Monthly Archives: September 2010

The soft-dying day

Work has begun in earnest on the outdoors. I think up until now, we’ve been kind of getting along, where as now we’re preparing for the winter, getting ready for the next year. It’s like preparing for hibernation!

Jake and I mapped out ‘le triangle’ yesterday – we’re 113 metres across the top, back lane, 103 down the side and 106 down the main road. A roughly equilateral triangle, all in all. We have a big chunk of land at the back which was going to be my garden but is really that far away you’d need to take a picnic to enjoy it! It’s 32 metres across the back lane – just under a third of the plot,26 metres down – roughly a fifth of the length of the plot, and then narrows to 17 metres/15 metres. Not so bad when my garden back in Bolton is about 5 metres by 4 metres. Poor garden in  Bolton!!

It has a line of grapes – mixed – about 26 metres across, and the rest is grass. Well, it was weeds.

The back plot back in May... not so under control as it is now!!

Now it’s back to being mown weeds with a little grass. This morning, I was planning on digging a 10 metre by 5 metre patch into it, but it’s hard as nails. It will be my ‘allotment proper’ – the patches on either side of the poly-tunnel are really rather small. Mr Stephen and I made our way round the garden, me with my list, him half listening to my demands. Compost in the corner. Cut down two plum trees along the back (I reckon we have 25 plum trees, so it’s not an ordeal!) and clean up the other trees. Plant a hedge along the fence. Cut down the knackered old plums in the plum orchard behind the vegetable patch. Take down Madame’s bizarre garrotting lines (I’m not entirely sure why there are wires hung like washing lines around the property, all at Steve’s neck height. I, being  a midget, can just get underneath them. I wonder what happened to M. Arrouet??!) and remove all the old mole traps. Take down all the knackered old fences. Cut down more plum trees and an apple tree with apples so small they’re barely bigger than acorns. Not sure where all the pips go on that! Remove all the moss and lichen from the trees. Paint the trunks with lime. Remove the old dog run. Clear the old orchard, which is mostly full of wonky trees, suckers, odd branches, weird angles, diseased limbs and so on. Spray them with Bordeaux mixture if they survive the cull. I’m going to reclaim the orchard as my garden, so it’s going to need a bit of work!

And that’s without getting down to the bottom of the garden!

I’ve raked about 5 bin bags of leaves up from les trembles – the aspens – and ‘fall’ hasn’t yet really begun. The carrots that have been in for a month are now fairly established – apparently, they need 65-75 days to go from seed to picking, but they don’t look big enough yet!! That would mean that they should be ready from early November. The spring onions are also looking a lot like little spring onions, though they too have got a little bit of time to wait. I’ve weeded out over 2,500 weeds and pebbles today (yes, I count them – it’s therapeutic and I can switch my brain off!!)

La recolte des raisins

As you will no doubt be aware, we are drowning in grapes. I have no idea what to do with them all. I can’t find a co-operative who’ll take them off my hands for vin de table – so Steve decided we should make wine. I guess it’s only sensible. This is laden with problems as it is.

One: I drink a glass of wine a week. About. Mostly, I leave my glass half full on the floor and kick  it over a few days later. I cook with it quite a lot – most soups and stews benefit from a good shot of wine. Steve drinks a glass a night. Currently, in the land of the grape, we drink a couple of bottles of 2.50 euros wine a week. Always white. That’s a crap set of behaviours for French inhabitants when the rest of the nation drinks red wine by the bottle, and it’s a crap set of behaviours for a girl whose father and step-mother hosted a lunch where the guests drank 12 bottles of wine between 8 people on Sunday. Before tea. I feel like a let-down. Still, my liver is in good condition!

Anyway, it seemed like I couldn’t make enough juice to use up the produce of 150 vines – so Steve decided we should at least have a go at wine-making. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. Plus, it won’t cost anything and we might have something at the end of it. Who knows?!

It seems, however, that the entire home-brew English-speaking world only does ‘kit’ wine at home, or ridiculously complicated chemical calculations to work out what you need to kill off, then add, then how long, and temperatures and so on. I just needed something simple, but no matter what search I did on English-speaking Googles, I couldn’t find anything. I had some insight into Campden Salts and Wine Yeast – but nothing beyond.

