There IS a Reason – Take Two! (I pressed publish by mistake!)

So as I was saying – I’ so sorry about the previous half-story – I meant to click ‘save’ and pressed ‘publish’ ….mmm…just proves the ‘little grey cell story’ I was telling you about…

So to start over…

I looked back to my last post and discovered it was in January!  And to make matters worse – it started off with ‘I feel bad, so very very bad…’  so I can’t very well start this one off in the same way now can I?  BUT…it doesn’t stop me feeling that way and I really am sorry…I hope you are still with me and haven’t wandered off down another way more interesting footpath, and to be honest, I wouldn’t blame you if you did!

There IS a reason though – so bear with me while I explain….In  January (when I last blogged), I had an epiphany!  I felt I needed to learn something new, to expand the brain and, to quote a famous French Detective – Monsieur Hercule Poirot – ‘get the little grey cells working’.  I figured that if I did that, I would learn to ‘be out there’ a bit more (I’m not a l limelight person and the Dear One has been known to tell me I ‘lurk’ in the background – not sure that I like the work ‘lurk’, but I guess it’s better than ‘skulk’…) and perhaps meet a few people who needed my help, or better yet, learn a bit more french.  So – to cut a looong story short, I am now a Qualified Holistic Massage Therapist, Hot Stone Therapist, Aromatherapist, Reflexologist and Certificates in Ayurveda Indian Head Massage and the  ‘piece de resistance’  – non-invasive face-lift massage therapy, which is pretty cool with incredible results.  Now I tell you all this, not to brag, but to try and give you an insight into how many hours of ‘practical’ work this all needed and how problematic it can become when you have no idea what it all is in the French Language.  I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish – I met lots of new people who had to be ‘case studies’ as I kneaded, massaged, stretched, pushed and pressed my way to passing each exam.  I improved my French, even if some of the new words were mild expletives and I worked the grey cells so vigorously I nearly burnt them out.

Now is the above not a reason?  Let me add to it then…if that wasn’t enough, visitors to the Chateau seemed to want more and more creative dinners and deserts.  I thought I’d better expand the patisserie horizon (and in doing so, not expand my waistline)

That was where I left off so let me continue…
So I bought two ‘Be a patisserie Chef at home’ type books and got to work and it has been such fun!  From layered mouse desserts to madelines, raspberry mille feuille with white choccie ganache and choucettes – all these wonderful french delights have exited my tiny kitchen – a 2 meter x 50 cm surface, a 50×50 cm fan oven and a kitchen table.  My electric beater has never worked so hard and at times slows down as it wades through batter, butter and Italian meringue but together we make it to the end of the day without too many mishaps.

So between cooking up a storm for up to thirty guests at the chateau, massaging them and organising the linen and laundry, life has been a bit busy – hence the REASON for not blogging.  But it’s good to be back here again, hoping you’re still on the other side, and hopefully I will be back sooner rather than later.

In between all of that, my two nieces spent 6 weeks here so there was sight seeing to be done, Paris to visit a few times and a very welcome 5 day break down in the Dordogne area, a favourite place of mine – and we went in the middle of a heatwave not experienced in the last 12 years so we boiled and melted around the sites.

The good news is that I can finally and unconsciously understand conversations between two french people who are standing behind me in the supermarket queue or if they greet and chat to each other within ear shot.  It’s still a bit fast but the overall meaning is clearer now which then means it’s much easier to make phone calls and explain stuff.  It’s a very subtle progress but its there and thanks to that small step, I don’t feel quite so ‘alien’.  That. together with the fact that we’re often at the Friday morning market with guests, has led to a good portion of the store holders at the market yelling out ‘Bonjour’ when they see me. or they call me over to chat about something new they’ve grown or have on their stall or ask how we are.  It makes France feel a little more like ‘home’.

So – next week is a very busy one and after that, I’ll try my best to get back here.  I have lots to tell you, a few deaths happened around the chateau grounds, new life was discovered in the lavender bushes and more ‘thank you’ macarons had to be delivered to neighbours.  The dear one is still busy and decided to try his hand at making four of the bushes around the fountain into giant topiary ice-creams before mentioning it to the owner…oh and after 9 years.., the Beloved got the fountain working.  But that’s all for  next time, I can smell that the guests dinner needs some attention so I will end off here.

Take care, thank you for your patience, tell me your news
A la prochian (genuinely)

there IS a reason!!!!

I looked back to my last post and discovered it was in January!  And to make matters worse – it started off with ‘I feel bad, so very very bad…’  so I can’t very well start this one off in the same way now can I?  BUT…it doesn’t stop me feeling that way and I really am sorry…I hope you are still with me and haven’t wandered off down another way more interesting footpath, and to be honest, I wouldn’t blame you if you did!

