Catholic · Christmas · Holidays · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Our First Christmas Chez Nous

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My parents moved here over a decade ago, so this wasn’t our first Christmas in France. It was, of course, the first Christmas we’ve spent in our own home in France. What a blessing we got to move in before Christmas; even if the move itself was taxing.

The night before Christmas Eve La Belle Fille and I were in the nearby town of Coutances with its imposing cathedral. La Jolie Fille was at home with Le Marie as she’d been poorly with a tummy bug, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for my eldest to get out of the house and meet with her relatives who’d come to see my folks.

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As we drove into town and saw all the Christmas lights I couldn’t help but be struck by last year’s visit on a similar day. The town’s beauty had impacted upon me then too and I had been filled with excitement at the prospect of finally moving to France this year. Now living here that visit seemed eons ago, and our life in France the norm. It’s funny how quickly I’ve become accustomed to the idea of this being our home.

This, however, was the quiet before the storm. When La Belle and I arrived home the whole family has supper together. I remarked to Le Marie that my stomach had started to feel a bit funny. Then by the early hours of Christmas Eve it was obvious I had come down with the bug too. I had to spend nearly the whole day in bed and drank water all day, opting for a crust of bread in the early evening like a Dickensian period drama extra.

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The worst thing was our plans were going to be affected. You see, some weeks earlier I had taken to Le Bon Coin to find a puppy to purchase for the little ones as their main Christmas gift. I had found a Tebetin Spaniel, coincidently the same breed of dog my family had had when we were children. I’d arranged for the owners to keep it until Christmas Eve, when I’d take it to my parents to look after until Christmas morning.I had been due to travel to the vendors home to collect it, but Le Marie had to go in my place.

On Christmas Day the children slept in late, as did I. They were still asleep at 9 when my husband came in, worried they weren’t awake yet. Perhaps we hadn’t made Christmas exciting enough for them? I think you can figure out my response.

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Inevitably I didn’t go to mass, which I still feel guilty for, as we did go to my folks. I took tablets to keep the virus at bay, but felt worn out throughout the day. But you can’t exactly cancel Christmas plans with two little ones can you?

We got to my parents with plans of how we were going to introduce the kids to their new puppy. Code words were exchanged between the folks and us about hiding it just prior to our arrival. We got in the house and, as the kids settled in, I snuck off to get it. We presented the puppy and waited for the reaction….. We got, what can only be described as really, a “Meh”.

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So Christmas Day was spent with little indulgence in the land of the gourmet, my ignoring the infant Jesus at the mass and a completely luck lustre response to what is meant to be the gold standard Christmas present.  Ah well. It just goes to show; you can move country, but your life won’t suddenly be perfect. Your problems come with you. Or, as Ecclesiastes says….

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

Well, part from the God-child lying in the major of course. You know, the one I’ve ignored. Catholic guilt anyone?

Bastille Day · French Culture · Holidays · Uncategorized

20 Bastille Day Facts

imageI think it’s really important, if we’re going to integrate well, to learn something of our new home. So today’s festivities had me swotting up on a little French history. Hope you find something interesting amongst my 20 facts.

