Kelly who will be guest blogging here tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo


Welcome back to Paris week, where today it is all about food. I really enjoyed the BBC cookery show with Rachel Khoo ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’, so I treated myself to the cookbook. Rachel has the tiniest kitchen possible in a tiny Paris apartment with a beautiful rooftop view, but turns out the most amazing traditional French dishes, all with her own personal twist – and get this, even the Parisians who try them enjoy them. Chapeau Rachel! According to Rachel’s website (see here) the series is now being shown in various overseas countries, so if you do get a chance to watch it I’m sure you’ll love it. I also really hope we see more from Rachel on the BBC, although as she is busy working on another book there are no immediate plans.

The Little Paris Kitchen: Classic French recipes with a fresh and fun approach cookbook is a beautiful hardback, published by Penguin Books, and is too good to be hidden on a bookshelf. It is illustrated with Rachel’s own drawings and some super photos of Paris, food and Rachel, by David Loftus. There seems to be no end to this lady’s talents, she cooks, she has a natural style on camera, she is pretty and she draws the cutest little foodie pictures. With nearly 300 pages packed with recipes the only difficulty was which recipe to try first. As with most of my new cookbooks it became bedtime reading before being splattered and used in the kitchen. It is split into sections that include ‘Aperitifs’ and ‘Dinner with friends and family’ to ‘Everyday cooking’ and ‘Summer picnics’, so there really is something for everyone, and the knowledge that Rachel has tried and tested everything in her tiny kitchen makes it all seem possible to do at home.

As both Ed and Ade are meatball lovers they were the perfect taste testers for the ‘Meatballs in spicy sauce with Alsatian pasta’ recipe.  From my point of view the recipe worked very well, and the boys gave it a tasty thumbs up.  Many of the recipes are based on traditional French ones, but with a fresh new something added by Rachel. I thought this was great, especially the ‘Nids de tartiflette’ which are so much lighter than the traditional heavy tartiflette.

My French friends often ask me if I cook French or English food, and when I think about it I have to say it is my own mix of the two. It is certainly not what I used to cook when I lived in the UK, nor what my parents cook, but it is not traditional French either. This is just another benefit of immersing yourselves in another culture, and I like to think that by sharing my traditional English dishes with my French friends, like mince pies at Christmas, I am also widening their culinary culture too.

The Little Paris Kitchen is available from Amazon.co.uk and all good bookshops.

I’ll see you tomorrow for another Paris post.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mulled Wine or Vin Chaud


I interrupt Paris week with an important seasonal recipe. December is the month of the mulled wine apero. The warmth, the smell of Christmas, the spices, nothing could be better on cold, dark evenings. It also goes exceptionally well with mince pies. In France it is known as Vin Chaud, and we have enjoyed many a glass whilst wandering the Christmas markets. I have been asked for my recipe, so here goes, but it is a bit fluid and that has nothing to do with how much I have drunk.

french village diaries mulled wine vin chaud recipe FrenchEntree magazine


There are four main ingredients: Wine, Spices, Sugar and Cognac. Put one bottle of red wine in a saucepan; add the zest and juice of a Clementine, a small pinch of cloves (about 7), a teaspoon of cinnamon (or a piece of cinnamon stick) and we also always add a lemon and ginger tea bag. Give it a good stir then add a tablespoon of brown sugar and a small glass of Cognac. When it has heated but not reached boiling point and the sugar has dissolved, try it. When inhaling over the pan you should get a Christmassy tingle in your sinuses. It should also be a balanced taste between spicy and sweet. If it isn’t sweet enough or spicy enough keep adding until it tastes just right for you. It often needs more sugar.

During December we make a batch on a Sunday evening and reheat a glass at a time during the week. Happy Christmas apero time to you all.

Welcome to Paris Week


This post is the first of a week long Paris fest here on the blog - it is going to be a busy week in blogland. This year more than ever I am aching for a Paris fix, caused I suspect from reading a whole stack of books set in Paris. It has also been over two years since I was there which is such a long time ago Ed was much shorter than me, a big change as I am now the small one! One day I will get to Paris in December, I will see the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysées and I will find somewhere to sit and people watch as I drink some vin chaud.  Until then at least I can look back at our photos and virtually visit via my books.
Ed and I in Paris 2010


This week I will be posting about some of my favourite memories of time spent in Paris, reviewing books on various subjects linked with Paris like the markets, the architecture, cookery, romance and murder mystery, and mid week author Susie Kelly will be guest blogging, reminiscing of time spent on her beloved electric bike cycling through Paris.

