Monday, 29 December 2014

So that was Christmas!

Well, this will be my last post for the year 2014 and it's just to let you know what our Christmas has been like.  As you will see below it centred around food!  (Hardly a newsflash for those who know me well!)

Although we were initially dreading spending Christmas on our own, I have to say it turned out to be a very enjoyable day.  Unfortunately, it was just tinged with sadness because late in the afternoon, our old ginger tomcat, Charlie, passed away.  He was 15 years old and had become quite frail in recent months.  Visitors this year will recall that this had not diminished his appetite as he was always trying to steal food!

But back to our food!   For the last two Christmases we had gone to a restaurant for our Christmas dinner but none of the ones we know were doing it this year so we knew we were going to be "home alone" for the very first time since moving to France.  I had decided to splash out on some good quality fillet steaks and thought I would make us a really nice dinner.  I mean what was the point of doing a huge Christmas dinner just for the two of us?  But Danny had other ideas and said he would prefer a traditional turkey roast dinner. 

I don't think I've ever mentioned on here that from time to time I get shopping from a UK supermarket.  It's handy to keep Danny in good supply of the Maynard wine gums and Bombay Bad Boy pot noodles, to which he's rather partial!  It also means I don't have to rely on visitors bringing me English teabags - although I am always pleased when they do!  The way this works is that you order what you want online; the shopping is delivered to a UK depot from where it is transported to France and you pick it up from certain local pick-up places.  Various companies do this over here but we use one called Blightyshop.  Because I hadn't planned to do a traditional dinner, I hadn't ordered a turkey but I did order a gammon joint and a tiny Christmas pudding (a treat for me!).

I bought a free range small turkey in our local supermarket (and was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted wonderful!) and set about creating traditional Christmas fare for us.  To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed putting together all the food.  I think that with the sort of food we have at this time of year, it doesn't matter if you're cooking for two or twenty; it's the same food, cooked the same way but just different quantities. 

On Christmas Eve I cooked our gammon joint, made stuffing balls, prepared our "pigs in blankets" and made a batch of Yorkshire puddings.  This is what I have done on Christmas Eves for many years!  I also made a pot full of mulled wine (of which I proceeded to drink all, over the next few days!) and prepared our starter for Christmas day, which was to be deep-fried breaded Camembert portions. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing it all!  Here is what it all looked like...

On Christmas morning, not only did Danny and I exchange presents, we also had presents for the dogs.  Danny buys dog treats which are home-made by a lady in the UK and he had bought a Christmas stocking full of such treats for each of the three dogs.  Here he is giving them their presents!  Naturally, he didn't let them have the whole lot!

We then had a rather large full English breakfast and were too full to eat until much later in the day.  Still, it gave me a chance to start reading the book Danny had given me and for him to start playing the computer game I'd bought him!  But eventually, I laid the table and I think it looked quite festive...

...add the food and it was soon ready for Danny to get carving!

Later, with the benefit of Skype, we were able to talk to Danny's son Paul and to see our granddaughters playing with their presents.  Of course Danny talked to his other sons too.

And before we knew it, Christmas Day was over!  But the food wasn't!  And the next day found me back in the kitchen.  This time making bubble & squeak with the leftover roast potatoes and vegetables, picking turkey off its carcase and making stock (to be frozen and used at some point when I make soups).  For lunch, we finally broke into the gammon joint, eating some with the bubble & squeak and poached eggs - yummy!

As I said, I bought a little Christmas pudding for myself but I also bought us what we Brits call a Yule Log cake but which is called Buche de Noël in France. I stopped making them myself some years ago but I have to say, if Danny wants one in future, I think I will make one again - to be honest, this looked nicer than it tasted!!

So that was Christmas!  We may or may not go to the UK for Christmas next year because having now experienced being "home alone" it really wasn't that bad at all!

Yesterday we were invited to English friends of a French friend of ours!  They live in a village called Largeasse, which is only about 10 minutes drive away, in a lovely house by a lake.  We were invited for "amuses-gueules".  This is an expression I've not come across before but it means "appetizers".  There were a mix of French and English people there so it was an opportunity for us both to practise and to listen!

And now, we are just a couple of days away from a brand new year.  For New Year's Eve we are going to a party at friends, which will be a nice change as it's some years since we went out on New Year's Eve! 

The start of a new year usually tempts us to make resolutions, few of which are kept in my experience!  However, for myself, there is something I plan to do.  When we lived in the UK, I belonged to a Virgin Active Health Club and went there probably three times a week.  Since moving here practically three years ago, I have done no exercise whatsoever and not surprisingly I am now heavier, flabbier and a lot less fit!   Co-incidentally, having decided that I would resolve to do something about that in 2015, I have just found out about a Charity Challenge that I plan to sign up for.  Full details are not yet available but I will keep you posted and I hope that you will get behind me in this.

