Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-six a new challenge

French Village Lockdown Diaries day 23 a new challenge soup
Another day, another batch of soup

Day twenty-six, Tuesday 24th November 2020


Tuesday rolls around once more bringing with it my favourite yoga class of the week; Rise and Shine Yoga for Conditioning. Not being one to enjoy rushing my morning routine, the alarm goes off before the sun has risen, to ensure I’m relaxed and happy on my mat by 9 o’clock. There is just something about this class and its extra focus on the breathing and the body, that leaves me feeling strong and energised to face the day. 


We are now three and a half weeks into lockdown and President Macron will speak tonight about what to expect next. Adrian was working online all day and then set off on the turbo trainer to virtually cycle up Mont Ventoux (again) on Zwift. Ed (who conveniently has no lectures on Tuesdays) took himself off to Ruffec to do the weekly shop for us and returned home delighted he had done most of his Christmas shopping too. I think a DNA test might be necessary as I am never that organised or in control when it comes to Christmas. A good skill he is picking up from me during lockdown though, is learning to compare the prices per kilo when doing the shopping. 


I might not have had the most exciting of days, but I was happy in the kitchen. A batch of soup, another cake and a lasagne for dinner this evening, plus all the clearing up that goes with it, certainly kept me out of trouble. The soup might not look much, but I can assure you my frugal cauliflower soup, made from the leaves and stalk of a cauliflower, with lots of garlic, a green chilli and some crème fraiche, is delicious and creamy, with just a hint of heat.


With December getting closer, I need something to look forward to, and I’m not talking about Christmas. I realise I am becoming quite comfortable with life in lockdown, enjoying us all being at home together and things slipping into an easy routine. Since moving to France 16 years ago, I've often found myself out of my comfort zone and knowing how good this is for me, I always try to say yes to things, no matter how scary they may at first seem. Running an English language club at the local secondary school was one big gulp moment, as was agreeing to stand for election on the village council and accepting a part time job at a local library. This year, there have been very few opportunities to push myself or try something different, although I did set myself some cycling challenges and even climbed a mountain or two. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries day 23 a new recipe challenge
A small selection of my recipe books

Inspired by author Sophie Claire and her new Christmas book A Winter’s Dream (see my review here), I have decided I need a December challenge. Something to focus on, that gives me the opportunity try new things and break from routine. We are a little restricted with lockdown, but I think I’ve come up with a great idea; the December recipe challenge. It’s time to dig out a cookery book, or two, and do more than just flick through looking at the pictures. I am notoriously bad at following a recipe, always tweaking it to add or substitute something, so my weekly challenge will be to choose a dish I’ve never cooked before and stick to it, ingredient for ingredient. I might even let Adrian and Ed do the choosing. If nothing else, it should make mealtimes a little less routine. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lockdown Diaries, day twenty-five, espressos and armchair travel

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-five Espresso Day
Espresso Day, 23rd November

Day twenty-five, Monday 23rd November 2020

Espresso Day 

It’s Espresso Day today, but then isn’t every day, an espresso day? It certainly is chez-nous, although technically our morning coffees are probably allongés, as much as we love the hit of a decent strength black coffee, we do prefer it a bit longer than the traditional tiny shot favoured by the Italians. However, serve my daily fix in a ‘regular’ bucket (as most UK coffee shop chains seem to do) and I’ll run a mile. My perfect coffee would be served on a sunny terrace with a view, in an attractive little cup, with a sweet biscuit in the saucer. I’d also have to add a square of dark chocolate, minimum 74%, that I’d have packed in my bike bag. Once suitably caffeinated, we’d hop back on the bikes and spend the day cycling the back roads of France and enjoying the stunning scenery and sunshine.

Armchair travel 

As my face enjoyed the warmth of the sun in the garden today, the rest of me was miles away, lost in the pages of an adventure. In life there are those of us who dream and those who do. It has long been a dream for me to cross France, by bike, and La Rochelle to Geneva has been my favoured route, following in the footsteps of Susie Kelly’s solo walk Best Foot Forward. Adrian and I may seem the adventurous types and have tackled some pretty cool holidays by bike, even in this virus-challenged year, but the logistics of getting back again, means a truly epic ride across France is still only at the dream stage. 


