Sunday, 30 December 2012

Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings



Merry Christmas and best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and happy 2013.
                                                   

Nous vous souhaitons un Joyeux Noël et une très bonne année  

2013. Nous ésperons que vous passez d'excellentes fêtes de fin d'année .

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Snippets from Life in France - la baguette


What can be more quintessentially French than seeing a baguette tucked under an arm, protruding from a basket or strapped onto the back of a bicycle?  Scrumptious, long, thin, crusty. A challenge for aging gums – so I am told.  

In true French style, the land of red tape has a law governing the ingredients of the authentic baguette dough.  Slight variations are allowed in the length and width of the loaf as well as in the proportions of some of its components. The small dimples on the bottom of the loaves made by the linen on which the dough sits while proving, reassures the purchaser of this infamous loaf that it has been baked by une boulangerie artisinanale.
The baguette as we know it today is a product of the 1920's, descending from a long and proud history of French bread making. Apparently baguettes were created as a result of a new French law which was introduced in 1920, forbidding bakers to start work before 4.00 am. This meant that the traditional, round bread loaves would not be on the boulangerie shelves in time for breakfast. And so the baguette was born.  The baguette's large surface area to volume ratio allows it to be prepared and baked more quickly - ready for the early morning customers. 

The boulangeries are the heart of the community. If, as in our village, there is more than more than one, each boulangerie will have its own loyal band of followers. For the many surrounding small villages and hamlets without a resident baker, a mobile boulanger visits daily announcing his arrival with a “tout, tout” of the van’s horn.

Early risers in our village will see a large white van backed up to the door of the Flourentin boulangerie. Members of the baker’s family scurry to and fro stacking their mobile shop with baskets of baguettes and other artisan-baked delights to sell via the vehicle’s side window. For many the boulangeries serve another important function  -  disseminators of local news and gossip........ Some things never change.

My heart lept when I spied these old mouldy linen-lined baguette baskets at our local vide – grenier. To Mr R’s relief, practicality over-rode emotions so reluctantly they were left on the side of the road for some other purchaser to scoop up and rescue.

The following recipe was given to me from a delightful dame française. Although the ingredients and instructions are simple, there is a definite art for producing an authentique baguette artisanale. Bonne chance!


FRENCH BREAD (2 loaves)


Preparation time: 25 min           

Cooking time: 30 min           

Total time: approximately 180min

        


Ingredients


2 cups warm water 
(40 0 C or 110 0 F )

1 tablespoon of  yeast

1 tablespoon of  sugar

2 teaspoons of  salt

5 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
 


Directions

  • ·      Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in large bowl.
  • ·      Allow yeast to proof or foam (approximately 10 minutes).

  • ·      Add 3 cups flour and salt; beat for 2 minutes.

  • ·      Stir in 2 cups flour to make a stiff dough.

  • ·      Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it smooth and elastic (about 8 -10 minutes).

  • ·      Place the dough into a greased* bowl, turning the dough to coat all surfaces.
  • ·      Cover the dough in the bowl (using plastic film or a damp tea towel) and let it rise until it has doubled in size.

  • ·      Punch down the dough then divide it in half.

  • ·      Shape dough into two long, thin loaves.

  • ·      Grease* and sprinkle with cornmeal.
  • ·      Place loaves on a baking sheet  or in pan or a French bread baking tray and make some superficial diagonal cuts on top of the loaves.

  • ·      Cover and let rise until each loaf had doubled in size.

  • ·      Bake at  190 0 C or 350 0 F for approximately 30 minutes.

  • ·      Note: For a very crunchy crust, sprinkle or spray water onto the loaves during baking.
    * Use a pastry brush dipped in butter or a light oil such as grape seed oil

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Fool

There has been a flurry of emails sent to France this week with very few responses making their way back to Australie.  My despondent-odometer has been rising as my faith in the promises and professionalism of others declines. 