Today I would like to share with you our first trip to Paris together. It was August 1998, we were newly married and we were both working in London. We met after work on a Friday at Waterloo Station and boarded the Eurostar to Paris. We travelled first class and supped on Champagne as we pulled out of London, then dined on a delicious meal of duck. On our arrival at the Gard du Nord we took a taxi to our hotel, the Ibis in Montmartre, where our room overlooked the famous cemetery and it’s population of stray cats. We found ourselves in a bar and sat on high stools in the window people watching. Pigalle is an interesting district, home to the famous Moulin Rouge and we enjoyed watching the coaches full of tourists slowly crawling down the road while hundreds of camera flashes went off inside. We did a lot of walking that weekend, despite the weather being a little wet at times, including walking to a different café for breakfast every day, walking up the Eiffel Tower and along the banks of the River Seine. I would have to wait another twelve years to experience a Seine river trip, but walking in Paris is always something we have enjoyed doing as you are able to see so much more than when you are down in the Metro. One of the meals we had that weekend I remember very well, a wood fired pizza, made and cooked by the chef in full view of the diners. Thin crust, wood fired pizzas have become one of our favourites and we have since sampled them all over France. It may have been fourteen years ago and we had both been to Paris before this trip, and have been back together since, but I remember this trip more than some of the others.
Waterloo Station 1998

It may not be a real trip to Paris, but even a virtual trip to a big city is exciting for a girl living in a rural French village. I hope you enjoy your virtual trip to Paris with me this week.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Heads Above Water by Stephanie Dagg


Thanks again to Stephanie for organising the 12/12/12 Blog Hop, I had a great time finding new blogs to read. Thanks also to all of you who hopped over, the winning name for the set of postcards is Claire from Word by Word, a fellow book lover, congratulations Claire.

Now to my review of Heads Above Water.  Somehow this book slipped down the back of my bookshelf, which is quite something for an ebook, so apologies to Stephanie as I really should have read it months ago. However I was the one who missed out as it is a very entertaining read.

There are many 'new life' in France books out there and some might say too many, but I say bring them on!  They all have a different story to tell, they all have a unique style, some are better written than others, some are more humorous than others and I've read my fair share of them all. This is one of the better ones, very funny and their story is different, I don't know too many llama farmers with fishing lakes too, do you? Stephanie had me crying with laughter right from the start of the book with the language faux pas and then there was the composting toilet issues, followed by the randy llamas and lots more funnies as they settled into their new life in rural France. Being an expat is certainly a life changing experience and not always easy, and I really liked that Stephanie brought a very personal touch to her story even including little extracts of the children's diaries from their first few months. Made me wish I had got Ed to do something like that too, but he was only three when we moved.

As well as telling their story of house hunting, buying, moving from Ireland and settling in with only basic facilities, she explains many local traditions along the way and gives plenty of information on some of the many French bureaucratic traditions too. Despite being here for eight years I learnt some new things, although I still find bells with wings just a little creepy.

Stephanie is one of those seemingly like minded women who writes things I enjoy reading and one day if we happen to find ourselves on the same cafe terrace I'm sure we could sit and natter for hours, and I would be a very happy lady.

As it is almost Christmas what don't you treat yourself to her book? Link to Amazon here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blog In France Christmas Blog Hop


Thanks to Stephanie for organising a Christmas blog hop today. At the bottom of this post you will find direct links to all the blogs taking part, many of whom will be offering a little something to some lucky readers so do hop on over and say hello. My Christmas themed post is my Yule Log (Buche de Noel) challenge.

The main challenge for me was that it was something I had never attempted, partly due to the sheer terror the rolling of the sponge fills me with. However I soon realised there were other challenges, firstly which recipe to use, as I found so many and they were all different. I love my cake, but I do prefer a light, not too sweet recipe, which is another reason I have previously shied away from this traditional French Christmas delight. Many of the recipes contained a lot of sugar and despite the sponge being fat free the filling is either whipped cream or buttercream. I have an aversion to using too much butter and I struggle to find a decent whipping cream here in France. I also had to decide whether I wanted to use cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate and whether it would be a recipe with or without flour. I am not known for my decision-making, which is possibly another reason why I had never given this one a try before. I like to think of myself as an experimental baker so I decided to come up with my own recipe and challenge myself to write this blog as I baked – fool!

