Learning a new language…and I think it is Noël time!

And no I am not referring to French but rather ‘build-speak’.  I have a French-English dictionary of building terms, which is very helpful- but it seems more and more when I look up a word I don’t even know the English meaning.

So things like “plaque de plâtre ignifugée” (fireproofed plasterboard)  and “pieux battus en fonte ductile” (driven piles in ductile iron) are becoming part of my new vocabulary.

Each day I have to get my head around a new set of terms…masonry, plumbing, electrical, gardening, and swimming pool engineering (don’t ask…it is sliding down the hill apparently and requires big heavy machinery to shore up the foundations to keep it in place – it will be absolutely lovely when it is finished, and practically brand new).

For all of this renovation fun – a very very important word I need to focus on is ‘patience’. This is clearly what is required when doing renovations in any country, but I think even more so here in rural France. As I have noted before, things here move at a very different pace than in London.  Which, I keep reminding myself, is why we moved here…  There has been a lot of talking, quotes for work, coffees, visiting places, meeting the ‘artisans’, touring the local window manufacturing studio (which was really interesting!) and stone yard. What there hasn’t been a lot of is actual work.

In the meantime, Christmas is coming, so time to get out the baubles!  …and a few key Noël words:

  • Sapin – Christmas Tree
  • Sucres d’orge – Candy Cane
  • Bonnhomme pain d’épice – Gingerbread Man
  • Santon – Christmas crib/nativity figure (from Provence)
  • Réveillon – the big Christmas meal- eaten on Christmas eve.  Hmmm, we may have to have two big meals then 😉

And I am looking forward to getting stocked up for the serious indulgence in France that is Christmas (seems like a lot of fizz, lobster, oysters and foie gras are being sold right now)….and looking forward to adding a few ‘new’ traditions to my current mix of American, English and German.  So bring on the Christmas stockings, Christmas carols, advent calendars, tinsel and Glühwein!

Green soup, with a variation for creating ‘stinky pee’

So…Katherine did this lovely illustration for asparagus, and while it isn’t in season for all of us around the world right now, it is one of my favourite vegetables (that wasn’t always the case) so any excuse.  This is a recipe for a really simple, tasty, green soup and I provide a variation with asparagus or roasted celery (stay with me here…it is quite yummy).

One conundrum with asparagus is the ‘stinky pee’ issue…which isn’t stinky for everyone There is conflicting evidence on whether for some people the pee doesn’t actually stink, or some people just can’t smell it.  You could do the experiment at home if you know people that claim they do and don’t have stinky pee, but I am guessing the reason this is still a conundrum is not many people are willing to ‘smell’ other people’s pee.

Asparagus vs Marge Simpson who has the better hair

OK, on that delicious note, and without further ado – get out your greens and make this simple soup!

  • 250g or celery, roughly chopped or the same quantity asparagus, just snapped to remove the woody bit (I imagine this could also work with some Swiss chard or any other substantial green vegetable)
  • 2 potatoes (around 350-400g) – washed and cut into about ¼ to ½ inch cubes – I don’t bother to peel them
  • 1 litre chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 brown/yellow onion – sliced (not too thin)
  • a couple handfuls of fresh spinach (well washed)


  • Sour cream
  • Toasted sunflower seeds

Let’s do it – heat up a little olive or other oil in a pan over a medium heat, put your onions in , turn down the heat a little bit, put the lid on and let them slowly cook until they become a light golden colour, which should take 30 to 45 minutes- this is key, you want lovely golden onions to give a foundation of flavour for this simple soup. Check the onions every 10-15 minutes to make sure they aren’t browning. While your onions are cooking put your roughly chopped celery or asparagus with the potatoes in to a roasting dish, toss them with a little bit of olive oil to just coat them and roast for 30 minutes at 200C. Conveniently –when your onions are ready – your asparagus/celery should also be ready to join together. Now- put everything together, add the broth and the spinach and cook just long enough for the spinach to wilt in to the mix.  Then pull out your trusty immersion blender and puree the whole thing in the same pan.  Season to your taste with salt and pepper and serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.  The soup is surprisingly filling- add a slice of nice bread and you have a meal.

