Saturday, February 28, 2015

Work experience in France, behind the scenes at the boulangerie

French Village Diaries work experience France boulangerie patisserie education
Behind the scenes at a boulangerie

Ed is now half way through an important year at school. It is his last year at Collège (secondary school) and he is working towards his Diplôme National du Brevet with written exams in June, which as well as course work and a week of work experience with oral presentation will all count towards his final grade. The next step will be Lycée and our recent weekends have been spent visiting local establishments and checking out their courses. The work experience or stage in French is always done in February and Ed’s was carried out a few weeks ago in a small printing company that has recently set up in our village. He thoroughly enjoyed the week he spent there and even got a lie-in compared to the time he has to be out to catch the school bus. I was also pleased as there was no need for me to taxi him to work every day. Oh how karma has bitten us back!

A second optional stage was offered during the school holidays by the local chambre de metiers in the artisan trades. Ed was happy to take part and put down his choice as boulangerie/patisserie and if I’m honest I was a little bit jealous, there is nothing quite as French as learning where your daily baguette comes from. However, despite living two doors from our village boulangerie, Ed was allocated one a twenty-minute drive away and the work of a boulanger tends to be rather nocturnal. I know our local boulanger is up and working by 2.00am, however, as a minor it is forbidden to start work earlier than 6.00am, so that is what time Ed was required to be there. So for three days this week we were up and out just after 5.30am, oh joy, deep joy. It was so dark with not a light to be seen anywhere in our village as the streetlights are turned off between 11pm and 6am during the week. I always feel a little bit naughty like I’m breaking a curfew if I’m out and about out of hours and these morning runs were no exception. The only other signs of life we saw were owls, pussycats and hares in pairs, plus mice and toads crossing the roads. Ed’s three shifts of six and a half hours were busy ones and he was on his feet and working for the entire time, a boulanger is not a work-shy being. Over the three days he got to experience the bread making process plus croissants, almond croissants and pain au chocolats. He also helped with the patisseries, of which there was a much bigger selection than at our boulangerie.

It has felt like a very long week, but we have survived, despite suffering from the worst cold I have ever experienced in my life and the lie-in this morning was bliss. Ed has been exhausted but has had a great insight into life behind the scenes at a boulangerie and although I’m not sure he has any passion for becoming a boulanger, it certainly hasn’t put him off eating bread or cakes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

French women’s beauty secret revealed #BOAW2015

French Village Diaries Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015 #BOAW2015
Beauty of a Woman Blogfest #BOAW15 

I am no fashionista and my life in rural France is many miles away from the catwalks of Paris, but I still consider myself to be fairly well informed on the subject of French women and their style and beauty secrets. You don’t have to search too hard to find books about their ooh la la or their je ne sais quoi or their ability to never get fat and I have read most of these books. However, after living among them for over ten years I can tell you that some of them do get fat, some do go out without make-up, some don’t wash as often as my nose would like them to and some even have chin hairs and unplucked eyebrows – quelle horreur! Despite this I would still agree that a French woman has a special something that holds her apart from the rest of us and although there is no one fit answer, I can tell you it’s not all about Chanel suits and expensive fragrance, skin care products or lingerie.

What French women have is that they know how to feel happy and beautiful from within. This happiness radiates their beauty through their body and mind, making them stand tall and giving them confidence, allure and attitude. For some it is the knowledge that they are wearing an expensive set of matching lingerie that puts a smile on their face and gives them an inner glow, for others it will be a manicured set of nails, a perfectly made up face or a fortnightly appointment at the hairdressers (from my observations there are as many hairdressers as boulangeries in France). What works for you may not work for me, or the next woman in line, but that doesn’t matter, there are no hard and fast rules. For me it is the knowledge that I know their secret, that I am bien dans ma peau (happy in my skin) and never too far from my tweezers to keep those pesky chin hairs in order. I can now happily hold my head high as I walk into a room of French women and know they are my equals, not my superiors. Now you know their secret you just have to discover what you can do to give yourself that inner glow and confidence. Good luck!

