Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book review of Revolutionary French Cooking by Daniel Galmiche

It’s the sixth day of Christmas and my review today is for Revolutionary French Cooking by Daniel Galmiche. This is his second French cookbook, you can see my review for French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking and a recipe here.

French Village Diaries book review Revolutionary French Cooking Daniel GalmicheThe motto of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité form the three main sections of this book. In the first section, Liberté, the recipes are released from the shackles of traditional French cooking methods. In part two, Egalité, Daniel brings democracy to the recipes by elevating humble ingredients to take on the starring roles. In the last section, Fraternité, he celebrates the traditional brotherhoods, bringing innovation to classic combinations of ingredients. Daniel shares the twists and innovative touches that he uses to rejuvenate and energise the traditional French cuisine. He shows how wonderful French food can be when used as sound foundation on which to build on, taking quality
ingredients and treating them with care and respect to create a range of delicious dishes.

I really enjoyed reading my way through his ideas and he grabbed my attention from the off by including homemade stock at the start of the book, perfect. I also liked the useful sections on home drying foods (without professional dehydrators) and smoking foods. As usual with a new cookbook, I have made a list of the recipes I want to try and they include:

Pot-roasted cider and paprika chicken – I might substitute Piment d’Espelette (my new kitchen friend after our trip to the Basque region).

Butternut Squash and saffron risotto – I’ve never thought of mashing the squash in a risotto before.

Jerusalem artichoke velouté - we have loads that are ready to harvest.

Pumpkin and goats cheese lasagne - using thin slices of pumpkin for the lasagne sheets.

Red onion tarte tatin – I love cooked onions.

Chocolate cookies – what can I say by yum, yum!

This is probably not a book for traditional French food lovers, but one to try if you like the idea of a more modern look at French cuisine.

Both of Daniel’s books are available in hardback and ebook format and links to Amazon are below. At the time of writing this the kindle version of Revolutionary French Cooking is only £1.02.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book review of Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

It's the Fifth day of Christmas and my review today is for Lunch in Paris: A Delicious Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. This memoir is a delicious look at life in Paris, seen through the eyes of Elizabeth, an American, who falls for Paris as well as a Frenchman.
french village diaries book review Lunch in Paris Elizabeth Bard
Lunch in Paris

Elizabeth sets a lovely scene as she takes us through the special times spent around the dining table learning the French way, from simple daily lunches to large family get togethers. She shares her daily visits to her local market and if you have seen the film Notting Hill (and if you haven't you should) you may remember when the lady walks down the market and the seasons change around her. I love that film and I could visualise Elizabeth doing the same in her little corner of Paris.

As her life in Paris develops, she adds her own family food to her French dining table and includes her French family in her Jewish celebrations, often giving them a French twist. This book includes some of her favourite recipes and I have marked out some that I will be giving a go, although none of them seem too complicated. Although food is important, this book is also about language, love and making a life for yourself in a new country.

At the end of the book Elizabeth offers a reading list and I will certainly be looking up some of her suggestions as if there is one thing I love it is reading! 

I know from following her on Twitter and Facebook that her French life has moved on, but food is still very important to their family life as they now run Scaramouche, an ice cream and sorbet shop in Cereste, Provence. She will also be releasing her second book very soon, Picnic in Provence: A Tale of Love in France, with Recipes and I can't wait.

If food and France are your thing, you will really enjoy this book.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book review of My Grape Village by Laura Bradbury

French village diaries book review My Grape Village Laura Bradbury Burgundy
My Grape Village, Laura Bradbury
It's the forth day of Christmas and my review today is for My Grape Village: Uncorking la belle vie in France with my family the second memoir about life and renovations in Burgundy by Laura Bradbury. You can read my review of her first book My Grape Escape here. Although I would recommend starting with book one, it isn’t essential.

