Olympics, Blogging & French Life

IMG_3578

The Olympics in Rio have started and are now dominating the headlines. Being a very sporty family the games are a big event. My background is in horses and riding, having competed since I was a child, so I will want to watch everything equestrian-related. Then there is the sailing and of course the tennis. But we don’t want to waste these beautiful summer days inside watching television, thank goodness there are highlights every night!

Read more

French Gardening and Summer Rain

P4840324

I am rarely the first person up in our family, I leave that badge to Roddy or the youngest girls. I prefer to remain in bed a few minutes longer where I like to lie and gather my thoughts; often Gigi will come in for a snuggle and I will plan my day, but yesterday I broke my own rules and I was up and out before the rest of the family had stirred. I wasn’t going anywhere special, there was no important meeting in my diary, I just wanted to capture the early morning light. I’ll do this every now and then; everyone wonders if I am feeling ok, but once in a while it’s fun to be the first to rise. I unlock the front door and open the french windows in the kitchen and let the cool morning air rush in.

Read more

France on the Go

IMG_1483

If anyone had told me I would be writing about Pokemon on the blog a while ago, I would have laughed, but it has taken France by storm. Yes it may all be rather silly, but there is so much tragedy in the world and so much horror that I thought something light-hearted from the school summer holidays, (rather like the hanging umbrellas in Rochefort) far removed from everyday normality, might be fun and if that means getting involved with the children and helping them find some rare Pokemon then so be it! Read more

The Only Way is Up

IMG_7571

Here in the Charente Maritime houses and buildings have donned their summer clothing, pretty pastels and vibrant colours abound. Everywhere I go there are climbers, reaching upwards, the bigger the better;  these are the social climbers of the plant world, they twist and turn around anything they can cling to for support, or anything that will enhance their status! Read more

Summer and a Day That Could Change Our Lives

 

IMG_7515As I sit here writing this post gazing down our long garden, it’s a scene that probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. Yet so much could alter today, the day Britain votes to either remain or leave the EU. In London it’s pouring with rain, there are lightning strikes, and storms and flooding have caused travel chaos. Here in the Charente Maritime the hot sun continues to shine, the skies remain resolutely blue, and life continues as normal. Read more

Our Garden Tour

IMG_6696

All of our doors lead directly into the garden and now that summer has arrived they are permanently open and the garden has become an extension of the house, a space to be enjoyed and lived in. It is in fact a series of rooms, and it occurred to me that I haven’t taken you on a tour of it for quite a long while.

Read more

Finding Time for Oneself

IMG_7180

One of the many things we love about France is the slightly slower pace of life. However, at the same time our life seems more hectic than ever; it’s a total contradiction I know, but true. We have never been busier, but we also find more time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life! Read more

WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT FRENCH HOLIDAY

IMG_4977

For so many summer is drawing to a close.  Whether we want to admit it or not the garden is showing a tiny hint of autumn.  The biggest indicator of change though is in the supermarket; gone are the huge displays of sun-shades, parasols, beach-toys and flip flops that once greeted us as we walked in. Instead they have now been replaced by back-to-school special offers, of which there will be more on that next week – but I can’t think about ‘La Rentrée’ for a few more days. In fact, that’s why I am keeping this post short and sweet as I want to spend as much time as possible enjoying the last few days of the holidays with the children. I am one of those few people who really hate it when they go back to school, the children laugh and play at the school gates while I stand there sadly with tears in my eyes!

All of this has set me thinking about holidays, or more importantly – how people really like to spend their time when they come to France. According to the latest statistics, France is still the world’s number one tourist destination with some 85 million visitors a year. I wonder what is it you love most of all, or what are you dreaming of if you ever get over here?

I am assuming you want everything to be quintessentially French…

IMG_3593

Maybe you’ll be touring beautiful towns and villages, enjoying the local architecture

IMG_4566 IMG_3543 IMG_4558

Stopping at a local restaurant, where even the French sparkling-water, Badoit, comes in it’s own special bottle with matching glass

IMG_2776

or whiling away a few hours on a terrace, shaded from the sun, watching the world go by

IMG_0463

Maybe it includes a little retail therapy, always in a stunning location of course

IMG_0429

and I am assuming somewhere near the top of everyone’s list is at least a taste of locally-baked croissants and pain au chocolat ?

IMG_0444

Perhaps a little more indulgence with mouth watering ‘macarons’; you are on holiday after all!

IMG_0447

A few nights at a delightfully understated but incredibly comfortable little boutique hotel, perhaps? I fell in love with this little hotel on the île de Ré with nothing more than a tiny brass plaque for it’s name and a discreet doorbell for entry

IMG_0417

Even the luxurious Clarins Spa has an unpretentious façade. A day or weekend here would certainly revitalize both the mind and body

IMG_0405

Perhaps your idea of perfection is exploring historic ruins and ancient buildings like the Abbaye de Trizay built in the 11th Century

IMG_7667

IMG_7674

Or perhaps your thoughts are more coastal themed; the lure of the water and golden sand; or if you just can’t stand the crowds, away from it all on a boat, viewing France from the sea

IMG_7485

IMG_7497

Or is it all about the local markets for they certainly are an integral part of the French way of life? Fresh baguettes and seasonal fruit and vegetables which at the moment means figs and grapes!

