Friday, February 22, 2013

France et Moi with author Tottie Limejuice

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where I’m talking to author Tottie Limejuice about what France means to her.

French village diaries France et Moi Tottie Limejuice

Tottie Limejuice (a fantastic pen-name) wrote her first book Sell the Pig last year, a moving account of how her family made the decision to move to the Auvergne region of France. This was no ordinary family as Tottie’s elderly mother suffered from dementia and her brother is a manic-depressive alcoholic. You can read my review here.

First question, 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’?

Tottie: Don't forget that, according to the Auvergnats, this isn't France, it's the Auvergne, and there's a famous sign announcing that fact! So I can only speak for this region. But I love how polite people are here. It sounds trite but I find it charming to be called “madame” by people much older than I, although I would probably find the same condescending in England – it's a lifestyle thing.

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

Tottie: Never be afraid to try. Many French people you meet will speak considerably less English than you do French and will be very pleased that you make the effort. Try to read in French. Join your local library and start with easy books that you already know in French. Read all the junk mail, too, it's a great way to pick up new vocabulary. And watch French TV – it's not half as bad as some Brits would have you believe. I'm hooked on Un Diner presque Parfait, Come Dine with Me. It's a great way to pick up on regional accents and customs, too. And listen to your local radio station. Mine is France Bleu Pays d'Auvergne and I really like it. When one of my cats went missing I wanted to put an advert on and found myself doing it live on air. I think my cat heard it as she came back two hours later.

3) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Tottie: Far too many! Mixing up the French for lips and for hares caused consternation, as did proudly telling the lady in the pharmacie that my fleas had arthritis, when I meant I had arthritis in my thumbs. Or perhaps telling someone my cat had just killed a mule when I meant a field mouse.

4) What was the changing moment for you when you felt accepted into your new French community?

Tottie: Not sure it's 100% happened yet, it takes many years to be fully accepted here in the Livradois Forez. But the biggest compliment from thrifty Auvergnats who are famously tight fisted, when discovering all my money saving devices like solar camping panels to reduce my EDF bills, is to tell me I'm turning into an Auvergnate.

5) 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?

Tottie: Ah, tricky one. Up to a year ago it would have definitely been a hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat. Sadly, though thankfully in a way, due to excellent French health care, I have now been diagnosed with Coeliac disease so have to be careful to the point of paranoia not to eat anything containing gluten, nor anything that has been in contact with any. So it would probably have to be a fruit juice or perhaps a cappuccino without the chocolate powder on top and nothing to eat.

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Tottie: I'm told my humour has a bit of bite, so probably a nice mature Cantal Vieux that's sharper than it looks!

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

Tottie: I love the whole concept of the importance of links to the soil, the sense of place, the sense of belonging. There's a similar concept in Wales, where I used to live, called “hiraeth”, to do with attachment to ones roots, ones home-ground.

8) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Tottie: Am lucky enough to be able to say with complete honesty that I am perfectly happy with my little home in the Auvergne and have no hankering to go elsewhere. If money were really no object, I would like to do up my barn and perhaps acquire some more land round and about but this is where I see myself ending my days. I have even planted a silver birch and left instructions that my ashes should be scattered around it, with a stunning view of the Chaine des Puys to the west.

9) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Tottie: I am not at all a city person. Happiest in the countryside. Being fiercely loyal to the Auvergne, if pressed, I would pick Clermont-Ferrand, although I seldom go there. I much prefer small, quirky towns. Thiers is quite nice, although I always happily get lost there ever time I visit.

10) Quick poll - beaches or mountains?

Tottie: Mountains, every time.

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

Tottie: Talking of terroir, the man who used to own this property clearly had his own ideas about the connection between the land and the wine. He had a drink problem so sold the soil from the old orchard cum potager to buy wine. I'm currently trying to restore it to productivity and have just planted some fruit trees and some native species. I'm also working on a sequel to my book and Sell the Pig has just been released in paperback format.

