Saturday, 31 January 2009

Truffles are not the only Fruit

Susan wrote in January about our experience buying a black truffle at the Marigny-Marmande truffle fair and cooking with it. Alongside the main hall in which the truffles are sold, a large marquee is erected and filled with other local and almost local produce. For a carnivore this is (literally) hog heaven.

In the above photo you can see various local delicacies including crumbed pigs trotters (pig feet for you Southerners), Farci Poitevin (a whole cabbage stuffed with pork and sorrel pâte and simmered for hours in court bouillion), assorted pâtes and rillettes. The round pan beyond the trotters is a civet de sanglier. A civet is a game stew (in this case wild boar) traditionally made by hunters in the field, using the blood of the animal to thicken the sauce. These days they are mostly made with red wine and perhaps some minced chicken liver to give a taste and mouthfeel reminiscent of the traditional recipe. The same stall also sells boudin blanc and boudin noir in both natural and truffle laced states. (Taste bud alert!)

Boudin
There is also ham and other cured cuts of pork including bellies, which sliced thinly could make really interesting streaky bacon (I have my taste buds really excited now...) Alongside them are sold any number of varieties of saucisson sec (think French salami) including wild boar, deer, and smoked duck. We took a photo of these last year.

Just as truffles are not the only fruit, nor is pork the only meat. We were surprised by how much biche (venison – specifically hind ie female Red Deer) there was on sale. I am not sure how you cook a whole front leg of deer - I assume you roast it in a big oven or maybe on a spit over charcoal. (Taste buds have been set off again)

If you're not into meat there is usually a range of breads, dried fruits and jams. And, of course, truffles. The attractive photo below is of brioche and Tourteau Fromagé (literally a cheese crab), a kind of brioche made with goats cheese and cooked really hot at first so the top "burns". Clotilde has written about it on Chocolate & Zucchini. I really like it - Susan isn't convinced. Like the Farci Poitevin, it too is a very local regional dish.

There is also usually a stall selling snails. I can't work out if snails are meat or not, so I won't mention them. Taste buds are now back to normal, by the way.

Simon

Friday, 30 January 2009

Chateau la Boussée

No - not the Chateau at Boussay. Nor even the chateau at Bossay (because there isn't one we have found yet).

This is the Chateau la Boussée, which is on a road we have driven down many times without seeing. It is becoming evident to us that the secret to discovering new places is to drive down every road in every season - in both directions. We have driven past this four times last year: with Susan's parents; my uncle and aunt; Adrian, Caroline and Corey; and Susan's sister and brother in law - and yet never seen it, simply because each time we were heading towards Azay-le-Ferron from the Foret de Preuilly.

Head away from Azay towards Charnizay, however, and you get a glimpse of the gates. Turn down the road towards le Grand Village, and you are rewarded by this sight. You may even be rewarded with the sight of a wildcat disappearing through a hedge, which Susan thinks she might possibly have seen.

The only thing I can tell you about the chateau is that it was once a Chambre D'Hote (B&B) with fishing but doesn't appear to be one any more. This is yet another place worthy of research.

Simon


While Simon was photographing the château, I caught a glimpse of movement. A large tabby cat was trotting along the roadside ditch, then slipped off into the shelter belt of trees. Even though I had a camera in my hands, I reacted too slowly. The reason I would have liked a photo was that this might have been a rare Wild Cat, which are known to be present in the area and may even be increasing in numbers. I had seen pictures of Wild Cats, with their rather short blunt ended fluffy tails and large size. I have also seen feral cats in Australia, which some consider to be a distinct species, long established like the dingo, and not the descendents of European pets gone wild, and this beast was reminiscent of them.

Wild Cats (chat forestier in French) are a native European mammal, and not to be confused with the sort of mange-ridden scrawny feral creature seen in urban back streets and around farmyards. The Brenne is one of the few places in the world where they still exist in the wild as purebred Wild Cats and not as hybrids with domestic cats. I contacted our local wildlife warden and he told me that unfortunately there is no way of telling in the field if what you are seeing is a hybrid or a purebred, no matter how much they look like the real thing. I have added a short note on Wild Cats to our other blog, Loire Valley Nature.

