Saturday, August 31, 2013

Energy and Power

We've been out on the bikes again, roughly following the Charente Velo Circuit 34c, but as this is a 60km circuit from Mansle 16230, we sneakily cut off a corner, although still completing an acceptable 48km. But there was a problem. I have cycled further, with more hills and in hotter weather, but I really struggled today. There could be many reasons for this, one of which is having exhausted myself on Friday doing the back to school shop at a hypermarket in Big Town - so much more stressful than the normal weekly shop in our local town, but I survived, just. However the experience did leave me so tired it was 9.20am before I opened an eye this morning, something almost unheard of for me. This resulted in a late breakfast, so I decided on a light fruit only snack followed by morning coffee to be back on track for lunch. 

I'm guessing that my head wasn't quite with it as despite a plan for an afternoon cycle ride and a small breakfast, we only had a ham sandwich for lunch rather than our normal bike ride picnic of tinned fish and wholemeal pasta. That was a lesson learnt and a mistake not to be repeated. Good energy food is power and essential if you are cycling and I was so glad we had muesli bars and walnuts to nibble on this afternoon.

The route we took happened to pass through the area that was directly in the path of the storm that hit our area a month ago. Whilst we may have had a restless night, what we experienced was nothing compared to what we saw today. The power of nature was visible all around, but especially in the wooded areas that had been left totally devastated by the storm. It was a very humbling experience.

Charente storms power of nature
The bent trunks following the storm last month

Charente storms power of nature
The power of nature


Friday, August 30, 2013

France et Moi with author April Lily Heise


French Village Diaries France et Moi feature April Lily Heise Je T'Aime Me NeitherWelcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author April Lily Heise about what France means to her.

April Lily Heise, from Ontario, Canada, has been living in Paris for the last thirteen years. Ever since, she's been trying, quite unsuccessfully, to stay out of romantic trouble. In addition to her book Je T'Aime, Me Neither , she shares her romantic musings on her blog Je T'Aime, Me Neither. She contributes to various travel publications including Frommer's Paris and France guides, DK Eyewitness guides, Conde Nast Daily Traveler, Lonely Planet blog and other international magazines and Paris-based sites.

1) 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’?

Lily: I think a lot of what makes France special is the joie de vivre. Now, I know some people might say; “The French aren’t too joyful!” – and I fully agree, however, they do know how to live life, which is what joie de vivre is really about. They take time to enjoy the finer things in life: good food, company, art, music, holidaying… the list could go on and on! I think this philosophy is the common thread tying everything together or even the root of the other attributes that make France unique, even down to its picturesque villages, riveting literature, splendid museums and the delicate care taken to producing exquisite foods and wine.

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

Lily: I first came to France when I was 17 during a semester abroad to Milan, Italy. I was so excited. In fact, France and had been my first choice for the exchange and I’d been a little disappointed that I was being sent to Italy (a sentiment that quickly faded as I became integrated into the splendid Italian culture). Oddly, I think it was our visit to the Centre Pompidou during that trip which stands out the most in my mind. Arriving in the square in front of the museum, it was bursting with energy; there was a lively bustle of street-performers with cheering crowds and in the backdrop the inside-out building and a count-down clock to the year 2000. Our trip was really rushed and as we scurried through the complicated maze of the museum (prior to the early 2000s renovations), I caught fascinating glimpses of Giacometti’s elongated figures, Picasso’s collages and Miro’s colorful paintings – a surprising creative world, capped with the grand finale of the view of the city from its rooftop. This experience excited me to the possibilities and discoveries of the world… and brought me back to continue my exploring five years later.

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

Lily: My first real stay in France was during a three-month study abroad in university. We were lucky enough to live at the Cité Université, a wonderful melting-pot of students from around the world. However, as much as this multicultural microcosm was fantastic, this first stay wasn’t a real immersion to France… our biggest challenge being which residence party to attend that weekend. My real challenge came the following year when I packed up my bags and moved to Paris. Though as an enthusiastic 23-year-old and already knowing the city and the language well enough, I had this blind optimism and perseverance which over-shadowed the regular stresses of moving to a foreign country.

