Sunday, April 28, 2013

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday this week is all about our little bit of paradise, the orchard and potager. It is hard work but worth every back ache, rose thorn scratch, nettle sting and broken fingernail. I can't wait to start eating from the garden again - come on cherries, tomatoes, beans, courgettes (zucchini), raspberries, strawberries, onions, garlics, beetroots, plums, pears, peaches, apples, quince, squash, pumpkins, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brussels sprouts... I'm waiting!

French village diaries gardening potager orchard France
Me and my mower


French village diaries gardening potager orchard France
Cherry blossom


French village diaries gardening potager orchard France
Iris


French village diaries gardening potager orchard France
Some of the 50 tomato seedlings


French village diaries gardening potager orchard France
Some of the 60 courgette/squash family seedlings

Saturday, April 27, 2013

French Village Plant Swap

This morning marked the return of the spring plant swap, held in the sunshine outside our village salle des fetes. Tea, coffee, homemade cake and homemade biscuits were offered free to all those who kindly showed up with some surplus seedlings. After a chat and a nibble hopefully everyone took home something they wanted for their garden, we certainly did. We were really pleased with the turn out and the variety of items offered from seeds, to shrubs, to vegetable seedlings, to fruit trees, to flowers, to grasses and even indoor Aloe Vera we had them all. Thanks to all those who came along and especially to those who helped out. The next one will hopefully be in autumn to swap cuttings and seeds, but we are also thinking of holding a summer vegetable and fruit swap - courgette (zucchini) anyone?

This afternoon we had a very productive time in our garden, potting on, planting out and weeding in the flower beds to make space for for our new arrivals. I am so pleased with how it is all looking at the moment, the fruit trees are heavy with blossom and bees, the raspberries and strawberries are just starting to flower, the huge flag Iris are in flower, most of the annuals like Verbena Bonariensis have reappeared and the tomatoes, courgettes and other veggies, although still in the greenhouse are looking great. I am hoping for a bumper harvest this year, fingers crossed!

French Village Diaries plant swap life in France gardening
Aloe Vera


French Village Diaries plant swap life in France gardening
Vegetable and flowers waited to be swapped


French Village Diaries plant swap life in France gardening
Courgettes, pumpkins, cucumbers  and grasses


French Village Diaries plant swap life in France gardening
Coffee, cake, chat and swap

Friday, April 26, 2013

France et Moi with author Julia Stagg


french village diaries france et moi interview Julia Stagg The French PostmistressWelcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Julia Stagg about what France means to her.

Julia lived in the Pyrenees region for six years, running an auberge with her husband and in her spare time coming up with the plot for her series of novels set in the fictional mountain village of Fogas. Read my reviews of L'Auberge here and The Parisian's Return here. I am a big fan of these books as not only is Julia a great storyteller but she also manages to portray the essence of a real French village. It is therefore exciting news that yesterday book three, The French Postmistress, celebrated it’s release – you can buy it NOW!

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’?

Julia: The Gallic shrug. That lovely lift of the shoulders, twist of the lips and an expression that dares you to contradict. It is the pinnacle of non-verbal communication that the French so excel at. Combine that with the hand gestures, the faces that aren’t afraid to show what they think, and a passion for language - that’s what makes France so special for me.

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

Julia: Six years running an auberge in the Pyrenees means there were a lot of brilliant experiences (and difficult ones!) but the one that stands out happened just after we arrived. It was March and three men came to the back door of the auberge. Our French was poor. Their English non-existent. But we managed to understand that they wanted to hire the restaurant and agreed, even though we weren’t sure what it was for. Turns out it was for a party that lasted through the night and into the morning and incorporated the entire community. It was fantastic, marking the beginning of our life as ‘locals’ in the area and the three men and their families became firm friends.

3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Julia: Scariest thing is easy. Answering the phone! That deluge of language with no facial expressions to help you out. So difficult. And of course, our livelihood was depending on it! It got easier. Eventually!

Best thing? When guests at the auberge complimented the food. The vast majority of our clients were French so I was always conscious that we were Anglo-Saxons cooking for the masters of cuisine. Consequently, their appreciation for what we served in the restaurant made me feel fantastic.

4) Do you have any top tips for learning French?

Julia: Ohh. Never ask a linguist that! I could drone on for hours... But I’ll give you one good tip. You know how when you go to fancy dress parties everyone behaves differently because they’re ‘in character’? Do the same with French. Try to imagine you’re French when you use it – despite your poor accent or mistakes – and you will feel less self-conscious. Honestly. It works!

