Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas - Art, Books and Bargains

With Christmas less than a month away I thought I would share a few good ideas for Christmas gifts for the France-lover in your life. Just think of me as your little Christmas angel, so grab yourself a mince pie and a mulled wine (homemade of course) and lets get shopping!

french village diaries Paris Letters Janice Macleod christmas gifts francelovers
Paris Letters by Janice Macleod
Paris Letters. I discovered Janice and her beautiful art when I was sent a copy of her book Paris Letters to read and review. Although you can’t buy the book before Christmas, as it isn’t available until February, I thought it would be nice to introduce you to her art. Janice lives in Paris and shares her love of the city with beautifully painted letters that she posts to subscribers all over the world. In her words she describes her Paris Letters:
“Each month I create a letter about Paris. I paint it, copy it and personalize it with your name. Then I mail it off in the post with a pretty stamp. People love getting fun mail. It’s good old fashioned mail with a French flair.”
What could be nicer than a beautiful Christmas gift that keeps giving throughout 2014? Subscriptions are priced from less than 10€ and available for one, six and twelve months. Please click here for more information or here for subscriptions. You can also pre-order her Paris Letters book from Amazon NOW! I will be reviewing the book and interviewing Janice in January, but I can say it will be a 5 star review from me.

Books. I read a lot and I’ve always said that the cheapest and less stressful way to experience life in France is to read about someone else’s experiences. To see a complete list of all the books with a French theme that I have read and reviewed click here. Links to Amazon can be found in each of the review posts and with over 80 books there should be something for everyone. Here are just a selection of my favourites:
Tout Sweet: Hanging Up my High Heels for a New Life in France 
French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure 
The Devil's Cave: A Bruno Courrèges Investigation: A Bruno Courreges Investigation 
Delicious Dishes for Diabetics
The President's Hat

Amazon Black Friday Deals. Everyday until 1st December Amazon have some very good deals on hundreds of their products including the Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers [Previous Generation] that is now only £99 – perfect for reading all those books about life in France. For more Black Friday deals please see the link below. As an affiliate, for every purchase that is made via following one of my links, Amazon give me 5% commission at no extra cost to you. While this will never make me a millionaire it does help to finance my book addiction and is the only revenue I make from my blog, so if you have bought any of my Amazon recommendations, THANK YOU.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book review and giveaway of Taking Root in Provence

French Village Diaries Taking Root in Provence  Anne-Marie Simons book review France Boot Tours
Taking Root in Provence
Today I am taking part in a virtual tour and giveaway in association with France Book Tours for the novel Taking Root in Provence by Anne-Marie Simmons. To enter the giveaway for a paperback copy of this book please email with Taking Root in Provence as the email subject. This is a worldwide giveaway open to anyone. The winner will be the first name drawn on 3rd December 2013, good luck.

Two expatriates left Washington DC in search of the ideal place to retire where climate, culture, accessibility and natural beauty all had a role to play. Curious about the vaunted quality of life in the south of France, they traveled the length and width of Provence where, preferring the city to the countryside, they decided to settle in the ancient town of Aix-en-Provence. That was in 1998 and Taking Root in Provence is the story of their slow integration into the French mainstream — both easier and more difficult than expected but ultimately successful.

In a series of vignettes Anne-Marie Simons gives us a warts-and-all picture of life among the French and with warmth and humor shares her lessons learned. Contrary to most publications about Provence, this book focuses on life in the city rather than the quiet countryside, and promises to be both informative and revealing to those who want to spend more than a passing holiday here.

My Review:
I have to admit to becoming totally absorbed in this gentle read that draws you into discovering a new life in Provence. I have new places I now want to visit and certainly fêtes and festivals I want to experience. Who knew there were so many fêtes to be celebrated in one smallish area of France? It was great to have an insider guide to so many cultural events and shows just how well Anne-Marie and her husband have integrated into the area. I did feel that my little corner of Poitou-Charentes is most definitely lacking in the fête department. 