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

Tottie: Thank you for asking me and giving me the opportunity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book review of A Tour of the Heart by Maribeth Clemente

book review A Tour of the Heart French Village DiariesSometimes there are books you pick up that just seem to click, it could be writing style or subject matter or both. A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France was one of those books for me. Yes it is set in France and yes traveling and cycling are involved, but it is more than just a cycle tour of France book as it has the added emotions of a good chicklit in it too. The book is as much the journey of Maribeth's relationship with her new(ish) boyfriend as the journey they take through France, and I enjoyed the personal side of the story. Cycling with a mechanically minded man is never easy, and I know, but to undertake a trip like this relatively early in their relationship was quite a test. Maribeth you are not the only one to have had the gear-changing lecture as you are cycling along, or been left lagging far behind.

From the beginning I loved Maribeth’s style, the descriptions of the areas they visit and their meals transported me from the cold foggy winter into the delights of holidaying in France. Although I will admit to being insanely jealous of the doors that opened to her because of her status as journaliste americaine!

The book is set in two parts, the first part their journey through France the second their return to cover the 2001 Tour de France. Set at the height of Lance Armstrong’s fame, things have a different edge to them now, but she certainly portrays the hype and excitement of the time.

This is probably not the book for you if you are a bloke looking for a book on cycling in France, as like her companion Pete you may find there is not enough cycling, however if you want an inside snoop at what goes on in the mind of a woman read on – but be aware, be very aware! It certainly brought back memories of how with boyfriend number one I was constantly trying to analyse the relationship and work out how I could change or become a better fit, in order to make ‘us’ work. Something I had forgotten I’d done as maybe when you find the person who fits just right you don’t need to analyse any more – either that or it is just an age/length of time together thing.

Maribeth is a travel writer who has lived in France and obviously loves France so it is no surprise that the one thing that came across and stayed with me in this book is her descriptions of France, the places they visit and the food they taste. This book is available as an ebook from Amazon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Giving thanks

I have lots to be thankful for this week and thought I would share some of the things with you. For a start it seems to have finally run out of rain, at least for the moment, and we have had a good run of blue sky, sunny days, even if they do start off with a cold frost. This is my perfect winter weather, the garlics need the frost to split into bulbs and to have the bed sheets flapping in the gentle breeze and sun will mean they smell so much nicer when back on my bed.

Ed is now on holiday, which means two whole weeks of no school and this week it is just the two of us. It would be true to say Ed and I have a more relaxed attitude to getting up time, mealtimes and basically routine in general than Ade does – I mean we all love a pj day every now again don’t we? I have also been savouring the silly times; hugs and giggles on the sofa whilst watching TV together. I realise these days are numbered as he rapidly approaches the dreaded 13, although I have noticed that now he is taller than me he seems to be much happier to be seen in public with me (unless I have finally lost that second head). Next week will seem much more like a real holiday as Ade will be back and his parents will be joining us.

French village diaries life in France deer
Grazing deer at the end of the hunting season

There are suddenly lots of signs of spring both in the garden and out in the countryside around the village. The family of Great Tits have been spotted in the same stonewall by the pool they nested in last year, but this year they have chosen a more secluded hole behind an ivy leaf. The cranes and geese have started their migration north and make a spectacular display in the skies overhead that never fails to make me smile. The hunting season is almost over and seeing eight deer grazing in the fields on today’s dog walk was a cheery sight – they have lasted this long so the odds are good they will get to see another summer. The garlics have survived the wet and sent up lovely green shoots full of promise for this years harvest, and I can’t wait.

Finally, today was warm enough to have morning coffee and lunch in the garden and I have conquered the ironing mountain, yippee.

French village diaries life in France garlic potager
New garlic shoots in Spring

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Silent Sunday

Welcome to another week in pictures. I'm happy to say many hours have been spent outdoors, especially this weekend and signs of spring are everywhere. The washing has dried outdoors, the garlics are shooting up, the crocus are flowering and the geese and cranes have been spotted heading north.

