Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Mushrooms and Walnuts

Autumn is traditionally the time when the mushroom pickers are out in force, and every year there are the inevitable 'accidents'. In fact our neighbours were caught out recently. They were taking a little 'promenade' through the village, when they spied some lovely specimens and duly took them home and had them for dinner. Unfortunately, they were not the sort you should eat, and they were both taken to hospital where they spent 3 uncomfortable days. So, the Salon de Champignons et Noix could not have come at a more opportune time!
I was asked if I would make some cakes to sell, so I scoured my recipe books and the internet and found a few recipes, and set to. I made some coffee & walnut slices which always seem to go down well whenever I make them, some walnut fairy cakes (or papillon cakes as the French called them), some biscuits and a cherry and walnut cake.

One room was given over to mushrooms and it seemed every mushroom in the vicinity had been picked, identified and displayed for everyone to see by the local mushroom pickers organisation (yes, there is a club for enthusiasts!). There were cards explaining what each variety was, and whether or not it was 'Edible'; 'Leave in the ground' ; 'Toxic'; or 'Mortal' The one eaten by our neighbours was labelled 'toxic'!

Just a few mushrooms on display

Guy ate one of these!

They organised a mushroom picking randonee on Sunday morning, and lots of people came back clutching baskets full of nature's bounty.
The event was well attended, and most of my cakes sold, but I'm not sure they knew what to make of Cuisine Anglais!
As for the mushrooms - well, I think I'll stick to Champignons de Paris from the local shop!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Autumn jobs

You may remember a photo on our blog a couple of weeks ago which showed John and Dominic (our neighbour) being supervised by Poppy as they prepared the drive between our houses. Well, the calcaire (limestone) was delivered last Friday, so John & I set to - with Poppy supervising, naturally - and started spreading it, as the weather was fine and rain was forecast for the Saturday. I discovered muscles I didn't know I had, or thought I had lost! 

The lorry left us 10 cubic metres, but when it was dropped, it didn't look much!

However, once we started moving and raking it we realised there would be enough. 
On Saturday morning, John and Dom finished off and then tamped it down with another neighbour's machine. Doesn't it look good?

We've also seen a great improvement in the grass on the field. It's still a bit patchy, but by next spring it should be fine. Daniel, the neighbour who helped to prepare it, even suggested it might need a cut before we leave. However, it's been a bit wet lately, so I think we'll leave it.

Finally, the leaves are starting to fall in abundance from the 2 plane trees in the garden, and I seem to spend a lot of time raking them up. Guess who likes to go diving in to the pile? Not John or I, but Poppy chases her ball in there. I've got a video of her, but for some reason it wouldn't upload. I'll try later...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Last gasp?

We had some very strange weather this year, but it seems to be straightened out now, and today we had one of those rapidly disappearing beautiful days which just beg to have the MG out on the open (and very quiet) roads here in central France.

After helping to tidy up after Sunday's Tea Dance, we had a bite of lunch and decided to have a trip out in the MG as we probably won't get too many chances before we return to the UK for the winter.

Where to go? We have explored so many parts of this area, but there are still lots of undiscovered gems. We decided to head for Richelieu which is just a little north west of us, but on the very edge of the Centre region.

On the way we passed through Maille (same spelling as the famous cornichon and mustard people). There was a massacre there during the second world war and the town had to be rebuilt after the war. It's strange - you can tell which houses were rebuilt, they are in the local stone but they still look new even though they were built over 60 years ago. Leaving the village, we were hailed by a Berlingo driver. Thinking there was something wrong up ahead, John quickly stopped so we could find out what it was. How wrong we were - he had an MG but there was something wrong with it - did we have any advice for him? John asked if the water in the header tank was normal. No, we were told, it was like mayonnaise. John said immediately the head gasket needed replacing - but my French doesn't stretch to that, so we suggested he contact our friend Michel who also has an MG which has had the gasket replaced. He was very pleased and was quite gushing in his praise for our little car!

Richelieu the town was named after the famous Cardinal and was built by the architect Jacques Lemercier. He first built a great residence, and following instructions from the Cardinal, he created a very ordered (model) town.

Some of the houses on the Grand Rue have been renovated, and it is possible to see the original layout. The chateau was unfortunately destroyed during the French Revolution, but the grounds give some idea of the scale of the building - Richelieu had a very big ego and wanted a palace to put it in!

