Sunday, April 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, making fresh pasta

Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance. Our weather today isn't the sort to encourage a lazy day relaxing in the garden, or even a not so lazy one working in the garden, so an indoor activity seemed a good idea. 

With rather a lot of eggs being laid by our girls, including oldies Brucie the goose, who has been with us for nine years and Chocie the duck, who arrived at the end of 2006, I decided to make some fresh pasta, something I don't make often enough. It might take a bit of organisation, starting early enough to allow resting and drying time, but it's not a difficult thing to make and only needs flour, eggs and a bit of muscle for the kneading. Here is my method, if you fancy having a go yourself.

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
350g flour and two large eggs

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Mix flour and eggs

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Bring to a dough

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Keep working it

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
When smooth, wrap and leave to rest for an hour

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Roll out

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Cut into strips and then hang to dry

#LazySundayinFrance homemade pasta recipe French Village Diaries
Cook for a few minutes and serve with your favourite pasta sauce

Friday, April 27, 2018

France et Moi with author Kate Mosse

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of the online excitement to coincide with the release of her new novel The Burning Chambers, I am talking to author Kate Mosse about what France means to her. I will be reviewing The Burning Chambers here on release day, next Thursday.
France et Moi interview Kate Mosse French Village Diaries The Burning Chambers
Kate Mosse photo Ruth Crafer

Kate Mosse is an international No 1 bestselling author of non fiction, plays and six novels, including The Languedoc Trilogy which has sold eight million copies in 37 languages. The Founder Director of the Women’s Prize and Deputy Chair of the National Theatre, she divides her time between Chichester in West Sussex and Carcassonne, Aude.

1. 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’?

Kate: The smell of fresh bread, croissants & pains au chocolat being baked, fresh every morning; the elegance of the pace of life; the markets in each town & village square filled with flowers, local olives, fruit, vegetables – from huge bunches of garlic to bright red radishes; the woven wicker shopping baskets – paniers – used by women and men of all ages; the vanilla scent of Gauloises; the shared spaces (from old men playing boules to women greeting one another with a kiss in the local shop). Oh, and carrottes râpées from Casino!

2. What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Kate: Although we had family camping trips to Brittany in the summer, it’s a winter school orchestra trip to Northern France in the early 1970s that sticks vividly in my mind.  A rattling coach from the ferry, the windows steamed up, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe as we came into Paris. A refectory-style meal with mushroom vol-au-vents, baskets of baguette put automatically on the table, cheese that wasn’t cheddar and strong, hard-hitting coffee.  It’s a cliché, but it was difference in both the food and the attitude to it that made France so special.  A night in a terrible hostel, with strange long bolsters instead of pillows, then on to Chartres and a first sight of that incredible cathedral, a ship of stone rising up out of the countryside and, of course, the labyrinth!

3. With plenty of space and lovely scenery, France is a great place to explore. If you were to take a day off from writing, where would you go to get away?

Kate: Although I enjoy returning to Chartres & spend a fair bit of time in Paris, my heart belongs to the south west. My husband & I bought a tiny house in the shadow of the walls of the medieval Cite of Carcassonne in 1989 and I fell head-over-heels with the imposing beauty of the towers & turrets, the glimpses of the white wall of the Pyrenees in the distance from the Pont Vieux, the huge Midi skies.  Taking a break from my desk, I still like nothing more than to climb up the steps (some 90 of them!) into the Citadel itself for a cup of coffee or glass of blanquette in Place Marcou.   For a proper day off, though, I’d head to the magnificent, brilliantly seductive city of Toulouse.  La ville rose is elegant, bustling, with astonishing architecture and fantastic restaurants, especially in the quartier Daurade.  A picnic of bread and cheese on the banks of the Garonne, washed down with a little chilled local rose, watching the sun go down over the quartier Saint-Cyprien on the other side of the water is hard to beat.

4. You are taking us back to Languedoc in your new novel – The Burning Chambers. What is it about the history of this area that inspires your writing?

