Bon Apetite -Choux buns and Chouquettes


For the recipé click here:

For a few moments this morning I thought I was going to have to deal with a double booking. Not the kind where you find you are booked for two different tours in two entirely different places at the same time, but one you turn up to your destination and find that another group is already there.

This morning I led an eager group of Australians to the Atelier de Sylvie, a cookery school where they were programmed to create a profusion of profiteroles. But when we arrived, we found an equally sized group already crammed into the little cooking class. For a couple of seconds I wondered how I was going to deal with it, until the head of the first group heaved a camera onto his shoulder and with a wink and a grin called:

“Action”.

It turned out that our cooking class was going to be televised and I was dammed glad that I had thought to wash my hair this morning. Five minutes later I was miked-up and ready to translate the charming Sylvie, the owner and chef of the atelier.

WP_20160717_002The morning turned into a riotous affair, doing what the french do best, (and australian TV presenters do worst apparently), cooking and tasting delicious patisserie. In fact the presenter’s choux buns were so bad that we had to take them out of the oven twice in order for the  camera to effectively film the astonished expressions on the assembled cooks, and the grimace on the face of Sylvie!

“Il est le plus mauvais client que j’avais jamais eu dans cet atelier” she exclaimed, and the camera trained back to me to capture the translation. Struggling to contain my laughter I explained that perhaps that was better left untranslated, but no-one was having any of it:

“He’s the worst client that i’ve ever had in my atelier” I explained, and once the the camera man had finished snorting, he demanded we re-run the whole sequence. The presenter bravely bore the ridicule!

As the morning drew to a close we left the atelier, each holding a box laden with choux buns and chouquettes. (some more professionally looking than others!), calling

“Bon Apetite”, to the cameras as we went!

atelier des eclairs 083

For the recipé click here, and for the method, click here!

Atelier de cuisine et patisserie – The Macaron


Yesterday, for three hours I was Julia Child!

If you have ever watched the film “Julie and Julia”, you willl have seen the signpost for Rouen about three minutes into the film. Well Julia Child continued on to Paris, but she may as well have stopped at Rouen. She had many long hours of pondering in her wonderful (and if I may say so slighly excentric) voice “but what shall I do?” before she had her eureka moment. Thereafter she threw herself into french culinary school and never looked back!  Read more

Continuing the Renovations -Attacking the Bedroom!


It occurred to me that I haven’t updated on the renovation process for a while. As with many projects, you take a huge leap forward, and then revelling in the new transformed state of things, it goes onto the back-burner, although really it isn’t finished at all. Such is the case with the master bedroom which I started a year ago and is now starting to cry for attention again. Here is the bedroom before the last owner, an elderly gentleman in his 90’s moved out.Annonce1-photo8 (1)

It’s not normal that I would seek to put my bedroom in front of those of the kids, but an unhappy chapter of events made it happen that way. Days before our moving date, on visiting the now empty house, it was immediately obvious that the house was filthy, and a quick run over with a hoover just wasn’t going to do the job. A fabulous friend of mine offered (in, I suppose, a momentary absence of sense) to help me wash the carpets with a hired machine. A back-breaking day of intense labour later, after several buckets of black water had been thrown out, the carpets were altgether a different colour, if smelling suspiciously of drying sheep!

That should have been the end of the story; only it wasn’t. By the day of arrival of all our furniture, a full week later, one carpet had stubbornly refused to dry and smelt so strongly that nothing short of leaving the door closed, and the windows wide open (it was december), night and day, protected the rest of the house from its awful stench. My bed was erected in the sitting-room, and stayed there for three months!

Then one day in march, I woke with  a spring in my step and decided that that would be the day that the carpet would be ripped up and thrown out. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the darn thing had been stuck down to the floorboards with a powerful glue.