This book is not just an exploration of a beautiful part of France, but a thoughtful look at the people they meet too, whether new friends and neigbours or market traders happy to share a recipe or advice on cooking the produce. France, the French and some of their unique characteristics are explained with a touch of humour from the author’s perspective in this book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I also loved the recipes from her husband Oscar, which include some real Provancal delicacies, and I will be giving the pissaladière a try, as it is one of my favourites. This book really does have a little bit of everything from food, to people, to discovering an area and it’s traditions.

French Village Diaries Taking Root in Provence  Anne-Marie Simons book review France Boot Tours
Anne-Marie Simons
About the author:
Anne-Marie Simons has worked as a translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula 1 races), and director of corporate communications.

Her Argentine husband, Oscar, left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking and other local pleasures. You can find Anne-Marie at her website, blog, Facebook and Goodreads. Taking Root in Provence is published by Distinction Press and is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon are below. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to be in with a chance of winning your own paperback copy of this book.

French Village Diaries Taking Root in Provence  Anne-Marie Simons book review France Boot Tours
France Book Tours Taking Route in Provence

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Sunflower Trilogy

I was a little bit excited when I discovered that today is the release date for the kindle versions of Ruth Silvestre’s A House in the Sunflowers: An English Family's Search for Their Dream House in France and A Harvest of Sunflowers. I discovered these books a few years after moving to France and really enjoyed following Ruth and her family as they discovered rural France. Their story was very different to ours, mainly because they bought their holiday home in the 1970’s. A time when there was no local expat network or Internet groups offering help and advice, just them and their French neighbours and the special friendship that grew over the years. I borrowed the first two books from a friend and enjoyed them so much that I bought the third book Reflections of Sunflowers and gave it to my friend so the trilogy could be kept together. Recently I have spent quite a bit of time searching the second hand book stores to try and find my own copies as I would love to read them all again. Hence my excitement at finding the first two books are now available from Allison and Busby in ebook format. I really hope book three will also be available very soon. I look on Ruth and her family as the pioneers who led many of us to follow and although we had already moved before I read them she helped me to understand many things. I will always be grateful to Ruth for sharing her life in France.

French Village Diaries books reviews Ruth Silvestre A House in the Sunflowers A Harvest of Sunflowers Reflections of Sunflowers France
Sunflowers in France

A House in the Sunflowers: An English Family's Search for Their Dream House in France tells their story of finding Bel-Air de Grèzelongue in the Lot-et-Garonne, south-west France and despite it being unloved and uninhabited for ten years to them it was perfect. Ruth writes with fondness about the way their neighbours at the working farm down the lane became good friends and included them in family celebrations, local events and invited them to help with the harvests, which helped integrate them into the community. There was lots of work to do on the house, so their time spent on holidays in France was busy and sometimes stressful, but they were always happy to be back. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to read this book during our ‘settling in years’.

A Harvest of Sunflowers carries on their story twenty years after arriving in their dream French house. All the characters are there, older and wiser and now their family are entwined in the local community. Ruth writes about weddings, new arrivals and tales of great friendships as well as changes in the farming community and the way the harvests are dealt with by the new generation. Food, family and community are still an important part of this book as they are in rural French life.

Reflections of Sunflowers is the final book in the trilogy but their love of France and their French friends is still going strong. Life has changed a lot since they first arrived and there are more changes on the way. There are now grandchildren around to enjoy holidays in France and all that village life has to offer, but this book also has a certain amount of sadness to it. I felt very privileged to have shared in Ruth’s life from the pages of these books and appreciate how difficult it must have been to write about some of the things she shares. I will always have a great affection for this sunflower trilogy and I’m keeping my fingers crossed book three will also be available in ebook format too. If you haven’t yet read these books and enjoy life in France memoirs do look out for them, I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme

This weekend, our local town of Angouleme is celebrating the food of France at it's annual Gastronomades Fête. We discovered this event last year and I'm pleased to report it was just as delicious this year. We lunched on warm fouées, a bread pocket cooked in a wood oven and filled with savoury or sweet fillings - we chose sweet and then made our way on a food tour of France. We spent a lovely afternoon walking from one producer offering samples to the next. Everyone was friendly, encouraging us to ask questions, taste and of course buy. The choices were endless. Here are just a few of the delights on offer. If you are in the area and have a free day tomorrow (24th November) do pop along, they even have a mini street farm as well as the food.

