The Gigi Post!

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May is a month full of public holidays in France.  I admit that I get just as excited as the children at the prospect of three days without school, or maybe my excitement is just the fact that the children are going to be home for three days. Either way, the extra 24 hours is always an added bonus. At this time of year there is so much to enjoy in the Charente Maritime. This is how I love to spend a long weekend.

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This post started out titled, “The Holiday Weekend”, but then we noticed that Gigi seemed to feature in a lot of the photos and so I renamed it “The Gigi Post!”

Ideally every weekend should involve a really good walk with the whole tribe. The suggestion of a long hike evokes a different reaction in some compared to others. The dogs of course leap around ecstatically at the mere mention of the word ‘walk’ or if we simply touch the dog leads. For Roddy it’s a chance to grab his camera and indulge a little in his passion for photographing insects and wildlife. Some of the children will jump at the idea and others will be a little more reluctant; the latter have to be coaxed out of the gate  with all the usual talk about the benefits of fresh air and the importance of exercise! But one thing never changes; within ten minutes of leaving home and after skipping down some narrow tracks and through the grass, everyone is glad they came and no one wants to go home!

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We go through villages, across fields, and down by the woods. It’s quite impossible not to have fun and not to be totally absorbed by our surroundings. The hedgerows are full of wild flowers at the moment. We take a few to put in a vase at home, but we only choose a couple from each place; I call it ‘responsible picking’, leaving plenty to self seed for next year.

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Another bonus of the warmer months is that the tennis court beckons a little more invitingly. We can play in shorts and a t-shirt rather than being bundled up against the cold in full winter kit. No weekend would normally be complete without a good game. However this weekend’s tennis match was no ordinary game. We didn’t drive any of the girls to a lesson or have a typical family battle on our village court where competition can be fierce and extremely vocal! Instead we headed out very bright and early to Garden Tennis Royan, where the Junior Regional Tennis Finals were being held. Gigi and another girl had been selected a couple of weeks previously to represent the Charente Maritime in the 9 year old girls doubles finals and they were to play the three other Departments (like a county) in our Region – the Deux Sevres, the Vienne and the Charente. This was a great honour and one Gigi took very seriously. She has grown to adore her tennis and plays between 6 and 9 hours every week, working hard with a great deal of dedication and the help of a fantastic coach.

After a very long day of matches of which they won two and only narrowly lost another, Gigi and her partner came second and claimed the Runners-Up trophy, which meant they found themselves on the podium at the prize-giving late in the evening. Now, like all parents I often share photos of the children; they’re a part of this story and our lifestyle here in France, but rarely, if ever, do I talk about their achievements. It’s a British thing I think, which involves a reserved upbringing and some application of modesty. But I had to tell you all, partly because it was a huge part of the weekend, but mostly because as a mother I was so immensely proud of her, and I nearly burst with pride. Our little 9 year old plays like a pro and hits the ball like an adult!

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There could hardly be a more stunning setting for a tennis club, and indeed many consider Garden Tennis Royan to be one of the most beautiful and prestigious clubs in France. It is also one of the oldest having welcomed its first players in April 1914. The fourteen outdoor red clay courts (and three indoor courts) are a striking contrast to the blue sea in the background and the club is flanked on two sides by a coastal path lined with fishing huts. The tournament included the top players aged from 12 to 18 in the Region, all future champions in one way or another, for sure. The winner of the 15 year old Boys could not be at the prize giving as he had had to leave to fly to Poland for an International competition as soon as he had finished his match, which is a good indication of the level of play that day!

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Royan is one of those places you either love or hate. Its history has dictated the architecture of the town and it is very varied, with a timeline that goes back as far as the 11th Century and before. Royan has always offered a safe anchorage for boats at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary between the main ports of La Rochelle and Bordeaux, and in the 1800’s it became a very fashionable destination for city dwellers in search of clean fresh sea air. As the years passed the population grew and it became a highly desirable and stylish resort. During World War II the entire city suffered extensive bombing during the war and then suffered from bitter fighting during the invasion of 1944 during which much of it was destroyed; this led to a period of reconstruction in the 1950’s which was largely modernist in style. Today the shoreline is decorated with elegant villas which blend incongruously with the traditional fishing huts of the area and it’s a rather charming mix. It certainly has style but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Royan also boasts five different beaches and a large modern marina plus a terminal where you can board the ferry which bumbles across the short stretch of water to the wine-growing region of Médoc opposite.

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As always, food played a large role in our weekend’s activities. The markets are bursting with new seasonal produce, and there is suddenly so much on offer; it’s almost like Christmas-time for the foodies amongst us. Artichokes are everywhere, and not only can you can buy them at produce stands but I’m also seeing them in every small potager in all our local villages. The children were not used to them when we came here and wrinkled their noses, unsure quite what to make of the new taste. However, with some of Roddy’s famous vinaigrette they have come to love them as much as we do, now they are just another seasonal offering that cannot be missed.

