April 24, 2014

LOIRE VALLEY CCC

Having joined my local Clandestine Cake Club branch in Derbyshire last year, it occurred to me one day that it might be fun to create a club in France.  A lot of the people we have made friends with in our little corner of France are enthusiastic bakers so I asked a few of them if they would be interested.  Enough said “yes” so I decided to give it a go.

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Yesterday we had our very first meeting and I am thrilled to say that it was a huge success.

Considering our actual membership is very small, we had sixteen people turn up and thirteen cakes – a baker’s dozen !!

CCC4The theme was “favourite cakes”.  In other words, the cake that each person liked best to eat or to bake.  Everyone embraced the spirit of the theme and a truly magnificent collection of cakes appeared on our table.

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There were lots of lovely old fashioned cakes such as ginger, date and walnut, coffee and walnut, banana and walnut, chocolate sponge and strawberry sponge.  There were several gluten free cakes, delicious adaptations of favourite old recipes, plus a variation of carrot cake and an upside down cake.

The number of cakes containing walnuts could be down to it being the nut that people are most fond of, or that we are in walnut country.  They fall off the trees in autumn and you simply help yourself to delicious fresh walnuts.CCC6 CCC7 CCC9 CCC10 Out of the thirteen cakes, four of them were made by men -  and for two of them it was their very first time – this was the first cake they had ever made.  Now that’s what I call real and brave enthusiasm !!

Several people had made a cake for the first time in their French oven – people who had come to France for the holidays and wouldn’t normally bake a cake on holiday.

I have to admit that on the afternoon before I had a little chuckle to myself when I thought of all those cakes being baked in the Loire at the same time – all those anxious faces peering into ovens they are not used to baking with, hoping it would turn out alright !!

CCC12 Of course the proof of the cake is in the eating so with formalities quickly out of the way we got down to the main business of the day – eating the cakes!  All washed down with proper English tea and later – naturally – a glass or two of Vouvray.  Conversation was without doubt rather different to meetings at home.  There the talk is of work, children, grandchildren, traffic jams and supermarket prices.  Here it was of brocantes, old cars, holidays, local wildlife, and renovation of ancient houses.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and I hope that that everyone is looking forward to the next meeting!

http://clandestinecakeclub.co.uk/

April 18, 2014

BODGE CITY

We left the unfinished drop dead gorgeous barn conversion house behind us and followed Antony to another little hamlet only a few kilometres away.

Some horse riders waved to us as we made our way between the old houses and we stopped at the end of the lane.

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The house we had come to view was actually two old cottages knocked through into one house.  This turned it into a substantial sized property and it also had a nice garden with open views at the back.

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The entrance hall was in the smaller cottage and was charming.  In fact the house was stuffed with lovely old and original features, such as an open fire, a bread oven and lovely beams.

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The problem with it was that it had been horribly bodged, everywhere.

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All the modernisation that had been done to it over the decades was in a cheap DIY fashion.  There were cheap doors, flimsy staircases, wobbly lino and really bad wrinkly wallpaper over everything.  The bathroom and kitchen were tired and old fashioned rather than quaint, and needed replacing.

Alterations had been made to put as many bedrooms in as possible and in some rooms there were just mattresses on the floor.  This was a holiday home for a family who obviously descended en masse each summer for a few weeks.

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It reminded us very much of the little house we already have.  Masses of old cast off furniture and as many beds as you could possibly fit in to accommodate a large family gathering.  Everything done in the cheapest possible way.

Except that this was on a much larger scale than what we had to tackle in Le Grand-Pressigny.  The owners were asking a lot of money for their house and it would cost a huge amount to undo all the bodging and turn it into a lovely home. 

The other reason that we didn’t buy it is that it was in a small hamlet where the houses were very close together, quite hemmed in, and all but one of them were holiday homes.  When we were looking for a house last time we probably wouldn’t have understood exactly what that means.  With our experience we realise that the place would have been spookily deserted for probably ten months of the year, then come July and August scores of people would descend on the hamlet as it became the venue for a huge annual party.  Not for us.

Next we looked at two farm houses.  Both had a degree of quality restoration and both had a lot of bodging.  They also had a huge amount of land and outbuildings – barns, pig sheds, cow sheds, hangers and even spare houses in the yard to do up.

We rapidly came to the conclusion that we are doing this wrong again.  We assumed that by spending more money than last time (more than twice as much) we would get a better house.  It seems that in fact for the extra money you seem to get more unfinished projects, a lot of land, too many unwanted outbuildings, a lot more work than we want to do and an awful lot of extra money needing to be spent.

What we were hoping for was a nicely renovated house, a barn or garage, a shed or outbuilding for our stuff and a nice sized garden.  At this rate it could be a long time before we find it !!

April 9, 2014

HOUSE HUNTING

Step one of our house moving is under way and hopefully proceeding according to plan.  Just to remind you (and me, as I still can hardly believe we’re actually doing it), we have a buyer for our current UK home and have arranged to buy a much smaller one here.  It will take a few more weeks before the legal processes are all in place and we physically move from one to the other.

Step two is to find a larger house in France than the little cottage we already have, with a good sized garden and either a garage or outbuildings, and so far we have not seen anything like that for sale in the village.  We decided to take a break from the packing and sorting and make a flying visit to Le Grand-Pressigny so we could see a house that our friend had spotted on the internet.

It was a 1970’s build and although the exterior was nice and the position lovely, inside it seemed just too modern and not for us.

The one good thing that came out of it was that we both realised that what we really like is old houses.  The one we have now is probably at least 250 years old and we would really like something of a similar age.

We contacted our favourite, rather lovable agent, Antony, and he took us to see this:

drop dead gorgeous

The property consisted of a small house, nicely renovated to a good standard, about the same size as the one we already have.

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The really interesting part was that it also included this beautiful house plus barn conversion.  It was drop dead gorgeous both inside and out, and was much more like what we were looking for.

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The property also included the ruins of yet another house where just the walls had been left standing and were used as a screen for a leisure area.

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There was a good amount of land which would be easy to look after, cultivating part of it as a garden, part as a vegetable plot and leaving the rest as orchard or just grass.  It was situated next to a horse breeding business, had fabulous views over open country and sat beautifully in its own plot.

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On the fourth side of the plot was yet another little building which had lovely original features such as a bread oven and was currently used as a little office.

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We didn’t buy it.

The main problem is that although the renovations were to a good standard, the main building wasn’t finished.  We didn’t need the little house, which was finished, although having somewhere to put visitors or even rent out was a nice idea. 

The inside of the main, large house was full of lovely old features which had been tastefully retained and there was little or no bodging of the type we encountered the last time we were house hunting.  But the upper floor was half missing, there was no kitchen, staircase or bathroom.  All of which would be quite costly to put in. 

The current owners had done a quality job so far and had fabulous ideas about the restoration, such as a custom made glass staircase linking the two floors, but they ran out of money before they could finish it.

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If we were ten years younger and had twice our budget we would have bought it.  It was beautiful and in many ways exactly what we wanted.  But what we don’t need is a huge and expensive project.  It’s easy to get really excited about how much of a truly gorgeous house and land you can get for your money in rural France but we are wary of ending up with something that will sap our energy and use up all our money before it’s finished.  The so-called “money pit”.

It was with great sadness that I walked away from it as it ticked so many of our boxes and was almost perfect.  I also felt sorry for the owners who were having to sell their dream house before it was finished.  We are at the stage in our lives where the adventure of moving to France is the right thing to do but we can’t afford to be reckless.

So we drove a few kilometres further down the road where Antony showed us another one………..