Yes, I am a dreamer and a fool. I chanced upon a description of my state of being ..... and no, I'm definitely not into tarrot cards, but "if the cap fits..........."

THE FOOL.  In medieval courts, the court jester was someone who was not expected to follow the same rules as others. He could observe and then poke fun. This makes the Fool unpredictable and full of surprises. He reminds us of the unlimited potential and spontaneity inherent in every moment. There is a sense with this card that anything goes - nothing is certain or regular. The Fool adds the new and unfamiliar to a situation. The Fool also represents the complete faith that life is good and worthy of trust. Some might call the Fool too innocent, but his innocence sustains him and brings him joy. In readings, the Fool can signal a new beginning or change of direction - one that will guide you onto a path of adventure, wonder and personal growth. He also reminds you to keep your faith and trust your natural responses. If you are facing a decision or moment of doubt, the Fool tells you to believe in yourself and follow your heart no matter how crazy or foolish your impulses may seem. 
Today is bathed in sunshine. Time to put aside work, France and the internet and get a big dose of vitamin D while pottering in the vegetable patch ..... Simplicity..... Bliss.



Monday, 19 November 2012

The Cost of the Good Life - NSR

I revel in harmless rituals that create a sense of anticipation and enjoyment. One such practice is our regular weekend tête à tête over some nibbles while drinking champagne- authentique of course - with my French girlfriend, Angelique. Conversation easily flows  following its  usual path -  a few laughs; highs and lows of our week; work; news ... of various sorts ... food; wine; life in general and of course, life in France et Ma Folie Française

On the opposite sides of the globe, Angelique and I were both brought up in households that drank a glass of carefully chosen wine with dinner. No beer in our fridge.  No mixed drinks - with the exception of the occassional good G&T in summer. Defintely no excess. As the years have passed this practice has continued.......... 

My downfall is drinking wine while chatting socially, when waiters wander through the crowd topping up my glass while I am too busy talking to register what is happening - or my host does likewise.  
In our house, I'm nick-named "Cadburys" - a glass and a half (of wine) and I am useless. A situation that is not pleasant for me - occasionally amusing for others - with prolonged, negative effects on my feelings of wellbeing.  Consequently I am usually a "one standard drink" sort of woman.  But put a wonderful glass of French champagne in my hand, get me talking about France in my best (albeit faulty) French, add a hostess who is very liberal with drinks and blessed with the ability to produce vast quantities of alcohol dehydrogenase et voila.....une catastrophe pour moi! 
Ah....the price of the good life! NSR - no sympathy required...........
Courtesy of FracChampagne
* Champagne labels obtained through Google.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Snippets from Life in France – The Business Card


Setting up house in rural France when one speaks little French and normally resides 16000 km away, is a voyage of discovery. Although fraught with difficulties, (a head on car crash, a few trips to hospital, falling through a rotting floor, trying to deal with my elusive and swindling Man on the Ground….), when reflecting on the positive experiences, the negative ones  diminish in significance.
One of my greatest joys has been meeting the colourful characters who reside, temporarily or permanently, in our corner of France. With a tendency to be shy, I had to put aside my foibles and take the initiative to talk to people in painfully poor French. As a passionate flâneur, opportunities naturally arose to make acquaintances as I meandered through the village. One such person was Toby. I had passed Toby’s maison secondaire on the edge of the village a few times during my daily strolls, twice stopping to photograph the worn exterior of sa maison before I chanced upon him, seated on his terrace with a pipe in one hand and a glass of red in the other, savouring some regional produce and the delights of dusk – a time when the cooling air releases the fragrance of the forest and birds are called to song.

During my first apero chez Toby, an old film camera was produced as Toby boldly inquired, “ Do you mind if I take a shot of your face with your name? Terrible memory. Like to avoid embarrassment.”  Dutifully the “newcomers” lined up on the terrace, chatting (wine glass in hand) while waiting for their turn to have an identifying portrait taken – a procedure reminiscent of that of the dreaded, annual school photograph.


