Sunday, March 31, 2013

Silent Sunday

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating today and for those of you whose clocks sprung forward Happy Summertime too and may the sun shine down on you. Here are some photos of our week.

Silent Sunday French village diaries Easter bunnies Easter eggs
My favourite Easter bunny and Easter egg picture

French village diaries silent sunday Easter egg boulangerie
From our village boulangerie

French village diaries silent sunday daffodils
Spring daffodils in the garden

french village diaries silent sunday wild flowers Spring
Our spring wild flowers

french village diaries silent sunday courgette
Courgette seedlings

french village diaries silent sunday mousse au chocolat
Easter mousse au chocolat and a foret noire from the boulangerie

french village diaries silent sunday spring wildflowers
Spring in the countryside

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tart

It is Easter weekend, so we are going to have a slightly more luxurious Sunday lunch tomorrow and that means a bit of preparation today. This is not a bad thing, as the weather is more keep-warm-in-the-kitchen than out-and-about-in-the-garden anyway.

For our starter I will be making a beetroot and goats cheese tart, a new recipe that I tried out this week and can already see it becoming a regular favourite. I just know that using roasted tomatoes, courgettes and/or peppers will work just as well during the summer and butternut squash with walnuts and curry spices will give it a warm autumnal twist.

The main course will be pork, an obvious choice as we have recently filled our freezer with half a free-range pig, see here. Not too sure how we will cook it yet but oven roasted with a nice crackling and roast potatoes seems to be winning the vote so far.

As it is Easter and it would be wrong not to have chocolate, a luxury chocolate mousse with strawberries will be the dessert – we also have a glut of chicken eggs so this is a perfect recipe to use them up. For the recipe, inspired by French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure see here.

Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tart.

french village diaries recipes beetroot and goats cheese tart
Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tart
For the pastry – you can use ready made puff or short crust pastry, but I like to make my own (short crust). This makes enough pastry for a rectangular tin 27cm (10½”) by 17cm (6 ½”) and 3.5cm deep (1 ½”) – this is my preferred tin (and pastry recipe) for all quiches/tarts.

135g plain flour
75g butter
1 egg beaten
a little cold water

Using cold fingers rub the butter into the flour until breadcrumb like consistency. Add the egg and enough water to just bring it to a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest for at least half an hour in the fridge.

Line the tin with baking paper, then roll out the chilled dough on the paper. Fit into the tin, prick the base with a fork, line with more baking paper, add baking beans and bake blind until the edges of the pastry are just turning golden. This is about 10 minutes at gas mark 4, but my oven is not very reliable!

For the filling
Two cooked beetroot (without vinegar) or other roasted summer vegetables
Two onions
Goats cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Sprig of fresh thyme
Walnut halves (optional)
Salt and pepper

Thinly slice the beetroot and place in a bowl with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Thinly slice the onions and cook until soft and golden in a small amount of olive oil and season.

When the pastry has had it’s first bake add the onions to the base, then layer the beetroot and crumble over the goats cheese, sprinkle with fresh thyme, the walnuts and drizzle over some olive oil. Place back in the oven for about 25 mins, leave to cool a little before serving.

This makes a delicious lunch served with a side salad, is perfect for picnics or as a starter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

France et Moi with author Jill Colonna

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to author and ace macaron baker Jill Colonna about what France means to her.

French village diaries France et Moi Jill Colonna macarons
Photo from
Jill, who is passionate about macarons has lived in Paris for twenty years and is author of Mad About Macarons! a fun and stylish book that helps you to overcome your fears and achieve the perfect macarons, just like the French.

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’?

Jill: I love their obsession with good food and yet they don’t let it affect their waistline. ‘French’ is seasonal and fresh; what makes them unique is how they show it off so stylishly in their pâtisseries, épiceries and farmers’ markets.

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

Jill: Dad driving us from Scotland to the South of France when my brother and I were little. The car trip was long with no air-conditioning but I loved looking at the long avenues of trees and stopping off for salads of pâté and gherkins so I could tease my brother they were frogs’ legs.