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

Lily: Finding a French petit ami or petite amie? Jokes aside, having a French-speaking amoureux is one of the best ways to learn the language. I also learnt a lot of my French by listening to the radio or watching French TV and movies. Working for a French company is also useful, but then comes with other challenges!

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

Lily: There are two French works that are very similar in spelling and pronunciation: baisser which means to lower or decrease and baiser, well, which technically means to kiss, but often means something more, um, bodily engaging than merely kissing. I’ve learnt to avoid those words as much as possible to baisser the chances of error and ensuing embarrassment.

6) 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?

Lily: I think that je ne sais quoi comes from a certain confidence… and a certain simplistic originality. If you think of French cuisine, it can be very intricate yet with very simple ingredients, this is sort of like a French women; it seems like she’s wearing a simple black dress, but she has killer heels, a slightly crumpled yet designer scarf, hair haphazardly gathered in a bun yet which doesn’t look messy, the look crowned with a touch of Chanel lipstick… and most probably some Aubade lingerie hidden underneath. French women do this so well and seemingly effortless. I think Anglophone women sometimes try too hard, though on the other hand don’t oser (dare) enough. But this is just the tip of the iceberg!

7) Paris, the city of love, has been your home for many years, is it the place, the people or something else that you love the most?

Lily: I would have to say the place itself and its essence. These are two different things. The place is the architecture and the stories the history tells. When I’m away for a few weeks and first step out of the metro upon returning a smile often pops onto my face and I’m reminded why I love it here and how I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The essence is something else. It’s the energy the city exudes, which is a combination of the bustle of the cafes, the immense cultural programing of exhibits, concerts, festivals … romantic encounters and other surprises!

8) 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?

Lily: Un café crème s’il vous plait. At 5:00 p.m. that would be another story: un verre de vin de rouge!

9) 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?

Lily: Good question! But a hard one seeing as there are so many to choose from! I would have to Neufchâtel. I really like this cheese… and not only because it comes in the shape of a heart! It’s similar to Camembert, but less googey and has a nice tanginess.

10) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us - the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Lily: I love apéro, it might even be my favorite time of day! In summer it would have to outdoors, sitting by the Canal Saint Martin or by the Seine along the Quai de Tournelle this would be accompanied by some rosé. If the weather doesn’t allow for an apéro picnic, I would suggest a wine bar over a glass of Saint Amour or a wine from the Languedoc (or a special occasion my favorite wine – Chateauneuf-du-Pape!). In either case, the wine should be accompanied by olives from Provence, a planche de fromage (with some Neufchâtel perhaps?), fresh crusty baguette and some seasonal fruit.

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

Lily: I’m currently working on the new revamped Frommer’s France and hopefully will start book II in the late summer or fall, the next batch of stories are dying to be told! 

You can read my review of Je T'Aime Me Neither book one here.

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book review of Je T'Aime, Me Neither by April Lily Heise


french village diaries book review Book Worm Wednesday Je T'aime Me Neither April Lily Heise
Je T'Aime Me Neither
This week for BookWormWednesday we are heading to Paris for a fun look at young love and summer flings in my review of Je T'Aime, Me Neither by April Lily Heise.

This book is a memoir of a young, single girl looking for a summer fling in Paris, the City of Love. How hard can it be? Well actually not as easy as she imagined and she finds herself stumbling from one amourous misadventure to another. Whilst I enjoyed the experience of entering a lifestyle so different to my own, this book provoked many different emotions as I read it. I laughed at the fun descriptions she writes about her party lifestyle but was also wide eyed at the disastrous dates with dodgy guys in dingy apartments and sometimes even dangerous situations she finds herself in. I felt old too as I realised I was thankful my comfortable married life in rural France seemed so much easier than the heady excitement available to young expats in Paris.

To start with I liked the fact that each chapter began with a text message from a different date, but with lots of referring back to previous meets with different men in various bars I couldn’t keep up! I totally lost track of who was who and where they had been, something I can only put down to an old forty-something brain that even when it was part of a young body never had so many men to remember.