Susan

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Table Manners

Everyone likes to think they have good table manners, and I am no different.

The only thing I was in trouble about as a kid was wanting to sit at the table without a shirt on. This apparently, even in Australia when you're 11, is a no go. Everything else I did at the table I did quite acceptably: no elbows on the table; I tore my bread roll rather than cut it; and I even used my knife and fork in the "correct" hands. (For readers in North America, this meant my knife stayed in my right hand, my fork in the left, and I cut my food as it became needed.)

Happy people at a restaurant. It was at the end
of bath moving day - no wonder we look happy.
This stands me in fairly good stead in France, with one or two exceptions: elbows on the table aren't a problem - it means you can lean towards a conversation looking interested, and the bread roll, whilst still being torn, goes on the table rather than on your plate. In fact, you don't even get a side plate in most restaurants. To tell the truth, table manners in France aren't something they take too seriously - you aren't likely to cause serious affront as long as you're interesting.

Except for one thing.

It really isn't done to put your hands below the table. If you're from the USA and some parts of Canada, this means forgetting what your mother told you, and keeping your hands above the table. Sitting like a lady with your left hand in your lap after cutting your food isn't likely to really cause real offence (you're foreign, and probably can't help it), but all the French people at the table will spend the whole meal wondering what you're doing with that hand they can't see. Especially if you're sitting next to someone else's husband...

Simon

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

An Australian and Food

We have found another Australian in France. La Niortaise lives in Niort, but teaches English to university students in Poitiers. She blogs here. If you're an Australian wanting to live in France, you will find her experiences with bureaucracy and visas enlightening.

One of the items on her blog was the VGT Omnivore's Hundred, which we thought we would pass on. This gives us a chance to show two photos of items on the list we ate for Christmas Dinner.

Susan opening oysters using the wooden oyster holder

The VGT Omnivore's Hundred
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borsch
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet Pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (Jello shots!)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a 3-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake
The round cheese is Époisses

I completed this list with not a lot of confidence, because I cannot be absolutely sure what I have eaten in the past.

This is a result of:
  • Very late mornings after a night out. I used to play in a band, and you get hungry at 5.00am and then can't necessarily recall eating anything the next day
  • Travelling to places where I don't speak the language. Who knows what I ate in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Korea or the United States (and other places besides)?
  • Mislabelling. I probably have eaten horse without knowing it, and I have seen items such as "lamb bits" on a menu. These could mean me adding 3 or 4 extra items
  • Any meat you are unaccustomed to "tastes just like chicken", apparently. Was some of the "chicken" actually snake? What was that in the stew in Korea?
  • One I am allergic to. I like crab and will eat it if you wish, but you should be prepared for copious projectile vomiting.
  • One I am not admitting to. I will let you decide which one.
Simon

p.s This is our "Levis" blog entry - 501!! If I had been paying attention yesterday I would have made more of a fuss.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

My Plan for the Bathroom Floor

I have decided that my life will now be a series of mini sagas. Our first saga was the roof - not so much getting it done, as arranging to get it done (it's all in here, somewhere). Still - that is now sorted. My next mini saga will be sorting out the bathroom floor. You may remember that last time you saw it, it looked like this. It now has to have new bearers and joists so I can lay a new floor.

I am too scared to touch any of the "beams" that are currently in the bathroom. I call them beams, because they appear to be doing more to hold up the ceiling downstairs than support the floor upstairs. All of them move alarmingly, and at least one of them in all 4 directions; up and down, front and back, side to side, AND it rotates. How to put in a bathroom floor without disturbing these has been playing on my mind since July, but now I have a plan.

At least, I think I have a plan.

The only way I can see of making the floor solid and stable will be to create a new floor bolted to the wall above what is already in place. What I will do is make a bearer (I think that is what it's called) out of 50mm x 150mm treated pine and bolt it to the external wall using 90mm long anchor bolts (goujons d'ancrage, apparently). This measurement may change, because I am not sure what that 90mm distance is - the wall is only one brick thick. The trick will be in making this piece absolutely level as it is quite likely I will be doing this on my own.