For the sponge:
Line a lipped baking tray with baking paper and preheat oven to Gas 4 (cooking time is approx 15 mins)
3 large eggs beaten with 75g of caster sugar for at least 5 mins until very pale and fluffy
100g dark chocolate melted in a bowl over (but not touching) gently boiling water
100g plain flour, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder and 1 tsp of baking powder sifted

At this point I watched with a heavy heart as all the lovely air I had beaten into the eggs disappeared as I tried to gently fold in the chocolate and dry ingredients, despite using a metal spoon and gentle touch as recommended. I think the cooled (as suggested) melted chocolate was the issue here. The batter really didn’t spread over the baking tray very well as there didn’t seem to be much mixture to spread. Never mind, the mix I licked from the bowl was deliciously chocolaty and the cooked sponge looked just fine.

The next challenge was whether to roll whilst still warm, leave to cool, unroll, then fill and re-roll, or leave to cool, fill and roll, I hope you are keeping up here. I decided to opt for the roll it once option, as I would only have to worry about rolling it once!

For my filling I decided on cherry compote, as cherries and chocolate go together very well and it should also help keep the sponge moist and be a bit lighter than the creamier fillings. Having transferred the cooled sponge from the baking sheet to a clean tea towel and peeled off the baking paper I spread over my sticky cherry compote, feeling very pleased with myself.
Buche de Noel (my style)

What happened next can only be described as a mess, the cake refused to roll and I was left with a chunky doorstop sandwich of chocolate cake and cherry that in no way resembled a buche de noel, traditional or otherwise. This is not the first disaster to come out of my kitchen and it’s not likely to be the last either but I gallantly went about covering it (up) in chocolate buttercream frosting and even using my fork to give it a log like effect. We will eat and enjoy it, but I think I might stick to mince pies in future.

Thanks for reading and I hope this has inspired you to get baking in your kitchen, it really doesn’t matter if things don’t always look cookbook perfect, it is the thought and the taste that count. Please feel free to use my recipe, or alternatively find a real one! If you would like to pop back on Friday I will be posting my review of Stephanie’s book Heads Above Water and announcing the winner of the blog hop giveaway. I have a set of postcards to offer one lucky person who leaves me a comment here, please include your email address, thank you.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Telethon Charity Meal


It has been a fantastically busy weekend, with the highlight being our Téléthon charity meal on Friday night.  Téléthon is an annual event in France raising money for research, and to help the families of children with genetic conditions like muscular dystrophy.  It is also an annual tradition for our village to host a meal and raffle with all proceeds going to the Téléthon appeal.  This year things were run a little differently from previous years and I somehow found myself as one of the three organisors.  My telephone number was on the posters, so I found myself having to take down names and numbers spelt out in rapid French over the phone.  I also found myself attending meetings where I was expected to talk, listen, understand half a dozen conversations being simultaneously spoken in French and take notes for the minutes – all I can say is that my French neighbours must think my French is so much better than it actually is.  All I wanted to do was peel some vegetables and help in the meal preparation like I have done in previous years and spend some time soaking up the fun, convivial atmosphere of an evening with good friends.  Never mind, we made it, and our recently renovated village salles des fêtes was packed to capacity and the atmosphere was buzzing.  The newly arrived retired chef from Lyon made himself at home in the new kitchen and in a flash, without a glimpse of stress, he rustled up a tasty spaghetti bolognaise for the volunteers who set the hall up on Wednesday (nothing is done in France without food), and a beef bourguignon for Friday night.  I think the only thing that spooked him was the small army of village women bearing vegetable peelers and invading his space, but he’ll get used to that.  I also have a feeling he spent the night in the kitchen as by the time we arrived on Saturday morning to prepare the brioche and mulled wine for the cyclothon that was pit stopping in the village, all was done and the smell of the wine was divine.  Next year we have decided to join the cyclothon, a 50 km bike ride around the local area with numerous (like every 7 km) stops in villages ready to ply you with pastries and hot chocolate, coffee and biscuits, brioche and mulled wine, a three course lunch and afternoon snacks too – how much fun does that sound like!  Although we haven’t quite worked out a final figure raised for Téléthon, our takings were over 1500€, which for a village of 350 we are very pleased with that.



Sunday was spent at a Christmas market held in a cold, but beautiful Abbaye, where we nibbled on raspberry macroons, drank yet more mulled wine and bought some Christmas presents too.  Monday arrived with the shock of a 5.45am alarm, so Ade could make an early morning flight to London.  With Ed out of the house by 7.45 I had plenty of time to plan my English conversation session at the local college, on a Christmas theme.  Despite it being a great British tradition I decided not to take mulled wine, but I did make a batch of mince pies to share with the kids that went down well, as did a box of crackers complete with silly hats and naff gifts. 

