Recipes · Sweet Saturday

Sweet Saturday; Sticky Gingerbread

As our weather has suddenly gone cold again I thought I’d share this recipe I’ve cooked previously (lent means no new cakes at the moment – offering it up for the holy souls). This is so yummy; it’s worth having the weather frosty just to justify making it ☺️.

Ingredients and Method

225g each of butter, light muscavado sugar, black treacle, golden syrup, self raising flour, self raising image
wholemeal flour (add 3 teaspoons of baking powder to ordinary wholemeal flour if you don’t have any), 4 level teaspoons of ground ginger, 2 eggs and 300ml of milk.

  1. Preheat oven to 160C/140C Fan/Gas3. Grease and line a deep pan measuring 30×23 cm, 12x9inches.
  2. Heat the butter, sugar, treacle and golden syrup in a pan gently til dissolved and allow to cool.
  3. Add the two types of flour and ground ginger to a large mixing bowl and stir together. Break the eggs into a separate bowl and add the milk then beat lightly. Add the egg mixture and syrup mixture to the flour bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Once mixed pour the ingredients into your prepared tin and level off by tilting the tin. Bake for 50 minutes until well risen, golden and springy to the touch.
  5. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cold cut into squares of the desired size.

Worthy of the famous five – scrummy!

French Learning Challenge · Learning French

French Conversation Challenge; Three Days In

As I said at the end of my last post on this subject my broken tv has meant that I’ve had to think laterally to develop my weakest area; listening in French. These are the things that I’ve been doing the last three days though.

Michel Thomas

I’ve reviewed him here, here and here so you’ll already know that I’m a fan of the Thomas. However this final CD is written and presented by someone else. I’ve only briefly touched on how this has been going as I’m going to review this course, the vocabulary one, once I’ve finished. However I’ve got to say that it’s so dense that I’m finding it hard to work with. In fact areas of it have been so difficult that I think it’s over exposed me – you know what it’s like when you study too long or too hard? Brain freeze? Well unfortunately this is what has happened with this course.

My time off the challenge due to various circumstances has enabled me to come back to the course a bit brighter, refreshed and with a new technique to approach it. One of the difficulties with the course is that when you get to an intermediate level of French like this it’s really difficult to be confident with what you’re learning with audio alone; you need the visual. Unfortunateley this is the one course where the accompanying booklet is not thorough so you don’t have the ability to double check you understand what they’re saying.

As a result I’ve actually resorted to, in effect, writing my own accompanying booklet to help me develop my understanding. This is actually a good thing because I’m processing the topic when writing the French too. I’ll share the pdf I’m making when I’ve finished the review.

Reading and Speaking Out Loud

I’m not only reading the Agatha Christie I have in French, but I’m reading French to my little girl too. She already knows how to read English quite well, so I’m starting to introduce her to the French using a ‘see and say’ technique.

This works for me in that I’m having to say the words out loud so I’m practising prononciation. As I’m reading the same book each time it’s getting easier and easier to say.

I’ve also been praying in French. This is adding to my prononciation, as I say the prayers out loud, and developing my knowledge of grammar as prayers tend to use future and past tense a lot.

Listening

There are two free ways I’ve found to develop my listening skills. The first you can access in either an app or on the web here; it’s called news in slow. It’s news, said slowly, in French. There, that can’t be clearer can it?☺️

The next is my secret, embarrassing way of learning French. I’ve managed to find Charmed in French for free on the net. I used to love Charmed; although it has to be said a lot of my love was for the house and Cole. I was in my twenties!

Anyway I’ve happily been trying to follow what’s being said in French without subtitles – which is hard anyway, but especially difficult with Charmed as

  1. the house distracts you (ooh, lovely lamp – what did she just say)
  2. the fench dubbed voices sound really deep to my ears and all the actrices sound similar and
  3. they talk about demons and, even being the raving catholic that I am, I’m not up on my magical French.

But I can gather enough of what they’re saying to keep me interested and that and the house keeps me going.

Am I too old to want to live in the Charmed house? Here, see for yourself…

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Uncategorized

Upcycling a Linen Cupboard

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I thought I’d share this old upcycle project here.

The modern shabby chic fashion is a new take on the timeless French Provincial style so, obviously, I love it. I have lots of linen and, not having a beautiful armoire to put it in, I decided to convert this dark wardrobe into a linen cupboard instead. I decided that just adding additional shelving wouldn’t do as the utility room where it was to sit was too dark and therefore anything being housed there needed to be bright and light. Apart from it’s colour I love the piece of furniture itself as it has wonderful detailing which has been revealed even more by the paint.

