Thursday, January 31, 2013

Top Tips and Recipes for Curry

As we are creatures of routine Thursday night is often ‘curry night’ for us, but not of the takeaway kind. France doesn’t really do curry and in our little bit of rural France there isn’t really much choice in takeaways at all. I have developed my own mixes of spices and other ingredients over the years to make my own delicious curries, much healthier and cheaper than high street curries and I even have my own naan bread recipe too.

French Village Diaries Curry Recipe
Ready for the freezer
No two of my curries are the same as a lot depends on what is in season, or what needs using up in the fridge, but the following recipe will work just as well with any diced meat, courgettes, butternut squash, plus tinned lentils or chickpeas. Having watched Dave Myers and Si King (The Hairy Bikers' Great Curries ) on TV last night I just have to share their brilliant top tip for curry paste. I regularly make up large batches of walnut pesto using wild garlic, basil, rocket or parsley and freeze it in ice cube trays so it is always ready to use. Si and Dave made a huge batch of curry paste in a food processor and froze it in…you guessed it – ice cube trays – I seriously can’t believe I didn’t think of this myself!

Here is what went into my batch of curry paste today, some will be used tonight with lots of sliced onions sautéed with 2 tsp of cumin seeds, mushrooms, diced carrots, peppers and a tin of lentils, and the rest is safely tucked up in the freezer.

1 sliced chilli (I kept the seeds in, but you can scrape them out)
1 whole bulb of garlic
Fresh ginger, finely sliced – I used a 50g piece (or about twice the size of my thumb)
1 bunch of fresh coriander (I substituted this for parsley which is growing in the garden at the moment and the coriander isn’t)
2 tsp of cinnamon
8 tsp of ground cumin
8 tsp of turmeric
8 tsp of ground coriander (omit if using fresh coriander)
2 tbsp of tomato purée
Water added when mixed to make a wet paste consistency

French Village Diaries Curry Recipe
Courgette curry, one of our favourites

For a creamy curry I add a small carton of coconut milk just before serving or top tip for a healthier option, mix 1 tbsp of desiccated coconut, 1 tbsp ground almonds, 125g natural yoghurt and 3 tbsp of water and add this instead of the coconut milk.

Another curry top tip is to add an extra whole chilli but remove before serving and slice with a pair of scissors. This peps up the heat for Ade and I when added to our plates, without making it too hot a curry for Ed.

I always serve my curries with rice and naan breads.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review of The Summer of France by Paulita Kincer

I was the lucky winner of THE SUMMER OF FRANCE in a competition on Delana du Jour’s blog just before Christmas. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again entering online competitions is well worth it!

French Village Diaries Book Reviews The Summer of FranceIn this book we meet Fia, married to a safe and sensible husband and Mom to teenage twins, who feels the need for something to change following the loss of her job and wants to bring her family closer together. That something comes from a call from her Uncle who fought in France during the war, met a French girl, stayed and is now running a Provencal B&B in wife Lucie’s family home. Now nearing retirement Lucie and Martin want a break and ask Fia to help. However, things don’t go quite as planned and she soon finds herself alone and working hard while her family all go their separate ways exploring France and the French. It soon becomes apparent that there may be skeletons and secrets hidden in Uncle Martins closet and a break in at the B&B makes Fia realise someone is looking for something. But who does she trust and who can help her to put things right?

Paulita’s descriptions bring the colours of Provence to life in this fast moving book that got my pulse racing at some points. It is a book of two stories, Uncle Martin’s and Fia’s and despite sometimes finding books like this a little difficult to follow I thought the two stories running together worked very well. There is (bien sur) a hunky Frenchman, but I would have been disappointed if there hadn’t been and there are lots of ‘will they, won’t they’ moments between the characters. As the book draws to a close there is a good mad dash and adrenalin-pumping chase that meant it was hard to put down.

If you are a fan of the Meg Ryan movie French Kiss [DVD] [1995], or enjoy reading Juliette Sobanet books you should enjoy this one.