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

Jill: It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago! I loved carrying a baguette as if it was a fashion accessory plus being able to stock up on powerful cheeses and eat garlic without friends thinking I was potty. The scary part was the language: everyone spoke so fast as words just merged into oblivion.

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

Jill: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just talk and get it out – gradually the mistakes will disappear but it’s important to gain confidence by practicing and don’t speak a word of English. Watch films in French with French subtitles – in the early days I found it helpful watching films I knew already and picked up some cool phrases like “grosse légume” (bigwig). That’s something you can’t get from textbooks!

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

Jill: When I first arrived, I told my boss I could speak fluent French, ahem. On my first week in an international organisation, I took a telephone call from the Canadian Delegation and didn’t understand a word they said, especially as their accents were so different. I remember crying as soon as I put the ‘phone down, as I hadn’t a clue what I’d just agreed to. Then came the Belgian accents next day…

6) 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?

Jill: That sounds wonderful. It would just be a small ‘Noisette’ espresso coffee with a dash of warmed milk. If I hadn’t had breakfast yet, I’d go for a plain but extra buttery croissant, once I’d checked them out at the next table if they were top notch, otherwise it’s not worth eating the calories.

7) Where did your love of the macaron start?

Jill: In the chic 16th in Paris, at the top floor restaurant of a posh ladies’ fashion store in rue de Passy with colleagues one lunchtime. Most ladies had a little dog sous la table while sur la table, little pastel-coloured macarons were de rigueur. When I tried one, it was love at first bite.

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

Jill: That’s difficult, as I love them all! In this chilly weather, perhaps the Blanquette de Veau from Ile-de-France does it for me, especially as I adore Condrieu wine, a partnership which makes the toes curl.

9) 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?

Jill: Would you believe I’m teased at home for being like Bree in Desperate Housewives. Perhaps you could call me a French brie, then?

10) Do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Jill: I’m excited about a short video that’s currently doing the rounds on Facebook via American Express, ‘The Simple Pleasure of Macarons’. I’m also trying to finalise a couple of manuscripts for my publisher as a sequel to Mad About Macarons, but I keep hesitating. Long story. Hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have something concrete to share.

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

Jill: Thank you for having me over on French Village Diaries, Jacqueline!  It has been a pleasure.

You can follow Jill’s blog here and Mad About Macarons! on Facebook here. Mad About Macarons! is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Worm Wednesday

For today's Book Worm Wednesday I am going to review two short but fun holiday memoir ebooks I picked up for FREE on Amazon: Three Yorkshiremen in a Boat by Christopher More and Going Bare!by John David Harding.

I have already read a couple of books set on France’s waterways, both of them traveling from the north to the south and on into the Mediterranean, in Three Yorkshiremen in a Boat they are making the return trip north to the UK. Captain Dave, Jade (the boat) and his fiancée had spent the summer cruising the Mediterranean but having over wintered the boat in Aigues-Mortes, Provence, time is running out to get her home before their wedding – she is stocked up with reception booze so has a vital role to play! This book is the journey Dave, his father Jack and brother-in-law Christopher make to return to the UK in Jade.

Written by Christopher with the help of the diary Jack kept this is a short, witty account of the trip that has loads of Jack's great colour photographs too. I enjoyed the style of writing and it was a quick and easy read that kept me entertained. There is also some useful information for anyone thinking about making a similar journey, but if you were I’m sure you would need to do some more research too. For me it was nice to be back (virtually) travelling in the east of France as it is an area we used to holiday in frequently before moving to the west of France. I also spent some time near Maçon on a school French exchange many years ago and one day I really will get to Lyon in person. Although this was no life changing adventure, it would be true to say that having returned to the UK none of their lives were ever quite the same again – but you will have to read the epilogue to find out why!

french village diaries Rhone Hermitage book reviews
Me on the Rhone in Tournon the home of Hermitage

Going Bare! is another holiday account, but of a very different type of holiday. It tells the story of a family's first taste of a naturist resort, written by the husband (whose idea it was). He admits his wife was not too enthusiastic, but was happy enough to give it a try. Their chosen resort was on France's west coast, just south of Bordeaux, so not too far from where we are. Although we have never holidayed in a naturist resort we have thought about it and are happy to spend the day on our local Atlantic coast naturist beaches. For this reason I was quite interested in this book and looking forward to getting some useful information on what goes on and is the 'norm' on resort. I know being naked in public isn't everyone's idea of fun, but it doesn't bother me or Ade, but being stuck in a resort and not knowing the form or what to expect does! It certainly reassured me and it seems so long as you pack large towels that you keep with you at all times (to sit on), everything will be fine. We may just give it a go as there really is nothing quite like the freedom of nudity, especially when swimming.