When we are out and about, we like to use the roads which are shown as white on the maps (that is to say the very smallest roads marked on regional maps). If it's me doing the navigating, we usually end up where we want to be, but if it's John...(enough said!). Today, we returned down the Creuse and crossed the river at Guerche. Look what we found as we came over the river
It wasn't marked on the map, but we just had to stop to take a picture.

Strictly it's not!

There are some things in France which hark back to a simpler, more uncomplicated life and the Tea Dance must rank highly on the list.

There is a small, dedicated group of people in our little hamlet of Le Breuil aux Gittons whose aim in life is to preserve a community spirit, especially as we are 33 houses spread over quite a distance with no cafe where locals could meet to discuss the burning issues of the day!

Throughout the year, we have various entertainments organised by Les Amis du Breuil - for example a free concert by the Clion amateur wind band in June, and our annual Mechoui which is held during the summer months. A sheep is obtained, butchered and then cooked on an open fire for hours. All the hamlet is invited to participate in a communal meal which lasts rather a long time! We will write more about this next summer.
In order to finance this, a The dansant is held in the winter. We knew there was one planned for the beginning of December when we will be back in the UK, but this was an 'Exceptionnel' (I think to ensure there were sufficient funds for next year!)
A bit flash for Le Breuil!

What we didn't realise is that it is really a marathon and not to be undertaken lightly! It started at 2pm, there was a break at 5pm and then it kicked off again at 6.30pm until 8.30pm.

We arrived for the late shift to be met with a hall full of locals out to enjoy themselves on an autumn Sunday.  There were all types of dancers - the serious 'look at us' types, to the shufflers (and I put us in the latter category), but all were having a great time. During the break, 'pain aux raisins' were handed out, together with the aperitif of rose wine and pamplemouse (grapefruit juice) - but no tea!
The band were local celebrities too - our neighbour, Alain is head honcho of 'Les Compagnons du Musette', a local 4 piece band which does the round of local dances. They also have a string of CD's and DVD's to their credit. They have a dedicated band of 'groupies' who seem to follow them around the area, so any Tea dance which has them playing is sure to have a full house.
That's Alain on the right with the accordion

The place eventually emptied by 9.30, and we started to clear glasses and tables, but the night was far from over. In the kitchen I could see 2 very well cooked chickens together with some other food items. Apparently, after everything quietens down and things are tidied away, helpers are invited to sit down for a meal! We had soup, followed by chicken and green beans (which had been re-heated with some garlic and shallotts -yummy). We didn't have cheese as someone had forgotten to buy it (!), so we had a bit more chicken with the salad. All rounded off by some of Gabby's preserved fruits. We eventually got home around 12.30am!
We were back there this morning at 10.00 to finish clearing up.

Our first Tea Dance, but probably not our last - a lovely way to get involved with the locals - many of whom are happy to teach you the intricacies of French 'ballroom' dancing, which can be very different from the UK.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

New Menu for 2012

If you have explored the cottage website you will be aware that guests have the opportunity to have freshly prepared meals delivered to the cottage from Maureens kitchen. Along with existing favourites Maureen has added some new dishes and extended the menu for 2012 so guests can order a full meal including a selection of regional cheeses. The dishes are either plated or supplied in the cooking pot ready for guests to serve at the table, where required they can be kept warm in the cottage kitchen and you can be sure the servings are both generous and of excellent quality. Unlike a restarant Maureen cannot prepare different menu items for individuals so guests need to select items together as you would if you were eating at home or eating table'd'hote in France.


Tomato soup (home made with Maureens garden tomatoes)

Nordiq salad (with smoked salmon and prawns)

Tricolour salad (tomato, mozzarella and avocado)

Paté & regional rillette (served with cornichons and fresh crusty bread)

Tomato & red onion tarts

Avocado & prawn salad

Terrine of prawns and langoustines

 * Salads are served with home made walnut oil dressing


Pork fricassée

Coq au vin

Tarte paysanne *!

Quiche Lorraine *

Chicken breasts stuffed with cream cheese and walnuts (in a 4 cheese sauce)

Bacon, brie & avocado salad *!

