Monday, March 30, 2015

A wild Sunday in out of season rural France

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Gardening inspiration
I will be honest and admit that there isn’t really much about my rural life that could ever be described as wild, but yesterday came pretty close. With the change from winter to summertime I lost an hour of my beloved sleep, but there was no chance of a lie-in, as I was required to perform my civic duty as a councillor at the bureau de vote from 8 to 10 o’clock, but at least the Maire was generous enough to provide coffee and croissants. The weather was as dull and damp as it could be and so I returned home to find a dull and fed up husband who needed an outing to cheer him up as even the research on my patisserie purchase had failed to raise a smile (see here). 

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Recycling in the garden
Our local big town was hosting its annual plant and garden fête that we have visited a number of times over the last ten years. It isn’t quite Chelsea, but in it’s own small way it offers ideas and the hope of better weather (it’s always held on a rainy weekend) and gives us that taste of exciting summer days to come that we desperately need at the end of winter. We enjoyed a mooch around, took some photos, picked up some flyers about forthcoming gardening events, bought some seeds and a small plant. 

French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Living roof
I always come away with big ideas and this year the living roof fired my imagination. We will need to replace our canvas pergola soon and I would love a wooden frame with green living roof to give us a shady spot on the terrace for outdoor dining. It might come to nothing, but at least the cheerful coloured plant displays lifted our spirits.


French village diaries Niort Printemps aux jardins garden show
Cheery colours

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Salon du vin Niort
We then decided to throw caution to the wind and have a peek in the exhibition hall next door that was holding a wine, food and chocolate fête – as if I could have turned my back on that. Our 3€ entry fee gave us a wine tasting glass that we clutched carefully as we entered and started our tour. Being British, wandering up to strangers and demanding a free sample of their wine doesn’t come easy, especially when you glance at the price list and realise that no matter how delicious it is it won’t be coming home with us. One of the first vintners to offer us a smile and encourage us to step up with our glasses turned out to be an Englishman from the Domaine du Poujol. His family have been making wine in the hills above Montpellier for twenty-one years and we learned a lot from talking to him. We bought a lovely pale rosé and spurred on with a little wine in our systems moved expertly from region to region sampling reds and rosés and making a few more reasonably priced purchases along the way. Not being used to mid-afternoon drinking (honestly) it wasn’t long before my cheeks were flushed and head slightly spinning. Ade was driving and sensibly made use of the spittoons provided, but the more I sampled the more it upset me to throw it away. Thankfully there were food tasters on offer too including a delicious organic chocolate and hazelnut spread.

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Chocolate at the salon du vin et gastronomie

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Charcuterie at the salon du vin et gastronomie
We certainly came home in better spirits than we left and will now look forward to opening our new bottles, but I do hate it when an innocent afternoon at a garden show gets hijacked by a naughty wine fête, don’t you!

French Village Diaries salon du vin et de la gastronomie Niort wine and food show
Rosé at the salon du vin et gastronomie

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My patisserie challenge, la cornuelle

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge corneulle des rameaux boulangerie lent Palm Sunday
My patisserie challenge la cornuelle

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. 

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday in Lent, or Rameaux in French. In our local area, the departments of Deux Sevres, Charentes and the Limousin have a speciality treat that is eaten today called the Cornuelle. It is a delicious buttery biscuit, triangular in shape, with frilled edges and a hole. Traditionally it would have been sprinkled with anise seeds, but it is now more common to use red and white aniseed flavoured sweets. Depending on your beliefs there are a couple of stories behind this tradition. In the Christian explanation the three sides of the triangle represent The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and the hole is where a sprig of Box would have been placed when they were sold at the entrance to church on Palm Sunday.

The other story behind this Easter biscuit really made me smile. There is often a link between religious festivals and pagan beliefs and with this time of year being a celebration of spring and new life it is thought this triangle shaped biscuit represents the female reproductive organs. Oh yes, this really is a polka dot lady-garden biscuit, but it gets better. Available in other boulangeries, but sadly not ours, is the gentleman shaped version, but this is not a flat, decorated biscuit, oh no! The male version can either be a brioche or a cream filled choux bun and going by the pictures in our local paper is a very representative version. I shall leave the rest to your imagination but I have to say only in France could it be traditional to sell a cream filled willy on one of the most religious Sunday's in the Christian calendar. Vivre la France.

Don't forget to 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:

This post has been linked to Paulita's Dreaming of France weekly link up. To read more click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book review of Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran

Today I'm taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for Scent of Triumph: A Novel of Perfume and Passion by Jan Moran.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World WarSynopsis provided by the author.
Perfume is the essence of beauty, the heart of illusion, the soul of desire. It is my past, my present, my future. —from the journal of Danielle Bretancourt. 
When French perfumer and aristocrat Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for the remains of her family, relying on the strength of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a British shipping heir and Royal Navy officer. Finally, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.
Amidst the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Danielle works her way up from meager jobs to perfumer and fashion designer. Still, personal happiness eludes her. Can her sheer force of will attract the elusive love she desires, or will it only come at the ultimate cost?