I will then attach another bearer to the bearer holding up the landing. This SHOULD be fairly simple (I hope I haven't just tempted fate there). Once that is done, I will put the lap jointed joists in place (spaced at 500mm centres), bolting the outside joists to the side walls. All this will be double measured and constantly checked with a spirit level. Everything is going to be screwed because I still can't hammer a nail in properly.

At this stage I will do the plumbing (or pay to have someone do the plumbing). Most of the pipework I should be able to do myself, but we will need a new connection to the egout (sewer) for a toilet and this will require a proper plumber.

Once they are plumbed a double layer of 9mm floor panels will be screwed to the joists, and we will almost have a new bathroom.

Albeit one missing a wall and without a door. We have chosen a door though, and typically, it isn't the cheapest door in the book. It's a nice sexy door with porthole! I would provide a link, but the Lapeyre website is now flash based (and therefore doesn't work properly), and I will not encourage that sort of behaviour.

You may wonder why I am writing this up before I do it, and there are two reasons. One is so that I have these little French hardware words written down somewhere, and the other is so that people who know about this building and carpentry stuff can critique my plans (please?) before I start. What I know about carpentry could be carved on the back of a postage stamp with a 4 inch chisel.

Simon

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We are back to a classic Preuilly view. This is what our town looks like from the footbridge over the Claise on a clear February day.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Australia Day

No, we haven't had it moved in as a garden feature!

The photo in our title piece was taken by Susan in 2006 while I was in Loches with Bryan. At the time she was on holiday in the Northern Territory with her parents. The green and gold have been Australia's official colours since April 19, 1984.

The first recorded French presence in Australia was the expedition of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, who arrived in Botany Bay on this day in 1788 at the same time as Captain Phillip was moving the first fleet to Port Jackson (the proper name of Sydney Harbour) to found the first European settlement in Australia. He is remembered by a suburb bearing his name which overlooks Frenchman's Bay, part of Botany Bay. Also at la Perouse is Bare Island Fort, which I remember as being one of the first places I ever went to on an outing with my family in Australia after we arrived in 1967. It was extremely hot (it was probably midwinter, but we had just arrived from an English Spring...) and we caught the bus down there, which took HOURS. Then I remember being singularly unimpressed with the fort, because being a London boy I was expecting the Tower of London, if not better. The only thing that redeemed the trip was the fact we went past the Rose Bay Flying Boat Base. Kids, eh?

A completely gratuitous photo of Sydney. Go under the bridge,
and on the right is Camp Cove, where the colony was founded.
For most Australians, the closest ties with France date from World War One, when the Australians served in the carnage that was the Western Front. After that war a number of ex-servicemen stayed on in France, and Paris became first choice for Australian artists, most notably Will Ashton and Rupert Bunney.

Since then, French/Australian relationships have been pretty good - if sometimes strained. The most notable strain was caused by the nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll between 1966 and 1996, which I remember being heavily demonstrated against.

Overall though, the French presence in Australia is fairly small, although there are 31 Alliance Française groups spread across the country.

Officially 5,500 Australians live in France. We hope soon to make that 2 more...

Simon

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Edit

My parents emailed to say that my knowledge of Australia history is somewhat lacking - there were at least 3 French visits to Australia before La Pérouse:
  • The French ships Boudeuse and Etoile under the command of Commander Louis de Bougainville and Captain Chesnard de la Giraudais almost found the east coast of Australia in 1758
  • The Gros Ventre, Captain Francois de Saint Allouarn, sighted the west coast of Australia at Cape Leeuwin in 1772
  • The crew of the ships Mascarin and Marquis de Castries under the command of Commander Marion Dufresne made landfall on Tasmania, also in 1772
In my defence I have to say that when I went to school we were taught that Captain Cook invented Australia. People like William Dampier and Dirk Hartog were hardly mentioned, and all we knew about Abel Tasman is that he discovered Tasmania and completely missed seeing the Australian Mainland.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Les Noix – Walnuts

The Touraine is famous for its walnuts, although it does not hold an AOC for them. Still, there is a walnut tree in almost every field and along roadsides. There is no real need to possess your own walnut to secure a year round supply – just go for a walk and pick them up off the ground – everyone does it.

