Renovating and Restoring in France, a broader view

As we walk around the village, I notice signs of renewal here and there. This is encouraging.

I see new windows, new paintwork, a newly re-pointed little stone man-cave down by the river see below left.

Houses that have stood empty show lights behind shuttered windows for the first time in years.

It’s not just Campagne, surrounding towns and villages look to be waking up from the long shadow of the slump that took so many jobs from artisanal,  rural , agricultural, retail, office workers. Even the estate agents are slowly opening their doors again.

Someone must be buying, someone must be moving in. I feel positive for  this region. I feel positive for La France. Good things will start to happen.

In our own restoration project, we have achieved much this year on a virtually zero budget.

So it paid, it seems, to stock pile all these paints, tiles, wood, stone, furniture and decorative pieces when we spotted them at knock down prices. If they are right for the house, they’ll be installed eventually.

I refuse to make excuses for the time it is taking to get there. The journey is all.

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Gluten free Tiramisu – and why you should unpack all your kitchen & dining stuff before you try to play hostess with the mostest

Here is a new Handy Hint for Restoration and Renobuddies who are planning to offer “Restauration” Chez Vous.  Check if you’ve got enough serving dishes, serving spoons, glasses and appropriate cutlery unpacked before your lunch or dinner guests arrive. (Note non-matching Giant Spoon & Small Serving Spoons, and the mashed potatoes had to go out in  a mountainous pile in a regular dish, prompting Phil to suggest that we  were re-enacting the kitchen scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind) It also pays to check that you’ve got the dates right and the guests are all actually in the same country/region/ time-zone before you set them a place at your table.

As one of our favourite things is feeding food to friends, and this is why the biggest room in the French house was set aside as kitchen-diner, we really should have checked all the above BEFORE we sat down to eat.

We are still a long way from finished in here  (make bench, paint table legs, paint chairs and recover seats,finish cushions..blablabla……)But I don’t care, I’m going to extend a few more invitations  than we have to date because I want to.

We have unpacked some of my pretty vintage glass stuff so desserts are on now.

After some experimenting  I have perfected gluten free tiramisu.

Any purists out there can go away; I know it’s not truly authentic , but if you are going to change the whole chemistry of a dish by replacing gluten containing  foods with a gluten free “equivalent” this will mess with everything from taste and texture to whether it sets or chills or behaves in any which way it’s supposed to. Here is my unapologetic recipe-

Heat half a cup of milk and one level tablespoon of soft brown sugar together in a thick bottomed saucepan until warmed through and sugar dissolved.

Then  pour this onto the following pre-prepared mix of  half a cup of milk, one level tablespoonful of gluten free flour, one level tablespoon sugar and three egg yolks (all electrically whisked to a thoroughly well distributed foam – you do not want lumps) Mix all together quickly and return to pan, and stir constantly with a wooden spatula to ensure that it does not stick.

Heat till thickening and starting to bubble gently and pour through a strainer to catch any naughty lumps that may have escaped your spatula. Put aside to cool. If your kitchen is on the first floor and you have  two foot deep window ledge and it’s damn cold outside, this is a Good Spot . Even if your neighbour walking down the street looks up at you quizzically and the Newly Rescued Dog shows way too much interest  and has to be restrained from testing it. Then chill in fridge  overnight; or if thoroughly impatient like me, stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Whilst it’s cooling , make up 3/4 cup of  strong, good, fresh ground coffee and combine with  half a level dessertspoon of brown sugar. Cool and chill in fridge for a while.

Whisk together cooled custard mix as above and 3/4 cup mascarpone till combined thoroughly.

In a CHILLED mixing bowl, whisk up 3/4 cup whipping cream till firm peaks appear and then fold in contents of one small vanilla pod, or similar quantity of good vanilla bean paste. Then carefully fold in the custard/mascarpone mix carefully & slowly until no streaks are apparent! Then get out your cold coffee and slice up four gluten free madeleines.