Please note that although I picked these up for free on Amazon, they may not always be free.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Viva Mayr week one

While in the UK I picked up a copy of The Viva Mayr Diet by Dr Stossier and Helena Frith Powell. I wasn’t really looking for it or any diet book, but I follow Helena’s blog so was aware of it, had a look and was interested enough buy it. To say I devoured every word of it as I read it from cover to cover on the journey home is no exaggeration. Like all good diets Viva Mayr isn’t just a diet but a change of lifestyle. The main thing that struck me was how much of it made sense and that with a little effort on my part I should be able to loose the post UK visit bloating and maybe even shift the 3 kilos from the Christmas UK trip that have now begun to bug me.

For those of you who don’t know, my weight has been a big issue most of my life, but I have never been a yo-yo dieter as food is more important to me than a fad diet. I was tubby kid who became a short fat teen and stayed that way until about five years ago when I was in my mid thirties. Following no strict rules except eat less, move more and eat from the garden as much as possible I lost 15kg from 68kg to 53kg, which as I am only 1.55m tall was a much healthier weight. As with most women I ‘fluctuate’ so my ‘happy’ place is about 55kg, but as 58kg is getting to be the norm at the moment something needs to change before summer.

French Village Diaries health diet Viva Mayr
Viva Mayr inspired breakfast
The Viva Mayr way aims to improve the way our bodies digest our food ensuring we function efficiently and stay healthy (and slim). There is a lot more emphasis on how and when you eat than what you eat, to promote good digestion and therefore good overall health. Without wishing to give too much away here are my good and bad points from my first week.

Once I remembered to chew my food properly (usually after the first 3 or 4 mouthfuls) I was amazed at how much fuller I felt than I usually do. This has meant cutting my portion sizes hasn’t just been easy it’s been essential. I have also not felt the need to snack between meals at all, all week – honestly!

The bloating feeling in my stomach disappeared almost overnight.

Exercise is already part of my routine with a daily dog walk, a weekly yoga class and gardening. However each week at yoga I promised myself I would do a bit of yoga at home each day. Before I knew it I was back in class wondering where the week had gone. Not this week. Now I drink my lemon and ginger tea before rather than with my breakfast, then wait a while before eating. Viva Mayr has given me twenty minutes of yoga time before breakfast each morning.

Ade is a little irritated with some of my new habits! He is one of the fastest food hoovers I know so now that I am chewing more thoroughly I am taking a lot longer than he is each mealtime. This has made him a little annoyed.

Now I am no longer drinking at mealtimes I am struggling to remember to drink enough during the day between meals. This is something I need to work on.

Coffee is something to be avoided with Viva Mayr, however, I may only have one or two small coffees a day but I am not ready to give them up.

Apparently pork is one of the most difficult of meats to digest, so it is suggested we avoid eating it. However as we have just bought half a pig for the freezer this isn’t going to happen either!

Overall, at the end of week one I am really happy with my progress, especially as I feel healthier on the inside and slimmer, plus I have already lost a kilo.

There is so much more to Viva Mayr than what I have put here so if you think is sounds interesting I really do recommend getting a copy of the book and having a proper read.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Silent Sunday

Welcome some pictures of our weekend, Saturday was spent in the lovely city of La Rochelle where we had our morning coffee with a view, then walked around the harbour. Sunday began with breakfast in the garden and now we are off to spend time working outside.

