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)

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

Mice, Moving men and Macarons

It seems a while since I sat in one place long enough to write .. so I’ve decided to steal some time in 15 minute increments and see how I go.

The Owner of the Chateau has agreed that a large combination woodworking machine would be a good asset to the Estate, mainly because the Dear One produces really good furniture and is great with general woodworking things…so, with the promise to produce a large bathroom unit to go to the UK, the go ahead to buy one was given.  After ages of pouring over brochures and chatting on the Net and waiting for stock, it finally arrived two weeks ago. The delivery guy arrived, flustered with the short quick movements of someone meaning business.  He parked his truck a mile away from the garage, not a good thing seeing the machine had to go right into the workshop and weighed 350 kgs.  We pointed this out to him.  He reversed about 10 meters closer (which left him at least 20 meters from the garage door), hooped out of the cab and with great efficiency, loaded it off using his pneumatic trolley device and plonked it on the gravel.  We once again showed him the workshop door, said that’s where it needs to go and suggested we get the tractor with the hope that his pneumatic trolley thing could load it on to the back and then load it off in the workshop.  This plan clearly was ours alone….the Dear One went to get the tractor and when we turned round to speak to the driver, he had hopped into his truck and was hightailing it down the drive as if all  hell had broken loose.  He drove as if he wore blinkers, if he didn’t see us, we wouldn’t see him and call him back.  We stood there, mouths slightly open in total disbelief, looked at the huge wood crate in middle of the driveway then at each other and burst out was either that or cry.  Eventually, with a lot of huffing and puffing, we got the tractor to drag it through the muddy lawn and to the workshop door – leaving two trenches deep enough to hide and entire battalion of soldiers.  And there the box sat until we could get some sort of winch to put it in place.  It’s all up and running now and there is one very happy person on the estate!  He’s in the process of making an oak fireplace surround.

Being Estate and Chateau Managers involves all sorts of tasks, from painting to looking after antiques, mowing the lawns to cutting hedges, “chef” ing to gardening.  Life is never dull and there’s always something to do.  We decided to breathe life into all the stone pots around the walls of the chateau and then to re-do part of the main garden beyond the fountains with roses and lavender.   We have two weddings on the cards so we want to try and get the Italian garden looking good as it it the most romantic place to get married, perfect for a bride to walk down statue flanked steps and into a stunning walled least it will be stunning by the time we’ve finished with it…hopefully!  We started off by taking out all the old soil in the pots and replacing it with gravel, a type of fabric to stop the drainage holes getting blocked and then good soil.  I was balancing precariously on the wall ledge attempting to get some weeds out when the entire clump, equipped with soil, came out in my hand..along with two mice.  I’m not scared of mice…the scream wasn’t was surprise….and after grabbing onto a crumbling bit of wall and regaining my balance, I discovered a small nest and two tiny mice babies.  They must have been only a day or two old.  Two minute pink creature that strongly resembled jelly-beans with liquorice eyes.  And I had broken up their happy home.  So the Beloved and I decided to leave that pot – it was half hidden in the hedge anyway and we dug a new hole and lined their nest with their old furniture of leaves and moss, then I gently placed the two babies inside.  The next day I couldn’t bring myself to look and see whether they were ok…but the Dear One did…and the little nest was empty.  So mom and dad mouse had collected their babies and taken them somewhere safe.  I’m so glad.

I’m always looking for french recipes and ideas to make the guests stay a more interesting one as far as food goes.  Of all the websites and blogs I’ve visited and read, the making of true french macarons in a tricky business that soon turns into an obsession…not to eat, but to actually making them right!  You can always eat them..they’re good regardless of whether they are lumpy, flat little biscuits, whether they are too chewy or to crisp, whether they are slightly discoloured or have no “feet”..they are sweet tastes of heaven.