Please note, if you are a Mother of a daughter already in Paris or who wants to move to Paris, don’t read this book as it’s probably best you don’t know what she is likely to get up to. However if your dream is to spend some time alone in Paris you will love it.

You can read more about Lily at her website here and she will be joining me again on Friday for my France et Moi feature. Thanks for sending me a copy of your book and letting me peek at your lifestyle Lily. Je T'Aime, Me Neither is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon.co.uk can be found below.

Tour du Poitou-Charentes

We have lived in this area for nine years and yet there are many places we have yet to visit and Saint Maixent L'Ecole was one of these places, until this week. However, our relatively new found passion for cycling has had the added bonus of widening our Poitou-Charentes horizons as we have spent the summer out and about with our bikes. Tuesday saw the start of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, our local professional cycling tour, in the lovely (and fairly local) military town of St Maixent L'Ecole. Not only did we spend some time soaking up the pre-race atmosphere, we also took our bikes and spent the afternoon exploring the town and the local undulating countryside.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
The Abbey Saint Maixent L'Ecole

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
The old town St Maixent L'Ecole

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
St Maixent L'Ecole

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
Narrow streets St Maixent L'Ecole

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
Very patriotic
This was a very unexpected find in a small French town, but perfect for a photo opportunity combined with my patriotic choice of T-Shirt. I am not normally to be found wandering around in France wearing British clothing, in fact I had to borrow this shirt from Ed, but as there is one lone British entrant in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes (Alex Dowsett, team Movistar) I felt the need to show my support.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
Alex Dowsett before the race
We hung around the Movistar team bus like groupies waiting for the lycra-clad cyclists to make an appearance and were not disappointed. Aside from their toned, tanned legs which can have a funny effect on me, they were very friendly, polite and relaxed. I got my programme signed by Alex Dowsett and he thanked us for our good luck wishes, before heading off to sign in on the podium.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
Team Movistar bikes
While the legs do it for me, it is the bikes that Ade likes to ogle at and there were some mighty fine examples on show.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
The peleton
Awaiting the arrival of the peleton (main group of cyclists) can be a long wait for a brief glimpse of lycra, but the power and excitement as they rush past is worth the wait.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes St Maixent L'Ecole stage one depart Team Movistar Alex Dowsett
An unfortunate incident
Road cycling can have it's risks, even for the spectators and we were unfortunately witness to a nasty accident while waiting for the cyclists. One of the Gendarme security motorcyclists, who ride the route ahead of the peleton, lost control as he came around a roundabout and his bike skidded over a curb and into the crowd. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, but a young lady was taken to hospital with a possible broken leg. It was a real shock to watch and seemed to happen in slow motion. If you are at an event like this, please stay safe and don't sit on the curbs, at least if you are standing you have a chance of running! It hasn't put us off and we are hoping to catch some more of the action this week. More information on the Tour can be found on their website here.







Monday, August 26, 2013

Book review of The French for Love by Fiona Valpy


french village diaries book review The French For Love by Fiona Valpy Bordeaux
The French for Love by Fiona Valpy
This has been a great summer for reading some fantastic books set in France, so I’m adding in an extra review today for The French for Love by Fiona Valpy.

I’ve read lots of novels set in Provence where the descriptions really do bring back great memories of the villages and scenery. This book is set much closer to home in Bordeaux but again the descriptions of the area are spot on and made me feel very much at home.

The main character Gina finds herself starting again in France, not because she is following her dream but because it seems her only option. Her boyfriend has left her, she’s lost her job and her favourite aunt has died, leaving Gina her home in France. It is not long before she discovers a family secret that not only shocks her but also leaves huge questions and no one left to answer them. To distract herself she keeps busy with projects on the house and in learning more about the local wine industry. There is the inevitable possible love interest with a Frenchman, with lots of delicious frissons of electricity and undercurrents of will-they-won’t-they moments, but as always things are complicated.

I really enjoyed this book, it is a fun, easy, novel and a comfortable read that I felt at home in, if you know what I mean? I am looking forward to reading more from Fiona.