French village diaries coffee La Rochelle
Coffee in La Rochelle

French village diaries La Rochelle
The waterfront in La Rochelle

French village diaries La Rochelle
The lifting bridge in La Rochelle

French village diaries La Rochelle
Modern art in La Rochelle

French Village Diaries Sunday morning breakfast croissant
Perfect Sunday morning breakfast in the garden

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cycling with Blue Belle

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente boucle 33
In St Fraigne, notice Ade's new toy on the back of the car.
Yesterday's weather was beautiful and delivered a much deserved dose of warm sunshine. It was perfect for the first bike ride of the year, although still a little early for me to be dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. We debated stopping for lunch while out, but decided on a picnic instead and packed the car to the accompaniment of some rather blue language from our neighbour who was struggling with the spluttering engine of his rotivator. I know we too should have been gardening but we did sow some more seeds in the morning. Blue Belle, my lovely retro bike and I were fit and ready to tackle the 34 km route Ade had chosen, or so I thought!

We were following one of the Charente marked cycle routes, No 33 B, and although this one was new to us we've always found them to be well marked. They are also well planned to take in the prettiest of the villages, avoid the busy main roads as much as possible and pass through at least one town big enough for a beer stop. Route 33 B was no exception.

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente boucle 33
Lunch at the lavoir
We started in St Fraigne, where there are some lovely gardens by the river that are well worth a visit in the summer. We stopped for our picnic in a pretty village with no name, in a quiet spot by the church and lavoir (old wash house) with only birds and butterflies for company. It is so unusual not to have a sign with the village name on it as most places in France tell you not only where you are entering but where you are leaving too, here there was nothing. 

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente boucle 33
A walnut mill stone in Tusson
After lunch we continued through more sleepy villages and spiky stick-like vineyards, meeting very few people or cars until our beer stop in Aigre. 

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente boucle 33
A well deserved beer in Aigre
There is nothing quite like a cold beer in the sun when you have really worked for it, and by then (28 kms) my whole body really felt it had worked for it. However we were not all in agreement. Mr Super-Ski-Fit was quite a nag; "Do you think you can go any faster?" (No, or I would be!). "If I go any slower I will fall off" (Oh well). "Keeping up OK?" (Yes thanks, so long as I can go at my pace). Nothing in my life is measured on how fast I can get somewhere or do something - life for me is all about the journey. How I managed 80km in a day on Ile de Ré last year I have no idea. But I do know I have a long way to go before I could do that sort of distance again. Oh winter I hate that you make me wobbly and unfit.

For more information on cycling in the Charente see here for all the route information and links. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

France et Moi with author William Widmaier

french village diaries France et Moi William WidmaierWelcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to author William Widmaier about what France means to him.

William is author of A Feast at the Beach, a book inspired by his childhood holidays spent with his Grandparents in the South of France.

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’?

William: In France, especially the older or more classic France, there is a sense that life is to be lived and enjoyed. I think this comes from the strong undercurrent of art that runs deep in the French culture. Of course you can find it in the classic French arts of fashion, painting, sculpture, architecture, cuisine, wine and such, but possibly more important is the endless pursuit of la joie de vivre that fills the very molecules of the air you breathe throughout France. This expresses itself into less regard for the scramble for material gain, and more in an interest in the pursuit of the art of the moment in everyday life. I mean, the French have made an art of simply sitting in a café.

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

William: Time spent at my grandparents’ home in Saint-Tropez as a child, and the frequent day trips we would take with my grandfather, exploring the far corners of Provence are some of the best memories I have.

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

William: Un café crème et un pain aux chocolat svp.

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

William: This is impossible to answer! So much depends on my mood, but on my top 5 list would be Napoleon, Palmier, Eclaire, Paris-Brest and of course Tarte Tropezienne.

5) What is your favorite regional French dish?

William: Soup de poisson avec ca rouille is a favorite of mine from my childhood days when I would go down to the vieux port of Saint-Tropez with my grandparents on special occasions and order it at the restaurant there. In the winter I’m also quite fond of a properly made casoulet and choucroute d’Alsace. And I’m a sucker for any good terrine or paté!

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?