The cupboard before.
The cupboard before.

I decided to go ahead and use Annie Sloan‘s chalk paint as it has little preparation necessary and, as the piece is very old and I may one day regret what I’ve done, it means it can be removed with minimum effort and damage also. The first thing to do was put on my most winsome smile and ask Le Marie to take off the internal bar and add additional shelves. I then painted the exterior and interior in the shade Duck Egg Blue which is a charming blue grey colour. As it’s so thick I didn’t need to add another layer externally because I then added a layer of the same ranges  Old Linen over the top. However I did add an extra layer of the Duck Egg Blue internally. When I wasimage adding the Old Linen, although careful, I wasn’t exact as I knew I was going to distress the finish so that the blue would peep through. Chalk paint is very quick to dry so all these layers weren’t time consuming. Once completely dry I took the finest sand paper available and lightly went over all the surface as chalk paint can be quite bumpy in texture when applied and lightly sanding it removes this. I then chose areas of detail and areas that would naturally wear more, like door edges, for additional sanding to remove the off white shade and allow the blue to come through. With this done I took Annie Sloan’s furniture wax and a lint free cloth and applied it in a circular motion a small area at a time before buffing to a shine with an additional lint free cloth. This seals the paint and gives it a satin-like shine. I love my new linen cupboard and, with jasmine scented paper on the shelves, it holds all my linen in neat piles. Wonderful! image

French Learning Challenge · Learning French · Uncategorized

French Conversation Challenge; Reset

I’m having to reset my challenge. As my husband was away whilst I was doing it I imagethought it would have been an ideal opportunity to learn the language prior to my first meet-up. But I hadn’t counted on;

  • my baby teething and getting a cold at the same time as my four year old getting a cold. Cue lots of getting up in the middle of the night to the point that when they didn’t wake up I still did.
  • My hubby returning and then him keeping me awake.
  • Half term, so both my little ones were alone all the time and, as hubby works from home and needs quiet, constant trips to very loud indoor play centres 😱.

In in the end I was just too tired to think, let alone in French.

I couldn’t even go to the meet up as hubby was far too jet lagged to go or even look after the girls. I knew the idea of breaking free from the house was too good to be true 😉.

Anyway, after panicking over the referendum and coming up with the Irish Solution I’ve had to think how to get back on the horse as it were. So today I’ve booked some time with a French teacher I know who’s going to to give me some French conversation practise. It’s £25 an hour and we’re only going to do it every other week.

This means that I now have until next Thursday to practise. The only trouble is I’m going to find it difficult with my listening skills as our to just broke – ahhhhh!

I’ll keep you updated 🙂.

Film Review · review

Film Review; Elle L’Adore⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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I watched this as part of my French Learning Challenge and so thought I’d review it here.

The film is from 2014 and is currently streaming as part of Amazon Prime. The synopsis used to advertise it states;

Muriel Bayen, a divorced beautician and mother of two, loves to tell stories. She is a huge fan of this singer Vincent Lacroix, in fact she is a dedicated fan. One day Vincent knocks on her door and asks for her help.

Having read this I was expecting a light, romantic comedy. Perhaps my comprehension skills are very poor (I didn’t read any film category), but I really wasn’t expecting the film that was delivered. Nevertheless, I wasn’t disappointed as I was drawn into this suspenseful thriller.

As the film begins you are introduced to the two lead characters; veteran superstar chanteur, Vincent Lacroix (played by Laurent Lafitte) and Muriel, his obsessed fan (played by Sandrine Kiberlain).

When we first meet Muriel she is telling her two children a story of an encounter she had recently had in which she’d told a grotesque lie. In being mistaken for another person on the Metro she allows the encounter to continue and, when asked about a ‘mutual friend’ says that they’ve died. She says she doesn’t know why she told such a lie and acknowledges the recipients shock and grief at her statement.

As the film continues it is obvious that Muriel frequently engages in telling melodramatic lies of this kind. Her friends are seen to smile knowingly at each other as they trip from her tongue. Yet she is seen as likeable enough to have friendships and loving family ties. Her fandom, although excessive even for a young, teenage girl and therefore unusual for her age group is not revealed as malevolent even if it is a little obsessive. Her life is depicted in many ways as ordinary.

