I am pretty sure I will not be the only French blog writer talking about snow this morning.
It snowed yesterday. Not heavily, but enough to settle. This is the first snow we have had this winter, and although no more snow is forecast the weather is set to get very cold, with lows of -9C predicted for later in the week.
I am not complaing though, as I was getting bored after having four months of October weather. It's just a pity the daffs and hyacinths are flowering, because I assume the snow will do for them.
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
I am pretty sure I will not be the only French blog writer talking about snow this morning.
Monday, 30 January 2012
The edition of the Michelin Green Guide to the Loire Chateaux that we own speaks of Preuilly rising on the north bank of the Claise amidst woodland, meadows and vineyards. Ahem...it appears to be quite some time since the nice man from the Michelin guide visited. The vines are long gone, but traces of the old agricultural ways are visible everywhere in the form of cabanes des vignes (workers field huts, particularly associated with vineyards).
but nary a vine to be seen.
slopes today.The vine hut middle distance suggests
the grapes would once have been more extensive.
For more information (in French) and photos see the Commune de Preuilly-sur-Claise website.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Saturday, 28 January 2012
You may have noticed the occasional photo on this blog - whenever we go out of the house a camera is never far away and whenever we work on the house we try to remember to document the changes we make.
Over the 10 years since we bought our first digital camera we have taken quite a few photos, most of whch I can place on my own individual timeline: if I am looking for a photo I am pretty good at remembering when I went to a place. The problem occurs when I have to find a photo of a specific type of car/tree/roof.
The other consideration is that it has to be cheaper than cheap.
*that aren't Picassa
Friday, 27 January 2012
For more than 12 months there has been a tree laying across the river in Preuilly, just upstream from the boat ramp. You can see it in this picture taken in 2010. Last year winter was unusually dry and the tree didn't budge. Finally, this year, with conversely generous winter rain, the tree has been pushed down stream - only to hit the barrage (weir) just downstream of the boat ramp.
Thursday, 26 January 2012
Today is Australia Day, so we like to post something that has an Australian theme, and even better if it demonstrates a link between Australia and France. Last year's post is here and the previous year can be read here.
This year I thought I'd introduce you to my new rubber boots. They weren't sent to me by an unusually patriotic friend. I bought them in Chatellerault. They were in Max Plus, a shop that sells off excess stock cheaply. They cost 7€ and are made by Bata.
I haven't owned a pair of rubber boots since I was a child, partly because once I became an adult I could never find any that were affordable and fitted around my calves comfortably. Amazingly, these ones do, so that combined with the small price and the irresistably apt motif, I had to buy them.
Squelching through the springtime clay of our vegetable garden will be an altogether more manageable proposition this year.
At the same time I picked up some good quality jodhpurs for just 15€ a pair. Laughing.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Warning. Don't click on the links unless you have a whole day to spare. Seriously...
Winter in Preuilly is interesting, especially if you're fond of just sitting around in front of the fire drinking cups of tea. I haven't yet made a start on the painting I have to do, because the room I have to paint - the entry hall - is a bit too cold and not conducive for paint drying.
So I thought I would share one of the websites that have held my attention for the past few weeks: CPArama, a collection of old postcards. More specifically, the photos of the Paris metro which can be found here.
It is interesting how many options for transport were available for people who could afford it: trams, buses, cars, horse and cart, and how excited people appear to be to have their photo taken. The fashions are pretty good, as well.
Anyone who knows Paris will love these views and recognise many of them. Even if you haven't been to Paris before type some of the street names into Google Streetview and compare the old views to modern Paris. Many of the buildings are the same, some even with the same businesses trading.
Tuesday, 24 January 2012
On Sunday I went down to the plan d'eau (recreation ground) to get rid of our bottles in the recycling bins (station de recyclage). They were piling up in the pantry, but it was also a good excuse to get down to the river and the ditches that flow into it from the plan d'eau. With the mild weather, things could be happening much earlier than expected.
I particularly wanted to check on the caddis fly larvae that live in the ditches. They trundle about on the bottom in their ramshackle owner-built houses of grit and plant material and are a lot of fun to watch through the crystal clear water. There was also the possibility of toad spawn in long necklaces attached to underwater plants. Normally I would wait until February to check for this, but this year, who knows. Anyway, no toad eggs, but the caddis fly larvae were active.
