Monday, 30 December 2013


Bingo, house, lotto, carte en pleine, mad waving and jumping up and down! Who's listening..........  We've won...................... Making yourself heard over a throng of locals in the village hall which is just a five minute stroll from our humble abode here at Le Farat on a Friday evening is not as easy as it sounds, and woe betide me if I get it wrong and call out if I have made a mistake with my translation of numbers from English into French!  (I still have a bit of a problem with the 70's and 90's but generally not too bad and actually bingo helps!)

This year we have been active at the local Lotto evenings to help with fund raising for local groups and associations.

Our first outing this year was to the primary school lotto evening at the end of November. Proceedings start late here, and as it was for the school, all kids were invited. To sit down for the first call at 9pm is not unusual and to find you are still there at 1am with kids falling asleep on the floor seems to be the rule rather than the exception!

There were hundreds of donations from local businesses and all packaged beautifully.  The school governors presided over the event, with the bingo calling at a reasonable pace on the stage and there were occasional issues with a squealing microphone, so concentration was a must if we were to stand a chance of a prize.

After a few "kigne" and "carte en plein" a break was hailed and a mad dash to the canteen window in the Salle des Fetes for pancakes, cakes and drinks ensued.  Suitably refreshed we continued.  After two games we won! First it was our daughter who was sitting with a friend, she won local fruit juice, an entrance to a local museum, a discount of a takeaway pizza and 6 glasses.  Then it was my husbands turn for a win, however, he was not concentrating and half asleep, so therefore missed calling at the right time and lost out! Then just as the penultimate game was drawing to a close, I won too!  Yippee!  Added to our haul was a t shirt, cap, more fruit juice, discount off a new tyre and discount at a local restaurant.  We were more than happy!

On a roll, we turned up the following week at the local "Chasse" fundraising lotto.  Unsurprisingly, the prizes were mostly meat based!  The same order of proceedings ensued and after 10 games I was resigning myself that our winning streak was over.  However, our daughter, who had abandoned us for the second time in two weeks at a social event to sit with friends came up trumps and presented me with a prize of half a venison and a shoulder of sanglier (wild boar)!

Although I was over the moon to have won something, I was a little perturbed to say the least, that I was going to have to skin and butcher the meat and was secretly hoping that if I had won anything at all it would be sausages!  On joining the queue to collect our prize I was relieved to see that all was pre-butchered and frozen and being handed out from two enormous shopping trolleys ready to take home.

Now what.................! do I make sausages, or something more exotic, and if so how should I cook it?? May be as burgers on our lovely BBQ!

I do not feel I can be cheeky and ask the hunt, as last time I saw them I had to rather forcefully ask them to kindly remove their many dogs from the front lawn as they were using it as a loo!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Christmas is coming and ...........the turkey is being evasive!

Since moving to France in 2010 we have been lucky enough to experience another style of Christmas. One that I much prefer, one that is less commercialised, less stressful and much more family orientated and most of all one that is all about good food and good company.

For our first Christmas en France we were invited to a neighbours on Christmas Eve.  After "Aperos" we went to mass at the local village church and returned an hour later to start our festivities.  We ate and talked, ate and drank, and ate again. A wide selection of local produce including some things we had never tried before, boudin blanc, jeruselem artichokes and wild boar, was on offer but no center piece of a large golden turkey for the meal.

The following Christmas we reverted back to a traditional English Christmas meal on the 25th to please all our visitors.  I tried to find a plump turkey big enough, but struggled to find anything appropriate or at a realistic price.  We therefore ended up with a capon, but despite the trimmings being prepared, a homemade Christmas pud and mince pies at the ready the bird failed to deliver. We were all hankering after a nice roast slice of turkey breast!

So last year I decided to go in hunt of a locally produced fresh bird!  First ports of call were local butchers of which there were a couple of recommendations, however any items of interest found were on sale at a considerable cost per kilo and a second mortgage would have been required for 8kg of meat!  I checked out the freezers at the local supermarket but no frozen birds or prepared turkey crowns in sight.

By 19th Dec I was getting desperate.  On my way back to the car after another fruitless search on market day, I put my head inside a large makeshift marquee that had appeared near the church at the weekly farmers market.  There, inside, were farmers wrapped in thick coats sitting on wooden benches puffing on cigarettes deep in conversation, but most importantly an array of birds on straw with their legs tied together. Chicken, duck, capon, guinea fowl and the all important turkey, but all in fine fettle and certainly not oven ready! 