A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Paul and Diana in the planning stages of their Susie Kelly inspired La Rochelle to Lake Geneva charity bike ride. Online at first, we met in person at the end of their second day on the road and we’ve kept in touch since. They had more barriers to overcome than we would, including needing flights to get them and their bikes to La Rochelle and home from Geneva, Paul recovering from an horrific car accident and neither of them being seasoned cyclists. However, they are doers not dreamers and with grit, determination and emotion, made their adventure real. It was a pleasure to have played a small part in their journey and an absolute delight to spend today reading through the book Paul has put together during lockdown. I really hope Naked France will be available to share soon.


We did manage a little escape on our bikes this afternoon, combining an essentials shopping trip to Chef Boutonne with a Living Magazine drop at the supermarket. Leaving home once Adrian had finished work for the day, we pedalled furiously in the cold air, as the colours of the sunset rapidly gave way to night. It made me feel alive and for now, trips like this will have to do to satisfy my wanderlust, but it’s not really enough. Cycling might be the perfect post-Covid-19 social-distance-ensured method of travelling, but we have never camped, by bike. The risks to staying every night in a different hotel, without the luggage capacity to pack all our own bedding and towels on the bikes, makes me uneasy. It is sobering to think that we might never be in a position to roam carefree on long distance adventures, where the only risks are cycling safely and ensuring we remain well-fuelled. I guess now is the time to spend plotting routes and planning, as well as reading about the adventures of others. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-four, sunny Sunday

French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four sunny Sunday
Our village church in the winter sunshine

Day twenty-four, Sunday 22nd November 2020

Sunny Sunday 

Yesterday may have been a busy and productive day, but today was much more leisurely and even included the luxury of a lazy lie in. Watching the colours from the sunrise changing from orange to gold as they moved around the bedroom, gave a hint to the glorious weather we had to look forward to. Lunch was once again in the garden, and our little Robin was back to serenade us in the sun. I really don’t ever remember being aware of the Robin’s song before this week, despite how distinctive it is, and we’ve always had Robins visit the garden and potager. Lockdown and life will seem much brighter if the weather continues to let us eat outside and the Robin continues to sing.


What we did manage to achieve today was the fiddly little finishing touches to the rooms we’ve decorated. Washing the light fittings and rehanging them, putting the door handles back on and having a tidy up of all the bits and pieces. During the last lockdown we had a big clean-up of the spare bedroom, setting it aside for use as Covid-19 contamination suite. Thankfully it has so far not been needed, but what has happened is that it’s become a decorating storeroom. Rolls of wallpaper, tins of paint, sanding blocks, dust sheets and paintbrushes have spread themselves out all over the floor (out of sight, out of mind) and multiplied, I’m sure. Armed with some cardboard boxes, I sought to bring order to the chaos this morning and cleared enough floor space to store two of the bikes in there as well. It’s still not going to be much good if we do need to isolate one of us, but by moving the bikes, I’ve found a cosy indoor space for the fuchsias tonight. They are still in full bloom and look fabulous, but with overnight temperatures dropping to zero, they need a bit of protection.

French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four Living Magazine
Living Magazine, delivery by bike

Living Magazine 

This afternoon we set off for our hour of exercise on the bikes and combined it with delivering the latest edition of the local English language magazine to the Brits who live in the village. Most of the houses were within our one-kilometre radius, but some of the deliveries out to the hamlets stretched that a bit. I am not one to bend the rules, but as I have agreed with the Mairie to do the occasional lockdown check-in with some of the older residents, who just so happen to live at the further reaches of the village, we combined the two. Hopefully finding a new magazine in their postbox, and my little note letting them know I’m thinking of them, will put a smile on their faces. It was also nice to chat with all those we met, out enjoying their gardens or a local walk in the sunshine, too. It doesn’t get much more exciting than face to face chit chat, with six different people, all in the same day. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-three, the Robin

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three Robin
If you look closely, you'll see our Robin

Day twenty-three, Saturday 21st November 2020


A visitor to the garden

A number of times today I was aware of hearing a really pretty birdsong coming from somewhere in the garden. We are lucky to hear lots of birds here and although I know the Blackbird, the Hoopoe, the Redstart, the Great Tit, the Swallow and the Sparrow, I couldn’t identify this one. As it was so persistent, and so beautiful, I took a moment and stood for a while trying to see who it was. High in the tree, right outside the kitchen door, singing its heart out for me, was a Robin. 


