May 30, 2012

EATING OUT

gerbe d'or

Soon we will be meeting our blog friend Martine for lunch at this restaurant in Loches – La Gerbe d’Or.

I am really looking forward to it.  For one thing I have been trying to get to meet with Martine on one of her visits to the Loire for quite some time and so far we have always missed each other.

For another thing, we love eating out !!  We have eaten at this restaurant only once before and it was very good and a sensible price.  We have several friends who eat there so often that it is almost their local but until last summer we somehow never got around to it.

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There is a nice little area for eating outdoors but on the day we visited last summer it was so hot that we decided to stay indoors, hoping it might be cooler, which it was.

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The interior is cool and stylish, with lovely oak beams.

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Nick and I both opted for the full three courses.  I had a country terrine for starters, monkfish for main course and a chocolate dessert – fondant au chocolat – one of my favourites.

The meal was memorable, not only for the quality of the food but also for the fact that it was our last lunch out at the end of two weeks of heavenly weather and tranquillity last summer, a treat before we got back to reality and the helter-skelter lives we seem to lead at home.

Martine has enquired if our dog Lulu will be coming with us.  Most restaurants in France accept dogs and we often see them, lying quietly under the table at their owners’ feet, occasional little titbits being passed under the table.  Frequently we will have no idea a dog is there until its owners get up to leave after their meal.  That’s how well behaved they usually are.

We only tried it once with Lulu.  She was, I admit, very young, less than one year old in fact.  We arrived early at our chosen restaurant – chosen because it seemed to be completely empty.  Two ladies then became seated at the table opposite and decided to make friends with Lulu.  They started offering her little titbits from their plate and all went well for a while.  The trouble started when they decided enough was enough and they wanted to keep it all for themselves.  Standard poodles are unfortunately tall enough for their noses to be at table height when they are sitting and they are too large to fit under the table !!

We think we might have another little practice before we take the plunge and take her to lunch with us again !!

May 21, 2012

AFTER THE TULIPS

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Lunch in the sunshine on our little terrace in early April.

I love the way you can plot the progress of the year through the appearance of flowers.

Snowdrops come first in the year.  I’m not that fond of snowdrops.  They are pretty and cheerful but they only come when we are still in the throes of winter and the worst is not yet over.

tulips1 Tulips in our little garden.

Next come the daffodils.  I love daffodils.  I sometimes cheat and buy them in the shops in January, just to kid myself that spring is not far off.  But when I see them in our garden and by the roadsides it really cheers me up.  When the daffodils are here you know that spring is definitely just around the corner.

We usually make our first trip to France at Easter and by then we have missed most of the daffodils. 

tulips2 Tulips past their best.  Tulips fade and die so beautifully I think.

My favourite flower of all is the tulip.  They come in such a myriad of colours, shapes and sizes and, with their stems pointing straight and skywards, it is as if they are shouting out :  look at me, spring is here !!  When the tulips arrive in our garden we know the winter is definitely over.

tulips3 Tulips in the courtyard.

Alex and Nicole do a fantastic job of looking after our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny while we’re not there.  They keep an eye on the place, solve any problems such as the burst pipes we had last winter, arrange for work to be done such as sweeping the chimney and, most of all they keep the garden in great shape.

tulips4 Tulips of all shapes, colours and sizes.

They get the house ready for our arrival and it’s such a joy to hop out of the car, turn the key in the lock, find all the shutters open and sun streaming into the house, put the kettle on and step out onto the terrace.  Then, if we are lucky with the weather, we sit out with a cup of tea and think “at last, we’re here again”, and see what has come up in the garden since we were last there.  It usually takes a couple of chimes of the church bells before we can tear ourselves away from the view over the rooftops and start to settle in.

tulips5 A pot of smiley pansies.  Very pretty and an all-year-round delight.

We also enjoy doing a bit of gardening ourselves when we are chez nous.  Planting up our patio pots and moving things around to the position they look their best is so relaxing and enjoyable – not like the crisis gardening we do at home – which often seems to be a race against time and a battle with the weather.

tulips6 Lilacs blooming near the château.

And of course it’s fascinating to see what flowers are in bloom around the village.  It’s amazing how much things can change in a few short weeks between our visits. 

tulips7  Lulu’s close encounter with a prickly new friend.

Lulu, on the other hand, probably doesn’t notice the tulips but looks forward to the variety of different animals that appear each visit.  Chasing lizards is a favourite summer pastime but of course they were not out and about much at Easter.  

One night she became very excited when we strolled up to the château for her bedtime “constitutional”.  The cause of the excitement was a hedgehog in the courtyard.  He was there several nights in a row – I’m absolutely sure she will remember the minute she jumps out of the car when we arrive and start searching for him. 

Tulips and hedgehogs.  I wonder what we will find next time.  Only five more sleeps…….

May 19, 2012

BEASTLY WEATHER

beastly weather

This photo was taken on 11th March, ten weeks ago.  It was a Sunday, it was 21°C and we had lunch outdoors.  In Derbyshire. 

We had a couple of nice weeks of incredibly warm weather in March.  Since then the weather has been very disappointing.

Today as I drove to work (19th May) it was 6.5°C, grey and raining.  Beastly weather.  I try not to get too depressed when I think that the longest day is in about 4 weeks’ time.  The latest in the year that I personally recall having snow was on 5th June, although I can’t remember exactly which year – some time in the 80’s I think.

