Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book review of In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

My review today is for new release In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels, published today.

It is always a treat when reviewing a cookbook to receive a real, paper copy in the post; I’m convinced the whole cookbook experience is improved by flicking through the pages, reading an ingredient list here, looking at photos there and then selecting something you know you need to try out. I spent many a happy moment with my morning coffee, this cookbook and my notebook close to hand. 

My first thoughts were how straightforward the methods were, with clear and concise instructions, which is perfect when encouraging children to get involved. The selection of recipes; from snacks and light bites, to main meals and desserts, gave far more variety than I was expecting from a cookbook aimed at children but did ensure all the French favourites were present. Choosing something to try out proved far trickier than I imagined. Should I give the ‘quick’ croissants a go or choose a ratatouille dish to help me use up my courgettes, or maybe now is the time to give crème brulee a try?
French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
Financiers from In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

In the end my selection was Financiers as I don’t believe I’ve ever tried one, let alone tried to make them, despite living here for fourteen years. The recipe was easy to follow, structured nicely into separate, defined steps, and quick and easy to prepare. The batter it produced was almost elastic, making it easy to work with and it cooked like a dream. What looks deceptively like a little sponge cake is actually slightly crispy on the outside, but moist and almost soft and chewy in the centre. They are sweet and delicious, and although designed as an after-school snack for children, worked perfectly well with my morning coffee too. Just to be sure I had got it right I took some into work with me to see what a real Frenchie thought of my attempt. C’s eyes misted over at her first bite as she declared them delicious and with a taste that transported her back to her childhood. Thanks Mardi, I know I will be making these again.

French Village Diaries book review in the French kitchen with kids Mardi Michels
Financiers recipe from In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

If you want to try them too, here is an excerpt  from In the  French  Kitchen with  Kids by  Mardi Michels.  Copyright© 2018 Mardi  Michels. Photography © Kyla Zanardi. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

I am sure adults and children will both get a lot of pleasure out of this book and I have a feeling my copy might end up in Ed’s university apartment come September, but at least I’ll be reassured he won’t starve!

In the French kitchen with kids is available now in ebook and paperback versions and links to Amazon can be found below.

If you fancy a holiday in southwest France, check out Mardi’s other website maison de la Fontaine here and you can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter too.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, feeling a little sad

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance RideLondon
Ed ready for the off #RideLondon46

Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance and I’m certainly feeling lazy today, but I’m also a little sad.

July has been a great month; the weather has been hot and sunny, Ed got a fantastic result in his BAC exams, the courgettes are being harvested aplenty, the Tour de France (and especially the commentary from Ned Boulting, David Millar, Gary Imlach and Chris Boardman) has been keeping me entertained for the last three weeks, and even though I had to stay up later than normal, I got to see the blood moon/eclipse on Friday night, but as the month (and the TDF) comes to an end, so does my four months at the library and this makes me sad. I have had such a great experience, learned a lot and it’s given me tons of confidence, but sadly I’m missing out on family moments too.

Today Paris will see the final stage of the Tour de France where Geraint Thomas will be wearing a well-deserved yellow jersey and sadly I won’t be there in person, like we were in 2015 (see here for my top tips). I’d love to be there again, one year, although I would prefer the weather to be warmer and dryer than we experienced last time. However, much as I love my French village life and Paris, I’d actually rather be in London this weekend. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance RideLondon
Brompton World Championships
Yesterday evening Adrian was racing with the other woman in his life, his Brompton bike, called Delilah. The Brompton World Championship race is part of the Prudential RideLondon cycling fest that has taken over London this weekend. Dressed in a shirt, bowtie and jacket (there are strict rules of no sports clothing), Adrian performed a running, Le Mans style start, unfolded Delilah and set off on a 16km circuit around London. It looked great fun to watch, thanks to Ed (who had a VIP ticket) for keeping me informed with text and photo updates.
Today will be even more difficult for me in France. Ed is taking part in the Prudential RideLondon 46; a 46 mile/80km sportive around London and the first time he has taken part in an event like this as well as his first experience of cycling in the UK. He has chosen to ride for Mind, The Mental Health Charity and has already raised £240, but I’m hoping he can break the £300 mark by the end of today. Having been stuck in a heatwave for weeks, the weather in London is forecast to be cold, wet and windy today, so please send him your best wishes and if you would like to add to his sponsorship total you can find his JustGiving page here. Ed, I won’t be there to watch you come over the finish line, sorry, but I am so proud of you and all you have achieved this year xxxx

Adrian is also cycling again today, this time on his big bike, and tackling the Prudential RideLondon 100, for the third year running. I’m usually at the finish line along The Mall, but not this year. With work at the library yesterday morning and tomorrow afternoon, getting to London, and back again, sadly wasn’t an option. Thanks to an app on my iPhone I will be able to virtually follow their progress throughout the day, but it’s not going to be quite the same experience as the last two years. I hope you both have fun and please stay safe!