Be careful if you see the nests in trees or the caterpillars on the ground and if you have them in your garden please dispose of them sensibly (by burning or pouring boiling water over them, taking care not to inhale the hairs, washing your clothes and indulging in a hot shower immediately after doing any nest pruning). For more details and photographs of Pine Processionary caterpillars, please go to our other blog, Loire Valley Nature.
Monday, 23 January 2012
Acutally, this tree isn't called the Sentinel Oak, or even le Chene sentinelle. I just called the blog post that because it's the sort of cliched, grandiose name that isolated large trees tend to get. In fact, so far as I know, this tree hasn't got a name at all, apart from its species name, which is Quercus robur (English Oak, French Oak, Peduculate Oak, le chene pédonculé - take your pick).
And speaking of clichés, did you know that the word does have the same meaning in French and English, but in French there is an additional meaning, very commonly used but rather different and unexpected if you don't know the etymology?
A cliché, as I am sure you all know, is something expressed in a way that is obvious, overused, trite, shallow, predictable, banal, stereotyped. The origins of the word come from the technical world of pre-digital printing, where it meant a proof printing plate (sometimes called a 'stereotype' in English). The current meaning is associated with the practice of casting common phrases as a single piece for the moveable type of these proof printing plates. In French though, this original meaning branched off somewhat and has a second meaning as a snapshot, a photograph or photographic negative. In French books and magazines photographs are often credited as clichés and French people post their clichés de vacances (holiday snaps) on their page Facebook.
Sunday, 22 January 2012
Dorade (sometimes spelt Daurade) or Sea Bream is my favourite white fish. Bream comes in many varieties, both fresh and salt water and can be found all over the world.
The prime species in France is the Dorade royale, Gilt-headed Sea Bream, but it is a Mediterranean fish with stocks diminishing at an alarming rate, or farmed with varying levels of ecological care around the Greek islands. It is usually very expensive, with a moderately sized fish weighing between 500 g and a kilo costing 20 - 35 euros. Even if I felt comfortable about eating a fish that doesn't make it on to the Marine Conservation Society's sustainable list, it's way too expensive for us.
I asked the fishmonger to gut it (vider - literally 'to empty') and cooked it en papillote (in the oven, sealed in a foil parcel) flavoured with homemade North African style salted lemon (citron confit) and bay leaves (feuilles de laurier). I served it with potato salad and a still white 2010 Turonien Vouvray from Chateau Gaudrelle. I thought it was rather good, but Simon didn't like it, which was a shame. He found the bay too medicinal and can't be bothered with unfilleted fish.
Saturday, 21 January 2012
I've never really understood what the term 'fine dining' means. I guess it's one of those amorphous phrases that means what you want it to mean and everyone has a slightly different interpretation, based on personal tastes.
The meal served at this simple and elegant setting was the ultimate French peasant classic, poule au pot, and the venue was a private house. J and H were relaxed and generous hosts.
So, does that count as fine dining or not? I'm guessing not, but who cares. I'd much rather be somewhere by invitation where the food was prepared with the enjoyment of friends in mind.
Friday, 20 January 2012
Yesterday we had our second delivery of wood for this winter. Contrast this with our first year here where we were getting wood every 3 weeks or so, and you will realise how much difference insulating the house has made. Even though this winter has been almost tropical compared to the last two years these old stone houses do get cold - even on midsummer mornings it can be chilly inside.
Yesterday Edouard delivered a couple of steres of wood, so I searched out a pair of gloves so I could help unload (so what if I have delicate hands - I'm an artiste).
Couldn't find a pair. Plenty of gloves, no pairs. Even worse, plenty of gloves: all for the left hand.
PS Edouard has just taken on a new allocation of trees in the forest and has managed to knacker his right arm by sawing and carting 100 steres of firewood in less than a week.
PPS Assuming this current delivery of 5 steres lasts the winter out, our heating expenses come to under 400 euros for the 2011-12 season. A total of about 9 steres, compared to about 14 last winter.
Thursday, 19 January 2012
We visited the chateau of Azay le Rideau nine times last year. This meant that while Susan visited the chateau I had 18 hours to explore the town on my own.
This is good news, because the town has plenty to offer people prepared to get off the well worn trail from the carpark to the chateau gates. The town dates to 1442, the date its current bridge across the Indre river was built. Before that time there was a town on the site, but owing to an insult paid to the Dauphin Charles VII in 1418 by the garrison of the Duke of Burgundy who was stationed there, he besieged the fortress, captured 350 Burgundian soldiers and then burnt down the castle and its fortifications, the town and the bridge.
