January 30, 2011

SILEX, SILEX EVERYWHERE

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Silex is flint. Prehistoric man used it to make tools and weapons and in Le Grand-Pressigny there are tons of it everywhere.

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The fields are full of it and it has been used in the construction of lots of the buildings, including the château and our little house.

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Here it is, forming part of our old walls.

It is incredibly hard and it makes fixing anything to the walls extremely difficult.

 

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There is plenty of it in the walls of the château.

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And in numerous other walls around the village, especially near the château.

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This house on Grande Rue has arrowheads as decoration by the front door.

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We have spent hours scouring the fields for anything that looks like it might be an arrowhead, or something interesting. Apparently it is actually an offence if you don’t declare any significant findings to the authorities.

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So far we have not been lucky. And there’s such a lot of ground to cover.

 

We keep looking, though. There are often lots of interesting shapes to be found.silex10

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We got really excited when we found this.

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But we have come to the conclusion that centuries of farming must surely have turned up everything really important by now, so the best place to see an arrowhead, and the way they are made and everything you could possibly want to know about them is in our very own museum.

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January 26, 2011

MY FIRST BROWNIES

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A new face has appeared on BBC TV with a cookery programme.

Lorraine Pascale is a trained pastry chef and is setting about telling us how easy baking is – well she would, wouldn’t she !! If you see anything done by an expert it always looks easy.

Anyway, I liked the look of some of her recipes so I lashed out on the book that goes with the programme and decided to have a go.

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I have never made brownies before and thought Lorraine’s recipe looked unusual so this is what I made :

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Cookies and cream fudge brownies

The recipe uses lots of eggs, sugar, surprisingly little flour, chocolate and something I had never come across before, Oreo biscuits.

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As it happens, I picked up the ones with the chocolate cream filling rather than the white filling by mistake, not realising there were two types.

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You have to break the biscuits into pieces, mix some into the batter then sprinkle the rest on top before putting it into the oven.

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I was a bit concerned that the ones on top would bake dry and become too crunchy, but they didn’t.

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Et voilà. My very first brownies, looking exactly like the ones on the telly and the picture in the book.

They were delicious and definitely very easy.

If you want to see the full recipe, click here.

January 23, 2011

BARKING MAD

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Soon after we arrived at our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny on Boxing Day, we heard a dog barking that seemed pretty close by.

It was beginning to get dark and we were busy unpacking, getting the fire going and generally settling in so we didn’t pay too much attention. However, later in the evening we realised that the barking was still happening and was definitely very close. In fact the dog was still barking at 10 pm.

The next morning all was quiet but by 11 am the barking had started again. We soon worked out that a dog was running to and fro, along the path between us and our nearest neighbours up the steep hill, which meant it was on a level with our bedrooms.

I spoke to Mme André about it and she was obviously annoyed and upset. Apparently the dog was with a visitor to the neighbours behind our house and the dog was simply left outside all the time.

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The lady who lives in the house above ours was also upset – the dog would have been within a few feet of her house and therefore quite a nuisance. The three of us talked and she said it was supposedly there for the weekend but so far had stayed for a week.

It was annoying and unsettling. How could anyone be so inconsiderate as to leave a dog to run up and down a pathway, barking loudly all day causing a huge nuisance to their neighbours? And what about the poor dog? It was there pretty much constantly from late morning (presumably when its owner got out of bed) until gone 10 pm at night even though it was well below freezing. It barked every time there was any movement on the street or outside the house and continued barking after dark into thin air. The poor thing must have been frozen stiff and bored out of its mind.

It went on like this the whole week we were there. I was concerned that it might be a permanent fixture but Mme André assured me it was a visitor “from Paris” – something always said with a knowing look, as if people from Paris are expected to behave differently, like aliens.

We began to almost get used to it. Then every time I thought I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had gone home, back to Paris, it would re-appear. When I got close enough to have a proper look it turned out to be a beautiful German shepherd with a lovely coat and didn’t look at all scruffy and neglected, which is what I expected. Once, I started talking to it, in English of course, explaining that it was such a shame that it was left outside to freeze when its owner was probably inside no doubt enjoying warmth and hospitality. At that point a man’s gruff voice called the dog away; presumably the owner. Interesting – I wondered if he spoke English too.

The next day, the dog was gone, thank goodness.

January 17, 2011

MORE HOLIDAY COOKING

After all the rich and fancy food of Christmas and New Year what I really wanted was some simple, everyday, comfort food. So I decided to make

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Macaroni cheese “à la maison”

What you do is this:

Put about 200 gm of macaroni on to boil.

Whilst it’s cooking, fry a small pack of lardons or bits of bacon until cooked and slightly crispy.

Make about 3/4 of a pint (425ml) of white sauce using Delia Smith’s excellent all-in-one method that involves putting a large knob (40g) of butter, about a tablespoonful (20g) of plain flour and the cold milk in a saucepan all together, then heating gently whilst stirring with a whisk for about 5 minutes. This makes great sauce every time without fail and without the need to make a roux and add the milk at a later stage – the traditional method but always bound to produce lots of lumps in my experience.

You can see Delia’s instructions for yourself here.

Put in as much grated cheese such as emmental or cheddar as you like to make the sauce cheesy enough for you, plus salt and pepper.

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Stir the lardons into the drained macaroni and tip the mixture into an ovenproof dish. Pour the sauce on top. Sprinkle some extra grated cheese on top of that and place a few slices of tomato artistically to decorate if you feel like it.

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Bake at about 180°C for 20 minutes or until the macaroni cheese is golden and bubbling.