William: I grew up absolutely loving the fresh Petit Suisse cheeses, but as for what cheese am I? Today, I would probably go with the Tome de Provence – complex yet very down to earth, un-pretentious, traditional, esoteric, an acquired taste.

7) Do you prefer French or New World wine?

William: French, no if ands or buts.

8) How important do you think it is to match your French wine with your food?

William: Unless you are having a very high-end multi-course gourmand’s meal, I personally believe that it is not critically important to pair every course with a wine. For every day purposes my recommendation is to drink what you like, while giving a nod to the type of dish the main course is, and also maybe the weather – chilled rosé for lunch on a hot summer’s day for example. I will say this, while travelling around France I have a habit of ordering whatever the local specialty dish is and then ordering the local wine to go with it. Not only do you discover new dishes and wines this way, you often end up earning the approval of the restaurant staff, which can lead to extra special treats and new friendships.

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

William: I wrote about this in the wine section of my book A Feast at the Beach – so I’m going to cheat and give you an excerpt:

“In France, wine is less about specifically which grape or combination of grapes it is made from, though that does play a significant role especially if you are the wine maker, but for the drinker rather it is more about where it is made. Wines are named by region, the appellation usually being the name of the place, defining exactly where the grapes must be grown to be considered, but often leaving to the individual winery the exact proportions of the varieties to be blended. Some wine appellation regions are tiny, nothing more than a few dozen acres. Place is incredibly significant. It is the soil, the sun, the wind, and the history of the place. The terroir. After that it gets personal.

Here is the thing: A huge part of the joy of wine, at least in my view, is having a sense of place that goes with the wine. Wine is more than the taste on the palate; it is place, and memories, and art. This is why with wine, taste is such a personal thing --it includes ones romantic notions.”

10) 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?

William: As far as city, well it has to be Paris, there is no other city like it in the world. Having said that, I am very partial to villages, especially the villages of Provence and the Provence hinterlands. I also have some favorites in Brittany.

Finally tell us about your book ‘A Feast at the Beach’ and the inspiration behind it.

William: I was born in the States, child of a very French mother. I spent much of my childhood being shipped off to my Grandparents in Saint-Tropez for long vacations. These long vacations, and at time partial school years, was the inspiration for my book A Feast at the Beach. The writing process proved to be a journey into self-discovery – of just how much France, Provence, my grandparents, my French cousins and friends, and the food and culture of the region had shaped me into who I am today. It also turned into an unexpected lesson for all of us in la joie de vivre.

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

You can follow William on his Facebook page here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The pig, the mouse and the swallow

Yesterday we took delivery of our pig. Or to be more accurate our half pig, nicely packaged into freezer bags, all 32 chops, 24 steaks, 16 joints, 2 packs of ribs, 1 fillet, 1 kidney, 5kgs of casserole/sausage meat and 4 trotters (must have been a freak of nature). We knew the piggy before he met his destiny, so are happy he lived a free-range life and has travelled very few miles. I’m not sure total self-sufficiency is something we could ever achieve, but this is the next best thing. If anyone has any great recipes for the trotters do please let me know – Ade is keen to try them as they are a delicacy, but I confess to never having eaten or cooked them before, thank you. I may have been a squirrel in a previous life as I am never more content than when my food cupboards and freezers are chock full, plus I am a real hoarder. We shouldn’t need to buy meat, except the occasional free-range chicken for quite a while now.

french village diaries pigs
Hello piggy
What did slightly spoil my good mood was finding our walnut store had been broken into. I do appreciate it has been a particularly cold, wet and horrid winter, but I was one unhappy bunny to find Mr Mouse had found our walnut crates. Thankfully this has been the first time in eight years that we have had this problem, but I will admit to setting a trap (or rather getting Ade to set it) last night. Live and let live – so long as you are not invading my space and my food storage! Having never set one before we wondered what food to bait it with, cheese – everyone knows mice love cheese, or chocolate – I was sure I had read this was good? In the end Ade used a shelled walnut and Mr greedy tempted by the fact he didn’t have to crack the shell himself fell for it – gotcha! The trap has been reset just in case word had got out to the village mice that our bumper crop of 2012 walnuts was up for grabs.

french village diaries walnuts harvest
These walnuts are all mine. Thieves will be prosecuted.