It took one sensible google on to find home brewing (sans ‘kit’) to be alive and kicking – comme les Romans, je pense.  Surely, back in A.D. 1, they didn’t have Campden salts and hydrometers and so on.

So, we washed and sanitised a bin. We picked 5 buckets-full of white grapes, de-bunched them and we’ve now left them overnight for creepy-crawlies to come to the top and for Mr. Gravity to do its work and begin to soften the skins. Tomorrow, we shall get to work with a couple of potato mashers and a bit of net. I shall upload pictures as and when.

I’d guess, if each bucket holds about 10 kg of grapes, we’ve got 50 kg grapes – not sure how much we’ll get from all this. Watch this space!!

Chickens, Brazilian flags and thongs

The 27th is the date of Rouillac market – a date firmly in my calendar. It’s where we bought ‘the girls’ from (liberated!) and it’s also the scene of my 20 euro cheese. The whole town closes down and is filled with stalls, kind of laid out into an order. If you can’t buy it at Rouillac market, it isn’t for sale. Kettles, huge jam pans, massive wooden spoons, shotguns, wood fires, chickens, quail, ducks, pigs, dogs, pigeons, budgies (which my friend John just reminded me are for budgie smuggling when you are wearing speedos) overalls, housecoats, slippers, wellies, copper pans, rotivators, donkeys, shetland ponies, rabbits, sausages, cheese, garlic, onions, haricot beans, potatoes, seeds, plants, herbs, massive granny knickers, thongs, towels with Bob Marley on them, tractors, shutters, pan pipes (why is there always a Peruvian fellow on every market in the world? Is it some kind of profile-raising marketing?!) bread, mice, chestnuts, goji berries, socks, army fatigues, berets, knives, scissors that can cut four things at once, utensils for making julianne vegetables, italian grapes, harem pants (the current french fashion of the moment) and patchwork, plastic tablecloths (de rigeur en France!)

It puts Bury’s ‘world famous’ market to shame.

Irish setters

I fell in love with these Irish setters. I love the Moll, but fluffy dogs are my thing. We had a gorgeous spaniel when I was little and she was the most lovely dog, save the Moll. There were all kinds – bichon frise, shii tzu, Irish setters, Jack Russells, spaniels – could have bought them all! I know the Moll would make a good Nanny dog – she is great with little animals to mother – just as she was with Clinton the Cat.

If I can make a pond or some kind of water feature – for which we have plenty of space! – I’d love some ducks. I’m a sucker for poultry!

Now our lovely ladies are settled, I’d love to add to the flock. I think some little black ones, some lovely white ones – all would add wonderfully to our harem! I think I need to change rabbit auschwitz into a chicken house!!

After having made our way around the market, I was trying to take a picture of a very nice copper selling van. They had a kind of make-shift kitchen, then all the pots and pans. Yet I’d barely snapped it (and it was ruined by my Nana standing in front of the stall gazing aimlessly like a not-right, and my father’s shoulder as he moved in to shepherd her on) when a guy came over, shook his finger and said ‘interdit, forbidden’ – So I launched into a full on assault?

“Pourquoi, vous n’etes pas le Maire.”

Each time, he just kept saying, ‘interdit’

“Mais, c’est une place publique… c’est pas Le Sahara Occidental ou Le Pakistan. Nous sommes pas les muselmans ici… ou les gens avec une objection religeuse”


“Mais, je comprends pas! Pourquoi les photos sont interdit? C’est pas un bâtiment gouvernmental… c’est pas les choses militaires, c’est pas les choses religeuses. C’est une marché et je suis une touriste. Pourquoi?”

Interdit. He then said ‘secte’ – a cult?! Dealing at a market!

I laughed and said it was ‘stupide, une farce, un ridicule’ and he went back to his stall. How utterly ridiculous. I told him he ruined the day for people visiting the market and he was an idiot. He wasn’t the mayor. There’s not a law against it. It’s a public place. We’re not in Western Sahara or Mauritania or even Greece, after it nabbed a busload of British tourists taking pictures in an airport. I think he realised he’d picked on the wrong Englisher today. I told him he hadn’t explained it at all and he was being an idiot. Who the hell would want a picture of my Nana, my dad’s shoulder and a very distant ‘secte’ marchand selling copper pans??!

