Friday, February 28, 2014

France et Moi with author Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Heads Above Water Stephanie Dagg France et Moi Interview
Heads Above Water
Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Stephanie Dagg about what France means to her as part of a virtual book tour organised by FranceBookTours for Stephanie’s memoir Heads Above Water . You can read my review of Heads Above Water here.

Stephanie lives with her family on a 75-acre farm in rural Creuse, running a gite, carp fishery and llama trekking business. She manages to fit her writing and freelance editing around family life, farming and renovating a 200-year-old farmhouse. I have virtually known Stephanie through blogging for many years and would love to sit and chat to her over a coffee, but for now I will have to make do with asking her a few questions 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’?

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Heads Above Water Stephanie Dagg France et Moi Interview
Stephanie Dagg
Steph: For me, experiencing France from a rural perspective, I think it’s space and time. We live in Creuse, one of the least densely populated départements of France, with lots of scattered farms, small villages and a few large towns. On top of that we have a 75-acre farm to ourselves (and something which we would never in a million years been able to afford back in Ireland) and our neighbours are all distant specks on the landscape! And as for time, yes, we have to keep an eye on the clock during term time since there’s the school bus to deposit our youngest on and retrieve him from. But time is more fluid here. There’s always time for a few words with the bus driver, people in the village and local town when we pop there on errands, anyone who drops by. If something can’t be done or finished today, then there’s always tomorrow. Plans can be changed.

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

Steph: Before we moved here, we had many fun family cycling holidays, so those are the best memories – cycling along tree-lined avenues, coming across life-saving cafés in the most unlikeliest of places and generally enjoying the great outdoors. 

3) Having lived in France and spoken French for many years do you have any top tips for my readers on how to learn French?

Steph: Listen to how the language sounds and copy that, but most of all just have a go at speaking the language. If you make mistakes, it doesn’t matter. It really is the only way to learn. Jump in at the deep end!

4) You are a Mum of three, and have seen all stages of the French education system and the Irish one too. How do you rate the French system?

Steph: I’m a huge fan. My kids have spanned maternelle to university now. We’ve gone the state school route and it’s proved excellent. They cover a wide range of subjects, although I do wish there was a bit more creative writing fitted in along the way. There are school clubs and trips at all levels, and youngsters are encouraged to go to study beyond the Bac i.e. go on to university or to other places of training and learning. Uni perhaps is more like an extension of lycée, at least initially, in that it’s more test-based than a UK or Irish university but both my older two will be able to study abroad through the Erasmus and other programmes. And most importantly of all, there’s financial support for students. No getting ridiculously into debt. 

5) As well as writing you are a Llama Farmer, what attracted you to llamas and do you eat them or use their fleece?

Steph: There are some I wouldn’t mind eating when they decide to go walkabout or lean against the fence and break it! Only joking – they’d be very expensive snacks. As for using the fleece, it’s on my to-do list. I have a spinning wheel but, despite going on a course, I’m still struggling with that a little. I’ve used small quantities for felting and stuffing, but since llamas don’t actually need to be shorn, and we only do our alpacas (I have about seven alpacas) every two years, there’s not too much of a wool stockpile. But there are rather more sacks of wool lying around than I have space for! 
We got into llamas by accident really. We’d seen some at an agricultural show in Bandon shortly before we left Ireland. We teased our eldest son, who was 14, that when we got to France we’d get him a scooter and a llama. Well, once we were here, we decided we’d go and see some llamas, out of interest. We went to a llama farm in Limousin and fell in love with these curious, majestic, beautiful creatures. And that was that! We diversified into alpacas a few years later, and we now have some huarizos, which are a cross between a llama and alpaca. They weren’t planned but we ended up with ten of them! That’s another story…

6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Steph: Do you know, I’m not actually a great one for the fancy buns. I usually indulge in a pain aux raisins, or a pain au chocolat. However, you can tempt me from time to time with a mille feuilles though. Yum.

7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? 