The French for Love is published by Bookoutre (who were kind enough to send me a copy for review) and is available in ebook and paperback format with the ebook currently priced at the bargain price of £1.52. Links to Amazon.co.uk can be found below. You can also follow Fiona via her website here.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Birds have feelings too

This week we lost a chicken. Hermione had been living a happy, free range life in our orchard for over four years and died in a peaceful way. While we will miss her and her eggs, her passing is not something I was planning on writing about until a strange thing occurred in the barn.

This year we have had no shortage of either chicken or duck eggs and it has been months since we had an eggless day, until this week. The day after Hermione died no one laid an egg. Whether in shock, mourning or as a mark of respect I have no idea, but it reminded me of a sad event many years ago.

We begun keeping birds by accident when a male Muscovy duck arrived in our orchard and decided to stay. We named him Yum Yum and bought him some white lady ducks for company and began enjoying their eggs. Over the years ducks came and went, but Yum Yum and one of these white ladies, Dirty Beak, remained together. When Dirty Beak died of old age Yum Yum just gave up on life and within a week had died too. He obviously missed her and it was heartbreaking to watch. We realised then that ducks are a family and have feelings, and it seems that chickens do too.

french village diaries birds have feelings chickens ducks eggs france
Hermione

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our road to Rouen

Following on from yesterday’s review of Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch, here is a little tale from our last drive to Rouen.

When we take Mini the dog back to the UK we have regular favourite stopping places where we know she can safely have a run and a wee. Some of these even have a public toilet (of sorts) that we can use too. Our mid afternoon stop usually coincides with a lovely forestry area just outside of Rouen. Dotted on either side of the road are small parking areas and tracks leading off into the trees. We have been stopping in the same car park in spring, summer and winter for many years and are often the only car there. Whatever the weather we are all glad of a good leg stretch.

french village diaries Mini the dog travel bed
Mini in her travel bed
It was quite a surprise on our last visit in July to see three or four cars and a van already stopped in our spot. We parked up and went for our walk with the dog thinking it a bit odd that most of the other drivers were sat in their cars. It wasn’t long before the whole situation became a little clearer. The transit van had an open roof vent and a curtain pulled across, separating the front from the back. One of the parked cars was empty; the others had no passengers, just middle-aged male drivers trying their best to look inconspicuous while they awaited their turn with Mademoiselle Camionette, or the ‘lady’ of the transit van. A little immature I know, but I couldn’t help humming along to:
“if you go down to the woods today,
you’re sure of a big surprise…..”

We weren’t there long, but long enough to watch the comings and goings of a couple of clients indulging in a bit of afternoon fun. What we then noticed was every lay-by and car park had it’s own transit van with open roof vent ready and waiting for business, although none were as busy as the one we’d parked next to. The poor girl was barely getting a minute to herself between visitors – just the thought of the odours and hygiene issues alone made me squirm.

We think we have found an alternative stop nearby, a pretty little town with an Abbey and a safe looking car park by the river and no sign of transit vans.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book review of Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch

french village diareis book review Ben Hatch Road to Rouen
Perfect to accompany a road trip in France
My latest book review is Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch, the amusing book that tells the story of a three month, 10,000 mile road trip in France by a family of four. I love a road trip in France so was initially a little bit jealous of the Hatch family plan to spend their whole summer on the road in France, however the more I read the more I appreciated our French road trips without children. With a different hotel every night and all day spent in the car it must have been quite stressful at times, but Ben writes with great affection for his lovely sounding children and wife, and despite the odd hiccup they certainly seemed to have fun most of the time. Can you imagine the unloading and loading, packing and repacking of their squishy bags every day, not to mention the laundry? No, me neither! Chapeau (hats off) to Ben and his family. Having been on many French school trips and experienced the French idea of fun facts for kids when visiting chateaux, I was able to chuckle along with some of Ben’s descriptions of their Tourist board arranged days out (the poor kids!).

This book was the perfect read to accompany our drive from Poitou-Charentes in the west to Calais in the north of France, via Rouen, and if you pop back tomorrow I have my own little story of Rouen to share. This was also one of those books that I couldn’t help reading bits out to Ade as we drove along, until he reminded me it would rather spoil his enjoyment when he reads it (which he is doing now, even as I write this). I really enjoyed Ben’s writing style and his honest account of the good, the bad and the ugly bits, so have also added his previous book Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family's 8000 Mile Car Journey Around Britain: Family's 8000 Miles Around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra to my ‘To Read’ list.