There’s no way on earth I’d have posted this dreadful photo if it weren’t for that little Hitler trying to control what I take pictures of in public places. Liberté! Anyway, here it is. If you can work out what’s offensive about it, what’s ‘interdit’, send me a postcard. Otherwise, feel free to share in my righteous indignation and also my glee that I was able to put this man right and challenge him with the same fervour I’d have attacked an Englisher on Bury Market who told me not to take a picture of Bury Black Puddings’ stall. What an idiot! I feel like setting up a facebook group!! Maybe I should warn the world about sects selling copper pans. After all, it could be another Jonestown or Waco… and Sarkozy, as you will know, is not fond of people who are uber-religious. It might be a catholic country, but religion isn’t taught in state schools. Hurrah. Schools is for learning, not Catholic values. How I wish that were true in England, where a third of schools are forbidden from telling pupils to use a condom or go on the pill, thus proliferating teenage pregnancy, STDs and lord knows what else. I might write to M. Sarkozy with my concerns about the man next to the copper pan stall on Rouillac market.

Recette: confiture de raisins

I’ve kind of made this my own…

1. Wash about 1.2 kg of grapes (preferably not seedless, because there’s pectin in the seeds that will help the jelly to set, then de-bunch them, pulling them off the stalk.

2. You will be left with about 1 kg (and a bit) of grapes. Put them in a large pan. Add 200 ml water for every kg.

3. Boil them for about 20 minutes, with a lid on – there shouldn’t be much leakage of water or else the grapes will dry out.

4. Mash the grapes then pass them through a sieve. You can do it ‘posh’ with jelly muslin, but a fine sieve is fine. Put the sieve over a jug with a pouring spout (so as not to make mess when you pour it back into the pan! Duh!) and cover with a tea-towel or a couple of sheets of kitchen roll. Leave for 10 or so hours.

5. Measure the juice – you should be left with between 900 ml and 1.1 litres. For every litre, add 750 g sugar. You can go up to 1kg sugar if you like it sweet, but less than 1:1.5 won’t set well. Put a plate in the freezer for the set test.

6. Boil the juice with the sugar and keep on a rolling boil for about 10 minutes before you start to do a set test. It will still be very liquid but perfectly fine to set. You don’t want it to burn or go dark. The sugar shouldn’t really caramelise much – so you want to keep an eye on it. Do a set test by taking the plate out of the freezer, dropping a teaspoon of jam liquid onto it and then putting it back in for a couple of minutes. If it’s jam, it’s fine. If it’s too runny, it needs longer. Another way of checking is to use your ladle or stirring spoon. Hold it above the pan and let it drip. Five or six drips will be very liquid, but the final few will be sticky if it’s ready to set.

7. Decant into sterilised glass jars and leave to cool!

La confiture de raisins

Or grape jelly to you and I…

Our grape vines, all 130-odd of them (and then some!) are all in various stages of coming to fruition. I like that word for fruit being ready. It seems somehow appropriate! Yet, what to do with such a harvest?! We aren’t in the ‘wine producing’ stages yet. Our grape  press, for one, is out of commission, though I think I could manage well with a bucket and a drill bit for stirring cement (make do and mend!) to get the juice out – and the rest, as I can see, is about killing off some of the natural yeasts, adding your own, then letting it do its business. I might have a go anyway.

But in the meantime, it’s grape juice and grape jelly a-plenty. I have a new-best-website find, the cottage smallholder which is an amazing site not unlike one I’d hope this will look like in a few years! I’ve been using this site, along with BBC Food (of course!) which negates the need for recipe books at all, especially if you love James Martin and the Hairy Bikers as much as I do. I’m a fan of Nigel Slater, too. I’m a fan of chefs who like to eat as much as they like to cook – they cook because they love what they produce. Not a fan of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey, though most of my dislikes of both are about their character rather than their cooking. Jamie Oliver needs about 2 inches shaving off his tongue on each side and needs to get over his ‘faux-pukka’ persona. Steve told me yesterday his son is called ‘Buddy Bear Maurice’ – which is either a Care Bear or a gay moniker. That’s a seriously evil thing to do to a child. That child will one day be a 50 year old bloke wondering where his life went wrong. Poppy – okay. I get that. That’s fine. Petal? Not really. It sounds like a detergent. Daisy Boo. Just no. No. No-one should have ‘Boo’ as part of their name. He makes me NOT want to use my British supermarket of choice, Sainsbury’s, because I don’t want a single penny of mine to go to him. Extreme, I know. Buddy Bear has enough issues without needing to be a trust-fund-pukka-wallah.