And finally......I would like to thank you all for reading this blog and to wish you all.....

 A Very Happy and Healthy New Year.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

The lounge refurbishment begins!

As I hinted in my previous post, we have begun the lounge refurbishment!  I wouldn't want you to hold your breath waiting for the end result but at least we've made a start! 

Perhaps I should start by telling you what needs to be done as this is far from a straightforward job of redecoration!  The first and probably the most major job would be to open up the staircase.  After that, Danny needs to get his electrician's hat on and put in extra sockets and lighting.  Then we want to have 'proper' skirting board because the existing thing is just a strip of wood, painted white and stuck on the wall!  The walls are currently done in what we understand to have been quite common in these parts.  It's like a flock wallpaper - hard to describe but it feels almost like a rug on the wall.  We think it will come off quite easily leaving a backing paper to strip in the normal way.  At this point, we shall judge whether or not we'll have to get a plasterer to skim over the walls before we paint them.  (My personal feeling is that it would be a worthwhile investment as it will give us a good surface to paint not just now but as necessary in years to come).

When all this is done, it will be time for me to do my bit as I want lots of soft furnishings in the room, curtains, cushions, throws etc.  (I may have to enlist the help of that very talented daughter-in-law of ours again!!) 

So, here we are on the brink of doing all that.  Last week, our friend came to help us by removing all the panelling which enclosed the staircase.  This is a photo of how it looked - with Les just about to make a start!

It turned out to be a far simpler job than we'd imagined - unusual for us as it's normally quite the reverse!  Here are a series of photos showing the panelling on the stairs going and gone, followed by the panelling on the wall under the stairs and then the door and its frame that you see on the left in the photo above.


Obviously the upper part of the staircase needs to be stained to match the bottom part but Danny has found a couple of tins of wood stain out in his barn so we should be able to use them.  Nothing much will happen for a few weeks now but I am hoping we might be able to work on the lounge at a steady pace through these winter months in the hope of completing it by late spring/early summer.

As I write Christmas is only a week away now.  Danny and I will have a quiet Christmas on our own this year but today when I went shopping I stocked up on some nice goodies for us to enjoy 'on the day'!  I couldn't resist taking this photo with my phone while I was in the supermarket.  Goats cheese is very popular here and there is always a huge selection just from local farms.  Today they had dedicated a whole fridge to them with a "goat farm" display above it.  This is it and I hope you can see it properly!

It's unlikely that I'll be posting on here again before Christmas, although I hope to do so before the end of 2014.  So I'll take this opportunity to wish everyone who takes the time to read my blog.....
Merry Christmas 
Joyeux Noël

Saturday, 13 December 2014

In which we visit a Christmas Market......and have a puncture!

No sooner had December started, so there was the start of  les marchés de Noël  (Christmas markets!).  There were several going on last weekend including one, which, although an hour's drive away, was one we hadn't yet visited.  We'd heard very good reports about it so we decided to go and see for ourselves on Saturday.  It was in the 'troglodyte caves' in a village called Doué-la-Fontaine.  Although I have included some pictures below, I have to say it's worth clicking this link and having a look at the official website because the pictures on there are far better than anything I've managed to achieve!

This Saturday it has been dull, wet and windy but last Saturday, although quite cold, was very sunny and bright.  In fact, I took this photo on our way to Doué-la-Fontaine - this is our corner of France at its best - beautiful blue skies and open space!

This next picture is at the entrance to the market...
And here is a selection of others from within the market. (As I said above, the ones on the official web site are far better!)

There is always food available at these events and naturally, a bar!  In my experience, they tend to have a fairly limited selection of food but it is always very reasonably priced.  Danny and I each had un sandwich (which, in case you're not aware, is a chunk of baguette - not like an English type of sandwich!) and we shared une barquette de frites.  While Danny stuck to his usual beer, I couldn't resist a more traditional vin chaud  or mulled wine (conveniently hidden in this next photo!)

We didn't buy very much at the market but we couldn't resist some chocolates and on our way out, succumbed to some freshly roasted peanuts and chestnuts.  Here's Danny getting stuck into them!!

