November 29, 2009

BACK TO THE STORY

Time to get back to the story.
The story so far :

By a happy set of coincidences we have found and bought a house in Le Grand-Pressigny. We got the keys on 9th November 2007 and have so far spent just one week there. Now we are back - for Christmas.

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A happy man with his new stove.

Before we left the village in November we had asked Pascal the plumber to fit a pôele - a wood-buring stove - in our big tuffeau fireplace. This was after the disastrous attempt we had had earlier in the week in trying to light a fire.
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We had heard nothing from Pascal or our friends Barrie and Lucie so when we arrived for Christmas at about lunchtime on Saturday 22nd December, we had no idea whether the pôele was fitted or not. To our absolute joy, not only was it fitted but also it had been lit !


Barrie had a key to the house to let Pascal in to do his stuff and, knowing we were arriving that afternoon, he and Lucie had been in to light the fire for us. They also left us some milk in the fridge and some bread on the side in the kitchen. How wonderful was that ?!


We switched on the electricity, turned on the gas and water, switched on all the electric heaters and fitted our newly purchased electric blanket to our bed. We also got the parafin heater going but we could tell it was going to take a long time for the place to warm up. However, it was a lovely sunny day and our little terrace, which faces south, is quite a suntrap. We put a couple of garden chairs outside and sat in the sunshine with a cup of tea. We were wearing several layers of clothes and woolly hats but it was absolute heaven. The view over the rooftops was just as interesting in December now that all the trees were bare, as it was when first saw it in August.

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The view from the garden is always intersting, whatever the weather.

We were expecting our friends Pete and Cyn to arrive later the next day. They were on their way to their house in Cassagne, near Perpignan for Christmas and we planned to cook dinner for them in the evening. They would have to spend the night in the hotel in the village because at that point we were unable to put them up ourselves. We had hardly any furniture, only a table, some garden chairs and our own bed. However, they were likely to be warmer there than at our house!


Pete and Cyn are a challenge to entertain as they are vegetarians. Needless to say, a visit to the butcher in the village was not necessary but we shopped as best we could and waited for them to arrive. Sadly they were badly delayed on the autoroute around Paris because of the Christmas holiday traffic and didn't arrive until well after dark. They were in their huge Toyota vehicle that they call Jasper, which was crammed full of furniture and stuff for their own house.

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We met them in the village square outside the hotel and walked up with them to our little cottage. Cyn was in raptures about how pretty the village was and I had to admit, it looked beautiful with the Christmas lights on and the church lit up. By then it was very cold and frosty and the glorious smell of woodsmoke was all around us.

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Pete looking very mellow in front of our log burning stove.

The little set of steps was used as a makeshift sidetable.


We had a great evening with them, all four of us squeezed around our little garden table on garden chairs in front of our new pôele. We had a veggie pasta dish followed by local goats cheese and a "tarte au mirabelles" from the boulangerie. And of course, lots of Vouvray and Loire valley wine. Looking back, it was very rough and ready, in rather scruffy and makeshift surroundings, but it was a landmark dinner party for us - the first of many in our little cottage - and we were pleased that it was Pete and Cyn who were there to share it with us. Their inspiration and encouragement had helped us enormously in getting to this point.

The fire and all the heaters had been going for a whole day so we were beginning to feel almost warm and possibly even Christmasy. The next day was Christmas Eve was and we were really looking forward to that.

November 25, 2009

ÇA MARCHE !

I have always thought that first impressions are immensely important. It can take an awful lot of hard work to undo a bad impression. The first few moments of anything are the critical ones. From the moment I stepped inside the museum building I was enthralled.
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First of all, we were greeted by a familiar and friendly face. The lady on the reception desk selling tickets and giving information had been our tour guide at the château at Azay le Ferron the previous summer. She was brilliant there. We were pleased to see her here.


Inside, the lighting is good and the colours are soft, making you feel you have entered somewhere special, to be enjoyed and savoured in a leisurely way. There are some display cases on the ground floor and having taken those in we descended the magnificent modern staircase to the lower ground floor. Here there are hundreds of objects on display and some innovative ways of dispensing information.




The whole atmosphere is serene and welcoming. The old features blend superbly well with the new. We struggled a bit with some of the exhibits as everything was in French. We don't have an issue with this ourselves, as we are steadily learning more of the language, but some people have apparently commented that the museum will not appeal to foreign visitors unless everything is at least translated into English as well. There will be some interesting debate on this, no doubt.


I must admit, I personally can't stay absorbed in pre-history for too long as it is not my favourite subject and I have never been one for reading every word in the display cases. Nevertheless I could appreciate what a brilliant job had been done. I was perfectly happy to drift from one display to another, just dipping in here and there to see what was on show.