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To end a long weekend perfectly, there has to be a shared meal with friends. In this case it was a simple barbecue in the garden and a pretty table.

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Casual is the name of the game as always. I prefer a relaxed laid-back style which allows the company and the food to take centre stage, where eating and sharing good homemade dishes from local produce leads to much laughter and chatter.

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The apple pie below is every bit as delicious as it looks and is very easy to make. Simply blind-bake the pastry for 10 minutes in advance. This time around I used puff-pastry as I had a homemade parcel of it leftover in the freezer. Usually I make a simple shortcrust; if you’re in a real rush you can always buy some ready-made pastry, but do use the plain variety as the pie really doesn’t need a sweet base. For the topping you’ll need 8 apples. I use six to make an apple puree. Peel and chop them and steam in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water. Another little tip I picked up from Jeff, our American ‘chef in residence,’ from a couple of weeks ago, was to always use a variety of different apples as this brings out the sweetness and flavour. Simmer until they are soft and then blend or mash until smooth and spoon over the pastry base. Peel and chop the final two apples and arrange in slices over the puree. Bake for 15 minutes in a medium oven at 180C (350F). Serve hot or cold with fresh cream or ice cream. It could not be more natural.

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56 thoughts on “The Gigi Post!

  • What a delightful post! What a blessing for the children (even if they don’t know it yet) to be able to wonder around the countryside, frolicking and picking wildflowers here and there. The apple pie looks delicious, too!

    • Thank you so much Maria, sometimes the children can’t use enough words to describe how much they love long walks through the fields, other times it’s just another long walk!!! I know when they look back in years to come they will, I hope, think of their childhood with very fond memories. I urge you to make the apple pie, it’s simple and so so yummy! Susan x

  • More food ! Excellent – where was my invite, Susan? I see you like chickpeas too. Nothing better than some chick-peas roasted with tomatos, olive oil and garlic. Well done to Gigi too on her tennis, you must be proud people. Summer approaching very slowly here…we call it the grockle season down on the beach. lots of ice-creams and hamburgers, not too many artichokes. ha ha

    • Hi Phil, more food indeed, we’re celebrating all the local produce suddenly available, it makes it quite impossible not to write about it! I will pass your comment on to Gigi, thank you. Lots of camper vans around here now, the tourists are arriving by the day and the coast is getting very busy. Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Love this! I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and so enjoy peeking in at your family’s adventures in France. Beautiful pictures, food, lifestyle. What a privilege!

    • Thank you so much Talitha. I do feel truly privileged to live here but also to be able to share this with everyone, there is so much fun to be had from so many of life’s simplest pleasures! Have a wonderful end to the week and weekend, Susan x

    • Thanks so much, I will pass this on to her ladyship! It’s so simple for things to look good at this time of the year, everything is just that much easier, including the living! If only the weather would make up its mind as to whether it wants to be hot or cold! Susan x

  • I can see you are a very proud mother. She is doing very well to represent Charente at such a young age. Oh, and your meal sounds perfect. So fresh, seasonal and local.

    • Thanks Nadia, you know I am so proud of her, mostly because she has put in so much effort, but I cannot tell you how thrilled she was, quite ecstatic! Hope you are home safely to this strange weather, we even lit the fire again last night! Susan x

    • Hi Helen, thank you, I will pass this on to Gigi! There is something about Al fresco dining that just makes everything taste even better, it was a fabulous meal. Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • So wonderful for your children to be brought up in such a lovely environment.they will always look back on those walks as a family and thank you when they are older. Congratulations to your daughter GiGi I’ll look out for her when one day she could be playing at Wimbledon.’ I too make an apple tart similar to yours, my daughters French mother in law showed her this method. loved seeing your family in the beautiful countryside.

    • Hi Barbara, yes Wimbledon is her goal! I believe this is a French Apple Tart recipe as it was given to me by Jeff, who trained in Paris. I just love the simplicity of it, you can really taste the flavour of the apples, but then I like simple food without heavy sauces and rich creams. Hope you have a lovely weekend and I hope it warms up soon! Susan x

  • Enjoying my morning coffee halfway around the world from you!
    On Lake Okanagan in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada.
    Loving your life in France, and your amazing children! Realizing that wishing and hoping to live were you live is a dream I have always had, but now know that anywhere in this beautiful world can be my own paradise as long as there is love and family,and good food!! I love your blog and your life and willingness to share your adventures.
    Thank you for brightening my day! Congratulations to your star tennis champ!