Now for something extremely exciting that happened this morning, while sipping our coffee in the garden the first swallow swooped overhead – yes! I wish you could have seen the silly, happy dance I performed up and down the garden; as for me this really does mark a turning point in the seasons. Nature is so much cleverer than we are and if the swallows feel now is the right time to return then it can only mean spring will again return and the weather will get better. Now to walk the dog – in the drizzle, oh well!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book review of The Chapel in the Woods by Susan Louineau

french village diaries book reviews BookWormWednesday The Chapel in the WoodsThe Chapel in the Woods by Susan Louineau is an intriguing read from the beginning. The first three chapters each introduce a different character as they arrive in a small village in the Loire Valley. All three of them are English, but that is where the similarity ends. One is a monk in the Middle Ages travelling under a shadow. One is an SOE (Special Operations Executive) dropped in by parachute during WWII to aid the local resistance and one is a young mother, married to a Frenchman and setting up a new life in the country. These three different stories made for quite a slow start to the book, but I was fascinated trying to work out how the book was going to come together and how the stories would be woven together. As each of the characters adjusts to their new lives their stories begin to unfurl and as the book progresses we see the links between the past and the present coming together. The more I read the more it gripped me and the more I had to read.

There is a good mix of nice and nasty characters, a great respect for the changing of the seasons and some delicious food descriptions too. Even Johnny Hallyday makes a guest appearance. Susan must have spent time living in a rural French village especially with the way she wove realistic French village political problems into the story in all three of the time periods. Susan easily kept my attention from the beginning to the end of the book. The Chapel in the Woods is available in ebook format. The Amazon link is below. Many thanks to Jo Harrison from Writers Block Admin Services for sending me a copy to review.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It has been a funny month

It's been a funny old month. Four weeks ago Ed had just started his two week winter holiday, Ade was working in the UK and the weather here in France was lovely. I was busy preparing and packing for a weeks skiing in the Pyrenees with Ade's parents. It was an exciting week with lots to look forward to.

Three weeks ago and we were in the Pyrenees, the sun had just appeared after a snowy and cloudy weekend, but Ade's parents had unfortunately already left for the UK. His Nana had suffered a stroke and her final chapter of life was drawing to a close. The mood was subdued, but the lovely town of Luchon and it's friendly people were doing their best for us. The accommodation issues we had encountered just before leaving home (see here) were almost resolved and Ed and Ade were having lots of 'man' time together up the mountain. It was a week that didn't go to plan, but we made the best of it, as Nana would have wanted.

Pyrenees Luchon French village diaries skiing superbagneres
Superbagneres Pyrenees

Two weeks ago and things were quite hectic. There was a mountain of post-ski washing to do, the dog needed a vet appointment, the courgette and tomato seeds needed sowing, Gizmo the Mini Cooper needed attention to get through his CT (MOT) and we were packing again for a return to UK.

A week ago we were in UK spending time with family and preparing for Ade's Nana's funeral. Despite the obvious sadness of the event it was also a bonus 'family' week. We had time together and made the most of it. For Ed this meant clothes shopping with Grandparents, playtime with his young cousins, ten pin bowling, meals out, baths (no such luxury here) and late nights. I was also able to enjoy a spot of retail therapy and even had time to meet a friend for coffee. Despite not having seen each other for years, coffee was just as chatty as when we used to meet daily with our prams and babies too.

French village diaries families
Last Christmas with Nana

This week, life is back to normal, whatever that is. There is another mountain of washing awaiting my attention, but the weather isn't great for drying. On the plus side the first courgettes have germinated, which is almost as exciting as seeing the return of the first swallow. Spring and its promise of growth and new life is almost here and there is certainly lots to do in the garden. We'll always have fond memories of Nana and her lovely send-off that was a true family occasion and celebration of her 89 years. Let the cycle of life continue.

Friday, March 15, 2013

France et Moi with author Juliette Sobanet

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to author Juliette Sobanet about what France means to her.