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Breton Patisseries 

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Artisan boulanger

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Freshly made crepes

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Walnut biscuits

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Basque Chorizo 

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Basque peppers

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Provence spices and tapenades 

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Baudet du Poitou

French Village Diaries Gastronomades 2013 Angouleme Food France
Cantal cheese from the Auvergne

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Naan bread recipe

I have recently been asked to post my naan bread recipe as these are not easy to get hold of in France, but are very easy to make. We never have curry without them and tonight will be chicken and pumpkin curry night so I’ll also be making a batch of these today. See here for my curry paste recipe.

french village diaries naan bread recipe
Homemade naan breads
Makes 8 small naan breads

250g plain flour
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp dried garlic
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
130ml milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil

I use my bread machine on the pizza dough setting to do the mixing for me. Place the ingredients in the bread machine in the order shown above and when the mixing cycle is finished put dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Alternatively mix all dry ingredients, combine oil and milk, make a well in the dry mix and pour in liquid. Slowly bring together to form a dough, knead well for 8-10 minutes then place in an oiled bowl and cover. After an hour split into 8 even balls and roll into teardrop shaped breads.

Prick over the breads with a fork and either place on a hot baking sheet and grill for 1-2 minutes each side (until there are brown spots on the surface), or cook in a hot frying pan – I use my pancake pan for this. These freeze well once cooked.

This recipe is taken from Anjum Anand’s book Indian Food Made Easy but slightly changed, as is my way. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

World Toilet Day

french village diaries world toilet day france cognac
A decorated public toilet in Cognac, France
Today is World Toilet Day and so a perfect day to talk about toilets in France, from the nicely painted one we found in Cognac this summer to the still popular hole in the ground toilet. I have a confession; it has taken many years, but I can now admit to quite liking them.

However there is a serious message to today. World Toilet Day has been organised to raise awareness of the fact that one third of humanity (2.5 billion people) do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines. This contributes to the fact that almost 2000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says:
“By working together – and having an open and frank discussion on the importance of toilets and sanitation – we can improve the health and well-being of one-third of the human family”
For more information please see the UN World Toilet Day page here.

I am privileged that I live in a house with three flushing toilets, all connected to the village mains drainage system. In rural France it is still very common for many villages not to have mains drainage, but an individual fosse septique or cesspit. Reading the information on the UN page has certainly made me think and I now feel guilty that I sometimes resent the fact that having three toilets means more toilet cleaning. I remember my first visit to my eighty-year-old Great-Grandmother’s farmhouse in Co Cork, Ireland when I was in my teens. Although they had installed electricity there was no mains water or toilet, just a patch of land out back.

french village diaries world toilet day france hole in the ground
The French hole in the ground toilet
My first encounter with the French hole in the ground toilet was when I was about 15 and on my French exchange visit to Annecy. My friend Gillian and I really had no idea what to do, or how to do it, so just turned our backs and left. Other memorable encounters have been in ski resorts, and they weren’t very successful either. I still do not know how with ski boots and an all in one ski suit it is possible to pee in one, and I have tried, believe me I’ve tried! I will add here that my Mother-in-law seemed to manage OK, but as Ade and I hadn’t been married very long at the time I didn’t have the courage to a) ask her how or b) ask for help, but boy was I glad to return to the hotel room at the end of the day.

I first cracked them the summer I was pregnant, as then when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, and sitting in the car driving from the Morvan to Calais seemed to make me want to go a lot. I did find wearing a dress made it a bit easier.