There IS a reason though – so bear with me while I explain….In  January (when I last blogged), I had an epiphany!  I felt I needed to learn something new, to expand the brain and, to quote a famous French Detective – Monsieur Hercule Poirot – ‘get the little grey cells working’.  I figured that if I did that, I would learn to ‘be out there’ a bit more (I’m not a l limelight person and the Dear One has been known to tell me I ‘lurk’ in the background – not sure that I like the work ‘lurk’, but I guess it’s better than ‘skulk’…) and perhaps meet a few people who needed my help, or better yet, learn a bit more french.  So – to cut a looong story short, I am not a Qualified Holistic Massage Therapist, Hot Stone Therapist, Aromatherapist, Reflexologist and Certificates in Ayurveda Indian Head Massage and the  ‘piece de resistance’  – non-invasive face-lift massage therapy, which is pretty cool with incredible results.  Now I tell you all this, not to brag, but to try and give you an insight into how many hours of ‘practical’ work this all needed and how problematic it can become when you have no idea what it all is in the French Language.  I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish – I met lots of new people who had to be ‘case studies’ as I kneaded, massaged, stretched, pushed and pressed my way to passing each exam.  I improved my French, even if some of the new words were mild expletives and I worked the grey cells so vigorously I nearly burnt them out.

Now is the above not a reason?  Let me add to it then…if that wasn’t enough, visitors to the Chateau seemed to want more and more creative dinners and deserts.  I thought I’d better expand the patisserie horizon (and in doing so, not expand my waistline)

Guilt, Lentils and the world…

I feel SO bad…so very very bad…. It seems so long that I’ve posted on the blog that I have to find my way around WordPress all over again!  Shocking..and I truly am sorry.

BUT, in my defense, since I last blogged I seem to have managed to do some extremely strange (and wonderful) things.  I’ve teetered on a stepladder trying to reach a corner of the wall to paint it and too lazy to get off the stepladder and move it (I’m not good on stepladders so once up up, I’m pretty much glued there) and in stretching too far, managed to stretch my shoulder half out of it’s socket.  People, don’t do this!  It is extremely painful, not to mention stupid.  I have braved my fear of being lost like Air Malaysia or plummet like Air Asia and I went home to Cape Town where I got myself lost in a very dodgy township, ended up bright red, slightly hysterical with hair standing bolt upright at the appointment and feeling more than a complete idiot.  I have dragged my suitcase, and I mean literally dragged it because unknown to me, the wheels and bent inwards and weren’t even touching the ground, around the airport wondering why it was getting  heavier and heavier.  I’ve helped the Not-So-Beloved push a huge and heavy car – which is actually a 4×4 but in Normandy mud it became a 1×2 – out of the mud..not once, but twice and managed to pull the muscles in my back and in that state, went off to Austria to teeter down the ski slopes until I found my ski legs.

In between all of that, while in South Africa, I went to have ‘lentilles’ fitted.  Lentils you say…no Lentilles!  French for contact lenses.  Since then, having found them on my collar, searched for them in the bathroom basin and had them pop out in the middle of Woolies while clothes shopping I can see why they would call them that, they do resemble a lentil.  Now this may sound odd but I have always found that wearing sunglasses makes me feel a little ‘out-of-touch’ and almost deaf.  It’s very weird and it takes a while to adjust to the fact that I have some form of blinkers on.  So what, I thought, would my new lentilles feel like?  I felt for a bit, as if I was underwater.  They didn’t scratch, they didn’t hurt but they did make me feel a little vague.  Is this normal??  So vague in fact that when I was sitting in the airport in Cape Town to fly back to Paris, even though I was there two hours before, I managed to get to the gates about 5 minutes after they had closed.  Not only had my lentilles reduced me to a bewildered and blurry person, but my watch had stopped as well.  When I finally got through the gates and headed for the airplane door, my knickers were in a total state and I was beginning to feel slightly sick with nerves.  I arrived, once again, red in the face with my hair standing straight up, but this time, clutching my stomach to try and soothe away the feeling of loosing my casually eaten sandwich of just moments before.  It didn’t end there.  On seeing me in this state, the air hostess (who wasn’t particularly charmed with me) proceeded to ask me whether I had a fever and had I come into contact with Ebola!!  I crawled into my seat with the help of a very kind and sympathetic air host who handed me a glass of water and told me not to worry, they were still waiting for two other late passengers….. I wondered if they’d just got lentilles fitted too.

And then a few weeks after that, we left for Kitzbuhel in Austria and our timing couldn’t have been better.  We flew three days after the Charlie shootings and ‘je suis scared’ let alone ‘je suis Charlie’ but all was ok – there were lots of police milling about in Charles du Gaul but everything else was quiet.