BUT, they have been described as “Diva” biscuits…impossible, touchy, moody, temperamental and in general..a pain.  It’s an art the Parisian Chefs hold classes for and once you have mastered them, it doesn’t mean they’ll always turn out correctly. They also don’t like being cooked when it’s raining…and in Normandy that can be a little tricky..when would have a space of more than 2 days to bake macarons before a slight drizzle happens for an hour or two…. The secret lies in the oven temperature, the “macaronage” (yes, the French have a word for this delicate folding process that you can overdo by just one turn of the spatula and the little brat biscuits sulk and won’t come out properly). Most of my attempts – twelve so far… have been good – they’ve mostly all risen, they’re all cute little buttons even though they haven’t had that professional sheen to them….I’ve finally got the oven temperature just right.  It’s the feet, those elusive “feet” that are always missing, that cute little frilly bit at the base of each macaron dome…and the shine.  This weekend we have a group of twenty-two people on a mystery long weekend (only two people knew where they were going and what they were doing so there was a lot of clandestine planning and preparation before their arrival).  In between cooking and baking, I had all the prep done to make some more macarons – I wanted to put two in each room but never got there – I had meticulously ground, powdered, measured and aged all the correct ingredients and I piped them out and popped them in the oven.  And there they were….the perfect pale pink macaron with beautiful glossy domes and…yes….amazingly gorgeous frilly feet!!  I was SO excited…The Beloved gave me a hug (I think he was just relieved the obsession had come to an end..) and I gazed at them through the oven door the way proud new parents look at their new baby through the hospital nursery window.  And then one of the visitors called me through the open kitchen door to ask some inane question …and my perfect macarons burnt to crisp brown buttons. I was SO disapointed…so the obsession lives on.

In about two hours time…another yet attempt will be  made!  The Beloved has taken off…I wonder why? Oh and it’s begun to rain…a the challenge grows….

So for those who have asked to see photo’s of the inside of the cottage now that we’ve moved in I’ve attached some…thank you ever so much for your comments and interest…please go back to the blog after you’ve commented..I try and write back…and if I haven’t I’m so sorry….as soon as the season is over and this endless stream of people ends, hopefully my brain (and body) will be back to normal instead of chugging through the days in a kind of tired but busy haze.

I love hearing from you all,thank you for being out there…and I hope you’re all having a good weekend too.

Take care, chat soon
A bientot

Autumn, mowing and a trip east…

There was good news!  As I mentioned before, The Dear One decided to take the bull buy the horns…just about literally, and tell the owner of the estate where he was working that it was just not meant to be and that if he couldn’t do what he was employed to do – namely be an “Estate Manager” without somebody trailing him around all day telling asking him what he was doing and how he should be doing it…then it was best to part ways.  Fortunately the said Owner didn’t have a fit and told him that he could go at the end of the week instead of end of the month!  So last week Sunday, he arrived home.  All very exciting.

Even though it’s Autumn and the clock is due to be turned back on Sunday, it’s still relatively warm and the days are beautiful.  I had spent a few days before his arrival pickling chillies and making Melanzane (italian aubergines pickled in Balsamic vinegar, garlic and olive oil) because the small potager outside our front door seemed to have gone crazy and was yielding veggies with gay abandon.

I then decided to mow the lawn.  Now much to my shame and disgust, I must humbly admit that I’ve never mowed a lawn before.  I have managed to single-handedly “wheely” a tractor while bailing….but I’ve never used a petrol lawn mower.  SO – I thought I would surprise the Dear One and give it a go.  After pulling the little string-thing a number of times and working up a sweat just doing that..I thought I’d better get some instructions first.  Across the miles to the Husband, the call went something like this…
The Not-so-dear-One ‘You’re going to MOW!?”
“Ok…but PLEASE be careful…you know you…..”  (A great vote of confidence there)
“Mmm but how do I switch it on?”
“Keep pulling the chord until the engine turns over, press the yellow button and pull the lever back to engage the blade….then there are two symbols..a hare, and a tortoise…put the lever on the hare…and lift up the bar as you go – the mower will go forward on its own so you don’t have to push so hard,,,it saves you the effort.”