Coffee and Croissant French Village Diaries Silent Sunday
The perfect start to a sunny Sunday

French Village Diaries silent Sunday kitchen
I won the battle of the gas bottle, successfully removing the tough plastic cap and changing it sans homme

French village diaries valentine love

French village diaries spring life
Signs of spring out and about

French village diaries geese migrating north spring
Geese heading north at sunset

Friday, February 15, 2013

France et Moi with author Susie Kelly

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where I’m talking to author Susie Kelly about what France means to her.

French village diaries France et Moi Susie KellySusie lives in Poitou-Charentes with a menagerie of assorted animals, and is passionate about animal welfare. Her first book Best Foot Forward - A 500-Mile Walk Through Hidden France told of her solo trek from La Rochelle to Lake Geneva and since then she has entertained with tales of travel in France by campervan Travels With Tinkerbelle - 6,000 Miles Around France In A Mechanical Wreck and by bike The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette. She has also written about her life in France Two Steps Backward and her latest book Swallows & Robins - The Guests In My Garden tells the funny side of running holiday gites.

First question, 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’?

Susie: To me it's the enormous diversity that makes France so special. So many regions each with its particular culture, customs, cuisine and landscape, and yet all part of the same country. And the way they drive. That's very curious.

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

Susie: Having lived here for over seventeen years there have been so many wonderful moments, but I think the one that most touched me was the first time one of our French neighbours came and asked if I would look after their dog while they went on holiday. It made me feel as if I had been accepted into the community.

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?

Susie: I don't think there's any substitute for listening to French on the radio, the television, or face to face, and reading. Once you begin to pick out a word here and there, every so often, you start to get an idea of what they are talking about. Then you catch a few more words until you understand progressively more and more. I've learned most by dealing with builders, plumbers, vets and bureaucrats and especially when I was working for a company and spent most of my time on the telephone. That really focuses the mind! Everybody can learn the language to some degree if they want to.

4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Susie: None of my own, but I once heard an Englishman in a builder's merchants placing an order and asking if they could "baiser le prix." The shop fell silent and the cashier went rigid with shock.

5) 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?

Susie: A grande crème and a jalousie smothered in pecan nuts, like those they used to make at the boulangerie in Montjean.

6) France has many different cheeses do you have any particular favourite?

Susie: Apart from Epoisses, I don't think there's any French cheese I don't love. But pushed to choose one, it would probably be an Ossau Iraty bought direct from a producer in the Pyrenées.

7) Have you ever owned a 2CV? If so do you have fond memories of your time together – I bet it had a name didn’t it?

Susie: Yes. I had a 30-year-old 2CV called Tinkerbelle. Her bodywork was blue, her roof red. I didn't discover for a year how to find the correct gear until a passenger pointed out that there was a diagram on the dashboard. The floor in front on the driver's side had rusted away, leaving a gaping hole through which you could watch the road passing by. I covered it with a floor tile, which worked very well. The webbing on the front seat gave way one day while I was on a steep hill waiting for the lights to change. As they did, I found myself sitting in a hole, trying to operate clutch, brake and accelerator while holding myself up with the steering wheel. She was a wonderful character, and I so much regret selling her. We named our camping car Tinkerbelle after her.

8) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Susie: A cottage on a beach in Brittany; an apartment in Paris; another cottage in the Aspe valley in the Pyrenées, and a holiday home in the Jura.

9) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Susie: I'm not really a city person, but I do love Poitiers. The town center is small and friendly, with a very picturesque medieval quarter of colombage and cobbles. There are beautiful parks, plenty of small specialist shops, a range of truly excellent restaurants catering for every taste and pocket and a superb library. Over the last few years the square and the area around the Hotel de Ville has been entirely redesigned and pedestrianised, and all the lovely old trees chopped down, which caused an outcry at the time. The work has taken several years during which traffic has been utter chaos and caused great frustration and indignation amongst the locals. However, having recently seen the result, I think that it works well and when spring arrives and the new trees come into leaf the square will regain its popularity.

