Friday, January 30, 2015

It's Croissant Day

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant Day
Thanks to the wonderful world of social media it has come to my attention that today is Croissant Day and I really couldn’t let that past without a small celebration. I am still in love with the buttery, flaky croissants from our village boulangerie, even after ten years of living almost next door, oh yes, I am close enough to smell them as I open the shutters in the morning. My perfect day would begin with a fresh coffee, a square of dark chocolate and a warm croissant, in fact I would happily start every day like this, but the calorific content means it is something I have learned to savour and enjoy on a Sunday or a special occasion only.

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant and jam

We are a little bit of a divided household when it comes to how to eat the perfect croissant. Ade and Ed are red jam men and slather their weekly croissants with strawberry, cherry or plum jam. Raspberry is occasionally considered, but only if it is seedless. I am of the opinion that a croissant is so perfect that apart from the coffee and dark chocolate it needs nothing more, except perhaps a sunny terrace on which to eat it. What we are all in agreement of is that a croissant must never be dunked into your coffee, what were the French thinking of!

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant, coffee and dark chocolate

I do have a little tale to tell about a croissant breakfast taken in the Cevennes on one of our road trips. Holidays are deemed to be special occasions so a croissant for breakfast becomes the norm when we are on a road trip. When we checked into the small hotel in Meyrueis we said no to their full breakfast and started the following day with a lovely walk around the village and a bit of people watching as the market was setting up. We then returned to the hotel where their small terrace was bathed in early May sunshine and asked Madame if it would be possible to have a coffee and croissant on the terrace. She assured us this was no problem, so we sat ourselves in the sun and waited. After quite a wait we were beginning to wonder just how long it took to pour a couple of coffees and plate up a couple of croissants. It was then we saw Monsieur pull up on his bike with a bag of croissants in his hand, fresh from the boulangerie we had walked past down the hill. Oops! We did feel rather guilty, so made sure we enjoyed every mouthful.

French Village Diaries croissant day food France boulangerie
Croissant for breakfast on a sunny terrace

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The most amazing shoes in France

One of the things I love about blogging is that it encourages to me to look out for the small details; the little things in life that many people don't notice, but for me scream ‘blog post’. This post is one that has been inspired by one of these brief observations.

The other evening I was in a meeting; a two-hour meeting, with many speakers and all in French. Some of what was being said was interesting, some of it I didn't quite grasp and some of it wasn't relevant, but overall I remained focussed and learned a lot. However, towards the end a French lady stood up to talk and I was immediately drawn to her feet and the most amazing rainbow shoes, perfectly set off with plum coloured tights, that I had ever seen. These were so eye-catching I was totally mesmerised by them and therefore have no idea what she was talking about.

French Village Diaries style fashion shoes women life France
The most amazing shoes in France

My reaction surprised me. I'm not a girl who likes to shop, I wouldn't recognise a Jimmy Choo or a Louboutin if I tripped over one and the most frequently worn shoes in my cupboard are my dog walking shoes. I was dressed, as usual, in a pair of Ed’s cast-off jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, set off with a scarf and a pair of tan boots so old I can’t remember where I bought them, but I’m pretty sure they were from a budget supermarket. I had meant to smear on some lipstick before leaving home, but I forgot, although I did manage to run a brush through my hair. So it was something as a shock for me to have such a ‘thing’ for a pair of shoes. Of course even if they had been for sale I wouldn't have bought them as despite feeling ‘bien dans ma peau’ (good in my skin), I think only a French woman complete with her mystical je ne sais quoi would be able to get away with wearing them. On a more practical note as they are not cozy house slippers, sensible dog walking shoes or chicken shed boots, they wouldn't be very useful for me anyway. But I did find myself thinking what couldn’t you achieve if you had the balls to wear these shoes? Answer, nothing, as I’m sure with these shoes, everything would be possible.