From the road it appears that there is only one house dating from the time of the rebuild, but I wouldn't be surprised if the bones of many of the houses in town are that old. This building is here.
I have a lot of photos of interesting buidings in Azay and will be posting them here from time to time over the coming few weeks. Next time you're in Azay, spend an hour walking around - it will repay your time.
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
It's that time of the year again - where I look through the thousands of photos I have taken because they were interesting at the time, but which I haven't yet written about. The work we did in the window in the dining room is one such item.
When we were insulating and lining the wall of the dining room in December 2010 I mentioned that it would be nice if we could introduce some curves into the scheme of things - placo is great at doing straight lines, but everything was starting to look very flat. Rather than do anything too radical (and time and money consuming) it was decided that we would put a bit of a radius on the very deep windowsill. We hoped it would have the effect of making the wall look more solid than just placo, as well.
a hand saw and then filed to the final profile
usually used for doing the plasterboard joints
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Early January is the season of the galette des rois in France. Galettes des rois come in the classic version, which is two discs of puff pastry sandwiched together with frangipane (a paste made from ground almonds, sugar, eggs and butter). Fancier ones have fruit (often pears) or more exotic nuts. Ingrid and Huub brought us a very nice pistachio one purchased at LeaderPrice recently.
Monday, 16 January 2012
We had winter yesterday, and it's likely to continue for the next few days.
Sunday, 15 January 2012
Twelve months ago I wrote about the soldes and our attempts to buy a cooker. That turned out rather well in the end, with us being able to purchase an Italian brand of cooker we had never heard of at a remarkably good price, and making two wonderful new friends in the process.
We are now looking for a mixer/batteur/robot multifunction. Naturally, being young and trendy we looked at Kitchenaid: even though it's just an overpriced Whirlpool it has to be said they are solid, and we know people who have them and like them. We have written about this before. (The trouble is that for those in the US Kitchenaid is what your grandmother had, but this side of the world they are a fashion item, and don't appear to be good value for money. Until 5 years ago I had never heard of them, and I suspect that for 90% of the world it was the same.)
So I have been checking the soldes to see what's on offer. Once again, though, the pricing in the soldes has me confused:
pack is only available at this price for another 2h 9min 43s
It stayed at this price for 5 hours before dropping to 168€30 again
I am still confused about prices, though.
PS If any of our readers have experience of Robusta or Clatronic mixers, we would be very interested in hearing their thoughts. The Kenwood KMix is still in the running, and is clearly a good machine. But - it is much more expensive than the French Robusta or German Clatronic models, and we are wondering if these less well known brands might give us better value for money.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
*Or possibly photographed visiting in the January cold.
Friday, 13 January 2012
Last week macaroonies, this week gingerynuts.
This is a variation on a Delia recipe (which can be found here). I made it slightly more "growed up" by substituting the margarine with butter, using treacle and honey, and doubling the ginger. You need to extra ginger, because treacle has so much more taste than golden syrup.
· 4oz self raising flour
· 2 rounded teaspoons of ground ginger
· 1 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate
· 1.5oz sugar.
· 2oz margarine or butter
· 1 big tablespoon accacia honey
· 1 big tablespoon treacle
Sift flour, ginger and bicarb. Add sugar.
Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Add syrup and mix in.
Make 16 balls of the paste, put on a lined baking tray and flatten slightly. Leave plenty of room between 'em.
Cook for 10 minutes in a preheated oven at 190°C oven. Once they look like gingernuts remove from oven, and when they can be handled without burning your fingers or falling apart remove from the baking tray and put on a wire rack.
I like making bisuits, because you need to make more than one batch to get the recipe right - but even the failures aren't all that bad.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Quince trees thrive in the Touraine. We don't have one in the orchard, but our neighbour does, and as quince trees produce large quantities of fruit, we benefit from periodic gifts of quinces. They are an old fashioned sort of fruit and our elderly neighbour is delighted that I like them and, perhaps more importantly, know how to cook them.
And for those of you interested in maintaining a certain sort of daily regularity, quince paste works as well as the traditional prune.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Or something shorts, something a, blue jeans.
I can't work out if the most visible piece survived because it was covered, or because it wasn't covered. I also can't work out if it is a "buy jeans from us" advert for a shop in town, or for a particular brand of jeans.
