Friday, June 26, 2015

Nuits Romanes in Poitou-Charentes


French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes Gospel singers open air concert

This weekend sees the opening of the 2015 Nuits Romanes (Roman Nights) summer concert season in Poitou-Charentes. Now in it’s 11th year it was originally the initiative of local Member of Parliament Ségolène Royal to highlight the 800 Romanesque churches and abbeys in Poitou-Charentes, as well as bringing culture and the arts to the people. Many of the Romanesque churches in our region are on the pilgrimage route to Compostela in Spain and although we may not be home to the Pont du Gard or the huge arena in Nimes, we are still one of the top regions in France for Roman architecture.


French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes light show on Romanesque church

Advertised widely throughout France, including on the Paris Metro, these free concerts are a great way of highlighting our region and each year many camping car tourists arrive from elsewhere to follow the spectacle around the Poitou-Charentes. In 2014 160,000 spectators enjoyed the music, dance, light and fire shows in villages and towns with Romanesque churches. Even small villages with fewer than five hundred inhabitants can see audiences of around a thousand.



French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes fire dancers

This year there will be 170 evening concerts from 26th June to 5th September, all with free entry and providing a perfect way to spend a convivial evening with friends and family while enjoying the beauty of the architecture and the art of the performers. To coincide with the sailing of the replica of the Hermione from Rochefort to America earlier this year, four American groups will be appearing as guests of honour at thirteen of the concerts, performing Cajun, Gospel, Jazz and Soul music. Many of the events will also be holding a local produce market that takes place before the main spectacles begin at 21h00 and I’m hoping that like last year some venues may also offer a small platter of regional produce. The melon, paté, farci, goat cheese and apple juice handed out for free in Couture-d’Argenson was the perfect end to a lovely evening. I would advise taking your own chairs or picnic rugs, although some seating is usually provided if you get there early, and if you want to make a real evening of it, why not bring a picnic and wine too.


French Village Diaries Nuits Romanes music concerts Poitou-Charentes France
Nuits Romanes Poitou-Charentes

These are some of the photos I took last year, but for those with the ability to take really good action shots in the dark don't forget to enter the Nuits Romanes photo competition. Full details on the competition and all the information on the 2015 programme can be found on their website here. You can also follow the Nuits Romanes Facebook page here.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book review of The Lazy Cook by Susie Kelly


My review today is for The Lazy Cook (Book One): Quick and Easy Meatless Meals, Susie Kelly’s latest book that was released this week.

French Village Diaries book review The Lazy Cook Susie KellyIt was great to read something new from Susie as I’m a huge fan of her writing (especially her travel memoirs set in France) and she always makes me laugh. This book, although primarily a cookbook is no exception, as her no-nonsense guide to tasty homemade meals is interspersed with little anecdotes from her foodie recollections and contained more than one ‘snort out loud’ moment.

Susie is a very well traveled lady who has lived and worked in quite a few countries, and obviously enjoyed the local food and cultures while she was there. These experiences and many years of collecting favourite recipes have given her plenty of material for this book, including memories from her early life in Africa, street food in Nairobi, tales from dinner parties, life in France and recipes from her Italian mother-in-law. Susie shares all these and more with her unique sense of humour that never failed to make me smile. As Susie and her husband are vegetarians and as the title suggests, the only thing you won’t find in this book are meat recipes, although she does admit that many of her salad, curry and sauce recipes would work well with meats too. I’m not a vegetarian, but there were so many delicious sounding recipes in this book I never found myself yearning for a meat dish while reading it.

Top of my list of recipes to try are the smoked salmon quiche, as it is a very luxurious sounding recipe and the baked walnut balls as we have two huge walnut trees, so I’m always looking for interesting and different walnut recipes.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed that the measurements given are only in cup sizes as I have so many different sized cups at home I never know which one to use, but give me a gram and I know where I am. Thankfully, like Susie, I’m happiest when experimenting in the kitchen and to have a recipe book that positively encourages me to play with the recipes and quantities to suit my tastes is very refreshing. Susie encourages a relaxed attitude to cooking and therefore this book would be perfect for those people who want to cook something different, but often feel daunted by difficult or complicated methods. 