UPDATE: thanks to the power of social media I've found out you can buy these beauties on Amazon, but at £134.99 I might just look at the pictures!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book review of Fat Dogs and French Estates by Beth Haslam

French Village Diaries book review Fat Dogs and French Estates Beth Haslam memoir France
Book review Fat Dogs and French Estates

My review today is for Fat Dogs and French Estates - Part 1 by Beth Haslan, a newly released memoir about a journey to France with a difference. Beth, her husband Jack and their two tubby dogs Sam and Biff are in France to begin the search for their dream property like many have done before, but theirs is not quite a run of the mill wish list. Beth and Jack are keen on the great outdoors, so are looking to buy an estate with land, wildlife and a habitable but modest property, certainly not one with lots of bedrooms or a swimming pool. How hard can it be?

This book launches the reader straight into the not so unusual husband and wife bickering that a long car journey invariably creates. Beth has an amusing style and is very tongue in cheek ‘moaning’ about her grumpy husband and his antics. By the halfway point I’d decided that this good-natured grumpiness (mainly on Jack’s part), rather than being a domestic disaster actually showed the strength in their relationship, as without a solid foundation Beth wouldn’t have been able to entertain us with such honesty. I always looked forward to seeing how Jack would react when yet another viewing didn't quite live up to expectations.

The book moved at a good pace, with lots of interesting facts about the areas they visited (I felt I was a more appreciative ear to these snippets of information than Jack was) and lots of humour too. Beth is a great storyteller, especially when describing the characters they meet on their search and the somewhat bizarre (and dangerous) situations they often found themselves in. All too soon I had reached the end and was left wanting to know more as Beth and Jack were still on their journey and still searching for and viewing domaines. Thankfully I have insider knowledge and know that part two is well on its way, so the rest of their journey will be told very soon, phew!

I can recommend this book to any memoir lovers wanting a good chuckle, especially if the house hunting process in rural France and the quirky characters you are likely to come across interests you.

Fat Dogs and French Estates Part 1 is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My patisserie challenge

French Village Diaries Patisserie challenge boulangerie eclair au chocolat
My patisserie challenge eclair au chocolat

My patisserie challenge

It’s Sunday (again) and time for part two of my 2015 patisserie challenge. This year I have decided to buy something different from our village boulangerie every Sunday and to enjoy the simple pleasure of treating myself each week. Last week I sampled and shared the buchette de noel.

Eclair au chocolat

To begin with I have decided to stick with the familiar and revisit some of Ed’s favourite patisseries, as he is far more the connoisseur than I am. My choice this week is the éclair au chocolat or chocolate éclair, although there is a big difference between the two. The chocolate éclair made in the UK is a choux pastry case filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate. The French éclair au chocolat is filled with a chocolate crème patissiere (confectioners custard). Just one bite of this gooey, chocolaty delight and I was firmly in the French camp when it comes to the filling. It is a little sweet, but accompanied with a strong espresso coffee it is just perfect and in my opinion, not as rich as the whipped cream version from across the channel. I can certainly see why Ed would ask for one of these as often as possible when he was younger.

Although it was a cold and frosty start to the day, the sun is now shining and I think a bike ride will be the perfect way to ensure these extra patisserie calories don't stick around for too long. Please do come back next Sunday and join me as I tuck into another delight from Bernadette at the village boulangerie.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winter in the gardening club

French Village Diaries Restaurant des Canards Chef Boutonne gardening club
Smoked trout at Restaurant des Canards
A cold morning complete with a crisp, sparkly frost that clung to the grass well after my mid morning coffee wasn’t the best of days for gardening. It was however the perfect day for the gardening club’s annual lunch. A roaring fire welcomed us at Restaurant des Canards where I feasted on delicious locally raised smoked trout fillet, followed by pork that seemed to melt as my knife and fork approached it, served with creamy potato gratin and asparagus. I was feeling very satisfied and content and then came the difficult bit, choosing from four delightful sounding desserts. I’m not the best decision maker and to choose one over the others seemed almost cruel. Thankfully they took pity on me, played to my greedy side and presented me with a plate containing a small taster of them all. The tart lemon meringue offset the sweet apple pie, the warmth of the cherry crumble was perfect with the cool of the Eton mess with it’s crunch of meringue adding texture and it was all brought to perfection by the espresso coffee. I truly enjoyed every mouthful.