The general ambience of the place is very comfortable. In one area there was a fascinating video playing, showing exactly how skilled people had to be to in order to make tools from the silex.





We then went back up the beautiful staircase to the upper floor and for me this is where the transformation happened. Here, the modern design of the building all makes sense.


This is a huge open space with exhibits in alcoves and corners here and there. Large windows give light to the space and access to views over the village and the land behind the château. The colours are cool and calm and entice you to linger longer to take it all in and celebrate the heritage of the village and its surroundings. The modern lines and shapes of the interior reflect rather than imitate the old part of the château.



A lovely old doorway leads into a beautifully decorated gallery with more displays which are arranged particularly well for children. In fact I felt that children were very well catered for in the whole place, without detracting from the quality of the experience for serious students, as can often happen.


The first floor is where we found the old pictures of the château and village. Also information about the gruesome discovery of the sarcophagi in the grounds and about various changes to the château and museum in recent years. Apparently a large part of the "donjon" fell down in 1988.


Our tour of the musem over, we descended the stairs back to the ground floor and stepped out into the sunshine. The grey clouds had gone and the late afternoon light was perfect for some more photos and for just leaning over the wall, taking in every detail of the view over the village rooftops.



One of them was ours. I was really proud to be able to say that. We left the château behind and spent the last evening of our holiday packing up and eating up for the journey home the next day. We're just counting the days until our next visit and looking forward to living "au pied de notre château" for a while again.

November 22, 2009

BACK TO THE CHÂTEAU

Having lived in the shadow of the château for almost two years, I was so excited that at last we would be able to see it properly. When we bought our little cottage in November 2007 it had already been closed for some time for building work and refurbishment. The old museum, which was the national centre for Prehistory, was being completely revamped. It was to be a top-notch museum that would potentially bring large numbers of academics and tourists to the village.



There had been several deadlines for the re-opening which came and went. Our neighbour, Mme André, was quite scathing about the modern design, the incompetence of the planners and the amount of money the whole thing was costing. The general feeling amongst the villagers seemed to range from indifference to disgust. If we asked people what they thought some would shrug and mutter something and others could be quite vocal in their disapproval. Very few seemed to like it or were excited about it.



Each time we came to stay in the village, something even more incongruous seemed to have been built onto it. I tried very hard to like it. Nick hated it. I was convinced of the quality of the materials and the design but felt I would eventually get used to it and maybe I would learn to love it because it was "ours".



One of the many reasons for the delay in the re-opening was that during some of the excavation work, some ancient sarcophagi were discovered in the grounds. These had to be dealt with properly by the archeologists and the authorities and that took several months. Apparently the finished project has cost €8,000,000.
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Once I was through the magnificent old doors I was amazed by how beautiful the château was. I had previously only seen old postcards and photos but the reality was so much better than I had expected. Also, the view over the village was wonderful.



We had a lovely day for it, sunny skies and swirling clouds gave a vibrant quality to the colours and a dramatic backdrop to the buildings. I was glad we had missed the heat and the crowds of the opening day in September. Having the place almost to ourselves was just perfect.


We approached the new extension with a certain amount of trepidation. There's no denying it had been built to create an impression. Exactly what impression is very personal and subjective. I was so pleased with what I had seen so far that I couldn't wait to get inside and see what it was all about.

November 21, 2009

LET THEM EAT CAKE !

Every year at about this time we have a cake stall at work and sell home-made cakes for the BBC charity "Children in Need".

Raspberry and banana muffin.
I hadn't tried this recipe before.

Nick works for a large company in premises where there are upwards of 1,500 employees. For years I had been making a chocolate cake for him to take for the cake stall there and it would be sold for £1 a slice.

I'm sometimes a bit concerned about the possibility of wasting ingredients on a new recipe if the cake or buns don't turn out too well.

It was a very easy "all-in-one" chocolate cake recipe from my ancient Homepride Flourgraders recipe book. The book cost 13 shillings and sixpence. I know this because there are coupons in the back where you can send for more copies !

It's always a relief when they turn out just like the picture in the book.

The cake is pretty much idiotproof but always looks great and tastes scrummy. Getting it to work in one piece was the greater challenge as until last year Nick went on his motorcycle, virtually all year round.

One year he handed it over to the lady running the cake stall and someone immediately snaffled the whole cake for the princely sum of £20. Nick's colleagues were somewhat miffed so the next year I sent him with two.



This was another "first time bake"

Blueberry and lemon drizzle cake. It was lovely.

So we decided in our very small company of just five ladies that we ought to have a cake stall too. I don't know why we didn't think of it before. The first time we did it was in 2003 and we made £135. Gradually over the years word has got around and lots of the surrounding small businesses and residents look forward to our cakes arriving. We know this because they tell us so !