You can read more from Paulita on her blog

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Festival International de la Bande Desinee Angouleme

An hours drive from home is Angouleme, the capital of the Charente department and also the comic book capital of France. As well as hosting a very popular annual comic festival, Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, it has some fantastically decorated buildings and is home to the museum of the comic book. 
Angouleme street art French Village Diaries
Street art in Angouleme

This weekend Angouleme is celebrating the 40th Festival from 31st January to 3rd February and should you wish to see more information on tickets and what’s going on see here Much as we love Angouleme as day trip location, and think the huge pieces of street art are fantastic, we won’t be attending the festival as we are not comic people and I wonder is it because we are English?

Angouleme street art French Village Diaries
Angouleme street art

French children of all ages love to read comic books and even our small village library has a huge selection that are very popular, especially the rather 'grown-up' images in the ones not designed for small children. Despite receiving many of the kids favourites as birthday presents from friends they have never grabbed Ed’s imagination the way a reading book has. This probably explains why it took us over eight years to get to visit the museum in Angouleme, despite it being free to enter on the first Sunday of the month (except July and August).

Museum Bande Dessinee Angouleme French Village Diaries
The beautiful buildings that house the museum in Angouleme

Museum Bande Dessinee Angouleme French Village DiariesThe museum is home to many examples of original artwork, detailed pencil sketches plus old editions of childhood favourites that would probably give my parents a stab of nostalgia. Far more exciting and fun for Ed and his friend was the many different and funky seating areas dotted around the museum, each with their own collection of books, the perfect place for a spot of quiet reading. Except they weren’t really interested in the reading, and I can’t say I can blame them. Give me a real book with words and I hungrily gobble them off the page, however, lots of squares, noisy illustrations with large ‘Ker-pow’ and ‘Bang’ over the top and the odd word bubble dotted around and I glaze over, sorry, but that is me! Whether it is a cultural thing or an age thing, or a bit of both I don’t know, but I think we will leave the festival to the fans. Angouleme, we will be back to see you and your street art soon.

Angouleme street art comic books French Village Diaries

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rouillac Market

In the local town of Rouillac, nestled in amongst the Cognac vineyards, the 27th of each month is an important date. For on the 27th, whether it falls on a weekday or weekend and come rain or shine, the whole town becomes a huge market place. This tradition goes back over two hundred years and is likely to have originally been a horse-trading market. Rouillac is situated both on the Voie Agrippa, an ancient east/west route across France linking Lyon with Saintes, and also an important trade route between Brittany and Spain. People still come from miles around (it is BIG in the local calendar) and one of the main attractions now is the poultry, although there are still a few horse sales too as well as everything else you would expect to find at a French market.

Mucky ducks at Rouillac Market
For some time now I have wanted grey speckled hens and with Ade’s permission (he keeps a very tight control over my animal purchases) that was my goal and the search was on. Those seriously looking for a bargain are there very early, but on a cold, wet Sunday we decided a mid morning outing was a better idea, so set off after a coffee and croissant breakfast. The drive down was grey and damp, the Cognac vines, some neatly pruned some still scruffy and twiggy looked bare and wintry. A quick tour around the poultry stands and we found our girls. Wanting 2 or 3 grey speckled hens fate led us to the only stand offering a discount for buying 3 birds, and they just happened to be grey speckled birds – sold to the short lady in mauve! To top it all the weather was dry for our wander around the market where we could have been tempted by all sorts from day old ducklings, to strings of garlic, to huge turkeys (alive), to fish (dead), to sausage and chips (hot) to locally grown kiwi fruits. We did scoop up a bargain on the kiwis as they are full of vitamin C and make a great winter breakfast smoothie with a banana and some natural yoghurt.
Fifty, Phyl and Kirstie

The new girls, Fifty (the light grey one), Kirstie (the bold, bossy speckled one) and Phyl (the other one) are settling in well, they haven’t met the others yet, but I hope they will enjoy their free range life in our orchard very soon (and lay us lots of eggs).

Eggs, all sizes, all colours at Rouillac Market

Fish at Rouillac Market

Garlic at Rouillac Market
Our purchases from Rouillac Market

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Silent Sunday

Welcome to another week in pictures.