French Village Diaries Restaurant des Canards Chef Boutonne gardening club
My personalised dessert platter
I will admit to having post good food heavy eyelids, but an afternoon on the sofa with a book wasn’t to be. The cat demanded feeding as I walked through the door, the dog sensed my overindulgence and dragged me out for a walk and when Ed got home from school he needed taxiing to his music lesson before being fed this evening. Never mind, at least I'd had a lovely time with great food and lots of chat and laughter. It really helped up my enthusiasm levels for getting back out in our potager patch where the weeds seem to have taken over, again.

I’ve been a member of this local club since they asked me to be the guest speaker at their AGM last year, something that would have been far scarier if they weren’t the nice, friendly and fun bunch that they are. If you live close to south Deux Sevres and would like to learn more about gardening in a fun and relaxed way please let me know. New members are always welcomed, expertise isn’t required, just a love of gardening.

For more inspiration about gardening in France, you might want to check out French Dirt, a must read memoir about a year in a potager in the South of France.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My patisserie challenge

With the start of a New Year I decided I needed a new challenge and wanted something totally different from this time last year when I gave up alcohol. Having thought long and hard I decided that 2015 will be my year of the patisserie and I’ve challenged myself to discover and devour more of Bernadette’s patisseries from our village boulangerie. It is with quite a bit of shame that I must admit to having lived only two doors from the boulangerie for over ten years, but have sampled very few of their sweet treats. It’s not that I’m not a cake person (ha ha) as I love a small slice at lunchtime, but I do tend to prefer a lightweight treat (like my fat free cherry cake) that isn’t too sweet. Over the years it has become routine to bake my own where I can experiment with reducing the quantity of sugar in the recipe until I’m happy. Now it’s time to let go and enjoy the simple pleasure of treating myself to something different every Sunday and I will of course be sharing my experience with you. Let the challenge begin.

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge 2015 buchette de noel
My patisserie challenge, the buchette de Noel

As our boulangerie is a small family run business the patisseries are only available at the weekends, and on a Sunday morning when I’m there buying the croissants for breakfast I have often gazed at the vast array of patisserie treats on display. Having worked hard to lose weight and keep it off I have always been good and up to now I’ve only ever bought something for Ed. His favourite has changed over the years from the éclair au chocolat (chocolate éclair) to the capitole framboise (raspberry cake) to the forêt-noire (black forest gateau). I was therefore a little disappointed at the beginning of January when I arrived keen to be tempted and found only a very small selection to choose from. However then I realised that with the extra baking involved for Christmas with the buche de noel  (Yule logs) and then the galette des rois, there is only so much two pairs of hands can make. It gave me the perfect opportunity to start my challenge with the buchette de Noel, a perfect miniature version of the French traditional Yule log.

I had the choice of coffee, chocolate or vanilla flavour and decided on chocolate, and wasn’t disappointed. The layers of genoise sponge were light and fluffy and filled with a chocolate cream that gave a silky and luxurious texture that was very easy to eat. The chocolate topping was beautifully decorated, generous and not too sickly or sweet, even for me. It was a just the right size, looked lovely on the plate and was certainly a real treat for me and a great start to my patisserie challenge.

Please come back next Sunday to help me munch my way through my next patisserie. Keeping to the sweet theme, here a few related books you might be interested in. I will be reviewing Paris, My Sweet soon and if you want to know more about Jill from Mad About Macarons! you can read my France et Moi interview with her here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

French public and school holiday dates 2015

French Village Diaries holidays France Collioure
Collioure a lovely place for a holiday in France

It is the middle of January, so obviously the most important thing to be thinking about now is your next holiday (to France of course). Last January I posted a popular blog about the French public and school holiday dates and although I may be a little later this year, I thought you would find it useful to know the dates for 2015.

