Monday, September 30, 2013

Apple, Quince and Cinnamon Cake


This week will be an apple themed one for us as the trees are groaning with fruit and with the wind and rain over the weekend, windfalls have been tumbling. Here is the recipe for the layered cake I made on Sunday, a variation of my fat free cherry cake. I also used the cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over thinly sliced apples that I dried in a low oven (100c) for an hour and a half. These will be stored with my dried cherries and damson plums and will be great to add to my breakfast cereal in winter.

French Village Diaries Recipes Apple Quince Cinnamon Cake Orchard
Apple, Quince and Cinnamon Cake
Ingredients:
Cinnamon sugar (1tbsp icing sugar mixed with 1 tsp of cinnamon)
Three or four apples
One quince
3 eggs at room temperature
65g sugar
110g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Line a flan tin with baking paper and using a sieve, sprinkle over a layer of cinnamon sugar. Peel, core and thinly slice half the apples and layer in the flan tin. Sprinkle the apples with more of the cinnamon sugar. Peel, core and thinly slice the quince and lay over the apples, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and repeat with the remaining apples.

Beat the eggs and sugar for at least five minutes until very frothy and pale. Gently fold in the yoghurt and then half the dry ingredients sieved, then the remainder. Try and lose as little of the air as possible. Pour the batter over the layered apples and quince and bake in a preheated oven (gas 4) for about 20 mins, or until the top is golden and springs back to the touch. Leave to cool and then turn out upside down onto a plate. These fat free cakes will dry our very quickly as there is no butter, however they never last too long in our house and we always serve with a healthy dollop of natural yoghurt which helps to keep it moist and adds a touch of luxury.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book review of One Last Trip to Paris by Jacqueline Harmon Butler


French Village Diaries Book Review One Last Trip to  Paris by Jacqueline Harmon ButlerOne Last Trip to Paris by Jacqueline Harmon Butler tells the story of Julie Taylor and her move to Paris. The theme is a little depressing as Julie has been diagnosed with an incurable brain aneurysm so decides to sell her successful company in Silicon Valley and aims to enjoy her last six months in Paris. Thankfully she has friends there, Ernesto and Bill, and let’s face it every girl needs a gay dress designer friend in Paris when their bank account is full and their days are numbered. Together the three friends enjoy meals out, nights at the opera and tango dancing on the banks of the Seine. All is perfect, apart from the shadow of death hanging over Julie. I was compelled to read more in the same way I’m compelled to read news articles on disasters – please tell me I’m not alone here?

This is one of those books where the more I read, the more I was drawn in and wanted to find out what would happen, before the obvious conclusion to Julie’s life. This was especially so when things are spiced up with the arrival of Laurent, a very sexy Frenchman and things get a little complicated.

It is a little ‘over-wordy’ in it’s writing style and not all of the characters worked for me, but the story kept my interest, the love and passion touched my heart and the descriptions of Paris, Provence and Lourdes I thought were brilliant. Oh, yes, Lourdes, home of the miracle cure gets a mention, but you will have to read the book to find out why and what fate has in store for Julie.

One Last Trip to Paris is available in paperback and ebook format priced at £1.97 and links to Amazon.co.uk can be found below. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Art in the street in Melle

Writing my post about the photography event BarrObjectif earlier this week made me realise that our local market town of Melle has also gone a bit arty. Since June a number of bold pieces have been on display, dotted around the streets and buildings of the town. The event is a contemporary art exhibition titled Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble, roughly translated as To Be Human and to Know it Together. I say roughly as it could also mean Human Beings and Know-it-alls, so I asked a French friend for her advice and she said it could be either, depending on your point of view - very contemporary!

I had a bit of time to spare after an appointment in Melle this week, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, so I went for a walk with my camera. Here are just a few of the displays. I was particularly fascinated by the blue circles painted on houses, walls and shutters by the church of Sainte Hilaire, to give the illusion of being suspended in space. Very clever, however I'm not sure how pleased I would have been to have part of a circle painted on my house in the name of contemporary art.

Sometimes it seems the only culture or entertainment available in rural France is Johnny Hallyday or Boney M at the village disco, but this week proves that isn't always the case.

