January 31, 2013

GIFTS OF FOOD AND RAREBREED TOMATO SOUP

One of the things we really love about our “other life” in France – for that’s how I now think of it, our life in the UK and a completely different life in France – is the generosity of our friends and neighbours.

gifts1A basket of salad appeared on our doorstep within minutes of us arriving at our little house last Easter. 

We have great friends in Derbyshire of course and I would never dream of suggesting they are not generous, because they are but – I don’t think I have ever opened my front door to find a bunch of flowers or basket of green salad on the doorstep.  It happens all the time in France.

gifts2 This collection of goodies was a gift from Nicole, waiting for us when we arrived in October.

It seems that a lot more people grow their own food and flowers, or have their own chickens, and when there is a surplus they are happy to give it away.

Mme André is a regular visitor to our doorstep.  Sometimes when we are in we might hear a little tap, tap, at the door and open it to find a huge bunch of roses from her garden, or a couple of kilos of haricots verts, in one of her collection of old baskets, most of which belonged to her mother and must therefore be getting on for a hundred years old.  She keeps them hanging from the beams in her grange. 

gifts3 Mme André left these tomatoes in a bag, hanging from our doorknob one day when we were out.

Our friend Barrie once joked about the concept of the same tomatoes doing the rounds – it is difficult to come away from anybody’s house without an armful of gorgeous, ripe, juicy tomatoes when they are in season, and if you can’t use them yourself the obvious thing to do is pass them on to someone else!

We have noticed how much longer the growing season is in the Loire – salad and vegetables appear much earlier in the year than the ones we grow at home, and other fruits and veg are still going strong in October.  When you then add all the free food, the blackberries, windfall apples and walnuts, it amounts to a huge bounty of produce.  I suppose that there is often more than each household needs so the natural thing to do is to give it away.  And we are more than grateful to receive it.

gifts4Our collection of tomatoes grew as we visited our friends. 

When we were chez nous last October we gradually accumulated quite a collection of tomatoes of various shapes and sizes.  I was reminded of this when I was shopping for tomatoes in the supermarket here recently.  The perfectly round, evenly sized specimens available might look tempting but they are not a patch on the gnarled and knobbly ones we acquired from our various friends – these would not have won any beauty contest but they were miles ahead in flavour.  I called them rarebreed tomatoes.

gifts5 gifts6 Some rarebreed tomatoes were given to us by Tim and Pauline.

Some of the tomatoes were varieties I had never heard of before and I confess I can’t remember their names now.  The previous year we had been invited to take part in a tomato tasting session at Tim and Pauline’s – we sat outside in the sunshine and tasted about half a dozen different types and they all had subtly different flavours. 

What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon!  Much better for the soul than sitting round a crowded swimming pool overlooked by some concrete monster of a hotel in some Spanish holiday resort – yet people still think we must be slightly mad to go to the same little old village for our holidays, year after year.  They have no idea !!

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Anyway, Pauline gave me instructions on how to make a really tasty tomato soup from the various tomatoes we had acquired.

You cook a chopped onion in olive oil until it’s soft but not browned.  Add your chopped tomatoes (skin them if you can be bothered – I didn’t) and about a litre of vegetable or chicken stock.  Add salt and pepper and simmer for about 30 minutes until the tomatoes are nice and soft and breaking down.  Blitz right in the pan with a stick blender or transfer to a liquidiser or food processor to make it as smooth or lumpy as you like.  Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche and maybe a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

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Serve with crusty bread, feel virtuous and enjoy !!

January 28, 2013

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Well the snow has more or less gone.  In the sense that where I cleared it from the drive we now have nice bare tarmac, but we still have piles of snow on the lawn that haven’t melted yet.

Yesterday it reached 8°C and the sun actually felt warm, which was lovely.  This morning however, when I took Nick to the station at 6.30 for his train to London, I had to scrape the ice from the car windscreen again. 

Which reminds me of a cautionary tale.

When one my colleagues arrived at work two weeks ago she announced that her parents had had two cars stolen from in front of their house that morning.

They had cleared the windscreens and left them on the drive with the engines running to warm them up.  Two minutes later they saw both of them disappearing down the road.

One was a Mercedes and the other a Corsa.  They were fairly new and at the moment the insurance company does not feel inclined to pay out.

The police said there is a gang of car thieves who drive around residential areas looking for cars that are left to warm up, unattended.  They arrive in an ordinary looking van which might have several people inside, each one ready to jump out and steal a car.