Steph: Blue cheeses are far too scary for me! I’m very partial to Cantal jeune (a hard cheese) and cream cheese with figs and nuts in. The cheese we eat most in our house is grated Emmental – I buy it in huge bags.

8) 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?

Steph: My very favourite part of France is Cantal, and my husband’s is the Auvergne so we’d have to find a small, old house with a huge garden in between their respective volcanic ranges. However, with a farm full of animals, travel is something we can’t do these days, at least not together!

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about? (I’m hoping for a sequel to Heads Above Water).

Steph: I have made a start on Total Immersion, which is the sequel to Heads Above Water . And I’m also tempted by a look at Belle Epoque France, inspired by all the magazines and newspapers of that period that we found in the attics of the houses here at Les Fragnes. I have a number of novels on the go too. I’d like to get something finished this year, but the busy season on the farm and with our gite and fishing lakes is about to start so creative time tends to be hard to find. But I will make a big effort. 

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

You can read more about Stephanie’s life in France on her blog here, find her on Twitter here and here and Facebook here. If you haven't yet read Heads Above Water, please do, it is a very funny account of life in rural France.



French Village Diaries France Book Tours Heads Above Water Stephanie Dagg France et Moi Interview
FranceBookTours


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Poppy

Today our Korat cat, Poppy, celebrated her 16th birthday, or in cat years her 80th birthday. When a lady reaches a grand old age like this, all she wants is to spend her days lazing around in a sunny spot and who can blame her! Here are some of her favourite places.

Poppy in a basket

Poppy in a sunny spot

Poppy under the bamboo
We thought long and hard about how to celebrate her special day and decided that the best treat for her would be to give the dog a shower and take the dog to the vet for her annual injections. I'm sure I saw the cat grinning, especially when we told her how much the dog cried at the vets. Happy Birthday Poppy.

Bathing the dog!



Book review and giveaway of I See London I See France by Paulita Kincer

French Village Diaries France Book Tours I See London I See France Paulita KincerToday I am taking part in a virtual book tour and giveaway via France Book Tours for Paulita Kincer’s latest novel I See London I See France and I am delighted to have an ebook copy of this book to giveaway anywhere in the world. To enter just email Frenchvillagediaries@gmail.com with I See London I See France as the email subject before 5th March 2014. Good luck.

About the Author
Paulita Kincer is also the author of THE SUMMER OF FRANCE (see my review here). She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch, among other newspapers. She has travelled to France 10 times dragging her three children along twice. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children. You can also read my France et Moi interview with her here.

Synopsis - provided by the author
French Village Diaries France Book Tours I See London I See France Paulita Kincer
Paulita Kincer
When her husband of a dozen years walks out in a huff, Caroline Sommers walks out too – to Europe, with her kids after impulsively selling her minivan for travel money. Tired of being the perfect wife, she escapes to rediscover herself, and possibly rekindle the unrequited love of a Frenchman from her college days.  While shepherding her kids from London to Scotland then Paris to Provence, she finds herself at a crossroads. Does she choose love, or lust, in the arms of a European man, or should she try again with the father of her children and the man she truly loved, once?

My review
I See London I See France is Paulita’s second novel and a really emotionally charged read. The main character Caroline is 100% devoted to her three young children and when her husband Scott walks out, claiming he’s had enough, she has to decide what it is she wants for her future. Years of marriage and parenting have left her feeling like she’s lost her way, but she’s not one to wallow in her misery. She sells her minivan, packs their bags and takes the children to London. Ever the home educator they sightsee from London to Tintagel Castle to Loch Ness to Paris before her emotions and exhaustion catch up with her. It is with friends in Aix en Provence where she finds some peace and the strength to decide what fires her passion; is it Scott her work-a-holic husband, is it Jean-Marc the sexy Frenchman she first met in her early twenties, is it dark and mysterious Gustave from the shores of Loch Ness, or is she happy just to be a Mother? I knew what decision I wanted her to make, but Paulita made me wait and sweat it out right to the end of the book.