The Lazy Cook (Book One): Quick and Easy Meatless Meals is available in ebook and paperback format and is published by Blackbird Digital Books who kindly sent me a copy to read and review. Amazon links to The Lazy Cook and Susie’s other books can be found below. You can also read my France et Moi interview with Susie here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer hollyhocks in the Deux Sèvres

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, white

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, so I thought a wander around the garden would be a nice way to mark this special occasion. The sun has been shining for a whole week so it feels like summer at last and although the sunflowers in the fields are not quite in flower, the hollyhocks in the garden are putting on a great display. 

I love our hollyhocks as every year they self-seed all over our garden, giving us tall spires of vibrant colours. They also decorate the roads all around our village and can be found in the surrounding villages all the way to the coastal resorts of the Charente-Maritime. Here are just some of the colours I found flowering today, in our garden. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Here's to a great summer!


French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, pale yellow

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, white with a hint of pink

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, two pinks

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, dark pink

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, cerise pink

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, deep pink

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, dark purple

French Village Diaries summer hollyhocks Deux Servres Poitou-Charentes France
Summer hollyhocks, almost black








Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book review of 7 Years Bad Sex by Nicky Wells

Today I am taking part in a virtual book promotion event for 7 Years Bad Sex by Nicky Wells via Brook Cottage BooksOne wedding. One curse?  Disaster ever after…


French Village Diaries Brook Cottage Books review promotion 7 Years Bad Sex Nicky Wells
7 Years Bad Sex by Nicky Wells
On a yacht off the coast of St Tropez in the South of France, a young couple, very much in love are getting married in front of all their friends and family before setting off to cruise the Med alone on their honeymoon. Nothing could be more perfect for them. However, mysterious forces seem to collide at a critical point during the celebrations leaving the newlyweds under performing in the bedroom department. It doesn't seem to matter what they try or where they try it, odd things occur to put physical or mental barriers that end up interrupting their intimacy at a critical point. Will they be able to work out what is wrong and more importantly how to put it right?

This is a fun, lively read. Alex and Casey are a likeable couple and I found myself rooting for them and willing things to get better. There is lots of humour and lots of laughs, but let’s face it, it's not really a funny subject and there is a seriousness to their situation when events seem to get the better of them. I really couldn't see where this story was going to end, but there was a surprise or two towards the end of the book that I thought finished things off nicely.

This book is something a bit different for your sunlounger reading this summer, but please note it does contain mildly explicit language.

About the author.
Ultimate rock chick author Nicky Wells writes romance with rock stars—because there’s no better romantic hero than a golden-voiced bad boy with a secret soft heart and a magical stage presence!

French Village Diaries Brook Cottage Books review promotion 7 Years Bad Sex Nicky Wells
Nicky Wells
Nicky’s books offer glitzy, glamorous romance with rock stars—imagine Bridget Jones ROCKS Notting Hill! If you’ve ever had a crush on any kind of celebrity, you’ll connect with Nicky’s heroes and their leading ladies.

Born in Germany, Nicky moved to the United Kingdom in 1993 and currently lives in Lincoln with her husband and their two boys. Nicky loves listening to rock music, dancing, and eating lobsters. When she’s not writing, she’s a wife, mother, occasional knitter, and ad-hoc radio show presenter. Rock on!




Did you know? There’s a single out now by Nicky’s fictional rock band Tuscq come to life! “Love Me Better” is available for download from Amazon, iTunes and many other places. 




French Village Diaries Brook Cottage Books review promotion 7 Years Bad Sex Nicky Wells
Promotion special offer price of 99p

As part of this promotion the ebook is available for only 99p or 99c from Amazon until 24th June, so don’t miss out. Links to Amazon for all of Nicky's books can be found below. Having spotted the Eiffel Tower on the cover, I think I might have to read Sophie's Turn next!