10) How does France inspire your writing?

Susie: It awakened an interest in history. When travelling around the country I found that looking at and visiting old buildings made me want to know what had happened in them and which historic figures had been there. Old buildings per se do not interest me. It is their history and its effect that fascinates me and which I enjoy researching and writing about.

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

Susie: I have three non-fiction and one fiction work in progress. Only one is specifically French, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Please ask me again in a year. ☺

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

Susie: It's been a pleasure, Jacqui. Thank you for asking me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentines Day

My Valentine’s Day has not been a slushy day full of flowers and romance, although there was plenty of slushy mud out with the ducks as it has rained most of the day. As for many people, life and work often get in the way when it comes to celebrations and I struggle to remember the last time Ade and I were together on Valentine’s Day or our birthdays, but that doesn’t mean the romance is dead.

French village diaries valentine meal
Starter buffet at Le Sporting St Romans les Melle
We treated ourselves to a meal out last Friday; a simple lunch menu in a local village bar/restaurant and it was lovely as well as being great value. For starters a freshly prepared buffet awaits your self-service and my plate was piled high with salmon, salads, prawns and more. The bread is plentiful and not a standard baguette from the supermarket. The texture of the artisan bread is firm with just enough crust and a great flavour. There were two choices for the main course, a fish and a meat dish served with either beans or mixed vegetables. We had the fish with the vegetables, which was delicious, although had we picked this as vegetarians we may have been a little disappointed as there were lardons (bacon) cooked with the vegetables. The cheese plate is then brought to the table for you to take what you fancy and then the homemade dessert of the day follows. We had a chocolate and banana cake served with crème anglaise and despite not being a huge banana fan I loved it. We also enjoyed a carafe of house rosé wine with the meal and two coffees to finish. The total price was 26€. As we are out of the main tourist season the other diners were all on their work lunch break and I was the only female in the restaurant except the waitress. The atmosphere was chatty and convivial, but not loud and everyone wished everyone else a ‘bon apetit’ as they took their seats. This is the second meal we have had here and we would have no hesitation in going back again. If you are ever in the Melle area “Le Sporting” Bar/Restaurant in Saint Romans les Melle 79500 is open for meals every lunchtime except Wednesday and reservations can be made, although we just turned up, on 05 49 27 04 16.

French village diaries valentines meal
Fish course at Le Sporting St Romans les Melle

Tonight we may be miles apart Ade, but I love you lots and lots.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book review of Vin Rouge, Fiestas and a Small Boat by Eugenie Smith

Book review French village diariesIn Vin Rouge, Fiestas and a Small Boat: Through the French Canals to Spain Eugenie and her husband, who I would describe as being itchy foot travellers, learn to sail in the UK in the 1980’s and then build themselves a 33ft yacht in their back garden. They then follow their BIG plan and take the boat over to France, sail round the Normandy coast and up the River Seine into Paris. During consecutive summer holidays they go from Paris via canals, rivers and waterways to reach the Rhone and then the Mediterranean, ending up four summers later in Spain. This is some adventure even today, but in the 80’s there were no mobile phones to use in an emergency, no Internet to do route research or check the weather reports and no blog to keep friends and family up to date with their progress – a different world to where we are now.

Written like a diary, the journey through France is best described as gentle. I am no boat person and I certainly wouldn’t want to be out in the Mediterranean in the Golf de Lion, but following the waterways of France seemed idyllic. She often writes of meeting kind hearted and friendly French locals who smile and wave at them in their ‘petit bateau’. The many different nationalities of boat people, all on their own journeys but whose paths often cross more than once, also seem to be a very nice, social bunch. There never seemed to be a shortage of apero invites at new moorings. As a non-boat person I’m not too hot on the boaty terms that cropped up as you would expect in a book centred on a boat, but thankfully Ade is far more the sailor than I am and was able to help me out. I did have a good chuckle when they sheltered from a storm in an idyllic bay only to find everyone else there were naturists. I think this was the only time they shut themselves in the cockpit to avoid embarrassing aperos!