Robins have long been associated with lost loved ones and many believe they are a sign that loved ones are near and at peace. In spirituality the significance of seeing a Robin is all about renewal and new beginnings, a reminder to let go of the negatives and encourage us to move forward to a happier place. The older I get, the more I find myself drawn to spirituality, and as it was four years ago today that we lost Adrian’s Dad, I am sure that Robin wanted me to notice him in the garden today and take a moment to enjoy his song. I’m also ready to embrace a new and positive future.


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Phase two of the hallway/landings project this morning

It was important for Adrian to feel that he had achieved something today, so we wasted no time in getting going on our latest project, phase two of the landings/hallways upstairs. We were up early and the first job of sanding the filled bits in the walls, and cleaning the dust this created, was all done before morning coffee. I started off with the final side of the door into our bedroom while Adrian opened the new paint and got going on the pipework, and then we both attacked the walls. 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Another project finished

At first, we thought our duck-egg blue paint looked a bit too blue, but as it’s dried it’s much more like we were hoping, and we even managed to get a second coat on late this afternoon. Add in a wash load, another cake baked, a bike ride just before sunset, time spent preparing his course for next week and a batch of pizza dough proving, and I think between the two of us we’ve had a pretty productive day.


World Television Day

Today is World Television Day, as decreed by the United Nations in 1996 to stand as a reminder of the power of visual media and how it can educate, but also shape public opinion and influence world politics. I might not have heard of it until this year, but I think this is certainly something that is very relevant to the world today. 


We are not a family who are big on televisions. In 1997, when World Television Day was in its infancy, Adrian and I bought a second hand television from friends for £50. We then upgraded (for free) when his aunt and uncle passed on their old one, and again, when his Mum and Dad did the same. Almost ten years ago, we got our first brand new television, a fortieth birthday gift to me from his Mum and Dad, and in all this time we have only ever had one television in the house. We have never had a television in our bedroom, ever, and Ed has also never had his own, until this autumn, when we bought him a second hand one for the flat in Poitiers. Now how is this for a weird coincidence, when we were in Niort yesterday, we picked up an early Christmas gift from Adrian’s mum; a new television. It is so big that until we can get back to the DIY store to collect the unit we can’t buy in store; it’s resting on a chipboard shelf, and while we try to get to grips with all it can do, Ed is over the moon. He is now the proud owner of two televisions, one in the flat and one, for the first time in his life, in his bedroom. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-two, there's no escaping Christmas

French Village Lockdown Diaries no espcaping Christmas
Christmas shopping at Jouet Club, Niort

Day twenty-two, Friday 20th November 2020


There is no escaping Christmas

Whether things are normally this regulated in France, or whether it is a Covid-19 thing, I’m not sure, but as of today it is legally ok to sell, and therefore buy, your Christmas tree. As we had the ‘pleasure’ of shopping in Niort this morning, I can confirm that not only are they on sale, they seemed to be selling like hot cakes too. It’s not something that is going to happen around here, in November, but our day did involve more than a nod to the festive season.


Santa’s little helper

In some ways, things felt almost normal today, out and about for our annual Christmas gift shopping day for the children in the village. I had the excitement of mixing with people, heading to big town, wearing real jeans rather than leggings and a whole hour and a half of talking in French. I also felt rather important as I had two attestations (the official paperwork for leaving home) on me today. My normal one for going shopping and one from the village Mairie stating I was on official business, as it doesn’t really get much more important than being one of Père Noel’s little helpers, ensuring the under elevens get their Christmas gifts this year.


It was a beautiful early morning drive, the colours of the sunrise melting into the swirling cloud formations above, and tops of trees and wind turbines rising out of the low-lying layers of mist over the fields. It is only the second time we have used the car since returning from the Lot at the beginning of lockdown, and we were surprised there seemed to be no less traffic than normal.


In previous years, three or four of us elves would bundle into a car, stop for a coffee on the way, go mad in the toy shop (after all, how often do you have free rein to spend around 750€ on toys) and then head off for lunch together. Today I met the other two there, so no unnecessary mixing of households in the small confines of a car, and then when we were done with the toys, Adrian and I ticked off the other bits of shopping we needed (and yes, advent calendars may have featured). Jouet Club, the toy shop, really do look after us as not only do we get the morning with the manager, advising us about what is on trend this year or a popular choice for a certain age group, they also take care of all the wrapping, labelling and delivery to Père Noel before he visits our village. This year there will be no party, no hot chocolate, no singing and no pastries from the boulangerie, but Père Noel will be there, making house calls to personally deliver the gifts on 20th December.