French Village Diaries Brook Cottage Books review promotion 7 Years Bad Sex Nicky Wells



Friday, June 19, 2015

France et Moi with author Susan Herrmann Loomis


Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, to coincide with the release of her new book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France I am talking to Susan Herrmann Loomis about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Susan Herrmann Loomis In a French KitchenSusan Herrmann Loomis is an award-winning journalist, author, professionally trained chef, and proprietor of a cooking school, On Rue Tatin. She is the author of twelve books, including French Farmhouse Cook Book and her memoir, On Rue Tatin: The Simple Pleasures of Life in a Small French Town , which was named the IACP’s Best Literary Food Book in 2002. She lives with her two children in Louviers, where she moved nearly twenty years ago.

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’?

Susan: Well, since you mention dog poo (caca de chien), I think the machines that are used to clean this off the streets are quite remarkable, and testament to France's incredible ingenuity. And I'm actually not kidding, but this isn't something that I think about on a daily basis…!  What makes France truly extraordinary is the flavor of its food, the incredibly variety of its landscapes, the sheer numbers of exciting wines available, and the focus most of the French have on food and pleasure, in that order.
Photo by Cathy Arkle

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

Susan: The scent of butter in the air.

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?

Susan: Live with a French family where small children will laugh at you until you cry, and will shame you into pulling that vocabulary and grammar out of your head. If that isn't of interest, I would honestly suggest an immersion program where you are speaking French with French people all the time. It's tiring, but effective.

4) Where did your love of the region of Normandy begin?

Susan: It began with Camembert and a salad at the home of my friend Edith Leroy (a character in the book). We were seated at a round wooden table in her kitchen, the fire was keeping us warm, the cheese was oozing on the plate and I was in heaven. I couldn't understand everything, but I didn't care.

5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty; do you have a favourite regional dish?

Susan: Danie Dubois' confit d'oie – goose confit. It is my favorite thing on earth, aside from her duck breast stuffed with foie gras.  But then again, there is the roast chicken with apples, pears, and quinces (see p. 205 of In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France ).

6) Is there any French food you won’t eat?

Susan: I'm not crazy about kidneys.

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

Susan: Slam-dunk. Double espresso with pain au chocolate. Perfection.

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

Susan: Great, great question, and one I've never thought of. I'm going to choose one of your choices – I am probably a Roquefort, not because I'm salty, I'm actually very sweet. But there is a lot of strength in a Roquefort, and it ends up seducing nearly everyone!

9) Do you think the French have a different attitude to food than other countries and if so, is it a healthier one?

Susan: Oh my, of course they do!  They view food as something delicious and pleasurable, something nutritious and linked to their personal culture and history. Food is important; it is vital; it is fun; it is exciting to the French.

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

Susan: My kitchen or garden (I sound like a snob, but you asked…). The apero of choice is champagne (more snob).  As for nibbles? I LOVE Tapenade with both toasts and crudités – either seasoned with fresh basil from the garden, or thyme flowers, or just lots of garlic.  I also love red bell peppers roasted and moistened with olive oil and seasoned with shards of garlic  - also for toasts.

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

Susan: Every day feels like a current project!  I'm newly a Professor of Gastronomy for the semester abroad at Trinity College, and I love it – a blend of history and tasting, walking through the market and watching students' eyes light up at everything; I've got a book idea that I'm working on, but that is all I can say about that!  Otherwise, I've got a stack of recipes I am working on, and one of them involves fresh strawberries, limes, a tiny bit of gelatin, and some balsamic vinegar….

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

Susan’s latest book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France was released in hardback and ebook format on 16th June. You can read my review here and you can find links to Amazon for some of her books below. You can also find Susan on Facebook, Twitter and read details about her cookery school on her website here.