French Village Diaries Melle Deux Sevres Art Poitou-Charentes Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble
Etre Humain et le Savoir Ensemble

French Village Diaries Melle Deux Sevres Art Poitou-Charentes Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble
A large shell in front of a face

French Village Diaries Melle Deux Sevres Art Poitou-Charentes Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble
A hitchhiker's sign seul (alone)

French Village Diaries Melle Deux Sevres Art Poitou-Charentes Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble
Men with wings on the market halle

French Village Diaries Melle Deux Sevres Art Poitou-Charentes Etre Humain Et Le Savoir Ensemble
The Blue Circles 





Friday, September 27, 2013

Spicy Pumpkin and Chocolate Cake

This morning was spent chatting, cake eating, coffee drinking and laughing with old and new friends, all in a good cause to raise money (228€) for cancer support. I had a really lovely time, thanks I think to the friendly selection of people there, as despite sharing my life here on the blog I am actually rather shy in person. My contribution to the overloaded cake table was a Spicy Pumpkin and Chocolate cake. This is a variation on my chocolate veggie brownie, but with a couple of eggs to make it more cakey. Here is the recipe if you fancy a tasty autumn treat.

French Village Diaries Spicy Pumpkin and Chocolate Cake Recipe
Spicy Pumpkin and Chocolate Cake
125ml vegetable oil and 1 tbsp walnut oil (walnut oil is optional)
150g brown sugar
250g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
250g finely grated peeled pumpkin
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp of mixed spice

Preheat oven to 180c/Gas 4
Grease and flour a 22x33cm baking tin
In a large bowl, mix together oils and sugar until well blended. Combine flour, cocoa powder, spice and baking powder; stir into sugar mixture. Fold in pumpkin and egg. Spread evenly in prepared tin. Bake for 25 to 30 mins, until it springs back when gently touched. Allow to cool before topping with buttercream icing (100g softened butter, 150g icing sugar and 50g melted dark chocolate).



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book review of The Girl in Room Fourteen by Carol Drinkwater


French Village Diaries book review The Girl in Room Fourteen by Carol DrinkwaterThis week I have read my first Kindle Single (a short story commissioned by Amazon for Kindle format only), The Girl in Room Fourteen (Kindle Single) by Carol Drinkwater. I am well acquainted with Carol’s books having read The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil (the first of her four books set on her farm in Provence) shortly after we moved to France in 2004. Over the years I have read (and re read) all of them and her two books that explore the history of the olive tree around the Mediterranean. It is not difficult to fall in love with her life even though she accurately describes the good and the bad of life in France.

Carol is a great author who even makes her Facebook updates sound like poetry, so it is no surprise this is an incredibly well written book. We meet Cecile, the lemon lady who is always to be found selling her citrus fruits at Cannes market, except when she visits the Lemon Festival in nearby Menton, an event that is very special to her. Her story is full of intrigue and mystery, and we learn of a true love never forgotten.

The descriptions of Carol’s beloved Mediterranean coast and the passions we encounter in the storyline are bold and vivid. There are sad parts, exciting parts and surprising twists. It is a short story, but I was so engrossed it was a real shock to reach the end. I wasn’t ready for it to leave me when it did.

If you are a Provence fan or a Carol Drinkwater fan you will have an enjoyable excursion (or mini break) in this book.

Links to Carol’s other books from Amazon.co.uk can be found below.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

France Today in Poitou-Charentes

Earlier this year when the France Today team re-launched their magazine I gave it a shout out (here) as from the feel and smell of the paper to the articles and information inside I felt it was a really good quality read. 

Well, in the current edition I was delighted to find not one, but two great articles on the lovely Poitou-Charentes region. Having lived happily here for nearly ten years I know I am biased, but although our little region isn't as popular as Paris or Provence, we still have some lovely hidden gems, from pretty villages to smart cities and tasty foods to delicious drinks. It was lovely to see some of these having their moment of glory in the magazine. Even if you can't get here to experience it for real, you can get a glimpse from the pages of this great France read. For more information on how to get your hands on a copy see here.

French Village diaries France Today magazine Poitou-Charentes
France Today in Poitou-Charentes

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Art in the street at BarrObjectif 2013

French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes
BarrObjectif 2013
French village life isn’t always (often) exciting, lively or happening. I like it for that; the day-to-day calmness is very comforting. One of the greatest things about village life is the quirkiness that you often find just under the surface. Sometimes it is the people; sometimes it is the events that are organised to get the village noticed. One of these annual events is BarrObjectif, held in the small Charentais village of Barro on the banks of the river Charente. For one week, the village turns it’s houses, churches, hedgerows, fields, barns and riverbanks into a photography art gallery.

