Archive for the ‘life in France’ Category

I forget exactly when we met Caroline, we had not been living in France long, but I do remember where we met.

Just across the river that passes next to our garden is a very large field.  It is owned by the Commune and is used on Bastille day for the fishing day and apart from the odd fisherman during the season it rarely sees a soul.  As it is Community property and we are part of the community it effectively belongs to us and therefore we are the ones who probably use it the most.

It was in said field that I was trying to teach Mrs Powerfulpierre how to ride a bike, without success I would add, she just and still cannot make the leap of faith needed to balance the bike long enough for the momentum to keep it on two wheels.

Caroline lives in California and has a holiday home just up the road from where we live.  She is also friends with our milk providing neighbour, Francoise and as Caroline had a problem with her laptop, obviously she had been pointed in my direction.

Yet again I am struck by the weirdness of a situation, here we were two English people meeting a lady from California in a field in a beautiful but little known part of France talking about a dysfunctional laptop!

Well from there our friendship developed and eventually encompassed both our families as well.

Caroline arranges trips for her students and they stay with local people in and around the village and one year she asked us if we would like to help out by driving one of the two minibuses and take in the sights as well.  Of course we were up for it big time.

So we took the TGV, the incredibly fast French high speed train from Le Man to Paris and met up with everyone to start the journey back home with much sight seeing on the way.

First up was to collect the minibuses and I have to say this was even for a former policeman one of the scariest and stressful things I have ever done.  To start with it was first thing on a weekday morning in the centre of Paris somewhere that I have never nor would ever drive normally.  It is sheer madness, the Parisians take no prisoners and the traffic was heavy.  Also you must bare in mind that I had got used  to the empty country roads around where we live where even the main road into our nearest town on a Monday morning is deserted.

Next up was the location of the rental firm, right underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysées the most busy roundabout in the known universe.  Finally the vehicle itself which I had never driven before and had no time to get used to because it was straight out of the tunnel and into the melee of Parisian traffic.  Then it got worse, the Mercedes bus I discovered did not have a handbrake instead it was foot operated and despite my best efforts I could not get the hang of it.  I managed to release it but when it came to balancing accelerator and foot brake on an incline I just kept stalling.  Eventually by using the proper foot-brake and  what is called in racing jargon heeling and toeing I got out onto the road but worse was yet to come.

I had no idea where the pickup point was and was going to follow Caroline in the other bus across Paris.  That is when a gendarme appeared out of nowhere, flagged me down and demanded my documents.  So there I was on the roundabout, a quickly disappearing Caroline, juggling the foot pedals to avoid rolling back into the rental garage whilst trying to find the documents for the vehicle and my driving licence.

I was going into panic mode, what if I lost sight of the other minibus and I was doomed to driving around the streets of Paris, lost for ever.

I finally got clear of the gendarme and charged across the roundabout completely ignoring other traffic as I tried to catch up with the other bus.

In fairness attack seemed to be the best form of defense, I scattered all before me and there was the other bus waiting for me, but I was still not out of the woods, there was still a long way to go through the bustling Paris streets and as is always the way with these things when we approached a set of traffic lights they would stay green or yellow, the traffic lights here are not the same as in the UK, and Caroline would zip through and then immediately change to red for me.


Our students at The Louvre

Eventually we arrived at the hotel and loaded up the buses ready for our great adventure.

So next up in part 2 Paris sights and beyond and more stuff than you can shake a stick at.


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We came to France to get away from the rat race of the UK, to live a quieter, simpler life and to a large extent we have achieved our dream.

However things do not always go the way you want to and so it was that on Friday morning we drove to Evron to find some fancy dress costumes for the party we had been invited to on saturday night and find a present  for the anniversary party on Sunday.  Now I have to plead guilty here, when I saw the price of the red indian outfit my wife proposed to wear, I bottled out and we left the shop empty handed with my wife ever so slightly upset with me.

We returned home to find a message on the answering machine from Francoise our neighbour we get our milk from.  She explained that Christaines mother had died on tuesday evening and that the funeral was in the village that afternoon.  Although we did not know her that well, I think she was 94 and had been very ill for some time, it is very important to the people here that you show support for your friends and go to the funeral, there was never any question that no matter what other plans we had we were going to the funeral.