Yet the meeting between her and her children in which she devolves this needless and cruel lie points to something being ‘off’ with this woman. Particularly as Muriel walks away from her children calm and unemotional – you initially think that this is a normal weekend visit as she is so unfazed by their parting as nothing indicates that anything substantial is happening here. However it is later revealed to be their final meeting before they go to live with their father, and it is their decision to do this. All these factors begin to develop the character as in some way ‘damaged’.

In contrast Vincent is introduced as someone charming. When we first see him he is shopping in a normal market and is heard talking to his partner on the telephone, who is evidently upset and stressed about something. His willingness to do such everyday activities without the ego of his star status and his humour in handling the crises automatically warms you to him.image

Later we are introduced to Vincent’s friends and girlfriend, Julie. He is evidently devoted to her as we know this is the Julie whom he has written songs for. In contrast to his charm and lack of ego Julie is immediately encountered in a sullen mood, creating an uncomfortable situation for Vincent and his guests. Her behaviour forces the others to leave and after they do so Vincent approaches Julie in order to smooth any ruffled feathers.

Julie is not willing to be placated though and she becomes physically aggressive towards Vincent, attacking and hitting him. Vincent is seen defending himself by pushing her away from him, she falls to the floor and against a bookcase. In jolting this one of Vincent’s awards falls to the floor and strikes her on the head killing her.

It is clear that Vincent is completely innocent in all of this and there is no suggestion of any contribution he has made to her death. It is purely an accident. He is seen to grieve; lying next to her lifeless body, distraught by her loss.

However, out of fear one assumes, Vincent collects himself and starts to take steps to cover up Julie’s death. In doing so he looks for help and turns to his obsessive fan Muriel.

At this point you may wish to stop reading if you want to see the film and not have the plot spoilt. 

Vincent’s asks Muriel to do something for him. He’s secretive about what the ‘it’ is and this is the first time we see the lines blurred between who is the sympathetic victim. Muriel, adoring Vincent as the title suggests, can be viewed as almost childlike in her devotion. Vincent starts to be seen as manipulative and abusive taking advantage of her faith in him.

The film continues for a while with Vincent’s voiceover explaining what he wants Muriel to do. This involves her driving her car over a boarder to his sister’s home, giving his sister a letter which instructs her to take Julie’s body to her husband’s pet crematory and disposing of it, all without Muriel’s knowledge.

The voiceover is accompanied by footage of Muriel driving towards the border and stopping at the checkpoint where inspections of vehicles are being made, obviously hesitant to go across.

It’s later revealed that Murial didn’t cross the border, but discovering the body of Julie she buries it herself. When Vincent, bizarrely, aggressively confronts her with her failure to stick to his plan your identification of who is the victim and who is the manipulator, and therefore with whom your sympathy lies, is again challenged.

Vincent, in his desperation to protect himself, abuses her trust and implicates her further in the crime, but evidently feels anguish over the death of Julie and is seen gradually disintegrating to the point that overnight he develops a clump of grey hair.

Murial, in her devotion, is beguiled by him into not only doing his bidding, but is innocently unaware of his machinations behind her back. However she appears apparently unmoved by the death of the woman, apparently feeling no guilt for her involvement in covering up her death. She is solely focused on aiding her hero in evading responsibility in her death.

As the police close their net on Murial she is initially so frightened by the prospect of being prosecuted that she engages the services of a close friend who is also a lawyer. She starts to recount the emergence of Vincent on her doorstep to the friend who, knowing Murial’s fantasist nature, becomes frustrated. He explains that she must tell the truth and forget her make believe world. Murial finds herself in the position of lying for her life, but this time creating a story of everyday normality to hide the fantastic rather than the other way around.

imageAt times the interrogation is intense and Sandrine Kiberlain’s portrayal of the sociopathic Murial is absorbing. Despite knowing her involvement and her apparent lack of an emotional response to the death of Julie you are nevertheless committed to her wellbeing and on tenterhooks at the prospect of being made the scapegoat of this ‘murder’. Her ability to construct lies working towards her advantage despite the intolerable pressure she is put under.

As the story reaches its peak an unsatisying sub-plot involving the investigating officers relationship leads to the case, and Murial and Vincent, being abandoned as the chief culprits. Vincent is seen haggard and unable to move on from the incident; grieving for the death of Julie, his conscience unable to recover from his treatment of Murial.