I encouraged the Dear One to at least try to ski once.  So many people never get the chance and it’s good for the brain to try something new.  This would be my fifth time on the slopes but I still prefer the more gentle ones so being on the baby slope again until I got my ‘ski legs’ suited me just fine.  I still remember my first time skiing, after leaving the baby slopes we went to the top  and together with fellow wobbly learners we made our first run down a ‘proper’ ski slope…only when I reached the bottom, I found that the usual learners snow plow that you do in order to stop wan’t working for me very well and stopping was becoming a distant happening.  The restaurant building was looming ever closer, the ski’s had a mind of their own, the four steps leading up to the restaurant were covered in snow making a slight uphill slope.  There was only one thing left to do.  I yelled at two very startled gentlemen as they came out of the restaurant
“Open the doooooooorrrs………………..!”
With a look of horror at seeing this apparition with a giant pompom garnished hat descending at full tilt toward them open them they did and I sailed into the restaurant, slowing down as I reached the carpet and coming to a stop at the counter serving hot goulash.   I took off my skis and ordered..with some hot wine to go with it.  One needs something to calm the nerves you know.

But the Beloved did really well.  After telling me to let him ‘get on with it’ and watching him fall about 40 times while I tried to look the other way and not be too concerned, we exchanged a few ideas and I slipped a few technique tips and voila!  He was down the slopes looking great. The two year olds and up waited patiently  behind him at times but altogether, it was a great day and it’s lovely thing to be able to say ‘hey I tried!’.

Winter hasn’t been very quiet.. we may not have any visitors at the Chateau but painting, maintenance and general things to do still carry on and the days seem to fly past.  The owner of the Chateau wanted the wooden teak floor in the small study sanded down to it’s original and then sealed.  The job settled on me.  I got out the belt sander (waaay more vicious than a normal sander) loading it with paper and fired it up.  When sander met floor it shot across the room dragging me with it and getting my tea shirt stuck underneath it.  In a crumpled heap in the corner of the room, me, my tea shirt and the sander unwound ourselves from each other and started again.  Two hours later and a strip of about 50 cm completed (this was going to take a few days) I decided to call it a day.  I looked like a vertical desert.  Dry, dusty and an odd shade of pinky brown.  I rolled my clothes up ready for the next day – pointless washing them until it was all over.  After four days, my clothes embedded with dust, I surveyed the room with pride, trying not to notice the brown blue walls and non-existent light fittings.  I was just res chuffed to have finished at it looks great.

On a last note, making macarons is do-able in a Normandy winter.  The fussy little things that don’t like humidity, warm air, cold air being mixed too much, being mixed to little etc came out perfectly when I had to make a batch as a thank you to the farmer next door who eventually answered my 2 kilometer march to his door, my badly grammar-ed french asking for him to please bring the tractor to get the car out of the mud and his good humour at being interrupted whilst eating his lunch.

So – I will try my very best to write again soon, I’m currently completing courses in Indian Head massage, Indian Face massage and Aroma therapy massage and I have to practice on a few unsuspecting locals before I write the final exams..could be interesting…..

I hope you’re all ok, I hope you’re still ‘with me’ on the journey and haven’t moved on to more interesting and more conscientious bloggers….
Take care of yourselves and each other
A la prochaine


Coiffures and purple hats…

It was time for a change…and anyway, I had made a slight mistake with a ‘change’ of hair colour and it had turned a subtle shade of green….brown green……

So with much hoo-ing and haa-ing I took a chance on a different hairdresser in the village and decided to go short and hopefully get it back to the usual blonde.  As with many villages in France, there seem to be an abundance of three services and our local village is no different.  As small as it is, there are 4 hairdressers, 3 optometrists and 3 patisseries.  It’s almost as though you need to ‘see’ your new haircut REALLY well and the either celebrate or commiserate it with a pastry.  Either way, it’s become a joke between us to count the number of all three in the tiniest of villages.  I hadn’t had time to go to a hairdresser and eventually thought it might make me feel less frazzled after a busy Summer so I went to one..which was a total disaster as the whole salon was as quiet as a graveyard and about as serious..and the lady in charge attacked my hair with a ferocity that bought tears to my eyes.  So when I say ‘I took a chance on a different one’ I went there in slight fear and trepidation but armed with a photograph of what I was hoping it would look like..sort of.

When I stepped through the door and walked inside, it was to be met with violet walls and a vibey relaxed atmosphere.  The hairdresser came towards me with open arms saying ‘Don’t worry!  I can speak English’ which I discovered was the only sentence she knew.  And after being pampered with coffee, being told off for having green hair and for much discussion in fast french about the photo, she began by ‘returning it to it’s original colour’ and then ‘flourishing it with highlights’.  Cool!  I was delighted and we had a good chat.  I wanted to practice my French which I did, she wanted to practice her English, which she didn’t and we got on really well.  When I expressed my delight in finally finding a great hairdresser she informed me that ‘finding a good Coiffure is more important than finding a good husband!’ The Dear One wasn’t so impressed when I told him that but I came out of there feeling a million bucks and decided to go clothes shopping as well.