This book is a lovely window on a different time and I wonder how things would have changed if the same journey were undertaken today.

The ebook is available on Amazon Kindle priced at 97p. Thank you Eugenie for sending me a copy to read and review.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chocolate Veggie Brownies

Here is my favourite brownie recipe, traditionally made in summer when the courgettes are taking over the kitchen and I find myself adding them to everything I make. However with the gloom of wet February days I needed a chocolate fix so made a few changes using carrot with orange zest for an equally delicious moist treat and then carrot with zingy fresh ginger – well it has been really wet here!

Chocolate and Courgette Brownies
Life in a French Village Diaries chocolate brownies recipe
Chocolate and Courgette Brownies
125ml vegetable oil and 1 tbsp walnut oil (walnut oil is optional)
200g brown sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2tsp salt
250g finely grated courgette (zucchini) (leave skins on)
1tbsp walnut wine or similar (Amaretto, Rum, Ginger wine)
60g chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180c/Gas 4
Grease and flour a 22x33cm baking tin
In a large bowl, mix together oils, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Combine flour, cocoa powder, bicarb and salt; stir into sugar mixture. Fold in courgettes, walnuts and wine.  Note it is a rather dry mixture. Spread evenly in prepared tin. Bake for 25 to 30 mins, until it springs back when gently touched. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Options for when you don’t have courgettes to hand, all these will still make a delicious moist cake that I fool myself into thinking is healthy as it contains vegetables:

250g grated carrots (peeled)
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
250g grated carrots (peeled)
Zest and juice of an orange
250g grated cooked and peeled beetroot

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Silent Sunday

It feels like it has been raining forever, but as I look back over our photos from the week it doesn't seem to have been that bad and we even had lunch in the garden, once!

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday seeds
Best thing about this time of year is seeds.

French Village Diaries Silent Sunday chickens
Our new girls finally brave enough to enjoy the orchard

French village diaries silent sunday sunshine lunch
February lunch in the garden

French village diaries homemade compost
Homemade pile of compost

French village diaries dog walks
Mini's friend Dexter comes to stay

French village diaries cheese wine dogs
Good boy Dexter

French Village diaries cats
Willow knows just how to get comfy and keep warm

Friday, February 8, 2013

France et Moi with author Shawnie Kelley

Welcome to the very first ‘France et Moi’ feature where I’m talking to author Shawnie Kelley about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Shawnie KelleyShawnie Kelley Foy is owner of Wanderlust Tours, specializing in French culinary and cultural tourism, and author of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go , It Happened on Cape Cod, and Insiders' Guide to Columbus. She is a passionate home cook, food-blogger, and advocate of local foods and business.

First question, 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’?

Shawnie: For a country that’s the size of Texas, France really does pack in the diversity; from its landscape and climates to its historical contributions; from its extreme urban centers and tranquil countryside to its cultural and culinary traditions. As a lover of food and architecture, I tend to define places by those two things. For me, France doesn’t get any more “French” than when you eat.

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

Shawnie: This isn’t exactly my first memory, but it is the exact moment when I fell in love with France. It was during my very first trip to Paris in the early 90s. I had been there a few days wandering around, mesmerised and hypnotized by the sensory overload that Paris is. I couldn’t race out of the metro or turn the corner fast enough because something beautiful was always waiting. My breath was taken away upon exiting the Metro at Place de la Concorde. It was a blindingly sunny May morning, the obelisk and hotels were a glittering gold; the fountains were dancing; cars were whizzing by; the arc d’triomphe in front; the Tuileries behind. It was also the very first time I had ever seen the Eiffel Tower from a distance. There were no words. The snapshot of this exact moment is burned into my brain forever. It still makes me catch my breath.

3) What is your favourite holiday location in France?