Thankfully I’ll not be alone as I’m spending this afternoon with friends from the village; eating, drinking and dancing as only a French village can. To be honest, any distraction is a good distraction as sad doesn’t even come close to how upsetting it is to read that the UK is free-falling towards a No Deal exit from the EU. Articles like this and this show a bleak future for those of us in the EU.

Friday, July 27, 2018

France et Moi with author Mardi Michels

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Mardi Michels about what France means to her.
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Mardi Michels In the French kitchen with kids
Mardi Michels

Mardi is a full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of eat. live. travel. write - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far. As part of her job, she offers after-school cooking classes for boys aged 7 to 14. She grew up in Australia, lived and taught in Paris for over five years and now calls Toronto home. In 2014, she purchased an historic home in southwest France, which she operates as a vacation rental property. In her spare time, you’ll find her teaching French cooking and baking classes in Toronto.

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’?

Mardi: I feel like you’re asking me why France is so special to me? (it’s “French” because, well, it’s French!) so I’m going to have to say I love the language, the culture, the history and the food. For me, a country where I love all those things is truly special.

2) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?

Mardi: I’ve spent a lot of time in France – a few vacations when I was in school, over 5 years living there in my 20s, countless summers since I moved to Canada in 2000 and since buying our house in France, we’re spent a lot of time there – so it’s REALLY hard to choose one memory! The recent World Cup victory by the French team brought back very fond memories of the summer of 1998 when I was living in Paris – THAT was a special summer! Nowadays, I cherish every minute I can be in France – it truly does feel like my second home – and even quiet mornings enjoying my coffee with a good book on our terrace make for fond memories.

3) Your cook book, In the French kitchen with kids,will be released next week, where did your love of sharing French food start?

Mardi: I’ve actually always had a thing for French food. Growing up, one of the desserts my mum used to make for dinner parties was crème caramel. One of my favourite places to go for brunch in Adelaide was a French restaurant. Later, living in Paris in my 20s, I tasted a lot of really good food but over the years came to realise that while it might look fancy or sound fancy, the dishes that the French eat at home are fairly simple to make. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been writing about French food and teaching people how to make it both through my blog and through the classes I teach. I love showing people (adults and kids) that they can make fancy-sounding dishes at home!

4) What would be your most memorable meal eaten in France?

Mardi: I’ve had a lot of memorable meals – from Michelin star places to tiny family-run local cafés so it’s hard to choose just one. But one year Neil and I found ourselves in Paris for New Year’s Eve and I’d been searching for someplace to enjoy a late dinner after a show. As someone who has lived in Paris, I was irritated to see that many restaurants were hiking their prices up so much for what essentially was their regular menu so I ended up not booking anything and decided we would take our chances. I happen to know of the 24/7 café Le Tambour in the 2nd and figured we’d go there for a midnight “cheers” if nothing else. We headed there after our show and arrived around 11.45pm. The place was looking packed but they welcomed us in and found us a booth and within 10 minutes we had glasses of champagne (and all sorts of noisemakers and streamers) to toast the new year! Shortly afterwards, we were served Steak-Frites (Neil) and Salade de Chèvre Chaud (me). Pretty much the best meal ever!

5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Mardi: Again, a tricky one to answer! Obviously, my heart is divided between Paris and the Lot-et-Garonne but there are SO many regional dishes I love – flammenkeuche from the Alsace is a big favourite – but if I had to choose, I’d say galetttes au sarrasin (buckwheat crêpes) from Brittany. It’s such a versatile dish – works for both sweet and savoury – and can be eaten at any meal!

6) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Mardi: I’ve probably got my chocolatine orPain Suisse au Chocolat from my favourite boulangerie in a crinkly paper bag so I’d be ordering a grand crème and an espresso (because the crème are generally not strong enough, I’ll drink a little bit and add the espresso later). Bliss.

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

Mardi: I’m a big fan of the baguette tradition but our local boulangerie in Nérac has a fabulous 7-grain baguette called Campagrain which is wonderful fresh and which toasts up beautifully. In terms of viennoiseries, I do love a good chocolatine or a Pain Suisse au Chocolat.