Published by Headline, Road to Rouen is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon.co.uk can be found below. Many thanks to Ben for sending me a copy of this book.


Monday, August 19, 2013

French Village Family Fun Day

Last week saw our village celebrating it's 5th annual Family Fun Day and the weather was perfect. It is not a grand fête, just an open invitation to sit amongst friends and neighbours with a picnic, a glass or two of chilled wine, and while away the afternoon in the shade of the trees. 

Games are provided for all to enjoy, including table tennis, badminton, mini golf and cricket. The afternoon also sees the annual Franco/Britanique petanque match, a good humoured although serious event that was won by the French team (following last year's British victory). A new event that worked well this year was the blind taste test where delights such as Marmite and Andouillette were spooned into unsuspecting mouths amid stifled sniggers from those watching. Well done to those brave men (and alas it was only men) who took part!

An event like this is only possible when people in the village work together, so I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who came along and to all who helped; from putting up posters, setting up tables, playing the games and helping to clear up afterwards. Thank you.


French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Picnic time

French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Communal tables in the shade

French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Games for young and not so young

French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Petanque

French Village Diaries Family fun day
Cricket on the village green

French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Blind taste test game

French Village Diaries Family Fun Day
Ping pong, always a favourite





Friday, August 16, 2013

France et Moi with author Louise Candlish


French Village Diaries France et Moi interview author Louise Candlish Ile de Ré The Disappearance of Emily Marr
The first book I've found set on Ile de Ré
At the beginning of the week we took the bikes and a picnic over to the beautiful Ile de Ré, just off the coast at La Rochelle. As a very popular holiday destination it can be rather busy in the summer, but we just kept on peddling the cycle paths through the vineyards and salt marshes until we found ourselves a quiet spot. It is no wonder author Louise Candlish loves it so much she has set her latest novel there. Although we didn’t meet on the island I have been talking to her about what France means to her for my France et Moi feature.

Louise Candlish is the bestselling author of nine novels, including The Day You Saved My Life , set in Paris, and her new release, The Disappearance of Emily Marr , set in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

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’?

Louise: I think it’s the sense that the quality of life has been preserved from more innocent times – but that may be just a figment of our English imaginations! Mostly, it’s the bread, the cheese, the wine, the sunshine…

2) With books set in Paris and the Ile de Ré would you say time spent in France inspires your writing?

Louise: Yes, those two locations have made very atmospheric settings for my stories. Paris is Paris, we all know why it’s the backdrop to a million movies, novels and paintings. For a writer, it’s the romantic reputation – you can’t help but take that and subvert it into something darker. The Ile de Ré is a very special place, it still has a sense of secrecy to it. I don’t write much when I’m actually there, though – the draw of the great outdoors is too powerful.

3) Do you have a preferred holiday location in France?

Louise: We almost always go to the Ile de Ré, but I hope to explore Brittany soon.

4) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite. What is your favourite French city and why?

Louise: I love Nice. I think everyone does. The light on the water is beautiful and you feel very relaxed there.

5) 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?

Louise: I would have a big house with a pool near the Conche des Baleines beach on the Ile de Ré. It’s very wild and remote up there and a windswept walk on the beach is the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs, of which I have many.

6) Food is very important in France and every region has its own culinary specialty, are there any regional dishes you particularly enjoy?

Louise: I love the seafood of the Atlantic coast, the oyster bars on the water where every dish comes with a glass of white wine. Also the ice cream. I’m never happier than when standing in the queue with my daughter, deciding how many boules we are going to have.
 
French Village Diaries Ile de Ré oyster bar France et Moi interview Louise Candlish
Ile de Ré Oyster bar
7) Do you have a guilty pleasure you always buy in a boulangerie/patisserie?

Louise: Chouquettes, the little sugared choux balls, which we fill with salted caramel – and I don’t feel remotely guilty!