This post has been written as my contribution to the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2015 #BOAW15 being run by writer August McLaughlin. I’m joining bloggers all over the world sharing their stories and celebrating the beauty of women. You can read what the other contributors have to say and be in with a chance to win some great prizes by clicking here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My patisserie challenge, the Paris-Brest

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge Paris-Brest boulangerie
My patisserie challenge the Paris-Brest

Welcome to my 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. I’m getting quite used to popping down to the village boulangerie, all of a short walk from home, buying the croissants for breakfast and making my choice of sweet treat.

French Village Diaries patisserie boulangerie Paris-Brest food FranceThis week I’ve chosen something I have never tried anywhere before and more fool me. I give you the Paris-Brest, a circular choux pastry shell filled with a creamy praline flavoured mousseline (a mix of crème patissiere and cream beaten together until light and fluffy). This wheel-shaped patisserie was created in 1910 to celebrate the Paris-Brest cycle race. What's not to like about a patisserie that celebrates cycling!

I might only have eaten one of these, but I think I'm in love and it might be my favourite patisserie ever. There was an initial crunch as I took my first bite into the crisp shell, followed by the soft, nutty flavoured creamy filling that gave a delicate, light as air experience in my mouth. It was a bit messy to eat, but I don’t mind messy, especially when it tastes this good. It will be difficult not to buy one of these every week.

Please join me next week to see my next choice from Bernadette at the boulangerie.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts, in case you missed them, buchette de noel, éclair au chocolat, forêt noiregalette de St Jacqueline and tartelette aux pommes.

I've linked this blog post to author Paulita Kincer's Dreaming of France weekly link up. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Found in a car park in France, All About France Blog hop

Today is the first day of the first ever #AllAboutFrance blog link up run by my online friend Phoebe at Lou Messugo. This will be a monthly event and is open to anyone who has ever blogged about anything French; links to old posts are as welcome as new posts. Phoebe’s idea is to bring together the online community and in time create a resource about all things French. If you like reading about France do click on the image below and hop over to read some of the other posts, I will be.

Lou Messugo

I could have linked to any of my informative posts on life in France, but as it’s almost the end of the week and for us, the start of the two-week school holiday is just a sniff away, I thought a fun picture post would be just perfect. Over the years I’ve spotted many different things popping up in French car parks, some things have made me smile, some are great ideas and some of them are just rather French. Here are my favourites:

French Village Diaries #AllAboutFrance blog linky France Baguettes
Car park boulangerie
Not all villages in France are lucky enough to have their own boulangerie, but it is now becoming common to see car park vending machines selling fresh baguettes, stocked by a local boulangerie. A Frenchman loves his bread and it must be very reassuring to know that a baguette is now available day or night without having to travel too far.  

French Village Diaries #AllAboutFrance blog linky France raw milk
Car park milk cabin
I found this rather sophisticated vending machine in a supermarket car park. The supermarket has a huge dairy produce section, but for those traditionalists who prefer their milk and yoghurts raw or unpasteurised this is the place to go to. The milk is bought by the litre and you can either fill your own bottles or buy an empty bottle to fill. Soft cheeses and natural yoghurt are available from the refrigerated cabinet on the left. The name, address and telephone number of the local farmer who keeps it stocked is clearly displayed. The price that the supermarkets pay to the farmers for milk is often in the news with the farmers protesting they are left out of pocket. Buying from this machine ensures you are buying locally and paying a fair price directly to the farmer. 

French Village Diaries #AllAboutFrance blog linky France mobile library
Car park library
All our local bus stops have a small box of books attached to the bench. Books can be taken, donated, exchanged or just read while you are waiting for the bus. I think this is a brilliant idea to encourage the children waiting for the school bus to read more.

French Village Diaries #AllAboutFrance blog linky France public toilets
Car park convenience
This has to be my favourite public toilet ever. Found in a car park in France it has been lovingly decorated to become a work of art and brought a smile to my face.

French Village Diaries #AllAboutFrance blog linky France farmer protests
A farmer protest at the supermarket
French farmers know how to protest and are firm believers of 'actions speak louder than words'. This heap of farmyard manure, dumped in a supermarket car park, is what happens when they feel they are being exploited.

As you can see a car park in France is so much more than a place to leave your car. Have you ever spotted anything unusual in a French car park? 