I guess swapping a desk job and a 2 hour commute morning and evening for a life of veggie gardening, cycling and dog walking has helped my fitness. One thing I was lacking in my younger days was leg muscles strong enough to support the body when held in the squat position (maybe this was my Mother-in-laws secret and also why I was crap at skiing). What with the improved leg muscles and increased exposure to these toilets from living in France I can now even manage them wearing jeans. I also quite like the fact that there is nothing to touch, so no possibility (unless you have a major mis-balance) of any bits of mine touching anything somebody else's dirty bits have touched. The one in the  picture above was even playing the radio to me when I used it and as I unlocked the door it flushed the whole floor area clean - how clever. 

Have you come across any unusual toilets in France? What do you think of the hole in the ground toilet?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book review of J'Adore Paris by Isabelle Lafleche

french village diaries book review j'adore paris isabelle lafleche france fashion
J'Adore Paris
J'adore Paris by Isabelle Lafleche is the second book featuring chic Parisian lawyer Catherine Lambert, but it is not necessary to have read book one J'adore New York: A Novel of Haute Couture and the Corner Office beforehand. Having survived the cut-throat life of New York Catherine returns to her beloved Paris to take on a new job as corporate lawyer for fashion house Christian Dior. The beginning of the book is very upbeat and dreamy. Catherine is on a high to be back in Paris, in love and moving into her boyfriend’s apartment and excited about her new role at Christian Dior. The descriptions of life in Paris as seen through Catherine’s New York eyes are brilliant and vibrant especially the café scenes.

As she settles into her new life, it isn’t long before things get a bit more down to earth. Her boyfriend becomes jealous, her work in the counterfeiting department is much more hands on and frankly dangerous than she had imagined and apart from her trusty assistant Rikash, it is difficult to know who is on her side, both at home and at work.

I loved the character of Rikash, gay and glittery, but always there for Catherine no matter what is thrown at them. He was born to be in the world of fashion and is having a ball at Paris Christian Dior. Catherine is strong and feisty but also a little vulnerable, but together with Rikash they have the team chemistry, strength and technical know how to tackle anything. I had no idea the life of a corporate lawyer could be so exciting and the world of counterfeiting so dangerous. 

This was a fast paced read with plenty of adrenalin pumping moments perfectly offset with the romance of Paris and the glamour of the fashion world.

J'adore Paris is published by Harper Collins and available in ebook format and J'adore New York: A Novel of Haute Couture and the Corner Office is published by Harper Weekend and available in paperback and ebook.  Links to Amazon below.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Life in a small village

Our village is small, about 300 people, a church, a hairdressers, a boulangerie that is also a post office, a long-ago-closed-down bar/restaurant/shop and a library. The library is only open a few days a week and is run by volunteers of which I am one. It is lovely to spend an afternoon there and see so many people from pre-schoolers in their pushchairs, to primary school children popping in when the bus returns them to the village, to the older generations, some of whom have an enormous appetite for reading. Hooray! In a society where electronics are taking over I think a small village with an active library is something to shout about.

Last weekend we held a little exhibition displaying some of the talents of the villagers. I was speechless when I first walked in after the transformation from small village library to art gallery had taken place. In typically French style, curtains and fabrics had carefully been selected to enhance the displays; colour coordinated, artfully draped and very pleasing to the eye. For a small village we have some talent! Oils, watercolours, photography, origami, sketches, embroidery, poetry, jewellery making, music and food were just some of the talents on display. Cake and coffee were served to welcome visitors during the day and the final evening saw a small music concert with exquisite (and very arty) amuse-bouche aperitifs served. Ed was part of the musical talent on show and we were very proud of his guitar performance, but BIG parenting fail, we forgot to take our camera! He even played a rock number requested by a lady of a certain age who told him she wasn’t really too keen on classical music. There was also a lot of foot tapping and clapping to the Vielle (Hurdy-gurdy), not something I have ever seen being played before.

Sometimes life out of season in a small village can feel quiet and empty, but last weekend we rocked! Here are a few photos of the art displays.

french village diaries village life library exhibition

french village diaries village life library exhibition

french village diaries village life library exhibition

french village diaries village life library exhibition

This post has been linked to Paulita's Dreaming of France weekly meme.