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?

Louise: Camembert is the king of cheeses in my opinion.

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

Louise: A kir, but I’ll accept most others with a good grace.

10) Can you describe your perfect French apèro for us: the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Louise: The aforementioned kir, or a glass of champagne, in a shaded, cobbled courtyard, with my husband, daughter and friends. I’d probably be in a deckchair.

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

Louise: The Disappearance of Emily Marr has just been published – it’s a twisty emotional mystery, a kind of tale of the unexpected, with lots of scandal and tragedy and forbidden love.

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

Louise: It was my pleasure!

You can find Louise on Twitter and visit her website, here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book review of L'Amour Actually by Melanie Jones


French Village Diaries Book reviews BookWormWednesday L'Amour Actually by Mellanie Jones
Summer reading
I’m having a great summer reading some fantastic books that are just perfect for amusing the mind and letting it wander from the sunlounger, but without it having to do much thinking. L'Amour Actually: Falling in Love in the Heart of France by Melanie Jones is one of these books.

There are not many books that have me laughing from the start, but Melanie managed it with this one. I enjoyed her writing style, which is very funny but it also felt like catching up with an old friend, as she really opens up and lets you into her life. Disastrous is about the only way to describe the start of her new life in France, but as one embarrassing situation/mishap rolls into another I laughed along with her and was hooked into reading more to find out what could possibly happen next. As well as the humour there is a good mix of characters from sexy French farmers to odd expats and friends from UK who think she has lost the plot to genuinely nice locals who look out for her.

I’ve always admired the young, single woman who totters to France on her own, wearing her Louboutins and dragging a makeup bag heavier than my suitcase, rural France must seem so much more daunting than it did for me as I’ve always been happy in wellies. For us the most important item off the removal lorry was Ed’s bike, as a month without your bike when you are only three is a very long time. There are obvious similarities to other books out there already, (here and here) but unless you are totally sick of them (and I don’t think I ever will be) don’t let this put you off. There are many similar spy plot or detective books, but they all have their own style and twist and this is true for Melanie’s book too. I’m certainly glad she wrote it as she writes a very entertaining account.

As I reached the end of the book I thought ‘funny how things turn out in life’ and I do hope she is planning on writing the next instalment as there must be more to tell. I’d also like to thank her parents too, as she credits them with encouraging her to write down her experiences.

L'Amour Actually: Falling in Love in the Heart of France is published by Summersdale and is available in both paperback and ebook from all good outlets. Links to Amazon.co.uk are below. Thanks for getting in touch and sending me a copy Melanie.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Love Fruit

French Village Diaries Home grown fruit strawberries orchard
Strawberries, my favourite fruit

When the first strawberry of the season is ripe enough to pick I'm in love with it's scent, texture and sweet juicy flavour.

French Village Diaries Home grown fruit raspberries orchard
Raspberries, my favourite fruit

When the first raspberry bursts in my mouth I remember raspberries truly are my favourite fruit.

French Village Diaries Home grown fruit cherries orchard
Cherries, my favourite fruit

But there is nothing tastier than a sun warmed cherry, ripened to an almost black colour, picked and eaten in the orchard.

French Village Diaries Home grown fruit plums pears orchard
Plums and Pears, my favourites too

Hooray! The plums are ripe and I can't get enough of their sweet jam-like flavour and texture.

It's pear picking time too. These firm but juicy beauties with a delicate flavour that melt in your mouth, I'm sure they must be my favourite.

I may not be decisive but I do know I just love growing my own fruits (and vegetables too). Now to the kitchen where 22kg of home grown produce is awaiting my attention - that will make a lot of jams, soups, sauces and chutneys!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Celebration Time

French Village Diaries nine years in France Celebration FrenchEntrée Magazine 100th editionThis is a bit of a celebratory post. The team at FrenchEntrée magazine are celebrating their 100th edition with a special magazine that has extra bonus features including the top 100 places to visit and things to do in France. They are offering this edition at the bargain price of just £2 in the UK or £4 for the rest of the world (with free delivery) until 23rd August. To take advantage of this offer please see details here or give them a call on +44 (0) 1778 395 168 With something for all Francophiles I’m sure you will enjoy it.
On a more personal note we have also got something to celebrate as nine years ago, on the ninth of August 2004 we collected the keys to our house in France and started a new chapter in our lives. All our belongings were safely in storage, with the exception of the basics that we had packed into our two cars and set off two days previously with two one-way Eurotunnel tickets and lots of hope.