Mini has a friend to stay - Toffee

A windy start to the week

Baking keeps me warm and happy

Deer in the distance

Toffee and Willow keeping warm

Our new grey speckled hens

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book review of Good Vibrations by Andrew p. Sykes

When I read a book to be reviewed I try not to read other reviews so I can ensure that my review is 100% my thoughts and words. Following Andrew on Twitter has made it a little difficult as he is always tweeting snippets of reviews. I therefore know that the word ‘inspirational’ seems to appear a lot in association with his book Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, so I was determined not to use it.

Andrew is a teacher who decided to put his summer holiday to good use by cycling from Reading in Berkshire, through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and into and through Italy. That is 3,300km following the Eurovelo 5 route, alone, unless of course you include Reggie, his bike. Now as I am the sort of person who names her cars and even her central heating boiler, I love that Andrew named his bike and it really added an extra something to the book for me.

Image from
For 30 cycling days in 36 days he clocked up about 100km and about 6 hours in the saddle each day. He climbed mountains, braved city centre traffic, endured cobbles and spoke-snapping incidents and was attacked by killer mosquitoes. So I admit it’s difficult not to use the word ‘inspirational’. Andrew himself says he was ‘inspired’ by the Beijing Olympic cycling of 2008 and spent two years trying to pinpoint an exact route, for although Eurovelo 5 takes you from London to Brindisi in Italy, loosely in recognition of the Via Roma Francigena pilgrim route, it’s a very vague directional guide that doesn’t exist in detailed map form.

Reading this book in the cold, dismal month of January made me long for warm summer days cycling the vineyards with my beautiful Blue Belle. Oh yes, ‘inspired’ by Reggie, my lovely blue retro road bike now has a name too. For us a good day in the saddle once a week, covering anywhere between 40 and 80km is about the norm, however our routes are planned in advance and often follow well signed local rides. For Andrew, much of the detail in his journey was put together the night before and he rarely knew exactly where he would be laying his head at night – now that is ‘inspiring’ for a control freak planner like me! This book and the likes of Sir Bradley with his 2012 Tour de France win and not to mention the fantastic Team GB cyclists and their Olympic ‘bling’ are likely to ‘inspire’ a lot more bike adventures in the coming years. We will certainly be upping our game this summer in terms of distance and pace. The cyclists among you cannot fail to be fired up by reading this book, but for those who prefer armchair travelling I’m sure you will enjoy Andrew’s interesting description of his journey.

This summer also sees Andrew (and Reggie) taking on another adventure following Eurovelo 8 from Athens in Greece to Cadiz in Spain, popping into the South of France on his way. You can follow his adventures online here. Thanks for sending me a copy of Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie and best of luck for your 2013 adventure Andrew, we would be on route to cheer you on but you will be a little too far south from us. Andrew's book is available in paperback and ebook format from all good bookstores and online retailers, link to Amazon here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Versatile Blogger Award

Last week writer Susie Kelly who blogs at No damn blog awarded me The Versatile Blogger Award, thank you Susie. I love popping into Susie’s blog as she has a great variety of musings on her life in France. She also always raises a smile in her many humorous books on a French travel theme, whether it is walking from La Rochelle to Geneva, driving around France in a campervan or cycling east from Versailles in the footsteps of Marie-Antoinette, Susie’s writing is always entertaining. To read my reviews on Susie's books please see Best Foot Forward, Travels With Tinkerbelle, The Valley of Heaven and Hell and Swallows and Robins.

The Versatile Blogger Award is a great way for bloggers to introduce and promote quality blogs that their followers might not otherwise discover. Here are four blogs I enjoy reading and would like to pass The Versatile Blogger Award onto.

First up is Andy Frazier’s Rantings from a French Farmhouse. Andy also writes humorous books about life in France, children’s books and some French travel guides, but it is his unique way of ranting on all that is wrong with the world that I find amusing. Not always politically correct, but makes me smile! You can see my reviews on two of Andy's books here.

Next is a new blog (less than a month old) written by my friend Pam who takes some beautiful pictures and shares them and snippets of her life in France on her blog PamelaJayne Photography.

The third blog is The Aliso Kitchen, written by Rachael who doesn’t live in France but loves to share her love of life and food. This is a busy blog, well worth a read as there is always lots going on, including Rachael’s personal Fat Kicking Year challenge, good luck Rachael.