Like many houses in France, the antiquated exterior of Toby’s maison belied its tastefully restored interior. Giant butterfly nets hung from oak beamed walls and each item of decoration and carefully placed furniture had an interesting history.

Toby was relaxed and quietly confident – a man who has made a career from his passions and takes life in his stride. A charming host and an entertaining raconteur with a soft BBC accent. His thick brown hair has a rogue lock that frequently has to be flicked out of his face. With a portly frame and gentle demeanour, Toby reminds me of a much-loved teddy bear. He seldom ventures into the heart of the village, preferring to spend his time meandering through the local forest where he collects butterflies and other insects from which he makes preserved collections – a pastime he has pursued in France since childhood.


One gets the impression that despite the personal challenges he has faced, Toby still views life as a “Boy’s Own Adventure”. During our conversations, it was clear that he has an upbeat outlook on life that enables him to make the mundane appear exotic. One gets an inkling of this from his business card on which the whole family appears along with the farcical name of his commercial enterprise. A side of this card reads as follows.


Toby Nightingale
Sporting & Natural History

Anthony Nightingale
Poultry & Rural Pursuits

Henrietta Nightingale
Fencing, Theatre & English Literature


(Interpretation: A gentleman who enjoys the pursuit of his passions, regardless of the financial rewards. Life is to be enjoyed.)
(Interpretation: Anthony has finished school and, at the age of 18, doesn’t know what to do with his life so he is currently breeding poultry while he “finds himself”.)

(Interpretation: Henrietta is a drama student who has completed an Arts degree and fences as a hobby. Has yet to discover the importance of financial security.)
Now how could life ever be dull with a business card like that?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Seasons - snippits of my life.

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence

Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.

Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.

Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance." Yoko Ono

The change in the seasons is a time for contemplation.
I love to record the transformations in the family's gardens. 
The seasons make me feel "alive". 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Snippets from Life in France - des jardins potagers

Neighbours' potager wall
Life in our corner of France has a gentle rhythm that is aligned to the seasons.  Summer temperatures in the high 20's to mid 30's (celsius) with intermittent heavy rains, (clearing the air of its gathering humidity),  ensure bountiful yields from des jardins potagers, if one keeps an eye on the bugs, mildew and enormous mustard brown slugs - so strong that they can upend a flower pot.

Frequently I would see the tip of an inverted "v" over the high old stone fenced vegetable plot on the corner of the ruelle as I rocketed down the hill on my bike before turning right to My French Folly. It would be the derriere of either Sylvie or Christian who were bent over, tending their potager. Often I would find  produce from their patch of earth on the stone seat beside the back door - tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers and haricot vert (eaten al dente after being tossed in unsalted butter and garlic). Wonderful. My meagre contribution to the community table was fresh herbs - basil, parsley, chives & thyme - which grew prolifically beside the front door after being planted within a few days of our arrival at our house.

Stone seat on the terrace beside the back door.
During the first week of Autumn, a daily vision would be the neighbours sitting in the afternoon sun with a huge sack of dried beans (pods and seeds) at their feet and a bowl in their laps which would catch les harricots blancs as they were released from their casings. These white beans were then tipped into a big bucket from which they would be divided, stored and consumed in the coming seasons. I felt privaliged to be able to pull up a chair and join in this ritual and the ensuing family chatter. During this activity  I would find myself taking stock of my surroundings as we sat in the gentle autumn sun overlooking the village and the verdant green rolling hills and surrounding forests, hearing the now familiar  bird calls and smelling the scent of fresh earth.
These lovely old shutters keep the hot sun out of the kitchen.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Back from the Depths of France.