It’s weird how you have moments in life where something clicks and you feel a little more comfortable or at home.  It’s not very often that I get to go out totally on my own as the Dear One and I usually run various errands together and sometimes Samuel  comes along as well.  But there I was driving this giant sized Rexton Jeep along the country roads and attempting to park it (but carefully avoiding parallel parking!) I’ve got to the stage when I can chat a bit to the lady behind the counter or at least pass the time of day with the man who comes to fetch the laundry.  I have no idea of his name, all I know is that he and his wife own Normandy Pressing and they now answer to Monsieur and Madame Pressing which they find hilarious.  But they are a very sweet hard working couple in their sixties and fortunately they have a great sense of humour.

Anyway, as I was driving down the road, a ‘something’ was coming towards me on the pavement.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out what it was until I got a little closer and it seemed to me like a big soft toy ball on wheels!  The traffic slowed and so did I to just about a stop when it came adjacent to the car.  It was the dearest round elderly lady in a big woolly jersey and gracing her head like a dollop of jam was a floppy velvet purple hat.  Round eyes and button nose had been pushed into her moon face like currents in a bun and she was singing (or talking to herself) with a mouth devoid of all teeth.  Her bicycle, a battered piece of equipment held together with string teetered along the path at a speed so slow that it barely remained upright and tied to the back mudguard was a bright green plastic crate filled with cabbage leaves.  Funny, but it was at that moment that I felt a little more at home here.  She made me smile, she made me laugh out loud and she was everything that the French countryside is….strong, natural, peaceful, abundant, hard working and full of character.  I wished I could have taken a photograph of her, she’ll be with me in my memories for a very long time.

The beloved and I went to the market on Friday for the usual fresh veggies and to have a coffee in the shadow of the old church with the hustle and bustle echoing down the cobbled street.  We are known now and various store owners yell bonjour and offer a taste of something new.  We were looking for monk fish for a dinner party that evening so we approached one of the fishmongers who reminds me of the fish monger in Asterix with the unfortunate name of Unhygenix.  No he didn’t have any but his cousin might and he pointed two stalls down to a younger version of himself.  And that’s how it is… the market and villages are filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters.  All have grown up there, follow a similar line of work and get together for long summer evenings of gesturing conversations over cheese, wine and baguettes.  As we sat having coffee the young girl at the coffee shop came out with glasses of rose wine and past them down the rows of produce laden tables covered in colourful umbrellas (this is 11 in the morning) and the stall owners toasted each other with teasing and loud laughter.  It’s moment like these that you feel you’re finding a place in a brand new country, that you’re slowly being enveloped in a hug of local activity and are part of the ebb and flow of French village life. It’s a warming feeling as Autumn touches the landscape with gold, orange and copper.

On Monday I fly back to South Africa for a two and a half week visit and to catch up with family and friends.  It’ll be my first trip home in two years and I wish the butterflies in my stomach would fly in formation instead of giving me this fluttering mayhem feeling inside.  The Dear One is staying here with the mutts and will have Samuel for company.  The season is closed at the Chateau and we are looking forward to cosy evenings by the fire,, a chance to finish the cottage and do some indoor bits and pieces of maintenance around the Estate and for me to have a chance of facing my easel and pencils again.  We’re looking forward to the quiet.

For all of you along the path with me, whether you’re heading in to Summer or Winter, take care and ‘see’ you soon

A la prochaine

Chateau Organised Chaos..semi

Well!  Yup, it’s been a while but it’s also been a while since I had time to sit…so now I’m sitting…and it feels great.  A lot has happened here in our corner of Normandy and the Chateau has been buzzing with a form of chaos..sometimes organised..sometimes not.  So what have we done…before I start..let me just check the cottage kitchen…the Dear One has decided to pick apples to make apple wine.  All great when said, not so great while being done…I can hear the distinct sound of muttered swearing, the containers are being banged harder and the chopping is getting fast and furious.  On second thoughts…I think I’ll stay here and hum while I type….huuummmmmmmhhhuuuuuuummmm.  Yup, that’s working…so let me carry on.