My review.
This beautiful looking cover drew me in and I immediately found myself in a very engaging book with a storyline that made it very difficult to put down. Danielle Bretancourt is a very strong woman who is determined to do the best for her family despite the horrific and traumatic situations they find themselves in. Her story is set in France, Poland and America during the years of the Second World War where happiness is difficult when family is fighting against family, undercover war work has to come before family and death and destruction are never far away. Danielle’s escape is in her perfume work and her skill and determination means she has the ability to change her life through her work. It is the first book that has ever made my nose tingle, as I could almost smell the fragrance descriptions as I was reading it.

Danielle is torn between remaining in Europe to search for her young son who has disappeared in Poland or taking her remaining family to the safety of America and to a new life that must be built from scratch. Wherever she is she never gives up on her goals no matter how low she gets and she often puts her happiness second to making the right decisions for her family. There are men in her life and she is a passionate woman, but it seems that circumstance always puts the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were many very moving parts to this book that made me cry.

This book is more than just a romance novel and would appeal to those who enjoy reading about the French perfume and fashion industries and those with an interest in historical fiction set during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World WarJAN MORAN is the author of Fabulous Fragrances I and II, which earned spots on the Rizzoli Bookstore bestseller list, and other contemporary novels, including Flawless, Beauty Mark, and Runway. A fragrance and beauty industry expert, she has been featured on CNN, Instyle, and O Magazine, and has spoken before prestigious organizations, including The American Society of Perfumers. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and attended the University of California at Los Angeles Extension Writers’ Program.
Visit her website. Follow her on FacebookTwitterPinterest
Subscribe to her newsletter
Discover her Vintage Perfume Guide
Go deeper with her Reader’s Discussion Guide

To read what other reviewers think about this book, click on the link below.

French Village Diaries book review Scent of Triumph Jan Moran FranceBookTours Paris Provence Perfume Second World War

This book will be available from Amazon UK in ebook format from 31st March and in paperback from 1st May.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book review of That's Paris by Vicki Lesage and other authors

My review today is for That's Paris: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light that has been put together by a group of authors including memoir author Vicki Lesage whose work I love, and with a forward by Stephen Clarke.

French Village Diaries book review That's Paris an Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light
This is a fun read, easy to dip in and out of and contains a good mix of fiction and non-fiction stories about Paris, written by native Parisians and those who just love Paris. Some are real life experiences by those who have made Paris their home, some are travel memoir snippets of time spent in Paris and some are short stories with emotion, romance and Paris as the perfect backdrop. I especially enjoyed the short stories that were written in French as although my French is now quite good I rarely choose to read in French so it was a good test for me. Don’t worry though if your French isn’t up to reading as the translations are provided too, which is a nice touch.

Some of the stories are from names that are familiar to me but the great thing about an anthology is that it gives an insight into authors whose work I haven’t come across before and I now have a list of names to look out for. Not all the stories were quite as much my thing as others but there were some very special ones that will stay with me.

Proceeds of this book will benefit the charity Room to Read, which promotes literacy and gender equality in education. That's Paris: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review of A Spell in Provence by Marie Laval

French Village Diaries A Spell in Provence Marie Laval book review
A Spell in Provence Marie Laval
My review today is for A Spell in Provence by Marie Laval.

Wow, what a page-turner! I was spell bound by this dramatic read from the very first chapter. I started reading on an afternoon and I had to force myself to stop a few chapters from the end, as it was already way past my bedtime. It was a book that had to be read to conclusion and even then it played on my mind long after I’d finished reading it.

Set in a small town in Provence, we meet Amy Carter at the start of a new adventure. Following her redundancy, she leaves the UK and uses all her savings to restore a run down farmhouse, Bellefontaine, and fulfil her dream of running it as a small and friendly guesthouse. Although she has made a few friends, not everyone in the village is pleased to see her and at times she feels very alone, especially when strange things keep happening to her and the house. She is determined, strong and although the village stories about centuries old religious practises on her land intrigue her, she is not about to believe them or be intimidated by them.

Her neighbour, Fabien Coste is a very important landowner whose family history is surrounded in local mystery and who Amy tries to distance herself from, but with little success. When things go wrong he always seems to be just around the corner offering her help and advice and although falling in love was never in her plan she finds it hard to fight her feelings. There is passion, mystery, dark goings on, history, myth and fantasy all woven into Amy’s new life. When she learns of mysterious but deadly links between the men from the Coste family and the ladies of Bellefontaine she is determined to investigate the past, but at what cost to her future?