Murial is seen to be able to move on with her life without any of these hang-ups; the only ‘negative’ fallout for her is that her devotion to Vincent is over. She removes her memorobilia, paints over the Murial to him on her wall. Even an encounter with him, planned by Vincent, is seen to no longer resonate with her. The film ends with Vincent  seemingly to take on the role of the obsessive with Murial as his focus.

This is brilliantly acted by both leads and the characters they inhabit are complex, the ending morally ambiguous. For days afterwards I was left wondering with whom my sympathy lay. This is due to the excellent script with its plot-twists creating a tense, unsettling film. It would not have worked as well if you were in any doubt of Vincent’s guilt as his innocence and obvious distress counterbalance his abuses of Murial. In contrast her lack of emotion, apart from her devotion to him, hidden by her apparent pleasant nature manages to imbed in you a sense of her innocence in the proceedings.

A great, gripping film. The only reason it has four stars and not five is the contrived ending revolving around the dysfunctional relationship of the investigating officer.

Upcycled Furniture

Drinks Cabinet Upcycle

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I thought I’d share another old upcycle with you.

It’s customary in France to invite your neighbour round for an aperitif prior to dinner. It’s good to be aware of this custom as it is just that, a pre-dinner cocktail, and not an invitation to dinner. This can catch Les Anglais out as we tend to invite people for dinner or for a drinks party, but not for a brief drink. When my parents first moved to France my mother found herself embarrassingly in the situation of not realising that this was the custom and slowly coming to the realisation that she was doing something wrong when she started to notice the furtive glances at wrist watches and shuffling in seats. A guideline to not outstay your welcome is one to one and a half hours. imageIt’s worth remembering too that you do not need to turn up to your hosts home with anything such as a bottle of wine, however if you do feel naked going to someone’s house with nothing in hand you can always take some home made produce, vegetables grown in the gardens flowers straight from your garden. These don’t necessarily have to be presented in special packaging either – as we may do back home as a sort of polish to a homemade gift (I wonder if we do that because we’ve lost the value of making things ourselves?). On another occasion my mother had brought a bottle of wine to her new neighbours as a. Christmas gift and was rather surprised to find, having opened the bottle, their gentleman neighbour went to his wine cellar with a hastily wrapped bottle in the paper shed just give him! Their masters of ‘waste not want not’ the. French.

How to Upcycle A Drinks Cabinet

In anticipation of inviting my neighbours round I wanted an appropriate cocktail cabinet which I could store all my spirits in. I found this old 1930s drinks cabinet and decided to upcycle it to suit my decor. Here is how it’s done.

  1. The first thing I did was carefully remove the back of the cabinet which had been covered in fabric that had aged badly. This allowed easy access to the interior of the cabinet for painting.
  2. Using Autentico chalk paint in Antique Pink I painted two coats straight onto the veneered parts of the cabinet. You don’t need any other prep with chalk paint, just make sure it’s clean and dry. Also this type of paint is very quick drying and on a hot day it can be dry within 20 minutes, giving you just enough time for a cup of tea or café in between coats.
  3. As well as benefiting from no preparation when using chalk paint there is the additional benefit when imageapplying it tp objects with a a lot of glass and thin strips of wood such as this cabinet and that is that the paint’s texture is as it states, chalky. Therefore you don’t need to take too much care being precise as it’s very easy to scrape off any excess with a glass scrape quickly and easily; it just falls away like powdered chalk.
  4. To seal the paint I applied two coats of Annie Sloan wax. Just take some on a lint free cloth and apply it to an area of about 30cm circumference in a circular motion. Then take a second lint free cloth and buff it, using some elbow grease as my mum would say, to create a shine.
  5. Next lay the material you want to back your cupboard with, I chose a raspberry pink Toile de Jouy, and lay it out on a large work surface such as a dining room table. Lay the backing board over it and, using a vanishing ink seamstress pen, outline it’s shape. Then cut it out with pincer scissors to stop the edges fraying as you work.
  6. Spray the back of the fabric with fabric glue spray liberally a little at a time starting in one corner, lining it up and smoothing out any wrinkles whilst applying and then continuing to the next piece when satisfied.
  7. Next use a good quality staple gun to fix the board the cabinet and, if needed, then use upholstery nails to ensure it’s fixed well.

Voila! I’d love to hear what you think!