Walnut trees in a field, le Grand Pressigny

I buy walnuts these days though. There is an elderly man from Boussay who comes to the market in Preuilly. He sells the excess of whatever he is growing in his garden, and I often buy my lettuce, onions, garlic or potatoes from him. I also buy walnuts, and the reason is that I can buy this season's freshly shelled nuts from him. I can also buy unshelled walnuts from him, but since 1kg of unshelled or 500g of shelled is the same number of nuts and the same price it seems mad to buy the unshelled. According to him, there are 40 walnuts to a kilo, and they net you une livre (a pound) of shelled nuts. He charges €3 a bag, shelled or unshelled. He always refers to half a kilo as une livre, and recommends the nuts as a nibble to go with an aperitif.

Shelled walnuts from Boussay

A while ago I wrote about making Pear and Walnut Cake, and one of our readers recommended Jane Grigson's recipe for Burgundian Walnut Bread. This is a savoury bread, with onions as well as walnuts. I made it while my parents were here in the summer and we had it with soup, and with cheese.

Walnut bread dough proving

Kneading the walnuts and onions into the dough

Fresh Burgundian Walnut Bread

Susan

Saturday, 24 January 2009

This Week's Task

What with all the excitement attached to actually selling the house in Australia, we might have been forgiven for stopping a while to draw breath. The problem we have (or me, anyway) is the fact the sale took so long to happen the practical aspect of moving to France had began to fade into a fantasy world. I am now putting my mind to a scheme of work.

Our house, the first time we saw it. 29 May 2006

One of the main problems with a project this size is timing. Timing is everything. We have a 2½ bedroom house with no staircase, no heating, no insulation and no hot water. There is no bathroom (incorrect, in a way, we have a bathroom with no floor and no fittings). We have electricity, but the whole house needs rewiring. All the walls needs insulating and dry-lining, but we can't really do that until the plumbing and wiring is taken care of. We can't do the wiring and plumbing until we at least start the frames for the dry lining. Likewise, we can't install the bathroom until it has a floor, but the plumbing has to go in first, then the wall frames, then the wiring. Of course, if we want underfloor heat (and we do) that has to be done before anything else. So does the repair of the stonework around the doors and windows.

Our house, 1st January 2009.
So the first thing we need to do is: get a bathroom. And maybe a staircase (because Susan isn't a fan of the idea of using a ladder and wants a staircase but I like having a large hole where the staircase should be because it means we don't have to squeeze stuff up a narrow passage). And install underfloor heating. And fix the masonry.

This means that we have 3 things to do first. Or four. Or maybe five, because we have to get the internet connected without it costing an arm and a leg because there is no way we want to be in France but not connected. For some reason, in France they think you want to pay huge amounts of money every month to get your internet, free phone calls and online television delivered. Two of these I have no interest in having, and even less interest in paying for!

Sensible people would, at this stage, get a project manager. I have got a big piece of paper. And a pencil.
Our House, June next year
The heartening part is that the thing we really had to do first, we have done already. We have a roof, and the house is watertight. We also have a toilet, and running cold water. If we were feeling really hardy, we could live there now. We will be living there while most the work is being done. All we are waiting for is the weather - and a certain amount of boldness.

Bring it on.

Simon

Friday, 23 January 2009

Buildings on the Market Place - No 1


The Virginia Creeper covered house on the right is 1 Place des Halles and has an extremely interesting history; in 1920 it was the co-operative bakery. As far as we can work out, these were set up in each town as required by law to ensure that bread was fairly distributed to all in France, where extremely hard times followed the devastation caused by the First World War. The building on the left is Dr Martin's veterinary surgery, which I have already written about.

According to Roger Lezeau:


It was here that one found the co-operative bakery created out of necessity during the war. Monsieur and Madame Ridet and their daughter Berthe ensured that there was bread for sale but did not engage in its manufacture. Monsieur Nibodeau succeeded them.

At this time the baguette*, as in Paris, made its first appearance in Preuilly.

Sourdough (miche) was sold whole although other breads could be cut, enabling the baker to add a small slice to an order to make up the weight** [according to Roger, known as the amandon, or 'kernel', but I wonder if this is a play on words, because donner la miche = faire l'aumône = to give alms, and the baker may have been more or less generous with people.]