Paulita’s writing went straight to my head; I felt every emotion Caroline was feeling, so much so this book affected my mood even when I wasn’t reading it. This book has a great story line, moved along at a nice pace and with some added interest as it jumped back and forward from the present to her time in Aix en Provence as a nanny in the late 1990’s. This is a book I will read again and I hope Paulita is busy working on her next novel. 

You can read Paulita's blog here, find her on Facebook here and follow her on Twitter here. I See London I See France is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found at the bottom of this post.



French Village Diaries France Book Tours I See London I See France Paulita Kincer
FranceBookTours


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Local Elections in France

French Village Diaries Elections Municipales 2014 France
2014 Local Elections in France

This next month will see many changes in local administration in France, as from the smallest commune to the largest city we are preparing for our local elections. The Maire and their team of councillors stand for a six year term of office and have the responsibility for decision making, budgets and local projects in the commune, among other things. The number of councillors and the voting rules change depending on the size of the commune and there have been some major changes to the voting system since the last elections in 2008.

A small commune like ours (under 1000 voters) requires a team of 11 councillors (including the Maire) and the larger the commune the greater number of councillors. A person wishing to become the Maire puts together a list of the required number and registers his or her intent with the departmental prefecture. Although nothing has been announced in our village the local newspapers are starting to report the registered lists for some communes and in the next few weeks canvassing for votes will commence.

The first round of voting takes place on Sunday 23rd March. In order to vote you had to have registered at your Mairie by 31st December 2013. European foreigners (like us) can vote at local and European elections but not in the French presidential elections. Non-French nationals can stand for election, but only as a councillor as they may not hold the office of Maire. It is fairly common, especially in rural areas for British expats to represented on the local council and our village has had a British councillor since 2008.

The French way of voting is very different from the UK system. In the UK, you receive a voting card with each of the candidates and you place a cross against the ONE you wish to vote for. In France you vote for a list of councillors. Voting takes place either at your Mairie or Salle des Fetes and on the day of voting you turn up with a piece of id which will be required to sign in. You will be given a printed list or lists of proposed teams. If you are happy with an entire list, you need do nothing more than place the printed list of 11 (or more depending on your commune size) in the envelope to vote. If you disagree with some of the choices you can cross off their names. For small communes, if there are two or more lists you may mix and match (panachage) between them, but only voting up to the maximum number on a list. Please note - this is no longer allowed in communes with over 1000 voters. Once you have sealed your envelope in secret, you place it in the ‘urn’ and you then sign out. Counting is carried out on site, in public, once voting has closed. If you wish to vote, but will be away on the day you can arrange a procuration or proxy vote at your local Gendarmerie.

The other major change since 2008 is that it is no longer possible to add a name that doesn’t appear on a pre-registered list. Bizarre as it may seem, you used to be able to vote anyone from the commune onto the council whether they had agreed to stand or not! These votes will no longer count.

If a list of the required number of councillors receives the majority vote on the first round they will be elected. If a majority vote is not reached for the required number of councillors there will be a second round of voting on Sunday 30th March. The elected councillors vote between themselves for the position of Maire and Deputies.

I hope this has helped to explain some of the differences between the French and UK system.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book review of Vic's Big Walk by Vic Heaney


French Village Diaries Book Review Vic's Big Walk Vic Heaney Walking Pancreatic Cancer Research
My review today is for Vic's Big Walk by Vic Heaney. Vic is cool! Vic walked from his ‘home’ in the south of France, to the house he was born in 70 years earlier in Blackpool (north west UK). This epic walk of nearly 2000kms was timed to take 70 days and arrive on his 70th birthday. It is not uncommon to want to celebrate a big birthday with a challenge, but for Vic the real goal was to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer research and he felt it had to be a significant challenge to bring in the donations. He was always happy to talk to those he met en route about his fundraising and continues to raise money through the sales of this book. So far he has raised a whopping £9,375.