Laura and French husband Franck are back in Burgundy to work on another semi-derelict rental project with a tight deadline, however, this time they have the added complication of two daughters under five to settle into a new life and school in France. I really enjoyed Laura’s writing style in her first memoir as she writes in a very readable and honest way and is not afraid of telling the bad along with the good. Her openness shows us a slice of real Burgundian life and I’m pleased to say her second book did not disappoint. It was lovely to be back with them and sharing in their new plans, the excitement, the stress, the worry and the celebrations, of which there were a few.

We are not all able to marry into a French family like Laura, but she gracefully shares the French way and traditions of her French family. These often involve large family gatherings where good food and local Burgundian wine play as important a part as the people. I did wonder, with all the social niceties to be observed, how there would ever be time for renovations, but I’d quite like to have been at their kitchen table for aperos too. There are many differences between the life in Canada the girls were used to and their new life in France, but the children adapted really well, although I could sympathise with the worries Laura was experiencing. She also often made me laugh when she was describing the challenges she faced, like learning to drive a geared (stick shift) car in the narrow streets of Beaune and finding a proper sized tree for their first family Christmas in France.

Both of Laura’s books are available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon are below.

If you would like to experience their Burgundain life firsthand, or see the finished product of all their hard work, you can check out their rental site here. I know Laura is working on her next memoir and I can’t wait.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book review of Take Three Birds by Jilli Lime-Holt

It’s the Third Day of Christmas and here is my review for Take Three Birds by Jilli Lime-Holt.

French village diaries book review Take Three Birds Jilli Lime-HoltTake Three Birds is a group memoir of a short trip to the Auvergne region in France. This book is different. It is a modern day social (media) history experiment written by three authors who decide to leave the security of the Internet, meet in person for the first time and write about their experiences honestly.

I found this book funny from the outset as included alongside their individual humorous writings are copies of their planning email and text conversations that portray them as plain bonkers and left me wanting to read more. Their plan to meet isn’t without a few problems; namely they live in three different countries (the UK, Italy and France), none of them are the travelling types and they really don’t know each other, just the image portrayed from the words their fingers type on their keyboards. Add in an 18 year old Fiat Punto as their main transport between Italy and France, with no contingency plan and there is plenty that could go wrong. In truth they really had no idea what they were getting themselves into; from taking a first ever flight, turning up at a strangers house, taking an unknown road trip in a foreign land and inviting strangers to stay in your house. If this book was written by, or for, teens it could be dangerous, but it also shows just what is possible with a bit of hope and a sense of adventure. Be brave and just go for it, things may go wrong, but you may also find laughter and friendship that raises your spirits and your soul.

This was a quick read that often had me giggling along with their antics, but I was already on-line friends of two of them and enjoy their writing, so it was like being in the company of friends. This made me think of the appeal of this book to readers who have no idea of the world of social media or who are new to the writing of these three ladies. Would they get it?  Well all I can say is that I hope so as it is very entertaining and as I haven’t yet read all of their respective memoirs, reading this made me want to carry on reading more from them.

Take Three Birds is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. Tottie Limejuice is the author of three memoirs set in France and you can read my review of her first book Sell the Pig: a travel tale with a twist (Sell the Pig series Book 1) here. You can also read my France et Moi interview with her here. Jill Pennington is the author of The diary of a single parent abroad a memoir about her life in Italy. Janet Holt shares her unusual life in her memoir The Stranger In My Life. You can follow the Three Birds on their Facebook page here, where you can see the photos taken when they got together.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book reviews of Bon Courage and Bon Chance by Richard Wiles

It’s the Second Day of Christmas so it seemed a good idea to post a double review today for Bon Courage!: A French Renovation in Rural Limousin and Bonne Chance!: Building a Life in Rural France by Richard Wiles, his memoirs of renovating and settling into rural Limousin life.