Life inevitably doesn’t go to plan. I thought I would be spending the last 3 months in France, writing, photographing, occasionally working on My French Folly with the odd foray into other parts of the country and Europe, but it wasn’t to be. However, I am now quite conversant with French building regulations, the legal system and hospitals! 
The geography of our French village makes telecommunications unreliable. No blogging, few phone calls and no television. I have now come to appreciate life without constantly being plugged into the internet, news and current affairs.
After Mr R returned to Australia I didn’t have a car (a long story). There is no regular public transport in our village except for a très cher taxi service, which I tried once: 50 euros to go 12 km down a country road. Consequently I had to plan my time and purchases very carefully - a habit I have lost over the years with extended trading hours and a car on hand, in Melbourne!
Although my faith in the kindness of others has been intermittently jarred during the last 5 years, while in France it was gradually restored - despite the dishonesty and unprofessional behaviour of My Man on the Ground.  In a nutshell, I’ve had a great adventure – one of discovery and personal growth, (yes it can still happen at my age). The simple life has great benefits. I can’t wait to return to My French Folly.
P.S. I am still jet lagged so it will take me a while to catch up with those of you who thoughtfully contacted me while I was in France.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

In Transit

Our arrival in France has been stalled due to a few additional "mishaps' by the tradesmen working on My French Folly. On the plus side we have been spending the extra days having a wonderful time in Switzerland surrounded by snow capped mountains and enjoying the exceptional hospitality of my cousin & her family. I will be out of the blog-sphere for a few days until we hook up a computer in France.

A bientot


The 3-Ringed Circus

Courtesy of Google
The 3-ringed circus involving notre maison en France continues: 
  • the wrong type of window was used to replace a large window that was broken, but overlooked when the renovation estimates were given; 
  • the ceramic sink is out of production until September (despite being in the current product catalogue) - the person organising the insertion of the kitchen just went ahead and purchased another type without consultation; 
  • my beloved flagstones have been taken up and dumped outside; 
  • the quotes for the re plastering were so grossly underestimated that the sitting room, bedroom, hallway and ceilings have been left untouched; 
  • the plasterer has damaged his ankle on another job so he hasn't finished his contract with us; 
  • the bathroom is unfinished - the plumber started with another client so he is now juggling multiple contracts;
  • My French Folly. Courtesy of Matt & Meeri
  • the new 2 windows which were to be inserted in the dining room have been scrapped because the planning permit  hasn’t been granted (as yet) even though it was submitted 12 months ago……well at least that’s what I’ve been told! 
What makes me hopping mad is that if the project was managed within the timeframe set out when we engaged services of My Man on the Ground, many of the issues and disappointments that we’ve experienced in order to get the house to a habitable standard, would not have occurred.  
If anything else goes wrong with My French Folly, I’ll “blow a gasket”..........I had a dream…… I had a budget………I have an expensive nightmare!
One of the views from My French Folly, Courtesy of Matt & Meeri

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Busy Doing Nothing

I feel as if  I'm busy doing nothing, working the whole day through............ No sooner have I crossed one item of my Must Do Before I Depart to France list, another pops up at the bottom of the page. However, most of the essentials are in place:
ü house sitters (a sensible couple who will nurture my garden and keep the house ship shape)
ü travel insurance & tickets (plane & train)
ü  a small amount of cash of various denominations & an international VISA  
    card
ü a car waiting for us in Europe
û dry cleaning collected
û clothes organised
û bags packed
ü gifts packed
û leaving my desk at work in order for my temporary replacement.


Post Script: I heard from My Man on The Ground today. I now know that bad news from him is predictable, but whenever it happens, I still get quite emotional about it. Yes sh** happens, but sometimes its occurrence is just too co-incidental.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bonjour France: French Lessons 2

French lessons at School continued..............
..................The following year my Form 1 French teacher, Fanny Bligh, is superseded by the young, dapper Mr Nicomidis. Immaculately dressed in navy waistcoated suits and pointed-toed European shoes, he cuts a striking figure amongst his tweed-coated peers. Despite his small stature, this newly arrived immigrant has presence and palpable enthusiasm.  At last, French spoken with a European accent, albeit Greek.  But Mr Nicomidis’s passion is soon thwarted and our learning stunted, due to his immaculately groomed hands. The nails on his little fingers are inexplicably long and filed into a neat, point. Strangely, these two fingers are at a permanent angle to their neighbours and used to point and poke the surrounding air.  The distraction of his hands becomes unbearable and Mr N starts to loose control of his charges. “You” he shouts pointing to an offender with a crooked little finger, “copeee the parrrrrge”. A page of text is thrust at a student. 
The class heart throb, George Konstansis, takes delight in devising new ways to raise Mr N’s blood pressure. Consequently George often finds himself locked in the classroom cupboard from which we hear muffled demands to be let out. Little progress is made in Form 2 French.

