Sunday, 27 February 2011

Peaceful Saturday evening - not!

Normally on a saturday as a family we have a nice lazy morning, I make lunch and in the afternoon Nick and I potter in the garden or I do the ironing while Nick does some property maintenance. Abigail does her homework under duress whilst making any excuse possible not to clean out the hampster! Typical family Saturday I would say.

This week I gave the car a birthday and completely valetted it inside and out, even getting all the tar spots off. Abigail decided to help by cleaning one wheel (at 9 years old you tend to loose concentration very quickly unless you are paid!) and Nick spent the afternoon planting yet more trees in our rather rapidly expanding orchard.

The evening started normally and rather quietly. We lit a fire and sat in front of the tv watching a very old film Cool Runnings, which was real escapism.

Just as the film was ending and I was contemplating retiring upstairs to bed there was an almighty rumble in the chimney, for some reason (reflexes I suppose) lept out of the beanbag just in time as some rather large bricks came crashing down the chimney scattering ash, embers and wood all over the carpet and just missing me. I was shaken to say the least and after the dust had settled went to gingerly look up the chinmey with a torch to see what had happened. In the mayhem the bricks had closed the flue trap door and the room was filling with smoke as the fire was still burning. We shone the torch up the chinmey but even with a torch couldn't see alot, but were both too frightened to go to bed just in case there was more rubble to fall. We both waited until the fire burned out and at 2.30am went to bed slightly on edge. On passing the spare room, by chance I checked the fireplace in that room, only to find that the fires were linked by one flue and that fireplace was full of brick rubble too. What a nightmare!

I blame the chimney sweep myself, as he is the only one I can think of to blame just at the moment!

Insurance claim on the cards I think, but at least no one hurt and hopefully no serious damage to the house.

Perhaps Feeley fate is kicking in again, hope there is nothing much worse on the horizon.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Toulouse ........... in the rain!

Last Sunday evening whilst slobbing in front of the fire and TV we heard a knock at the door about 8pm........very strange, as in deepest France we don't get many visitors unannounced, let alone on a Sunday evening.

I sent my husband to open the door and we were surprised by Sabrina, our au pair we had had when we lived in the UK. She has become part of the family, even if she doesn't live with us anymore but lives with her boyfriend in Tours Northern France, and she is also known now by us to act impulsively and spring surprises!

As it was half term from University she had made the 6 hour journey south with her sister to pay us a visit and stay for a few days. We were overjoyed to see her and I hurridly made up a bed for them. After a good catch up we all retired to bed at 11pm.

On Tuesday, I decided to take them out for the day, but in true Feeley style things did not go totally to plan!

Firstly, we thought it would be a good idea to take the train from Moissac, save on petrol and see what the SNCF rail network was like for us to get to Toulouse. Wrong.......not a good idea.

Issue 1: Only two trains a day to Toulouse 9am and 12 noon and two trains returning from Toulouse late in the afternoon and evening. So rather than wait an hour and a half, we decided to drive.

50 minutes later we were looking for a parking space in the centre of Toulouse. After circumnavigating the centre at least three times, driving up and down the banks of the Canal du Midi and swearing at numerous idiot drivers we finally found our space in a perfect location. We hopped out and disappeared into Flunch for a spot of lunch! My steak was consumed greedily and I was now beginning to relax and enjoy my day out.

Issue 2: Realised we had not paid for the car park and had to dash back to the car to pay before we were clamped! However, I need not have worried, in France generally you don't pay for parking over the lunch hour............this is unheard of, not paying for car parking in the UK especially at lunchtime and in the centre of a big city!

Car suitably ticketed, we wandered towards the central shopping area and Square where the Marie is located.

Issue 3 . Camer battery died typical!

The rain started lightly at first and after a short while it was throwing it down.

Issue 3: no umberellas! so darted in and out of shops to keep dry but thought as we were in Toulouse we really should go down to the river and wander along the Garonne. It was nice but we were fast beginning to look like drowned rats. Sabrina and her sister put on brave faces but after two hours we had all had enough and decided it would be much better to go shopping in an indoor mall near Blagnac airport!

