Ou Se Trouve Le Canard Perdu? Le Canard Rouennais, or Rouen Duck.


“Husband à l’Etranger” has been repatriated this autumn after many years of working internationally and as you can imagine this necessitated a measure of celebration on the home front, as well as enjoying the  rare opportunity to get together with friends and especially our very dear neighbours who are always ready to come to the rescue in moments of need with pots of cream, bags of emmenthal râpé and cups of sugar.

Yesterday the perfect moment arrived to “fête” our friendship which started not long after we bought our house – a jolly conversation from balcony to street in which we discovered two of our children had been in the same lycée class for a brief moment in time.

All that was missing from this pre-Christmas bit of fun was the venue. But it didn’t take long to resolve that minor issue. Our neighbours had a friend staying who suggested we all went to try ‘Le Canard Rouennaise’ at the smart Hotel de Dieppe a few minutes walk from our home.

The ceremony behind Rouen duck is quite an experience. Prepared in the dining room in front of the diners it is not for those of delicate disposition, the cracking of bones and extraction of blood being only part of the visual experience. But this is France and the French are renowned for their ability to eat the most extraordinary ingredients and products that are gruesome enough to make your toes curl.

So what of this extraordinary duck? The breed itself is the product of the amorous relations between the migrating wild ducks taking a brief “séjour” in the cliffs above the river Seine at Duclair and local farmyard ducks they spotted from overhead. The resultant canette is medium sized, big breasted, small thighed, blood rich and succulent, and waddling about the farmyard was historically the perfect bird to spit roast in the event of the arrival of an impromptu guest. Not having time to bleed the duck, this impromptu meal necessitated the suffocating of the bird before roasting it on a spit for twenty minutes over a wood fire. The breast was served with a sauce rich in blood, liver and bone marrow.

Inevitably in order to protect the recipe, the “Ordre des Canardiers” was founded, and the confection of the Canard Rouennaise rests on the fundamental premise that the duck be a “true Rouennaise duck”, suffocated and not bled, the commercialisation of which is permissible under the title “exception culturelle”. The breast must be removed, spit roasted for 17-20 minutes and served with a sauce made with the pressed extraction of its own blood.

Ultimately one such duck was presented to King Edward the Seventh by the maître Chef Louis Convert of the cruise liner Félix Faure, and it is this recipe, recreated in 1933 by the chef Michel Guéret who was his young intendant, which the “Ordre des Canardiers” present today as the authentic.

Within minutes of being seated at our table a silver mobile preparation table was wheeled into view. The bird, recently having undergone its spit-roast was relieved of its carcass in front of us before its bones were ceremoniously carved into pieces small enough to fit the enormous silver press. The loud cracking of bones must be imagined as an essential part of the process.

The “Maître Canardier”, complete with blue ribboned medal around his neck, set to with aplomb the process of extracting the blood and bone marrow into a waiting gravy-boat by authoritatively turning the enormous wheel of the press.

The secret base of the sauce, a confection of duck liver , “vin de Beaune” and spices was brought into the dining room, which Monsieur Le Canardier flambéed with a glass of cognac before adding the extracted blood, 20 grammes of pure Normandy butter, lemon juice and a glass of port.After the great excitement of the preparation, there was only one thing left to do… déguster! (Taste!)The copious breast meat of the “Rouennaise Ducks” was quickly polished off. It wasn’t long however before the men at the table noticed that for three birds there was scant thigh or wing meat. At 50€ a head the conversation soon fell to the subject of the “canard perdu”-  or the lost duck.

As we poured uproariously out of the restaurant into the frosty misty night, we were still searching for the “canard perdu” all the way home!Bon appétit!

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Passe-moi le Fromage! Irreconcilable differences.


On New Years Eve some very good french friends of ours arrived unexpectately at our door bearing a ‘Tarte aux Pomes’.  We have what we like to call a ‘reciprocal relationship’ which means that if one of us has lent a plate, the other will return it with an “offering” on it. The plate for a superb tart aux courgettes was returned with Haggis, neaps and tatties in the form of apéros (yes this is possible, we are frenchified scottish anglophones after all), which was returned with a tarte aux Pommes, which was returned with a lone mince pie! (we only had one left!)

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“Venez chez-nous pour fêter le nouvel an” “come and celebrate the New Year with us” they asked handing us the Tarte aux Pommes and momentarily we hovered in indecision -feeling the lure of great company verses the desire to celebrate with our children -before giving our regrets.

No sooner the door was closed than our two eldest declared that they were out to party with friends, and our two youngest were all but brushing us out of the door knowing our absence would allow internet time, and (clearly) pre-arranged gaming with school friends. And so after a minute or two of discussion, knowing well that our dear friends had proffered the dessert (with guilt strings attached) exactly because they knew their invitation would be difficult to refuse, we  decided to go.