We have had a range of visitors to the Chateau and on the whole, met some wonderful people and had some fantastic cooking evenings.  Just one lot spoiled the season, left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth here, but that is par for the course I suppose and it’s best to move on and take what’s learned with you.  Being a bit of a softy makes me want to make everyone happy, but, as I’ve learnt, some people just cannot be made happy no matter what you do so I’m learning to feel sorry for them and put their rudeness into a bubble and blow it away..pointless them spoiling such a beautiful spot here at the Chateau.  But that was only one family for one week…not bad.  The joy comes from so many other directions.  We’ve just our first wedding here and it was so beautiful.  Small, elegant and a lovely group of people including one small jack russell named Jenny who thankfully wasn’t intimidated by Ted.

I have discovered the joy (and ease) of on-line shopping with google chrome.  The reason being is that with a touch of a key I can translate the entire page..which means I can understand what I’m buying….tres important when you need to buy flowers to make all the wedding arrangements including table, entrance way, chair bouquets, bridal bouquet and buttonholes!  I ordered the flowers to be delivered two days before the wedding and stupidly took on the main wedding dinner for 25 people which consisted of 5 courses as well as a buffet dinner for 25 for the night before.  Getting your ducks in a row on paper is one thing, getting them to stay in a row in reality is totally another.  The Beloved took charge of the breakfasts and table layout for the wedding dinner which looked amazing when he had finished.  I did all the flower arrangements the day before the wedding which left me the bouquets and chair arrangements to do in between making a crab entree, slow cooked duck with prunes and dessert. I had it ALL sorted.  Early on the morning of the wedding I topped up the arrangements with some water as the day was proving to be quite hot.  I turned my back, wandered into the kitchen in search of tea only to hear an almighty crash behind me as one of the large hall arrangements toppled over and came to a sad demise on the floor.  More flowers had to be bought and I had to start again from scratch.  But at the end of the day, tired was a word I don’t think I could have spelled if I tried but we had a very happy bride and groom and an amazing evening.

During the weeks we’ve done some weird and wonderful things.  The Dear One tried his hand at topiary to get the ornamental yews in the formal gardens around the fountains back into some sort of shape.  Armed with a small hedge cutter he set to work while Samuel the gardener and I watched on with a mixture of nerves in case the tree turned into some weird shape and excitement to see the poor shaggy neglected tree get back it’s perfect conical shape.  The latter won and they all look beautiful now.

I am still keeping myself in macaron mode and practicing regularly to make sure I still get them right.  I do.  My fourteen attempts to finally find the right mix, the right weather, the right temperature and the right method have paid off and they turn out well every time…except…..I do still have a few ‘moments’ while making them and the moments mainly happen while trying to get the mixture into the piping bag.  Now I kid you not, the mixture for macarons is INCREDIBLY sticky.  I think you could successfully build a boat with it and it would hold together with no leaks!  Ted sits under my feet while I cook (i don’t think it’s altogether affection, I think there is method in his madness as things just might drop from heaven for him to eat..and they do) and he inadvertently got some bright pink macaron mix on his head and back. To get it out an hour later when I saw it was a major mission which required scissors..we’ll say no more about Ted’s new hairdo…  But back to the piping bag.  The mix was done and instead of making normal macarons, I was planning on making them into an almost ‘mille feuille’ and using them as a dessert.  So there would be a macaron base but the macaron would be big – at least 8 cm in diameter, then a mixture of cream and french buttercream would be placed in the center, around that on the outside diameter would be raspberries and then the next layer or top macaron.  Cool, I had it all worked out.  I put the piping bag into a tall glass to hold it up and open and dropped the first dollop of macaron mix into it.  Great, next dollop, the bag closed in on itself.  With spatula in one hand and bowl in the other, I tried to nudge the bag open with the spatula but forgot to straighten the bowl hovering above it..a dollop landed on top of the folded bag.  Ok, …no need to panic…put down bowl, scrape sticky mess off outside of bag and try and open the bag to put the mess inside it.  Worked reasonably well but now there is a glue like substance inside the piping bag, outside the piping bag, inside the glass and outside the glass as well as on the spatula and in the bowl.  Never mind, take control by washing your hands.  That done, shake the bag, get the mixture to the bottom, reopen the bag and lift the bowl.  Dollop the rest of the macaron mix into the bag.  All goes well.  I turn to make sure I have papered the trays and can pipe the macarons.  I turn for literally 10 seconds if that and what happens?  My upright piping bag folds over the glass and deposits the bright pink sticky boat building cooked sugar mix over the counter, down the cupboard doors and onto Ted and the floor.  I was proud of myself…I said nothing….I just stared at it… a semi trance-like disbelief…..and the two mille feuille macaron desserts that I managed to save out of the remaining mix turned out perfectly…I will try again…some time…in the future…..when I feel brave…