Once the carpet was disposed of, the little old man in the ‘Bricolage’, (Do it yourself shop) recommended a glue solvant called ‘decapant’ and I set to work with a a paintbrush, spatula and the windows open as far as possible to let out the noxious fumes. A couple of days later I had finished the job, but left a few more before hiring a floor-sander (ponceuse) in case the friction of the sanding belt sparked the highly inflammable solvant residue!WP_20150217_002WP_20150217_001The sanding machine took a little getting used to, and I was thwarted early on by the fact that the sander had a miniscule cable of about half a metre, and clearly I should have an earthed extension cable (rallonge) to make the distance across the room in question to the power source. I might add that since the power supply to the house was not itself earthed, it was unsuprising that I didn’t actually have the appropriate cable, nor was I sure what good it would do, but was left to waste valuable hire time making a second journey to the bricolage.WP_20150222_001By the end of the evening, the main area of the room was transformed, and buzzing with the success of the day, heard myself eagerly agreeing with the hire company to hiring the ‘edge-sander’ to complete the job the next day when I took the drum sander back to them.

However, not all things carry on the way they are planned. Somewhere around 3am I woke with a pounding headache, and as the hours marched their way towards dawn, it occurred to me that I had succombed to the flu. Somehow I made it through the next day clinging onto a rather headstrong ‘edge-sander’, until finally, about the middle of the afternoon, I was no longer capable. The sander and I collapsed in a heap halfway across the ‘en-suite’ floor. The floor remains in the same state to this day, but thankfully I am back in one piece!

After the floor, the dismanteling of the corner cupboard, the filling of holes and the wallpapering of the walls was ease itself, although I did contend with a minor moment of anxiety and a bruise of two as my hand-sander exploded while I was at the top of the ladder smoothing down the uneven plasterwork, and I consequently went flying. I know, hand-sanders are not appropriate for plaster dust, the monsieur at the bricolage gave me quite a lecture on the subject…..after the event. My greatest find was a little ‘morceau’ of wall-paper with handpainted little birds on it. It was so pretty I wished there had been more of it to make a feature, but sadly it was so brittle that it fell apart in my hands.WP_20150128_009WP_20150128_001WP_20150222_005WP_20150128_004WP_20150222_004

Now, a few months on we have curtains, a pretty toile called ‘Charente Birds’, a little daringly in black and ‘white’. Our bed waits to be re-upholstered (whenever will I find the time!) and came from a ‘chateau sale’, my chair from the Rouen Puces (antiques fair) and upholstered by me before we moved (which was a very good idea in the circumstances considering the hefty list of things to do now we are in the house) and our wardrobe (photo to be added later) came from a wonderful organisation called Emmaus. Emmaus takes house-clearence furniture and sells it on using the unemployed and homeless as staff to create a profit and get those same people off benefits and back into employment. There are many great bargains to be found there, especially if you know what you are looking for.bedroom4

Now I’m just waiting for the motivation to tackle the windows, and  I know that they will be time-consuming and unpleasant, before finally finishing the final small area of electrical wiring and the skirings.

As for the half finished floor in the ‘en-suite’? Well the bath leaked into the sittingroom a few days ago, so it looks like that project is now on the urgent list, and it may be done sooner than we think!

WP_20150128_008

Making Sense of it All – It’s All in the Translation!


When we arrived in France seven years ago we threw our four children into french school. They were aged between six and twelve at the time. Normal, you might say – well not really, as they didn’t have a word of french between them. When I picked up my daughter on the first day after a couple of hours she was looking decidedly stressed, if not a little close to tears. In an attempt to soften the blow we gave them all mobile phones, thinking that they might be able to text us for translations of the more tricky words..

…well that might be all of them!

But those phones were confiscated by the well-meaning staff in order to force them to integrate. And amazingly, integrate they did. One by one the language got under their skin and by about a year they were fabulous french speakers.

Being fabulous french speakers, and being fluent and bilingual are not the same things. There are still days, seven years on where words do not come, coloquial meanings are a little ambiguous or words simply do not exist in the alternative language.

Incredibly my children haven’t really complained about the process although there are certainly days when they have felt tested, and in those moments they have muttered inwardly, and outwardly,

“why”?

And I in those moments have boyed them up in motherly fashion saying,

“because one day, and you never know when, this will all make sense, this will become an advantage and suddenly a door will open for you”,

and I always hoped it would!