Ranges and ovens were not yet in use in town houses, and you could take tarts, stuffed tomatoes, roast veal, and even a dish made from haricots blancs called les pouais [which I fear may be an onomatopaic word] to the bakeries to cook. The flavours were greatly enhanced in the oven, delighting the nostrils of the kids charged with fetching the oven baked dish.

But to return to our co-op (copé) – you paid for the bread there with ration cards, the value of which varied depending on their colour. Although rationing did not cease immediately after the war, the quality of the bread improved rapidly.

The shop has been gone for decades and the building is now private homes.

Roger Lezeau's anecdote translated by me from his article in Les Cahiers de la Poterne, No34. Monsieur Lezeau was born in 1912 and is a great source of knowledge about the history of Preuilly.

Food shortages did not begin to affect [the more] southern unoccupied part of France (where we are) until 1916, but in May of that year, the so-called 'national bread' was introduced. It became less and less palatable throughout the duration of the war and by November 1916 it was rationed. The harvest of 1916 had been generally poor and the winter of 1916-17 harsh. Women workers in Paris led food riots, forcing the government to introduce rationing. Rationed foods in the north were paid for using a specially issued paper currency known as bons (which I think must have been issued by the Germans. I think the ration coupons used later and in the south were different, but also known as bons). [Our regular French reader, CHM, tells me that the bons were the same throughout and administered by the French government on French soil. I think my confusion arose because it can be difficult separating the situation in Belgium and in France at this time with the surprisingly sparse references available on the internet.]

The 'national bread' was made from no more than one third wheat flour, with another third rye and the balance made up of maize and rice. It had an extremely hard crust, and most people considered it almost inedible. Many bakeries closed due to the lack of supplies.

In the north, the food shortages started much earlier in the war, and were far worse. The occupying German army removed to Germany what crops had survived the fighting in 1914. By 1915 the bread ration in Lille was 200g per adult per day and 100g per child. There were rumours that the ration would go down to 140g per day for adults and 40g for children, and it did eventually fall to that level.

An extraordinary international food aid programme was masterminded by Herbert Hoover (then a millionaire businessman, later President of the United States), and co-ordinated by diplomats from Britain, the United States, Spain and the Netherlands. They could get food to France and Belgium relatively easily by sea or through neighbouring neutral countries, but once in the occupied war zone, distribution did sometimes become problematic. The negotiations with the German command were continual.

After the war, France found itself responsible for many refugees and immigrant labourers who had been brought in to help keep the country functioning on the domestic front, and chose to stay permanently.

I assume that our property was a graineterie (grain merchant's) at this time, and I would love to find some information on our place at this time and how the proprietors coped with the situation.

Susan

*For more on the history of the baguette see Simon's post In Praise of Bread.
**There are still regulations that mean that some types of bread must be sold by weight, others can be sold by the loaf.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

An update on the Bad Neighbours

I wrote last year about Malvoisine, commenting on how strange is is to call your hamlet "the bad neighbour" and putting forward my own theories for the name.

There is one theory I didn't consider, and it is this:

During the war with John Lackland (yup - the Robin Hood and Ivanhoe chap) the Chateau du Lion was held at one stage by English forces (or at least, forces aligned to England), and was claimed to be impregnable. This didn't stop the French forces under Phillipe Auguste from bringing up a huge war machine ("un ancienne et terrible machine de guerre") - either a catapult or a trebuchet - to lob stones at the defenders.

The Chateau from Malvoisine
The machine really must have been a monster - it is almost 1km from where it is said to have been sited to the chateau, and most literature gives the range of these machines at about 300 metres. It is easy to suppose, though, that if the machine was closer to the river then it could quite easily have been used to throw rocks into the town itself. All this happened as part of the events described in yesterday's post, and as a direct result of this our house (or at least the barn part) was built.

One will never know if it was the defenders or the attackers who called this machine "the bad neighbour", but the name stuck, and on 9th February 1585 the area was officially named "Malvoisine".

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.
A.A. Milne
Now we are Six

Simon

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Who would win a fight between Hannibal Lecter and 007?