    • Hi Pamela, thank you so much and thank you for taking the time to comment. You are so right, anywhere can be paradise, it just takes family and friends. Many things in life are the same wherever we live, we still have to cook, clean, do the laundry etc etc., all the boring things, but we can make it special, I know I could be happy anywhere so long as I had my husband and children with me. A lot of my distant relatives live in British Columbia, they emigrated to Canada in the 1930’s from Scotland, settling mostly in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. I’ll pass your congrats on to the star!!! She will be delighted, thank you. Have a lovely weekend in your very beautiful part of the world! Susan x

  • What a glorious post! Walking in such a beautiful area can’t help but be fun for everyone. Your Gigi has worked so hard, congratulations to her. It’s such a joy to watch our children accomplish something they are proud of! All in all, this post is like a mini vacation, love it. Xo Lidy

    • Hi Lidy, thanks so much, walking at this time of year is just the best, neither too hot nor too cold and everywhere looks incredible. I’ll pass on your congrats to Gigi, she will be so happy! Susan x

  • Sounds like the perfect way to spend a long weekend! As a teacher I love the month of May too- so many holidays to enjoy and the weather is usually beautiful. I loved looking at all your pictures! And a special congratulations to Gigi! What a great accomplishment.

    • Hi, welcome to the blog, great to have you following along and someone so close too! I am glad you said the weather is “usually” beautiful, it’s been such an odd Spring, it doesn’t seem to know quite what to do and I am sure it is the same an hour and a half down the road from us with you. I think the children feel a little cheated that so many of the holidays this month fell on a Sunday,last year I don’t think they had a single full school week in May! Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Susan, your children are having the most wonderful childhood. You and Roddy are giving them the best of all memories. Congrats…to Gigi.

    Ali x

    • Hi Ali, thank you so much! It’s what I remember most of my childhood, not the holidays or anything like that, but summer and riding my pony through the fields and just being free to go where I pleased, again, it’s the simple things that seem to make the most lasting memories. I’ll pass on your congrats to Gigi, thank you, Susan xx

  • Well done Gigi! I can understand how proud you are and rightly so! We Brits are a bit reticent about singing praises, but I think we should tell our children when we are proud and when they’ve done well. It’s all part of parenting – praise when deserved and a firm, steadying, guiding hand when they’re not so good! Your delicious Apple Pie and Cheese Straws are on the list of baking to be done! Have a great weekend.

    • Now you have caught up and are totally up to date! I think as Brits we are reluctant to say well done. I praise the children all the time, but if someone does really really well at school for instance and someone else asks me how they did, I would just smile and say, very well thank you and leave it at that. I can tell you I felt quite uncomfortable letting everyone know about Gigi, but it’s not every day a 9 year old play for her County, plus the club is so picturesque that it made a good story! Have a great weekend too, Susan x

  • Brava, Gigi and partner! Very impressive.
    And oh, those lovely pictures of the countryside and especially the seashore. I can almost smell the salt air.

    • Hi Emm, I’ll pass your comment along to Gigi, it will make her super happy, thank you. I love the saltiness in the air all around here, it has that smell that reminds me of where I grew up on a small island, I can never be too far from the sea! Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Maybe this means it is Gigi’s turn to write a guest post next! Haha. We shared a similar apple pie here last night, such a lovely American tradition. Your dinner parties look iconic Susan, what a beautiful table.

    Congratulations Gigi!

    • Hi Lily, Gosh I am sure Gigi would leap at the chance, or maybe not! I think maybe a collaborative one between her and her elder sister might be better! I love having people over to dinner, half the fun is laying the table and the girls love to help, they pick flowers and choose vases and play with tablecloths and napkins, it’s all part of the party! I’ll pass on your congrats to Gigi, thank you. Susan x

  • I don’t know where to start! The children running through the meadows! Gigi playing lights-out tennis at a gorgeous and historical site, in France!!, I might add! Playing for her region! Wow
    The weather, the produce, the table, (complete with the daisies which we got to “pick” along with Gigi), the pie!!!
    Oh I feel like I’ve had just the most beautiful weekend with you all!
    Many thanks for the recipe as well!!!

    • Thank you so much, I’m so glad you loved everything about the post, of course I am a super proud Mother! It was just such a lovely weekend, helped immensely by three days of constant sunshine and warm weather. Why is it everything is always so much better when the skies are blue? Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

    • The fishing huts are typical of this area. You see them all the way down the Gironde Estuary. Huge nets are lowered to trap the fish and then lifted up. I just love the colours of them and the simplicity against the large expensive villas along the shoreline. Susan x

  • You write so beautifully Susan. It is such a joy to open your posts, and read your words, accompanied by such lovely photographs. Congratulations to Gigi. What a wonderful achievement for her.
    I love Portmerion, and think the table setting so warm and inviting. I may well try out the apple pie over the weekend! Our apples (in Australia) are quite delicious at the moment being Autumn.
    Thankyou again.