A new year and I move to a single sex school. Despite my protests and obvious lack of talent, I am to persist with French due to my Father, who speaks the language fluently.
Thus begins the dark days of Miss Ball, a small rotund woman with massive breasts, which obstruct her view, sensible lace up shoes and a very short haircut. The fun is over. Miss Ball is a linguist with an exclusive interest in those students who show flair in French or who are “pretty” -  qualities I don’t possess. I am quickly assigned to the marginalised group at the back of the classroom, where I am intermittently lashed by Miss Ball’s sharp tongue. My formal French education comes to an abrupt halt.

Decades later, the scarring caused by the ferocious Miss Ball still persists, heightening my nervousness as I organise our departure for France and contemplate speaking French with other adults who are actually French! 




Thursday, 14 June 2012

Shabby French for Me - giveaway


For a chance to win this fabulous book, and more interior inspiration, pop over to 

Bonne chance tout le monde!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Fingers Crossed

Soon we will be walking through
our French gate. 
The memory of the terse words exchanged between My Man on the Ground and me during the last 12 months is slowly dissipating each time I receive a progress report on My French Folly and an old hidden feature of the house is unexpectedly revealed. The process of making our house habitable, from 16000 km away, has been akin to childbirth - great anticipation followed by the inevitable pain of delivery, that was somehow blocked out of our consciousness when we first embarked on this journey. Once  the baby is is placed in your arms the memory of this dreadful procedure is suddenly dulled to the point that you would even contemplate repeating the whole process.
An original fireplace
has been discovered.*


I'm sure our trials and tribulations with My French Folly are not over, and my "baby" is not in my arms as yet, but I am now seeing a fruitful end to what has been a very long gestation period. Fingers crossed that all goes well between now and the delivery.      
This event is still celebrated at a local village and is scheduled so we can experience it first hand this year.
Courtesy - Google
* Images courtesy of My Man on the Ground

Sunday, 27 May 2012

“Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections.” Anon
There is a sharp pain in my head due to tiredness.  The hour is fast approaching pumpkin time and I need to sleep, so here is a very brief update on My French Folly..............No dirt floor to be seen ................I am very happy!
The dining room/ kitchen.
 Courtesy of My Man on the Ground

Monday, 21 May 2012

Finally it's happening.

Patience is the ability to idle your motor, when you feel like stripping your gears. Barbara Jones
As many of you realise, my patience has been sorely tested since purchasing My French Folly in 2010.
Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury.   Frances Quarles
And I have certainly expressed my fury to my Man on the Ground during the last 6 months. But at long-last, it's finally happening - work has begun in earnest on our house in France. The dirt floor is no more, plumbing pipes can be seen and the plastering of some of the walls has commenced. 
Unfortunately the the old clos lit and adjoining cupboard are no longer - the base of each support and panel were severley rotted so they collapsed when the fragments of the remaining floor were taken up.


The placiste remarked on what a great house this once was.  He  found several points of interest that belie its current condition.  Some excellent sections of wallpaper have been retrieved as well as parts of a 1920's newspaper. I requested that any salvageable materials from the house be recycled in order to maintain the character of the building and contain the costs. So and I was relieved, and some what surprised, to receive a photo of one of the doors in the house that has been rehung in the kitchen as the door to the pantry. 
More to come.................... I hope. Not thrilled at the thought of camping in the garden when we arrive in France!