France et Moi interview Kate Mosse French Village Diaries The Burning Chambers
The Burning Chambers, Kate Mosse
Kate: The Burning Chambers – the first in a sequence of historical novels set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion and telling the interconnected stories of two families and a feud spanning three hundred years of history – is set in Carcassonne, Toulouse and the small village of Puivert in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  In Languedoc, there’s a perfect combination of history and spirit of place – the garrigue and the vines, the endless Midi skies, the rivers, woods and the mountains, the extremes of blazing heat & fearsome cold in the winter.  There’s also the way that layers of recorded history – Roman, Visigoth, Crusader and now, of course, the Civil Wars in the 16th and 17th century – are all still visible today.  With The Burning Chambers, it was a question of listening to the echoes of the past, then imagining the women and men who might have lived in Carcassonne and Toulouse in 1562 on the outbreak of the wars that were to rip France in two, and wondering what they might have felt.  Research and many visits to museums, libraries and monuments followed, until little by little, the novel started to take shape.

5. France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite. Which is your favourite French city, and why? 

Kate: Carcassonne!  Of course. Though, I love Toulouse and Paris, also I’ve had many wonderful visits to Limoges and Orleans.  It’s always about the history!

6. Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10am on a sunny morning watching the world go by.  What do you order from the waiter?

Kate: Un café alongé … a double espresso, with a dollop of hot water, croissant rather than pain au chocolat.  If I’m sitting at Bar Félix in Place Carnot in the Bastide Saint-Louis (the main town as opposed to the medieval Cite of Carcassonne) and I stay there long enough, a salad of chèvre chaud au miel. I’ll be listening to the bells of the many churches and the cathedral as time goes by ….

7. What is your favourite thing to buy in a boulangerie/patisserie?

Kate: I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I adore bread.   So, for taking home, the couronne – a sour crusty round loaf which goes perfectly with any salad, soup or cheese.  If I’m out-and-about, then a sandwich emmental beurre.

8. France has many different cheeses, but which French cheese are you? 

Kate: Without doubt, tomme des Pyrenées.   With its waxy black rind and creamy insides (like a milder, softer gruyère), it’s my favourite cheese (and hard to get in England …)

9. Every region in France has its own culinary speciality.  Do you have a favourite regional dish?

Kate: I’m vegetarian, so I can’t eat the most popular local Languedocien dish of cassoulet – goose fat, sausage, duck, beans – but I do make sure that all our guests try it at least once. For myself, I love a local goat’s cheese with beautiful honey from a nearby farm, the perfect combination of sweet and sour.

10. Can you describe your perfect French apéro for us, including the drinks, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Kate: On the terrace of our little house in Carcassonne below the Cite walls as the sun goes down, the backdrop of the grey stone walls of the Chateau Comtal, the green gardens & apple trees of the neighbours’ allotments, the Tour Pinte stretching up into the pink dusk sky.   My husband and our grown-up children will be there, and perhaps a few close friends.  We’ll drink rosé from a large jug with plenty of ice, or possibly a blanquette de Limoux, black and green olives bought from the market in the Bastide and maïs grillé (roasted & salted sweet corn) rather than nuts.

About The Burning Chambers

The Burning Chambers is the first in a sequence of historical novels set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries.  A Romeo & Juliet story, it tells the story of a Catholic girl, Minou, her Huguenot lover, Piet, and a feud between two families stretching over three hundred years.  Betrayal and intrigue, a missing will and a stolen relic, it is a diaspora story and the action ranges from Languedoc and Paris in the 16th century, to London and Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries, and finally to the New World and the Cape in the 19th.   The series begins and ends in the small town of Franschhoek in 1862, where several Huguenot families had fled persecution to begin a new life, discover that old sins have long shadows.  I’m having a wonderful time researching and writing the novels, so I hope readers will take Minou and Piet to their hearts.

Thank you for taking the time to give some lovely answers to my questions about France and you. Once I’d started The Burning Chambers, I couldn’t put it down and I just know your readers are going to love it as much as The Languedoc Trilogy. I become quite attached to Minou and Piet, was often on the edge of my seat as the action took hold, and can’t wait for their family journey to unfold through the centuries.