A Spell in Provence is available in ebook format for only £1.99 and a link to Amazon can be found below.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My patisserie challenge, gland Grand Marnier

French Village Diaries patisserie challenge gland Grand Marnier boulangerie
My patisserie challenge, gland Grand Marnier

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 today is an odd looking one, that has a strange name and if I’m honest neither the look or the name were instantly appealing.

I give you the rather glowing ‘gland’. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to eat anything called a gland, but when I discovered it is actually named after the gland de chêne, or acorn, I felt a little better about trying it, despite its luminosity. It is an acorn shaped choux bun, filled with a Grand Marnier flavoured crème patissiere and then brightly iced (can be either green or pink), with a half coating of chocolate chips, to represent the acorn cup. Now I know these facts I can see it, but I have to say it wasn’t initially obvious. In some boulangeries the flavour of the crème patissiere, which can be natural, Grand Marnier, Kirsch or Rum flavoured, determines the colour of the icing, but although I had the choice of green or pink, they were all the same flavour here. Despite the vivid looks I did enjoy it, the alcohol flavour wasn’t too strong and I found it helped to cut through the sweetness. It was delicious accompanied by an espresso coffee.

Can you see that it’s an acorn and would you give it a try?

Don’t forget to 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:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcome to Spring

french village diaries first day of spring blossom
Blossom on the first day of spring
Today marked the first official day of spring, it was also International Happiness Day and there was a partial solar eclipse this morning. I have to admit I woke up with high hopes for a high energy day, however I was soon rather disappointed.

We have had some lovely days this week filled with sunshine, spring flowers and lawn mowing. Every dog walk has shown more blossom in the hedgerows and I was full of the joys of spring and ready to celebrate what makes me so happy about this time of year. It was such a shame I awoke to a grey, dull day with heavy cloud that made the solar eclipse invisible and me rather gloomy. The sun briefly came out this afternoon, but then it started raining. Later in the year I view rain as a free and easy garden watering system, but at the moment it will only encourage the weeds to grow.

French Village Diaries Chateau Ardilleux Deux Sevres Chef Boutonne
The dining room at Chateau Ardilleux
French Village Diaries Chateau Ardilleux Deux Sevres Chef Boutonne
Chateau Ardilleux Deux Sevres

Thankfully I had somewhere to escape to and the intimate ladies lunch at a local chateau was the perfect thing to distract and cheer me up. There is nothing quite like dining in style and the small wood panelled dining room with open fire was very welcoming on such a dull day. I had a lovely time, although I only took a few pictures of the location and none of my food, sorry. My starter was a cheese lovers delight and really helped to perk my mood; a warm and molten fried Brie that was crunchy, comforting and delicious. For the main course I chose the red pepper stuffed chicken breast, which was moist and full of flavour, especially with the watercress sauce. This was served with a great selection of vegetables, including a cauliflower cheese, one of my favourites. The apple strudel generously stuffed with sweet apples and lots of cream finished it off nicely. I can’t believe it has taken me so long to discover such a foodie gem that is almost on our doorstep, but I'm sure I will be back as I know Mum and Dad would love a meal there.

Chateau Ardilleux is also a B&B and more information can be found on their website here and you can follow them on Facebook here.

French Village Diaries Chateau Ardilleux Deux Sevres Chef Boutonne
Chateau Ardilleux Deux Sevres 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My patisserie challenge, Choux-vanille

French Village Diaries patisserie boulangerie choux-vanille
French Village Diaries patissiere challenge

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. 

Today is one of those funny days for those of us who now live in a different culture and country to where we were brought up. In the UK, mums are celebrating Mother’s Day, but here in France it is later in May. We have always celebrated the French date, as when Ed was at Maternelle (nursery school) he used to come home with lovely homemade craft items and it felt greedy to celebrate twice. Having spent yesterday afternoon up to my armpits in dust, cleaning his bedroom while he was out with friends, I can safely say we are not celebrating this weekend. However I have certainly been treated in terms of food. Last night we ate out in the village salle des fêtes as our events committee had organised a Choucroute night. It was delicious, cooked to perfection and a real meat feast with a knuckle of gammon (falling off the bone), a piece of belly pork, a smoked sausage, floury potatoes and sauerkraut cabbage per person. I really shouldn't have indulged in a patisserie today, but I pushed myself as it's not a challenge without a bit of effort!

French Village Diaries choucroute

I carefully selected a Choux-vanille, something I hoped wasn't going to be too fancy or rich. It is a choux pastry shell generously stuffed full of vanilla crème patissiere and dusted with icing sugar. This ticked all my boxes in the ‘not too sweet’ category, had a nice crunch, a lovely texture and flavour and it was a good size, but unfortunately it didn’t really excite my palette like some of the other delights I have sampled.