Good choice..........and no issues, except not enough time shopping!

Pony Club for my daughter!

Since we moved here, I have as you are probably aware, been having horse withdrawal symptoms and miss my horse desparately. All this horse talk has got my daughter Abigail keen again and although she had her own pony in the UK I never really had enough time to spend with her to ride it. Here, I have the time but not the will or the funds to go down that route again for a while at least. So the next best thing was to enrol her at the local pony club/riding school where each child not only gets an hours lesson but also taught how to brush, tack up and learn parts of the horse. Each term is ended by a test which is a recognised level of horsemanship in France.

This Wednesday was her second lesson and with only 6 in the class in a nice indoor school she is able to gain the confidence and knowledge needed to ride properly. However, over confidence is a bit of a problem and unfortunately, she took a tumble and ended up on the floor. She put a brave face on it got straight back up on the pony and carried on, I was so proud of her.

Lesson learnt and back next week for lesson three.

Spring has Sprung

Yep it really has arrived here in Sunny South West France! Since our arrival last April we have had chance to take in the garden in its entirety and watch what plants and bulbs we have and where they are planted.

As we have a number of fruit trees already, but some are a little long in the tooth we have decided to plant an orchard in the front garden. I have found a great plant nursery locally and had some real bargains. Since Christmas we have planted the following:

6 apple trees - 2 Bramley, James Grieves, Fuji, Braeburn, and a Juilliet (a french variety)
2 cherry trees the big black juicy variety
2 apricot
2 nectarine
2 pears
3 mulberry

We have also planted a Liquid Amber (acer type tree) a pine tree and 9 poplar to shelter one side of the garden.

The plan was to plant a row of lavender along each side of one of the driveways but as the length is over 150m the cost stopped us this year.

200 crocus bulbs have been planted in the back garden by the water feature and I am about to sew various vegetable seeds to start the vege patch, which by the way is not built yet!!

Daffodil bulbs on the cards for next year, but I think we are going to need rather alot to make any sort of impression in gardens of 5 acres!

I am by no means a Percy Thrower but am learning fast! Roses have been cut right back, trees pruned and l am about to do the first mow for this year, as long as the rain holds off this weekend.

How green fingered am I!

Birthday Party for Hubby

Its been almost a year since we moved to Tarn et Garonne and as it was my husbands birthday recently I thought it would be nice to organise a get together. I enjoy entertaining and equally enjoy the preparation so invited a number of our french friends from the farm and Auvillar and as well as some English ones.

So, last Saturday I trundled off to the local market and supermarket to get the provisions required and set to in the kitchen. Chicken Curry, chili and lasagne as well as raspberry pavlova, lemon meringue pie and a coffee and walnut cake for the celebratory bit. Candles were restricted to one as I did not want any issues with fire alarms and singed hair!

I felt in control and organised for once as I wasn't trying to cook too many things at once, which in a kitchen with little worktop space is not the easiest thing to do. Unbelievably, I finished and had washed up with half an hour to spare before guests arrived. I grabbed the chance to get changed and put some slap on! First guests arrived on the dot of 7pm and there was a steady trickle of arrivals until 8pm. Dinner was served, happy birthday sung in two languages and a convivial evening was had by all.

Roll on the summer when I can do it all over again outside by the pool and do a BBQ, I will find any excuse for a knees up!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Horse riding in South West France

Well, I think I have just died and gone to heaven!

After the trauma of giving my lovely horse away before moving to France, due to the fact that he suffered from a photophobic headshaking condition and it would have been cruel to move him to France , I had been suffering from withdrawal symptons and needed a horse fix!

Initially, I enjoyed the fact that after 16 years of tirelessly mucking out and feeding in all weathers I didnt have to think about that any more. However, going to see a new friend I had made recently, who concidentally had two lovely horses and after visisting riding stables with Abigail last weekend and I felt the need to be amongst them again.

There is something so theraputic about being with horses and when I am with them, even just grooming, I am in another place!

Yesterday, I was asked to go and ride............I frantically rummaged through the many boxes still unpacked after the move to find my jodphurs, riding boots and hat and had a huge feeling of excitement wash over me as I found each item, how sad am I!

