Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My (Part-Time) Paris Life by Lisa Anselmo

French Village Diaries book review My Part-TIme Paris Life Lisa Anselmo
My (Part-Time) Paris Life
by Lisa Anselmo

My review today is for My (Part-Time) Paris Life, an open and honest memoir by Lisa Anselmo.

Following the death of her mother, Lisa is left feeling lost. This well written book is her journey through childhood memories, feelings and emotions towards finding happiness with her life as it is now. Paris had always been her escape and buying an apartment there becomes her focus. I loved joining her as she got to know her neighbourhood, celebrated life with her Parisian friends and learned how to structure her days in Paris. Her Paris is certainly not tourist Paris, and I liked it so much more for that.

There is a real air of sadness every time Ma is mentioned and for every Happy Hour apero in a Parisian café there is a dark place and difficult time that Lisa shares with the reader. My head can also butterfly from one feeling/worry to the next, but nothing quite like hers does. At times it was exhausting and I was glad I was only in her head for the duration of the book, but this very personal reflection gave me a feeling of attachment with Lisa. I enjoyed making the journey with her.

If you like reading memoirs not just because of where they are set or the life the author has led, but because they are a window into the heart of the author, you will love this book. I did!

My Part-Time Paris Life is published by St Martin’s Press and is currently available in hardback and ebook format.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tartiflette Recipe for Cheese Lover's Day

French Village Diaries Cheese Lover's Day Tartiflette recipe

It is January 20th and according to the oracle that is the Internet, it’s Cheese Lover’s Day. I am a cheese lover. Cheese made from cow’s milk, ewe’s milk and goat’s milk; I love it. Soft cheese, hard cheese, young cheese, mature cheese, I love it; it’s cheese and it's delicious. Warm it up or bake it and then I'm in heaven.

One of the questions I always ask on my France et Moi interviews is “What cheese are you”, because it’s so much more interesting than “What is your favourite cheese”, but not an easy one to answer. After a bit of thought I have decided I am a Tartiflette cheese. By myself, when I’m somewhere new, I’m nothing special, even a little bit dull. But, warmed up and in the right company, I come into my own. Tartiflette cheese served from the fridge is nothing much flavour wise, but mix it with potatoes, onions, lardons and bake in the oven and it becomes the perfect winter comfort food.

It has been too long since I shared a recipe with you, so today seems the perfect day to share my recipe for tartiflette.

For Four or Five People:
1 kg of potatoes
1 large onion
1 packet of lardons (200g)
1 clove of garlic (optional, but I love it)
1 glass of dry white wine
1 Tartiflette cheese (500g)

Wash and slice (but don't peel) the potatoes and then boil until just beginning to feel tender.

In a large frying pan, sauté the lardons but don’t let them brown, remove them from the pan and fry off the onions in the lardon fat until soft, and then remove from pan.

Add some butter to the frying pan (if necessary) and add the cooked, drained potatoes and sauté for five minutes add the onions, lardons, crushed garlic and glass of wine and continue cooking for about five minutes (until the wine has evaporated).

Pour everything into an oven dish. Cut the round of tartiflette cheese into two disks the same thickness, and then place on top of potato mixture. Bake in a moderate oven for about twenty minutes, until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Serve and enjoy it’s melty deliciousness.

This post has been linked to Dreaming of France, click here to read more.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Courgette crisis

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Courgettes a plenty

It would seem Brexit is old news and the real crisis in the UK (according to the social media ‘news’) is a shortage of courgettes (zucchini) in the supermarkets #courgettecrisis. The Home Counties, it would seem have been particularly badly hit. I was even approached this morning by a family member who seemed to think I could magic up a stash of this green gold and make my millions trading them with Tesco or Asda. This is quite a turn around as our family are normally to be heard muttering “oh no, not another bloody courgette” when they come out to visit and get served courgette quiche for starters, spiralised courgette for lunch, courgette curry or risotto for dinner and courgette and chocolate brownie for dessert.