Public Holidays in France 2015
1st January
6th April, Easter Monday (note there is no Good Friday holiday in France)
1st May, Fête du Travail
8th May, Victory in Europe Day
14th May, Ascension Day
25th May, Pentecost Monday
14th July, Fete National
15th August, Assumption Day
1st November, All Saint's Day
11th November, Armistice Day
25th December, Christmas Day

With the exception of the three holidays linked to Easter: Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday, the above dates are the same every year and the holiday is always observed on the actual date rather than being moved to the nearest Monday as the UK would do. Public holidays can therefore fall on weekends. To make up for this it is not uncommon for people to faire le pont (make a bridge), if a holiday falls on a Thursday (Ascension Day) or a Tuesday (14th July this year) by taking off the Friday or Monday giving themselves a four day weekend. It is worth noting that in many areas of rural France most shops, supermarkets, petrol stations, garden centres and DIY stores will be either closed or only open in the mornings on pubic holidays. Opening on public holidays is becoming more common and most shops will be open on the bridge days.

School Holidays
In France the schools are split into three zones and most of the holidays are staggered so not everyone is trying to hit the ski slopes or beaches at the same time, although be prepared for extra traffic on the roads on all Saturdays during the school holidays.

Here are the dates for 2015:
The winter holiday is from 7th February to 8th March. Zone A gets the first two weeks, Zone C the middle two and Zone B the last two.
The spring holiday is from 11th April to 10th May. Zone A gets the first two weeks, C the middle two and B the last two.
The summer holiday for all zones is from 4th July until 31st August.
The October holiday for all zones is from 17th October to 1st November.
The Christmas holiday for all zones is from 19th December to 4th January 2016.

I hope you find this useful and if you are planning a holiday to France, I hope it’s a good one. If you are still looking, don’t forget to check out Special Places in France.

For more information on some of the French traditions surrounding their holidays do check out French Holidays and Traditions by Margo Lestz, Amazon link below.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bien dans ma peau

I love the French expression bien dans ma peau – a phrase that means to be content with your body or to feel good in your skin. I will admit that although I had many years when I wasn’t happy with my body, I can now confidently say je suis bien dans ma peau. This may be because with age has come acceptance and contentment but I’m sure that knowing I reached a healthy weight for my frame about five years ago and have maintained it, has helped too. As it is January it is sales time here in France, but you won’t find me riffling through the rails hunting for new clothes as even though I'm a woman, shopping and I just don’t get on.

As many of you will know I am a 43-year-old wife and mother. I have a petite stature at only 1.55m (5ft) tall and would describe myself as a curvy UK size 10 (Euro size 38). Over the years I have been everything from a size 14 to an 18 and then a 10, from plump to overweight and back to plump again, before settling on curvy. I used to believe that anyone lucky enough to be a size 10 would be able to walk with confidence into any clothes shop and have the pick of the items. From the rail to the changing room mirror, it would be a fun, simple and stress free shopping experience. Well, I was wrong. Despite being my ideal weight (give or take a kilo or two) and feeling bien dans ma peau, the disappointment when item after item doesn’t quite fit and all I see in the changing room mirror is despondency staring back at me means I still hate clothes shopping.

French Village Diaries bien dans ma peau petite clothes shopping
My new trousers
Standard fit trousers are too long, petite fit are a fraction too short. Size 12’s are baggy in all the wrong places, but size 10’s can be a little snug in the tummy area. Dresses have more material between the shoulders and waist than I have body to fill them. I could go on! Thankfully fashion really doesn’t bother me. Comfort, practicality and re-purposing are much higher on my list and it was through a recent re-purposing that I made a discovery. I’m delighted to say I am now the proud owner of two pairs of trousers that really do fit. The leg length is my leg length, the waist fits, the zip stays done up and the bottom doesn’t sag (anymore than my bottom sags). I can’t quite believe that after years of not feeling ‘off-the-peg’ I’ve finally found my peg size.