Cool Beans!  I go out to the mower and pull the chord with gusto.  Eventually it starts, then peters out with a burp.  No petrol.  I take the dogs for a ride to the petrol station, fill up the container, come home, fill up the mower and start again.  Voila!!  It goes!
Press yellow button…
Engage blade…
Set lever on “Hare” ( at this point, I should have given this option a little ore thought..what was the difference between the hare and a tortoise?)
Lift lever to enable mower to “Pull” itself and save me the effort and..
YEE-HAH!  The lawnmower took off towards the lake a with me stuck to the lever and my brain in blank mode.
The thing had a life of it’s own! It plowed through the long grass and headed for the reeds.  The lake loomed closer, the link between my brain and my hands had somehow gone on holiday and just when I thought a swim was nigh..I let go everything and the mower puttered to a shuddering halt after just starting a meal of reeds.
It was still bad, and it took a few attempts of going full tilt into the fence, a tree and the garden chair before I had it under control.
The lawn looked great and there was only a small detour into the reeds!

Autumney foodie things are starting to appear in the shops, a selection of nuts of different sorts, autumn fruit and huge chestnuts. The road down to the Moulin is lined with chestnut trees and they are starting to fall, still still wearing their prickly brown coats.  They are absolutely delicious wrapped in tin foil and popped into the fire for twenty minutes.  A sprinkling of salt and their roasty sweetness is mouth watering.

The Owners of Domaine Du Mont are really keen for us to start at the Chateau as soon possible and after even more emails…it’s been decided that we’ll start on the 15th December instead of the 1st January so it’s all very positive and just a little scary.  I suppose what IS excitingly scary is that we have the option of cooking and offering different options for the guests who stay in the Farmhouse or Chateau like dinners, picnics in the grounds, small weddings or celebrations and garden teas.  If we do that – then that is “Our Business to Build Up” and has nothing to do with the Chateau…and I guess as I’ve always found cooking relaxing and wonderful…and we cook well together…its great…but sometimes thinking of it is always more scary than living it or actually doing it…at the moment…it’s more than scary and a little daunting.

We took a drive to the area in Normandy on Wednesday and its very beautiful.  Known for it;s cream and cheese, the countryside is dotted with fields of black and white cows and rolling hills.  All through art courses and schools, we were always told that the colour “Grass Green”you find in children’s crayon boxes and bought sets of pencils etc is wrong….it’s a colour that as an artist, you very seldom use, that brilliant almost fluorescent, gaudy green that looks slightly surreal.  All I can say is that if I had to paint a landscape of the Normandy countryside, I would have to use that colour crayon “neat” without a second layer to tone it down slightly and make the grass look more real.  No-one would believe if they looked at such a painting that the grass is actually that colour.  Add bright  blue sky, dark green hedges, fluffy clouds, black and white cows and some tudor-type cottages typical of Normandy…..Quite beautiful.

Are you all ok?

A la Prochaine

Murphy’s Law and Ted

Well!  If it doesn’t rain it pours!

Can you just believe this!  No sooner do we “oo” and “aa” and decide to accept the idea of leaving France (which we both definitely didn’t want to do but there comes a time when sometimes decisions are made for you) and heading off to the Cotswolds when I get a message on Facebook from a friend I’ve known since I was about eight and he tells me that a friend of his is looking for an English couple to take care of his house in Normandy.  The Owner would like to chat to us and could we please phone.  The Dear One dutifully does just that, they hit it off immediately and after said phone call and a couple of e-mails, the job is ours if we would like it, complete with beautiful cottage, salary to match what we’ve been offered in the UK and the prospect of starting a small business off the property as well.  Cool beans…we go and check out the website to see what we’re in for as the house is rented out on occasion and we would need to take the laundry etc into town to be washed and ironed.