In addition to the walking, Vic also updated his blog as he was on the road and made plenty of notes for this book which is so much more than a walkers diary of ‘I got up, walked, got there, had dinner, went to bed’. It is an entertaining account of his adventure and I was a bit sad when I finished this book. I was obviously pleased that Vic had achieved his goal, but to be honest I could have gone on rambling alongside him, although I’m guessing he was pleased to leave it there.

Although this was a solo walk Vic had a great team behind him - his wife; who was driver of the motor home support vehicle/accommodation for the trip, chief laundry steward, cook, route planner and more. The physical challenge of this walk would make me, a person half Vic’s age, think twice about completing it, but when I read that Vic also has an eye condition that makes map reading almost impossible it just increased my awe for him. Vic is tres cool! If Vic can walk an amazing 2000km to raise money the least we can all do is buy this book to help him.

You can find Vic’s JustGiving page here. You can read Vic’s guest post he wrote for me here and my ‘France et Moi’ interview with him here

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In the spotlight

French Village Diaries Guest Speaker Les Jardiniers du Sud-Ouest à Chives
Guest Speaker
Sometimes my life can be rather routine, sometimes things get exciting, and at the moment I seem to be going through an exciting phase. I was recently contacted by a local gardening club, who incidentally happen to be the longest running English language gardening association in the whole of France, to see if I would give a short talk to the members at their Annual General Meeting. As I read the email, I could feel my heart rate increase as my eyes widened and that tingle of panic mixed with excitement took hold in my stomach. I am quite a shy person, happy to share my French village life via my blog and regular column in the Deux Sèvres Monthly magazine, but not really used to speaking in front of an audience. However, I feel it is a good thing to step out of your comfort zone every now and then and if I’m honest, I do like a challenge.

Yesterday afternoon saw me ‘preaching’ the benefits of growing and eating courgettes (zucchini) to twenty enthusiastic gardeners with happy, smiley faces. They welcomed me into their meeting, they listened and they even had a few questions that I hope I was able to answer for them. They were so friendly I have decided to become a member and am looking forward to taking part in their monthly meetings, horticultural days out, summer bbqs and Christmas meal. I’m also hoping that over time I will be able to convert any non-courgette growers to become fans even if it means giving away seedlings. Yesterday, as well as coffee and chocolate biscuits, I was also lucky enough to win a new trowel in the monthly raffle, which I promise wasn’t fixed even though I managed to draw my own ticket.

Thank you to the members of Les Jardiniers du Sud-Ouest à Chives for being so welcoming. If any of my local gardening friends would like to join in the fun I can let you have the membership details.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book review of The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern

French Village Diaries Book Review Gallic books The People in the Photo Helene Gestern
The People in the Photo
My review today is for The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern. This is a French novel translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz and brought to the English language by Gallic Books, who kindly sent me a copy to read and review.

Knowing nothing about her Mother, who died when she was three, the main character Hélène Hivert turns detective and takes out an advert in a newspaper in an attempt to find some information. Her only link to her Mother is a photograph taken in Interlaken in 1971, but she has no idea who the two men pictured with her are. Until, that is, she is contacted by Stéphane, a Swiss biologist living in Kent and the son of one of the men in the photograph.

A correspondence between the two of them begins, formally by letter at first and then as they grow comfortable with each other they chat and email more frequently and informally. It is obvious that a relationship is growing, but with so many unanswered questions from their ‘shared’ past they must proceed with caution. Her investigation brings as many questions as it gives answers and as every new bit of information is found and shared between them, their lives (past and present) change forever. Many of their family friends and relatives have died or are too old and infirm to be quizzed, but how much do Hélène and Stéphane really want to know? Has Hélène left it too late to find out the truth about her past? Will knowing give her closure and will that bring them together or drive them apart?