The best thing about today was the ‘me’ time where I treated myself to a back, neck and shoulder massage with essential oils, and it was bliss.  A friend with a beauty treatment business had a work experience girl who needed bodies to practice on and all treatments were half price.  The treatment room was beautifully scented, warm, with oak beams, high ceilings and relaxing music, just perfect to unwind and enjoy being pampered which I did.

Please don't forget there are still a couple of days left to enter my Susie Kelly giveaway see here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Beginning to feel a bit like Christmas


This week has been a busy one and with a BIG event in the village tomorrow (a charity meal for over 100 people that I am helping to organise) it is not over yet. 

Earlier in the week I met some lovely local ladies at a blogging/social media session run by another local blogger Emma, (you can read her blog here). As online socialising is something I find much easier than face to face socializing I was a little bit out of my comfort zone to begin with, but I am so glad I went. It was really nice to meet the people behind the Facebook page or blog and an added bonus was that I received some lovely comments about French Village Diaries that made me blush. If any of you new bloggers just happen to be reading this then thank you and please contact me if you think I can be of any help.

Ade and I have also had an exciting time in Poitiers, our local (one hours drive away) big town, where we pretty much managed to finish the Chirsitmas present shopping, and by the beginning of December too. This is a first, but as I still need to write the cards I can’t be too smug just yet. 

If you are still looking for some Christmas ideas my friend Jeannie at Belle Fusion has some lovely handmade glass pieces and she is running a competition on her Facebook page (see here). For all of you book lovers, here is a cheeky little Christmas present ideas link, if you are looking for some inspiration.

SSell the Pig


Assuming I survive the Téléthon ‘do’ tomorrow night I will let you know all about it in my next post, please keep your fingers crossed, thank you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ramblings in Ireland by Kerry Dwyer

It is BookWormWednesday and although Ramblings in Ireland may look an odd title for a blog that reviews books with a French theme, fear not, I have not lost my way.


Ramblings in Ireland
This book follows Kerry and her French husband Bertrand on a walking holiday in Ireland, but just as they wander off their original routes, in the book Kerry wanders between Ireland and their life in France. It is an entertaining, easy read that brought back some very happy memories for me. I have relatives in County Cork, so have holidayed there many times, but none so special as the time Ade and I got engaged in Cork, then spent a lovely few days driving the ring of Kerry (in a Mini). I am a country girl by heart, even if I was born in London, and we could so easily have found ourselves living in rural Cork if only it had a better climate. Miraculously wet weather wasn't an issue for Kerry and Bertrand once they had survived the fog and damp socks on the first day.



Bertrand sounds lovely, and even seems to enjoy it when Kerry gets them lost either map reading and navigating in the car, or when out walking. Kerry, you are one lucky lady, Ade expects me to know our exact location, and be able to pin point it for him on the map, at any given point when we are out and about. Thankfully we rarely get lost, as rather than laugh, as the lovely Bertrand does,  Ade would be more likely to strop. Not surprisingly, as Bertrand is French, food gets a good mention in the book, especially the hearty Irish breakfasts that couldn't be more different from a coffee and a croissant.


There are some very funny bits, especially about travel from Bordeaux via the lovely Easyjet and Kerry's search for the correct attire for a serious walking holiday, which surprisingly enough included an in depth look at her new underwear. I also laughed out loud at the description of her Mother's use of Facebook, sorry Kerry's Mum. 


This is Kerry's first book, but I hope it is not her last as I enjoyed her writing style and humour which often led to me sharing sections aloud with Ade as I was reading it. If you would like to buy Ramblings in Ireland (a perfect Christmas gift for an armchair traveller) here is a link to Amazon.co.uk.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Post by Vic Heaney, from Vic's Big Walk


Vic Heaney walks, writes and raises money for pancreatic cancer research and today he is guest blogging for me.  Many thanks Vic.

French Village Diaries guest post Vic Heaney Vic's Big Walk
Thanks, Jacqui, for lending me space on your blog.  Vic's Big Walk  from SW France to NW England took 70 days, at the age of 70.  But there was also a training period of two years, during which I walked a further 12,000 kms.  Here are some of my thoughts from one of those walks.

Can You Bear It?

While walking this morning I was hit once again by the strong aroma of silage. Something you wouldn’t notice while in a car. Or is it called haylage? What you get with those huge rolled up whirls of hay which are then enclosed in plastic.