I can smell interesting things coming from the kitchen now….and the muttering has stopped..things must be going well.  Talking of apples, they are falling all over the place now…there are a lot of apple trees and pear trees dotted around the grounds and one of the orchards is just outside our cottage.  It is a beautiful thing to wake up with the early morning ‘end of Summer’ mists draped from tree to tree and peacefully foraging underneath are the deer.  I still pinch myself that I live here…we are beginning to be recognised in the village by the butcher, the market folk and Mazoline, the hard working lady in the Patisserie welcomes the Dear One when he goes in to get the morning croissants and gives him a pastry or two as a gift for his ongoing patronage and support.  We get given new cheeses and cold meats to taste as we walk around the market so that we can add them to the Chateau meals and once or twice a small parcel has been placed on our table while we have coffee in the market containing a few tasty morsels of a home grown product for us to try.  It’s all very touching in a way and makes me feel humble to be part of such a wonderfully natural and kind community who take such pleasure in family and food and are willing to share it all with us.

We will be attacking the cottage garden and the Chateau fountain next…we’ve bought some roll on lawn (online) which will go into our garden as we don’t have time to let the grass grow from seed without me going mad with having two mutts bring sand and mud into the cottage and we’ve bought some water lilies (also online) to put into the fountain once it’s up and running.  I’ll let you know how it all goes soon…

It’s lovely having you there on the other side of the blog…talk to me if you can, I love hearing from you..and please, if you write a comment, come back and see…I try and answer or at least acknowledge your words as soon as I can.

A Bien tot

Cheffing Shambles and Fireworks

Our first Summer season of guests at the Chateau has been interesting to say the least…not to mention a little scary, a lot frantic and hugely chaotic.

This is going to be a marathon blog as a lot has happened and I need to remember it all for the ‘diary’ part of the blog but also to share with all the many friends and family (and welcome strangers) who are sharing the journey with me.

We muddled through our first few weeks of visitors, trying to get the hang of which linen fitted what and a stove with no numbers  – at we grilled a few things by mistake and under-cooked a few other things…but on the whole, it all went ok.

And then the American businessman arrived.  Now we had been primed to get everything ready to an extremely high standard.  He expected a full time chef, he wanted an internet connection that rivaled the States at 50-100 gig download speed and he wanted an office set up with printer etc.  He would be here for a month and have various people and clients coming in and out all the time so the linen had to be changed for the next visitor whenever it was needed.  He wanted dry cleaning done, personal laundry and good coffee.

He was a very altogether person, very kind, very complimentary and his biggest complaint was that the internet connection wasn’t anywhere like America.  Now here, I found it very hard to keep a straight face.  I tried to explain to him that he was in rural France, in a Chateau built in 1641 with walls a meter thick..and yes, I was aware that the Internet speed was bad….yes…it was 5 gig download speed…and yes…America was was 100.  Only after a day or two did I learn that one of his mates was ‘Bill’ (who couldn’t make it) and another that was coming was ‘Zack’…  The ‘Bill’ was Bill Gates and the ‘Zack’ was Zack Nelson..the CEO of Net wonder the internet speed was an issue.

Either way, between the Estate duties, the House duties and the Kitchen, the Dear One and I worked a 16 hour day every day.  After the first week, we asked him to please go to a restaurant to give us a break. He said he really didn’t want to as the food was really good at the Chateau (a great compliment but at that point, I didn’t care).  Eventually after much mumbling, he took himself and his guests off to a restaurant down the road.

Then it was American Independence Day – July 4th and the Special Person in his life was arriving – so could we do something to make her feel welcome.  So along with the cake with the flag done in strawberries and blueberries, we decided to let off some fireworks on the stone steps beyond the garden fountain.  The Dear One had it all worked fact he was extremely excited and spent a while working out the sequence.  He collected wine bottles for the rockets to stand it while they were lit and cascading fountain lights were placed on the two pillars leading down the steps.  Then we had one or two other firework things that promised a great display.

So after dinner (they usually wanted to eat around 9) we asked them to wait on the balcony terrace until it was dark which was about 11.  There they stood, and we charged down to the bottom of the garden to provide them with a ‘grand’ USA tradition that they were missing out on ‘back home’.  The Dear One set off the rockets and we heard clapping, then some other rocket-type-things went off while he quickly lit the side display with lights and sparkles cascading down the pillars.  Cool!  Then he lit some other thing set  in the middle of the steps for a clear view…and there was silence….we waited…they waited….the string burned…and one lonely ball of lights shot into the air for about half a meter with a disappointing ‘sput’ sound and that was that.  I could NOT stop laughing at this point.  To make it worse..we heard polite clapping.  And then, much to our amazement…another lonely sputtering ball of light shot into the air..this time, about half a meter.  Now by this time, I was just about paralytic I was laughing so much and the Beloved had a hard time lighting the others he was shaking with laughter.  He put the last of the lights-to-be on the step and lit them…the first one went off with a great display..the second one sputtered to a halt and then a small light danced inside the bottle instead of zooming out into the air  and then all became dark.  I couldn’t breath, I lay flat on my back wheezing with laughter.   The from a lofty height in the darkness on the balcony came a  booming voice that said..’Well if that isn’t the best fireworks display I’ve ever experienced!’  It was such a lie but so very sweet.