The day had been one of heavy showers and I mean heavy and as I looked for something appropriate to wear my mind went back to my fathers funeral that took place in the same church we were going to.  It was a very wet May when he died suddenly, he had lived in his own flat in the village for about 10 months and in fairness he had enjoyed the gastronomic delights of France with us during that time.  He was 86 when he died and we bought a plot in the village cemetary which stands on the hill on the edge of the village and has the most magnificent views of the countryside.  My father could not speak a word of french and he knew very few people except the friends we introduced him to.  But there must have been 40 or more people at his funeral, not particularly for him though of course they wanted to pay their respects to a man who had been a soldier in ww2 and a fireman.  But because of Margaret and me, the support was phenominal.

We drove up to the village really early because we just knew how busy the church would be when a long term resident dies and we had to park some distance away and walk to the church in torrential rain.  The Mayor was sat in his car parked across the nearest parking spaces keeping them clear for Christaine and her family who were following the hearse from Villaine.

As predicted the church was packed and it was heartening to see so many people paying their last respects and supporting the family.

The following day we went to the fancy dress party and as we had been warned not to come as ourselves or else!  I managed to find some military looking clothes and an army style jungle hat and went as colonel Blake from MASH whilst my wife went as a footballer.  Needless to say the time when it would have been nice to have got some photos of some intriguing costumes, the batteries in the camera failed despite being charged up for a long time before we went.

On the Sunday we went to a wedding anniversary party and the weather was fantastic, we arrived at around 4pm to find our hosts already opening presents on their huge pristine lawn in front of the large lake.  The setting could not have been better for some serious eating and drinking with about 30 or so other guests both french and english.

flower display in the lake

flower display in the lake

We walked down to where the tables had been laid out and helped ourselves to kier, sparkling white wine and blackberry cordial, then we sat and had a prawn cocktail for starter.  I sat with some french people and astounded myself at how well I understood them and I was being understood by them, my french seemed to get better and better the more I drank, how odd is that.  I was really looking forward to the main course, John our host had already told me previously that he wanted to spit roast a piece of beef and I advised him that the best beef we had had was from our friend and neighbour Patrice who rears organic beef cows just down the road from where we live.  His meat is sold exclusively at the butcher in our nearest town and that is where he got it.

The beef being spit roasted

The beef being spit roasted

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

So on to the main course.  Dear reader I cannot describe sufficiently how outstanding the reasonably thickly sliced pieces of beef were.  After the garden fresh sauted potatoes and ratatouille were added to the plates I cut a piece of beef which was still pink and moist, the flavour was big and er beefy.  I was in heaven.

Now the french are renowned for eating red meat almost raw but they were equally satisfied with the outcome and there was a distinct hush in conversation as we all tucked in.

just look at that beef

just look at that beef

Next up was the cheese course, with a fine selection.  Lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing and more bread and wine and then pud.

dessert x 3

dessert x 3

Of course I had to have some of all 3.  The black forest gateau I think was my favourite and all baked by our english friend, Shirley, bravo.

Finally coffee and calvados although a lot of the french had whiskey which I have said before is incredibly popular here.  I also had a cigar which rounded things off nicely.  Here are a few more photos of the day.DSCF3223DSCF3219DSCF3221

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Hopefully you have read my summer holiday special edition and you will recall the beurre blanc sauce we had at a restaurant in Granville.

Now I have always avoided trying to make it myself because all the books and the celeb chefs bang on about how difficult it is and how it is very unstable,  and if it cracks blah de blah.  However having tasted the incredibly buttery, unctious sauce at said restaurant and compared it with the bland commercial stuff we have bought in the past, I decided that I would have a go at making it myself.

Whist on holiday we squandered 4 euros on 2 huge fish which the french call dorade royale and which I think is called john dory or st peters fish, all of which could be wrong because the french have different names for fish and sometimes there is no english equivalent.  these were gutted by my able assistant and wife and cooked on the george.  I looked at an awful lot of recipes but finally went for my hero of fish Sir Rick Stein, yes I know he isnt a Sir but one day.

We had new pots straight out of a neighbours garden, she gave us them ok, we have to go back because she has a ton of blackcurrants and redcurrants which will just rot on the vine otherwise, mmm pretend ribena.