My final selection is Mon Coeur est dans La Campagne, a blog I have only recently come across written by Delia. As my heart is also in the French countryside I enjoy reading about Delia’s life in Burgundy where she also has some top tips for those of you wanting to make the move to France.

In my little world blogging is a good thing, I enjoy putting my thoughts into words and there is no better feeling than when I get nice feedback from those who read them, thank you. I’m also a nosey person, so love to peek into the lives and minds of others who are happy to write about their life – Long live the BLOG and happy reading.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fat Free Cherry Cake Recipe

Cherry harvest at

Here is my most baked cake recipe; I like to indulge in a slice of cake every day, and making it without fat means I can do so without worrying about the consequences. I generally make it with cherries as in our orchard we have five huge old cherry trees as well as about the same again in younger trees. There are at least three different varieties with red and yellow fruits, all with a slightly different harvest time. In a good year we could pick, over a six-week period, hundreds of kilos of cherries. We can’t pick them all and we can’t use all that we do pick, but the birds and the neighbours help us out there. Our freezer comes into it’s own as a lot of the cherries are stoned using my fantastic Leifheit Preserving Cherrymat Cherry Pitter Machine, Plastic, White, frozen on trays and bagged up to be turned into Fat Free Cherry Cakes all year round. You could of course use any fruit of your choice, if we have them I also use halved plums or peaches and sliced apples, pears or quince, all are delicious.

Cherry stoning at

Enough cherries (or fruit) to fill the bottom of a lined flan tin
3 eggs at room temperature
65g sugar
110g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
50g ground almonds
a few drops of almond essence

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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Silent Sunday

It has been a mixed week here, Wednesday saw our first snowfall of the winter, Thursday was clear and bright, but more snow and ice on Friday followed by a very wet Saturday and another dusting of white this morning. Ed managed a long weekend as there was no school bus on Friday and Ade survived a week in Belfast where he could see petrol bombs and car fires from his office window, but despite the weather was only two hours delayed on his flight home. Today we are enjoying being back together. Here are a selection of pics from this week.

A perfect January harvest from the garden

Looking forward to sowing these

Mini in the snow

Time for tea

Snowy fields one day

Sunshine and deer the next day

Soup keeps us warm

Friday, January 18, 2013

Raclette confession

Dear readers, my name is Jacqui, I am 41years old, a foodie and a Francophile, but I have a big confession. Until last week I was a raclette virgin! How? Especially when cheese is one of my naughty pleasures. It is a mystery and more so as I can think of few things more comforting on a winters evening than gooey, warm, melted cheese. The basics of a raclette meal are, I think, meats and vegetables you grill together at the table and serve with cooked potatoes and warm freshly melted cheese poured over the top. The cheese cooks in special miniature pans under the grill plate. Total yumminess on a plate and a very social meal experience too.

Having been inducted into the tasty treat at some friends we just had to get ourselves a raclette ‘unit’ of our own. We opted for a teeny, tiny small one as there are only three of us and the price was teeny, tiny too. We figured if it becomes one of those gadgets that sits in the kitchen gathering dust we haven’t wasted much money and if we LOVE it we can always upgrade.

The raclette grill came with a fantastic instruction manual that included some helpful hints I’d like to share with you:

‘Small pieces of meat and/or fish cook quicker than big pieces’
‘Never move the hotplate with hands when still hot: you could get burned’
‘Clean the pans in water and washing-up liquid. Rinse well and allow to dry’

Raclette meal

Right I think I’ve got that, now on to a feast of unctuous, deliciousness. In an attempt to keep things as healthy as they can be, when the main part of the meal is melted cheese, we grilled mushrooms, peppers, onions and garlic as well as a selection of hams. But I would like your help in case I am missing something; do you Raclette and if so what do you cook on yours? Many thanks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review of Adieu La Vie by Peter Robert Scott

Adieu La Vie, by Peter Robert Scott is an historic novel set in a village in western France. The setting is the Marais Poitevin region, a reclaimed marshland area with a picturesque canal network that we know well. My main interest to begin with was the familiar location, but I soon found the information on the effect that the Second World War had in this area to be fascinating. Being in the west of France we are not in an area that was directly affected by the ‘battles’ of war, but that doesn’t mean the area was untouched by the troubles and it was interesting to learn more about the day to day life and Occupation in the war years.