  1. Bastille Day has been celebrated since 1790 and became a French National Holiday in 1880. This may seem odd, considering the bloody history that Bastille Day itself sparked, but what is being celebrated is the birth of the Republic (formed in 1792) and the associated concepts of Libert, Equality and Fraternity.
  2. The Bastille itself was built in the 14th Century as a fortress to defen Eastern Paris from an English attack during the 100 years war. However , it was captured by the forces of Henry ‘Band of Brothers’ V, and used as a prison. Following this period it was of course returned to the French.
  3. The Bastille was forced on 14th July , 1789. It contained only seven elderly prisoners; these included four forgers, two ‘lunatics’ and one ‘deviant’ aristocrat.
  4. The aristocrat was not, as one might suppose, the Marquis de Sade. He had been transferred to an insane asylum just prior to he Bastille’s storming. There was high tension due to food shortages in all of France and the military governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, feared that it would be a target for the and had requested reinforcements. The Marquis de Sade had attempted to incite a crowd outside his window in response to this political tension by yelling: “They are massacring the prisoners; you must come and free them.” Hence he had to go!
  5. The prison also did not contain Voltaire, who had previously been an inmate.
  6. Ninety-eight attackers and one defender died in the fighting – the Bastille’s governor, Bernard-René de Launay, was killed and his head displayed around Paris on a spike.
  7. By the summer of 1789 France, ruled by King Louis XVI with his queen Marie Antionette, suffered severe food shortages. In June, the Third Estate, which represented commoners and the lower clergy, declared itself the National Assembly and called for the drafting of a constitution. Louis legalized the National Assembly, but then surrounded Paris with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a popular minister of state who had supported reforms.
  8. Mobs began rioting in Paris at the instigation of revolutionary leaders.
  9. De Launay had received a company of Swiss mercenary soldiers on July 7 in response to his request and on July 12 250 barrels of gunpowder were transferred to the Bastille from the Paris Arsenal, which was more vulnerable to attack. De Launay raised its two drawbridges with his men inside the Bastille.
  10. On July 13, mobs stormed the Paris Arsenal and another armory and acquired thousands of muskets.
  11. At dawn on July 14, a great crowd armed with muskets, swords, and various makeshift weapons began to gather around the Bastille.De Launay, having received one delegation of revolutionary leaders, refused to surrender the fortress and its munitions to a second. He promised them he would not open fire on the crowd and showed them that his cannons were not loaded. Instead of calming them a group of men, confident of no retaliation, climbed over the outer wall of the courtyard and lowered drawbridge.
  12. Three hundred revolutionaries rushed in. When the mob outside began trying to lower the second drawbridge, Launay ordered his men to open fire. One hundred rioters were killed or wounded.
  13. However, more and more Parisians were converging on the Bastille. Around 3 p.m., even a company of deserters from the French joined them. The soldiers dragged five cannons into the courtyard and aimed them at the Bastille. Launay surrendered; he and and his men were taken into custody. The gunpowder and cannons were seized, the seven prisoners of the Bastille were freed and De Launey met his fate.
  14. On hearing of the incident the King asked “Is it a revolt?” He was told “No sire, it’s a revolution.”
  15.  Joined by four-fifths of the French army and with the weaponry they needed the revolutionaries seized control of Paris and then the French countryside, forcing King Louis XVI to accept a constitutional government.
  16. In 1792, the monarchy was abolished and ‘The Reign of Terror’ ensued in which many aristocrats were executed. Louis and his wife Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine for treason in 1793.
  17. Bastille Day is celebrated in Paris with a military parade on the Champs Elysees imagecalled the Bastille Day Military Parade. It ends at the Arc de Triomphe, as this is the monument that honors those who died while fighting for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
  18. Most municipalities in France celebrate Bastille Day beginning with a Mayoral speech. This is often followed by a war memorial wreath-laying as well as fireworks, dances, music and food.
  19. In 2004 British servicemen celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale by taking part in the National Bastille Day Parade in Paris for the first time and some embers have been sent to represent Britain each year.
  20. The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was penned by army engineer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French revolutionary wars in 1792. It reflects the period in history and, like everything, sounds so much prettier in French. To give you a taste of it the first verse and chorus can be translated as;

Let’s go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!

Refrain

Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your batallions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!

 

 

 

Father's Day · Holidays · Recipes · Sweet Saturday

Sweet Saturday; Coconut Ice

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A rather feminine looking Fathers Day gift, but Le Marie loves coconut ice and with two little girls wanting to declare their love it’s gone a bit girly! Père has already had a sneaky taste of the girls ‘secret’ and approves. If you want to make some here’s the recipe.I filled up two large Kindle jars so we can give some to Granddad London too; so you may want to half the ingredients.

Method and Ingredients

2 x 397g can condensed milk
600g desiccated coconut
450g icing sugar
Pink or red food colouring

  1. You will need a 23cm x 20cm x 4cm deep cake tin. Line the tin with baking paper so it covers the base and sides.
  2. Pour the condensed milk into a big bowl. Add the coconut, icing sugar and mix really well.
  3. Spoon half of the mixture into the square cake tin, then flatten it by pressing with damp fingers.
  4. Add a few drops of pink or red food colouring to the mixture left in the bowl and mix evenly. Spoon the coloured mixture over the top of the white layer and use damp fingers to smooth the top.
  5. Loosely cover and put in a cool place to start to set. With a pizza cutter or knife cut squares into the paper (it’s easier to do at this stage before it’s completely dry) and then dry overnight. In the morning us the baking paper to lift the coconut ice from the tin and separate the pieces out. Store in an airtight tin – or a fabulous, preschooler decorated Kilner jar – and store in a cool place for up to 3 weeks.
Father's Day · Holidays · Teaching French To Children

Les Fêtes des Pères; French Father’s Day Card And Songs

As its Father’s Day this Sunday I’m busy teaching this to my little girl to sing to her daddy today and we’ve used the lyrics in her Father’s Day card. I thought I’d include some links and lyrics in case, if you have young children, you’d like to do the same.

imagePetit Papa

Petit Papa, c’est aujourd’hui ta fête,
Maman m’a dit que tu n’étais pas là.
J’avais des fleurs pour couronner ta tête
Et un bouquet pour mettre sur ton cœur.
Petit Papa, petit Papa!