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
On Christmas day last year our coffee maker died. It hadn't been doing really well for a while but the switch packed it in and as it was a sealed unit - even though I was able to take the coffee maker apart - I was unable to fix the switch. This meant that getting a coffee machine made it on to our list of "fairly urgent things to do".
So now we have a very smart looking filter coffee maker that is so much better than our old (12€ from Intermarché) filter coffee maker, which also makes better coffee. Result! Thank you Ingrid and Huub for your kind generosity!
Another result is our "tea niche".
Our kitchen isn't square: the wall against which we have the sink hits the laundry wall at an angle of 14.8°. This meant that we were going to have to have a stretch of "filler" - a blank panel - to fill the gap between the end of the cupboards and the wall to make it look all neat. Then I had a though and asked Stéphane to custom build us a little angled cupboard to fill in the gap. This cupboard has no door, but is perfect for keeping teabags, a small sugar bowl and a teapot in close proximity to the kettle.
This means that we have used an otherwise unusable space and that when uncle Geoff visits he can access tea constantly throughout the day without have to find the makings.
Monday, 9 January 2012
... a couple of years make.
Not the house this time, but the weather.
If we had been along this road on 31December 2011 we would have been experiencing a record temperature for this date: 13° maximum and 9° minimum.
I know you shouldn't confuse weather with climate, but it makes you think.
Sunday, 8 January 2012
Being served a Pineau pre-lunch* at the Abbé Proust's the other day reminded me that I have meaning to write about this less well known aperitif for some time.
Pineau is associated with the Charente, the area to our south-west, and is a fortified wine, somewhat similar to sherry. I first encountered it in its heartland, 9 years ago, when we stayed with a friend who has a house in the Charente, before we had bought our own house. His neighbours invited us to apéro and the men were expected to drink Ricard while the women were offered Pineau (in fairly generous tumblers). I was deeply grateful not to have to drink Ricard, and have been benignly disposed towards Pineau ever since.
I find it a pleasant drink, sweetish and smooth, but not one I think to serve regularly. Here in the Touraine it is also widely available and popular, but it is not, strictly speaking, a local drink, nor is it made locally. It is made in much the same area as cognac is made, and many of the producers are also cognac producers. The drink is a blend of newly fermented grape juice and cognac which is then aged, resulting in a fortified wine.
It comes in white (actually a tawny colour) and red (mahogany brown). An opened bottle will keep indefinitely in the fridge, and it should be served chilled. Outside of the Charente and the adjoining regions, you don't see Pineau much, and it is not well known outside of France.
*Lunch was a wonderful renaissance style poule au pot, cooked in the open fireplace.
Saturday, 7 January 2012
At the beginning of last month we started the final phase of the dining room by lining the walls with lambris. There are all sorts of different materials you can get for this, from really cheap pine tongue and groove to pre-formed panels. We went for the not quite cheapest tongue and groove.
There are two reasons for putting bits of pine on walls, the first of which is the reason the whole kitchen area had lambris when we bought the house: cacher la merde du chat. If you have an area of wall that is a mess all you need do is put a layer of cheap pine over it and (for a while at least) the wall will look good. The second reason for using lambris is to protect the plasterboard from knocks and dents, particulary useful in an area just slightly too small for the number of chairs you might potentially want there.
To properly install lambris you dont just nail it to the stone wall, as was done previously in this house. You want air to circulate between the panels and the wall, so you put in battens and nail the panels to the batten (as can be seen here).
corner piece is being added
Once the lambris is installed you have to use some sort of plastic wood (or plaster) to fill in knot holes. If you have bought the cheapest pine this will take you an age, as the cheap stuff really is rubbish, with holes through every piece of wood. We paid 2€ a metre more and only had 4 knot holes to fill. After that you need to sand and undercoat (which didn't dry, duly provoking a reaction, here) and paint (which didn't go on properly, as mentioned here).
This is why we went for the non-cheapest option for painting, as well: GTMI. As you can see in the above photo I managed to put the grey paint on the wall with not too many issues, but the photo below shows the problems I had with the red paint. That's why you can see Bruno...
We like our lambris - painting it the same colour red as the end wall of the kitchen has tied the kitchen and dining room together, and it means the walls should be protected from damage from big clumsy blokes not fully in control of a chair.
For a photo of the finished article, there is no better place to look than here.