Start layering this into either individual deep, glass dishes or one big dish. I like individual sundae dishes from 1947, personally. Start with a thick layer of the creamy stuff, then dip your madeleine slices fully into the coffee  (do this with a spoon, it saves a lot of swearing and mush) let most of coffee drain off and make a nice layer of those. Repeat that with more creamy stuff and another layer of coffee dipped mads then just enough creamy loveliness to cover the last mads. Sprinkle with bitterly dark (at least 70%) chocolate and chill overnight. Resist sampling. You can’t conceal the spoon dip holes. Believe me.

You may add alcohol in form of coffee liqueur if you wish. At our house we add alcohol in glasses. I am not apologising for that either.

Admire and take photos to impress Blog Buddies. Serves four greedy people or six dainty ones. Our friends mostly fall into first category (sorry, I love you all really)

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A Serious Step

A gloriously sunny day in the d’Oc so we had a long walk along the riverbank toward Esperaza.

We like to walk, and we now have an excellent reason for getting out and about even more.

Last week we went to Carcassonne to buy sewing thread and bathmats and came back with a dog!

Maybe that is oversimplifying it: basically we have been thinking of getting another dog since we lost Coco below right in 2012 but dividing our time between UK and France made this both unpractical and unfair on any dog we might take on.

Following completion of a big work commitment this year, we felt that we could seriously start considering rehoming a rescue dog, which is the only type I would ever consider as there are way too many of these languishing in animal shelters whilst folk go out and buy cute puppies.

We discussed it. A small dog would be practical for our lifestyle at the village house and the apartment. I wanted a bitch ( always had bitches, just a gut thing)  young enough to train up into a happy, well adjusted dog and without any serious, long term  abuse story behind them.

Trev had followed details of a few dogs at S.P.A shelter near Carcassonne spa  dog rescue  

We both saw this girl independently, and although she caught our eye, we both, separately, decided that her size (Bergere de Beauce cross) age (three) and back story ( horrendous) meant that she wasn’t for us. She only ticked one box.

So we went up to the SPA as we were already in Carcassonne and met one of the  English ladies who commits her time to this rescue service and  who had posted this one’s  photos on Facebook. I’ll be frank, when I saw how unnaturally quiet and jumpy this sad dog was and heard that she had been raised rough outside by a group of sans-abris living nearby  I wasn’t sure. Neither of us were. We were in my small car  so couldn’t actually pick her up till the following day if we did commit.

Then, by crazy coincidence, her “owner ” rocked up, demanding her return (now that she was spayed, chipped, healthy and her eye infection had been treated) This was the latest of many  dogs that had been rescued from this person  in recent years. The last dog they had died. I can’t go into it any more. So, we took a leap of faith and came back for her.

Newly named for her new life “Bronte”  is just beginning to really settle and relax with us. She was quiet because she was terrified and defensive. She has never been socialised and has been used as a puppy breeding machine.

She was OK with us , but acclimatising her to other dogs and people is proving harder. She displayed all the behaviours of fear-aggression syndrome for the first few days when we took her out for walks. This morning, one week on, she actually wagged her tail very slightly at another dog we met and has just about stopped growling and flattening her ears and raising her hackles and hiding behind us when she sees strange people.

Her personality  is beginning to come out. We are balancing strict with reassurance and affection as this is her only chance of adapting to a happy, normal life. She is currently laid over my feet. She is starting to respond to commands (in French of course) She has learned lots in a week. She is adorable.

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Carpe Diem part 2- Back in the UK and a timely perspective on life and music and poetry

Our UK visit was an opportunity to see our good friends Richard and Lisa and Lisa’s father John Hammond.

John is a fascinating, well read and well travelled man who lived in South Africa for many years. His passions include opera and horses and in his long life he has dabbled in acting and written both poetry and prose.