There is however one downside to my newfound discovery and that is that my perfect body size is in fact age 14 boys, but thanks again Ed for having a New Year clearout of your wardrobe, it means I won’t have to go shopping again for quite a while.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A dark week

French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne France manifestation Je Suis Charlie
A gathering of support in Chef Boutonne
It’s been a dark week for Paris, for France, for religion, for freedom of speech and for anyone in the world with a compassionate bone in their body.
French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne France manifestation Je Suis Charlie
Je Suis Charlie

On Friday I watched the events unfurling in Paris, glued to the TV at a time of day when the TV is rarely on. I was shocked, horrified and sad, but by the end of the day proud to be here in France.

Today Ade and I took part in a manifestation in our local town. Along with about four or five hundred others we gathered to show our support and to remember those who tragically lost their lives this week. As we stood together outside the Mairie for a minute’s silence, similar events were being held in other towns and cities at the same time. I saw familiar faces from school, from my yoga class, from our village, from the local English community and from Facebook. We listened to the Maire and other speakers, sung the Marseillaise and then candles and words were left at the war memorial. It was very moving.

French Village Diaries Chef Boutonne France manifestation Je Suis Charlie
La belle France

This was the view of our little piece of France taken on the way home. It was very peaceful and I’m thankful I have the freedom to live here and to share my life through the words and pictures on this blog with my friends wherever in the world you may be.

I wish you all a peaceful 2015.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book review of French Holidays and Traditions by Margo Lestz

It is the twelfth day of Christmas and the end of my Twelve Days review series, but don’t worry I still have plenty of books set in France to share with you this year.

French Village Diaries book review French Holidays and Traditions Margo Lestz
French Holidays and Traditions by Margo Lestz
I thought it would be appropriate to finish this series with French Holidays & Traditions by Margo Lestz as this book starts with explaining the traditions behind the Galette des Rois that is eaten all over France today, but do you know what is different about the galette that is made for the President? I do, thanks to Margo.

This isn’t a long book, but it is an informative and a witty one. I learnt a lot, as despite knowing about most of the traditions behind the holidays, I didn’t always know where they had come from and why, and now I do. Written month by month and covering all public holidays, fêtes and other French traditions, this book is interesting, humorous and illustrated with funny cartoons. If you want to know about sticky paper fish, flying church bells and kissing bare bottoms, (and if you live in France or want to, you should know these things), this book will enlighten and entertain you. I've even learnt things that some of my French neighbours didn't know!

This book is the first in a series of curious histories and I can’t wait to read more from Margo. You can follow her blog here and find her on Twitter too. French Holidays & Traditions is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon are below. I was sent a copy of this book by Margo for an honest review.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book reviews of The Hugo Marston novels by Mark Pryor

It’s the eleventh Day of Christmas and you may have noticed that most of my Twelve Days of reviews have been for memoirs. This will come as no surprise when you realise I am a very nosy person and love to read about other people’s lives, but today, in order to redress the balance a little I’ve four fiction novels to share: The Hugo Marston novels by Mark Pryor. The Bookseller (A Hugo Marston Novel Series) The Crypt Thief and The Blood Promise are set in Paris and the prequel The Button Man is set in London and the Home Counties.

Let me introduce you to Hugo Marston, ex FBI, now working as the Head of Security at the US Embassy in Paris who speaks fluent French and likes nothing better than walking the streets of Paris and taking time for a coffee and croissant in a quiet Parisian café. He does seem to make a habit of finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and unwittingly becoming involved in the strange goings on of the underworld, but I found him to be a very likeable and believable character, an understated hero. I may even have a literary crush on him, if I’m honest. He is tall, with thick, light brown hair, warm brown eyes, a sharp mind and likes to keep himself in shape. I’d run the risk of drive-by shootings, kidnaps and other mysterious happenings to meet him for coffee in Paris any day. Here is my little synopsis of each novel:

French Village Diaries book review The Bookseller Hugo Marston novel Mark Pryor Paris
The Bookseller, the first Hugo Marston novel.
Hugo has a soft spot for expensive books from the booksellers along the banks of the Seine and makes a friend of one of them, Max. When strange things and mysterious disappearances occur within the Bouquiniste community, no one is willing to talk and the police seem reluctant to look into it. Hugo seems to become involved by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but with his FBI training and his friend missing he can’t just leave and walk away. Piece by piece and with the right help he slowly starts to understand what is going on, but not before more dead bodies start piling up around him. Will time run out before Hugo gets to the bottom of it?