With close to 45 exhibitions there are quite a variety of themes, styles and subjects taken all over the world. Many of them are ‘make you think’ photographs, but there are those that make you smile too. This year the village church is home to some disturbing images from Syria, finding them in the church made it all the more shocking, but I guess that was the intention. Many of the photos were enhanced by their location, like the scarecrows that were my favourite and although it is undoubtedly a pretty village I think it is enhanced by this exhibition. 

Here are a few images to give you an idea of what is there, and if you happen to be in the area BarrObjectif runs until Sunday, so do pay it a visit.




French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries BarrObjectif 2013 Art Charente Poitou-Charentes




Monday, September 23, 2013

Tomato and Chilli Jam

Early autumn is one of my favourite times of year to be in the kitchen, cooking away the end of summer blues and knowing there will be lots of homemade goodies to indulge in over winter. Here is another great tomato recipe, a sweet and hot tomato and chilli jam that makes a great marinade for meats, zings up a stir-fry as well as spicing up the Christmas day cheese platter.
French village diaries recipes tomato and chilli jam potager
Tomato and Chilli Jam

1kg ripe tomatoes, skins removed
Fresh chilli peppers (to your taste, I use at least 8)
8 cloves of garlic
600g Demerera sugar
2tbsp Soy sauce or Worchester Sauce
235ml red wine vinegar

Chop the tomatoes and add to a food processor with the peeled garlic, the Soy sauce and the chillies (chopped but with seeds). Blend to a mush. Pour this and the vinegar into a large heavy bottomed saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar. Once boiled, turn the heat to low and leave to simmer, stirring every 10 minutes to keep from sticking. It is ready to pour into sterilised jars when a channel remains on the bottom of the pan after stirring with a wooden spoon.

For an alternative version with courgette (zucchini) rather than tomatoes, blend the chillies, garlic and soy sauce and add to 1kg grated courgette and the vinegar in the pan, then add the sugar and continue as above. This obviously doesn’t have the deep red colour of the tomato version, it is more of a murky brown, but the flavour and texture are superb and it is another way of using up courgettes.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book review of An Unexpected a Guest by Anne Korkeakivi

french village diaries book review An Unexpected Guest by Anne KorkeakiviAn Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi is an intriguing book of many layers and many storylines. Set in Paris, we meet Clare Moorhouse, the American wife of a British Diplomat whose world is turned upside down in the space of one day. She finds herself with 24 hours to organise and host a very important dinner for diplomatic guests and delicately deal with the staff issues this brings. In the midst of this, their son appears in Paris after an incident at his UK boarding school and a chance encounter in the street involves her in a terrorist incident. With all this on her mind she starts seeing a face in the crowd and a part of her past threatens to return and haunt her. However, Clare is a cool, calm and very organised wife and mother. Throughout all this she never appears to be stressed by these events and she never panics or raises her voice. If anything it all seems to make her stronger and as the book (and the day) progresses, events not only become clearer for the reader, but for her too. Decisions need to be made, but can she accept the consequences?

I was totally taken in by the unexpected storyline, even though at first Clare, with her cool attitude and hidden secrets, didn’t seem the sort of character I could warm to. However as we learn of her inner turmoil and the passion that she has swept aside over the years, plus her obvious strength, I grew to like her.

The narration moves smoothly from the past to present and back again and it is a fast paced read that kept me page turning well into the night. There is action and lots going on, but it is not a book for adrenalin junkies, as despite the twists and turns I found it to be a very calming read. When I reached the end I thought it was perfect, with just enough detail given to conclude the story and I’m looking forward to reading more from Anne.

An Unexpected Guest is published by Little, Brown and Company and is available as a paperback. A link to Amazon.co.uk is below.

This post has been linked to Dreaming of France.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Circuit des Remparts Angouleme

This weekend sees our local city of Angouleme celebrating it's annual Circuit des Remparts event. Tomorrow the streets become a race track for a wide variety of classic cars, but there was plenty of action to see today too. Many of the cars had spent the day touring the Charente department on a rally before returning to Angouleme where we were waiting to cheer them in and take their photo.

I am a little ashamed to admit, but this is the first time in nine years that we have managed to make a visit, which for a couple of petrol heads who own and love a Mini Cooper is almost unforgivable. However, September is normally Ade's busiest month work-wise, so it is not unusual for him to be away and other years we have had visitors and my birthday celebrations have got in the way. This year, although we can't make the race tomorrow, we did at least get to soak up the atmosphere today and had a great time (in petrol head heaven). 