A small rant on “wouldn’t everyone like to run away to France”

Without going in to tedious detail that just gets me shouting at inanimate objects….this was a statement made recently to Dom.  I think there are more important things for people to focus on than our decision to move to France and the fact that it doesn’t fit in with a particular picture of ‘responsible life’.

I promise this will evolve into something positive, stay with me here,  I need a little rant.

So, for those people who are sneering at us or angry with us because they see what we are doing as a rejection of a particular defined ‘perfect and responsible life’ – take a moment to reflect on why you are directing your anger and nastiness in our direction. I am sorry that you get upset when people act in a way that doesn’t support your carefully created views and I am sorry if you have an uncontrollable urge to put people down so you feel better about yourself.  I am NOT sorry for how I have chosen to live my life.  There. Rant over.  Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. …luckily these ‘people’ are a minority.  I have been really heartened by the encouragement and support we have been receiving from almost all of our friends and family. (Thank you!!)

View from the dodgy terrace

And in case anyone was wondering – we have not moved in to some oversized castle and now spend our days lazing about the many sitting rooms contemplating our next meal.  We are in a modest farmhouse…which is less a farmhouse and more a grouping of outbuildings that were randomly connected together – with the old bread oven at the centre.  We have faltering electricity, a pool that is shifting down the hill and Dom is convinced the villagers stole our water (really, I should never have let him watch Jean de Florette!).  But you know what- we do sit on our slightly dodgy terrace most evenings, looking out at the amazing sunsets, breathing in the sheep-tinged air and we feel good.  Oh and we probably do do a lot of contemplating about food, but we multi task and try do that while we are actually working.

Yes- this is the office and yes I sit on my butt here most days while Dom is out attacking fallen trees and destroying overgrown brambles..and I do my best to get out and about when I can

To close I will step up again on my soap box and share my top 2 rules for life:

  1. Be nice to people (and the planet). This should be simple – don’t you feel like shit when you are mean to people (unless you are a narcissistic sociopath of course, in which case you probably get off on it), you just feel better being nice to people.
  2. Do what makes you happy. OK, within reason, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people, blah blah. But what in the world are we on this earth for but to enjoy our lives…now go back to rule number 1.

Et voila… of course this is for my life right now …the list will likely grow to include things like –heating is overrated, or wine in a box is a good thing.

Hurry up and wait

The title refers to 2 slightly different dilemmas…one –Dom and I trying to break ourselves from our London approach to daily life and two, our impatience to get things sorted and really immerse ourselves in our new life. One could argue they are the same thing.

Now, before I go on don’t think I am slamming London- I love London and absolutely loved living there for twelve and a half years….rural France obviously isn’t perfect either but for where I am in my life right now, this is the place to be.

OK – so, some London daily life habits that need ‘adjustment’ in Southwest rural France.

  • Yes, you really do need 2 hours for lunch (or more!) and no the waiter or waitress will not be bringing your bill very quickly…and yes you might have to wait a bit between your first course and your second since they will be serving the entire restaurant at nearly the same time and for some reason there is only one waiter for the whole place (or at least it looks that way). When you make a reservation for lunch or dinner, often it is just that ‘reserve for lunch’ or ‘reserve for dinner’ not necessarily a specific time. You have the table for the whole time, you do not have to give it back after 90 minutes, and you couldn’t if you wanted to because you probably haven’t even ordered your ‘closing coffee’ at this point.
  • Take the time to talk to people, no, really, actually talk to people. Meaning when you are buying from people at the weekly market, pausing in front of something beautiful (church, bridge, door), in the checkout at the grocery store it is OK and in fact expected to speak more than the usual yes, no, thank you. For example in the queue at the boulangerie it is OK to have ask the person serving you (often the actual baker) to explain  the not so common loaves of bread (OK, not-so-common for me, and usually regional specialties like ‘croustillant quercynoise’), or even chat about that new shop down the road, or that strange sonic boom that happened last week. People behind you will not shoot daggers, tut or purse their lips because you are making them wait….they might even join the conversation.
No, really, there are great doors here.