The story does jump from present day (end of 1999) to the war years and back again quite a bit as the main character Bernard tries to piece together a mystery surrounding a murder. Thankfully there is a handy character list at the front of the book for reference while you settle into who is who. Bernard originally left the village in his youth, but is back to spend some time with his sister-in-law following his brother’s recent death. Marlène’s behaviour is out of character and her family are concerned, has she simply lost the plot since her husband’s death, or is there really a score to be settled after all these years? Many people have secrets from the Occupation when the Germans became a part of village life, some moved on but others were not able or allowed to forget. Bernard revisits places and a time he has long since left behind, but can he help Marlène?

For me, the fascination was in the history and I liked the pieces set in the war years the best, possibly as there was more life in the village then. The character of ‘old’ Bernard seemed a very difficult man to warm to, but there is a great tale of family love that spans the generations and a good bit of village politics and tittle-tattle too.

Adieu La Vie is available in paperback (£6.29) or kindle (£1.97) from Amazon and I would like to thank Peter for sending me a copy to read and review.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Potager Soup Recipe and Jerusalem Artichokes

We love to grow Jerusalem Artichokes for three main reasons, one they are an easy crop to grow and look after, two they tower above everything else with pretty flowers that are very much like a sunflower, and finally, you can leave them in the ground and harvest all through the winter. Once they get established they will come back year after year which is fantastic for a lazy gardener like me. Some people say they are very thuggish, but with our relaxed planting we love them. Despite their name they are not related to the globe artichoke, although the flavour is similar, and they don’t originate from Jerusalem either. Their Italian name is ‘girasole’ meaning ‘turning to the sun’, and it’s thought over time this has become Jerusalem.
french village diaries potager soup Jerusalem artichokes recipes French Entree Jerusalem Artichokes

In terms of health, their main benefit is that our bodies don’t store their carbohydrates in the same way as those of other tubers like potatoes. This basically means they are not as readily converted into sugar in our bodies. However their one side effect is that they can lead to increased wind (hence the nickname fartichokes!)

In terms of cooking we peel and slice or dice and add them to casseroles cooked in the slow cooker or pan fry them with, for example shallots, onions, leeks or butternut squash and garlic. In larger pieces they roast well too and as my friend Sue suggests they give a lovely nutty flavour when mashed with potatos. I was also told that they juice well with ginger and parsley, so I gave it a go and very refreshing it was too, thanks Rhonwen. A very versatile winter root - in my opinion.

As we are in soup season here is my basic potager soup recipe. I regularly make this in big batches all year, in the summer I use our glut of courgettes and freeze the soup for the winter, in the autumn I use pumpkins and squash and in the winter leeks and Jerusalem Artichokes, but any vegetables will do.

french village diaries potager soup French Entree recipes Courgette Soup

Potager Soup

Sauté an onion and 1 tsp of cumin seeds in some olive oil or butter, add 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and 1 tsp of mixed curry spices (my favourites are coriander, turmeric and cumin), then add the diced vegetables (however many you have), salt and pepper, and just cover either with chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender. For a really warming version add a sliced chilli and for more flavour from root vegetables or squash, roast them then add to sautéed onions and stock. My preference is to blend until smooth, but I will occasionally add a tin of cooked lentils or chickpeas after blending to give some texture, the variations are endless. If I am making in the summer I will freeze in portions to eat in the winter.  If you like, when serving, a dollop of crème fraiche can be added and I always like to top with grated cheese. Our winters can be very cold and the warmth of a soup for lunch plus the positive memories of warmer days and good harvests helps to keep my winter blues away.

French village diaries Potager soup recipes FrenchEntree Potager Soup

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Silent Sunday

Welcome to Silent Sunday and a few pictures from our week in our French Village.

Galette des Rois, I have baked a few of these this week

Mini's new trick

This weeks book review
Mini's birthday walk

Apero time

Morning coffee, always a ritual chez nous

Willow blocking out time in my diary

It has been a good week for deer spotting
The fields are being ploughed and we have been digging the potager