Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What British products do I still yearn for?

When I first left the UK, quite some years ago now, I seemed to spend lots of time searching for British brands or products that I had been used to back home.
I tried the French alternatives, but they never tasted the same and it took about three years before I lost the habit of looking for things like mint sauce in jars, custard powder, baked beans, English bacon etc.
Then, one day, I was cleaning my food cupboards out, and I realised that almost everything in them was French. Apart from an old packet of Bisto that I hadn't used for ages and brown sauce that I really can't find an alternative for.
My taste had certainly changed, and when I did try the old faithfuls again, they were such a disappointment.
Now, there are two things that I will not give up, one is the aforesaid brown sauce, and the other is my English tea bags. I buy the latter in 1100 packs at a time from a shop that sell British produce.
I make mint sauce fresh from my garden, I have converted from gravy to various sauces, the French bacon has much more flavour, so that's a no brainer now.
As we eat out for much of the year, our stodgy old meals, pastry dishes and greasy gravy have long been replaced with crudites, salads, fresh baked baguette, duck confit on a bed of nutmeg mash with a fruit coulis, fresh fish, and of course the fabulous local cheeses.
I suppose we do eat much healthier meals now and we enjoy our food much more, but there's one meal that I would never, ever, give up, and that's battered fish & chips eaten out in the fresh air.
I have to travel a long way for them, and only have them two or three times each year, but when I do ... Oh, they taste so good!

Monday, January 21, 2013

A French Village Funeral

I went to my first French funeral today.
It was for a friend and neighbour, and as we were snowed in, I had to make my way on foot.
It gave me time to think about her. She was a fun person, and although she had many health problems, she always had a big smile, greeted me with "Ma cherie" and a massive hug when we met.
The funeral wasn't a big affair, our church is tiny, but there was hardly a spare seat. She had lived in the village for over sixty years and was very well known.
I sat at the back of the church, not realising that I should have waited outside & followed all the other mourners in. Then, towards the end of the service, a man came and asked me to go to the front of the church. I had no clue as to why, but when I reached the coffin, a lady handed me a silver tube with holes in it. I looked at her, she looked at me, as did the whole of the congregation.
What on earth was I to do?
The lady then told me to dip the object in some holy water and shake it over the coffin & the flowers.
I duly did it, and then, all of the other mourners stood in a line behind me, awaiting their turn to say goodbye.
Had I realised, I may have made some small gesture, a nod or touch of the coffin, but the moment passed and I quickly returned to my seat at the back of the church.
I felt a little embarrassed, and for a moment, I wished I had said that goodbye at her side.
Then I thought about her, how she would have chided at me for being so foolish. She would have put those loving arms around me, planted kisses on both sides of my face ...and shaken with laughter.
How I will miss her.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow in France today

Well, I spoke too soon yesterday. Around 10pm last night, down it came, thick, white & very fluffy.
It did look beautiful, but this morning, the temperature had risen & now it's all gone again.
I love watching snow in the light of a street lamp, it reminds me of my childhood when I would keep peeking through my bedroom curtains to see the snow swirling around the amber light outside the house. The flakes looked huge and I could hardly sleep, knowing that just the other side of the window, it was piling up thick & white on the lawn, drifting against the house wall and covering the plants & trees until they had all but disappeared.
It was certainly magical then, and the thought that school would be closed was even better!
Those were the days, now I just worry about getting the post delivered ... whatever happened to childhood dreams?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Today, I had a message from my fellow artist in the UK who has a sprinkling of snow today.
This had me thinking. When I lived in the UK, what was the weather I most enjoyed and what was the least enjoyable?
Everyone says that it is only the British that discuss the weather on a regular basis, but I can tell you, that is not the case at all!
The French also love to talk about the weather, and mt French friend is the best weather girl I have ever spoken to.
If I need to know what we are in for over the next few days, I don't go to the meteo websites or the France 24 tv channel, no, I ask Marie every time, she is consistently right in her predictions.
In fact, If I has consulted her two winters ago, before I made the rash decision to venture out to the city, I wouldn't have been stuck on the motorway for five hours on a journey that normally takes 40 minutes.
So, to get back to my original thought, what weather do I look forward to seeing?
Soft rain, sunny intervals, warmth, not too hot.
My least favourite, is in July & August, searing heat, temperatures over 40c and sticky, sleep depriving nights.
Can't please us all though eh?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snow on the way ...

The forecast is for snow this weekend, and it will be the first of the winter.
The past two years have been much colder in November & December, and we have been snowed in for three weeks at a time.
The main roads were no problem, but living as we do on a hill,  it doesn't get cleared, so we either have to walk, or stay put.
I still have some radishes in the cold frame, but I'm not sure how long they will last now.
The children have returned to school after the Christmas break, so I expect they have sledges & plastic trays in readiness,  hoping for lots of the white stuff as soon as possible.
The best thing about snow, is that we can walk around the garden and see all of the wildlife that's been prowling around the night before. Deer, badgers, red squirrels, wild boar and of course the large variety of bird life that surrounds us.
Still, roll on the spring I say!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

St Valentine's Day Origins

February 14th, Valentine's Day.
A big day in the romantic card sending calendar.
Here in France, it's generally thought that this special day began when the Duke of Orleans was captured in 1415 and taken prisoner by the English.
Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he wrote love letters back to France and they were called Les cartes d'amities, sort of friendship/love cards.

Then there's the thought that most birds and animals have their mating and courtship rituals in mid February, exactly when Valentine's Day falls. Coincidence or not?

The town of St Valentin, also in Indre, France, holds many ceremonies on this day and people take the opportunity to renew their marriage vows there on Valentine's Day.

An old custom in France, that has now been banned, was for groups of single women to enter a house right opposite a house full of single men. They would then open the windows & call to each other, pairing off as they did so.
If a man rejected the woman he had paired off with, she would then light a fire and burn his photograph, hurling abuse at him whilst she did so.
Sadly, this all got out of hand, frequently ending up as a brawl and so was banned forever by the authorities.

So, whatever you like to believe about the origins of St Valentine's Day, it's very likely that it all began in France.