So anyways...

There's this bloke right, and he's called Anthony Hopkins, and he's got the family business because his old man has dropped off the perch. He goes off on holiday to Israel with a mate called James Bond (but not that one, the one no-one remembers that isn't an Aussie).

Halfway there (they must have gone on a real cheap flight or something) James Bond gets on a different plane and goes home, yeah? He turns up at Tone's joint and buys his favorite gaff off of the brother Nigel who is house sitting. The brother is a right little toerag who was daddy's golden boy and he's running the old firm while Tone is on holiday.

Then Tone goes and gets himself banged up (airrage probably - he was a bit of a nutter) in Australia or somewhere and doesn't find out about all this until he gets out. When he gets home, he goes ballistic, gets a gang of mates, and does some serious head kicking. Only takes him a couple of hours and he's got his feet up in front of the telly. Bish bash bosh, lovely job.

Then he goes and pegs it and Nige the toad gets the whole deal - lock stock and barrel. Couple of years later there's a turf war kicks off what's really been going for ages ever since Peter O'Toole (that's the dad) married the James Bond bloke's old man's ex. She was a seppo called Katherine Hepburn.

So James Bond, yeah, rocks up with a bunch of mates at Tone's old gaff what Nige has now got but isn't at coz he is off taking care of business in Notts Forest (he spent loads of time giving some grief to Douglas Fairbanks, who sometimes looked like Kevin Costner). Takes him a year hanging around outside and shouting and chucking stuff about before he gets the keys. Turns out all to be a waste of time, because he didn't like the place much, and ends up giving it to a different mate who was the Italian geezer who was actually running the show.

History eh? You gotta concentrate.

Simon

For the terminally confused, this might help.

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Who taught a politician to speak like that? I'm not old, but I am old enough to remember other politicians and I am pretty sure I have never heard one speak like that. Amazing.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The House in Queensland


We have all gone a lttle light-headed here...

Yes indeed, it is sold. At last.

This means that with any luck, over the next 12 months there will be a lot more blog posts about the progress we are making with the house. Also, because we should be in Preuilly more often, we will be able to take a closer look at day to day life in a small town in the Loire valley. Unfortunately, it does mean that there will be slightly less history and wildlife, but we have promised ourself that restoring the house won't be a 25 hour a day, 8 day week jobbie. We have heard too many stories (and while we were looking at houses to buy, seen too much evidence) of people who flog themselves into the ground, forgetting not only why they moved to France, but that the purpose of life is to live it a little. Thus we have promised ourselves a day a week to do "us" things and keep exploring.


This is the view from the Verandah

When I bought my house in Australia many people asked if I knew what I was doing in buying such an old house - maybe even 70 years old!

You will now excuse me while I do a little happy dance.

Simon

(these photos were taken from the real estate agent's site, hence the quality)

Monday, 19 January 2009

Six Horses




Or eight if you include this.

This is the classic Citroen 2cv. Road Tax in France is levied depending on the tax horsepower rating, which is a calculation made on engine capacity, not power. The 2cv has two chevaux vapeur - that is 2 steam horses. It is the car that put France properly on the road in 1948, and it stayed in production until 1990. In total 3,872,583 of them were made.

The design brief was simple: it should be able to ....
well - I will let the shaggy bloke in the video explain it

(that makes 10 horses so far)

According to one source, "Citroen was so confident in the 2CV's abilities that it offered the prize of a brand new car to the first person who rolled one on to its roof - and well over half a century later, the prize still hasn't been claimed." If you have ever followed one down the road you may doubt this - they are the leaniest cars I have ever seen.

Simon

(The video is not the right aspect, I know - but it was loaded to you-tube by someone other than me)

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Fun with French: merci


This photo is posted for the "merci" plaques on the right hand side. I believe they are for prayers that have been made in front of the statue and answered. It's an odd photo, because I don't have any photos of the plaques - except on the extremities where they have been caught while I was taking a photo of something else.