This is a very different book to my normal reads, but has an intriguing plot and as it is written as a collection of letters and emails is very easy to read. It is engaging and page turning as you are drawn into both the investigation into the past, but also in wanting to find out how their relationship is coping with what is uncovered. I loved how the tones of the correspondence changed throughout the book as their relationship evolves. I will probably read this book again as I’m sure there will be bits I missed first time around.

Published by Gallic Books, The People in the Photo is available from today in ebook and paperback format. Links to Amazon below.

Friday, February 14, 2014

France et Moi with writer Helen Aurelius-Haddock


French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Helen Aurelius-Haddock
Helen Aurelius-Haddock

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to writer Helen Aurelius-Haddock about what France means to her. Helen has lived in Poitou-Charentes France since 2004, writes a blog about food and France, regularly contributes to a number of French lifestyle websites and has had articles published in the Daily Telegraph, French Property News and Flavour Magazine.

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. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Helen: I think I'd have to say that the French houses, especially the older ones in the countryside are quite stunning. I've lived here for nearly ten years now and I am still bowled over by the breathtaking places I pass when I am out and about.
The other "French" thing about it is the fascination the French have about food. You can engage them on pretty much any subject, but in the end, it will all come down to food. It's like a religion for them!
Also, they seem to still have a very strong sense of family loyalty here, and they spend a lot of time together - usually eating!!!

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

Helen: The best thing was realising that we had at long last achieved our dream of many years and had finally found a place to live in France.
Sending our youngest daughter Eve to school here was a real high too. We'd sent our eldest Holly off to university to study French in Bristol just before we left, and were delighted that both of them were going to have a close affinity to the country we had come to love.

The scariest thing was being offered a job about three weeks after arriving!
I was approached to teach English in a number of local primary schools, but I had always taught adults in the UK.
I had visions of them tying my shoelaces together under the desk and putting a live mouse in my school bag. I decided to turn them down, as I wasn't too confident that I would be able to handle a class full of ten year olds.

3) 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?

Helen: That's easy! I always have un grand creme avec du lait froid - I love French coffee but its so strong - I am quite crafty asking for cold milk as the waiters always seem to give you more, which "softens" the coffee for me. If it's early, then I must have a pain au chocolat - I just can't resist them.

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

Helen: I am a real foodie, so France is a bit of gastro paradise for me. One local dish I love is "rillons" -  pork belly, slow cooked in the oven with red wine, bay leaves garlic and fresh herbs. I cook it when family comes to stay and it gets devoured very quickly. Delicious!

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

Helen: Yes, Andouillette. Shall we move on?

6) 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?

Helen: Gosh, that's a hard one, let me think.....Ah, I'd be a Chabichou. It sounds like "shabby chic" and I guess that sums up me and my lifestyle really! Tastes great too!

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

Helen: With great difficulty! I like to think of it like this:
Imagine a "vigneron" standing in a narrow lane. To his left is a vineyard, to his right is a vineyard. They both grow the same grapes, but the one to his left is on a higher gradient than the other. It gets a tad more wind and sun. I can guarantee the vigneron will tell you that the wines taste completely different from each place, because the "terroir" is different. I tend to agree with this tenet of wine lore, and after years of wine tastings, I can attest to this fact being true.

8) France gets a lot of good press about it’s health care system, have you any experience of using it and how do you rate it?

Helen: I am a big supporter of the French health care system.
About five years ago, I became ill and underwent a number of tests. I was diagnosed as having genetic hemochromatosis. Although it is a hereditary disease, I was the first one in my family to be diagnosed with it. The genetic test was swiftly carried out, along with a battery of others, leaving no stone unturned. My health care and support system here is excellent, and have often wondered how long my illness might have gone undiagnosed in the UK. It is no coincidence that, according to the World Health Organisation, France comes out as one of the top health care providers in the world.

9) How does France inspire your writing?

Helen: My writing is about France, so to be immersed in the life and culture day in day out is ideal. I live in a very peaceful place, which provides an ideal location to write with the minimum of disruption.
It has so much natural beauty that the landscape often talks to me through my writing. It's quite spontaneous really.