And then suddenly, just when it was least expected, an opportunity came. An email popped in my inbox from the organisers of “Terres de Paroles” with a tentative question,

“can you interpret”.

Only days earlier my sister-in-law and I had been messaging about a canadian author, a friend that she knew from her home town of Waterloo who was touring Northern France for her book tour. Carrie Snyder, author of “Girl-runner’, or more poetically known in France, “Invisible sous la lumière”(Invisible in the light) was in Rouen. At the last moment the organisers of the event had found themselves without a translator. I volunteered my daughter, now 19 for the opportunity.WP_20160407_002[1]

Translating is always easier from the foreign language to your native one, but this event required translating in both directions which involves remodulating, interpreting and rephrasing the dialogue on the spur of the moment in front of an audience avidly waiting for the ‘raison d’être’, the inspiration, the motivation and the explanations  that the author wants to share about their book.

And as much as I was intrigued by the book, the characters, the setting and the plot, I was also thinking,

“This is why,…. this is why you have braved what we inflicted on you all those years ago”

..for my daughter seemingly effortlessly translated the long dialogues and questions from the french presenter to Carrie, and took to the microphone to return to french the canadian author’s responses for us. IMG_5653

Carrie signed for us a copy of her book, which we are excited to read. The french title seeming so much more succinct to us, a finger on the nerve fibre of the book, the raising of the achievements of a sportswoman, hitherto hidden in plain light of day under the discriminations of the era she lived and performed in, into the conciousness of today.

IMG_5650So to Carrie’s four children, a month without their mother in Canada, I say thanks for lending your mother to us, and for allowing this experience to show our four children just what a skill they possess; and to Carrie, thank you for coming to Rouen and sharing your book with us,

..and to everyone else, read this book -it promises to be good,

“Girl Runner” by Carrie Snyder,

or

“Invisible sous la Lumière” – for us, we are, after all in France!

girl runner

An Afternoon à la Campagne.


For weeks I have been searching for “Gelée au Pomme” (apple jelly) in my local shops. And although I know that I really should try to make my own, there is something far more satisfying about making apple jelly, which is delicious eaten all by itself, but also for infusing into sauces and casseroles, when the apples come off a little wizened tree in an old apple orchard, rather than the counter of a supermarket. Sadly I don’t have an apple tree in my own garden, much as want one so it was  a real pleasure to come home today with a jar of some after a particularly pleasant long afternoon in the countryside.

WP_20160321_043

The spring sunshine was blazing through my windows when I woke this morning and it promised to be a great day for a visit to Neufchatel country, in the heart of the Pays de Bray. Today I was researching  a new tour destination thanks to the organisation of one of the Seine cruise boats, une visite rurale; and a little farm deep in the Normandy countryside was todays destination. The farm is small by modern standards and dedicates its land to apple orchards and sheep. You might think that there is little to connect the two, but the owners are heavily committed to sustainable, anti-pollution and chemical free farming. The sheep are the lawn-mowers and the sheep-dogs are the drivers.

Pulling into the pretty farm, it is not hard to see why it was the setting for the filming of “Une Vie”(a life), an adaption one of Maupassant’s novels.

tournage BrayThe cluster of buildings, so typical of the rural Normandy countryside are built with timber frame, twisted with age, and the daub, local clay dug from the local area, with little hairline cracks that formed as it shrunk and dried in situ.

WP_20160321_017

WP_20160321_014WP_20160321_013The owners demonstrated the amazing capabilities of their sheep-dogs, who believe it or not are bilingual. When two dogs herd the sheep at the same time, the first is communicated to in french whilst the second responds to english in order that their commands are not  confused. Today mother dog acted swiftly to “gauche, gauche, gauche, avance, se couche, à pied “(left left left, advance, lie down, heel), while daughter dog watched on with obvious envy, having firmly been told this time to “sit”.

The dogs manoevered the sheep easily despite the presence of their lambs, born only a week and a half previously.WP_20160321_007

Later we wandered through the orchards which were not yet in leaf. I’ll enjoy revisiting in a couple of weeks when I hope they will be fully in blossom and later in the year when heavy with fruit and fully in leaf. Two rows at a time of different varieties of apples to allow for the blending of juices, sweet, sweet/sour, sour and bitter for their cider and Calvados production.

