November 27, 2012

ELEGANT DINING

elegant dining2

Compared with our previous visit, the most obvious difference that we found when we visited Villandry in October was the furniture.  I’m fairly sure that the last time we were there, more than ten years ago, it was virtually empty – that’s what I seem to remember anyway.  Now it is full of elegant and beautiful furniture.

This is one of the things I love most about visiting castles and country houses anywhere, the opportunity to be really nosey, to ogle the furniture and decorations, to thoroughly immerse myself in the ambience and imagine what life was really like for the people who lived there.  That’s not so easy when there is no furniture.

  elegant dining3 elegant dining4

I could just imagine the guests at the dining table, enjoying exquisite food, served by immaculately dressed servants, engaging in polite conversation with each other - the rich and famous of days gone by.

 elegant dining5 elegant dining6

Maybe after lunch or dinner they would retire to a comfortable lounge for more conversation, or maybe a game of cards.  Perhaps listen to someone playing the grand piano.  That’s when they weren’t planning to murder each other or get their friends thrown into jail !!

elegant dining

Ah, what fun it would be to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall in Villandry.  Or even a daddy longlegs on the window pane !!

November 25, 2012

BAKING ALERT!

trifle7

Some of the cakes for sale at our cake stall.

Zig-zagging from left to right you see lemon tarts and almond buns, berry Bakewell cake, the crumble cake, orange and almond cake, coffee cake, porter cake, pumpkin spice cake, sausage rolls, lemon drizzle cake, peanut butter cake, milk chocolate cake, cranberry and orange squares, Viennese mince pies, coffee and walnut cake, and chocolate Guinness cake at the back right corner of the picture.

I recently made a blackberry and apple crumble cake for our Children in Need cake stall at work.  We did really well and raised nearly £800.  That’s about a thousand euros and an awful lot of cake!

blackberry cake1

Click on the picture to enlarge.

This cake was one of the best sellers and you can read all about it here.

November 19, 2012

SHED UPDATE

shed1

Those people who questioned whether all the stuff would fit back in the shed were right – a lot of it went to the tip.  So you could ague that the rat/mole did us a favour – we got the long avoided task of clearing out the shed done at last !!

shed2

Nick nailed a piece of wood over the hole made by our visitor before we put everything back.  Nothing has been caught in the traps but the poison we put down has been taken.  No more droppings or mounds of earth have appeared.  So there’s a chance we have won the first round…..hopefully !!

November 15, 2012

A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS ?

contradiction

Am I being thick (again) or is this dessert a contradiction in terms?

The Speculoos one was my favourite.  Nick preferred the chocolate.

(If you Google translate “ferme et fondant” you get “firm basis”.)

November 12, 2012

DIFFERENCES

6.  CHRISTMAS

When we left home for a fortnight’s holiday in early October, Christmas was beginning to get going in the UK.  As we arrived in France on the 7th October there was absolutely no sign of it.  Nothing at all.  It was such a relief.

christmas1

The first few Christmas cards had appeared in the English shops at the beginning of September and by the end of the month there were piles of the essentials that our citizens need to stock up on early, such as sweets and biscuits.

christmas2

There was no sign at all of anything even vaguely Christmassy in the shops in France by the time we left on 23rd October.  As soon as we had crossed the channel and set foot back in England, it was clear that Christmas was well under way.

christmas3

Now, the second week in November, it is in full swing.  You are greeted with Christmas carols as you enter the shops and shelves have been emptied of the usual stuff to make way for the Christmas stock.  Even perishables are on sale, such as special patés, cheeses and so on.  People are buying them, too, with six weeks to go yet.

Most of the pubs and restaurants have their Christmas trees up and Christmas menus out in order to boost the excitement and promote early bookings for the office and family parties.

People say “are you ready for Christmas” as they meet and “have a good Christmas” as they part.  Yes, believe it or not, I have heard it said, with six weeks to go yet !!

christmas4

I really hate all this – well most of it, anyway.  Christmas in the UK has become a massive retail extravaganza and it is difficult to get away from it.  Soon, it will be hard to find somewhere to have a quiet meal out where you will not be surrounded by cheap tinsel and party-goers determined to get drunk at the boss’s expense.  Even my own employers are planning a “Christmas do” on 25th November this year – a month before Christmas, for goodness sake !!  We have to book it now, before it’s too late and everywhere is booked up, apparently.

 christmas5

When I was a child Christmas didn’t start until well into December, starting with the school play – the year I played Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” was one I will always remember – and the school Christmas party.  Christmas meant carol services at the Church, carol singing around the village, a nice Christmas dinner, playing games with aunts and uncles, and maybe a second helping of Christmas pudding.  I loved baking mince pies and sausage rolls with my mum on Christmas Eve.  There were presents, of course, but nothing like what kids expect to get these days.

Why does Christmas now have to start so soon in England?  Why do we have to endure three solid months of marketing, as retailers fight to outdo each other in the battle to get us to spend our money?

christmas6

In France, things seem to be much more like they were here when Christmas meant something other than just spend, spend, spend.  The rhythm of winter events seems much less distorted - Halloween does not seem to have been taken over by the Trick or Treaters, Christmas starts much nearer to Christmas itself and even the butcher is open as usual for business on Christmas morning.