We parked about 20 km outside of the city, so we could also get a decent bike ride in, and cycled through the vineyards before climbing up the steep hill into town. The sun was shining, the engines were revving and all was well with our world. Our weekends in the 1990's were usually spent at Mini events and track days and the sounds and smells we experienced today brought back many happy memories. There is nothing quite like the smells of leather and polish from an old car's interior or the Castrol R oil and high octane fuel. We did feel quite guilty that Gizmo our Mini Cooper missed out on all the action. Next year we may, at last, get to the ramparts race, I hope.

Here are just some of our photos from today.

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes
Circuit des Remparts Angouleme

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes
We love the Mini

French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries Circuit des Remparts Angouleme Classic car Poitou-Charentes







Friday, September 20, 2013

A walk in the orchard

I took a stroll around our orchard and potager today with my camera and thought I would share a few of my favourite photos. It was so nice to have the sunshine back and the forecast for next week looks pretty good too. This is good news, we have managed to do some picking this week, but there is so much work to do, especially weeding in the potager, we need the good weather to get us out and about. There is still plenty of produce to harvest, which means plenty of fun in the kitchen for me and plenty of recipes to share with you.

Have a lovely weekend and I hope the sun is shining for you too.

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
We have the BEST apple crop this year

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
Perfect Peaches

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
Almost time to start the walnut harvesting

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France Grapes
Hanging grapes on the pergola

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
My favourite boy

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
Not so welcome guests in the potager

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France Butternut Squash
My rambling butternut

French Village Diaries Orchard Potager Apples Peaches Walnuts Ducks Garden France
An autumn rose





Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cherry Mincemeat recipe


I am not one to talk about Christmas (or even start thinking about it or pressie shopping) in September, except for one thing, the mincemeat for my mince pies. Now is the perfect time to start making this, especially as my recipe uses cooking apples, which are falling like the rain here at the moment. The flavour will be so much better if made now, bottled, and left to mature in a cool, dark cupboard for a few months.
French village Diaries recipes Christmas Mincemeat Mince Pies
Cherry Mincemeat
Here is my tried and tested Cherry Mincemeat recipe, adapted from a lovely old jams and preserves book from Mum that dates from 1977 and was produced by The British Sugar Bureau. It is packed full of jams, chutneys, relishes, sauces and 1970’s styled pictures. It is retro, but I love it. I am busy making this in batches and we are all looking forward to the smell of freshly cooked mince pies in a few months time – for my pastry recipe, see here.
french village diaries 1970s retro cookbook cherry Mincemeat mince pies Christmas
Retro 1970s cookbook

700g (4 1/2 cups) mixed dry fruits; sultanas, raisins, cherries
150g (1 cup) glacé cherries
100g (1/4 cup) cut mixed peel
250g (1/2 lb) cooking apples, peeled and cored
100g (1/4 cup) shelled walnuts
250g (1.2 lb) shredded suet
450g (2 cups) demerara sugar
2 tsp mixed spice
Cognac to mix (or rum or sloe gin)

Coarsely mince or finely chop dried fruit, peel, apples and nuts. Add the suet, sugar, spice and enough Cognac to give a moist mixture. Stir well and leave to stand, covered, for 2 days. Stir well again and put into sterilised jars. Cover as for jam and leave to mature for at least two weeks (but longer if possible) before using.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

For the love of scarves

french village diaries for the love of scarves France
A splash of colour from my cherry scarf

I have never really been interested in, or bothered by fashion 'must haves' and latest trends, and wouldn't describe myself as stylish. However, there is something very feminine and a touch French about wearing a scarf that I have grown to love. I think a scarf is one of the hidden treasures of a lady's wardrobe that can offer so much in any season. Whether it is worn as a statement accessory with a plain outfit or to keep you warm in winter, it delivers. Your choice of fabrics, colours, and prints is almost endless as is how you wear it. You can wrap, tie, knot, loop or drape a scarf and add it to almost any outfit you own.

There is nothing quite so comforting as a warm scarf worn on a cold, crisp, winter walk, keeping the ills of the chills away. There is nothing quite as sensuous as the feel of a light summer scarf floating on your bare shoulders in the evening breeze. I love scarves.

The scarf gives confidence to the wearer, a touch of that very French je ne sais quoi. There is nothing a woman with the right scarf can not achieve.

A scarf is a great gift to give and a delightful gift to receive. How do you wear yours?