Happy eating, drinking, reading, painting and protesting - happy days in France.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book review of We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn

It's Monday and I thought I'd share a memoir with you, so here is my review for We'll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn.

French Village Diaries book review We'll Always Have Paris Jennifer Coburn memoirFrom the beginning this book was so much more than the mother/daughter travel memoir I was expecting. Jennifer includes plenty of entertaining accounts of their trips to Europe, but also writes openly and honestly about her fears and anxieties, something that stemmed from losing her father when she was only 19. The many flashbacks to her youth, interspersed throughout the book, gave an insight as to why making memories and travelling with her daughter Katie was so important to her, even though they didn’t have an endless budget. They start with Paris, when Katie is 8, but that is only the beginning of their fun adventures. Every few years the bug bites them again and they jet off together taking in London, Italy, Spain and Amsterdam, but Paris will always be somewhere they want to return to.

This cleverly written memoir is very moving in places but Jennifer's amusing anecdotes also had me smiling, especially where they find things in Europe can be rather different to in America. They seemed to have such fun together and enjoyed being silly it was a privilege to be there with them. Sometimes teens can be moody and very embarrassed, but it seems their time together obviously had a calming effect on Katie and she was able to let go and have fun.

This is a very readable book and perfect if you love entertaining memoirs.

We’ll Always Have Paris is available in paperback and ebook format and if you are quick the ebook format is currently reduced to only £1.98.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My patisserie challenge, tartelette aux pommes

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge tartelette aux pommes boulangerie
My patisserie challenge tartelette aux pommes

Welcome to my 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. My choice of sweet treat today is the tartelette aux pommes or apple tart.

From the first bite into the crisp crunch of buttery pastry my mouth was smiling as despite a moist topping of apple compote and sliced apples there are no soggy bottoms on Bernadette’s pastries. The  apple compote is sweet but not too sweet, the sliced apples are soft but not mushy and it’s finished off with a glaze that makes it shine. Compared to some French patisseries this one might be more simple than sexy but it was my kind of tart and I will be buying more of these.

Don’t forget to come back to see what my next treat from the boulangerie will be.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts, in case you have missed them, buchette de noel, éclair au chocolatforêt-noire and galette de St Jacqueline.

If you enjoy patisseries as much as I do, check out Paris my Sweet, a memoir of a year spent sampling the best delights Paris has to offer. It is reduced to only £2.99 until the beginning of March. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book review of An Apartment in Paris by Caroline Blane

My review today is for An Apartment in Paris: Adventures in Locating, Buying and Furnishing an Apartment in Paris by Caroline Blane, a memoir about a young family doing all they can to realise a dream of owning an apartment in Paris.

French Village Diaries book review An Apartment in Paris Caroline Blane memoir
Twenty-five years ago, Caroline, her husband Andrew and their son Adrian arrived in Paris on a six-month sabbatical working on university research projects that enabled them to experience Paris life while they looked for an apartment to call their own. At five years old it was a perfect age for their son to experience a different culture and together they learned about their new city, the French work culture and property buying process, while enjoying the café/bistro scene that Caroline’s descriptions brought to life. The snippets of their family life in Paris added interest, especially when she talked about friendships made that have now spanned many years. Being a nosy person by nature I enjoyed joining them on the many viewings, especially as searching for the elusive apartment of their dreams wasn't quite as easy as they at first thought. 

This book is an interesting look at living in Paris in the early 1990’s but with added research Caroline has, where possible, updated the information meaning it is still relevant for those considering a move to Paris now. Even if Paris is only somewhere you visit through the pages of books, this memoir will entertain and give you a taste of the real Paris.

An Apartment in Paris is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My patisserie challenge, galette de Sainte Jacqueline

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge frangipani galette des rois
Frangipani filled galette

Welcome to my Sunday Patisserie Challenge. Today is very special day that demands a special kind of sweet treat; it is the feast day of my namesake Saint Jacqueline and despite being born a Catholic, educated in Catholic schools and having lived in France where every calendar and diary sold show the name of the saint of the day, I realised I knew nothing about her. Yesterday curiosity got the better of me and I set off on a Google journey to find out more and the more I found out the more I smiled.