Finally, you are currently writing a novel set in France. Is this your first book and can you tell us a little bit about it and when we will be able to read it?

Helen: I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this: It is a novel about moving to new pastures, and in the case of the main character, they are making the move alone. Trying to start out in a new place as a family or couple is hard enough, so the themes of loneliness, isolation and fitting in will be explored within its pages. The novel will be published in the Autumn of this year.

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

You can follow Helen’s blog here, find her on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review of Confessions of a Paris Party Girl by Vicki Lesage

My review today is for Confessions of a Paris Party Girl by Vicki Lesage, a fast moving, humorous memoir of Vicki’s first six years in Paris.

French Village Diaries book review Confessions of a Paris Party Girl Vicki LesageArriving alone with her laptop and a freelance web designer work plan, Vicki is in Paris to party, and party she does. My ever-sensible eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at some of her stories, including when she mentioned the early closing bar where everyone was booted out by 2.00am. It just highlighted my dull youth when I realise 2.00am has never been a time to move on to another bar for me. She is also not afraid to write honestly about being so drunk that unpleasant incidents occur - you should see the smug smile my sensible head is making now!

I was a bit worried from the description that there would be a bit too much moaning and anti-French rants in this book, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Vicki embraces all that Paris has to offer her; from the simple pleasure of walking to the boulangerie, to late night drinking sessions, to boyfriends found in bars, to full time French employment, to wedded bliss and beyond. Her writing brings the characters she meets to life, her friends, boyfriends, fellow Metro travellers and French officials, and the stories she tells are full of humour, even the truly frustrating ones. What was most enjoyable was watching her change and mature as her life in Paris blossomed.

I’d love to read more from Vicki so I’ve signed up to her blog, but I do hope she brings out another book too. You can also follow Vicki on Twitter here and Facebook here.

This book will give you a lighthearted look at life in Paris and should be essential reading for anyone planning a similar move to Paris or anyone missing the heady days of their youth. Confessions of a Paris Party Girl is available in paperback and ebook format. Many thanks to Vicki for sending me a copy to review.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

French Brasserie Cookbook Terrine de Porc


When we buy a half pig (which we did last week) we get certain cuts of meat that wouldn’t normally feature on our regular supermarket shopping list but we don’t like to waste them. With a fridge full of pig liver and the excess fat trimmed off the casserole/mince cuts, we needed to consult the recipe books for some ideas. Thankfully the French Brasserie Cookbook: the Heart of French Home Cooking by Daniel Galmiche has a recipe for a Terrine de Porc that I was able to adjust slightly (as is my way) and put all our excesses to good use and even throw in a few homegrown ingredients.

I enjoy flipping through any recipe book, but this one is an especially good read with it’s informative wordy bits and easily achievable recipes. Brasserie cooking is probably the best style/type of French cooking to try in the home, as it is not tricky or pretentious, but is wholesome and comforting. This book covers all the basics like stocks, vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, dressings and the various types of pastry. It is illustrated with great photos and as well as finding all the usual French regional delights: Ratatouille, Tarte Tatin (although I did like the twist of rosemary and almonds), Clafoutis, Crêpes, Bouillabaisse, Cassoulet and Beef Bourguignon, there are also some more unusual recipes; Lime Risotto, Vegetable and Chickpea couscous and one of our favourites, a delicious wild garlic soup.

Here is my slightly adapted version of the Terrine de Porc recipe.

French Village Diaries recipes book review French Brasserie Cookbook Daniel Galmiche Terrine de Porc Cognac Walnuts Food France
Using our new mincer
600g pork shoulder/neck, coarsely minced (note a true terrine would have some meat left cubed, but we prefer a smoother texture).
300g pork liver, minced
300g pork belly fat, minced
3 tbsp Cognac
½ tsp grated nutmeg
100ml dry white wine
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
12 slices of streaky bacon
2 eggs
100ml double cream
35g shelled, chopped walnuts
2 sprigs of thyme

Mince all the meat, liver and fat, combine with the Cognac, wine, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix, then cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas mark 1/130 degrees and remove meat from fridge. Cover the base and sides of a terrine mould with the bacon, allowing it to hang over the sides.