Tinned french peas are not my favourite but that is all we had.  So to the sauce.  I have to say I was a little nervous about this what with all the dire warnings of disaster but in the back of my mind I could hear Rick spurring me on, feel the sauce I heard him say in a obi wan kenobi type voice.

So as there are only 2 of us I did half the recipe, a shallot chopped finely, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of dry white wine, I used chardonnay because we had a drop left in a box.  3 tablespoons of water or fish stock, yeah right like I have fish stock, 2 tablespoons double cream, does not exist in france so left out, 3 ounces of unsalted butter, I used salted.  Put the shallots, white wine, white wine vinegar and water in a small saucepan and heat till boiling than simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated at this point you would add the cream and reduce again, then remove the pan from the heat and whisk the butter in a bit at a time until it is all amalgamated.  Unbelievably it worked, it was perhaps not up to the restaurant standard but it beat the commercial stuff into a cocked hat whatever that means.  It was light and er well buttery with perhaps the shallots being a bit crunchier than they should have been, but hey I loved it and so did my wife.  It melted on the potatoes and added brilliantly to the big white chunky fishes flavour.  So to finish off here is a photo and if you have never made it before I really urge you to give it a try with a decent quality fish.

okay I forgot about the photo until we were half way through, sorry

okay I forgot about the photo until we were half way through, sorry

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The menu

Numériser0001I have a confession to make.  I was not totally accurate in my last blog regarding takeaways, yes my guilty secret is out and it is time to come clean.

Although we are miles from civilisation, the truth is that I perhaps made it sound as though we were living in the back of beyond.  Yes we are surrounded by dairy fields and yes the village about two kilometers away is as deserted as a ghost town, the truth is that we can get takeaway.  There I have said it now, something I totally forgot about when I wrote there are no takeaways.

On thursday nights at the village about 5 minutes drive away from our village, on the church car park there is a pizza van.  And on that thursday we were late coming home and we had nothing ready for dinner so we stopped and bought pizza.  French pizza is different to any pizza I have tried, clearly it is not a pizza hut or a dominoes, for a start it is cooked in a proper wood fired oven, next the selection of toppings is very different to what we are used to, I had bacon which was effectively an all day breakfast, bacon, tomato sauce, mushrooms, cheese and a whole egg in the middle.  Margaret went for Renaise, tomato sauce, cheese, mushrooms and pork  shoulder .  I have scanned the menu for your perusal and if you find yourself in Courcité one thursday night I can certainly recommend treating yourself.

I never used to like the idea of seafood on pizza ,it is on the menu here,  but after trying it out previously I now even make my own.  I do not use tomato sauce, rather I spread creme freche on the top then squid, octopus, prawns, mussels, cheese and oregano.

In fairness we very rarely bother with takeaway, perhaps a sausage in a baguette from the market at Evron or spit roasted quail or rabbit even duck from the market when we are on holiday, otherwise it is all home cooked and some even home grown.

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It is funny how things sometimes pop into your head.  I was trying to think of what to write in my next instalment of living in france and I realised that nothing much had really happened.

Okay I hear you say, great a blog in which nothing happened, that will certainly get your loyal readers rushing to read all about it.  What I mean is that country life I suppose whether in france, the uk or wherever is not for everyone.  We have had rain and storms on and off for the best part of the week including hailstones on Sunday last so there is not a lot to do really.  I have been visiting people in my capacity of computer doctor and Margaret has been teaching.

If you are the kind of person that likes the cinema, takeaways or theatre then our life would probably not be for you.  Having said that we planted our leeks and lettuces from our visit to the market and they are coming along nicely, our gariguette strawberries have kicked in and the raspberries are going to be mega very soon, exciting stuff eh?

It was last evening that I had the thought about whether I missed burger king and pizza hut, cinema and the theatre.  We had dinner out on the patio, I cooked probably the best chilli con carne that I have ever cooked, I pinched a probably too expensive bottle of bordeaux from the cave and we sat in the warmth of the evening with the scent of  honeysuckle wafting in the air, we had strawberries(gariguettes in my opinion the best strawberries you can get) and real vanilla ice cream, coffee and cointreau and dark praline chocolates.

The Mayor drove passed, tooted his horn and waved and I thought to myself this is the life I want.


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