Two weeks in and it was taking it’s toll.  The gardener’s wife who came in every day to make the beds and clean kept telling me to sleep as I had ‘tres bleu’ circles under my eyes.  Fine I thought..but when?!
Then some more business partners arrived and wpoached pearse needed to ‘wow’ them as a deal needed to be made and papers needed to be signed.  I poached some pears, half in rose wine and then turned them over and poached the other half in white wine syrup with vanilla.  We were serving them in a caramel basket with hot chocolate and orange sauce and creme fraiche.  Most of all the cooking and baking is done in my little kitchen in the cottage.  Everything is there equipment-wise and I know the oven.  Then it’s just simple to take it all the few meters to the Chateau kitchen and plate it to make it look beautiful (I hope).  So I held the chilled pears on the plate and walked towards our garden gate with the Dear One just behind me.  I turned to ask him if I looked ok as I was a bit of a mess and had tried to cover the circles with a bit of make-up.  The plate stayed where it was on the palm of my hand, the pears didn’t.  Three of them flew off the smooth surface of the china and landed with a plop in the gravel.  Fortunately they landed bottom side down (which ultimately made it easier to fix by just chopping off the bottom) but it was yet another moment uncontrollably giggles.  We stared at them, first I think in disbelief, then in concern as to what the heck we were going to do and then we saw the funny side.  I think – in my case at least – the laughter was just slightly bordering on hysteria.  With a bit of doctoring all was fine – admittedly the pears were reduced in height by quite a bit after the much needed surgery to get the gravel out of the first centimeter. The not so Dear One has reminded me of it regularly since then.

Then towards the last week of their stay, we all went to Liseux to see the firework display for Bastille Day which was a 30 minute Story of not just the Storming of the Bastille, but also the sadness of the D-Dfireworksay Beaches and as the Narrator told the story, the fireworks and music pictured what she was saying.  It was beautiful  It was touching, sad, breathtaking and spectacular.  I’ve never seen such an amazing display – incredible…needless to say, it made ours all the funnier and I still get the giggles every time I think of it.

We had to do a quick change over for the next lot and they were taking the farmhouse as well.  We went over there to check that everything was fine and ready for them and also to get a child’s cot for the Chateau.  The mutts came with us in the tractor trailer and then I let them down to have a run around while we checked the place out.  The Farmhouse is lovely and has a big patch of lawn all around it which is great for children to play ball etc as it’s really flat.  Towards one side, the ground slopes away down into the valley and the entire garden is surrounded by a meter and a half high hedge.

I went inside, the dogs went off to sniff new smells and the Dear One went up the outside stairs to check the room there.  All of a sudden he saw the tractor hurtling down the hill on it’s own.  It had jumped out of it’s breaks and, despite being in neutral, had taken off.  Before we knew it, there was a tractor shaped hole in the hedge and it had ground to a shuddering halt on top of the broken bushes.  Samuel thought it was the funniest thing when he arrived the next day for work.  Life is indeed never dull.

Our next group of visitors seemed to have thirty million children all under the age of ten.  Breakfast every morning – the Madam at the Boulangerie knows the Beloved so well now that he comes home on a regular basis with a different patisserie as a present – was a loud scrabble for the fresh croissants and panne chocolate.  It was crazy.  The most mouth opening moment was when we served dinner ‘family’ style (that’s when it’s not plated and served, just left on warning trays in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves whenever they want to and then they do the clearing up as well).  I walked in with a whole lot of fresh baguettes, placed them near the warming trays, announced that dinner was ready and then walked out – carrying one baguette which was ours.  I’m never very hungry when I cook and neither is the Dear One so we sat down to a light snack of cheese and the baguette with a glass of wine and enjoyed the wonderful moment of putting our feet up.  The next minute the gate opens and a young guy walks down the path and knocks on the door.  I opened it and asked if everything was ok.  Oh yes he tells me, all is fine, we’re having a lovely time and dinner is great.  We know we’re piggies and we’ve eaten about five baguettes between us but I saw you walk away with one so I’ve come to ask you if we can have it. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather.  I just stared at him because my brain failed to comprehend the request.  Eventually I said ‘Well, I guess you can have what’s left, let me just see if my husband has had enough to eat first.’

Without batting an eye he said ‘oh..was that yours for your dinner?  Well sorry to deprive you of it but yes, we’ll take the rest.  And off he went.  The next morning, I found it in the bin.  People are quite amazing!