Shawnie: The South of France in general; but depending on my mood: Nice or Paris. Nice is like an ‘old comfortable sweater.’ When I put it on, it feels good, easy, worn-in, familiar. I lived in Nice back in 2000 and got to know the region rather well, so this familiarity makes for a laid-back holiday on so many levels. Paris, however, is like my ‘little black dress.’ A total looker-- a classic, beautiful, sexy city-- without trying too hard. I go to the City of Light when I want an urbane experience.

4) What would you say your level of French is?

Shawnie: I studied French in highschool, college, and took language classes at the University of Nice in my adult life. I don’t consider myself fluent because I don’t use it, but it resurfaces quickly after being in France for a few days. I can read fairly fluently and carry on well in conversational French.

5) 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?

Shawnie: I’m a petit dejeuner traditionalist... a frothy cup of cafe au lait and a buttery croissant or pain des amandes does the trick.

6) What is your favourite regional French dish?

Shawnie: I’m a sucker for socca - the Nicoise specialty. The rustic chick pea flour crepe is served with a drizzle of olive oil and a heavy handed dash of black pepper.

7) Do you ever cook traditional French food at home?

Shawnie: Yes! Often. From hearty daube and cassoulet, to soups, seafood pastas and breads. I’ve even mastered the socca. I leave the pastry making to my sister, Mandy Jones, with whom I also teach cookery classes. She and I founded Simply French, a “tour de cuisine” cooking series and food blog. We combine cooking lessons with a discussion of regional culinary traditions. She mostly teaches the technical component while I speak on the background of the dishes or regional history... putting the recipes into historical and cultural context. It’s a lot of fun! In fact, I’m going to be teaching a Provencal series at a friend’s new cooking school here in Columbus, Ohio, The Seasoned Farmhouse.

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

Shawnie: I’ve been told that I’m bubbly and approachable, so a cheese with the same friendly characteristic makes sense. Comté fits the bill quite nicely... this sweet cow’s milk cheese is flexible in texture; a little hard when it has to be, yet melts easily into a bubbly pile of goo for fondue. Not to mention, it’s complex, yet a little nutty.

9) France has some beautiful old towns and cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite but do you have a favourite?

Shawnie: Loaded question. One of the most daunting sections to compile in my travel guide 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go was the chapter about old towns, and seaside villages, sleepy hamlets... It took forever to narrow down the choices, but one place that always stands out in my mind (and made the cut!) is Collioure - an artsy, waterfront village on the southwestern Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. It has everything I appreciate in a town: jaw-dropping scenery; a craggy coastline, winding medieval streets, a hulking fortress, art galleries, colourful waterfront restaurants and fishing boats. Granted, I’d not consider visiting during peak tourist season, but in shoulder or off season, Collioure is one of my top destinations.

10) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Shawnie: I call this my “Best Seller” dream house.... when I write that best seller and make millions, I’d buy a villa in the Riviera. Not too big, but with a stellar kitchen and view. Maybe perched up above Eze-sur- Mer, or overlooking the coast along cap d’Antibes. I’d have a revolving door of family and friends while writing novels till my hands fall off.

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

Shawnie: I just finished writing a (English language) travel guide titled 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go, published by California-based Travelers Tales.  The book is up for pre-sale now on Amazon and will be released in May. I am also organizing fully guided, all-inclusive tours through my travel company, Wanderlust Tours. The first tour in June is a Cultural and Culinary Tour de Cote d’Azur, which includes cooking classes, market tours, and a variety of guided excursions.  I also have a French Christmas Markets tour in the works. I’m a huge advocate of culinary tourism, so the tours put on by my companies are food-forward. We try our best to seek out places that highlight local and seasonal dining and support independently-owned businesses and farm to fork restaurants.

Thank you Shawnie, and good luck with the book release and tours. If you would like to see more from Shawnie and 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Visit you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hat chat

You rarely see Queen Elizabeth II without a hat and I have to admit I’m quite partial to my hats too. I may not have the selection available to Her Majesty, but I have a cunning system of changing the scarf on my summer hat to better coordinate it with whatever floaty dress I happen to be wafting around in – versatile and resourceful, that’s me.