I heard on the radio yesterday that the hottest summer on record in the UK was in 1976 – I remember it well – and that year it snowed on 1st June in the north of England.  So there’s always hope.

I hope it’s a bit warmer and sunnier where you are this weekend.

Bon weekend !!

May 16, 2012

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FURRY AND FEATHERY KIND.

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When we were in Le Grand-Pressigny at Easter, Nick had to visit the insurance office in Descartes – a challenge for his French language skills but he was determined to manage by himself – so Lulu and I went to the park for a walk.

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There is a little zoo in the park.  We have looked around there before and in summer the animals are often sheltering from the sun in their little huts so we don’t see them.  Equally in winter they are indoors keeping warm so we still don’t see them.

This day, Good Friday, was a lovely warm spring day and they were all out enjoying the sunshine.  Amongst the various animals there were some very cute baby goats.

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Lulu was very interested in the baby goats.  I guess they were of a similar size to her and she pressed her nose through the wire fence to say hello.  I wondered if she thought they were some kind of dog – she had never seen a goat before, not to my knowledge anyway !!

Next thing – THWACK !! – mother goat hurled herself at the fence to head-butt us !!

She was obviously not too keen on this strange poodle creature getting close to her babies.  I was very glad the fence was between us.  Having several kilos of goat thumping against me or Lulu would have hurt a lot I think.  Mother goat bounced off the fence then decided to have another go !!

close encounters4 After that Lulu kept her distance from the fence as we strolled around to see who was out and about.

close encounters5 This bush with legs turned out to be a sheep.

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Some of the animals were tall and handsome.

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Others were small and …. bushlike.

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The chickens were magnificent.  Click to enlarge.

May 9, 2012

BUSY LITTLE BEE

busy bee1One day during our Easter holiday, we were sitting on our little terrace in the sunshine enjoying a piece of cake and a cuppa with our friends Tim and Pauline, when I noticed something unusual going on behind me.

busy bee2I saw the rear end of a bee, as it reversed out of a hole in our window frame.  Then it flew off.

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Moments later it returned and then flew out head first.  Which means it must have gone in backwards, I suppose.

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Closer inspection revealed that the bee was filling the hole up with deposits of a sandy-looking substance.

Tim and Pauline then told us it was a mason bee.

busy bee5By the next afternoon, the hole was completely closed up.  According to Wikipedia , there should now be a stash of nectar or pollen in the hole, with an egg laid on top.

It will be interesting to see if the plug is still there in the hole when we are next chez nous, or if other holes have been adopted and become the homes of little baby mason bees.

May 2, 2012

DIFFERENCES

menu

The lunch menu at the Auberge du Val de Vienne, Sazilly. 

5.  Food and wine.

I am not of the opinion that the UK is the gastronomic wasteland that some people would say it is.

Quite the contrary, in fact.  There are lots of excellent restaurants and pubs within a one hour drive of our home in Derbyshire where you can eat really well.  You can get traditional English meals and food based on the cooking from all over the world.  Most of it is either good or very good.  Sadly there is also a lot of junk food, fast food and places selling soggy cabbage and tasteless carrots to go with the “two eat for ten pounds” specials – we avoid all those !!

lunch menu2 My dessert in Sazilly.

The price of eating out in the UK is very similar to in France, I think.  You can choose to eat cheaply or splash out on something a bit special and the cost is comparable.  The difference is often in the wine list.  You would be hard pressed to find affordable good French wine in many UK restaurants but you would find plenty of new world wines on offer.

The cost of food shopping is probably also similar.  The difference I notice (or think I notice) is that in the UK you will find aisles and aisles of supermarket shelves devoted to junk food or ready-meals, and very little local produce.  My impression is that in France it is the reverse.

Maybe I’m wrong, but in France I think I see more small independent shops selling locally produced meat and veg – and largely produce that is in season.  The markets are an absolute joy to behold.  In the UK you can get anything you want at any time of year - food that has often been transported half way round the world, but if you want good local produce you have to seek it out and often pay a premium for it.

lunch menu3 Nick’s starter in Pouzay.

Cooking and eating at home seem to be different, too.  My impression is that mealtimes are still important to the French whereas in the UK a higher proportion of families eat ready meals and junk food, which is all very odd when you consider how many cookery programmes there are on UK TV.  English families no longer seem to sit down to eat together but feed in relays, to fit in with all their other activities, as if food is no longer a priority.

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Shopping for Chinon wines. (Click to enlarge!)

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When it comes to wine, what can I say?  Within an hour’s drive of Le Grand-Pressigny we can visit scores of vineyards and taste the wines before buying.  It’s absolutely glorious.  In Derbyshire there is nothing like that at all.  Unless you like real ale.  If you are very lucky a pub landlord will give you a little taste in a small glass of a beer you might like to try – if you wanted to try two or three, he would probably think you were taking the mickey.

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A vineyard at Panzoult.

Eating in France is for us still an ongoing adventure. We enjoy food shopping and cooking for ourselves as much as we enjoy eating out. I dare say that one day I might miss the opportunity to nip out for a curry, an Italian or a Chinese meal - but I can live without an all-day breakfast at 4o’clock in the afternoon and wouldn’t miss McDonalds at all !!