Gordon Ramsay – I just don’t like him. The arrogance of the man, the ‘sleb’ friendship with the Beckhams, the endless books written by other people with his name on them. The fact he probably hasn’t cooked for 10 years. The fact that he isn’t even EXECUTIVE chef at his own restaurants. Not only doesn’t he cook, he doesn’t even decide what should be cooked! The pretentious recipes, the endless books, his misuse of the word velouté, the pretentious names he gives to his food, his misuse of the word ‘custard’, which to my mind must have some kind of egg or egg based product in it. That’s the point of it. His sidelining of Marcus Wareing and Angela Hartnett, the real names behind his restaurant success.

Anyway, my top 10 – since top ‘whatevers’ always rock – of catering giants & then my worst cooks ever…

1. The Hairy Bikers. It might lead to coronary heart failure, but it’s constantly reliable and very, very British and Northern in good ways.

2. Nigel Slater, for his ‘plot-to-pot’ stuff and his simple suppers, even if some of the recipes need a little adjustment. A good cook would realise what needs sorting!

3. James Martin, for never, ever having failed to produce a recipe I’d want to cook and eat

4. Nigella Lawson, whose recipes are also a bit hit-and-miss, but she makes great, inspired puddings.

5. Simon Rimmer for also making good food you actually want to eat

6. Keith Floyd for his exuberance, simple recipes and use of wine in cooking – which is perfect!

7. Antonio Carluccio because he always makes simple, wonderful food that’s just wonderful. Italian food, like British food, is all about the carbs – with lots of  lovely vegetables these days!

8. Gary Rhodes, if for nothing more than the giant jaffa cake!

9. The WI for their fantastic baked goods, chutneys and jams

10. Ching-He Huang, like Ken Hom, for fabulous, simple oriental food

I must admit I like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Heston Blumenthal as well. Heston’s Christmas smorgasbord was fabulous – I can aspire!!

And with the Golden Raspberry of chefs going to:

1. Gordon Ramsay. Urgh. My worst nightmare would be to be in Indecent Proposal with Ramsay as Redford and me as Demi Moore.

2. Jamie & his Ermintrude tongue

3. Lesley Waters – don’t know who this is but they have far too many crap recipes on the BBC site. I haven’t seen a single recipe yet that I’d want to cook.

4. Delia – because none of her over-complicated recipes EVER work – and I can’t fathom why. If you want to cook ocelot’s earlobes, Delia’s supposedly-simple ‘How to Cook’ books are the place to start. They should be simple, but when you need a whiff of a kaffir lime leaf, or Grape Nuts or some other peculiar ingredient, then they aren’t. I made a key lime pie once for Steve based on her recipe. Grape Nuts are vile. Vile, I tell you!

Mes dames fantastiques!

I have been having chats with a woman called Kathryn, up near Civray-On-The-Wold, the local centre of Anglaises. I’d cheekily nudged my way into her life via one of her companies, Accents, in Civray, which is a not-for-profit bilingual association for children of English parents who are worried about their children losing their English. You’d think it wouldn’t really happen, but it does. In less than one month of school, Jake is perfectly happy to communicate in ever-developing French, coming home, asking ‘what does A demain mean?’ and enquiring how to say various things in various ways. Funny to think only a week ago he was begging me to come with him to ask if Artur was playing out!