We left the market around 4pm and were only a couple of kilometres into our 64 kilometre journey home when Danny noticed that the car was pulling to the right.  He immediately suspected a puncture and stopped to examine the tyres.  We don't carry a spare wheel; just a tyre repair kit.  At first Danny just put more air into the tyre but after another few more kilometres, it was clear that it was a bit more serious.  We stopped and Danny attempted to use the repair fluid without success.  We could, of course, have phoned for help except that (and I think this is what they call 'sod's law') neither of us had our mobile phone with us!  Rather bravely, Danny then drove the car at a snail's pace to Bressuire, a town which is about 15 kilometres from home, where the tyre finally gave up and disintegrated!  We had been trying to get to an English couple we know there in the hope of using their phone to get a taxi - but they weren't there!  Danny had pulled off into a side street and a French couple came out of their house to see what we were doing.  (This is nothing unusual in France; they are always watching and looking to see - who knows what?!)  I explained our predicament as best I could, hoping they would let us use their phone.  But - the man offered to take us home!  We were so touched by this generosity and even now, a week on, I still feel so incredibly moved by that man's kindness.  I tried to give him the box of chocolates we'd bought and Danny offered him money.  But he refused both.  He and his wife also told us they would keep an eye on the car and make sure it was safe.  We saw them again on Monday when we returned to sort it out and we have bought them a nice bottle of wine as a thank you gift.  And to finish the story, we bought two new tyres and are using the old but good tyre as a spare.  We have also put an old mobile phone in the car to carry with us in case of future problems!!!

And needless to say, we didn't get to go to the Christmas market we'd intended to go to last Sunday!  Still, I guess it would have been an anti-climax after the wonderful one at Doué-la-Fontaine!

I shall write again in a few days with news of what we've done to the lounge....

À bientôt

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Window dressing!

I've called this post 'Window dressing' as that seems to sum up a lot of what I've been doing for the last couple of weeks!  Well, that and soft furnishings generally!

I can't remember if I've mentioned it on here before but I like to have a list of winter projects in my mind at this time of year.  I find it makes the winter pass quicker!  Not that I'm trying to wish my life away (as my mum would have said) but in the past, I used to find the winter just dragged on aimlessly.  Perhaps it's partly because there is so much to do in other seasons?  Anyway, for this winter I had in mind to do a number of sewing projects; curtains and the like. And I've made a start on that already.

In my last post, I showed pictures of how Danny was progressing with my utility room.  Well, since then, he finished constructing the worktop and storage and put up a long shelf, primarily for some of my large collection of recipe books.  He then stained and varnished all the bare wood then hung the drying rack, which he had made several years ago and which used to hang in my kitchen in England.  The rack is pretty bare at the moment but I hope to be able to use it for drying home-grown herbs next year!  When he'd finished all of his work it was time for me to get out my sewing machine and put the finishing touches to the room.   So this is the finished utility room....

Mainly for decorative purposes, I've put a small table and chair in the bay.   As part of my sewing projects, I made the tablecloths in this picture!

Finally...some new window dressing!  We bought the same net curtain for the new utility room as for the kitchen door but have done them slightly differently.  This is the utility room window...

And this is the kitchen door.....

Now, on this subject of window dressing....some months ago, our daughter-in-law, Sarah (an extremely talented young lady!) made a roman blind for our bathroom window.  I need to explain for those of my readers who have not visited us that we have an absurdly large bathroom whose walls are painted bright yellow!  I say 'absurdly' because it has used up so much room, which (in our opinion) could have been put to better use.  Nonetheless, we decided that we wouldn't do anything to change it and we have just got used to it now.  We chose to have blue accessories to complement the yellow so there are blue towels, rugs etc. in there.  Now that we have got round to putting it up, we also have this beautiful yellow and blue blind too!  Thank you Sarah!

So that's about it for now!  In terms of jobs in the house itself now, we have only the lounge and hallway that need to be decorated.  And I leave you with news that we are starting work on the lounge next week - I am SO excited!

Until next time then, à bientôt!


Monday, 17 November 2014

Making the most of the good weather - while it lasted!

In the time since my last post the weather has deteriorated and while we're still getting some weak sunshine, we're getting our fair share of rain plus the mornings and evenings are much colder now.  We haven't had our central heating on yet but we are using the wood burner from late afternoon onwards now.

Fortunately the weather remained reasonable long enough that we could still get some jobs done in the garden.  The area in the front garden (where you may remember we removed a huge spreading conifer) has now been seeded and grass is starting to appear.  This was Danny raking it over - with a little help from Finn!

After it had a few rakings and the earth was ready for seeding, Danny built this framework for protective netting.  Now most people buy this netting to keep away the birds but in our case, we had to make the area dog-proof!

Incidentally, the rocks you see were too big for the digger to remove and certainly too much for Danny and I to lift!  So we plan to make them something of a 'feature' - I won't spoil it by telling you what we've planned.  If it works out, I'll show you in a few months' time!

Having spent considerable time tidying up the garden, as I showed you last time, I decided to buy some winter flowering bedding plants just to give the garden some colour.  Here are just a few pictures to give you an idea of what it looks like right now.

The good weather held until the day after my birthday when the heavens opened!  But on the big day itself we were able to sit outside of a restaurant, in a town called Parthenay, and enjoy a pleasant lunch.  I know some of you will have seen this picture of me already on Facebook but for those who haven't, here I am enjoying a birthday glass of wine in the sunshine!