WP_20160321_001

Deep down in the orchard were bee-hives for the pollination of the fruit.

Since there was a chill to the late afternoon air, we were glad to head to the area of production; to see the cider press, the vats, and the still.

Even more keenly we breathed in the heavenly “angel’s share” in the cave.WP_20160321_027

But if we were worried about not absorbing enough of the spirit of the place, the afternoon finished in a subliminal paradise of perfectly ripe cheese, sparklingly delicious cider, velvety pommeau, and heady Calvados with its deep oak barrelled flavour, followed by the sweetest of little “tartes aux pommes” – all “fait maison” (home-made)  by this exceptional husband/wife team.WP_20160321_032

I confess that it was more than impossible not to invest in several bottles to take home, and I left delighted by the prospect that I would soon be returning.

Imagine my suprise when I discovered two extra bottles as a gift from the owners sitting side by side with my purchases, and a pot of “Gelée de Pomme”  when I returned home.

A truly memorable day!

WP_20160321_010

 

Tarte aux Fruits and a 19th Birthday!


My lovely daughter had her 19th birthday this week. It’s quite astonishing when I consider that we arrived in France when she was just twelve. Then she didn’t have two words of french to her repertoire, now she dances rings around me with perfect conjugaison, ado-speak and a measure of verlan thrown in! What, may you ask, is verlan? It’s an argot of the french language with inversed syllables and is largely meaningless to hapless adults, especially the linguistically challenged like me who often cannot get the syllables in the right order, let alone inverse them!

One thing that we are both capable of doing in equal measure however is eating french patisserie and so it came as no suprise at all when, on the subject of birthday cakes, my daughter opted for a french Tarte aux Fruits from Yvonne instead of a typically english cake. Yvonne is our old favorite boulangerie/patisserie in Rouen Gare where we used to live.  It is still no more than 10 minutes walk away, but a combination of home improvements, tax bills and all our electrical kitchen appliances breaking down in the same month made me baulk a bit, as Yvonne’s tarts are sublimely tasty, stunningly beautiful and extravagently expensive but more importantly a little on the small side!

rouen-gare-yvonne

So on wednesday I got down to what I had been putting off for months. Making my own Tarte aux Fruits, Yvonne style. What I discovered in the course of the day was that they are supremely easy, and moreover, by the end of the evening – equally delicious.

There are two important facets to the Tarte aux Fruits. Firstly a rich sweet pastry which holds it’s shape and which doesn’t succumb to the moistness of the Crème Patissière. Then the smooth sweetness of the crème to contrast with the slight acidity of the fruit.

In my humble opinion pastry making is something of an art form. Throughout last summer I had the pleasure of standing in the kitchen with a professional patisserie chef and watching him effortlessly making perfect crisp pastry cases. I learnt several things.

-Firstly it is very important to keep the pastry cool and work the flour and butter mixture to the minimum, stopping mixing when the dough can just hold itself together.

-Secondly that the least amount of water or egg possible should be used to bind the ingredients together as during the baking process the evaporation of the liquid causes shrinkage.

-Thirdly the pastry should always be chilled for at least an hour before baking to prevent slippage in the mould during cooking.

-And finally the dough should never be stretched when fitting it to the mould as this also encourages slippage of the sides of the pastry case during the baking.

I asked the chef how to stop air bubbles appearing in the base of the pastry case, and he recommended using a pastry ring as opposed to a tin, and a perforated silicone baking sheet placed directly on the oven wire rack. In this way, no air is trapped between the pastry and a pastry tin.baking sheetsCercle-a-tarte-inox-24-cm

 

Having prepared the pastry case I began to cook the crème patissière.

I added the milk to the pan and incorporated a small proportion of sugar. By adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as I bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.

It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.

By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.

I switch off the flame on the hob. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.