With no choice I took the plunge and haggled with a farmer who had a very nice big black Norfolk type turkey.  After completing the purchase he handed over the bird.  I politely asked if he could do "the deed" for me as I was not experienced in such matters.  Rather horrifically for me he said he could not kill it as it was not allowed at the market. I would have to take the bird home and do it myself!  Rather red faced (and no doubt with a lot of sniggering, by the locals)  I left the market carrying the bird upside down whilst it flapped and squalked its way with me back to the car. I could not look it in the eye for I knew what its fate would be.  I was terrified I would get attached and it would become another member of the growing menagerie!

The road trip of 10 minutes home was traumatic to say the least, and by the time I was within site of the house I could no longer cope with the noise or smell coming from the back of the car.  I took a short detour to the local farm and knocked at the door asking for help.  In true neighbourly style my lovely neighbours took the matter in hand.  All was dealt with very quickly and in no time at all I was back in the car with an oven ready bird for Christmas feeling very proud, if a little sad.

After careful preparation the beautiful bird was placed centre stage on the dining table on 25th Dec for all to see. It truly was wonderful and really tasty.  From now on its fresh all the way for me, despite the effort needed.  I may need to bribe the neighbours to enlist their help again with a couple of turkey and stuffing sandwiches though!


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Busy In The Jam Factory

Très bonne ta confiture de fraise!

High praise indeed, so thank you to my dear friend Alexandra. However, when you are surrounded by such an abundance of fresh fruit and produce it would be an absolute travesty not to make the most of it and indulge in a little jam making which calls for more than the standard size of cooking pot!

I say a little jam making: strawberry and black cherry jams plus three litres of elderflower cordial in the bag, with plums, apricots and greengages coming up in a few months  Oh, and that’s before we even start to discuss the pâtés and chutneys again.

So why so busy with all this? Well, it just seems to be as much a way of life down here as anything, etched into the culture in much the same way as the other stereotypes from France like Petanque and Pastis in Marseilles or Café Culture in Paris. Our little corner of the Tarn et Garonne on the edge of Gascony and the Gers, feels very much like the beating heart of France when it comes to gastronomy. I know many others like to stake that claim but there really is a culinary vein that runs throughout.

Of course there is one other reason for all these preserves: they are much appreciated by guests here at our Chambre d’Hôtes and Gîtes at Le Farat (, which means so long as we keep receiving the compliments then the jam factory will remain fully operational!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A successful 2011!

After the initial worry this time last year of not achieving the bookings that we would require to survive and continue the dream, I now realise I was stressing over nothing! Bookings took off and all the guests we have had here have loved their holiday with us. What a relief!

The summer was fantastic, with a small blip in the middle of July and the hot weather lasted well in to October with us organising a BBQ in the middle of the month and sitting outside in T shirts until after midnight! The locals though thought we were mad and were wrapped in jumpers and fleeces from 10.30pm! But still not bad for October.

We managed to get out a bit more as a family in 2011 too. We attended the locally hyped "Au Fil de l'eau" and were not disappointed. It was a fantastic theatrical open air evening production telling the history of the region over the past 150 years. It is set along the banks of the Canal des deux mers (which goes from Bordeaux to Toulouse) with 400 cast members as well as animals and lots of ancient vehicles spanning 100 years. Well worth a visit if you are in this area at the beginning of August!

We also went to Cordes sur Ciel, a bastide hilltop village, Albi and the Toulouse Lautrec gallery, which was only 90 minutes from us here. The Cathedral at Albi is a huge brick built structure with the most amazing paintings on the ceiling, we learnt lots about Toulouse Lautrec and his work and finished the day in a cafe over looking the market square, lovely!

As a special present to ourselves over Christmas, we took the family skiing in Saint Lary situated on the edge of the French Pyrenees. We stayed in Arreau village just 10 minutes from the slopes and drove up the mountain each morning to the chairlifts. The snow was great, although not deep, but plenty for us for a few days of fun. It is such a bonus to be able to hop in the car at Le Farat first thing in the morning and be skiing in the mountains before lunch!