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

Mardi: Sigh – I’m only allowed to choose just one? Well then it’ll have to be Comté. The older the better (36 months).

9) How important do you think it is to match your French wine with your food? Any top matching tips you can share?

Mardi: I’ll defer to Neil here who suggests a few simple rules for pairing food with wine. It’s generally a good idea to wine and foods from the same region, ligher wines with lighter dishes and always serving a wine that’s sweeter than your dessert are some rules I try to stick to! Actually his best advice is “drink the wine you like”!

10) How would you explain that very unique French concept of ‘terroir’?

Mardi: Interestingly, we’re hearing more about terroir outside of France these days. Originally, it primarily referred to different regions’ climates and soil affecting the flavours of the wines produced there, sometimes called “somewhereness” but more and more it’s used to talk about other foods and beverages (coffee, for example). In practical terms it means that the saucisson made in the next village will have a flavour very different to the one made 200km away.

11) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us, including the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Mardi: If I’m hosting company at home, I’d probably serve gougères (recipe in my book) with some champagne. If I’m by myself on my terrace in Nérac, it’ll most likely be local rosé with some variety of French chips (they have the most extraordinary flavours, don’t you know?!).

Finally, can you tell us a bit about In the French kitchen with kids and maybe give us an idea of some of the recipes we will find?
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Mardi Michels In the French kitchen with kids
In the French kitchen with kids, Mardi Michels
Mardi: I’m hoping to show that French food doesn't have to be complicated and have tried to feature recipes suited to young chefs and their families in an elegant yet approachable book. From savoury dishes like Omelettes, Croque-Monsieur or Steak-Frites to sweet treats like Profiteroles, Madeleines or Crème Brûlée, readers will find a lot of French classics. I’ve included helpful timetables to plan out baking projects, as well as tips on how to get kids involved in the cooking and am really hoping the book breaks down any preconceived notion that French cuisine is too fancy or too difficult for kids to master. But it’s not just for kids as many who have seen advance copies of the book can attest to - it’s really for Francophiles of any age who love to cook but never considered French food was in their reach!

You can follow Mardi at eat. live. travel. write. see here and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can find out more about Maison de la fontaine (her holiday rental in Southwest France) here and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Join me back here on Tuesday when I will be helping her celebrate publication day of In the French kitchen with kids, which is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Summer deals on Kindle UK

French Village Diaries summer deals Kindle UK
Make a drink, take a seat and pick a book! 
Here are some of my favourite summer deals on Kindle UK books from Amazon, with a French theme bien sûr. 

At the time of sharing this post all these books were reduced from their original price, many to only 99p. However, these prices won't stay forever, so please do check before buying that the price is still reduced. A click on the cover you fancy will take you direct to Amazon UK.

Happy summer reading!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France with author Nina Caplan

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Nina Caplan
Burgundy, photo Nina Caplan
Welcome to another Lazy Sunday in France, where this week Nina Caplan is taking us to Burgundy for a perfect lazy day. Nina is a travel journalist specialising in food, drink and the arts and is the  author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and me, you can read my review here

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Nina Caplan
The Wandering Vine by Nina Caplan

Lazy Sunday in France by Nina Caplan 

Sunday morning starts with coffee, in a bowl – a clever French habit, intended for café au lait but ideal for those of us who like it black and require caffeine right now. I bring the beans from London: they say that the French were forced to boil ground-up chicory during World War II, and judging from the bitterness of the coffee they sell in our local supermarket, they miss it. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Nina Caplan
Nina Caplan LazySundayinFrance

I spend around half my weekends in Burgundy, where my young stepchildren live, and during term-time there’s no question that Sunday wins all prizes. There are two reasons: the lie-in, and the brunch. Saturday involves running around to two sets of piano lessons in another village; Sunday is pure hedonism, at least until homework rears its head. Our town has an excellent boulangerie– the baker couple are so hardworking that Madame apologised to me, one Christmas Day morning, for the fact that they were only staying open until lunchtime – so any leftover bread can be reserved for pain perdu: French toast. All four kids, even the nine-year-old, can turn out perfect golden slices; actually, especially the nine-year-old, as she’s the one who wants to be a chef. Our toast, egg-soaked and fried, isn’t really French, though. My partner is Canadian, so our pain perdu is preceded by a dish no Frenchman would serve: fèves au lard, a delicious form of baked beans flavoured with bacon and maple syrup that was created (or adapted from the Bostonian version) as fuel for Quebecois trappers, hauling through the snow at 30 degrees below freezing.

