December 25, 2009

A WHITE CHRISTMAS !!

Happy Christmas everyone


Gotta go out now and play snowballs.
It's a white Chritmas so let's make the most of it.


December 22, 2009

BOXING DAY SPECIAL

On Boxing Day 2007 we were surprised to find everything pretty much back to normal. In France, that is. In England we would have been into round two of the Christmas eating marathon, with visits to relatives and an attempt to wade through the mountain of food purchased for the two-day holiday.


In Le Grand-Pressigny all the shops seemed to be open as usual, as if nothing had happened. It just seemed to be a normal Wednesday. This was lucky for us. We had plenty to do and were keen to make a start. So we set off on one of many pilgrimages to Leroy Merlin at Tours. For those who don't know, Leroy Merlin is a cross between a DIY shop, builder's merchant and interior design shop all rolled into one. Like a mixture of B&Q, Wickes and John Lewis all under one roof. They sell everything for the home from cushions to drainpipes.


Lots of people had told us that French paint was rubbish. But I was getting really fed up with the colour of the doors and desperately wanted to paint some. They all seemed to have been painted in a thin, lifeless, matt brown or grey paint. They were horrible. On some the paint was wearing off to reveal bare and grubby wood underneath. There was nothing attractive or charming about the effect. It was just cheap and gruesome. In fact I got the impression the internal doors were probably secondhand when they were fitted, judging by their battle scars. They were all very dirty and scratched and looked as though they had only ever been painted once, long before they arrived in our house. The door you see here is to the bathroom - with clear glass panes in it ! This was fairly typical of the "make do and mend" approach to decor that we had seen so often when house-hunting in France. Why lash out on a proper door for the bathroom when a cheap secondhand one would do and modesty could be preserved by a piece of cheap cotton fabric hung inside the door ?

In Leroy Merlin we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of paint for sale. In fact the whole store was pretty amazing. We spent a small fortune on bits and pieces and I bought a tin of orange paint. I was desperate to cheer up at least one door. Painting it orange made me feel like a teenager again !



It had been many years since I had used runny gloss paint and I have to admit, the further down the door you look, the worse the finish. This could be because I started at the top in daylight and finished at the bottom after dinner in the evening when a couple of glasses of wine had been consumed !! Still, it was my door and I could paint it however I liked. Some of our visitors were not too impressed. Lucie's reaction was to say "what colour's going on there, then?" To which I answered "the colour that's on now - orange !"


Over the next couple of days we had eliminated a lot of the grotty brown paint by undercoating much of it in white. That was already a great improvement. I also got the kitchen walls painted in an off-white. This brightened the place up no end and covered up many of the DIY bodging scars that were everywhere.



By the end of the week we definitley felt we were making progress. But in reality we had hardly scratched the surface - literally !

December 21, 2009

SNOW !!

With all this talk of snow I thought you might like to see what we have here in our little corner of Derbyshire. The snow has fallen on and off for a few days, most of it yesterday, and we have about 3-4" (8-10 cm).



The view from the front of the house.

Very Christmassy, n'est-ce pas ?



The view from the back of the house. Notice the pheasant looking for seeds that might have fallen from our bird-feeders. Our highest pheasant count so far is 6 females and 2 males, including a melanistic pheasant. They presumably nest in the woods not far from our house but come to feed in our garden and drink in our pond.

December 20, 2009

THE SHORTEST DAY

21st December is the shortest day and aren't we glad about that. Although the worst of the weather is probably yet to come, at least the days are supposed to be getting longer. Officially anyway.
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This is a picture of my parents on their wedding day in April 1950. It should be subtitled "country girl marries handsome sailor".


My mother died on the shortest day in 2002, suddenly, unexpectedly and without warning. She suffered a type of aneurism that meant that within moments of feeling unwell she was gone. What a great way to die. It certainly threw us into a spin that year and Christmas was a bit strange to say the least.




The wierd thing is, she brought up the subject of her own funeral with my Dad less than 48 hours before her death. How could she have known ?


She was the youngest of 8 children including 4 half-brothers and sisters. She had a wicked sense of humour and was an expert at getting her own back. She definitely had the last laugh on all of us. She wanted her ashes to be scattered on Marazion beach in Cornwall, opposite St Michael's Mount. Naturally, she had her wish, bless her. We all miss her. After all, you only have one mum.
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December 11, 2009

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

Back to the story again.


Pete and Cyn joined us for breakfast on Christmas Eve 2007. They had spent a very comfortable night in the hotel, much more comfortable than we could have offered them chez nous. On account of us having little furniture, no spare bed and the house only just beginning to warm up.





The boulangerie is literally a two-minute walk away and we were there early to make sure they hadn't run out of croissants, as they sometimes do. After breakfast, Cyn being Cyn, having the benefit of daylight, she spent a happy hour touring the house (all four rooms!) and making suggestions on interior design and decoration. Two years later, it's amazing how many of them we have actually put in place. They then set off on their long trip to Perpignan and we carried on with our plans for our own Christmas.


We purchased a chicken for our Christmas dinner from the butcher in the village. Nick was dying to use the rotisserie in our new oven. Must be a man thing. Then we went further afield to stock up on other essential goodies (wine, cheese, smoked salmon, more draught excluders and paraffin). Christmas shopping now done, we would soon be beginning the DIY and decorating.




We had brought with us some flat-pack bedroom furniture as a temporary measure, thinking it would be fine for the guest bedroom once we had bought some proper furniture for our room. Nick spent a happy Christmas morning assembling it and we were very pleased with the result. The bedroom was beginning to look much more comfortable and cosy.