Simon


merci
'Thank you', as I am sure most of you know. Most text books tell you that if you want to say 'thank you very much' it is merci beaucoup. There's nothing wrong with this, but I notice that in practice most people here say merci bien. I think this is slightly more casual and relaxed. If you really want to stress how very grateful you are when someone has done you a really good turn, knowing that the proper response is the quite formal je vous remercie goes down a treat. You can expect a modest smile (a combination of amusement at your accent and pleasure that you have acknowledged the good deed) and either de rien ('it's nothing') or je vous en prie ('you're welcome'), spoken in a super rapid fire mumble, as it is a polite but instinctive, formulaic rejoinder.

Merci is generally pronounced 'mare-see', but we notice that some people here say something that sounds more like 'mare-sheesh'.

Susan

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Paleron – Feather Steak

Cut thin and flash fried, feather steak makes a very tasty and economical meal. It is a cut of beef you can always get in France, but hardly ever see in the UK.

It's from the less well regarded front end of the beast, and if cut thicker and used as a stewing steak, it is known as blade (as in shoulder blade, which is more or less where it comes from on the animal).


These pieces cost me €2.18 for 256g of meat at one of the large supermarket chains. What's more, the label informed me that the beast the meat came from was born and raised in France, killed and butchered in France (with a reference number so that I can check exactly where and by whom should I feel the need). Perhaps most interesting of all, the label told me that this meat came from a cow (vache), as opposed to a steer, and she was not a beef breed, but a dairy cow (laitier).

It may seem odd to clearly label meat as not from a breed specifically developed for meat production, but take a look at the type of hefty heifer that these steaks probably came from, and you will understand that we are not talking about the sort of gaunt mobile bags of milk that modern intensive dairy farming demands. Strictly speaking, these Normandes are a dual purpose breed.

Feather steak has a most off-putting looking piece of gristle running down the middle, but if the meat is cooked extremely quickly and not allowed to cool before being eaten, the central gristle does not toughen but is more like firm jelly. You do need to check that all the gristle around the edges is trimmed off though, as that is like leather.

Pat the steak dry, smear with oil, season generously with Ducros 5 Baies pepper blend and a little salt then sizzle for no more than a minute a side on a dry cast iron pan that has been heated until it is smoking. Pull off the heat and stir a little crème fraîche into the pan juices. Serve immediately with fried potatoes of some sort.

Susan

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Claise in Winter

Looking at the blog you might find it difficult to believe what I am about to say, but we have a nasty habit of not taking photos.

I think this is because we know we will be living the rest of our lives in and around Preuilly, so if we are on our way somewhere and see a photoworthy scene we think "too late! We will catch that later". Of course, I can present a defence: pulling over at short notice can be difficult on very narrow roads with drainage ditches so close to the paved surface, and there is always an EDF van trying to drive through me at the time..

A couple of weeks ago on our way to the Brenne I announced to Susan that we would be stopping along the way to take photos of the river, and actually managed to do so. We started taking photos as we crossed the bridge in Preuilly and then drove along the southern bank of the river towards Bossay-sur-Claise and Martizay.

The river is lined with very small gardens and poplar plantations, each between 2000m² - 4000m². These are used by town dwellers (mainly) as extensions of the vegetable garden, a bank, fishing spots, BBQ areas and firewood resource. Looking at the photo below, who can blame them?

It is an ambition of ours one day to join the riverbank owning clique, especially if I am allowed by the powers that be to buy a barque like the one tied up below.

They are a bit of a local speciality, and are handmade in a garage in Fontgombault on the Creuse River out of large slabs of wood you can see by the roadside as you drive through the village.

Simon

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Verneuil

We usually drive through Verneuil on our way to the marché in Loches. When we are driving towards Loches we get a great view of the chateau, and when we are driving home a not so great view of the other side. We have stopped a number of times and taken not so great photos of the not so great view, and we always promise ourselves that one day we will stop and take a proper photo of the chateau. Last year I managed to remember.

A good view of the chateau
The chateau is now the Maison Sainte Jeanne d'Arc, a privately run children's home and horticultural college. According to their website, "The house welcomes, trains and places young people from difficult family and social situations, and is also a school for social and professional success." From what I can work out, the college houses up to sixty 12-14 year olds and gives them the standard secondary education, with an emphasis on horticulture. It also provides professional training in horticulture and agriculture for more mature students.