An artist has spotted a photo of me in my summer hat and has kindly asked for permission to paint it. Wow! In just the same way the commissioning of a new Royal portrait always warrants space in the press, so I just had to tell you. How exciting! If you want to see the photo it is over on the ‘France et Moi’ page here. Tomorrow will see the launch of the new French Village Diaries Friday feature ‘France et Moi’ where each week I will be talking to someone interesting about their love of France. Some, like me have made France their home, others have fallen in love from afar, but always treasure visits. We will be discussing regional food, cheese, patisseries, wine, cars, the language, favourite places and basically all things French. It has been great fun for me to set up so I hope you enjoy it too.

Now back to hats, and I have some sad news. Much as I like my summer hat it is my winter hat that I love. I don’t like being cold and uncomfortable so winter dog walks see me carefully attired, yes, I am the sort of person who tucks my gloves into my coat and then securely tightens the Velcro cuffs. There is nothing worse than the wind whistling in my ears so my hat has become my trusty winter friend since I bought it in a mill shop in Ireland, just before we moved to France in 2004. This week I lost my hat! Our village is not a big village, but somehow between leaving the library on Tuesday and walking the two roads to home I managed to loose it. I have retraced my route three times, checked the wheelie bins on the road, but nothing, my faithful friend has gone. I can only hope it will be handed in to the Mairie or Boulangerie and we will be reunited soon. The look on Ade’s face when I put on the replacement (that used to be Ed’s many years ago) spoke volumes, so I think I may need a shopping trip soon. My poor hat, I miss you my friend.

French Village Diaries hats
My favourite hat

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review France on Two Wheels by Adam Ruck

I have been having a great time with my latest read France on Two Wheels: Six Long Bike Rides for the Bon Vivant Cyclist by Adam Ruck. Every evening when I climb into bed Adam is waiting to take me on an adventure – in France, on a bike.

book review France on Two Wheels French Village Diaries
I met Adam on Twitter just before Christmas and my first reaction to the write up of his book was “Ooh – look at this! A book about cycling and France and food/wine too. Does it get any better than this?” Well, having read the book I can tell you, yes it does. Adam’s book, like so many other good books on travelling in France that I have read (and I have read a lot), inspires me to get out and see more of France. However, for me at least, Adam brought an extra element of excitement as his ‘way’ makes the adventure seem really do-able. Each of his six routes is covered in about eight days and his daily distance of about 100km would be achievable by us (with a bit of effort put in beforehand). His bike isn’t weighed down with tent and sleeping bag as with a bit of careful planning he finds good value hotels each night – much like we do for our road trips in the Mini. I admire (almost to the point of jealousy) those who can take off with all they need for the next six weeks strapped to their bike. However they all have stories to tell of nights of little or no sleep under canvass for all sorts of reasons and they have made me realise it’s not for me. I don’t do sleepless nights and I know I couldn’t cycle all day following a sleepless night. Adam has made it seem OK to have a cycling adventure and stay in a bed each night with access to a private shower with hot water on arrival and before you leave. Thanks Adam.

Add to this Adam’s experience of travelling and writing about France for the Holiday Which? guides for many years and you have a great read with lots of interesting information, including places to stay and eat, along the way. Adam is also the only other person I have ever encountered who has mentioned travelling with The Red Book (France 2012 MICHELIN Guide (Michelin Guides)) , just like we do.  I would be interested to know do you travel with yours?

The one downside, as far as Ade is concerned is that he now has a bouncy, excitable wife nagging him about how fantastic it would be to cycle the 600km triangle from home to Nantes to Tours (via the rivers and chateaux of the Loire) to home again, this summer.

French Village Diaries cycling holiday
My big adventure?

Adam, thanks for sending me the book and if you are ever planning another cycling trip in France and you need a ‘Girl-Friday’ I’m your man!

You can see more on Adam’s adventures, including photos at France on Two Wheels is published by Short Books Ltd and is available in paperback and ebook format from all good booksellers and online. Here is the Amazon link.