The Burning Chambers will be released on 3rd May in hardback, audiobook and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. Join me back here next Thursday when I will be sharing my review. 

You can visit Kate's website here.

You might also like to read about the day I met Kate in person at the Charroux Lit Fest 2015 here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Diary of a bibliothécaire, first school visit

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
The Queen's Hat

Welcome back to my Diary of a Bibliothécaire. I have nearly completed a whole month at work and the big news this week is that we welcomed the first classes for our Franco/Anglais story time sessions. I was a little nervous about being let loose on the public on day one, but ‘performing’ in front of a class of four and five-year olds, speaking in French and English and singing in English as well, was terrifying. However, with C by my side to lead the way, and some friendly and familiar faces in the crowd, I survived another first at the library.

As luck (or the universe) would have it our first class was also the first class Ed attended when he started in Maternelle (nursery school) in 2004. The teacher and the classroom assistant (who took these lovely photos) are still the same, despite Ed now being 17 and in his last year in the French school system. It was very special to me to share my first session with them, and it kind of felt like our life in France had come full circle.

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
First words in English - Hello, My Name is, Goodbye

We started by explaining that I was English and then introduced the children to ‘hello’, ‘my name is’ and ‘goodbye’, by doing a little bit of simple acting. We showed them the union flag, a red bus, a red telephone box and a red post box. We spoke of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, followed by London and Big Ben.

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
Paddington Bear

I introduced them to Paddington, Rupert the Bear and Winnie the Pooh, and then C introduced them to the Queen and her some of her many hats.

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
The Queen and her hat

This moved us nicely onto the book we had chosen to read, The Queen’s Hat, by Steve Antony. C had bought the English version, but it is also available in French, called Saperlipopette, Mon Chapeau ! (which means Woopsy Daisies, My Hat!). You wouldn’t believe the mess my mouth made of the pronunciation of Saperlipopette! I’d love to know if any of you had already come across this gem of a French word?

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
The Queen's Hat by Steve Antony

The book sees the Queen and her soldier’s chasing around London after her favourite hat, when it is blown away by the wind. Wearing our ‘Queen’s hats’, C read out our translated French, and I then followed with the English, while the little ones looked at the pictures. The hat eventually lands on a baby in a pram, at Kensington Palace, which was rather apt as our first class was on the same day that Kate and William welcomed baby number three.

Diary of a Bibliothécaire French Village Diaries Franco/Anglais story time
I'm a Little Teapot!

At the very end of the book, the Queen’s butler asks if anyone would like a cup of tea. This was the perfect segue into my debut performance of I’m a Little Teapot, with all the actions, which we followed with The Wheels on the Bus. Happily, I wasn’t judged on my singing voice and the little ones were keen to join in with the actions. It was encouraging to know that something must have gone in, as everyone left saying ‘goodbye’ in their cute French accents.

The planning for these sessions started long before my first day at work, as C was keen to take advantage of my Englishness and use it for the theme of this terms stories. She chose the books we will be reading, but we worked together on what we would say, and what else we would introduce to the children. The British decorations were down to me and we’ve also spent quite some time practising reading the stories aloud to an empty room, to ensure they flow nicely in the two languages. Next week the older children will have a slightly different session, learning about the differences between French and English onomatopoeias. Did you know that French cockerels go cocorico, not cock-a-doodle-doo or that the French for yum, yum is miam, miam? To tie in with this we will read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, where they will hear ‘plaf plouf’ in French and ‘squelch squerch’ in English when walking through the thick, oozy mud. In total we will be seeing 8 classes with children aged from 4 to 10. I just hope the older ones are as kind as the little ones have been so far.

Who knew that being a librarian would be so much fun, and to add to the excitement, this week I’ve also learned how to cover the new books in sticky back plastic. I had feared, that like Paddington, I’d end up in a sticky pickle, but so far, so good. I do hope you enjoyed these photos. 

You can read my previous Diary of a bibliothécaire here, here and here.