We should have had a “vague” idea when the owner of the “House” is Financier to the Queen…..we should have had an “inkliing” when he said he rents it for EU 7500.00 per week and that the Beckhams had come to stay etc.  But no, the two of us, typical country bumpkins sit together and open the website and this is what we see:

Chateau Edouard  Now Really!!  And it only sits on  50 hectares, part of which is woodland and another,  Eco-orchard of apples from which Calvados is made. The rest is landscaped gardens

So much does he like the idea of us being there, he’s willing to wait the 3 or 4 months “try-out: period that we have in the UK…if we like it there and can’t see ourselves moving, he’ll look for someone else.  Otherwise, the job is ours. in January/February.

Mmm, will have to have a think about that, the move to the UK has been a bit of a mission and even though I have been a misery over leaving our little cottage and Dol-de-Bretagne, part of me – a small part – is looking forward to the freedom of speaking a language that doesn’t make my brain ache as I search for the right tenses and words.

We were all set to go, ferry booked, B&B booked (just to take our time getting to the farm and exploring a bit on the way)  and I had booked the vet the correct hours ahead of time to get the mutts de-wormed and to get them each a proper “EU France  Passport” (which looks just like a human one but it’s blue with the EU Circle of Stars on it!).  Off we went to Combourg because the vet speaks English there and horror of horrors, the SA Vet had, for some reason, put the rabies injection as only valid for a year from July last year.  Why only a year?  Not a clue.  What does this mean?  The mutts have to have a booster shot and can’t travel for 3 weeks!!

So there you have it.  On the day we were do to leave (early this morning) the husband went without me.  The new people are moving into our cottage either today or tomorrow and after cleaning it from top to toe, I moved into Moulin Corbonnais down the road.  Our very dear french friend who lives in Morocco very kindly said we could stay here for a bit.  It’s worked out very well actually.  His house is on the market and a couple are wanting to come and see it this weekend so I can be here to show them around and air the house before they come.
Then the owners of the main house next to our cottage are coming over to meet the new couple and have told me to please move into the main house once they leave.  I’ll stay there for most of the three weeks.  The dogs know the house and so do I and, as they have explained, it’s good that I’m on hand to show the new couple the ropes and where everything is if they get stuck.  Plus there’s an enclosed garden and the mutts will be secure.  So here we are “Lost in France” as Bonny Tyler once sang.Ted

On a sad note, those of you who know Ted (and to know him is to love him) will know that, apart from being beaten with a bat on his upper spine in his previous life, he’s also a Spina Biffida mutt with a hole in his spine and weak back legs.  His tablets and ultra sound machine has gone off to the UK and we were so delighted he hasn’t needed it for so long – only once since we’ve been here.  All of a sudden, he collapsed and started to cry when he tried to get up.  We had the same scenario that made us take him to the Chiropractor in SA all over again.
Out of sheer desperation and after reading up a bit on the Net,I gave him quarter of a anti-inflammatory that I took once and as he started to relax, I massaged his little body with aromatherapy oils and arnica.  He’s doing much better but I’m glad I’m here with him and we didn’t give them to friends to look after for three weeks!  My poor little man, he’s such a dear dog and licks my hand when I try and help him.  Between him, leaving the cottage and having the husband leave…kleenex tissue shares went up just a bit.

Before I go – I can’t work out how to let you all know when I reply to any comment you’ve made.  I try and reply to everyone because I love reading your words and I hate to think you never see the reply and think I’m ignoring you!

So please, come back every now and then and see if there’s a reply,,,in the meantime..I’ll try and see if there’s a way of letting you know when I’ve commented back.

Bientot, A’la prochaine

Fester, Fester, Fester…rot, rot, rot…..

That’s one of my favourite lines from the movie “French Kiss”.  French Kiss - the movieA Wonderful, feel good movie starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline ( I still love the movie – even though the husband has threatened to leave me for his “lost Meg” a million times…).  This line, along with “My ass is twitching” and the scene when Luke tries to tell Kate how to say his name are classic moments of the movie and that’s all I thought it was.  Until we came to live here.