French Village Diaries patisserie boulangerie choux-vanille
My  patisserie challenge choux-vanille

Don't forget to join me next Sunday to see my next choice from Bernadette at the boulangerie

Happy Mother’s Day to all those of you who are celebrating and especially to my Mum and my Mum-inlaw.

Here are my previous patisserie challenge posts, in case you missed them:

Friday, March 13, 2015

It started with a seed and a bit of sunshine

My garden is a neglected place over winter with the only activity being the growing of the weeds. It takes a real shove to get me back into the gardening groove despite my love of being outside and the fact that there is always something I could be doing, like fruit tree pruning.

The shove this year started when some neighbours went away and entrusted some newly germinated chilli and onion seedlings to my care. It spurred me on to sow some chilli seeds of my own, ones I hadn’t got around to doing last year. After lots of molly coddling (days spent in a warm, sunny position and nights spent sitting on a radiator) I had my first seedlings of the season and I was getting back in my groove. The sunshine that helped them germinate also helped me as it (and my seedlings) gave me the incentive to rediscover the potager, which had become a thick green carpet of weeds thanks to a mild and moist winter. It has taken almost a month and I know they will return (they always do) but I have a potager again.

French Village Diaries #HowDoesYourGardenGrow potager weeding seeds
The almost weed free potager

French Village Diaries #HowDoesYourGardenGrow potager weeding seeds goose
Brucie the Goose helps with the weeds
I also have chillies, tomatoes and marigolds, small but growing on strong indoors and getting ready to fill the bare soil in the potager. My next task is to sow my courgette (zucchini) and squash seeds, rotivate the potager patch (a job for Ade), add some home produced compost and keep on top of the weeds.

French Village Diaries #HowDoesYourGardenGrow potager weeding tomato seeds
Marigold and tomato seedlings

I’m also itching to give the grass it’s first mow of the year, but that will mean chopping these beautiful and fragrant violets, so I may wait a bit longer.

French Village Diaries #HowDoesYourGardenGrow potager weeding seeds
Violets in the grass

This post is linked up to the How Does Your Garden Grow weekly blog link run by Mammasaurus.

How Does Your Garden Grow

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A wander around our French Village

French Village Diaries life France church my expat family
Village church
I thought today we could all have a wander around our small French village, but first a bit of history as to how and why we found ourselves living here. I was born in London and lived in the suburbs, not far from Heathrow airport, until we moved to leafy Surrey when I was four. Just after Ade and I got married we moved to Reading, a large university town that is on the M4 motorway heading to the west country, with fast rail links to London (my daily commute for many years) and where everything you would expect from big town life was on our doorstep. When Ed was almost four we swapped UK town life for French village life and have now spent almost 11 years in a rural community of just under four hundred people. A big difference to life in Reading.

French Village Diaries life France boulangerie my expat family
At the village boulangerie

French Village Diaries life France library my expat family
The village library 

We don’t live somewhere that has stunning views, a beach or even a meandering river. We are not a perched Provançal hilltop village or home to an ornate Romanesque church, but what it lacks in character it more than makes up for in community spirit. We do have a church, a salle des fêtes (village function hall), a park, a petanque court, a boulangerie, a hairdresser and a library and almost every month there is an event going on; communal meals, games nights, treasure hunts, picnics, walks, plant swaps, a vide grenier (car boot/yard sale) and a Christmas party to name just a few.

French Village Diaries life France petanque communal my expat family
The petanque court

French Village Diaries life France communal meal my expat family
A communal meal in the park

Living in a small community that has been friendly and seems to welcome the input of their funny English neighbours has really helped me feel that I belong and sometimes I feel like I was just waiting to arrive here. With our lifestyle change, from both working to just Ade working part time, we have been able to spend much more time together as a family and I think our 14 year old has enjoyed more freedom and independence here than we would have given him in Reading. From a very young age (about six) he has been allowed to walk alone to the boulangerie that is on the same road we live on. He was still in primary school when he started walking home from the bus stop alone and now he is in college (secondary school) I haven’t seen the school bus for years. He regularly walks the dog (without us) along the many tracks through the farmland surrounding the village and he has recently started doing 20 km bike rides in the local area, sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone. I hope that when he is older he will appreciate the freedom and outdoor space our quirky lifestyle has given him.

Here some other pictures taken around the village.

French Village Diaries old school house my expat family
The Old School House

French Village Diaries old wash house lavoir my expat family
Village Lavoir (old wash house)

French Village Diaries old well my expat family
Village well

I’m delighted to be linking this post to Seychelles Mama’s My Expat Family blog link today and you can read more from other families all over the world by clicking the link below. What is special about the place you call home?

Seychelles Mama