Thursday, June 18, 2015

Out and about in Melle

French Village Diaries #HTRJack Hit The Road Jack blog link Melle Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes
#HTRJack Eglise de St Pierre, Melle

My bloggy friend Jennie from A Lady in France (also the title of her great memoir) has had a brilliant idea to motivate herself and her readers to get out and about in their local area. Her Hit The Road Jack #HTRJack blog link up is a weekly link to share photos you have taken when out and about. Yesterday evening, despite a morning bike ride of 36km for Ade and I, and an afternoon walk for Mini with Ed, we decided the 30 minutes while Ed was at his guitar lesson would be perfect for a quick dog walk in Melle, a petite cité de caractère about twenty kilometres from home. 


French Village Diaries #HTRJack Hit The Road Jack blog link Melle Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes
Fontaine de Villiers, Melle

The road from the car park took us past the church of St Pierre, one of the three very impressive Romanesque churches found in Melle, before heading down a small lane towards the Fontaine de Villiers, an old lavoir or wash house.


French Village Diaries #HTRJack Hit The Road Jack blog link Melle Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes
Fontaine de Villiers, Melle

The land sloped away on the left to the river and we looked through gates at one neatly kept potager after another, where the mixed greens of the rows of beans, potatoes, onions and salads were glowing in the evening sun.


French Village Diaries #HTRJack Hit The Road Jack blog link Melle Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes
The potagers, vegetable gardens

At the river, our pathway become part of the Chemin de la Découverte, a 6km circuit of Melle that takes you through the arboretum, past two lavoirs, the leper pool, the old silver mines, the Romanesque church of St Hilaire and onto the old railway line. Over the years we have explored most of it, but not all in one go, unlike the family who run one of our favourite local restaurants, Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Brioux-sur-Boutonne, who we met looking hot, but happy, having just finished running the circuit. Chapeau! 26 degrees is a warm evening for running, in my opinion.


French Village Diaries #HTRJack Hit The Road Jack blog link Melle Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes
Chemin de la découverte, Melle


I hope this has inspired you to get out and about and if you have a blog or an Instagram account why not join in and share your pictures. You don’t have to have loads of free time, go too far from home or live somewhere exotic, just open your door, take your camera and Hit The Road Jack. You can read more posts by clicking here#HTRJack



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book review of In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis


My review today is for In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis, a brand new release this week from the author who lives and runs a cookery school in Normandy.

French Village Diaries book review In A French Kitchen Susan Herrmann LoomisMany years ago I read Susan’s memoirs On Rue Tatin: The Simple Pleasures of Life in a Small French Town and Tarte Tatin: More of La Belle Vie on Rue Tatin about how she found herself buying a derelict convent in the grounds of the church in the Norman town of Louviers and how she turned it into a beautiful family home and business too. Her latest book, In A French Kitchen is a cookbook with 85 recipes, but it is a narrated journey too. Susan takes us from one French kitchen to another via her recollections and recipes (as well as those of her French friends), learning the French way as we go and covering everything from breakfasts, French breads, salads, main dishes, cheese, desserts and more. It was quite exciting to step back into her kitchen and read more about her home cooking experiences in France. Quite early on in the book she walks us around her French kitchen, which was described so beautifully I could visualise it all, and have to admit was rather jealous.

I am probably not the target market for this book as I live and cook regularly in France, but even I learned a lot as I read it; small nuggets of information that I’ll take with me to enhance my vinaigrettes, enliven my salads and balance my cheese board, among other things. Reading this book made me realise that I'm guilty of getting stuck in my favourite flavours and dishes, but Susan has given me lots of new ideas to try and thankfully most of them are simple ones that aren't going to leave me flustered or frustrated. The recipes seemed easy to follow and were clearly explained, with measurements in metric and cups, and the cake I tried (Madame Korn’s Quick Lemon Cake) was delicious. I loved the emphasis on seasonality and the month-by-month meal planning section will be something I dip into regularly for ideas and inspiration.

I also loved that an American has taught me that it is likely that Cheddar cheese was born when French stonemasons from the Auvergne (where the delicious and very Cheddary Cantal originates from) settled in Somerset after working in Scotland and began to make cheese. This was certainly news to me but as I fell upon Cantal when I first arrived in France as a Cheddar substitute, I can certainly believe it.