5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Julia: This is going to sound so unsophisticated but chocolat chaud. And a pain-au-chocolat. You know what happens next… (Jacqui: no dunking allowed on this blog I’m afraid).

6) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Julia: Cassoulet. Anyone who has read my books will know that I’m obsessed with it. It’s hearty. Comforting. And totally filling! But I’m always amazed at tourists who arrive in the area in the heat of July and order it for lunch. And then stagger out of the restaurant feeling sleepy.

7) Is there anything French you won’t eat.

Julia: Foie gras if I can help it. For me, the taste simply doesn’t justify the process. Other than that, I’m always open to try new food – it’s one of the best things about living in another country.

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

Julia: Having lived in the Ariège-Pyrenees, it has to be the Tomme!

9) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?

Julia: I’m going to be boring and say a glass of red. I never get tired of finding new wines to try and am constantly amazed at the variety of flavours the viticulturists manage to produce from what is essentially the same raw ingredient.

10) 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?

Julia: Sorry, but I’m having two. A stone-built, slate-roofed renovated grange high up in a valley in the Couserans district of the Ariège. And a pied-à-terre in Collioure on the bay. You said money was no object…

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Julia: I’m currently writing book four of the Fogas series, and I can tell you, it’s been tricky setting my work in a sweltering July in the Pyrenees when I’ve been surrounded by the worst winter on record! Followers of the novels will be pleased to know it will feature the usual suspects…and a few new ones too. As you mentioned, the third book, The French Postmistress, is out in the UK and publication is always an exciting time. For a writer, there is a long wait between completion of a work and getting feedback (family and editors don’t count!) so I’m looking forward to hearing what readers have to say about it.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you and good luck with the new book.

Julia: C’est mon plaisir! And keep up the good work with French Village Diaries.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rhubarb and Custard Tart


As promised for those of you who have been so nice about my first attempt to make real custard with our free-range eggs, here is the recipe for my Rhubarb and Custard tart. This is my favourite type of recipe, one I have slightly cobbled together based on the current glut of produce from the garden. This is exactly the recipe I used, however the pastry was deep enough to take more custard (or more fruit), so I may increase the ingredients next time.

For the pastry – you can use ready-made puff or short crust pastry, but I like to make my own (short crust). This makes enough pastry for a rectangular tin 27cm (10 ½”) by 17cm (6 ½”) and 3.5cm deep (1 ½”) – this is my preferred tin for all quiches/tarts.

135g plain flour
75g butter
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 egg beaten
a little cold water

Using cold fingers rub the butter into the flour until breadcrumb like consistency. Add the sugar, then the egg and enough water to just bring it to a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest for at least half an hour in the fridge.

Line the tin with baking paper, then roll out the chilled dough on the paper. Fit into the tin, prick the base with a fork, line with more baking paper, add baking beans and bake blind until cooked and nicely golden. Leave to cool.

For the custard filling
250 ml milk
3 egg yolks
20 g plain flour
50 g caster sugar

Heat the milk to just boiling.

Whisk together the egg yolks, flour and sugar then pour the hot milk over and whisk to combine. Pour this mix back into the saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the time until it thickens to desired consistency, which happens as it reaches boiling point. Be careful not to scramble the eggs! Once thick enough, place in a bowl and to stop a skin forming place some clingfilm on the top of the custard. Leave to chill, then spoon over the cooked pastry shell and top with cooked rhubarb and serve.

french village diaries rhubarb and custard tart recipe potager orchard
The finished Rhubarb and Custard Tart

My first attempt was too runny despite leaving it to ‘set’ in the fridge, so I placed the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stirred until I was happier. The runny custard was delicious and would have been perfect to top a pie, but I wanted it spreadable so I could cut a slice of tart and not lose the rest of the filling. I was very happy with the result, despite it not looking very pretty, you really can’t beat rhubarb and custard as great flavours that work well together. I am, however, already imagining how attractive this would look with fresh raspberries or cherries from the orchard, nestled on top of the custard and glazed with some homemade jam. Roll on summer fruits.





french village diaries rhubarb and custard tart recipes potager orchard
A glut of rhubarb

I have linked this post to Caroles's Chatter Food on Friday Rhubarb linky

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book review of Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black



french village diaries book worm Wednesday Cara Black Murder Below Montparnasse Paris reviewMurder Below Montparnasse (Aimee Leduc Investigation) is the latest book (number thirteen) in the Aimée Leduc detective series by Cara Black. Thirteen may be unlucky for some, but seems to be lucky for me as although it was my first rendez-vous with Aimée not having read the previous books didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all.