Shopping during lockdown was a bit of an unusual experience. The traffic might have been busier than we were expecting, but the car parks were pretty empty, and it was quite sad seeing so many places shuttered and closed. Our last stop was a DIY store where we successfully picked up the paint we needed to carry on with the decorating. What we couldn’t get though was the new shelf unit for the lounge. We could see it behind the tape but weren’t allowed to touch it. We weren’t allowed to place an order in-store, although doing exactly that sat outside in the car park would have been acceptable. However, we’d already been out for five hours, energy levels were running low and when it advised it would be two hours before it was ready to collect, we left it and headed for home. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries Beaujolais Nouveau 2020
Beaujolais Nouveau 2020

As per usual, no matter how exciting our purchases in Niort are, and today rated pretty high on the excitement scale, by the time we arrived home, all the energy and life had been sucked out of me. So far, all I’ve got planned for dinner is a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau and some goat cheese.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-one, benefits of shopping locally

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally
Mussels, eggs and honey

Day twenty-one, Thursday 19th November 2020


I thought as a family we had all embraced the mostly vegetarian way of eating that our diet has evolved into this year. It seems I may have misjudged things slightly. The frisson of excitement that passed around the dining table as Adrian and Ed tucked into their meatballs yesterday, was quite something. Maybe this winter I should relax the rules and add in a few more meaty treats for them.


Beaujolais Nouveau

There were quite a few firsts to celebrate today, including Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the day the first 2020 wines from the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy, are released for sale. We will be buying ourselves a bottle or two, as we do every year, usually by selecting the label we find the most appealing, but heading out to Chef Boutonne today, just to buy a bottle of wine, would that really be classed as essential shopping? This being France, probably yes, but we can wait until tomorrow.


First thing this morning we had our usual Thursday morning natter with the small group of seafood lovers who join us, whatever the weather, as we await the moules and oyster lady. Then it was off to the egg farm for our weekly dozen eggs and our first jar of local honey too. Here we bumped into another friend from the village and enjoyed a good old catch up with him. It is only when we see someone by chance, like this morning, that I realise how much I miss the conversations with my French friends. This time last year I was still on the village council, attending regular meetings, as well as involved in a number of associations who got together weekly. It’s sadly all a bit different now, but at least shopping close to home has provided the added and unexpected benefit of social encounters too. The first thing we did when we got home, even before the moules were put in the fridge, was open the honey and dip in a spoon. It is the colour of summer sunshine with a delicate floral taste and will help to brighten up our winter. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally veggie box
My first local veggie box from Espoir Nature

This afternoon we were back out on the bikes to pick up our first veggie box from Espoir Nature, that I’d ordered online yesterday morning. My six choices this week were a kilo each of carrots, leeks and turnips, half a kilo of shallots, three heads of garlic and a local goat cheese. That will certainly keep my soup pot happy, and to celebrate reaching the end of another week, the goat cheese should go well with a glass or two of Beaujolais Nouveau tomorrow night. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty, nature to the rescue

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty nature to the rescue ginkgo
Fallen ginkgo leaves

Day twenty, Wednesday 18th November 2020


Nature to the rescue

Maybe it’s lockdown, maybe it’s that even with lockdown, I can’t avoid the fact that Christmas is approaching, maybe it’s because I haven’t been out on my bike this week, maybe it’s that everywhere I look there are things to do but I can’t quite muster the enthusiasm to do them, but whatever ‘it’ is, it’s making me feel like I want to hide away. Even writing this isn’t easy today, but write I will, as I know that it will help and deep down, I don’t really want to hide away.


While Adrian was working, I felt the need for a bit of sunshine on my face and thought raking the golden leaves from the ginkgo tree would do me some good. They are so beautiful even once they’ve fallen, it seems such a shame to collect them up, only to dump them in a corner of the orchard to rot down. Being out in the fresh air did feel good and there were just enough leaves to make me feel like I’d achieved something, without being too many to overwhelm me. What also helped was that just a short time spent in the garden gave me so many lovely things to see, including a pair of butterflies out in the orchard and a peacock butterfly sunning itself on the shutters while we were having lunch.