As I say, the very next day, the heavens opened and it rained solidly for a few days!  Well, we can hardly complain in November!  And it's made us start thinking about getting started on some of the projects we have planned for the winter. 

Last Monday saw us buying this trailer load of wood.......

Uh oh! I hear you say. What has Roz got planned for Danny to do now?

Well, a few months ago we decorated the room which is to be the utility room or  la buanderie as my French friend tells me it is called in France!  But the room had just been left as it was, needing worktops and storage to complete it.  So Danny has spent most of this week doing just that.  Here are a few pictures to demonstrate the progress he's made.


It was actually at this point that Danny ran out of wood to continue making the slatted shelves!  So this afternoon's job is going back to the shop to replenish supplies!  We're still quite a way off finishing the room completely as all the wood will need staining; I want shelves on the wall and I will be making curtains etc. But at least it's well underway now!
Before I sign off, I want to show you this.  It's just a tart I made recently for our lunch but it was made with figs and red onions from the garden (and goat's cheese from the supermarket!)
I still get a kick out of using the fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden.  Although this year was not all I had hoped it would be as far as the fresh produce was concerned, when I look back we had new potatoes, lettuce, beetroot, radishes, cherry tomatoes, onions, green beans, peppers, squash, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and figs.  Not a bad crop for a beginner!

And finally, for those of you who may be interested to know how Danny is getting on with his London bus model....this is where he's got to now...

Until next time then,
à bientôt tous

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Ready for winter!

Before I begin, what do you think of the new layout and colours?  As I've been doing the blog for close on two years now, I decided it was time for a change!

You'll see that I've called this post "Ready for winter".  My friend Anne has returned to the UK, we have stocked up on logs for the wood burner and Danny has "winterised" the pool.  Only it seems that winter isn't ready for us!  For weeks now we've been enjoying the most beautiful dry, sunny and warm days.  Some days have even been hot!  Not that I'm complaining, especially as it's given me an excellent chance of tidying up the garden, which I had neglected badly for some time now.  More about that later.

So, the pool now has its 'winter cover' on, some of the water has been drained off and all the pumps have been turned off.  It was no mean feat achieving all this and we have learnt that it is common for people to call in an engineer to do the 'winterising'! (Thank goodness for Danny's engineering brain, then!)

So this is what the pool area looks like now...

Even the heat pump has its own little winter cover....

I think the first photo above shows what a difference we've made to the whole pool area in the last couple of months.  As you can see, the grass seed has really taken and we have new grass to replace all the ghastly mounds of earth and boggy tyre tracks from the endless digger and dumper journeys! 

And around the pool terracing various evergreen shrubs have been planted now, along with lots of small ground covering plants which we hope will eventually form a carpet of colour to disguise the green membrane.  All I can say at the moment is "watch this space"!  

Since we got all that sorted out, I've been concentrating on tidying up the front garden.  Most of what I've done is straightforward pruning.  However, I've also started on some radical changes!  You might remember, a few months ago I decided that it was about time we made the garden 'ours'.  I've always had an aversion to removing live plants but I've come to realise that when we take our garden waste to the local déchetterie it goes from there to be recycled.  So now if I do want to make sweeping changes, I don't feel guilty about uprooting plants that are very much alive as I know they will have a new purpose elsewhere.

When our friends Ron and Barbara were here recently, Ron dug out two old rose bushes that were really past their best.  I intend planting out the empty troughs properly in the Spring but in the meantime, as I found these pretty cyclamens on offer, I thought they'd brighten up the front of the house.

(In case you're wondering why the window boxes of geraniums are on the step, despite the good weather we have also had a few windy days and the boxes were at risk of falling off their perches!)

So onto a more radical change!  When I cut back a hardy fuchsia bush it revealed a large hole that we suspect was dug by Bertie, as he has a penchant for digging where he shouldn't!  He might have got away with it, had I not been on this pruning mission!  So this is what I was faced with...

.....but it gave me an idea!  I talked it over with Danny and we made the decision to get rid of the large conifer, grass over the whole area and place my mum's old garden bench (suitably restored) under the ornamental cherry tree.  As well as being attractive (we believe!), it will make that whole area so much easier for Danny to mow. 

So over the next two or three days, we hacked away and here is the conifer, going....



There are a few deep roots left but we have asked our digger man Phil if he will pop by and dig them out for us!

The most recent thing I've done is tidy up the area around the well.  It had become so overgrown that I imagine some of our guests wouldn't even know we had a well.  So here are 'before' and 'after' photos...

Now comes the best bit.  After all the hard work, I can go out to buy some new plants to put in the trough that's in front of the well itself. 
So, that's pretty much it for this update.  Looking over it, it's all about the garden!  But in truth, that's about all it has been the last few weeks!  Despite that, Danny has fitted in time to do more of his model work....he's currently making a model of a London Bus.  Here he is at work!

Until next time, à bientôt!