French Village Diaries book review Bon Courage! Richard Wiles LimousinBon Courage!
Richard and his wife Al want to put down some roots in France and fall in love with a large barn in the Limousin that comes with enough land to fulfil Richard’s dream of owning llamas, as well as plenty of renovation work to keep them busy, once they have evicted the rats. This is a gently paced, enjoyable memoir written in a friendly style with a great mix of renovation tales from the good and the bad, to the tricky and the leaky. Richard has been writing about home renovations and DIY projects for many years and is also the author of Dictionary of French Building Terms: Essential for Renovators, Builders and Home-Owners so he was quite detailed when describing the work they were carrying out. This makes the memoir useful and informative as well as entertaining.

As they settle into their rural French renovation, family issues in the UK slightly shadow the excitement, but their relationship came across as strong, fun and able to withstand the pressures of working, renovating and living apart for long periods of time. We learn alongside them about some of the local fêtes and traditions and we meet the characters who welcome them, hear about the disputes in the hamlet and the generosity they find, including the odd shaped vegetables that appear at their front door.

This is the first of two books and sets the scene nicely with just enough tasters as to where they wanted their French life to go. It left me ready to read more, so I jumped straight into Bon Chance!

French village Diaries book review Bon Chance! Richard Wiles LimousinBon Chance!
With the rats gone, the neighbours cows evicted and the barn looking and feeling more like home Richard and Al are settling into life in France together and enjoying sharing their new entertaining space. The time is right to add the new members to their family which gives him the opportunity to entertain us with his tales on llama farming.

Life in France ticks over despite the worst the weather, French bureaucracy and life in general can throw their way and Richard is able to write a very funny account of rural French life even when things don’t quite go to plan. Through his love of hot air ballooning and marathon running, that earn him bemused looks from his French neighbours, we get to share in life outside (and above) the hamlet too. As well as his descriptions of the nature he loves, I especially enjoyed his chapter on the city of Limoges. I just wish I had read it before the rather damp morning I spent there this year where I now realise I missed most of the best bits.

I felt a little bereft at the end, as I’d finished two great memoirs, I'd enjoyed his writing style and I’d love to read more from Richard.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book review of One Day Ahead by Richard Grady

French Village Diaries cycling book review One Day Ahead Richard Grady
One Day Ahead Richard Grady

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas Day and that you've got some time to relax between now and the New Year. If so, I’ve got some great books lined up to whisk you away to France for a mini book-holiday. Today is the first post in my Twelve Days of Christmas series where I will be sharing some more of my favourite books set in France. We will be touring the whole of the country, stopping off in the Limousin, Auvergne, Burgundy, Paris and Provence as well as visiting the French overseas departments. There will be novels, cookbooks and memoirs; where the authors share their travelling, renovations, gardens and food.

If you are sitting comfortably, I will begin.

It’s the First Day of Christmas and so appropriately my review today is for One Day Ahead: A Tour de France Misadventure by Richard Grady.

This book follows a team of four charity bike riders who set themselves the challenge to ride the complete 2012 Tour de France route, one day ahead of the pro-riders. It is written by Richard, a sometime cyclist, but for this trip part of their small back-up team and the driver of Motorhome 1. It would be true to say that from the beginning Richard was a reluctant team member, but his general grumpiness gave some real humour to the writing and I enjoyed this book from the outset.

It was never going to be an easy three week, 5000km trip around France and Richard writes a very funny account of their daily routine; the squabbles, the issues, the pain and the suffering and he often had me laughing at his quips. He certainly highlights the issues that arise with lots of people working hard to follow a gruelling schedule and living together in small spaces. The cyclists might have had the mountain passes to climb and over 200km in the saddle each day, but the back-up teams had the driving, shopping, cooking and washing to do, plus had to ensure there was always enough water onboard and that the motorhome toilet was regularly emptied. Richard would say the cyclists had it easy!