I have read many books set in Paris, but I think this one, more than most took me to Paris. Cara may have been in the middle of explaining a crucial part of the plot, but still took the time to describe the Paris Aimée sees out of the window as the story moves along. I liked that and especially as her descriptions brought Paris to life. Set in the once-chic area of Montparnasse we dip into the art world and the closed Russian immigrant community too, both of which I found interesting. Before Aimée can begin her latest task to protect a painting that may be a Modigliani, the old Russian man, Yuri, who made contact with her is murdered in his kitchen and the painting has gone. It soon becomes obvious that Aimée is not the only one looking for it and every time she seems to get a little closer another death occurs from her list of suspects.

Those who are familiar with the series will be aware that Aimée’s father started the detective business she now runs and that her mother left them when she was a child and has been on the Interpol wanted list for 20 years. To add a personal twist to this tale Yuri hints he has met with her mother but before she can find out more he and the link he provided is gone. Throughout her enquiries the presence of her mother is felt, and Aimée gut feeling is that her mother may be involved in the murders. Who to trust, who to avoid and how to stay safe make it an action packed read that kept my interest and excitement up throughout.

I will certainly be adding the other books in this series to my wish list. This book is available on Amazon, but only in hardcover at the moment.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Silent Sunday

It hasn't been the best of weeks for us as on Friday morning we lost one of our Korat cats, Willow. She was fifteen and old age just got the better of her. Today's Silent Sunday post is dedicated to her - small, noisy but a big part of our lives. Here are some of the many photos we took of her over the last fifteen years. Sleep tight my precious one.

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow in the bread basket, a favourite spot

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow babysitting Ed twelve years ago 
French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Hungry Willow

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow cuddled up with Mini the dog and me

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow making sure I make time for her in my diary

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow enjoying a sunny spot in the garden

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow getting older, but still enjoying the sun

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Mini the dog, Poppy and Willow on a winters evening

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday photos loss of family pet cat
Willow and Ed having a siesta in 2005



Friday, April 19, 2013

France et Moi with Samantha Brick


french village diaries france et moi Samantha BrickWelcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to journalist and author Samantha Brick about what France means to her.

Journalist Sam, may be controversial, but she is also a woman who has found love and happiness in rural France after some fairly dark times and has bravely told her story in her recently published book Head Over Heels in France: Falling in Love in the Lot.

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’?

Sam: At first I found the work ethic beyond frustrating. The very idea that you couldn’t call an office in the public sector at 11.45 to make an appointment or query something, because then they’re winding down for their lunch and therefore will actually refuse to talk to you. It’s now 5 years since I moved to France and I actually find the French notion ‘work to live’ and adhering to the 35 hour week is in fact rather sensible. I think other countries in the western world would do well to learn from this. 

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

Sam: On holiday with my husband in Collioure in October 2012. It was just after I’d participated in Celebrity Big Brother (for my sins!) and desperately needed a holiday. It’s a magical destination located on the Mediterranean Sea. For me it beats St Tropez every time. My husband is half Catalan and the restaurants here reflect their Catalan heritage – he feels right at home, and consequently so do I. Also, this area of the Pyrénées-Orientales is just stunning – snow-topped mountains, glistening sea and my favourite type of rosé (Fitou) – what more could one ask for!

3) When you moved to France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Sam: In some ways I was rather lucky when I arrived in France because I moved into a French household. I was immediately immersed into rural French culture. That said, I found it scary at the same time – I didn’t speak French and my difficulty with the language made my first year a real struggle. I used to dread answering the telephone.

4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Sam: Oh yes – I still make mistakes today. I most recently used cul (slang for one’s derriere – locals don’t pronounce the ‘l’) instead of queue (the word has the same meaning in French and English). For me the pronunciation is perilously similar… My husband’s eyes popped out of his head as, naturally, I made the gaffe in company.

5) I have to ask you about French women, what do you think makes them different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?

Sam: In a word (well, two): self-confidence!

6) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Sam: Probably un crème, however if I was on holiday I might well give way to temptation and order a cheeky glass of rosé…

7) Is there anything French you won’t eat?

Sam: I had a horrendous experience attending my first chasse répas with my husband. The meat aspect of the meal consisted of various organs of the sanglier (boar). I spent the night in the loo – never again!

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

Sam: I’m a hard cheese – the Brebis - from the Pyrénées. I’m best eaten with sweet and very tempting quince jam.

9) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?

Sam: I adore a glass of champagne – in a cup though, not a flute. That, for me, is bliss!

10) 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?

Sam: Somewhere down south, big enough for family and friends to come and stay whenever they fancied. (And close enough to an airport to encourage them to do so.) There would be lots of land for my dogs too.

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Sam: My memoir of moving to France is out now:
Head Over Heels in France: Falling in Love in the Lot (Summersdale) is available in paperback and kindle.
I love to hear from my readers and always reply. I can be contacted via my website: www.samanthabrick.com or on Twitter at: @samanthabrick

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book review of C'est La Folie by Michael Wright


C'est La Folie is the first book in the French adventures of Michael Wright who wanted to escape from the comforts of his life in London and move to France ‘to be brave and become a hero’. The book is an easy and engaging read as he takes us with him on the house hunting, preparations and the all-important settling in stages of his new life in France.

I think he was actually braver than he thought. As well as throwing himself into a move abroad alone (except for his cat), he is also a pilot (very brave) and flies an old Luscombe plane which he wanted to bring to France too. This led him into integrating in his new community in rather a different way to most of us expats as he had to find his way to being accepted with the club at the local light aircraft hanger. As a man of music rather than religion he also found himself volunteering to play the organ at the local church despite not being ‘one of them’. But topping the bravery list had to be inviting his French friends over to sample his best bachelor English cuisine. Chapeau Michael, you certainly provided lots of entertainment for the reader.

Getting to grips with the dirt of rural living was important to him too and he makes a great friend of a local farmer who is always on hand to help out a city man gone rural. He also writes with great affection for his new companions to his French life, his flock of miniature black sheep and his chickens. He is however missing one major thing in his life, his significant other, his soul mate, someone to share his wonderful view over the Limousin countryside. I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read his next instalment Je t'aime à la Folie.

Both of his books are available from Amazon in paperback or ebook format.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Village Postal Service

When we moved to France our house had been empty for a while and the previous owners had boarded up the letter box so as not to have it overflowing with the weekly 'pub' from the supermarkets detailing their latest offers. The village post lady at the time was undeterred by this and quickly deduced from the name on our mail that we were English so delivered the post to the closest English neighbour in the village, until she was able to speak to us herself. She was always smiling and cheerful and we were happy to offer her a punnet or two of cherries each summer and buy her calendar each Christmas. It may not have been a standard service, but she was always happy to collect post from the house and take it back to the sorting office. If you hadn't got a stamp she would either sell you one, or take the money, weigh the letter and return with your change the next day. Then she retired.

french village diaries La Poste france life
This years Almanach du Facteur - so much more than just a calendar!

The new post lady wasn't quite as cheerful as the previous one had been, but I kept smiling and waving to her whenever our paths crossed. Her first Christmas was the point when our relationship took a little turn for the worse. She appeared in the kitchen, which as we have a dog who is not too keen on strangers was a brave, but foolish thing to do. As I am trying to keep the dog from attacking her she is offering me a choice from her selection of calendars. It is a very French thing to sell calendars each year and the firemen, postmen and kids from the local sports clubs are all queuing up in December selling their calendars to help raise some money. The post office calendars are often hung on to for many years and we always spot some very old ones for sale at the vide greniers (car boot sales). As with the previous post lady  I agreed to buy one, but when I opened my purse found all I had was 3€, which she took with a Gallic shrug and told me I could leave more in the letter box for her later. However as this was at the end of one of our bad years work wise I didn't leave her anymore, big mistake! That year our post deliveries were so erratic I even started noting when we got a delivery to see if there was a pattern. Oddly enough we rarely got mail on a Monday. We are the only permanent residents of a small impasse (dead end) so I guess we are a nuisance to her round. The second year I made sure I paid a bit more for the calendar, that I never use but stuff it in the kitchen drawer that is full of other things I don't use. Service did improve, but what really helped was the day she pointed at a letter with some pig themed stamps on them and asked if she could have them, I guess stamp collecting is as good a hobby as anything else for a postie. After this we were best of friends, nothing was too much trouble and all was well with our deliveries. Until she retired last week.