Tea and cake once Adrian had finished for the day (which oddly coincided with the start of lectures for Ed), ensured I had the energy needed to say yes to a bike ride in the late afternoon sun. What I needed most from Chef Boutonne, wasn’t really the few items from the supermarket on my list, but the physical ride there and back in the sunshine. Although a five-kilo sack of onions for only 1.49€ certainly made it a worthwhile journey, and Adrian only grimaced slightly when he saw me stagger out and present it to him to carry home. We made it back just as the sun was setting and were lucky enough to see a deer cross the road in front of us and head up the fields towards the rose-tinted woods. We all have days when things seem dark and gloomy but if 2020 has taught me anything, pretending they don’t happen doesn’t help anyone, getting out in the fresh air, however, really can help.

Time now to head to the kitchen and put the finishing touches to the spicy tomato sauce for the meatballs that we are all looking forward to tonight. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day nineteen, Plus Beaux Villages de France

French Village lockdown diaries day nineteen Plus Beaux Villages de France
Beautiful skies today

Day nineteen, Tuesday 17th November 2020


The sun returned today with not a spot of rain, which is just typical as after yesterday’s laundry hokey-cokey I decided not to bother putting the washing machine on this morning. It was glorious to be able to lunch in the garden though, and relax with a mint tea, my eyes closed, and face turned up to the sun. A snooze would have been so easy.


It was Ed’s turn to do the weekly shop, I really could get used to this, so I cleared the fridge of leftovers and made a soup while he was out. Aside from yoga, that is probably about as exciting as my day got, although I do rather enjoy a session batch-making soup.


Adrian has set himself a new cycling challenge to complete during this period of reconfinement. As with his 50th birthday challenge, completed during the first lockdown, where he virtually cycled up Mont Ventoux on his turbo trainer in the garden, this one also has a similar theme. Using the only hill in the village, 600m long, gaining 24m at a maximum of only 3%, he is going to repeatedly climb, descend and climb again until he has reached the equivalent of summiting Mont Ventoux (1912m). The ascent from Bédoin climbs 1639m or roughly 68 climbs up our hill, and as we are limited to one hour of exercise per day, this is likely to keep him busy for quite a few days. Let’s hope the weather is kind to him. This will mean that in 2020 he will have virtually climbed it twice and physically made it to the top too. 


French Village lockdown diaries day nineteen Plus Beaux Villages de France
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Lot
a Plus Beaux Village de France we visited just before lockdown

Plus Beaux Villages de France

If you are looking for some armchair travel, or a bit of inspiration for where to go in France, once we are all free to travel, click here. My blogging friend Phoebe at Lou Messugo (the lovely accommodation we stayed in earlier this year on the Côte d’Azur (see here)), has put together a blog all about the Plus Beaux Villages de France (most beautiful villages of France). Many bloggers helped out by contributing, so every village mentioned has been visited and is personally recommended. With over 150 villages marked as most beautiful and over thirty featured in the blog post, I’m sure you will find somewhere you’ll fall in love with. 


French Village lockdown diaries day nineteen Plus Beaux Villages de France
Brouage, Charente Maritime a Plus Beaux Village de France

I was happy to share Brouage, a fortified village hidden in the Charente Maritime marshes, and a place we always seem to pick a hot day to visit. Deciding which village to write about wasn’t easy though. A combination of day trips from home, Mini Cooper road trips over the years and cycling holidays, and it seems we have visited over twenty. Some made better impressions than others, because as far as we are concerned it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, if your pay and display car park is so full to bursting we can’t squeeze our Mini in, we probably won’t enjoy battling through your crowded narrow streets anyway. Others have been little gems, far enough away from the main tourist trail to retain their authenticity, charm and character. It was nice to see some of our favourites in the Lou Messugo blog post and get some ideas on where to cycle to next.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Lockdown diaries day eighteen, guilty pleasures

French Village Lockdown diaries day eighteen guilty pleasures Paris portraits
Paris portraits, 1998, aged and wrinkled, like us

Day eighteen, Monday 16th November 2020


Guilty pleasures

Monday morning, the sun is doing its best to shine, the kitchen smells of freshly baked cake and in a brief nod to life before Covid-19, I appear have the house to myself. There is just the reassuring hum of muted voices coming from behind closed doors to remind me that I’m not really home alone, just that the men are busy with their online worlds, in their respective dens. I am free to flit from task to task, and roam from room to room as I choose. 