Baked salmon with julienne vegetables

Mediterranean baked fish

Magret de Canard with Berrichon lentils**

All (except **) served with seasonal vegetables and potatoes except those marked * which are served with green salad

*! Also available as vegetarian option

A trio of local cheeses


Chocolate pavé – A rich, dark chocolate fondant portion served with crème anglaise and seasonal fruits

Fruit crumble with custard, cream or ice cream

Cherries jubilee – Warm Cherries in a Kirsch based sauce over vanilla ice cream and topped with a meringue

Fruit tartlette with cream or crème fraiche

Maureen requires 24hrs notice and will provide more details as required so if you are coming to Les Deux Platanes in 2012 you can order a meal for your arrival or at some point during your stay if you so choose. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Allez les Bleus!

'Least said, soonest mended', my mum used to say, so we won't say too much about the departure of all the home teams from the rugby world cup.
We were at the Salle Jeanne d'Arc in Chatillon again yesterday for the Wales v France match, and, although we changed our hats we were surprisingly neutral as to which team we wanted to win.
Notice they are hard hats!

Suffice to say, the French contingent in the audience were overjoyed with their win, and didn't rub it in too much. Our friend Chris took it all in good faith (he has an affinity with Wales, having worked there for a number of years).
Half time deliberations - who will win?

We'll be back there next Sunday, but I fear there will be some glum faces as New Zealand seem to be on a roll. However, stranger things have happened!

When we got back, John and Dominic (our neighbour) set about the roadworks at our entrance. We get a lot of water running down the 'drive' from Monique's place and the surface has gradually broken down - not that there was much of a good surface anyway! We decided it would be a good idea to tackle the problem before the onset of the bad weather, so the chaps took advantage of a late few days of beautiful autumn weather to tackle the problem. They dug out and laid some special gutter concrete blocks to provide a run-off for water into a current drain. In a couple of weeks we will have some gravel delivered and this will be laid over the current rubble. We need to roll it flat so will engage the local youths to help (Dom's son and his friend!)
Notice Poppy supervising!
We have started getting things organised for the winter which is a bit depressing but necessary. The potager is being turned over but I need a bit of rain to soften the ground - it sets like concrete when we don't get any rain!
I have finished sorting out the strawberry bed and have some of the suckers saved for friends who have yet to start their strawberry patches. I'm still picking raspberries which are having their last gasp before I cut them down.

John doesn't care for this time of year, but it's all part of the natural cycle - if we don't have winter we won't have all those lovely flowers and fruits come the spring and summer.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside!

As many of you will know we experienced a mini heat wave late September early October and although we had some unexpected extra work to complete finishing the grass preparation at the rear of the house we eventually managed to get away to the seaside for the weekend.
The field is now seeded and the first grass shoots can be seen!

One of the advantages of Les Deux Platanes is the central location in France, you can reach the majority of places within three hours and the West coast of France is no exception. The Gironde and the coast from La Rochelle is beautiful throughout the year so we decided to have a weekend at Chatellalion Plage which is just south of La Rochelle.

The MG was rolled out, dusted off, the picnic bag checked and we were soon on the virtually vehicle free roads to the west coast. Within 3hrs we had arrived at our Chambre D'hotes for the weekend and the exploring began.

A happy man relaxed with his MG looking out over the sea!

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play: "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside
I'll be beside myself with glee
For there's lots of girls besides,
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside! Beside the sea!

The same man minutes later trying to light the disposable barbecue - looking at it helps apparently.
Festering in the bottom of the MG boot was one of those disposable barbecues, the weather was 35C so why not find some quiet spot and have a barbecue lunch? Armed with lovely spicy sausages, lamb chops, courgette and some tomato and pesto paste from a local butchers plus some cheese and wine we set about finding a nice parking spot overlooking the sea. Fortunately late September is virtually tourist free so the roads and coastline were very quiet. After some effort the barbi was hot and we both enjoyed a very nice picnic lunch and enjoyed half a bottle of red wine, French of course.

Its 10.30am and 25C , the beach is practically empty so we had a coffee in a promenade cafe.
We had a wonderful two days and returned refreshed and ready to complete yet more tasks before the winter arrives -including stacking and cutting wood before the cold weather.