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Frosty morning

When I think of courgettes I think summer, sunshine and seasonal produce; when my car windscreen looks like this, my washing freezes on the line and my potager is as solid as a block of ice, funnily enough my courgettes aren’t growing either. In fact I haven’t even started sowing my seeds yet as it’s too cold. Courgettes are wimps. They might grow rapidly from a tiny seed to a huge-leafed plant that does all it can to take over the vegetable plot, but show it even the tiniest hint of a frost on a cool September night and that’s it, finished. It curls it’s leaves up and slinks off, muttering about seeing you in late spring, if the weather is warm enough.
French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis spiraliser
Spiralised courgette salad

The New Year, it would seem, is a time for a New You; a fresh start on healthy eating and spiralised courgettes are in big demand. I love my spiraliser too and the vibrant colours of my spiralised courgette salads eaten with freshly picked, sun-ripened tomatoes and served on a sunny terrace can’t fail to bring a smile to my face. However it was -5 this morning, I needed two pairs of gloves on my dog walk and long johns have become the norm; a spiralised salad for lunch is even less palatable at the moment than Theresa May. I need soup, steaming hot, spicy soup, packed with winter vegetables and made with bone broth stock. Just as healthy as a spiralised courgette, but seasonal, so in my opinion, better.

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis winter veg
Jerusalem artichokes and winter squash

At this time of year there are so many great winter vegetables to choose from, whether it’s Jerusalem artichokes freshly dug from the garden, winter squash stored from last autumns harvest, or leeks from the village market, you don’t need courgettes and their excess air miles. I do admit to having a sizable stash of frozen courgette purée, but sorry, I’m not sharing no matter how much you are willing to pay, it's mine and mine alone. I am happy to share some courgette pictures, just in case any of you are missing these green and yellow beauties – enjoy!

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Courgette seedlings

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Flowering courgette plants

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Courgettes on the BBQ

French Village Diaries Courgette #courgettecrisis
Courgettes in the kitchen

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book review of Tree Magic by Harriet Springbett

French Village Diaries book review Tree Magic Harriet Springbett
Tree Magic by Harriet Springbett

My review today is for Tree Magic, the debut young adult novel by Harriet Springbett, published on 9th January 2017 by Watchword eBooks, the digital-first imprint of Impress Books.

Tree Magic is Rainbow’s story. Rainbow is a troubled teenager with a slightly unconventional family life, who is different to her peers and doesn’t quite fit in; who then discovers her hands can communicate with trees. I connected with Rainbow from the start and was intrigued by the journey (or journeys) her life takes following the discovery of her gift.

There were two words that kept coming to my mind as I was reading this book, one was emotion and the other was unexpected. This book is full of emotions. I could feel what Rainbow was feeling when I was reading it and all the anger, frustration and hatred that I felt as an emotional teenager came flooding back to me. Rainbow’s life is unexpected; like the direction of a leaf caught swirling in a gust of wind, I had no idea where this book would take Rainbow next. Each twist and turn led to her discovering something new about her gift, her past or her future and I needed to carry on reading to find out where she would find herself next. From the UK countryside to rural France to Paris, everywhere the book goes is brought to life through the strong, vibrant and different characters we meet.

I loved this book as an adult and know it would have struck a chord as a teenager. I would have loved to have read it thirty years ago. Like Rainbow’s connection with the trees I felt the author connected with me as the reader, meaning the spiritual side, which plays an important part in this book, felt natural.

Harriet is a local author who I first met a few years ago when we both attended the Charroux Literary Festival. I was delighted to discover that this summer she will be running a session there. It is always exciting to know someone in person who publishes their first novel and I was delighted to be offered a review copy, but with it came the added pressure; what if I didn’t like it? However, I needn’t have worried as from the very beginning I was hooked.

Tree Magic, published by Impress Books, is available in ebook format. I think this is a book that will be enjoyed by both young and older adult readers.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meilleurs vœux, bonne année et bonne santé

French VIllage Diaries Voeux du Maire
Vœux du Maire

“Meilleurs vœux, bonne année et bonne santé” are words you hear a lot of in France at the beginning of the year. Neighbours, friends, work colleagues and everyone you meet will give you their best wishes for the coming year and especially for your good health. Yesterday we had the last of our village festive celebrations; the Maire’s New Year Wishes (Vœux du Maire) accompanied by tasty treats and aperitifs, but our festivities started quite a while ago. As a village councillor I feel honoured to have been involved in shopping, serving, decorating and eating.

French Village Diaries children's Christmas party
With Père Noel at the children's party
Our small village is rather unusual, but lucky, to boast a healthy number of families with children so we always hold a party just before Christmas, with gifts from Père Noel, for all children aged ten and under. With hot chocolate, mini viennoiseries and music; a fun afternoon is had by all, including Ed and I.