IMG_1639

DSC00166

Or maybe it’s a mixture of everything; perhaps a month touring the coast and then moving inland with nothing but a suitcase, a car and a few euros for meals.  Stopping wherever appeals.  I think I could happily spend a little time in a place with such a charming name as this

DSC00060

I should just add that this lovely photo of the sign was spotted and taken by Gigi, our nine year old, she has good taste!

THE DEMISE OF BORIS

I’m really hoping that someone will tell me we are not the only people to have given their watermelons names. However, I rather fear as this is bordering on the totally insane that we probably are, and therefore it’s probably even worse that I’m actually telling you all about it rather than keeping it a secret!

I know this all sounds rather bizarre, in my defence, I wasn’t the one who named the watermelons, it was the children. I promise it was.

You see, we have never successfully grown watermelons before and so when two started to grow bigger and bigger for some reason they got named and during much laughter at supper one night, Boris and Tom were christened! Boris was the smaller one and a deep dark green. Yesterday was the day he finally got taken out of the vegetable garden to the table on the terrace where seven people sat under the shade of the umbrella, staring, waiting, wondering if he would be juicy, wondering if he would be as ripe as we hoped. The truth is he was utterly delicious – our very first watermelon we have successfully grown and eaten. Tom is next but not for a week or two!

IMG_5566

Just to prove we are not completely bonkers, we headed off on our bikes yesterday evening for the very normal and down-to-earth activity of blackberry-picking.  Long warm summer days mean the blackberries are incredible this year, and also very early. For our foraging, it’s vital to find a good source away from any commercial farming where fruits can run the risk of being sprayed with all sorts of chemicals as farmers treat their fields, so we headed down to our favourite place, the Marais; untouched by modern farming methods and away from any mass-produced crops, the blackberries and sloes here are very much as nature intended them to be.

Every time we go there (and it is often, we admit) there is something new to see –  also some things remain unchanged, the three bay mares still come over as soon as they hear our voices.
IMG_5595

IMG_7479

It’s awash with insects and wildlife; I’m just an amateur but it is surely a nature photographer’s dream location and I can’t help myself when opportunities arise. The two photos below are of a spotted darter (which seem to be swarming in plague proportions right now) and a yellow-tail moth caterpillar which Millie found amongst the blackberries. We also saw a barn owl out quartering the fields in broad daylight.

IMG_7388 IMG_7454 - Version 2

The secret to blackberry-picking I have found is to not worry about filling the basket to start with, because in our family it simply won’t happen.  The blackberries are so sweet and still warm from the sun and for the first half an hour nothing is saved, everyone picks and eats, tongues and fingers turning purple. The bucket dangles uselessly from someone’s arm and  it’s only once everyone has had their fill that the task of collecting them can begin in earnest.  Blackberry-jelly, blackberry and apple pie, crumbles with cream in the cold winter months, or perhaps, as I like best, eaten plain, straight from the freezer with some yoghurt for breakfast.  Thankfully they freeze well; they’re packed with vitamins, organic and free – what’s not to love about them ? The best part of all is collecting them though, as it is such great family fun.

IMG_5770

Of course nothing is ever completely normal with us, and Millie borrowed my camera for some digital therapy whilst I was busy picking.  Going through the results yesterday evening I came across quite a few selfies she had taken and then some great photos of us all, I think Gigi is eating as fast as I pick here!

IMG_5707

and then some more – how on earth did she manage this?  There are some settings I never knew existed on my camera quite obviously, this shot now looks like something from the 70’s…

IMG_5718

and then it becomes a water-colour painting, if only she hadn’t chopped everyone’s heads off!  I can see I have lots of experimenting to do!

IMG_5720

The blackberry-picking and bike-ride was a family affair as always, with Bentley and Evie joining in too. Since Bentley’s offering last week they have finally become friends, and Evie now follows Bentley’s lead on everything he does. In the Marais this involves sniffing scents from a thousand sources and eating delicacies from the local inhabitants!

IMG_5746 2

IMG_5744

When Evie had really walked far enough for her tender age of just 10 weeks, she fitted quite snugly under my arm!

IMG_7465

We had so much fun that we arrived home long after we meant to and we’d totally forgotten about heading to the local grocery store for some supper. As the children jumped in the pool we wondered what on earth we were going to eat. It was up to Roddy to conjure up something tasty using whatever he could find, mostly vegetables from the garden.  Thankfully, though, this is his speciality;  I am so lucky as he rarely follows recipes and loves to experiment, so his absolute forte is coming up with incredible dishes from what always seems to be an empty pantry! Soon delicious smells started filling the kitchen and children appeared dripping in the doorway wanting to know what Daddy was cooking that smelt so good.

Here’s what he did. One and a half onions and some garlic were sautéed in a little olive oil with a mixture of Curcumin, sweet paprika and some mild curry spice. Then he added a couple of small chopped aubergines, and then a diced courgette; last came half a dozen freshly picked tomatoes in quarters.  Once they were gently cooked he bound them all together with a little cream, let it cool, and organized the pastry in a pie-dish. An egg from the chickens was folded gently into the warm mixture and it all went inside the pastry which he folded over at the edges. A few slices of mozzarella and a little grated cheese and it was popped into a hot oven for 20 minutes.  The result was an utterly mouthwateringly delicious far-eastern delight of home grown goodness, washed down with a glass of local red wine – a great way to end the day.

IMG_5758