When the butter is incorporated I remove the pan from the flame and pour the Crème Pâtissière thinly over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool. At this point it is possible to freeze the crème for another day or use straight away for a gorgeous tart.

Once cooled I put the crème patissière in my Kitchen Aid and beat until smooth before filling a piping bag with the crème.

The piping bag is partially stuffed into its nozzle to form a “bouchon” (cork) to prevent the creme from passing through the nozzle when I fill the bag. When I have transferred all the creme into the bag, I untwist the “bouchon” and push the creme down to the nozzle opening with the help of a spatula.

piping bag

piping bag1

Starting from the centre of the pastry case I squeeze the crème patissière through a 8mm round nozzle spiralling outwards until I reach the rim of the pastry case. This prevents the need to spread the crème with a spatula and the danger of damaging or”dirtying” the pastry case itself.

Once done it is just a simple matter of positioning the fruit. I chose raspberries with a strawberry edge, and every so often upturned a raspberry and filled it like a mini “cup”with a raspberry coulis.

strawberry tart

Afterwards  you  can dust softly with icing sugar, or lay a sprig of black currents or redcurrents and a sliced strawberry or two as decoration.

I was worried that my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t have a real Yvonne tart for her birthday. But when she came in from work she opened the fridge and uttered a “ooooh”.

After dinner, when we were sitting replete from second helpings, my pudding monsters declared it was a huge success, especially as they didn’t have to forgo being greedy as they would have done with Yvonne’s little masterpiece, and moments later it was “snap-chatted” to celebrity and my daughter declared that judging by the responses of her friends – I better get making another one!

 

For the recipe click here

 

Everything but the kitchen sink!


Until the new year life rushed along in a frenetic whirl relentlesly moving us from one event to the next; and what a time with friends and far-distant family, good food, wine and merry-making! But December slid into January and for one small instant of time I sensed the “down” of that doldrum period that always comes just after Christmas. But it was one moment, a tiny glitch of time and then the building materials and tools called from where we had left them and we got stuck back in.

In a fit of whimsy months ago I had ordered a large cupboard and a new sink unit for my kitchen to replace the ones that have been serving us poorly since we bought the house. The ordering period was so long that by the time they arrived, only days before Christmas I had all but forgotten about them.

The night before they were due to be delivered the kitchen company rang apologetically – “ah, Madame, ..p’tit problème…” and went on to explain how they had written the wrong item number on the order sheet. The sink unit was very definitely not a sink unit but a bed!

Overnight we smashed out the existing corner cupboard (with handy mouse entry zone) and then of course once it was out, the kitchen was in a sorry state of decrepid walls and missing plaster – not to mention all the entire contents of my groceries spread on every available surface. “Lovely Daughter” and I spent many moments of hilarity reading the ‘best before dates’ on the backs of the backs of the packets and realising that I could practically match the can of chicken fillets relentlessly in my mother’s cupboard after 20 years (or so) before throwing a not inconsiderable amount out! Be warned everyone who has a triangular corner cupboard. That far corner of the shelf is the true location for all that disappears into the Bermuda Triangle.WP_20150103_007Of course when a new cupboard is about to arrive it’s always a good idea to paint the walls above where it will go, and then with paint still in the tray, before I knew it I had started on the ceiling, and then the rest of the walls and finally several hours later it was all, quite shockingly, complete, and I wondered why on earth I hadn’t removed the horrible orangey gloss wall paint months and months ago!WP_20160108_013

The old french chimney took the most amount of work. The old tiles were broken, and filthy when I first moved into the house, and in a fit of passion I had smashed half of them off the walls leaving a terrible mess in my wake just days after my arrival and then lived with it like that ever since. It’s amazing what a small amount of plasterboard, fibreboard and paint can do.

 

Our Christmas jaunt to get paint (at half the price of french) from an english DIY centre left us with empty hands. Only I can take months to reach a decision on paint colour only to arrive in the UK to find that isn’t in stock!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But in the end I found myself relieved at the lack of new the kitchen sink unit, because now we get a pause to enjoy what we’ve accomplished so far before tackling the plumbing!

WP_20160115_013

So far it’s been a piece of cake!