I play that annoying game of putting the washing out, then notice the sun has been replaced with a hovering dark cloud, so bring it back in, then when the dust motes in the bedroom dance in the sunlight, I put it back out once more. I get back to rearranging my books in the bedroom, then realise the portraits we had done in Paris in 1998, (you know, the touristy sketches from the street artists in Montmartre) hidden away for too long in a dark corridor, actually look pretty good dusted off and placed on the chest of drawers. Aged and wrinkled like us, they offer a glance back to our youth and a time when France was a holiday destination not a home. 


There are still too many books to sort through and decisions to make on who stays and who goes. After a shelf or two, where I’d lovingly picked up so many and made promises I couldn’t keep about reading them next, I turned to my kindle and the book that was becoming increasingly difficult to put down. The characters all doing their best to hide their pasts and their real reasons for being where they are just now. Their different stories weaving through the book, emotionally charged situations and decisions made in the past that have repercussions on the future had me hooked. In one day, lives were changed forever, but who really knows the truth and who is out for revenge? Oh, I whiled away a good bit of my afternoon snowed in at a luxury chalet in the French Alps waiting for the plot to fall into place, doing my best to second guess who was who. Of course, this did mean that I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing, but there is always tomorrow to get back on track.


Days like today are my guilty pleasure, as I’m sure any bookworm will agree and it’s nice to break from routine every now and then. I sometimes wonder if certain things have become too routine at the moment, especially mealtimes. Without realising it Saturday night has become homemade pizza night, Sunday night, risotto, Monday, a spicy vegetable couscous, Tuesday, lasagne and Thursday, moules frites. That only leaves two nights of variety or surprise. Then again, as no two meals I serve up are exactly the same, even if I’m following a recipe, I guess it’s not too bad and I know they are all healthy and homecooked. 


Frugal meatballs

I think as a treat this week, to spice things up a bit, we’ll have homemade meatballs in a homemade spicy tomato sauce, served with spaghetti. Not tonight, as my late yoga class means I need a lighter meal on a Monday, but as our diet is now mainly vegetarian, contains hardly any processed foods, and is low in salt and fat, meatballs (like lazy days spent in books) are a rare treat. 


I tend to make them in large batches and freeze in portions, so I always keep an eye out for the short-dated burgers and sausages in the supermarket anti-waste fridges. The last batch I made were great value. Six pork and veal sausages, reduced to 1.50€ and eight pure beef burgers, reduced to 5€. Four of the burgers went straight in the freezer and four into the meatball mix with the skinned sausages, crushed garlic, homemade pumpkin and chestnut purée, a grated apple from the orchard, black pepper and piment d’espelette. 4€ of minced meat made twenty-five meatballs, which will be enough for five individual portions which works out at 0,80€ a portion. The best thing about them is that every batch I make is a different mix of meats, flavours and spices. Do you have a naughty but nice family favourite, served up for special occasions?

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day seventeen, we did it

French Village Lockdown Diaries we did it
The finished landing

Day seventeen, Sunday 15th November 2020


Today could have been a dark and gloomy day. The wind and the rain did their best to clear the leaves from the Gingko tree and as the weather was coming from the south west, to prevent any leaks, we had to close most of the shutters, creating cave-like conditions indoors. It is the sort of day that would normally have registered pretty low on the happiness scale. Thankfully we had plenty to do to keep us distracted.


French Village Lockdown Diaries we did it
Attention to detail

I used to run a guest post feature on the blog called Lazy Sunday in France where Francophile friends and authors shared their perfect idea of a lazy day, on a French theme. For us, today was anything but a lazy Sunday in France. I was up with the lark to ensure the boulangerie wouldn’t have run out of croissants and pains au chocolat and once the first coffee had worked its way around our blood streams, it was all systems go on the decorating. The first bit was the fiddly bit, around the window, radiator and pipe work, then straight into a tight corner with two internal angles and an external one as well. Adrian might not like the repetitiveness of decorating, but he does love a problem to solve so he was very much in charge of figuring out the fiddly bits. Actually, he was pretty much in charge of it all. My role is to assist and ensure the required tool is always to hand, any off cuts are straight into the bin and any other mess is kept to a minimum. We certainly work well as a team, even after two periods of lockdown and are both really pleased with the new look room. Even the recycled curtains (from our first bedroom set twenty-three years ago) have been given a new lease of life against the new wallpaper.