Their neighbours were able to confirm this as they saw it happen.  The van went past the end of the cul-de-sac, turned round and came back.  This was in a nice, quiet, rural area where there is very little crime. 

I had heard of something like this happening in large towns and cities, but never thought it would happen round here.  Having said that, I have occasionally seen an ordinary looking van cruising slowly down the road at going-to-work time and wondered what they were looking for.  I just assumed it was some workmen looking for a house number, but you never know.

The police have apparently caught the gang, but have yet to find the cars.

UPDATE ON 1st FEBRUARY.

The final decision is that the insurance company will not pay out and would still not have done if even the cars were locked using the second set of keys, because they were left unattended with the keys in the ignition.  They could have been stolen by breaking a window.

I wonder if therefore the auto start would also be uninsured, as someone could break a window and drive the car away.

I think the only safe solution is to bite the bullet and sit in the car while it warms up.

January 26, 2013

HERE WE GO AGAIN

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Yesterday the cars were clear, the drive was clear and the road was clear. 

Overnight a band of snow came across the country and this morning we have 4-6” of snow again.  But this Saturday I don’t have to fight my way to work in it and the sun is shining so I’m going to enjoy it.  According to all the forecasts it will be 6°C and raining tomorrow so it should all be washed away.

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I certainly hope so. After two weeks of snow clearing and very nervous driving I will be glad to see the back of it !!

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January 20, 2013

SNOWED IN

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A POOR LIFE THIS, IF FULL OF CARE,

WE HAVE NO TIME TO SIT AND STARE.

The snow is trying our patience at the moment.  It’s incredible how much more time it takes to do the ordinary things.  Like shopping, for us and for my dad.  And doing our bit to help the neighbours and so on, including anguishing over the plight of a little nuthatch that was sheltering on our doorstep.

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So much to do…….and so little time…….

Have a good week and I hope the snow doesn’t make life too hard for you, wherever you are.

January 13, 2013

PERHAPS IT’S MY AGE

I have been fascinated by the trailers on TV for the current series about Africa by David Attenborough.

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A picture taken from our house window today.  There was less snow when I took Nick to the station at 7am but then it started snowing heavily.  It has just stopped at 12.30, lunchtime.

This has nothing to do with the post, just thought you might like to know!

Without watching a single programme I knew that the photography would be amazing, the scenery would be breath-taking and the animals just fantastic.

I also knew that it would probably have me in tears but I somehow felt I ought to see it, Mr Attenborough being something of a national treasure.

So with a little trepidation I turned on the TV this evening and watched enthralled as an amazing bird called a shoebill caught catfish to feed its young.  Then the smile disappeared from my face when the camera captured the moment when one of its starving babies was neglected by the mother in favour of its stronger sibling, who attacked the poor weakened little thing by pecking at it viciously.

It was the image of the little bird, staggering towards its mother for help and food, only for her to step over it and feed the stronger bird that did it.  I turned it off.

You can see the episode on i-player here, if you can access it.  Get your box of Kleenex ready.

Apparently the BBC received numerous complaints about a previous programme which showed the harrowing scenes of a mother elephant grieving for her dying calf.  I didn’t see it but you can read about it here.

Maybe I’m a complete wimp but I just don’t have the stomach to watch the suffering of animals on TV.  We all know that the animal kingdom is cruel as well as cute and fluffy, and It’s always the babies or the weak ones that get it.   I could never be a vegetarian or a saviour of animals, like Ms Bardot, but I don’t want to see them on the worst day of their lives either.  It’s just the same with humans – I don’t seem to be able to cope with seeing other people’s tragedies these days, even if it’s fiction.

So Africa is not for me and I won’t be buying the DVD, however wonderful the camera work or the scenery.

At my age I have come to realise that I can’t save the world all by myself or by worrying and having nightmares about it so I’d rather just do the cute and fluffy if that’s ok.  

Is it just me?

January 7, 2013

A TYPICAL SUNDAY EVENT AND MEDICINAL JAM

JAM 1

The “twelve months in twelve days” exercise was great fun for me.  Looking back at our photos from 2012 reminded me of the huge amount of things we did last year and lots of them I haven’t posted about.  Yet !!

JAM 2

The band were playing “by the rivers of Babylon” as we arrived.

One of the things I love about France is the free entertainment.  There are very few weekends throughout the year that you can’t wander along to some kind of fête and meet up with friends, have a good laugh, a bit of exercise and a great deal of people watching all for free.  The only thing you pay for is possibly a drink and a plate of sausage and chips if you like.