Serves two hungry people or possibly four if feeling virtuous. Enjoy !!

January 12, 2011

THE PET PASSPORT

Being able to take our dog Lulu with us to France has made our holidays there so much more enjoyable.

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For years we were put off taking a dog abroad because lots of people told us it was a huge palaver and very complicated.

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Year after year we put our dog in boarding kennels for one or two weeks while we went on holiday. This was very expensive and always slightly worrying, wondering what condition he or she would be in when we collected them back again when we got home. It was also a lot of trouble because we had to make sure the dog had its annual inoculations to comply with the kennel’s requirements before they would accept the dog. And often, having to take and collect the dog during “office” hours meant they would be in the kennels for two nights more than the duration of our holiday and me having to rush round in my lunch hour or take time off work to do the running around.

Obviously, in the days when we travelled on holiday by motorcycle we had no choice – although we have frequently seen little dogs perched in baskets on the handlebars of a Harley-Davidson or in a pillion’s rucksack. Okay if the journey was only a few kilometres but not really a serious solution for a major tour of France !!

In 2007 we had were badly let down by our usual boarding kennels when we left our previous poodle, Dusty in their care. You can read more about that here. After that we decided to look into it properly and got Dusty her pet passport. We discovered that the whole process is not really a great deal of trouble at all.

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The process is as follows.

The dog has to be microchipped. This is something many dog owners would choose to have done anyway as it makes the recovery of a lost or stolen dog more likely.

The dog is given a rabies vaccination and then a blood test exactly one month later to establish that the treatment has worked. If it’s positive, a passport is issued and the dog can make its first trip abroad six months after that. To be absolutely correct, the dog can travel out of the UK at any time but cannot make it's first re-entry into the UK until six months after the blood test has proved positive.

Getting into Europe is straightforward as there are no restrictions on taking a pet out of the UK, only on bringing them back in. No checks are made at the port on the way out. Usually you pay a small supplement for your ticket, presumably because of the cost of the administration and infrastructure required for the return journey. Curiously, the ticket allows for the transport of one dog, cat or ferret. I have yet to meet anyone who has taken their ferret to France !!

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The only part of the process that requires a bit of organisation, is that between 24 and 48 hours before boarding the ferry or train back to the UK, the dog has to be seen by a vet in France who will administer an anti-tick treatment (usually Frontline) and a worm tablet, ascertain that the dog is fit to travel, then sign and date the passport. On arrival at Eurotunnel (we have never taken our dog on a ferry) there is a separate check-in station where the dog’s identity and the vet’s entries in the passport are checked. This takes all of five minutes then away you go, back to the normal check-in process to board the train.

Obviously there are times when things can go wrong, usually because travel plans change or the journey back to the port takes longer than planned, maybe because of a break-down, traffic jam or similar. Then you arrive at the port to find the time-slot for taking your pet back to the UK has expired and you have to delay your crossing by another day to see a vet at the port to comply with the regulations. But on the whole, it works perfectly for most people most of the time and it’s a great deal cheaper and less worrying than using boarding kennels at home.

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Plus the fact that we have Lulu with us to entertain us and keep us busy, which is a complete joy and absolutely priceless. The only trouble it takes is remembering to book a five-minute appointment with our vet in Preuilly-sur-Claise on the right day before we come home.

You can read the official version on the Government website here.

January 9, 2011

WINTER TREES

I passed through L’Isle Bouchard recently and noticed that the river was very full and in fact seemed to have broken its banks. Between the two rows of trees there is usually a very nice pathway that we have walked often in the summer. Usually for Nick to spot the fishing potential on the river.

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In this last picture the little dots are mistletoe. For years I thought they were birds nests but once when I got close enough I was able to see that the dots are masses of little branches of the mistletoe plant. It's a fascinating plant. According to what I heard on the Archers this week the Druids believed it had mystical properties. (Never believe anything you read in the newspapers or hear on the Archers !!)

January 4, 2011

HOLIDAY COOKING

During 2010 I wrote about Susan’s very easy clafoutis recipe. I have made it many times using the original cherries and also plums and apricots.

At the time fellow blogger Mad left a comment saying she had made clafoutis using prunes soaked in brandy.

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That sounded like an awfully good idea so when we were chez nous after Christmas I decided to have a go. I bought some beautiful Agen prunes from the Spa shop in Le Grand-Pressigny and fished the half bottle of brandy from the back of the kitchen cupboard.

Stoning the prunes proved to be a fiddly, sticky and messy job. At first the stones I removed had most of the flesh of the prunes still attached to them and a lot of the rest of it was all over my hands and stuck to my sleeves. After a bit of practice I found a technique that succeeded in removing the stone and leaving most of the precious prunes intact. Agen prunes are quite expensive so not to be wasted if possible.

The technique is to hold the prune with its flatter sides between finger and thumb then cut into it with a sharp knife down to the stone, run the knife all around the edge of the stone then flip the prune open and if you’re very lucky the stone comes out clean (ish).

I then soaked them in about two tablespoons of brandy for a couple of hours.

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I made the batter using Susan’s recipe but then used one large dish instead of a number of ramekins. I put the fruit in the dish, poured the batter over and sprinkled a few sliced almonds on top, just because I spotted them in the cupboard too.

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I baked it for 40 minutes and it turned out looking rather good. I served it warm with some single cream. It tasted lovely, even though I say so myself, but the credit must go to my blog friend Mad for the idea.

We had the left-overs a couple of days later, cut into bite-sized pieces and served cold with apéros. They were just as good then. Definitely a recipe idea to keep. Thanks, Mad !!