Whisk eggs and cream together and gradually add to meat mix, then add the walnuts. Pack the mix into the mould and push down firmly with a spatula. Place the thyme sprigs on top and cover with the bacon. Place in a deep oven dish and fill dish with hot water to reach two-thirds of the way up the terrine mould. Bake for about 2 hours. It is done when a thermometer inserted into the centre reaches 68 degrees.

French Village Diaries recipes book review French Brasserie Cookbook Daniel Galmiche Terrine de Porc Cognac Walnuts Food France
Ready to wrap and bake
Leave to cool completely at room temperature with a 1-2kg weight on top. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper between the terrine and the weight. Once cold, cover and place in the fridge for two days to allow the flavours to develop. We always serve on bread or toast with cornichons.

French Brasserie Cookbook: the Heart of French Home Cooking by Daniel Galmiche is published by Duncan Baird Publishers and available in hardback and ebook formats.


French Village Diaries recipes book review French Brasserie Cookbook Daniel Galmiche Terrine de Porc Cognac Walnuts Food France
Terrine de Porc with Cognac and Walnuts

Friday, February 7, 2014

An evening out

Last night I went out. I don’t mean out as a taxi service for Ed, or out to drop off or collect Ade from the airport, or out at a village committee meeting, I mean taking myself out of the village and indulging in an evening for me, doing something I wanted to do. I was so pleased with myself, I still had a big happy smile on my face this morning.

Local author Karen Wheeler was talking about her French inspired diet book The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake and Still Lose Weight at the Entente Internationale du Pays Civraisin. This was just too good an opportunity to finally meet someone who has shared her life in France via the pages of her three memoirs Tout Sweet: Hanging Up my High Heels for a New Life in France , Toute Allure: Falling in Love in Rural France and Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France , despite Civray being about forty minutes away and across the departmental border. I am not the greatest fan of driving alone at night and last night we were under the threat of a severe weather warning, but I consulted the oracle that is my husband, grabbed a friend for company (thanks Paula) and set off for my night out. Thankfully, despite the weather attempting to blow a spanner in the works, we made it there and back without any problems. It seemed for our area at least there was more hype than power in the gusts of wind, phew!

When you are used to plodding around the mud in the duck hanger wearing old clothes and wellies, the thought of meeting a former London fashion editor and international writer was quite daunting. As I predicted, despite having immersed herself into rural French life for the last eight years Karen still turned up in a pair of heels the like my feet have never seen. I did drag out a skirt from the back of the wardrobe, dug out my ‘posh’ boots and cobbled together what I hoped was a fresh faced, hint-of-natural make up look – ie applied face cream after shower and rummaged around in make up bag for eye shadow and a bit of lippy. Please note the flushed look on my cheeks is my natural blush and has nothing to do with one too many wines as, a) I was driving and b) no alcohol has touched my lips all year.

French village diaries Karen Wheeler Poitou-Charentes Entente Internationale Pays du Civraisin
Blogger meets writer

Karen, like me is passionate about what she eats and how it is prepared. I’m glad I’m not the only one who would love to be in a world where everyone has the time, money and knowledge to shun the processed rubbish and cook and bake good wholesome food for their families. We could have exchanged homemade cake recipes, discussed the many benefits of chicken bone stock and soup being the dieter’s best friend all night. I was a little disappointed that her beloved dog Biff didn't join in the fun, but she had filled the car with homemade cakes to share instead.

I will admit to being a bit star struck and probably embarrassed myself a little by being the first fan of the evening to pull out the camera and plead for a picture. I also pulled out my copy of Tout Sweet, the only paperback copy of her books I own, to be signed.