Little Daddy, today is your day
Mommy told me you weren’t here.
I had flowers to crown your head
And a bunch to put on your heart.
Little Daddy, little Daddy!

Obviously in this traditional French Fathers’ Day song daddy is out working!

Alternatively there’s this one from Monde des Petits.

C’est Toi Mon Papa

C’est toi mon papa adoré ! image
C’est toi qui me fais rêver !
C’est toi qui fais mon bonheur,
Je t’aime de tout mon cœur.

Qui m’a appris les additions ?
Papa plus moi equals Plein de bisous !
Qui m’a appris les multiplications ?
Papa fois moi equals Plus de bisous !

Bon… maintenant tu connais mon secret !
Tu sais, si je sais faire du vélo,
ou si je sais nager sur le dos,
C’est grâce à quelqu’un d’important pour moi !

MON PAPA ! 

Qui m’a donc appris le français ? image
Papa, je t’aime, papa, bisous, bisous !
Et qui m’a donc appris l’anglais ?
I love you daddy, I love you ! Kiss ! Kiss !

You are my loved daddy!
It’s you who makes me dream !
It’s you who makes me happy ,
I love you with all my heart.

Who taught me the additions ?
Papa plus Me equals Lots of kisses!
Who taught me the multiplications ?
Papa times me equals more kisses!

Well … now you know my secret! image
You know, if I know cycling,
or if I swim on my back,
It is thanks to someone important to me!

MY DADDY!

Who taught me French?
Daddy, I love you , daddy, kiss, kiss!
And I therefore learned English ?
I love you daddy , I love you ! Kiss ! Kiss !

 

 

Easter · Holidays · Recipes · Sweet Saturday

Sweet Saturday; Raspberry and Chocolate Cake

 

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This is a delicious recipe any time of the year but it’s especially wonderful at Easter covered in golden eggs. It’s a more sophisticated, dark chocolate so may not be to the taste of all little ones – which can be a bonus. Fair’s fair – you get frowned on for joining in the Easter egg hunts!

Ingredients and Method

For the cake;

50g sifted cocoa powder, 6 tablespoons of boiling water, 3 large eggs, 50ml of milk, 175g self-raising flour, 1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder, 175g dark muscavado sugar, 100g room temperature butter, 100g good quality dark chocolate, 150g fresh raspberries.

For the icing;

3 tablespoons of red currant jelly, 150g fresh raspberries, 200g good quality dark chocolate, 100g milk chocolate and 300ml double cream.

To redecorate;

imageMini eggs and some lustre glaze in bronze and gold – I used the one by Mich Turner for Silverspoon.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two sandwich tins.
  2. Blend the cocoa powder with the water until it forms a smooth paste in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk, flour, baking powder and sugar and mix together to make a smooth batter.
  3. Break the chocolate in another bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water with the butter. Allow to cool slightly then add this to the mixture and stir in.
  4. Fold in the raspberries and divide the mixture between the two tins. Place in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until the sides are coming away from the tin and you can insert a skewer into it and it comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool for about ten minutes in the tins then remove carefully onto wire racks to cool completely.
  6. Whilst the cake is cooling take the chocolate for the icing and melt in a bowl in the same way as before, but this time add the cream rather than the butter, mixing in well. Once finished allow it to cool and the place it into the fridge so that it becomes thick.
  7. When the fudge topping is almost ready and the cakes are completely cool take the red currant jelly and warm it briefly in the microwave, 10-20 seconds should do it. Spread just enough jelly on the base of one cake and the top of the other; you may not necessarily use all the mixture.
  8. On the cake with the red currant jelly on it’s base layer the raspberries, spacing them out.
  9. When the fudge icing is almost set smooth one third of the icing over the raspberry covered base. imageThen sandwich the other cake on top. Use the remainder of the fudge mixture to cover the top and sides of the cake – work quickly to keep the mixture cold enough to maintain it’s shape.
  10. To decorate paint the eggs with either a gold or bronze lustre base, then use the alternative to give a speckled effect, place the eggs in a ‘nest’ formation on the top of the cake using some left over fudge to stick one on top of some others.