I arrived to tack up at 2.15pm and the sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky and the horses looked stunning. Both horses are dressage horses, beautifully schooled and between 15-16hh. My friend and I found the mounting block and set off for a wonder around the Tarn et Garonne countryside. How good it felt to be back in the saddle, walking round the peaceful country lanes and having a good old chat. We were out for about an hour and didn't see a car for the whole ride. So different to the UK.

On returning to the stables we untacked, washed the horses down and gave them an apple each!!

I said my good byes, to my friend and the horses and am eagerly waiting for the next opportunity to partake in my passion!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Toulouse sausage!

An early start was on the cards and after I had taken Abigail to catch the school bus, I hopped in the car and drove the 2km to the local farm to help my friends with the perparation of a pig purchased from the local butcher into sausages and pate.

On arrival work was already well underway. The kitchen was a hive of activity and the sheep intestine was being rinsed and soaked in eau de vie and lemon slices to neutralise the natural aromas. The meat was being prepared into mincing sized pieces to go through the industrial machine and the wild boar was being de-boned.

The first thing that struck me was that the pork being used was prime cuts including the loin and the only things added to the mixture was herbs and spices and deffinitely no bread.

I minced 25kg of pork into a large pot and 5kg of Wild boar in another pot for sausages and rabbit in a third with some pork and some liver that was minced finer for the pate.

The sausage meat was placed a handful at a time through another mincer and pushed through a small tube into the sausage skin that had been tied at one end with string. I was told in order to make the best sausage and not to split the skin, 1kg of mince should be used to 1m of skin.

Toulouse sausage is traditionally produced as a length rather than individual sausages. Some of the sausages were prepared to be used from fresh or frozen and others we prepared to dry over the next few weeks.

The different pate meats were prepared by adding eggs, salt, pepper, spices and milk and mixed together and placed in the pots for cooking.

The skin was stripped of its fat which was used for frittons and the skin itself was rolled and tied in to small bundles to be used in casseroles for flavouring.

I decided that it would be a good idea to introduce Pork Scratchings into the equasion and took home a large slice of skin to roast in a hot oven with salt and pepper. The result was well received and divided between all the helpers as a snack after lunch.

Everything was finished, and tidied away in the make shift meat factory/garage with the sausages to be dried hung on rails in the garage by 4pm and I was treated to a lovely slice of home made cake and a large glass of wine, perfect! Happy days in France.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Busy weekend without husband!

This week I have been revelling in the fact I have been husband free!!! I know it sounds terrible, but when you live and work with someone 24/7 it does you good to be on your own on occasions!

My husband drove to the UK on Monday last week on his first trip back since moving here to get some much needed provisions and to see our eldest daughter to make some university visits with her, whilst I held the fort here in France with Abigail, our youngest and the dogs.

All things considered, I managed to do lots of the things I have been meaning to do for weeks inlcuding catching up on three weeks of ironing, as I too had been back to the UK for work twice in January. The only really testing time was was each evening between 4.30pm and 8pm when Abigail came home from school and everything needed doing at once. Dogs feeding and walking, cooking a meal, homework and bathtime etc...

Over the weekend after spending most of Saturday doing housework, Abigail and I went out for the day on Sunday.

We started first at the childrens book fayre held at the Events Hall in Valence d'Agen, where there was a large selection of stall holders all selling books. The best bit, which made the event special was that 6 illustrators were in attendance and all had illustrated a number of the books on sale. They had the children captivated and one artist even quizzed the children individually and created a personal caricature for each to take home.

Lunch at a pizza restaurant was followed by an open afternoon at the local riding stables where free rides were being given to promote the new ownership at the stables. I must say this part of the day raised the biggest smiles, unsurprisingly!

Although the fog didn't clear all day and it was cold that seemed not to matter to anyone, we retired early to bed happy and anticipating the return of Nick with goodies from the UK!

A list of local events has just been published in the parish magazine for Auvillar (which I have uploaded to the "things to do" page on our website so we have lots more interesting weekends on the cards for the coming months.