This one did not sell so fast. Coffee and walnut cake, cut into squares.

It was light and equally delicious with a crunchy, nutty topping but looked a bit uninteresting alongside some of my colleagues' more elaborately decorated chocolate cakes. I brought the last two bits home to enjoy later with my Dad.

I paid for them, of course.

Last year, when I walked into the office with my cakes I was already surrounded by a sea of cake and other goodies. I thought we'd be dead lucky to shift it all but we did and we made £575. So this year, that was our target to beat.



For the last four years I have made a Nigella Lawson Chocolate Guinness Cake.

It looks superb and tastes divine. The Guinness makes it very dark and not too sweet. The sharpness of the cream cheese topping goes well with it.

The recipe for the cake is here.

We were assisted this time by a couple of volunteers who offered to deliver stuff on foot to the local shops and offices for us AND they baked 50 butterfly buns to add to the stock as well. They did a great job. Our delivery couriers also take away a supply for their colleagues to enjoy.


Personally, I have always loved baking and eating home-made cakes since I was a little girl and would help my mother do the weekly bake on a Saturday afternoon. Her standard recipe book was the Bero Book and sometimes by Wednesday it would all be gone so she would bake some more.

After the first year I bought a cream cakestand in a sale, which sets off the cake perfectly.

By lunchtime there was only one slice left. I had that. I have never managed to get a piece before it all disappeared until now.

Nick is not fond of too much cake so I bake much less often these days. I therefore look forward to the opportuntity to have a proper baking session and try out new recipes once a year, all in a good cause. This year I also made some Christmas earrings to sell at work. You can see them here if you're interested.

Other things on sale were: sausage rolls, numerous fancy chocolate cakes, scones, date and walnut loaves, fruit cakes, coconut and cherry cake, carrot and orange cake, chocolate cheesecake brownies, toffee apple brownies, blackberry and apple crumble cake and of course the 50 butterfly cakes. Curiously, there were no mince pies, which is unusual.

Not all the money is in yet but so far it's looking like we've made well over £600.

UPDATE - On 4th December we banked £640. There's still some trickling in to start us off for next year, too.

November 13, 2009

AU PIED DU CHÂTEAU


Some of the houses that nestle around the château.
(with a pear tree in the foreground)

November 11, 2009

ARCHWAY

A view through the main archway in the château grounds.
More soon.....

November 9, 2009

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW


Just a glimpse of the old and new part of the château.
More soon.................

November 4, 2009

TAKING A BREAK


We're taking a break to get on with important stuff at home. We're having some new windows and some decorating. Most rooms of the house will be affected. Also there's a lot of furniture shifting and tidying up to do before the work can start. I dread this sort of thing but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and get on with it.

(If I could just close my eyes and wake up in about three weeks' time when it's all done......including the cleaning up afterwards.............)

November 2, 2009

LE CHÂTEAU

When we bought our house two years ago, the château in Le Grand-Pressigny was already closed for alterations and building work. During our first few holidays we would awake every morning to the "humm-whirr-clunck" sound of the crane working on the château. (I can hardly believe it's already two years.)



Several deadlines had come and gone but it was finally due to re-open on the 20th September this year. We were most disappointed that this was just after we had spent two weeks in the village on holiday and we would therefore miss the big day.


An old picture of the château and surrounding cottages which is now displayed inside the museum


When we were chez nous in October we planned a visit with Ken and Walt on Tuesday. Then we discovered that Tuesday is the only day of the week that the château is closed.


Another, more recent picture of the château, also displayed in the museum.


So we rearranged the visit for Friday. They arrived at lunchtime, with their dog Callie. We were having such a good time eating, talking and drinking, watching Lulu and Callie playing together that somehow the hours slipped by and we ran out of time to visit the château.


Lulu and Callie had great fun chasing each other around our little terrace and garden.


The next day was Saturday and our last chance to visit before we came back to England. After a good lunch with our friend Barrie at Grand Ma's we wandered up the hill and walked over the bridge and in through the lovely old doors that had been closed to us until now.





All the time we have been in LGP, it has been possible to walk virtually all the way around the outside of the château but not through those doors. We have watched the new buildings gradually go up and were not at all sure that we liked the modern design.

As I walked through the doors into the courtyard I had to stop for a moment to take it all in. I had no idea that it would be so beautiful inside. Previously I had seen old photos and postcards of the grounds taken before the château had been closed but this was so much better than I had expected.




From the château there are wonderful views over the rooftops and I suddenly felt immensely proud and privileged to own a little place in this lovely part of France.



There was hardly anyone else around. I was glad after all that we didn't have to share the experience with the crowds of other people that were there on opening day. For this special moment we had it almost to ourselves.

More soon...............