This book would be perfect for anyone who has an interest in the French way with food and who enjoys cooking great tasting, real, home meals.

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France is published by The Penguin Group who sent me a copy to review, and is available in hardback or ebook format from Amazon and all good book shops. I’m delighted to be welcoming Susan to the blog on Friday for a France et Moi interview.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mini Cooper Road Trip, Day Seven back to home

French Village Diaries Mini Cooper Road Trip Poitou-Charentes La Rochefoucauld
La Rochefoucauld, Poitou-Charentes

We set off from Rocamadour on our preferred back roads heading north west, and were straight away driving through walnut orchard country. This inspired me, or maybe that should be encouraged me to check out the boulangerie selection of walnut tarts when I was supposed to be buying a baguette only. We didn't need another patisserie today as the two Russe we bought in Meyrueis were so big we'd shared one and saved one yesterday. However it would have been surly to ignore a walnut tart in walnut country, so I didn't, although it was only tiny. We crossed the river Dordogne and then found ourselves in the dry lands between the Dordogne and Vézere rivers, dry of coffee stops that is, but thankfully we found our fix just before crossing the Vézere. 

What we did notice in this area was the somewhat quirky tradition to hang a shield and tricolour flag high up on the outside of the homes of the village Maires and local councillors, accompanied with the words "Honneur à nos élus" (To honour our elected). From a bit of google searching it seems to be linked to the arbre de mai (a tree symbolising liberty) and takes place at the beginning of May following the local elections (which were last held in 2014), to celebrate the newly elected council. They can be accompanied with a newly planted tree, they can be decorated with flags or ribbons, they can be at each individual's house or just one communally. We certainly drove past rather a lot of them and I'm rather glad we live in Poitou-Charentes rather than the Lot, Correze or Limousin.

French Village Diaries Mini Cooper Road Trip rillettes from Rocamadour
Rillettes from Rocamadour

We lunched in a lay by, which was nicer than it sounds and the duck rillettes from Rocamadour were delicious. By early afternoon we were back in Poitou-Charentes and stopped by the chateau in La Rochefoucauld for our patisserie, half the walnut tart each and a quarter of the Russe, which generously left half a yummy Russe for Ed when we got home. It was great to be back in Poitou Charentes and seeing its beauty with fresh eyes again. This feeling was reinforced by Adrian's parents excitedly telling us how lovely the drive back from Ed's music lesson was, a drive I do twice a week, in the dark, the rain, the fog, the ice, but also at sunset and in the glorious late summer evenings. It's become my routine and I'd forgotten how lovely our local landscape is.

French Village Diaries Mini Cooper Road trip daily patisserie Russe from Meyrueis Walnut tart from the Lot
Daily patisserie, the Russe and walnut tart

Our holidays are not really the relaxing and recharging of batteries type holidays, more a feeding of the senses on a journey that is the holiday rather than a means of getting to a destination. It is the changing scenery, building styles, landscapes and the flora that fills us with energy. Even the patisserie choices changed from region to region, stimulating our taste buds too. One thing I did notice this year was my poor eyesight compared to three years ago. With the car bouncing around I really struggled to read the road numbers on the map and have decided I might need one of those neck mounted magnifying glasses next time. I've never struggled to read a map before and I'm not sure I like the idea of getting old.

Within an hour of arriving home and despite feeling relaxed and refreshed we were about to get a real shock. Ed was out at a party with friends when a Gendarme van pulled up outside our house and straight away confirmed we were M et Mme Brown and that we had a fourteen year old son, Edward. In that second my heart stopped beating, before beginning again and hammering away in my chest. 

Thankfully all was well, Ed had witnessed the theft of a bike from school and they needed to interview him, with us, as he is a minor. As we had been away and not yet seen Ed, we had no idea what was going on, especially as he had neglected to mention the incident on the phone. It wasn't quite the welcome home we were expecting and it certainly took me a while to breathe easily again.

I hope you have enjoyed our little adventure in a Mini Cooper in France. I'll let you know when we hit the road again.