Here we go again, I'm thinking to myself. I have met Arthur, the new young postie, but I've also seen him speeding past the end of our little road more times than I've seen him turning in, although he did manage to deliver a bill this morning. We have already been warned that there are no guarantees that the extra services our village has come to accept as normal over the years will continue with the new 'facteur'. In addition to collecting our outgoing mail it was not uncommon to see the post van parked up outside the houses of some of the older residents of the village, where in winter I often saw them bringing in firewood from the outhouses and no doubt they shared some gossip and a petit pause de café. I guess only time, and calendar sales figures, will tell what sort of postie Arthur will become. At least we are lucky to have a 'Point Poste' at the village boulangerie where we can buy stamps, send and receive parcel deliveries and post our letters at the same time as buying a croissant. We are lucky, not all villages have these services.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Farmers Taking Direct Action


I like to think I am a fairly chilled and relaxed person. In fact it is very rare to hear a raised voice in our house, although as Ed has yet to become an official teen this may well be set to change. If something irks me I may well have a little growl, but I am unlikely to take any direct action – I did enough screaming, shouting and stamping my feet as a child/teen to last me a lifetime. 

Recent events have led me to believe this lack of emotion on my part means I will never be a true Frenchman. In the last few weeks the French farmers have been cross. They have said they are cross, but being an emotionally charged bunch saying it alone is not enough so they have shown us just how cross they are.

french village diaries farmers action france life
This picture shows our local E.Leclerc supermarket early last Friday morning, looking and smelling much more rural than usual thanks to the local farmers who covered it’s entrance with used farmyard straw. They feel the supermarkets are responsible for the low prices they are currently being paid. This action, along with overnight removal of the trolley wheels from other supermarket car parks has become quite widespread.

While I can sympathise with them it was the supermarket staff I felt more sorry for on Friday. They have no power over the decisions or policies that have upset the farmers, but it was them who were out there wielding shovels full of cow shit, hosepipes and brooms to clear a pathway to the store. The farmers also need to understand that there are many more professions who are all in the same boat. In the six years we have been running our company Ade’s daily rate has gone down, not up. In addition to this, a job used to be paid on the basis of his daily rate plus all travelling and accommodation expenses, but now the rate is lower but must also include all these expenses. This is just something we have to accept as the economic climate has changed, but I will admit this has taken quite a large chunk of our income and this is before we get hit by the £/€ exchange rate fluctuations.

Food in France is generally more expensive than food in UK supermarkets, so I’m guessing the French farmers already get a better price than their UK counterparts. This has led to quite a few entrepreneurs setting up delivery companies that enable expats to buy their weekly shop online in the UK and have it delivered to France for a small additional charge. Although this is not something we have used it goes to show that we are not alone in having to carefully watch every cent, the economic world has changed and the farmers need to realise this too.

I like to think I am pretty good at budgeting so do not waste food or money from our weekly shop, but if prices rise much higher I will have to vote with my feet and cut down on what we buy, an action which will probably not help the farmers either. C’est la vie!


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Silent Sunday

We have had some lovely dog walks this week, some have been cold and windy - but that just makes Mini more excited, others have been warm and sunny, my favourites. Here are a few photos to share with you.

french village diaries dog walking deer silent sunday
Can you see any deer?


french village diaries silent sunday dog walking deer France
I'm still looking


french village diaries silent sunday deer dog walks France
Deer!


french village diaries silent sunday blossom dog walks france
Beautiful blossom in the sun


french village diaries silent sunday photos gardening
A perfect Sunday morning activity

Friday, April 12, 2013

France et Moi with author Andy Frazier


French village diaries france et moi Andy FrazierWelcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to author Andy Frazier about what France means to him.

Andy lives on a smallholding in South West France where he spends his days writing for children and occasionally adults too. He is a very funny guy (in my opinion) and I always enjoy his ramblings/rants on his life in France, which are now into a third ebook edition, A Parrot in My Soup, Who the Heck is Auntie Florette? and Trumpy the spider-frog. You can read my review of the first two here.

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’?

Andy: I love the way farmers drive massive shiny tractors but then understated battered little white vans – without a Range-rover in sight! This certainly defines rural France, compared to UK.
I quite like berets and now own a collection of them for all occasions.

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Andy: I used to visit the Paris agricultural show in Parc d’Expostions, right in the city centre. It was a fantastic mix of peasant farmers and chic Parisians, along with massive cows and fabulous food. It still is, and well worth a visit in early March, just for the food hall alone.

3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Andy: I loved the language challenge. Everything, from ordering food to plumbing accessories, was a test that I relished. The moustaches scared me a bit, though.

4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Andy: I still haven’t grasped the local dialect properly after 7 years. I learned my French playing pool for a local bar after dark. Some of the phrases I use still raise an eyebrow when used in daylight! It’s like being a Glaswegian!

5) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Andy: Duck – with everything! In the south west, just about every meal revolves around it. Confit, Cassoulet, Magret - all with extra lard. Who needs health anyway!

6) Is there anything French you won’t eat?

Andy: I can just about manage raw oysters without gagging. However, now I have learned to cook with them, they do make it on to our dinner-party menu from time to time, with a cheese and Worcester sauce sauce.
I also refuse to eat Aquitaine beef as a) one once broke my nose and b) it is tougher that a Geordie dock-worker and only fit to resole my brogues!

7) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Andy: Aha. A loaded question. Usually I am OK with un café, but sometimes it comes with a Pastis which is a great wake-up call after a busy night before!

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

Andy: I might be a Coulomiers - round, soft in the middle and not overly rich!

9) How would you explain that very unique French concept of ‘terroir’?

Andy: I once described the bouquet of a Marmandais red at a wine tasting as having a hint of ‘doggy doo’! I knew exactly what I meant but it did cause a bit of a giggle when I left my tasting notes behind and they were circulated by email.

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Andy: When don’t I? I once wrote a book, and then couldn’t stop. I think I am now on number 30! My latest project is a true story about a guy who built a plane in his upstairs bedroom in an Airdrie council-house, and then couldn’t get it down the stairs. It should be out in summer – the book, not the plane!

Currently I am researching for a commissioned history book about cows, which has me travelling in UK for a few months this year. I am very honoured to be appointed with this massive undertaking.
I also just released a novel called Sheeple (A political romantic comedy erotic crime thriller-drama - with some sheep in it, obviously!), which is set in a parallel world run by sheep. It is, at the very least, quite bizarre – but fun!
In my spare writing time, I submit a column to a UK magazine about our life here in France, containing my biased, sometimes bigoted and usually un-pc opinions on life in general. Each year it gets published into an ebook and this year’s is the third in the series, entitled Trumpy the spider-frog.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

All of Andy’s books are available on Amazon and you can follow his blog here.




Thursday, April 11, 2013

Free language lessons

Running a business in France means we often get interesting and sometimes alarming things in the post, like the time they made a mistake with our social charges calculations and sent a bill for 20,000€. Now that was a fun day! This week the local chamber of commerce sent Ade a letter offering him free English lessons. It explained that English was very useful in business and they have a course on offer that will help in all business situations from talking on the telephone, to holding a meeting, to project management and understanding contracts. I probably won't sign him up but I do wonder how much interest there will be in our out-of-the way rural area.

french village diaries language lessons
Free business English lessons offered

A similar scheme has been offered at Ed's school, again by the chamber of commerce, offering French, maths and IT help for parents. As my spoken French is passable but my written and grammar could do with some more work I jumped at the chance and put my name down. I received a letter giving me the date of the first meeting, organised to give us more information and asses what we wanted. However on the day of the meeting I was called by the headmistress to say they had to cancel, as I was the only parent attending! I am sure not all of the parents are able do their child's maths homework and I know many of Ed's friends don't have a computer at home or computer literate parents, so I think it is sad people aren't taking advantage of free help when it is on offer. I can only hope they do get more interest and reschedule it, although I wouldn't mind one to one French lessons. What about you? Would you take up an offer like this?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book review of Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez by Jane Dunning

french village diaries book worm Wednesday reviews Jane Dunning

Author Jane Dunning has spent quite a bit of time holidaying in the South of France, which inspired her to write her first novel Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez that is available in ebook format and that she kindly sent me a copy of.

In this book we follow an extended family, some of who live the luxurious high life in Provence as they prepare to gather together to celebrate a special wedding anniversary. It gives a glimpse into another world (for me at least) where expensive properties with stunning views, sports cars, charity galas in Monaco, luxury yachts and fine dining are the norm. There are plenty of local area descriptions, from the coastal resorts and marinas to the twisty roads, villages and vineyard-covered hillsides to whet your appetite for the best Provence has to offer. Talking of appetite, the local cuisine gets good coverage too.

The plot is quite simple, but there are a lot of characters to try and keep tabs on as you move through the book, which I did struggle with a bit at first. On a personal level I also felt it was a bit too over-wordy with too much explanation. I want a book to scoop me up and whisk me away, unfortunately although I could visualise the location I was left feeling like I was on the outside looking in. It just lacked a bit of va va voom! I have most definitely read far worse and these are just my views so I would be really interested to hear what you think if you have read it.

Jane has shared some lovely photos of the places featured in the book on her Facebook page.