All the junk that had been dumped on the landing for nearly two decades was cleared out and relocated before we began. The cot bed (not used since Ed was a toddler), the desk (that was stacked with my fabric stash), the broken grandfather clock (rescued about twenty years ago as its previous owners were going to drop it at the tip) and a bookcase full of untouched, dusty books). We now have a lovely fresh and bright space that as landings go is pretty big, but what else can we do with it apart from walk through it and use it to dry the washing in front of the radiator over winter? Any ideas would be gratefully received, unless it involves a dog bed for Mini as I don’t think she’d accept that as a good idea.

I know the weather in many parts of the UK and France hasn’t been great, but I hope you are all staying safe and were able to enjoy some relaxing time this weekend. We are off to enjoy an apero, well-deserved, even if we do say so ourselves.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day sixteen, one step forward, two steps back

French Village lockdown diaries day sixteen one step forward, two steps back home improvement
Ready to hang

Day sixteen, Saturday 14th November 2020 

One step forward, two steps back

I was hoping to be able to report the wallpapering was going well, but at the end of play today it seems it’s House 1 Jac and Ade 0. In the new office/music room we did something we’d never done before and instead of steaming off the old paper (which we know results in plaster issues in this house) we just dry-pulled the top layer off, which left a backing layer in place. Although we weren’t convinced it would work, we did successfully manage to paper over it and it certainly made for a less soggy mess when preparing the walls. 


In the main landing outside the bedrooms we tried to do the same thing, but the northern, external wall wasn’t happy with that, so after a bit of head scratching today, it was back to the hot soapy water spray as we diligently scraped off all traces of the previous paper. Fingers crossed what we did hang will still be on the wall in the morning, when we’ll mix up some more paste and start all over again. 


French Village lockdown diaries day sixteen one step forward, two steps back home improvement
The grot we had before

It would be easy to get despondent when things like this don’t go to plan. One of the reasons we have been reluctant to start jobs around here (for so many years) is that experience has taught us that in this house things rarely do stick to plan. However, we are more motivated now and it’s important we keep that motivation going and don’t succumb to panic. Covid-19 lockdown has certainly given us time, so once we’d cleared up the mess this afternoon, we turned our backs on it with purpose and with heads held high, set off on the bikes. An hour of fresh air and exercise, even with a keen wind from the west made all the difference. There is always tomorrow and if it isn’t finished this weekend, there is always next weekend too. On a more positive note, one thing I am pleased with is the colour, a pale grey with a hint of lilac, that will feel so much brighter than the mess we had before.


French Village lockdown diaries day sixteen one step forward, two steps back homemade pizza
One of my favourite comfort meals, homemade veggie pizza

Dinner tonight will be homemade pizzas, topped with as many fresh veggies as I can pile on, comfort food at its best.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day fifteen, Friday 13th

French Village Lockdown Diaries Friday 13th soup
Cauliflower and leek soup

Day fifteen, Friday 13th November 2020

Ooh it is Friday 13th, in a year that has already thrown in a global pandemic, a six-month drought in work for Adrian and loss in our family. I might not be overly suspicious, but I wasn’t looking forward to today. It seemed to become one of those days when I struggled to commit to anything, and nothing on my ‘to do’ list, that is supposed to help relieve moments of boredom, appealed. I applied my tried and tested method to keep motivated and happy, heading to the kitchen to bake a cake, prepare the dough for a batch of naan breads, plan a veggie curry for dinner and put the finishing touches to a batch of leek and cauliflower soup. I think sometimes we all need to accept that some days are not for achieving the big things, just keeping things ticking over is enough.


French Village Lockdown Diaries Friday 13th haircuts
His and Her haircuts

One job we did manage to tick off was our regular haircuts. Lockdown part one put paid to the short bob that I’d had for years and I now realise being able to tie my hair up is so much more practical for yoga, gardening, cycling and decorating. I might have embraced my longer locks, but I have no desire to become Rapunzel, so whenever I get the clippers out to do Adrian’s hair, he gets the scissors out to trim mine and it’s become one of those special shared moments of domestic bliss.