The year that we bought our house (2007) we were there for the first weekend of November and our French teacher back in England had asked us to do some shopping for her – Christmas cards, special foods and some sweets called papilliotes – little chocolates wrapped in bright papers that look like mini Christmas crackers, and a few other bits and pieces.  We came back with hardly any of it.  The first week of November was way to early to buy anything to do with Christmas in France.  There was next to nothing in the supermarkets and the lady in the maison de la presse in Le Grand-Pressigny obviously thought we were completely mad when, as a last resort, we asked her if she had any Christmas cards.  She told us she would have a look in her attic for last year’s stock and to come back tomorrow !!

I know plenty of people who love all the sparkle and the glitter of Christmas, but I just don’t - I can’t help it.  Or at least, not so much of it, so early.  I’m not overly religious and wouldn’t lecture anyone about the true meaning of Christmas but I can’t help thinking that whatever it used to mean has now been replaced by a purely commercial event.  I do try hard to make it just a family thing but ……

….. if you see a mad woman trudging round the supermarket aisles wearing blinkers and ear defenders, tut-tutting at the magazines proclaiming they will tell you all you need to know about creating “your best Christmas ever”, it will probably be me !!  By the time Christmas actually gets here I am usually rather tired of it, or at least of trying to stay away from it until December !!

November 10, 2012

A FRY-UP, TWO BIRTHDAYS AND UNWELCOME VISITORS.

We have a duo of birthdays this weekend.  My dad on Saturday (84) and Nick on Sunday (58).

mound5

For his Saturday brunch Nick requested a special fry-up.  In the interests of good health the only things we fried were the chestnut mushrooms in a little butter.  The sausages and bacon were grilled and the eggs poached.

mound6

We had halloween sausages and smoked back bacon from the local farm shop.  The bacon was just how it used to be in the olden days – no frothing at all, just sizzle and flavour.  The eggs were poached using my poach pods.  The beans were a Heinz 5-beans mixture and the tomatoes were, I confess, ordinary plum tomatoes.  The bread was a sourdough loaf from the same farm shop and it reminded me of the Pressignoise baguette we get from the boulangerie in Le Grand-Pressigny.

mound1mound2

Our task after brunch was somewhat less agreeable.  We had spotted two mounds of earth right next to the pond in the back garden last weekend, as if some creature had burrowed under the pond lining.  Very strange.

mound3

Another inspection this morning revealed a third mound.  Moles ??

mound4

An inspection of the inside of the shed revealed that some creature, presumably the same one(s), had eaten its way through the back wall to get in and then feasted on bags of wild bird food.  Fresh droppings indicated the presence of rats.  Ugh.

mound7

Did we really get all this stuff out of the shed?

So Nick and I are spending his birthday weekend clearing out the shed, setting traps and putting down poison.  War has been declared !!

November 5, 2012

VILLANDRY

villandry1

Congratulations to all those who correctly identified the gardens and château at Villandry.  Although it was rather easy.  It’s such a beautiful and unique place that you never forget it, even if, like us, it’s years and years since you last went.

villandry2

In fact it must be well over ten years since we last visited Villandry.  That’s the great thing about living in the Loire.  You don’t have to go to all these places every year, or even every ten years.  Just knowing they are on the doorstep is enough.

 villandry3

We spend quite a lot of time sitting on our little terrace, looking over the rooftops of the village, wondering what we shall do today.  Mostly we don’t do much at all, but knowing that we could do so many different things, or visit so many different châteaux if we wanted to, makes us happy.  There are more than a dozen within an hour’s travel from our village.

villandry4

We have driven or ridden past Villandry many times since our previous visit, at least once every holiday.  That means probably a dozen times every year.  We have even stopped a time or two and had a snack or a coffee in one of the little cafés just along the road.  We would watch the hordes and hordes of tourists piling in and think “next time we’re passing, if it’s quiet, we’ll go in”.

 villandry5

Traipsing round anywhere amongst hordes of other tourists doesn’t appeal to either of us, though.  But in early October, midweek, at ten in the morning on a dull day when it’s threatening rain, is a perfect time to go.  This is what we discovered last month.  There were only a handful of other visitors so a lot of the time we had the place almost to ourselves.

 villandry6 villandry7

At home in Derbyshire we live only ten miles or so from Chatsworth.  We ride past many times every year, at all times of year, and marvel at how beautiful it is in all seasons.  But at weekends it is heaving with visitors so it must be at least twenty years since I walked around the gardens and possibly thirty since I went into the house.  Nick has never been inside at all.  But knowing it is there, if we wanted to go in, is perfect.

 villandry8

We did feel slightly smug about living just down the road from Villandry.  Of the few people that were there it was obvious that most of them were a very long way from home; Chinese, Italians, Americans.  I often think of friends of mine who lived in York and back in the 80’s they used to wear badges on their lapels that proclaimed “I’m not a tourist, I live here!”.  A lot of these people had had to go to an awful lot of trouble to be walking around the gardens at Villandry, whereas we had just left home an hour before.

We spent a good hour or so wandering around the gardens, and nearly as long indoors, taking lots and lots of photos.  Plenty for another couple of posts, in fact !!

 villandry9

November 2, 2012

A PUZZLE FOR THE WEEKEND

We have done more sight-seeing than usual this year.  Maybe it has something to do with the weather.  We have revisited places that we explored many years ago, and also some that were new to us.

 mystery 2 mystery 3 mystery 1

 mystery 5 mystery 6 mystery 7

All of these pictures were taken at the same place.  Any idea where it is ??

Bon weekend !!

November 1, 2012

HANGING ON

hollyhocks

I took this picture of hollyhocks in Le Grand-Pressigny on 22nd October.

Although the weather was not very good when we were there, it was fairly mild and it was good to see a little bit of summer hanging on.  Nearly two weeks later, I wonder if they’re still there.