Can’t we have it now?

  • Call electrician for a problem – he shows up and fixes it. Note to the electrician there is a lot of work that will need to be done and can he prepare a devis (quote) for the work. Two weeks later, another electrical problem, call electrician, he fixes problem. Note to the electrician there is a lot of work that will need to be done and can he prepare a devis (quote) for the work. Repeat as necessary.  Latest- he did say ‘I’ll be back in early October to walk through the house so I can get the details in order to prepare the quote’. OK, he said something in French which I think meant he’ll be back….I hope.  It is early October now isn’t it. Drat.
  • Plumber ‘I’ll be back in early October to install the new boiler/update the heating system.’ At least we have a quote for that – and have paid a deposit….and he has said he has ordered the equipment. But, still…
  • Pool renovation….it should be sorted by the spring.  If we ever get the quote from the ‘man with the big machinery’ who needs to do the first bit of foundation work in the next two months.  Apparently one person has been waiting nearly 2 years for a quote form him.  That doesn’t bode well.
  • Contractor – we have the quote (yay!), we have met some of the people who will be doing the work (yay!). We will start mid-October (yay!)…I think…I haven’t heard anything for over week now.

The top five French food things that make me smile right now

Subject to change of course…come back here in truffle season.  So here they are in no particular order.

  1. Having dedicated chocolate bar and ‘apéro biscuit’ aisles at the super market. Not just a sweet/candy aisle (that is a separate aisle!) but a whole section that is dedicated to bars of chocolate.  And c’mon, a place takes their pre-dinner drinks seriously when there is a dedicated ‘nibbles’ section in nearly every grocery store, big or small.  Not surprisingly Dom and I have heartily embraced the apéro, a drink and some small nibbles to wind down from the day and bridge the time to dinner. Why not.
hmmm, the dark with salted almonds?


Now what goes well with a Negroni?

2.  Fromage. I will likely never be able to taste every single cheese in France.  But I will do my best. Cheese, cheese, everywhere: goat, sheep, cow, creamy, dry, sharp, blue, wrapped in leaves, rolled in ash, infused with truffles….

Would you like Cabecou, Cabecou or Cabecou?

3. The menu du jour at most brasseries/local restaurants. A bargain!  For 12-16 euro you get 3 courses of very good seasonal food.  Usually 2-3 choices each for the starter, main and dessert – and often a coffee comes with the meal as well.  So far we haven’t had a bad meal.  Top that with a ‘demi’/pitcher (500mL)of the house wine for a pittance and two people can have a very satisfying lunch for around 30 euro.


4. The bread and pastries in France are not overrated.  A good crusty ‘Quercynoise’ loaf and a pain aux raisin – and I am a happy bunny.


5. And, of course, the markets. Apart from the amazing array of beautiful, seasonal food and artisanal products it is an event in itself, as much a social destination as a necessity for shopping.  A lot of the enjoyment comes from chatting to the vendors and watching the world go by.  Where I live you can find a market just about every day of the week, but the ‘big ones’ tend to be Saturday (best is Cahors) or Sunday (best is Montcuq).

Water water everywhere…

Except coming out of our taps.  For the last two days we were working off of buckets from the green-tinted swimming pool and bottled water.   And the adventure continues.


Tuesday we noticed throughout the day the water pressure was getting lower and lower…until finally, after dinner it was down to a pathetic drip.  Only a few days earlier we had watched Jean de Florette and Manon de Source.  If you know these films you can imagine what silliness was going through our heads (cue visions of Dom setting up explosives to release the hidden water and me seeking revenge on the village for ‘hiding’ the water from us).  We decided instead to be sensible and ask our neighbour Patrick if he was having the same issue.