It has to be said, though, he’s still got a way to go. He came home with a book yesterday from the library – the children’s section! – which was decidedly rude! It’s based on a little boy, Titeuf, who is like a French Bart/Lisa. Sometimes he’s more Bart than Lisa. The first comic strip involves him asking his father who invented air, then asking his teacher what an abortion is, before asking his mother how you catch Aids. Jake, needless to say, particularly with some of the more graphic cartoons including a biologically accurate drawing of a penis and Titeuf accidentally falling over two people in flagrante delicto, was mortified. Honestly, I’m a little mortified. Surely someone should have put this in the grown-ups section? Or am I just being prudish??! I know the French have a more liberal view of sex education, but…

Honestly, some of it was funny. Because Titeuf can’t get an answer to these many important questions about life, he ends up playing a version of ‘tig’ where when you get tigged, you’ve passed on Le Sida (Aids) and one poor boy goes home to a shocked mother and tells her he’s upset because he’s got Aids and none of the other children will stand still long enough for him to pass it on.

In a view of how kids are, it was quite funny!

Anyway, back to Kathryn. She runs a smallholding with the usual sheep, goats, chickens and bees. I want to keep bees. She also runs an equine rescue centre. I want to run an equine rescue centre. She started a bilingual group. I want to run a bilingual group. Needless to say, I was giddy as a kipper when I came to meet her.

She’d brought her teacher, Alicia, with her. Alicia is also fabulous. Like me, she lives in a commune with no Englishers, and so her children are permanently immersed when outside the family home, in La Vie Francaise. It was absolutely great to meet two women who are uber-wonderful, doing great things in unconventional ways and totally in keeping with how I view myself – not as these old oxygen-thieving, sock-and-sandal-wearing, beige-shorts and checked-shirt-wearing, panama-hatted, grey-haired coffin dodgers who clog up Limoges airport with their namby-pamby southern ways and total ignorance to the world around them. Alicia, in fact, hails from Whitefield, where my Nana lived, and Kathryn, though a southerner, spent a long time in Newcastle.

We’d met in the PMU ‘Le Penalty’ in Mansle, a sleepy little ghost town that hasn’t really been able to resurrect itself post-deviation. The RN10 used to run through it  – bringing business and traffic – but since the by-pass, it hasn’t been able to pick itself up. There are several sad shops with faded displays, a handful of estate agents, a couple of bars and a deserted high street. I’d planned to meet in Le Colibri, which is across the other side of the crossroads and has a little deck area – but it was shut. C’est la vie. The PMU is the local working men’s bar, complete with Loto and betting station. Spit and sawdust, a little, but we sat and chatted for 2 hours solid. It made me very excited.

Suffice to say, I can’t wait til next time and I can’t wait for our plans to unveil and come to fruition!

It’s just me and my shadow

The chickens have gone from timid to cocky in a four week period. First, they were very shy and scared. Now they’re verging on aggressive, demanding, inquisitive and over-confident!

Since we’ve let them be free-range, they have the run of the place. The first thing I’d noticed were the missing grapes, which I’d initially blamed on Molly, even though she’s not a grape-eater, until realising they were all perfect ‘chicken height’ grapes that were missing. Now, they go absolutely mental for grapes. Weird.

They spend a lot of time shadowing you, and then in some bizarre ‘Trigger Happy TV’ style, when you turn around, they pretend they’re not shadowing you at all and all stand looking in different directions, before you move on. A bit like Grandmother’s Footsteps. Each time, they get closer and closer. You turn around, they pretend they’ve not moved at all. You keep walking. They hurry after you.

I’m getting to the last fruits on the trees, before walnut season starts. Then we’ll have the remaining carrots and spring onions before winter. It might be the end of September, but it’s definitely winding-down season. I’d tried to procure some logs, going into the Mairie to enquire about a local seller. No, she says. You pick your logs up… you know… around… waving her hand vaguely in the direction of the forest behind the village. Sure enough, when we went down the riverbed, lots of the old dead wood had already been chopped into and sawn up. I’ve seen three or four cars, now, parked at the riverbed looking for wood. It’s still warm, though. I’ve had a real sweat on clearing weeds for the arrival of Papa.

La Grand-mama has managed to spend the night safely on her own, although she had locked her milk in one house and wasn’t able to get back in. She’s upset she can’t get Sky Sports, but glad to be in the sun.

My Nana’s arrival…

My Nana is due to arrive today. She’s a marvellous creature. I was explaining last night to a client that she uses Facebook (albeit grudgingly, but she knows she’d not ‘see’ me otherwise!) and she’s a very adept user of MSN – although we’ve subsequently realised her spelling is somewhat dubious. How someone who reads as much as she does can spell ‘ghost’ like ‘toast’ (goast) is anybody’s guess. I guess it makes sense.