French Village Lockdown Diaries Friday 13th decorating
A spot of filling

I can’t believe a week has gone by already since I foresaw a weekend of wallpapering, and yet, no wallpapering has yet happened. Before you think this is due to laziness, I’ll try my best to persuade you it isn’t. This time last week, I’d forgotten the ceilings needed painting and with a landing split into three (not so small) parts, and each part needing two or three coats, this took time. Once Adrian had finished those, and I’d finished clearing up the paint he managed to walk around the rest of the house, his work schedule had changed once more. There is, and never has been, any routine or normal rhythm to his work. Some jobs are pencilled in weeks in advance and then come to nothing, others come in at very short notice and if he wants the work, he drops everything to be available. At least for the moment this doesn’t mean trying to pack, book the next available flight, plus accommodation, and head off for the airport, all within an hour, but it does mean decorating was put on hold and with a couple of busy weeks in the calendar, things will just have to take their time. We did manage a bit more essential preparation this afternoon, but starting the wallpapering, on Friday 13th, didn’t seem the best of ideas.


What did seem like a good idea was a bike ride in the sun and a quick look in the fruit bowl revealed not enough bananas to fuel our addiction this weekend. A return trip to Chef Boutonne, a quick in and out of the supermarket for the few bits we needed, stopping only to chat to some beautiful cream Charolais cattle on the way home, and I felt so much better. I know it’s not quite over yet, but fingers crossed, we may have survived another Friday 13th.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Lockdown diaries, two weeks and counting

French Village lockdown diaries shopping local chickens
Shopping for leeks and onions on my bike

Day fourteen, Thursday 12th November 2020

Shopping local

Today’s local shop by bike was one of two parts, moules from the Ile de Ré delivered fresh to the village and vegetables from Espoir Nature, an association based in one of our local hamlets. All we needed today were some onions and leeks, but one look at the produce on offer, and I’m sure we will buy more next time. 

French Village lockdown diaries shopping local chickens
Fresh vegetables from Espoir Nature

Their prices are comparable to the supermarkets and they have just started a weekly basket scheme where they have teamed up with other local producers. For 12.90€ they offer two options. The first is to select six items for your basket from a list that includes vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs and cheese. The second option is for a recipe basket, where you get all the veggie ingredients and the recipe for a particular dish, and you just need to add the meat. Adrian couldn’t resist trying a jar of a locally produced pate as a treat this week, but next week I think I will be adding a local goat cheese to the order for my treat. If you are local, you can find more information on their website here.

Mixed basket

Recipe basket


French Village lockdown diaries shopping local chickens
The last three chickens enjoying the orchard in April

Au revoir to the last chicken

I have a bit of sad news. Yesterday we lost the last of the chickens to old age and although we do still have one old goose and one ancient duck, this is the first time in almost fifteen years that there hasn’t been at least one chicken roaming in our orchard. Keeping birds came about rather by accident when a male Muscovy duck took up residence in the orchard. We named him Yum Yum and bought him a hareem of six white females who he happily bonded with and they spent many happy years together. We sadly lost him at a great old age, to a broken heart, just days after the last of his white ladies died. 


Adrian had been reluctant at first to add chickens, but once we’d got used to having ducks, they seemed the obvious next step. Over the years many birds have come and gone, some naturally, some we lost to predators and some we were brave enough to serve at our table. This phase didn’t last long, but as meat eaters who were becoming increasingly concerned about where our meat was coming from, it felt right at the time. 


The chickens especially have always been great fun to sit and watch as they scratched and pecked around, with their heads down and bottoms in the air as they diligently searched the ground for any morsal. A quick call in the evenings and they would come running to me, and in the early days before we fenced off the potager, they would happily spend all day with me when I was out there weeding. Cherry picking was another of their favourite occupations, not just content to clear the windfalls, they would flap up to the lower branches and pick the tastiest of fruits from the tree, leaving their faces and combs stained an alarming deep purple. 


These last few years we have let their numbers dwindle naturally. As we went into the first lockdown in March, we still had three chickens, the duck and the goose, and although I will miss their antics and their eggs, it feels right not to replace them. Our lives have changed, and we have realised the more animals you have to look after, the more difficult it is to get away on the bikes.