    • Hi Gabrielle, thank you so much, what a lovely comment to start my day! Sadly I don’t have any other Portmerion, I love it too, this was my late mother in laws and I have used it as a salad bowl ever since we have had it, it is so summery and so pretty. Do try the apple pie, it is really delicious especially as you are now in Autumn, perfect timing! I’ll pass on your message to Gigi, she will be thrilled thank you. Have a lovely weekend and enjoy your cooler weather (whereas we are just hoping for lots more sunshine!) Susan x

  • How to make one’s soul sing to springtime in France – this encapsulates pretty much everything I love about the country. Space, culture, food and ‘la bonne vie’. Thank you for lifting the senses a little, Susan.

    • Hi Simon, you are so right, the weekend involved everything I love about France too. There was so much going on and yet it was all so unhurried and relaxed. At the tennis tournament we even stopped for a long buffet lunch in a marquee! Everyone takes so much time to appreciate things, that is what I love. Have a great weekend, Susan x

  • My time in France was a fairy tale, and I’ll never forget it.Living there, you must always have something interesting and life-altering to see, do and participate in! LOVELY! Anita

    • Hi Anita, it sounds as if you had the most wonderful time here, happy memories. One of the things I love about this blog is it encourages me to notice everything around me. A drive that I might have taken concentrating only on the road and listening to the radio now means I look so much closer at things that pass me by. There is so much history tucked away and it is easy to become very blasé about ones surroundings, but I like to be inquisitive and as you so rightly say, there is so much to see. Have a lovely weekend, Susan X

  • Well done to Gigi, quite an achievement for a 9 year old. I think I would be one of the people who love Royan, it looks beautiful. As always such a wonderful post, I love your style of writing.

    • Hi Claire, welcome to the blog, great to have you following along. I will pass on your comments to Gigi, she will be thrilled thank you. I like Royan and I love the beaches there and the whole atmosphere, its a really fun place especially in the summer. Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • I have only ever visited France once when I was a child but reading your blog and these wonderful glimpses into your family life has made me want to come again and bring my family with me. Thank you for so much inspiration.

    • Hi Jane, thank you so much, I am so happy to have rekindled your desire to visit France. It is a beautiful and very varied country, from the green farming lands of Normandy to the sun drenched beaches of Provence; wherever you visit there are so many places of interest, there really is something for everyone. I hope you do get to come again and bring your family with you. Have a lovely weekend, Susan

  • What a wonderful life you have living in France!
    Congratulations to Gigi – you should be proud of her.
    Please keep writing. – always look forward to your adventures.

    • Hi Sydney, thanks so much, I will pass on your congrats to Gigi! We are so fortunate to live here and to be able to share this lifestyle with everyone, so glad you are enjoying reading about it, lots more to come! Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Thats so cool!!!! The food looks amazing, cant wait to try it. Tell Gigi great job in the tournament!!

  • This post was moving in so many ways! The description of Royan brought it to life, especially with the layering of the historical context .
    Following Gigi s path into regional tennis competition was also brilliant ! She has such tenacious fight in her, I’m sure th competition is always surprised once the call is in play. As we know we relate to the gripping experience watching one of our own on the court , alone in battle between the lines…..we are so lucky!
    So proud of her, that was a big success to perform so well at that level.
    The walk, the food….we can’t wait to return!

    • Hi Greg, thank you so much. As a tennis parentyou know exactly what it’s like, I always say it’s much worse for the parents than the children. You can’t say anything, you can’t intervene, you can’t say no that was in not out, you just have to watch in silence and let them do it all, so hard sometimes when they miss a line call! so many new places to show you, can’t wait until you come back. Susan x

  • This is too beautiful! The pictures you share, and describe of Royan, are such a treat. I can’t imagine taking it all in, but you gave me the picture and I thank you so much. Gigi is totally beautiful in tennis setting as in a field of flowers. The yellow. Buttercups and daisys give us the taste of a day in the fields🙂 Thank you for sharing your France with all of us!

    • Hi Mary, thank you so much, I love Royan, but as I said, it’s not to everyone’s taste. It’s a wonderful lifestyle I have to admit, we are very lucky. enjoy the rest of the weekend, Susan x

  • How impressive Gigi is with her tennis play. I too have the same bowl and also the cookie jar. Fun post to read this afternoon.

    • Hi, thank you so much, it’s all down to her, she works very hard at it. The Portmerion bowl? Sadly it’s the only piece I have, we inherited it and have used it for salads ever since, the pattern is so light and summery, I love it. Hope you are having a lovely weekend, today was really hot here but now we are paying the price with a big storm brewing, the weather just doesn’t seem to know what to do at the moment, it’s so up and down! Susan x

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