Anyway, at 79, she is travelling – solo – on board Ryanair to Limoges from Liverpool and I’m picking her up at 3:00. I better be prompt today, because you can’t leave La Grand-Mère solo outside an airport.

I’m actually at a loss as to how to entertain her and cater for her. She doesn’t eat like we do: no pasta, no rice. She eats chips, but she doesn’t like french fries. She likes…. hmmmm… I don’t even know…. she likes pies. I could do a pie, maybe. I could do quiche. She’ll eat a quiche. And Steve will eat quiche. I need to have a look in the freezer! Plus, she eats at 5:00. I sometimes eat lunch at 5:00. I think the earliest we’ve eaten tea is 8:00. I’d be at home in Madrid, eating at midnight. We usually eat lunch around 12ish and then tea around about 10:00 – not sure why – just the way it is. I guess I don’t like to interrupt these long beautiful evenings with food! Maybe I can get away with feeding her a sandwich and hoping she’ll make it through til later.

I guess, when I’m 79, I won’t want my rituals disturbed, but it is like having a visit from the Queen: you’ve got to do things how she likes things to be done. She doesn’t want to stay alone, which is fair enough, though how countryside France is different from Wythenshawe, I don’t know. I’m not griping, honest! It’s just it’s a different class of guest from ‘Kenny’ who would eat what we eat, got up about 10:30, didn’t need much entertaining and generally fitted into our way of life. That is an easy houseguest. My nana needs a different kind of treatment! She gets up ridiculously early (I promise, when I’m retired – much as now – I shall get up late! What’s the point of getting up earlier than you used to when you had to go to work and then spending the day saying ‘I’m bored…’

She likes her little rituals – which are out of whack with mine. Lunch at 12. Tea at 5. I can’t take her anywhere with much walking as she refuses to wear sensible shoes, and therefore she can’t walk long distances : /

Still, if we can’t be set in our ways at 79, then when can we?! It is infuriating though. She made me take her to Obsidian in Manchester once, because she’d seen it on a programme. She ordered something she didn’t like and I told her she wouldn’t like, and then didn’t eat it. It cost 40 quid. Now, I should be happy with her company for 40 quid, but we could have gone to the ‘All you can eat Chinese Buffet’ for a fiver and she could have ordered food she didn’t like and then not eat it. It’s worse than Jake! At least we can say ‘no’ to Jake when he decides he wants something ridiculously expensive that he won’t really like. Although, usually, he only picks expensive things he does like, which is a bonus.

Still, there’s no telling her. So… No La Rochefoucauld, because it involves walking. Or Mansle. Or Angouleme. Most of the riverside cafes are shut – so we can’t sit and drink coffee. Maybe I should bring her here, deposit her underneath the apple tree and pass her apples. She likes to feel useful. In fact, she likes cleaning, very much. Maybe she’d like to clean??!

Who’d have thought a Nana could cause such concern!?

peach frozen yoghurt and caramelised shallot bread rolls

I’ve got an absolute glut of peaches. With four peach trees – one with little small peaches, an Indian red free peach tree and two with big fleshy peaches with white flesh – I reckon I’ve had a couple of kilos of (plums) peaches (edit: you don’t get plums from peach trees. D’oh!) off each one. Not only that, but there are another two peach trees, as yet without fruit, so I better get good at stuff with peaches! I’ve already made a couple of kilos-worth of frozen peaches in syrup, a kilo of peach chutney (which is absolutely delicious!!) and some peach jam, I’m running out of ideas. However, we had some natural yoghurts left over and so I’ve made them into peach frozen yoghurt. And it’s gorgeous!

I’d looked at a few sites for frozen yoghurt, but they were mostly American sites with cup measurements, which I can never get my head around. Cup measurements are for boobs, not for food! So I’d devised a kind of ratio that seemed to work.

1. Drop 1kg of peaches into boiling water for one minute. Take them out and plunge them straight into cold water. The skins should then come off easily. De-stone them and chop the peaches into small pieces. You should get about 650g of peach flesh.