Interspersed with the events of their day Richard gives us just enough information on the Tour rules and the history of the event to add interest without it becoming a history fact book and as each day comes to a close, he includes a brief summery of events on the real 2012 Tour and the positions of the pro-riders. Delivered in his humorous style, this gave the book a well-rounded feel and helped me to relive the excitement of Bradley Wiggins winning the Yellow Jersey. I was sorry to get to the end of their adventure.

If France and cycling interest you and you like a book to make you laugh, this is a perfect book.

One Day Ahead is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon are below. You can find Richard at his website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Y is for Yoghurt and Z is for Zest

French Village Diaries french food advent calendar yoghurt zest
French food alphabet advent calendar

Welcome to the final post in my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I have been working my way through a selection of delicious food posts and recipes. I hope you have enjoyed your virtual tastings.

It’s the 24th December and Y is for Yoghurt and Z is for Zest.

I first became aware of how good live natural yoghurt is for you and how easy it is to make, when I read Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure and it is now one of my secrets to weight loss and maintaining my weight through a healthy diet. I have owned a yoghurt maker since 2007 and regularly make both yoghurt and soft cheese with it. The soft cheese is simply a litre of freshly made yoghurt with a teaspoon of salt added, that is hung in a muslin cloth for twelve hours until the whey has drained away, leaving a thick and creamy cheese with a tart flavour. A yoghurt maker is great as it ensures the correct temperature required to turn the milk to yoghurt, but it isn’t essential, a warm place like an airing cupboard would be fine.

Making Natural Yoghurt
You will need a litre of milk and a few tablespoons of live natural yoghurt as a starter.
Heat the milk and then allow to cool to 45 degrees c.
Pour a small amount of the milk onto the starter yoghurt and combine.
Gradually add this to the remaining milk, but don’t over do the stirring.
Place in the yoghurt maker, or cover with a heavy towel and put it somewhere warm, but not hot or draughty. An airing cupboard, or an oven with a bowl of hot water should work fine too.
Do not disturb or move it until it has set as this may stop it working.
I recommend starting it off in the evening and you should have (warm) yoghurt by the morning that is ready to refrigerate and enjoy.

I have many uses for natural yoghurt, here are just a few:
To top muesli or cereal for breakfast.
A generous dollop added to a slice of cake or tart in place of cream.
Mixed with fresh pesto to make a herby dip.
Added to mustard and a splash of vinegar to make a creamy salad dressing.
Mixed with tinned tuna instead of mayonnaise for a sandwich filling.
Used with apple cider vinegar to make a tangy coleslaw dressing.
Mixed with walnuts to make a walnut cream (see here).

Z is for Zest
I have reached the end of the alphabet and the end of advent. There is not much I can say about zest, except that the zest of an orange added into a pastry mix makes the most delicious mince pies at Christmas.

Thank you for joining in with my French Food Advent A to Z and I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmas, a Healthy New Year and Bon Apetit!

If you have missed my previous posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTU and VW and X.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

X is for XO Cognac

french village diaries alphabet advent calendar XO Cognac
French food alphabet advent calendar

Welcome to my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I am working my way through a selection of delicious food posts; some are regional specialities, some are my personal favourite foods, some posts include recipes, but all are linked to French food and drink. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 23rd December and X is for XO Cognac.
Living very close to the Cognac vineyards I felt I had to include this regional delight in my A to Z and as I was a bit short on foods beginning with X today seemed the perfect opportunity.

french village diaries cognac poitou charentes
Cognac aging in oak barrels
Cognac is a brandy produced within a strict geographical area around the town of Cognac in the Charente department. The producers harvest their grapes and make wine that is then distilled twice to become eau de vie. This is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years before it can be bottled and sold as Cognac. In this time a small amount of the eau de vie evaporates from the barrels and is known as the angels’ share. 

Cognac is graded according to its age:
VS (Very Special) is the youngest and must be aged for a minimum of two years.
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) has to be aged for a minimum of four years.
XO (Extra Old) or Napoleon is the oldest and must be aged for at least six years, although on average it will usually be around twenty years.