That level of cold has never happened, to my knowledge, where we are, and I don’t think a trapper would make much of a living here unless he found a market for cowhide. But the beans are a family tradition, followed by French toast drowned, naturally, in more maple syrup. (We bring it back from Montreal; you can buy it in France, but obviously the best stuff comes from the source.) This delightful but calorific brunch works best, obviously, in winter. We might not get bone-freezing Quebec weather in Burgundy but we certainly suffer through some dodgy weather: it usually snows, and can hail well into spring or even summer. I love to pop to the boulangerie on crisp, cold mornings, when the whole town smells of woodsmoke: most people here still heat with wood, and some of them have to get up in the middle of each night to tend an open fire, or they risk a very chilly morning. We’re lucky, as our house is centrally heated, but these old Burgundian buildings, with their foot-thick walls, take a fair bit of time to warm up, and sometimes that Quebecois brunch feels as justified as it must have done to its creators across the Atlantic.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Nina Caplan
Burgundian vineyards, Nina Caplan

Since I write about wine, everyone assumes that I live among the vines, but actually our part of Burgundy hasn’t really produced wine since the phylloxera louse destroyed all France’s vineyards, in the late 19thcentury. When the time came to replant, the Côte d’Or, 45 minutes drive south of us, scraped together the wherewithal to do so – thank goodness, because those are some of the greatest wines in the world, even if many of them are too expensive, these days, for any ordinary budget. But the vin ordinaire from these parts wasn’t worth reviving, when plonk from the sunny Languedoc was so cheap and reliable, and so although the odd villager still has rows of vines in their garden, and the beautiful hillsides look as though they had only temporarily mislaid their rows of trellises, the only real producers here are a couple near Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, a fantastically scenic village that smells not of woodsmoke but of aniseed, thanks to the little anise sweets that have been made here since the Benedictine monks founded their abbey in the 8thcentury. Oh, and Simonnet-Febvre, who make several excellent whites, from Chardonnay and a local grape called Auxerrois. But here I have digressed into wine, not for the first time, which surely means that brunch is over and it’s time to think about Sunday dinner… 


The Wandering Vine is published by Bloomsbury and available in ebook and hardback versions and links to Amazon can be found below. You can also read more from Nina at her website here and follow her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Nina Caplan
The Wandering Vine by Nina Caplan

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book review of The Wandering Vine by Nina Caplan

French Village Diaries book review The Wandering Vine Nina Caplan
The Wandering Vine by Nina Caplan

My review today is for The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me by Nina Caplan, a book that starts as it means to go on. Nina throws us straight into a glass of Champagne; the bubbles, the flavours and the memories it evokes, in short, the full experience and I couldn’t wait to carry on reading.

From the south of England to Champagne, Burgundy, the Rhone, Catalonia, Andalusia, Sicily, Campania and Rome, this book criss-crosses the paths taken by Romans, Jews, wine makers and tourists. It is both an historical journey and a personal one too, looking at her family's migration alongside the roots of wine, as well as the importance of knowledge passed from generation to generation.

I find a quick beer after a bike ride is thirst quenching, refreshing and light. It slips down quickly and is over all too soon. This book is not a beer. This book is a fine red wine, probably from Burgundy with added César grapes (something I learned from within its pages). It is full bodied, has structure and many layers of flavours. It deserves to be opened at just the right moment when you know you have the time to fully absorb all it has to offer; its careful blend of history, geography, migration and customs.

Nina’s knowledge is vast, her delivery is engaging, and she would be a perfect wine tasting partner. I learned a lot, even if as a reviewer reading to deadlines, I sadly felt rushed; gulping down rather than savouring each chapter, behaviour any wine connoisseur would shudder at. I will reopen this book, a luxury you do not get with a bottle of wine, and next time I’ll take my time.

This book fuelled my passion for reading, writing and wine and will appeal to those with an interest in European history, wine lovers and memoir readers too.

The Wandering Vine is available in ebook and hardback versions and links to Amazon can be found below. I am delighted that Nina will be joining me back here on Sunday, taking us to Burgundy for her perfect Lazy Sunday in France. 

You can also read more from Nina at her website here and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, book review of When Archie Met Rosie by Lynda Renham

#LazySundayinFrance book review When Archie Met Rosie Lynda Renham French Village Diaries
When Archie Met Rosie by Lynda Renham

Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance and after partying in the village for the last two nights, I need a gentle, lazy day today. What could be better than the latest novel from Lynda Renham, When Archie Met Rosie, that not only has one of the prettiest covers but is also a cleverly written book.