French Village Diaries book review The Crypt Thief Hugo Marston novel Mark Pryor ParisThe Crypt Thief.
Bodies in a cemetery are not news, but when these are newly murdered bodies and bones from crypts around Paris are going missing, something needs investigating. As luck would have it the local police have the help of Hugo, as one of the victims is an American tourist. A friendship based on trust and respect forms between Hugo and Raul Garcia, the local police capitaine and they make a strong team along with Tom Green, Hugo’s friend from the CIA, that is sure to get to the bottom of the very dark mystery unfolding around them. Time is again of the essence, as the closer Hugo seems to get the more dramatic the situation becomes.

French Village Diaries book review The Blood Promise Hugo Marston novel Mark Pryor ParisThe Blood Promise.
The third novel in the series starts off a little differently than the others, in post-Revolution Paris when a dark secret is hidden in a compartment of a sailor’s chest. Two hundred years later, Hugo seems to have an easy assignment safeguarding a US senator who is in France on business. The situation soon spirals out of control when the senator disappears, a noble French family has it’s feathers ruffled and an old sailor’s chest seems to appear and disappear as often as the mysterious senator. The team are back, however and with Hugo, Tom and Raul answers will be found no matter who is trying to keep quiet. Like the other books this one is not without it’s body count by the time the mystery is solved.

There are many plot twists, lots of mysterious happenings and of course Paris in the first three novels and I especially loved the humour and rapport between Hugo and his secretary and his mate Tom, who pops up in more than one novel to offer him unofficial backup. These books were something a bit different from my usual reads and I thoroughly enjoyed them, being entertained and gripped by the plots in equal measure. Paris never disappoints as a location and if you are looking for something a bit different to new life in Paris memoirs, or chick-lit romance in Paris then do give Hugo a try.

French Village Diaries book review The Button Man Hugo Marston novel Mark Pryor ParisThe Button Man.
This is the forth book to be released, but is a prequel with events taking place in the UK prior to Hugo’s posting to Paris, although Paris does make a brief appearance too. An American movie star couple hit the headlines when their reckless driving kills a local landowner in rural England. We have more disappearances, more bodies and more suspicious circumstances, as well as an elite club Hugo is desperate to gain access to. The killer is clever, but again piece by piece Hugo puts the puzzle together just in time.

The Hugo Marston books are published by Seventh Street Books and available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon are below. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book review of Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog by Jamie Ivey

It’s the tenth day of Christmas and so it seemed a good idea to review Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog: Sniffing Out the Perfect Plot in Provence by Jamie Ivey today. This is Jamie’s forth memoir about his life in France and follows on from his Rosé trilogy. I really enjoyed his first book, Extremely Pale Rose: A Quest for the Palest Rose in France where Jamie, his wife Tanya  and friend Peter set off on a tour of France to find the palest rosé wine they could, following a bet made in a Provencal restaurant. This led to them falling in love with Provence where they tried to make selling rosé wine their livelihood. I really wish I could tell you that I’ve read all of the books, but unfortunately I can’t. I’m missing book two La Vie en Rose and don’t want to read book three Rose En Marche: Running A Market Stall In Provence before it. Twice a year I visit a local second hand book sale with close to 40,000 books to rummage through and although books one and three are always popping up, number two is proving impossible to come by. Having spoken to Jamie via social media it seems unlikely the Rosé trilogy will be released in ebook format, which is a big disappointment to me.

french village diaries book review Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog Jamie Ivey memoir Provence
However, Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog is about a new chapter in Jamie’s life and I just couldn’t resist jumping ahead of myself. Now that they have a baby on the way, it is time for Jamie and Tanya to put down roots and settle into family life in Provence. What could be more perfect than a plot of land in a perfect location, giving them the chance to build the perfect house and that comes with it’s own prized truffle oak trees? Well, without giving too much away, let’s just say they hadn’t bargained on health issues, building (and especially dodgy builder) issues, puppy training issues and poachers. Jamie was able to turn these issues into an amusing read and he also included lots of delicious food delights of the region, washed down with a generous supply of rosé wine and I was in my element.