You can read my review of Tout Sweet here, Toute Allure here, The Marie-Antoinette Diet here and my France et Moi interview with Karen here

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A warm winter walk


The weather this week is somewhat mad; the sunshine, blue skies and mild temperatures are whispering about spring, but the wild winds are refusing to let thoughts of winter disappear just yet and when it rains it does so with gusto. We are also on an orange alert for high winds this evening, but so far this winter our little Poitou-Charentes microclimate seems to be doing it’s thing and compared with many other places in France, the UK and the US we really can’t complain. It would really make my winter if we escaped with no snow.

This morning was my first yoga session of the year and it feels good to have given my body a real stretch and enjoy the sense of calm that washes over the mind after the meditation and relaxation. But this afternoon has been anything but relaxing.

After a coffee, the dog and the weather were taunting us to get out, despite the fact we got soaked to the skin yesterday and as today is a hunt day, there is a real risk of being shot!  We didn’t regret it. It was the sort of walk where you start off wrapped up with hat, coat, scarves and gloves, but the further you walk the warmer you get, off come the gloves, down goes the zip on the coat and off comes the scarves and hats. It was a real mind blowing walk – the wind was so strong it blew into every corner of my mind uprooting thoughts long forgotten. It was lovely to feel the sun on our faces, see the vibrant green fields and watch the deer in the distance dash away before the wind carried their scent to Mini’s super sensitive nose. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Having blown the proverbial cobwebs away we lunched on courgette soup, the first tasting of our homemade pork terrine (very yummy, recipe coming soon) and plum cake before kitting up in the lycra and taking the bikes out. Despite the wind we managed to complete our 21km triangle route in an hour. It was the perfect day to road test our new wind block cycle tops and as they worked in the gusts today, normal wind will be a breeze.



French Village Diaries France French life Walking
Our dog walk lane

French Village Diaries France French life Walking fields
Winter ploughed fields

French Village Diaries France French life Walking deer
Can you see the deer?

French Village Diaries France French life Walking deer
Run!



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book review of On Foot Across France by Tim Salmon

French Village Diaries BookWormWednesday review On Foot Across France Tim Salmon Walking Meridienne Verte TravelMy bookworm Wednesday review today is for On Foot Across France - Dunkerque To The Pyrenees by Tim Salmon. This book had me hooked from the beginning; anyone who starts a book talking about weighing his underwear must have a great story to tell, and he does. Tim’s story is about his walk from Dunkerque in the north of France to the Pyrenees, following La Méridienne Verte, the line that neatly bisects France straight down the middle. In 62 walking days he covered approximately 1315km on foot, but unfortunately it was not as straightforward as locating the track in Dunkerque and following clearly marked signs all the way down. It was a true navigational adventure.

Throughout the book there is as much rambling of his thoughts as there is of his feet, however with an intelligent eye and interesting take on France, the UK and the changes in Europe this was OK with me. I have read more light-hearted books about long distance walking in France, but I know myself how my mind wanders on our daily dog walks, so I felt a real honesty came out of his thoughts as he was on the road. He is certainly not afraid to voice his opinions honestly, although I’m sure not everyone will agree with them. Some of his thoughts paint quite a depressing picture of his view of what the future holds for us, but if I’m honest I have to say he made a lot of sense to me. Sometimes it was a shock when he suddenly switched back to talking about his route or those he had met that day, as I was so away with his thoughts I’d forgotten we were walking through France. I loved that he took the time to talk to those he meets; the old farmer sat on his favourite plank, those he stays or dines with and recounts the tales they share with him. I also can’t ignore the fact there is as much description of the many ladies he meets and visually appraises as there is of the villages and countryside. Not every day was as idyllic as this description, but this was one of my favourites from the book:

“It was to be a day of hamlets and hay meadows, oak wood and deep descents to rivers, few houses and scarcely any people.”

This book would be perfect for the thinking armchair traveller who wants to see France and talk to her people.

Many thanks to the publisher Blackbird Digital Books who sent me a copy to read and review. On Foot Across France - Dunkerque To The Pyrenees is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below.