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!