Like many locals we have our own preferred producer who is always happy to show us around his distillery and pour us a taste of his fine Pineau and Cognac. He told us that the most important thing for Cognac is the time spent aging in the oak barrels and he sells one that has been aged for seventy years. 

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letters Y and Z, my final advent post. If you have missed my previous posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTU and V and W.

Monday, December 22, 2014

W is for Walnuts

French village diaries Walnuts advent calendar a to z french food
French food alphabet advent calender

Welcome to my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I am working my way through a selection of delicious food posts; some are regional specialities, some are my personal favourite foods, some posts include recipes, but all are linked to French food and drink. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 22nd December and W is for Walnuts.

I love everything about walnuts; from the size and shape of the two old trees we have in our orchard, to the smell of their leaves and of course their delicious taste and versatility in the kitchen. Even the raking of the damp leaves on a chilly winters day is good exercise for the body and the mind too, when the air is heavy with their fragrance. Walnuts are reported to be a super food with one portion of nuts (about 14 halves) providing your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids that may help to lower blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease.

The Dordogne region is famous for it’s walnut (noix) production and I can still remember the taste of a delicious walnut crème brulée in Argentat-sur-Dordogne, when on one of our road trips that also saw us following the Route des Noix and the Dordogne River.

Some of my favourite things to make and bake with our walnuts are pesto, bread, coffee and walnut cake, Christmas mincemeat and we even add them to our terrine de porc. There are also some lovely recipes in Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne by Kimberley Lovato, a beautiful book that is so much more than just a cookbook.

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letter X. If you have missed my previous advent posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP, Q, R, S, T, U and V.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

U is for Uh Oh but V is for Vin

french village diaries food a to z advent calendar vin wine
French food alphabet advent calendar

Welcome to my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I am working my way through a selection of delicious food posts; some are regional specialities, some are my personal favourite foods, some posts include recipes, but all are linked to French food and drink. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 21st December and U is for Uh Oh! I can’t think of anything, so when in doubt pour a glass of wine and move on to V is for Vin.

Well, what can I say about France and wine other than they really know their thing when it comes to producing the many varieties of wine from their different regions and when talking about wine, we must not forget that all important French concept of terroir. This is the complex relationship between the geographical and environmental conditions that are unique from one vineyard to another and therefore produce unique tasting wines where flavour, quality and price can vary dramatically from one side of a road to the other. The main wine growing regions in France are the Alsace, which produces some very nice dry and fruity white wines, Bordeaux, one of the big boys for red wine production, Burgundy, also celebrated for it’s red wines, Champagne, home of the party-girl fizzy wine, Côtes du Rhone, where you find the famous Chateauneuf du Pape, the Languedoc, the largest producing region in terms of volume, the Loire Valley where white and the rosé d’Anjou are produced and Provence, home to my favourite rosé.

We live in fairly dry area, in terms of wine production, but we don’t have to drive more than about twenty minutes before we are amongst the rolling Cognac vineyards. There is also our local wine, the Vin du Pays Charentais, which we enjoy although production is not celebrated quite like the famous Bordeaux region, which we can reach in a couple of hours. Something I have noticed on our travels through France (and her wine regions) is that every area has a different preference when it comes to pruning their vines. I’m guessing this has a lot to do with their local terroir.

There is so much more to be said about French wine, and I can highly recommend reading Caro Feely’s two memoirs set on her organic vineyard, Grape Expectations: A Family's Vineyard Adventure in France and Saving Our Skins: Building a Vineyard Dream in France or Patrick Moon's Virgile's Vineyard: A Year in the Languedoc Wine Country if you want to learn more about producing wine in France.

At this time of year, my favourite wine is Vin Chaud, or mulled wine and you can find my recipe here.