Seven months down the line I realise more and more the subtle nuances of that movie and just how true they are of the French Folk.  There is a scene when Kate is on a plane and Luke sits down next to her and prepares to chat to her all the way from the States to Paris.  He introduces himself as “Luke” pronounced with a very french accent
“”Ello, my name is Lee-uk”
She responds, “Luke?”
“Non, Lee-uk!”
She tries hard to imitate him, “Lee-uk”?
“No! Lee-uk”
“Non, Non leesen care-fully…LEE-UK”

She gives up.

That sums up the French language. They genuinely want you to try and speak their language.  The are proud of their language because it IS beautiful to listen to.  BUT they will correct you until you are blue in the face while showing you in graphic detail where your tongue should be and how your lips should go.  And when you just KNOW you are saying it correctly, they will still say “Non, non, and repeat it again . It drives me mad.  The interesting thing about this exchange is that the last thing they will ever expect is for you to correct them with their English.  That doesn’t matter…it’s ok to slaughter the language, after all, the Actual English have so many accents, the Americans have a different one, the South Africans and Australians have yet ANOTHER one so it’s not too serious (maybe they realise that English spoken with a french accent is also wonderful to listen to)…but French, Aah Oui, it is very important that you get it right!

To carry on with the movie, Luke (or Lee-uk to be precise) is a morose thief with family issues, he’s a drop-out and failure and is trying to pull his life together.  His “ass twitches” when things aren’t going well for him and Kate delivers the line “Fester fester fester…rot, rot, rot.”
When you sit and watch the French folk go about their daily life, shopping, having coffee, walking through the market etc it takes a while to register how very little they smile and how almost miserable they seem to be.  It seemed to me to be a bit odd as after all..have you SEEN the countryside, wildlife, flowers, coastline, food, forests.  Those should make people happy all the time.  But no, they seem to fester, fester fester…rot, rot, rot.  I decided to ask a few french friends what it was all about.

Now please understand this is a generalisation I know but seeing it became so obvious, it’s quite worth mentioning.  I learnt that on the whole, the French aren’t happy unless they are unhappy.”  With hands thrown up in despair,  deep sighs, large gestures and long mutterings they go through the day from one negative to the next.  The fruit is unripe, the fruit is too soft, the fruit I wanted is out of season, too expensive, too cheap so bad quality, not cooked well, cooked too much, cooked too little, not seasoned enough,,the list goes on…and doesn’t just apply to fruit.. One french friend put it down to their deeply Catholic upbringing where being happy might be taken as a sin, another put it down to just a fussy, unhappy nation.  I can’t judge because I haven’t a clue.  I just made the observation and the light came on when it came to understanding the movie a bit better….and in retrospect, it just made it funnier.

When Kate was sitting on the train with Lee-uk quaffing down warm crusty bread and large quantities of creamy brie, she looked out of the window at the passing countryside of bright blue sky, rows of iridescent green vineyards, ancient stone villages glowing warmly in the sun she said,
“Beautiful, gorgeous, just beautiful!”
and his reply was a giant over exaggerated shrug, a dismissive wave of his hand and the words,
“I was born here.”

It took her, an outsider, to re-introduce the stunning beauty of his homeland again. Sad in a way isn’t it?
The beauty of France’s countryside and the stunning villages makes me happy and as the dear one (who’s always loved chatting to strangers) said the other day, when you’re happy and you pass someone in the street, you want to smile and say ?Bonjour”.  Some villages are SO friendly, they don’t smile, but they will say “Bonjour”.  Many won’t.  I’m told that if they haven’t been properly introduced to you, you, your smile and your bonjour are just “all wrong!”

We’ve worn down the folk in the coffee shop we frequent.  They now bring us the coffee without asking, they even say “Ca Va?”(how’s it) after the bonjour and one local elderly Frenchman who seems to be there all the time with the inevitable;e cigarettes and newspaper, now looks up, nods his head and says “Bonjour” to our cheerful greeting…sometimes he even says it first!

Now we just have to teach him to smile.

A la Prochaine