2. Boil the peaches with 300g sugar and 100 ml water. Boil them for about 15 minutes until they’re soft. Mash them up.

3. Mix them with 1kg of natural yoghurt.

4. Blend in an ice-cream maker for 30 mins, then transfer to a tub and freeze for at least 2 hours.

The other thing I’ve made today is caramelised shallot bread rolls. I’d got some shallots left over, so I made my usual bread roll recipe using the hairy bikers’ bread recipe – mainly because I find it hard not to love everything they cook or do, even if they sound like Vic and Bob – then caramelised 10 shallots in 25 mg butter, 15 ml olive oil, 15ml balsamic vinegar and 15mg of caster sugar (except I used dark brown sugar because I like the colour it gives to the onions) and then caramelised the onions. A bit like (but not exactly like) James Martin’s recipe for caramelised onion bread. If Steve liked mussels, I’d definitely be making this. I might do an onion soup and use the caramelised shallot bread for crostini with a gruyere crust.

Jumelage: Angouleme-Bury

We haven’t really paid that much attention to Angouleme, our adopted region’s ‘capital’. It’s a place to go to the outskirts for Brico-Depot and Darty and all the big chains we don’t have in La Rochefoucauld. At about 20 km away, it’s a little further than Manchester was from Bury, but in all honesty, our focus hasn’t been on Angouleme at all.

Angouleme Way in Bury is a tribute to its French ‘twin’. Likewise, there’s a Boulevard de Bury here. Apparently. Apart from names on a by-pass, I was first introduced to Angouleme via a twin exchange here when I was about 13. It was quite hideous. The girl I stayed with, Severine, a very charentais name, came to stay with us first. I’d broken my leg (during!?!) her stay by randomly throwing myself off the top of Holcombe Hill and I remember very little of the rest of the trip, suffice to say there were days out around the region.

On our return to Angouleme, I realised I was one of the youngest on the trip: there were girls in the 5th year at our school – I was still a second-year. Not only that, but my French must have been crap. I remember the house distinctly – one of the modern pavilion types, and I remember being impressed by the size of it, and the lack of personal property. I was shocked Madame made her husband stay outside, disgusted by the vegetables I was made to eat, upset when Madame disinfected the mattress after my stay and impressed by the downstairs games room where Severine had a table-tennis table and a computer. I remember a day trip to Royan and finding it difficult to wee on one of those ‘squat’ toilets – the last time I saw one – especially difficult to wee when you have a plaster cast on your leg. I remember a trip to Brantome, but very little of it other than sitting in the park.

So, twinning hadn’t meant very much to me at all. An unpleasant exchange, a name on a by-pass… I hadn’t given much thought to Angouleme.

So for our first proper wandering about yesterday, to enjoy the Circuit Des Remparts, I was shocked, yes shocked, by the differences between the two and wondered how on earth the two ended up connected.

The town hall, perched on the highest part of the hill upon which Angouleme sits, is magnificent. Think more Manchester Town Hall than Bury Town Hall.

Hotel de Ville

It’s surrounded by lush gardens and flowers, not unlike the park at the back of the Town Hall in Bury, just ten times more lovely. Then there’s the cathedral. It overlooks the city, surrounded by its ramparts, topped with a marvellous Italianesque tower… Bury Parish Church, eat your heart out.

Not that I’m a Bury whinger. I think the end of the Rock, where the Parish Church is, is quite lovely. Millgate’s okay too. I appreciate the market is quite good (if not ‘World Famous’ as they repute to be) I’ve not been to The New Rock, but it looks quite good, except for the jobsworths going round stopping pensioners taking photos.

But Angouleme is quite magnificent. It has a shopping arcade, rows of lovely shops, a square with cafes, fantastic views, amazing architecture, cobbled streets in places, tree-lined boulevards (albeit lined with a few men clearly smoking weed – not perhaps the best idea when you’re right outside the ‘Maison d’Arret’ – the jail. Hmmmm.) and a quite stunning town hall and cathedral. I’m not convinced there’s anything in Bury that’s remotely comparable. Poor Bury.

The Circuit des Ramparts is a great event: thousands of cars turn up to show off, take part in races and generally draw the attention of the local populace. It wasn’t over-crowded, just pleasantly so, and the weather, as usual, was beautiful. It was lovely to walk around our adopted departement capital and see it in its splendour.

Old Jags and New Murals