Juliette is author of some of my favourite romance novels set in France and an emotionally charged memoir, links to Amazon can be found below. You can read my reviews of her book Sleeping With Paris here, Kissed in Paris here, Honeymoon in Paris here and Dancing With Paris here. She also writes a lovely blog called Chocolate for Writers.

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 its strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Juliette: For me, it’s the charm and the romance found in those cobblestone streets, in an afternoon sipping wine at a sidewalk café, or an evening stroll down the Seine. And of course the freshly baked baguettes, the outrageously delicious pastries, the crêpes, the wine, and the cheese all make France so unique and special (and fattening!).

2) Have you ever spent time studying in France? If so what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Juliette: In undergrad, I spent one semester studying in Lyon, and later I spent a year in Paris competing my Master’s in French. The best part of my experience by far was living with a French family in Lyon. I spoke French with them every day, ate authentic, delicious French meals with them each night, and I am still close with them to this day. If there was ever a time in my life I could go back to, it would be my semester in Lyon.

The scariest thing about studying in France was the initial feeling of being so far away from everything familiar and pushing myself way out of my comfort zone. In the end, that is the part of the experience that forced me to grow, learn, and change, and what better place to do all of those things than in the lovely land of cheese and croissants?

3) What level would you say your French is? Do you have any top tips for learning French?

Juliette: I taught French for several years after finishing my Master’s degree, so I have an advanced knowledge of the language. But I still have to practice to keep it up. It’s amazing how quickly vocabulary will escape me if I neglect using the language for any length of time.

My top tips for anyone learning French would be to spend time (as much as possible) in a French speaking country, immerse yourself in the language and culture, and do not surround yourself with people who speak your native language. After that, practice! Never, ever stop practicing.

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

Juliette: I do . . . but they’re kind of inappropriate ☺ Those are always the worst! Let’s just say I’ve made some really silly mistakes. It doesn’t matter how advanced you are, you will say something ridiculous at one point or another, but on the plus side, you will never, ever forget that word once you’ve misused it!

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?

Juliette: Ahh, just the thought of being at a French café right now makes me smile. I would order a strong tasse de café and a buttery croissant . . . or better yet, a pain au chocolat.

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

Juliette: If I have to choose just one thing, it will be a pain au chocolat. I am powerless when it comes to buttery, flaky croissants filled with melted dark chocolate. Pure heaven.

7) What is your favourite regional French dish? Do you ever cook traditional French food at home?

Juliette: Lyon is famous for being the gastronomical capital of France, and one of the tastiest Lyonnais specialties is called a quenelle. They’re made with either meat or fish and a delicious cream sauce. My host-mom used to make them for dinner occasionally, and to be honest, at the time I didn’t even know what was inside of them! All I knew was that they were unbelievably tasty.

8) 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?

Juliette: I am definitely a Camembert. In fact, the best meal I've ever eaten in Lyon (and possible in my entire life) included a breaded wheel of Camembert cheese as the main dish!

French Village Diaries France et moi Juliette Sobanet
Juliette's favourite breaded Camembert

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

Juliette: Lyon and Paris are almost a tie for me, but I have to go with Lyon. It’s a gorgeous, charming city that boasts some of the most amazing restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, and I’ve spent some of the happiest days of my life there. I can’t wait to get back for a visit.

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?

Juliette: Oooh, I love this question. I would definitely buy a beautiful apartment in Lyon, and if money really wasn’t an object, I would buy an apartment in Paris and a beach home down on the Côte d’Azur as well. Pourquoi pas?

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

Juliette: I have several exciting Paris book releases coming up this year. One of the books I’m writing at the moment is called Midnight Train to Paris, and it will be released this spring by Montlake Romance as a Kindle Serial, then later in print. In this story, we follow a hard-hitting DC reporter who must travel back in time to 1930s France to save two young women abducted from the famous Orient Express train while resisting her attraction to the one man she’s sworn off forever. I am beyond excited about this book and can’t wait to share it with readers!

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

Juliette: Thank you for having me!

You can follow Juliette on Facebook and Twitter. Here are the Amazon links to her novels, novella and memoir.