A not so good view of the chateau
Every year the Maison holds an agricultural show and plant fair, usually on the Sunday of the weekend after Susan's annual conference - so we are Preuilly, but leaving to drive back to London. Next year we hope things will be different, and that not only will be able to visit the chateau and buy some plants, but that we will have the beginnings of a proper garden in which to plant them.

Verneuil not only has a very attractive chateau - it also the home of Coopérative Laitière de la Région Lochoise, where our local butter is made.

This butter is a perfect example of how localised some of the food production and retailing in France is - we can buy this butter in any of the supermarkets around us in the Touraine, but it isn't available at the SuperU at la Roche Posay, over the border in Vienne, only five minutes away.

Last year the cooperative won three medals at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris:
Sainte Maure de Touraine (gold medal) , semi-skimmed UHT (bronze medal), and Valençay (gold medal). I am interested that the one factory not only produces goat's milk and cow milk products, but it also produces 2 different AOC cheeses.

Simon

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

La Pierre Percée

This intruiging stone is just outside the village of Draché in Indre et Loire. We went there on our way home from Ste Maure de Touraine, which is only about 5km away.

As ever with these things, there is a number of traditions associated with the stone. To pledge your troth (do people do that these days? I wouldn't know where to find my troth) you pass a bouquet through the hole to your loved one. To stop your child suffering from scrofula (apparently that's TB) you pass the baby through the hole. It is also said to be the marker stone for a Sarrazin Cemetary (Sarrazins aren't necessarily Saracens, the term is used for any stranger who's skin colour isn't the same as ours) - and also a sacrificial stone.

To get to the stone you walk down a really pleasant forest alleyway - great in winter for kicking up leaves - and on a hot summer's day it must be lovely and cool

Like most of these stones, you probably wouldn't travel far out of your way to see it, but if you're on your way past it would be a shame not to.

If you're interested in these things, the Megalith Portal is brilliant.

Simon

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Battle of Poitiers

Just after Christmas we decided to undertake an "exploring Châtellerault" expedition. Châtellerault is our nearest town but being in a different Department it is somewhere we hardly ever visit, the main exception being to try sort out France Telecom. (This is supposedly not possible, because of the difference in Department - but I suspect it has more to do with France Telecom being impossible to sort out.) The most recent expedition was mainly unsuccessful because most of the shops were shut, but this left us some time to visit some places we had read about but never visited.

The site of the Battle of Poitiers
There are three events known as "the Battle of Poitiers": the first was between Clovis and the Huns in 507 , the second between Charles Martel/Eudes of Aquitaine against Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi in 732, and the third between Jean le Bon and Edward the Black Prince in 1356 .

The second battle was fought at Moussais la Battaille just south of Châtellerault, and near the Roman town now known as "Vieux Poitiers" (Old Poitiers). The ruins of Vieux Poitiers are being excavated, but the site wasn't open so we have written that down for another day. After getting misled by strange road-signage (this is France, get used to that peculiarity) we found the visitors centre for the battle - which is actually quite good. There is a lot of information boards, and although the language is a bit flowery (click on the picture on the left for full effect) quite a bit of information.

This battle is presumed to be important because it is where the Moors were defeated heavily enough to stop their conquest of France, and therefore the rest of Europe.

This has been the cause of much debate by people cleverer than me*, but one fact that can't be disputed is that after the battle Charles was sufficiently strong enough to add Aquitaine (previously held by Eudes of Aquitaine) to the Carolingian Empire. This meant that the Charles (who not only added territories, but the epithet "Martell" - the Hammer - to his name) held most of what is now considered France (there is a map here).

These fields could claim to be where France was born.
This is another important French historical site that you have to work hard to find out about, and even harder to find. Susan and I have discussed this, and have decided that locals know it's there, and no-one does boring history stuff on holiday, so not a lot of effort is put into advertising it. I would hazard a guess that school parties do visit (but in weather warmer than when we were there - my fingers almost froze onto the camera, despite what the photos may show) and that if you've been there as a kid you're probably not bothered enough to see it again. Or something.

Wikipedia has a lot more on the battle.

Simon

*surely not!! I had better hear you cry