Our tradition is to have a light lunch on Christmas Day and our Christmas dinner in the evening. For lunch we had our usual scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a glass of champagne. Except that this year we had Vouvray, of course. After lunch we always go for a walk so we wrapped up well and went out to do a bit of exploring around the village. It was bitterly cold.


We were fascinated by the building work happening around the château. There was a poster suggesting that the work would be finished and the château would be reopening in 2008.


It was too cold to stay out for long. It was one of those damp, dull winter days, with no breeze to shift the freezing mist and where the cold gets into your very bones. We didn't come across even one other person on our walk.
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However, the village shops had been open in the morning. Before lunch the butcher, baker, Spa shop, newsagent and florist were all open on Christmas morning, just as Barrie and Lucie had said they would. (We didn't really believe them but they were right.) The place had been buzzing. Now it was deserted. Only we Brits were daft enough to be taking exercise when everyone else was tucked up nice and warm in front of the fire. And TV, I suspect. We didn't have one.




We had a proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Nick delighted in cooking the chicken on the rotisserie. We also had roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing, bacon-wrapped chipolatas, real gravy and bread sauce. As an experiment we cooked the sprouts on top of the log burner - brought the pan of water to the boil on the cooker then just placed it on top of the stove where it continued to simmer beautifully. We did the same with the Christmas pudding. Not having the luxury of a microwave oven, it was on there for hours but it cooked perfectly. The little garden table was overflowing with all the food.

We exchanged little in the way of presents. After all, we were already enjoying the best Christmas present anyone could ever have - our own little house in France.


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At the time, I had no intention of starting a blog. I had no idea what a blog was. Hence the lack of photos of our Christmas dinner !!

December 8, 2009

A TALE OF TWO TATINS - part two

Once back in the UK , we decided to look for a skillet. There were plenty available on the internet but they were quite expensive. There were one or two a bit cheaper but in the past I have found that if something is significantly cheaper than what seems to be a regular price then it probably isn't any good.


In a local cookwear shop I found two sizes of something called a skillet but which actually looked like an ordinary frying pan. It said in the instructions that it was oven-proof to 200°C. Somehow I didn't fancy putting something with a long plastic-coated handle in the oven, regardless of what it said on the box.




Then, our old reliable friend, John Lewis came to the rescue. Nick found this tarte tatin dish for £12. It was like a slightly deeper than normal cake tin with a large lip to get hold of and it was quite heavy. It looked just perfect for the job. Obviously.

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I found a recipe in one of my favourite cookbooks, "The French Kitchen" by Joanne Harris.



The method in this recipe was to melt the butter and sugar in the pan (tatin dish) before the fruit is added.




Just like the previous attempt, after the suggested 15 minutes cooking time it didn't seem to have caramelised much so I gave it another 15 minutes.



Then I put the pastry on top. The recipe said to "tuck the edges in". I wasn't sure what that meant so it looked like this. BUT I forgot that a thick heavy pan keeps its heat much longer than a thin cake tin and managed to get a burn on my finger when doing the tucking in. I shall remember next time.


The frustrating thing about cooking a tatin is that you can only see how the bottom is cooking because the bottom is on the top. You have no idea what the top looks like by peering through the oven door because it is underneath. If you see what I mean.

I cooked it for the suggested 40 minutes, which seemed like an awfully long time for what is essentially fruit tart and where there is no way of telling whether it is done or burnt or what.



ET VOILÀ.

I was very pleased with it. Except that the apples shrunk quite a bit so I might use different apples, or more apples, or just bigger chunks next time. The recipe used eating apples but I might see what happens if I use our old favourite, the Bramley.


I was also rather chuffed with the glass cake plate. £2 from a local charity shop and just the right size !




As usual, I made some mince pies for my Dad from the pastry trimmings. The mincemeat was home-made too, although not by me.

December 6, 2009

A TALE OF TWO TATINS - part one

Just before we went to Le Grand-Pressigny for our holiday in October, there had been much blogging about tarte tatin. I was dying to have a go.




We have no internet access in France and I couldn't remember any detail from the blogs but we had three recipe books in the cottage. We seemed to have a bit of a problem with equipment. All three gave slightly different instructions but all required something called a skillet. This appeared to be some kind of frying pan but we didn't have one. And we couldn't find one for sale anywhere locally.




The recipe I decided to use said to arrange the apple pieces in the skillet and put sugar and knobs of butter on top, then cook to caramelise the apples. This wasn't quite how I remembered it from the blog. However, in order to do this we bought a fairly sturdy cake tin from the supermarket that looked as though it would stand up to heating on top of the stove.




I cooked it for the suggested time but it didn't look very caramelised to me so I cooked it for a bit longer. I used the electric plate on the hob, not one of the three gas rings, as it was possible to control the heat better for gentle cooking (or so I thought). The next step was to put the pastry on the top, prick it and bake in the oven. I bought ready-made pastry and a rolling pin. Then I discovered it was ready-rolled as well. Still, the rolling pin will no doubt come in handy another time !



When it came out of the oven it looked promising but I was really disappointed when I turned it out. Half of it was darkly caramelised exactly the way I don't like it. Luckily the other half was just perfect - due no doubt to the uneven cooking characteristics of the cheapest oven we could get when we equipped the kitchen two years ago.


In any case, Nick and Barrie, our dinner guest that evening, loved it. They ate the blackened bits and I ate the lighter bits. Those bits tasted lovely. What didn't get eaten was taken away by Barrie for later.

Not satisfied with my first attempt, I was determined to have another go...............