The haylage sits in the sun stewing away inside the plastic. Even though it is completely wrapped you get this very strong very sweet smell of the fermentation that’s going on inside there. Animals, with their sense of smell, must whiff it from much further away. So when the farmers unwrap it for use in winter or in times of drought the critters must go absolutely berserk at this stuff. They probably salivate all summer at the prospect.

And fermentation produces alcohol, does it not? Is it a myth about mad cow disease, then? After all, another name for it is the staggers. Maybe they are just drunk, or, as a good friend of mine would say, "gassed as a carrot". I once read that something like 60% of the road accidents in Sweden are caused by drunken elk, which have picked up fallen fruit, which has then fermented inside them. Speaking of strength of smell of animals, one of the animals we have in this area, although not in great numbers, is the bear. When I first heard this, brown bear, I thought smallish animal, obviously a wild animal and not to be approached but I didn’t realise at the time that we were talking something which stands 9 feet high at the shoulder, can run as fast as a racehorse, and which can smell you from 10 miles away, presumably only when the wind is in the right direction (for him!). Maybe there is some technical difference between this bear and the grizzly but I don’t think that matters to the consumer or the consumed. They had more or less been hunted to extinction in this area. The last natural denizen was shot – accidentally, of course, a few years ago. The powers that be have reintroduced these bears by importing some from Slovenia.

We read a few weeks ago that one of these bears had been seen in Rennes le Chateau which is only 10 miles away or so from us, as the crow flies, well inside the Aude. When they were released they were fitted with radio collars so that their movements could be tracked. This one has been wandering around over a very wide area – it was located in Pamiers – 50 kms in the other direction – only a few days earlier. They think it is, as it would be, looking for a mate. We all need somebody to love.

My books are written to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Details here:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Heading into the Darker Months


December has arrived and we are well and truly heading into the darker months, not my favourite time of year, but at least we were able to spend this afternoon out in the garden.  While Ade put the delicate plants to bed for the winter, wrapping them in fleece or bringing them under cover I did some leaf raking.  Although we have lots of trees we don't actually have too much raking, as most of the small leaves from the fruit trees just seem to disappear with the wind.  The leaves from the ginkgo biloba, cherry (5 trees) and walnut (2 trees) however do require raking up. 

Most of the trees are now bare and the leaves a soggy mush underfoot, but as damp leaves break down much quicker the conditions were perfect.  There is nothing like a garden workout to lift the mood and the smell of damp walnut leaves is quite intoxicating.  The chickens were their usual helpful selves, always under my feet ready to pounce on anything edible that I uncovered as I raked and piled the leaves up.  More helpful than the chickens is my Yeoman Hand Held Leaf Collector, bought for us one Christmas a few years ago and still appreciated (one of those presents that just keeps on giving).  With their help I am now the proud owner of a heap of leaves almost as tall as I am and by next year they will have rotted down and be great for the potager.



After a couple of hours work the orchard was looking much better, I’d even seen signs of next years orchids, and it was time to return to the kitchen where a warm mulled wine was waiting for me.  Now to serve the chicken and pumpkin the slow cooker has been busy cooking all day.

Don’t forget to enter our Susie Kelly ebook competition, see here for details.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Au revoir iWeb

Welcome to the new look French Village Diaries Blog


I have been blogging (on and off) for more than six years and in that time Apple’s iWeb software and I have become very good friends.  It is simple to use and enabled me (with no website design skills at all) to make myself a unique site with a blog page, although I will admit having Ade around helped when things didn’t quite go to plan.  However the time has come to move on and I have been busy creating the new French Village Diaries here on Blogger.

Whilst iWeb made some things very easy, there were some limitations.  Having made the decision to get an iPad I wanted to be able to do as much with it as possible, but despite iWeb and iPad both being from the same Apple family you can’t use iWeb on an iPad, but Blogger on the other hand can be updated via an app or online.  There were also quite a few things I wanted that iWeb couldn’t do, like the ability to add a ‘subscribe to this blog via email’ button, or that fantastic feature from LinkWithin that suggests other similar posts you may also like to read.  I can also now ‘label’ all my posts with key words like ‘recipe’ or ‘review’ so there is no need for separate pages on the site indexing all book reviews or recipes that I have posted, a quick click on a label word (on the sidebar on the right) and all relevant posts will be displayed.  I think it makes for a cleaner and tidier site.  All recent posts and book reviews have already been moved over, however the recipes and guest posts are not here yet, but will be soon.  I will not be moving every post, but some of my favourites may find their way back in someday.  Also, from the tabs across the top you are just one click away from direct access to my Amazon Bookstore and Special Places in France, our holiday home listings site.

I hope you like it too and please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments, thank you.