We meet Rosie at a life-changing moment when her ordinary world is completely turned upside down. Paris, or rather the dream of Paris, becomes a little thread of hope that winds its way through some of her toughest days. As she is coming to terms with her new normal, a chance meeting with a family from a wealthier area unexpectedly leads to friendship and confidences that span generations. Archie is lonely following the death of his wife but would rather be on his own than be manipulated by his overbearing family. Meeting Rosie gives him much needed companionship and the possibility of a brighter future.

Written in the first person, with each chapter from the point of view of a different character, this book is a great glimpse into what goes on inside the heads of others. Lynda cleverly includes different ages from different backgrounds, all wanting different things from life and we learn their insecurities, regrets, hopes and dreams. She covers death, loneliness, debt and inheritance as well as family dynamic, age, affaires and virginity, but with humour too.  

I really enjoyed this book that highlights that we often don’t realise what we’ve got until it’s gone and I’m sure it’s one that will make you think, nurture your dreams of Paris and feel good inside. It would be a perfect companion to a lazy Sunday.

When Archie Met Rosie is available in ebook (currently only 99p) and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below.

You can follow Lynda on her website, Twitter and Facebook and read all about her love of France in my interview with her here.

If you are a writer, blogger or run an independent business in France and have something you think would be ideal to be included in a future Lazy Sunday in France post, please do get in touch.

Friday, July 13, 2018

France et Moi with Lynda Renham

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Lynda Renham about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview with author Lynda Renham
Lynda Renham

Lynda Renham is author to many popular romantic comedy and gripping psychological thriller novels. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger, Twitter and when not writing can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook. 

Lynda lives in Oxfordshire with her second husband and cat. 

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’?

Lynda: The language of France is beautiful. It appeals greatly to me. I only wish I could speak it myself. The most unique thing about France for me, however, is the poppy fields. That beautiful sight as the sun pours onto fields of bright red poppies. Their slender stems swaying in a gentle breeze. That is France.

2) With plenty of space and lovely scenery, France is a great place to explore. If you were to take a day off from writing were in France would you take off to?

Lynda: Provence and to the beautiful house I once stayed in there which wonderfully overlooked a field of poppies. How more perfect can it get?

3) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?

Lynda: A wonderful week spent in the Loire Valley. It truly was a beautiful trip. We took lots of long walks through the quiet countryside. Enjoyed delicious French wine and perfectly cooked French meals. Lunch was spent in the gardens of the stone chateau we had hired, where we ate pate, cheese and olives with French bread. Unforgettable.  

4) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Lynda: Croissants, coffee and possibly a few macaroons. Why not?

5) Quick question; English chocolate éclair with whipped cream filling or French éclair au chocolat with crème patisserie filling?

Lynda: French éclair au chocolat with crème patisserie filling. What else. French eclairs are the best.

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese areyou?

Lynda: I like to think of myself as a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese. But I think others might say I’m a rich Camembert.

7) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish? 

Lynda: I’ve not experienced a great deal of French food. So, I can’t really answer that honestly.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview with author Lynda Renham
When Archie Met Rosie by Lynda Renham

8) France gets a mention in more than one of your books, with Paris being the dream destination for Rosie in your latest novel When Archie Met Rosie. What do you think it is about Paris that makes so many of us dream of visiting? 

Lynda: Oh, it’s the romance surely! How can you not feel romantic in Paris? The beauty and exhilaration of the city must light the fire of romance in you.

9) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Lynda: I’d love to own a property in Provence. It would be a large farmhouse with adjoining poppy fields, of course. It would have a huge lounge with a beautiful open fireplace. Many bedrooms for visitors and a beautiful chamomile lawn where one could sit and enjoy the poppy fields. I’d have a small courtyard overlooking the poppy fields with benches and tables to enjoy a nice glass of red wine.

Finally, do you have any plans to revisit France in the pages of a future project? 

Lynda: Not at the moment. I’m taking a short break. But you never know when wonderful France will feature in one of my books.

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

Read more from Lynda at her web page and on Twitter and Facebook

Join me back here on Sunday when I will be reviewing When Archie Met Rosie which is a real feel good read (currently only 99p) and available in ebook and paperback format, links to Amazon can be found below. 

You might also like Wedding Bels (previously released as Croissants and Jam), another of Lynda's books set in France. You can read my review here.