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letter W, we've nearly reached the end now. If you have missed my previous advent posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP, Q, R, S and T.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

T is for Tomatoes

French village diaries tomato recipe advent calendar a to z French food
French food alphabet advent calendar
Welcome to my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I am working my way through a selection of delicious food posts; some are regional specialities, some are my personal favourite foods, some posts include recipes, but all are linked to French food and drink. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 20th December and T is for Tomatoes.

Tomatoes are a very important part of our semi-self sufficient life in France; from the seed sowing in March, to looking after the tender seedlings in April, to planting out in May, to watering, weeding and side-shooting in June, to (hopefully) starting to harvest from July. That is when the fun in the kitchen begins. We try to grow at least three different varieties and usually have around fifty tomato plants each year. Some will be small and sweet cherry tomatoes, some are pretty and colourful varieties that are perfect for salads and some are grown for their size, quantity and flavour and are ideal for roasting, puréeing and freezing. This delicious red elixir is then used in pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and as pizza toppings throughout the year.

It is obvious that I love tomatoes, but I have a secret, I only eat home grown tomatoes. Out of season I never buy them as I just don’t like the taste, in fact as a child I didn’t think I liked them at all. It was only when someone gave us some tomato seedlings about 15 years ago that I realised they could taste nice and were worth eating. Now I couldn't imagine a summer without them.

Here are some links to my favourite tomato recipes: tomato ketchup, tomato chutney and tomato and chilli jam.

T is also for Terrine de porc and Tourteau, a cheesecake speciality of our local area.

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letters U and V (well there are 26 letters and only 24 days). If you have missed my previous advent posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP, Q, R and S.

Friday, December 19, 2014

S is for Seafood Platter

french village diaries advent calendar a to z of french food seafood platter
French food alphabet calendar

Welcome to my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar where I am working my way through a selection of delicious food posts; some are regional specialities, some are my personal favourite foods, some posts include recipes, but all are linked to French food and drink. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 19th December and S is for Seafood Platter.

A seafood platter is a dish of celebration for the French and is often served for the Christmas Eve or New Years Eve Reveillon meal. Until a week ago I was a seafood platter virgin. I had sampled some of its delights individually, but never had the courage (or budget) to order the full theatre of sitting in a restaurant with a dominating platter hovering above the table. This was something that needed addressing and at a pre-Christmas meal with French friends I was initiated. As you can see from the photo this was one loaded platter with oysters, prawns, langoustines, crab and sea snails. It was a lovely relaxing evening, everyone just dug in and munched away at their own pace, stopping every once in a while to show me how to remove the sea snails from their shells and attack the crab. It was a great fun evening with good food and lovely company.

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letter T for another tasty post. If you have missed my previous advent posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP, Q and R.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

R is for Ratatouille

French Village Diaries Ratatouille recipe advent calendar a to z french food
French food alphabet advent calendar

With less than a week to go, I can’t believe how quickly advent is rushing by and I hope you are more organised for Christmas than I am! Here is the letter R for my French Food Alphabet Advent Calendar series - a foodie’s countdown to Christmas Day sharing posts including French regional specialities, my personal favourite foods, and some new recipes. I hope you are enjoying your virtual tastings.

It’s the 18th December and R is for Ratatouille.

This is one of my favourite summer recipes when the potager is generously giving and the kitchen often groaning under the weight of produce.

2 onions, diced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large peppers (red if possible), diced
2 large courgettes (zucchini) diced
1 medium aubergine, diced
2 tablespoons tomato purée
4 tomatoes, chopped

Soften the onions and thyme in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, without letting them colour. Add the garlic, courgettes, peppers, aubergine, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato purée, cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. This is delicious as the vegetable accompaniment to any meat dish, but if like me you make it in bulk it will freeze too. I then use it as a summer flavoured soup in the winter.

Don’t forget to pop back tomorrow for the letter S, a celebration platter. If you have missed my previous advent posts you can catch up by clicking on the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP and Q.