French Village Diaries shopping with Père Noel
Shopping with Père Noel
This year we contacted Père Noel in November to inform him of the names and ages of the 38 under elevens (just in case he needed a reminder) and he arranged a date to meet us somewhere special and top secret to decide what gifts would be suitable. 

French Village Diaries shopping with Père Noel
Stacking the gifts
Together with a local toy expert, who we will call Chief Elf, we made our way down the list starting with boys aged ten and finishing up in the baby section. Père Noel (dressed down to ensure he wasn’t recognised) had brought his modern sleigh and it wasn’t long before it was stacked high with boxes, big and small and of every different colour. 

French Village Diaries shopping with Père Noel
The arrival of the parcels

These were then wrapped by the elves and delivered just before Père Noel arrived at our party.

French Village Diaries Christmas meal foie gras
Foie gras starter

As well as the children’s party, we also have a bit of a ‘do’ for those aged over seventy. At the beginning of December, they were invited to the salle des fêtes where the councillors served them a five-course meal that we all enjoyed together. 

French Village Diaries Christmas meal fish terrine
Fish terrine

I remember both my Nans having bird-like appetites and always choosing small portions and light meals. Not so French Mamies, they have no trouble in putting away a starter of foie gras, a fish terrine, a stuffed quail main course, cheese and dessert, all washed down with a kir, two different white wines, a red wine and a digestif of Cognac. 

French Village Diaries Christmas meal buche de noel

I could barely move afterwards and I didn’t even drink any alcohol with my meal, but it was a lovely afternoon with lots of chatter and fun.

French Village Diaries Christmas decorations
Village decorations

With the sun shining in mid December, it was good to get out in the fresh air and help to put up the village decorations. Last year we had a little working party that made our unique wooden trees (see here) and it was lovely to put them out again this year and decorate the village. Our sewing group has also added to the decorations making a Joyeuses Fêtes banner for the salle des fêtes and some bunting for the square.

French Village Diaries Choucroute meal
Choucroute meal

I was treated to another feast of a meal last Friday when the councillors and commune staff got together to thank everyone for another year of work and commitment to village life. We enjoyed a choucroute meal, which with sausages, pork and ham has to be one of the meatiest dishes known to man.

French Village Diaries Choucroute meal
Choucroute - can you see the cabbage hiding under the meat?

Portions were so generous we all came home with doggy bags, and although I’ve made an Alsace themed pizza I still have enough food to keep me going well into the week.

All that is left now is to take down the wooden trees and pack our village Christmas away, but this being France the salle des fêtes will stay busy and shared meals will continue throughout the year.

I do hope that wherever you live in the world, your community also knows how to hold a celebration. Bonne année et bonne santé to you all.

This post has been linked to Paulita's #DreamingofFrance blog link up. See here for more posts.

Friday, January 6, 2017

France et Moi with author Catherine Berry

Welcome to my first ‘France et Moi’ of 2017 where this week I am talking to author Catherine Berry about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Catherine Berry
Catherine Berry
With both parents as teachers, Catherine’s future career was, at least in her mind, a foregone conclusion. Her long-suffering sisters, her early pupils, will attest to that. With school, university and teacher’s college behind her, she embarked on a journey, which took her to Tasmania, country Victoria, France as an assistante and back to Melbourne, and gave her a strong case of wanderlust. It was not, as she had presumed, her Maths major that would open doors for her. It was her French. This took a back-seat when career and ambition took over, but with the birth of her own children priorities changed. A plan to go and live in France gained momentum. ‘But you are in France, Madame’ continues the story. You can read my review here.

1) Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Catherine: Passion. Whether for good; think eating, loving, creating, flirting, or not so good; think strikes, rights, schedules, there was an undeniable passion that permeated our French living. 

2) Where did your love of France start?

Catherine: Like many students, I attended my first ever French language class in my first year of high school. I was a studious, serious student and most probably approached this subject initially with a simple desire to do well. By the time I was doing my final school year, my French class had dwindled to four students. It was a joy and the teacher, a nun with a refreshing sense of humour, did more than just instruct. She nurtured us, took us on wonderful weekend French retreats and successfully passed on her love of all things French. 