If you enjoy a memoir about the ups and downs of family life in Provence, are interested in the food and wine of France and you want to learn more about the delicious truffle and how to find it, I can recommend this book. I am also pleased to say that unlike the first three books this one is available in ebook and paperback, published by Summersdale. Links to Amazon are below.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book review of A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan

It’s the ninth day of Christmas and my review today is for A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan. This is a memoir of life in Provence, but before you think to yourself ‘Oh no, not another one’, this is a little bit different, I promise. This book is a tale of Provence from yesteryear and shares exactly what it says in the title – the good food and simple pleasures of life in Provence.
french village diaries book review A Pig in Provence Georgeanne Brennan memoir
Georgeanne Brennan memoir

The author is a well-known food writer (in the States) but I will be honest and say this book was my first experience of her work and I really enjoyed it. Georgeanne shares her family’s adventure when they move to Provence in the 1970’s to get back to basics, raising pigs, goats and chickens and learning how to make traditional goats cheese. I was surprised to read that at that time there were very few family farms still making their own cheeses, but with a bit of research and a lot of trial and error, Georgeanne discovers a gap in the market and begins to sell her cheeses.

Along with their family journey she explains many Provencal dishes and describes lots of meals with French neighbours and extended family. In doing so she takes us back to a forgotten time when food was simple, fresh and local and family time spent eating together was just as important as what was served. The long, simple meals with local wines, seated under large trees in summer and by warm firesides in winter are in her words “the essence of the good life well lived”. I couldn’t agree more.

A Pig in Provence is available in ebook format and a link to Amazon is below. It may also be possible to get a second hand copy of the hardback and paperback versions too.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Book review of Journeys Through France and Life by Glenda De Vaney

French Village Diaries book review Journeys Through France and Life Glenda De Vaney memoirIt’s the eighth Day of Christmas and I am working my way through twelve  days of reviews of books set in France. My review today is for Journeys Through France and Life by Glenda De Vaney, a memoir that reflects the New Year/new start theme. This book starts as an enjoyable travel memoir of extended holidays in France, albeit often under the cloud of her husband’s erratic behaviour, but turns into a very readable life story the week her life changed forever. When her son is diagnosed with schizophrenia, her husband wants no involvement and something (call it maternal instinct) kicks in and gives her the courage to walk away from the emotional abuse she has lived with for twenty years and start her life again.

This is not an easy period in her life, but with time she learned to live alongside her son, giving him the space to cope with the voices in his head and ensuring no matter what her mothering instincts were, she didn’t fuss over him. Sharing their difficult journey was very brave and very insightful. From her previous holidays, France had weaved its magic and despite the change in her circumstances it was never far from her mind. Creatively she used her many photos taken in France to make and sell original framed prints as well as giving animated talks to share her love and photographs of France. She soon found she needed to return and bravely set off on road trips to France alone; hiring a car, battling directions, traffic and driving with the French to visit many lovely villages and chateaux over a number of years.

Glenda writes an honest and emotional book, whether she is sharing a delicious French meal, a troubled episode with her son or a panic on foreign soil when things don’t go to plan. Despite her love of France, I felt there were irreconcilable differences between her way and the French way and there were times, especially on her final trip, when I failed to grasp whether it was her tongue-in-cheek humour or if she really was blaming ‘France’ for getting lost. Although I can’t agree with all of her opinions of France and the French I did enjoy her book.

Journeys Through France and Life is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. I was sent a copy of this book by the author for an honest review.