I think I will save the rest for another time – this seems to be a marathon session and I’d hate to ramble on and send you to sleep.
Take care and have a lovely week
A bientot


Ted in Disgrace

I’m sure I’ve spoken numerous times of Ted.  We bought two dogs with us from SA,
Tass who we had from a pup – a cute, Maltese terrier type white, aloof  girl who has subsequently turned into a way-too-verbal independent hooligan who will takeTass any opportunity to sneak out of the garden gate and into the expanse of the Chateau grounds to look for any woodland friend she can find.  All I see is her tail wagging nineteen to the dozen as she snorkels around the long grass or in the wood pile.  The other day she chased a bunny rabbit – who knows what she would do if she caught it, probably give it a hug and ask it for a play date – around the tractor shed which is not exactly small, about 5 meters by 30.  The bunny rabbit did a smart turn back to the wood pile, missing the Beloved’s feet by a centimeter, and Tass missed the turn altogether and went straight into the hedge leaving a Tass-shaped hole.  I must admit, it was really funny as the bunny rabbit almost strolled back to the wood pile laughing behind it’s paw.

But it’s Ted, dear sweet rescued from abuse Ted who walks around with a question mark above his head and is always up to some sort of nonsense. I always worry about him as he has Spina Bifida – a hole in his spine which has left him totally tail-less and weak in his back legs.  After endless visits to the Chiropractor in SA and a special diet, he is fine, but he used to need pain killers on a regular basis if he ran around too much.  Not anymore.  Ted has come a long way.  He is much thinner which is less strain on his joints and he can now
jump onto the bed and couch and even into the car with ease.  He loves the back of the tractor and can’t wait for a ride along the bumpy country road to the farmhouse.  When he sees the expanse of Chateau lawn he just can’t help himself and takes off like a bullet.  The funny thing is – he runs a short distance one direction, then changes to another and so on.  It’s almost as if he can’t remember which way he was going…and he does all with the biggest smile on his little face and his whole furry body just oozes joy.

But he is in disgrace.

TedThe Owner of the Chateau was here for a long weekend.  He bought his whippet (a beautiful pencil thin sleek gray pedigree) and his mom (a sprightly, very English lady of ninety-one).
Ted took one look at the whippet and took objection to him.  With a growl that would rival a Rottweiler, he went for him with all the venom he could muster.  The whippet took off and so did Ted.  Now whippets are known for their speed and are built for just that.  Ted is built for comfort.  He lasted about three minutes then decided it wasn’t worth using up so much energy, he would rather crouch down in the long grass and wait for his unsuspecting prey to come past.  Which he did and Ted pounced on him with the skill of a small round leopard.  The whippet took off again leaving Ted flaying around on his back.

The Owner was not that amused but accepted that Ted has “baggage” from his past and really meant no harm… ha!

Then if that wasn’t enough, the Owner and his Mom strolled ouTed and his strange wayst to the lawns in front of the fountain, tea in hand.  With great dignity the mom sat down on her chaise to relax in the warm sun and survey the newly planted roses and geraniums now in full flower.  Unknown to me, Ted was out searching for his Nemesis but spotted the dear lady instead.  He also spotted her settling onto her chair and even better, place her tea on the grass next to her.  In a flash, as fast as his furry body could go, Ted was there and before anything could be done, he had stuck his nose into the Spode China teacup and wolfed down the lot.

When I was told this, I didn’t actually know what to say.  To me – it was really funny but to burst out laughing didn’t seem quite right so I humbly apologised and explained that Ted just LOVES tea and can smell it a mile away.  I don’t think that helped.

I thought it best to keep the other incident to myself at that point.  A few days before they arrived, I went into the Chateau to make sure everything was ready for them and to open up the private suite for their arrival.  In the short time that the door to this private area was open, Ted was in and out, armed with a fur lined slipper which he plonked down in front of me with great pride.  I took it back only to discover him snuffling around in their wardrobe.

And now news has come in that he’s just gone into the Chateau and eaten the whippet’s special gourmet dinner….oh dear.

On a totally different note..the macarons have finally been conquered and came out perfectly the other day.  I thought it might have been a fluke so I immediately tried voila!  Twice in a row.  I think you only have to get it right a few times before you start understanding what a good macaron mix should “feel” like…not really “look” like.  But I made orange ones with a dark chocolate and orange zest centre and they were absolutely delicious.  They are worth the trouble of trying them fourteen times without success and finally…FINALLY, they decided to grace me with a perfect batch.

I can stop letting them rule my every waking moment and move on to other things..the obsession is over..the Dear One is at peace!

So…Take care of each other and enjoy the week ahead, whatever plans and adventures you have

A la prochaine