Moving to France has truly been a life changing experience and here are just nine things that have changed in the last nine years.

1) Writing was never an important part of my life as an accountant in the UK, but through this blog I have found it is something I really enjoy doing and as a bonus the blog has lead to a monthly column for a local magazine.

2) Since moving here Adrian and I have both lost weight and have a far more healthy and positive attitude to food. The quality and production of our food has also become a very important focus for me especially. I don’t think we will ever be self-sufficient but we produce the majority of our egg, fruit, vegetable and nut consumption.

3) I definitely spend a lot more time in the kitchen cooking meals and baking than when we lived in the UK. If it is at all possible to make rather than buy, that is what I now do. I love my new found culinary skills.

4) Cycling has become a family passion in the last few years and long distances on the bikes are the summer norm. We are therefore a much fitter family than when we arrived and spend more time together enjoying the outdoors.

5) I can now speak passable French, although I realize I still have much to learn. Ed has naturally become bilingual.

6) A life in the country with more time spent at home has made it possible for Mini the dog to become part of our family and introduce us to the delights of dog walks on the tracks through the fields.

7) With no need for designer shoes and handbags (me) and no interest in computer games consoles (the boys) we have become far less interested in having the latest consumer must haves (iPads excluded).

8) We spend more time together as a family and also as a couple which is probably the biggest advantage to life here. We have also slowed our pace of life to match French time.

9) Living in a village has given us a real sense of community and it has been possible to get involved in village life, from helping out in the library, on the village magazine committee, and organising an annual family fun day. In Reading we barely knew our neighbours even after five years of living there, mainly as we were out the house from early morning commuting to work in London and not returning until early evening.

However it hasn’t all been idyllic. We have had our problems with understanding the language and making ourselves understood and nothing can prepare you for the initial loneliness of arriving and knowing no one. Then there are the inevitable issues with bureaucracy that most expats come across (especially so if you start a business in France) and the dodgy workmen some of us have the misfortune to meet. Missing family doesn’t get any easier with time and visits back to the UK are never long enough to see everyone. I would also say that despite having more time on our hands there still isn’t enough time, a bigger house doesn’t mean enough space for everything and three bathrooms just means more cleaning. 

But it has been and still is an adventure that I am glad we embarked on and wherever we end up in the future we will have these memories and experiences forever. It may not be the prettiest or the liveliest village in France but there will always be a bit of my French village in my heart.

We will be opening a local bottle of something special to share this evening. Santé and Cheers!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Courgette Chutney

During the summer I make lots of chutney using the excess fruits and vegetables from the garden. As well as a great way of preserving the gluts the chutney is delicious with cold meats, cheeses and in sandwiches and is enjoyed as much by Adrian’s parents as us. Here is my Courgette Chutney recipe; at the beginning of the season it is a Cherry and Courgette chutney, then it becomes Plum and Courgette chutney and finally Apple or Quince and Courgette chutney at the end of the summer.
french village diaries chutney courgette recipes food France
Chutney with cheese & saucisson 

500g courgettes (zucchini)
500g cherries/plums/apples
2 medium onions
2 fresh chillies (optional)
500g demerara sugar
2 tsps ground allspice
2 tsps ground cloves
1 tsp sea salt
black pepper
1 heaped tbsp chopped or grated fresh ginger
2 tsps tumeric
700ml cider vinegar

Dice the courgettes, stone the cherries, stone and chop the plums or peel and roughly chop the apples/quince and finely chop the onions. Seed the chillies and chop finely.

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil. Cook over a medium heat for as long as it takes for the mixture to thicken (about an hour).

Spoon into washed and sterilised jars and when cool place in the store cupboard. The flavour will be better after a month and they will last at least a year if kept in a cool dark place.