This is is a decadent cake which I recommend you enjoy without guilt – after all the fresh raspberries count towards your five a day!

Pieced Pastimes

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Easter · Holidays · Recipes · Sweet Saturday

Sweet Saturday; Chocolate Ganache Tart

The first in a mini series of suggested desserts for your Easter Sunday – maybe there’s something in these next few posts that will inspire your baking for the holiday. Sorry if you’ve given up chocolate, cakes etc for lent – turn away from tempting images now!😉

This is an image from when we were in France for the festivities and the scene outside my parents window looked something like this…

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Despite France being a secular country it has only one bank holiday, all other of the national holidays revolve around saints days. So in France it is a national holiday for Easter Monday.

If you’re wanting to do some baking what better thing to make than this classic french recipe? With my version I add a thick layer of melted chocolate to seal the ganache underneath.

Ingredients and Method

For the pastry; 

250g plain flour, 125g cold butter, 3 egg yolks and 125g caster sugar.

For the ganache;

400ml double cream, a few drops of vanilla extract, 100g caster sugar, 400g dark chocolate, 50g butter.

For the topping;

200g dark chocolate

Method

  1. Place the flour and butter in a large bowl and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the eggs and sugar and mix together until it forms a dough. Cover the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/ Gas Mark 6.
  4. When the dough is chilled roll it out on a well floured work surface until it can cover a 25cm/10 inch fluted pie tin. Trim the edges, cover the bottom with baking paper and weigh it down with baking beans.
  5. Bake for fifteen minutes and then remove the beans and paper, baking for a further five minutes until the pastry case is a light brown.
  6. Place the cream, caster sugar and vanilla into a pan and slowly bring it to the boil.
  7. In a separate bowl break the chocolate in pieces and melt over a pan of hot water.
  8. Once the chocolate has cooled pour the cream mixture into the bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour this into the tart base and smooth over with the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  9. Once the tart is cool place in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  10. Then break up the chocolate for the topping and melt as before. Pour this melted chocolate over the tart and again return to the fridge to set.

If you want to you can make this cream and raspberry accompaniment to go with it which can be layered in a jar and looks wonderful if giving the tart as a gift (as the one picture was) or placed on the table prior to serving.

Cream and Raspberry Accompaniment image

Defrost 200g frozen raspberries and set aside – frozen are best as they go slightly mushy once defrosted which is good for this recipe. Take 300ml of cream and whisk by hand or in a food processor until stiff peaks are formed adding a tablespoon of caster sugar a little at a time as you do so. Once completed take your clear jug or jar which the accompaniment will be given in and add a tablespoon of cream and then a layer of the frozen raspberries and continue to do so until all the cream and raspberries are used – don’t mix the layers up!

the tart with it’s crisp shell breaking into the gooier chocolate underneath is delicious served with the slightly tart cream mixture. Divine!

If you try the recipe I’d love to hear what you think.

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Holidays · Recipes · Sweet Saturday · Uncategorized · valentines day

Sweet Saturday; Strawberry And Praline Valentine’s Heart

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These are a super tasty treat that you can give your special someone for Valentines Day.

Ingredients and Method

100g praline, 150g butter, 60g icing sugar, 60g cake flour and 150g plain flour, 300ml whipped double cream and de-husked and halved strawberries, 1 1/2 cups of sifted icing sugar, 3 egg whites, 1 teaspoon of glycerine, pink food colouring and pink crystals to decorate.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan.
  2. Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Mix in the two types of flour and praline until it forms a stiff dough.
  3. On some greaseproof paper roll out half of the mixture until it’s about 1/2 an inch thick, then cut out heart shapes and place them onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Do the same with the other half of the mixture.
  4. Bake in the oven for 10-13 minutes, keeping an eye on them, and remove when a light, golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a write rack to cool completely.
  5. When ready to ice add the egg whites to a bowl and whisk. Then add the icing sugar a tablespoon at a time beating well after each addition. When the desired consistency for piping is reached add the glycerine and beat well to maintain this consistency.
  6. On half the hearts pipe a heart outline and fill in with a star shaped piping head, sprinkle the pink crystals on top.
  7. On the remaining halves used two spoons to put the mixture onto the biscuits – if you can keep the spoon shape and lay it on in a ‘V’ it will mirror the heart – then add two strawberry halves also in a ‘V’ shape.
  8. Place the decorated biscuits on top to form a sandwich.
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