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.