Now sitting here in front of the wood burner, the heat of summer seems a distant memory. We have woken up to snow this morning and the grass is white, the pool has snow over the cover and the roofs of the Mediterranean clay tiled buildings look strange covered in the white stuff!
This is only the second time we have had snow here and not what we had expected when we moved south from the UK but our daughter loves it!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Irrigation irregularities

This summer in South West France has been a dry one and the weather warmed up earlier than normal so arable and animal farmers as well as the fruit producers have all been suffering quite badly.

Having planted a number of fruit trees and made a vegetable garden (in retrospect if we had known how dry it was going to be we probably would not have bothered this year!), keeping everything watered was another large job on the ever increasing job list.

Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have bought a lovely property in Tarn et Garonne that had irrigation already installed in the lawn. We held off for as long as possible as we didn't want to waste water in any way, but when the lawn turned a nasty brown and the fruit trees started to wilt we knew it was time to take action.

All farmers here have access (for a small fee) to the water supply pumped from the river Garonne, and then pay on a meter each year for what they use. Our irrigation supply was also fed in the same way. The supply point was located across the road from the main house on the edge of the field and had to be accessed across a rather dodgy plank and a ditch, then you had to grapple with a large pipe and a wheel to connect to the supply, not something I enjoyed doing amongst the long grass, so not an easy process and not one to be undertaken in flipflops!

My husband Nick was dispatched with a spanner to turn on the supply and I stayed in the garden to shout back to him when the water came through. After much shouting and hollaring followed by short tempers and an amount of spanner throwing, we gave up. The water was only trickling through the pipe and was not enough to fill a watering can let alone irrigate the garden!

We put in a call to the Marie and a village official turned up a few days later to sort it all out . A new pipe cap was fitted, a new meter and a new valve. Great, we thought, we can now put the watering can away! .......NO

The water was still only just trickling out, we put in another call to the Marie and the official came back but explained that as far as he was concerned all was in order, and said the problem must be somewhere in our 5 acre garden. Great, needle and haystack sprung to mind!

I therefore took the bull by the horns and went to see he local farmer (where I had been fruit picking) and in my best fluttery eye look, asked if he could come to investigate the problem!

It worked! He arrived with a spanner and disappeared into the field with my husband. After a short while, success!

As it turned out, we had a dead snake in the pipe blocking the valve and as soon as that was removed, little jets of water started sprouting out of the ground all over the garden and I could almost hear the plants going aaaaahhhhhh!

The garden will now soon be nice and green again and my veggie patch will be brimming with produce!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fruit, fruit and more fruit!

In amongst our guests arriving and leaving, I have been busy making jams, chutneys and fruit leather to enjoy through the winter.

I am currently innondated with reine claude green gages and merabelle red plums. I have made plum crumble, compote, jam, chutney and am considering plum leather. This is a fruit pulp that is smoothed on to a piece of greaseproof paper and dried in the sun. Once dry, it is then cut and rolled like a fruit winder and kept in an air tight jar until required. I have already made the apricot version and its yummy and a very healthy snack instead of chocolate!

The jam cupboard now is full of apricot, plum, damson, strawberry and cherry jam, tomato puree, plum and chili chutney and soon to be added is red onion chutney. More than enough to keep us and our guests supplied well into 2012!

First big change over day!

Well the season has now started for us in ernest. We had our first gite guests arrive last Saturday, family of 4 including a 3 month old baby a 2 year old plus an aupair.

As hoped the initial reaction was what I hoped for and they loved the gite and surroundings, which is a constant thrill to me. Everyone settled in well and all were soon in the holiday mood lounging by the pool.

The weather unfortunately, has not been the best, we have had a few days of sun and a few days of cloud, but still nice an warm. After advising on nice places to visit, booking restaurants and being a taxi service on occasions the week drew to a close. The family moved to our B&B for an extra night, they just couldn't bring themselves to leave! It was a squeeze with the au pair as well and we finally decided it would be more comfortable for the au pair to go in our spare room in the main house.

New guests arrived in the gite just 3 hours later. Fortunately, the cleaning had been done and beds made but I was in the middle of cleaning the BBQ and had to shake hands with mucky greasy fingers looking like something the cat dragged in, sooo didn't want to look like that!

Still, all the hard work is worth the initial ooohs and arrrhs, which is what it is all about - makeing sure that our guests are happy and pleased with their holiday accommodation.

Now the beds are stripped and everyone is settled and happy, I am off to start the washing and ironing.

Happy days indeed.