3) When you first arrived in the Alps region of France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Catherine: Watching my children become confident, resilient, knowledgeable about the world and, yes, bilingual, was the best thing about our initial immersion. Of course, this lasted much longer than just the beginning. I was still standing back admiring them and marvelling at their growth years later. Health issues, including a broken arm after just one week, were downright scary. I had no intrinsic understanding of French medical protocol, nor the language and was not sure how far our health insurance would stretch either. I experienced a vertiginous spike in fear when I realised that I would have to submit a French tax French.

4) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Catherine: Our region is big on cheese and potatoes. During the months of potentially snow-bound isolation, families living high up in the mountains would have had to rely on a repetitive menu based on what they would have grown, made and stored prior to winter. Tartiflette is one such cheese and potato dish, but my favourite is the raclette. Before leaving for France, I stood in the playground of my son’s French/Australian school and listened to the French mums bemoaning the fact that they could not find a raclette cheese in Melbourne. At the time, I did not appreciate the angst that not having access to a good cheese could cause. Neither did I really know how raclette could and should be prepared. Once in France, I found that eating raclette seemed even more social (if that were possible) than a regular French meal. We all put our little pans that were loaded up with slices of raclette into the machine in the middle of the table before slipping the molten cheese onto the accompanying salami, prosciutto, gherkins and potatoes. If you didn’t wish to buy a whole wheel of raclette, it could be bought pre-sliced on trays at the supermarket. In days gone by, the lump of cheese would have been melted on an open fire, scraped (hence raclette from the French verb racler) and after dinner would have been left to solidify in order for the process to be repeated the following night.

5) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Catherine: A bit of all of them, but you’ve described the goat cheese as fresh and lively and I relate most closely to that description. I’m not sure, though, that it is always a positive as I am constantly dreaming up the next thing to jump to. Being active both physically and mentally is a must for me. I hope that my children have not suffered too much as a result of my nomadic tendencies.

6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Catherine: One of the chapters in my book is entitled ‘Mon péché mignon’, which literally means ‘my cute sin’ or more loosely ‘my weakness’. Bread, of any description, has always been my weakness. Imagine my conflicting emotions when I push open the door to any boulangerie. The day of our arrival in France, the lady who owned the little cottage that we had rented came by to offer to take the two girls (then aged 9 and 12) to buy our daily bread. She gave them the necessary language to buy two loaves of the superior, non-commercially produced ‘good’ bread. No doubt she presumed that our bread tastes were as refined as hers. Unknowingly, coaching them through “Deux pains de tradition, s’il vous plait”was a gift to the girls as it threw them straight into an authentic situation. Linguistically, they never looked back.

7) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from? Also, as an Australian, do you prefer French or New World wine?

Catherine: Kir Royal (crème de cassis and champagne). My general preference is to drink red wine, but we often serve a Kir Royal as an apéritif. I’m not sure what attracts me to this drink. It could be the colour, the bubbles or the regal bottle from the Chambord castle but it is probably the anticipation of the lovely lingering that is to follow. So, I guess that means that I’m really not that fussy. Similarly, I am happy to drink wine from any country. Occasionally, when we were living in France, we would try and search out a bottle of Australian wine, but that was more as a nod to friends far away than to the taste.

8) Have you ever witnessed the Tour de France whizzing through your area?

Catherine: The Tour passed through Annecy a couple of months before we were due to set off on our French adventure. My husband had previously spent many sleepless nights following the race on Australian television. On this occasion, I joined him and was unimaginably excited to see the place that we would soon be calling home. Once living in France, going to watch the Tour became a must-do event. We were not there this year to see it go through our village of Talloires, but we did hear Robbie McEwan comment that if he had to choose a place to live in France, it would be Annecy. We’ll second that!

9) I know you have travelled extensively in France, but if you were to recommend just one location for a special holiday in France, where would it be?

Catherine: I love France. Just one location... I can’t do that! For love; Paris. For love; any little cobblestone-paved village on market day. For love; wandering the coastal tracks, forest paths, sandy coves of the hexagon. For love; setting out and never reaching your destination because there is too much to distract you on your way.

10) I enjoyed your memoir ‘But You Are in France, Madame’, do you have any plans to write more about your house in France?

Catherine: I was asked this question recently and it is true that the prologue to my book is actually the epilogue to our story. It is here that I mention that we did end up buying a house in France. I should have documented the purchasing process. That would have made a great drama. All I know at this point is that the past year since pushing the button to publish has been memorable. Definitely worth repeating.