Friday, 30 September 2011

The home of the Poppos tribe

The Loire Valley is littered with chateaux of every shape and size, but it is always interesting to come across a gem now and again.
We have been very busy in our field this week, so when we felt it was time for a day off, we decided to visit the Chateau Montpoupon which is just to the North East of us . We got the MGF out and headed up to St Aignan for a coffee and supplies for a picnic, then drove on some of the quietest roads in the general direction of the Chateau. We knew it would be closed over the lunch time, so continued to Montrichard where we had a delightful lunch by the river. The weather really has been glorious this week!
At 2pm we set off back to the chateau to be hailed by a chap on a bicycle. Could we take his photo? Certainly! He had set off from Glasgow 21 days previously and was heading for his second home in the Vienne. As the cycle ride was for charity, he needed photo proof of his travels. Whilst this was underway, another cyclist turned up - this time a Canadian who had cycled over from Chenonceau and wanted to send a photo to his folks back home. He then set off back to Chenonceau!

The Chateau Montpoupon is a pocket chateau but well worth a visit. They have created a very interesting hunting museum as the chateau was (and still is) a centre for hunting with horses. They have some wonderful photos, and Hermes scarves covering all aspects of riding and hunting. There is even a recreated saddlery from Paris - and the smell of leather is wonderful!

By the way - the chateau is named after the ancient tribe who lived in the area  - the Poppos.

There are some very intersting stone carvings in the chateau - here are a few
This little angel was on the staircase

Three medieval maidens
All chateaux had to keep a room ready in case the king decided to call!
The hunting museum had some very interesting exhibits:
Wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night!
We spent an hour and a half at the chateau - it could have been longer as there is a forest walk and a picnic area. Well worth the 8 euros!

Sunday, 25 September 2011


The weather in central France during September and October can be very good and this week seems set to prove the theory. The field at the rear of our house has been through a torrid time over the years especially when the new septic tanks and filter system were installed in 2008. We were however determined to return the field to a good grassed area before the end of 2012 so now is the time for the work. After turning the area over in May we are now at a point where the work can continue and grass seed sown. Daniel Bonnamy, our neighbour, has access to every imaginable piece of agricultural equipment so he has been working on the field with his tractor . Daniel has a very strong Berichonne dialect so comunication can be a prolem at times but we struggle through.
Daniel at work turning the soil to a fine tilth.
Work continued today after Daniel rolled and seeded the field yesterday with a big roller but not without incident. The small tractor and roller he borrowed from the farmer down the road managed to get stuck in a ditch and rescue was required. We removed another mountain of stones, raked the soil level and rolled the raked the area - 50% is now complete HOORRAY!

Oops - took that corner a bit quick!
After much raking and work Maureen took over the important task of rolling the field and I have to say it looks much better.

Girl at work rolling the soil.
We still have less than half the field to do but this will be completed later this week and with some rain over the winter should be green grass in the spring of 2012.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

We visit a local country market

French country markets!!!
Ahhh, a French market, full of fresh produce, most of it local and everything looking just beautiful!

Dried and preserved fruit and olives provided a very colourful display to tempt customers 
Beautiful fruit and vegetables
Fresh Oysters in different sizes
Wine to taste, buy in a bottle or box - about 2 Euro a Litre.

A wide selection of mushrooms both wild and cultivated in local limestone caves

Yesterday was warm and sunny, a typical mid September day in central France so it was an ideal opportunity to have a run out in the MG with the top down, wind in the hair and visit a market. Le Blanc is a medium sized town to the south of Les Deux Platanes and every Saturday like the majority of towns and villages throughout France hosts a market. As you can see from the photos which capture but a small portion of the stalls it is a colourful and interesting place to visit. Fresh mushrooms on one stall and a vast colourful selection of dried and preserved fruit on another. Local cheese, wine and vegetables plus butchers and specialist charcuterie stalls selling produce to suit all tastes and interests. The lady selling fresh oysters even has seats where you could sit and enjoy Oysters of your choice with a nice glass of chilled wine – the French certainly seem to have a good outlook and emphasis on good fresh food.
On returning we discovered our neighbour Daniel in our field preparing the ground for sowing grass seeds.
Its been a long process preparing the field for grass but we are nearly there and 2012 should see a nice green area.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Food Al Fresco!

Food on holiday is very important. In my humble opinion its not that you are looking for strange or unusual food but holidays call for adventure, taste, abundance, freshness and for those willing to try; something different!

For those wishing to use the barbecue the gite is equipped with a good charcoal barbecue complete with an assortment of tools and cooking baskets. Many guests use this when the evenings are warm, experimenting with new tastes from a local market or shop and accompanied by a bottle of local wine, lovely fresh baguette, goats cheese and a dessert what more could one ask for on holiday!