Saint Jacqueline was born in 12th Century Rome; she married Gratien Frangipani but was widowed within a few years, she was a good friend of Saint Francis of Assisi and was quite an accomplished baker of almond cakes. These cakes, called Frangipani after her family name, were given to the poor, the unhappy and the rich and also bundled into her little chariot to be handed to the other pilgrims she met on her annual pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

I liked her immediately. I’ve always loved frangipani, a sweet almond cream made with ground almonds, butter, sugar and eggs, and since moving here and finding ourselves on one of the Chemin de St Jacques (the way of St James) I have been fascinated by these pilgrim routes through Europe to Santiago de Compostela. I feel no need to go on a pilgrimage, but I would love to walk or cycle this historic route and I can’t think of anything better than a frangipani cake to nourish me along the way.

Bernadette at our boulangerie makes use of frangipani in a few recipes, but today she only had one choice for me; a galette with a crisp puff pastry shell, that exploded as I bit into it, with a generous frangipani centre, that was still warm it was so fresh. We may be 33 days away from the 6th January, but our village seems reluctant to forget the galette des rois just yet, however I’m renaming this one the galette de Sainte Jacqueline. It is the perfect comfort food for cold winter days and I’m delighted to be named after the first frangipani cake baker in the world, thanks Mum and Dad.

Please come back next Sunday to help me munch my way through my next patisserie. If you missed my previous patisserie challenge posts you can catch up here: Buchette de Noel, Eclair au Chocolat and  La Foret Noire.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book review of A French Pirouette by Jennifer Bohnet

My review today is for A French Pirouette by Jennifer Bohnet. This is a beautifully written, gentle, romance novel centred around the small auberge in a quiet village in Brittany.

French Village Diaries book review A French Pirouette Jennifer Bohnet Brittany Paris France
A cover full of promise
Over one summer at the auberge we meet three different women whose lives are brought together at a time when they all have challenges to face. Libby, a widow from London is approaching her fortieth birthday and wondering if she can fulfil the dream she and her husband once had, Suzette, a ballet dancer from Paris is facing the prospect of having to retire from the stage and Brigitte, the newly retired owner of the auberge now has to make a new life for herself in the village. They all have dreams, fears and decisions they must make but in finding each other they find themselves cocooned in a bond of friendship that gives them the strength to move on. 

I’ve not read many novels set in Brittany, so this made a nice change and Jennifer’s writing made it easy to visualise the village and the auberge set alongside the canal. The ladies aren’t the only characters we meet and I also enjoyed the smouldering passion that arose from Jennifer’s descriptions of long-held gazes that gave off more heat than a steamy sex scene would have done and was far more refined.

This book will be the perfect summer holiday accompaniment and I'm tipping it to be one of this years must reads. It made me smile, cry and gave me that warm and squishy feeling inside. I couldn’t really ask for more in a chick-lit read.

A French Pirouette is published by Carina and is available in ebook format and a link to Amazon is below. Jennifer lives in Brittany, can be found on Twitter here and her website here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My patisserie challenge, la foret-noire

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge foret-noire boulangerie
My patisserie challenge la forêt-noire

Welcome to my 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. I can report that so far I’m really enjoying my early morning stroll to the village boulangerie, buying the croissants for breakfast and making my choice of sweet treat.

This week I’ve chosen Ed’s current favourite, the forêt-noire or black forest gateau. This is a very luxurious dessert comprised of two layers of chocolate genoise sponge with a rich cream sandwiched between them and smothered over the top, finished off nicely with dark chocolate shavings.  Hidden in the middle cream layer are whole black cherries that have been drowned in a cherry liqueur – wow what an alcoholic kick! I’m almost ashamed to admit Ed has been happily tucking into these for at least the last two years. It is quite sweet, but so light, moist, soft and creamy I can forgive the extra sweetness especially as it’s slightly offset by the bitterness of the dark chocolate. As a special occasion treat it was very enjoyable, but it would be a bit too rich for me on regular basis.

I’ll see you next week with my new choice from Bernadette at the boulangerie.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts buchette de noel and éclair au chocolat.