We talked about many things, but in particular his lifelong affection for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated by Edward FitzGerald in 1859 from the verse  attributed to an historical Persian writer.

A controversial book  Telegraph article (or check out other online sources) whatever your views on this work or it’s origins, FitzGerald’s real feel for the flow of verse shines through.

There have been many versions, but John is familiar with and I have copy of the 1909 edition illustrated  by Toulouse artist Edmund Dulac.

Richly evocative of the period (one of my favourites eras, art, design and decor wise)  My copy came to me in a state of disintegration with many pages and some of the colour plates missing.

Naturally this illustration right perfectly encapsulates my idea of the perfect terrace!

pinterest edmund dulac

Due to the level of disintegration of my Dulac copy , I may frame the plates I do have with a clear conscience (John agrees!) A path that also chimes with the carpe diem philosophy underpinning the poem.

Perhaps John relates to the character evident in the narrator of these verses.Here was a man who lived his whole life  seizing the day. He may not always have done the “right thing” by other’s standards but he has certainly lived a life where the appreciation of music, literature, food, drink  and nature is key.

John has several editions of this work and, even now, can quote whole tranches of it in his own clear and respectful style. Apparently he used to read it to his wife and keeps a tiny copy edition with a written dedication from her on his bedside table.

That’s love. That’s life.

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Carpe diem part 1 – and some thoughts on going back to the UK

So I flew back to the UK last Thursday night for work and a face to face family catch- up. My third trip back since May and Trev’s first!


This sunset view from the Toulouse-Blagnac airport restaurant, Le8me Ciel (good Caesar salad) was quite stunning and I wished, as usual , that I had brought a proper camera. As our bags were close to the edge of cabin bag limit, and I needed to buy things I couldn’t get easily in France, not possible sadly.

The flight was a late slot and our plan was to stay over at the other end at Stansted before driving over to South Wales for a big work commitment and then on up to see friends and family in the Midlands.

I can’t comment on the work gig, but the sight of these two on Saturday morning in one of our favourite cafes was well worth the trip. My son here is consciously adopting his default  “The Thinker” pose statue Auguste Rodin   and being squeezed by his sister, who then went onto crush Trev for about ten  minutes . The painful reality of dealing with having us in France and missing us is getting more, not less, it seems.

I love this photo, it’s their personalities, one quiet but quirky and one sweet but intense, on a plate.

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The Thursday Three- cushions for me

Last weekend I took a break from making up cushions to sell and used some pieces from my stash of antique and vintage embroideries to make up cushions for the French house.

Left- large needlepoint woolwork panel in Arts & Crafts colours and my favourite tree of life motif.

Below left- Another tree of life linen panel, saved from a smoky 1920’s fire screen and

Below right- A vintage panel set in new lace, striped cotton and  envelope ends in linen with tape ties.

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Friday night out at the Café de Fa

Highly recommended if you are in the Aude. Last Friday night every month at the cafe de fa

Very good fish and chips and chocolate moelleux plus Anne de Joyeuse house wine.

Music by the Zap Jazz Trio; who last night were a quartet. Fronted by Stan the Man ( I have NO idea if he actually has a second name) but he is amazing. Here on bass, I have also heard him at The Bride’s wedding  rocking a classical cello and singing beautifully till dusk, when he was joined by some more of his musical collaborators to jazz/rock out the night.

I have a feeling there isn’t much he can’t play, including an electric cello.

Having virtually had to scrape Trev, who was worshipping at his talented feet, off the floor, I must also praise the great drummer, keyboardist and alto sax player last night.

Having spent a chunk of my youth trailing around the UK after various bands, I was absolutely in my element. Trev used to own a recording studio and dabbles at drum and guitar. Live music always constitutes our prefered nights out

yes, that keyboard is sitting on  a plank of wood…..

A new young couple have recently taken on this legendary venue. Please go and spend euros and support them and everyone who performs there.

Café de Fa more links

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