Patrick, I think, is a farmer – I base that on the two giant tractors I see in his barn/garage.  But, apparently for the last 9 years, he has also been importing and selling German beer (I forget the brewery, I think it is near Dusseldorf).  I think he might have a few other ventures as well.  He doesn’t quite know what to make of us yet, but he seemed pleased when we told him we are planning some significant work on the house.  He said the previous owner only put in a new boiler for the heating….and the ‘Anglais’ owners before her were more interested in playing golf.  Patrick’s mom lives just a few doors down the road (across from the church) and seems very nice- she was recently telling us her husband used to bake bread in our bread oven.  Lots of people seem to know Patrick., our contractor even mentioned Patrick when he was over last week. I get the feeling Patrick is the de facto Mayor of the village….

Anyhow, I digress – when I asked Patrick if he was having issues with his water, his partner broke out into peals of laughter and she just kept saying, ‘ahhhh….l’eau’.  Patrick explained to us this happens occasionally and we just have to re-do the taps….at which point Dom and I were clearly confused so he offered to show us.  ‘Re-doing’ the taps was turning off one of the mains (we have two, one to the village source and one to the SAUR mains), turning on the other, then repeating and supposedly the water just comes back.  It didn’t, which puzzled Patrick.  He said the whole village had the problem that day and the ‘re-doing’ the taps fixed it. Except for us. Of course.

Finally, after a number of frantic garbled French phone calls over two days, SAUR (the ‘collective group’ that manages most of the water in France) dropped by and had it all fixed in about 15 minutes.

Water back on. Yay! Water pressure now AMAZING. Yay! Boiler can’t cope with fabulous water pressure and overflow nearly floods garage. Not so yay. Luckily (depending on how you define luck, but I am trying to be positive here) we are having a new hot water system installed and integrated with the boiler – so whatever is wrong with the boiler/water pressure will be fixed then.

I think part of getting our water back was us agreeing to some sort of long term contract with SAUR (either that or we just signed our house over to them….not quite sure I was so desperate to have water).  Theoretically we have the option to be connected to the village ‘source’ (spring – which runs underground along the back of our property) but the SAUR man told Dom the ‘source’ wasn’t working…strange since it seems to be working for the rest of the village.  Oh, and the SAUR man seemed to know Patrick as well.

Keeping time in France

Who needs clocks!  I have church bells that start with a mad frenzy at 7am, and continue throughout the day on the hour and half hour until 10pm.  For some reason at 7am and then again at 7pm you not only get the requisite x7 bongs, but then a subsequent cacophony of ringing that last about a minute.  If anyone can enlighten me as to why it would be appreciated.

I am pretty sure everyone is aware of the French daily schedule…shops open from about 9 until around 12.  In my region shops are shut until 14:30 or 15:00, and then open until about 7pm. Sunday…some things open until noon-ish…boulangerie, boucherie etc. (one must have a decent meal on Sunday!)  Everything else is shut.  Monday-shut.

If you want to go out to lunch, get to the restaurant between 12-13:30 (or 14:00 if you are lucky) or go hungry until 7pm.  I am very privileged and have a Carrefour Contact (a tardis of a store that has almost everything you might need…including socks!) that is open ‘continuously’ from 8-8. More important, I am figuring out the market schedule: Cahors, Wednesday and Saturday, Lalbenque -Saturday, Montcuq – Sunday, Castelnau Montratrier  -Sunday.

I am still in my ‘France honeymoon period’ so for the moment I enjoy the schedule, but there also the fact that this is one of the reasons Dom and I have moved to France, where there is a slightly different approach to the infamously difficult work-life balance.  AND I have lived here before- so none of these quirks surprises me.

I first lived here as a student and then came back on a short term work permit so was exposed to a different view of daily life. I was living on my own in Orléans student housing, and then a rented room in a flat in Paris.  Very different from living with my English husband in an old house in a hamlet with only 10 neighbours. So, I expect some surprises, and welcome them…apart from the kettle slightly catching on fire due to a faulty adaptor.  That isn’t a good surprise.  And it doesn’t smell very nice either. Which reminds me, I need to chase that ‘devis’ from the electrician.