The cottage barbecue comes with a large range of tools, baskets - for those lacking any ideas we even provide a barbecue cookbook!

We also have a barbecue in our garden where we try to cook fresh, tasty and wholesome ingredients from local markets and shops (and Maureen's potager). The weather during the summer of 2011 has been very mixed, which is unusual to say the least and August in particular has been a little damp. Planning a barbecue has been a hit and miss affair as warm summer evenings have not been guaranteed.

However this week saw some nice warm evenings so the barbecue was used to cook some fresh produce from the garden and lovely produce from the local butcher.

This week our barbecue is cooking:

Maureen's large fresh garden tomatoes a la provencal (garlic & black olives)
Maureen's  courgettes sliced with olive oil dressing
Chicken marinated in lemon and herbs
Roasted vegetables
Spicy merguez sausage and herb chipolatas
Not shown : Fish portion cooked in foil.

There's nothing quite like cooking your own home-grown vegetables on a barbi!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Re-creating history!

Towns, villages and tourist centres all over France are particularly good at  putting on visual re-enactments of historical events often involving thousands of local 'actors' in a stunning setting. You could spend the evening at a Chateau watching a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille, 100 years War or some other major local event. This has reached such heights that a 'theme' park was  created just to provide such visual entertaiment. The Puy de Fou (www.puydefou.fr) is about 3hrs drive from Les Deux Platanes so an early start was necessary but we were at the gates by 10.30am and since the place is open until 10pm we had a full day ahead although we left at 6pm after watching the Vikings invade a local village.

Click on any pictures in the BLOG to see them full size.

This photo gives you some idea regarding the events and the scale of the presentation. This show was about Joan of Arc and the battles between the French and the English.
The Romans played a major part in the history of France with the Gauls putting up a savage fight. The French as you will know have a cartoon character called 'Asterix' showing his adventures with the Romans. At the Puy De Fou they have built a full sized Roman Amphitheatre that can seat 7000 people. The chariot races are spectacular!

A small section of the Ampitheatre before the gladiators and chariots and Lions arrived!

The 'Birds of Prey' were very impressive
It is certainly a full days visit, we would recommend taking a seat cushion as you spend some time watching the shows and the seats can be hard!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Our Big Fat French Wedding!

We have been looking forward to the first weekend in September for months, our French friend's daughter was getting married and three days of wedding celebrations, meals, dancing and festivities were about to commence. The grooms parents and grandparents were staying in the cottage so the brass was given an extra special polish. Months ago, in a moment of utter madness we had offered to provide a meal for both families on the Friday evening – 24 people! We had put together an interesting menu, now it was time to deliver……and as we all know the French know a thing or two about food and wine.

Menu du Vendredi 2 Septembre 2011

En l’honneur du marriage de Karine et Antoine



Salade Nordique


Cuisse de pintade farcie à la truffe


Pommes de terre du jardin de Maureen, rôties dans la graisse de canard

Gratin de courgettes ( du Breuil)




Cerises du Jubilée (Le grand Escoffier les a crées pour le Jubilée de diamant de la reine Victoria en 1897)



Antoine and Karine about to embark on married life

The cottage garden with gazebo erected for the canapes

Tent prepared and ready to go

We planned to serve the canapés in the gazebo and the meal was to be served in a long ‘barnum’ (tent to you and me), and after hours of preparations everything was prepared. We even bought and wired in an extra oven in the barn to cook roast potatoes. Our good friends Chris and Julie offered to help and slave away behind the scenes to ensure everything went well.

Not a lot of time to take photo's as I was a waiter!

Anyway, to cut a very long story short the evening was a great success and a very good start to what was to be a very special weekend for all.

 On the Saturday morning I delivered half of the 120 bottles of Champagne, 70 bottles of red wine and 60 bottles of white wine to the local Chateau that was the setting for the wedding celebrations. After the official wedding signing and church service in the afternoon guests started to arrive at the Chateau for the ‘Vin d'honour’ and canapés at 6pm.

 I do....in French!

Maureen and our son Daniel walk down to the Chateau
A chef cooking some of the hot canapes

Another table with oysters and other seafoods - and some excellent Sancerre!

Now we have been to a few weddings in our time but the canapés were something to behold and since there was a never ending supply of Champagne it was indeed a quality start to a very good evening meal and dancing way past midnight.
Dancing the night away
All we have to do now is clear up!!