If you would like to experience Catherine’s life in France her house in Talloires on Lake Annecy is available for holiday rentals, see here
You can also follow Catherine’s adventures on her blog, Facebook page and Instagram. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book review of Fa-La-Llama-La by Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Fa-La-Llama-La by Stephanie Dagg
Fa-La-Llama-La by Stephanie Dagg

My first review of 2017 is a Christmas novella, as although we are back from visiting family, the decorations are down and Ed is back to school; I’m not quite ready to let go and move on just yet. Fa-La-Llama-La by Stephanie Dagg maybe set in sub-zero temperatures but it left me feeling warm on the inside.

Noelle arrives in rural France, in a snowstorm, a few days before Christmas, hoping the last minute pet-sitting project will help her struggling finances. However, although the llamas waiting for her are just as lovely as her quick Internet research led her to believe they would be, nothing else is quite what she was expecting. There is no power, no water and aside from the llamas, the company, to begin with, is rather difficult. The sensible option would be to leave as quickly as the snow will let her, but with nowhere to call her own, she opts for the adventure. Amid the snow, strange goings on seem to become normal, the nativity comes to life and with it there is a hint of romance in the air.

This book is a warm feel-good read that picked me up on a lonely weekend when I was at a bit of a loose end. Stephanie’s way with words and fun with accents made me laugh and I’m sure other word nerds will be just as entertained as I was. I could have stayed longer, but it finished.

You can read my review of Stephanie’s memoir Head’s Above Water here and my France et Moi interview with her here. I’m looking forward to reading more from Stephanie.

Monday, January 2, 2017

French School and Public Holiday Dates 2017

French school and public holiday dates 2017 French Village Diaries
On holiday in Blaye, France

Welcome to January, the perfect time to think about your holidays in France. For a holiday destination I think it is superb and offers mountains, rolling Atlantic breakers, chic Mediterranean beaches, rural charm, Roman cities, fantastic architecture and stunning chateaux. Not to mention quiet back roads through quaint villages, perfect for road trips by car or bike. 

As my holiday dates blog has been popular and well received for the past three years, here are your all-important dates for 2017. Whether you are new to life in France, or just wanting to plan your holiday here in the quiet weeks outside of the French school holidays, I hope you find this useful.

Public Holidays in France 2017
1st January jour de l’an (a Sunday this year)
16th April, Easter Sunday, Pâques
17th April, Easter Monday, lundi de Pâques, (note there is no Good Friday holiday in France)
1st May, Fête du Travail
8th May, Victory in Europe Day Victoire 1945
25th May, Ascension Day, Ascension
5th June, Pentecost Monday, lundi de Pentecôte
14th July, Fête Nationale
15th August, Assumption Day, Assomption
1st November, All Saint's Day, Toussaint
11th November, Armistice Day, Armistice 1918 (a Saturday this year)
25th December, Christmas Day, Noël (note there is no Boxing Day holiday in France on 26th)

With the exception of the 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  (Assumption Day), by taking off the Friday or Monday giving themselves a four day weekend. This will be part of their annual holiday entitlement, so while most businesses will be open on bridge days, some staff shortages can be expected. It is worth noting that in many areas of rural France, although some opening hours is becoming more common, most shops are likely to be either closed or only open in the mornings on public holidays.

Other dates to note
26th March, clocks spring forward an hour to Central European Summertime
9th April, Palm Sunday, Rameaux a day where our local boulangeries bake something different (see here)
28th May, Mother’s Day, fêtes des mères
18th June, Father’s Day, fêtes des pères
29th October, clocks go back an hour to Central European Time

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, or better still avoid driving on these days.

French school and public holiday dates 2017 French Village Diaries
French School Holiday Zones

Here are the dates for 2017:
The winter holiday is from 4th February to 5th March. Zone C gets the first two weeks, Zone B the middle two and Zone A the last two.
The spring holiday is from 1st April to 1st May. Zone C gets the first two weeks, B the middle two and A the last two.
The summer holiday for all zones is from 8th July until 3rd September.
The October holiday for all zones is from 21st October to 5th November.
The Christmas holiday for all zones is from 23rd December to 7th January 2018.

Please do share amongst your friends and family and wherever you visit in France this year, I hope you have a great holiday.