In the UK very little is free.   At a big event like this one you would almost certainly have to pay to park your car and pay to get in, probably parting with as much as twenty quid before you saw anything at all.

JAM 3

At almost every event, regardless of what it is celebrating, there will be a vide-grenier.  The French equivalent of the car boot sale.  Each town or village will have its own vide-grenier once a year and often it will be tacked onto another event, like this one was.

This was a quality vide-grenier.  There were quite of lot of nice things for sale amongst the broken toys, obsolete electrical items and worn-out boots !!

JAM 6

I have seen the Tupperware lady several times in the last few years.  I haven’t bought anything.  (Yet.)

JAM 7

There were a few things on this stall that I fancied, especially the tiger teapot.  I had my eye on it but it disappeared while I was dithering and trying to make my mind up whether I really needed it or not.

I was not so tempted by the toothbrush.  You do see some surprising things for sale at times.

JAM 8

I often find myself looking at things and wondering who would have bought it in the first place, before it ended up on the stall.  Where did they buy it and what did they do with it, or who did they give it to?

JAM 5

There is nearly always a display of old cars.  Often there are old tractors and motorcycles as well.  Something for everyone.

JAM 4

There is usually something for the kids, such as a bouncy castle.

JAM 9AJAM 9B

There is often an exposition – exhibition – of some kind in the village hall or large meeting room.  In this case it was about holidays.

A huge amount of effort must have gone into making these displays and I couldn’t quite see the point of why they were there.  Nobody seemed to be selling anything but they were really well done and fun to see.

JAM 9C

Animals are a common feature.  Often sheep, calves or goats in a pen.  Or the fluffy chickens.  At this one we had donkeys.  Very cute and friendly they were too.

So the question is, which event in particular was this one?

JAM 9

It was something that takes place every year, just a few kilometres from Le Grand-Pressigny and this was our first visit.

JAM9C

The fête des confitures- jam festival – at Abilly in May.  Amongst all the other things to look at there were a few stalls selling home-made jam.  We couldn’t resist temptation and bought a few small jars.  We also bought a small bag of wholemeal flour.

The jams were dandelion, a type of sour cherry, a type of nectarine, and rhubarb and prune.

JAM9D

On the way back to the car we bumped into Tim and Pauline, who explained the medicinal properties of what we had bought……pissenlit (dandelion) is a diuretic and as for rhubarbe et pruneaux…….we bought them because we thought they would be tasty but they probably belong in the medicine cabinet !!

Have a good week !!

January 5, 2013

TWELVE MONTHS IN TWELVE DAYS

ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS – THE MONTH OF DECEMBER

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A lovely sunrise during the dark days of December.

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We put our Christmas decorations up, wrapped the presents, made the mince pies and iced the cake.  That always cheers us up.

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And there was another birthday to celebrate – mine !!

So that’s it.  A whole year in twelve days, officially the second wettest year on record in the UK (the wettest was year 2000).

It’s time to put the Christmas decorations away again and get on with the new year properly.

So I hope everyone has a great 2013 and I will be counting the weeks until our first holiday in our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny.

January 4, 2013

TWELVE MONTHS IN TWELVE DAYS

ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS – THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER

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Leaving France behind us for a very long spell is always hard.  I consoled myself by taking long walks with Lulu, just to remind me that Derbyshire is also beautiful and a nice place to live.

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I tried to ignore the Christmas Retail Mania that was gripping the nation. All I wanted was peace and quiet and time to get used to the fact that this was it until next year.  It wasn’t easy.

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We had some good weather early in the month and took advantage of it.  There were also two birthdays to enjoy – Nick’s and my Dad’s.

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The good weather didn’t last and it rained and rained.  Then it rained some more.  This little stream became a torrent and overflowed.  Elsewhere in the country many people were flooded more than once, so we were lucky that all we had to grumble about was a muddy dog.

January 3, 2013

TWELVE MONTHS IN TWELVE DAYS

ON THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS – THE MONTH OF OCTOBER.

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October can be a nice month, with the trees still in leaf and just a hint of autumn colours creeping in.

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We had our last holiday for the year in Le Grand-Pressigny and crammed an awful lot of fun into two weeks.

We had lunch out several times, visited some popular tourist places such as Villandry.  I had a baking session with my little friends Isabella and Amélie, where we made macaroons!

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It was however probably the wettest holiday we have ever spent there.  On Loches market the umbrellas were selling really well !!