Our friends are the kind where we can truly let our hair down, but they had explained to us that one of the invitées had recently come out of a long term relationship and was a little ‘triste’ (sad), and Husband à l’Etranger decided therefore that this occasion was one that called for his Kilt.

As we weren’t expected at any particular hour we arrived towards the end of dinner to discover the assembled company in a very sombre state. The poor sad lady had not uttered a word all evening. The arrival of the Kilt had an astonishing impact. Husband à l’Etranger whose beard had grown into a bushy affair after three months of gardening leave really doesn’t have to try hard to resemble one of the main cast of ‘Whisky Galore’ with his wild red hair, and particularly with a bottle of GlenLivet to hand. But six years in France also have honed his senses to arrive perfectly in time for the cheese course.

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Whisky Galore, the film with James Robert Justice

The ‘triste ‘ lady at the table looked up in astonishment at the wild Scotsman whilst the other rather chic lady with a penchant for Phillipes (currently  number three) launched into a thousand questions, the primary being whether the Scots really didn’t wear undergarments under their national dress! Our generous hosts laid the table with more cheese plates and we set to work on a very fine Livarot and a velvety red.

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But what really livened up the party was when I recounted to the table how Husband à l’Etranger had caused a rumpus during our Christmas visit to the family in England when my dear father-in-law brought dessert to the table before the cheese defying all french convention. Father-in -Law tucked into his dessert, whilst frenchified Husband à l’Etranger held out an agonising hour for all traces of sweetness to have disappeared from his palate before belatedly savouring his cheese, having tried unsuccessfully to convert father-in-law à la français.

If you really want to get a group of very glum French people talking all at once, try telling them that the English eat pudding before their Stilton and you will create havoc,  declarations that the English are catagorically “fou” (mad), barbarians and lacking in all forms of civilisation.

It was enough to even draw words from our very “triste” companion.

Bonne Année!

 

The Historial of Joan of Arc, a New Museum in Rouen.


WP_20150323_012One of the great advantages of being a registered guide in Rouen is getting access to all the new exhibitions and museums at the “Avant Première”. Today I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the first through the doors of the “Historial de Jeanne d’Arc”, the new museum dedicated to the story of Joan of Arc, in Rouen.

Several years ago a small private wax-works museum was to be found in the Vieux Marché in Rouen, next to the site where Joan of Arc was burnt to death at the stake. It closed when the owner went into retirement. Today the doors opened on one of what I have to classify as one of France’s best museums, The “Historial de Jeanne d’Arc”.

Joan of Arc was imprisoned in Rouen after her capture and ransom from the battlefield at Compiègne, north-east of Paris. The English, having occupied of Rouen for some twelve years by 1431, during the Hundred Years War, imprisoned her in a tower of the Chateau Bouvreuil until her trial and eventual conviction for heresy and relapse. The new museum is located in the very building where the original trial, and later retrial were held, part of the Archbishop’s Palace, or Archevequé as it is known.

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WP_20150323_008The building has undergone extensive and painstaking renovation. The result is magnificent. The building alone, with its stone crypts, tommette tiled floors, and two towers is worth a visit. As we all agreed, just bringing visitors to the top of the Tour de Guet was worth every penny for the view alone. The views, never before seen by the average Rouennaise nor visitor, of the one rose window which survived the explosions of the 1944 bombing raids on the cathedral without being masked by the north transept gable were excellent; as was the high-level view of the Eglise St Maclou, a perfect example of the Gothic Flamboyant in the mediaval quarter.

If only to overwhelm the visitor, we gained access to the stunning chapel,

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and grand staitcase of the Archevequé as we made our way to the end of the visit.

But what of the museum exhibit itself? Systematic and clearly explained, the story of Joan of Arc evolves through a series of “automated rooms”. Small groups of 20 pass through one room at a time in which a part of the story is told through film displays and “son et lumière” (sound and light shows). The entire visit is a technical masterpiece of the same genre as the “son et lumière” on the Cathedral facade every summer.. Jeanne d'Arc son et lumièreJoan of Arc’s trial was the first of its time to be written down and archived. Each character is named and identified, with modern day actors filmed and using the transcript from 1431.

The final two rooms are free access with interactive displays and an interactive “push-button” selection of questions posed to historical experts whose filmed responses dispell the myths that have grown up over the passing centuries.

Here it is possible to see copies of the original manuscripts of the trial and letters written by Joan to the Dauphin, and later King Charles VII and other trivia such as models of the city in medieval times.WP_20150323_001

When you come to Rouen, do not miss this great museum. Suitable for adults and children alike, leave at least two hours for the visit and then stride out into the medieval quarter where you can find cafés, antiques, and plenty of lovely boutiques.

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And if you are too exhausted to take another step, there’s always the lovely old workshop of Ferdinand Marou, metalworker from the Impressionists era who’s ‘atelier’ is now the most gorgeous coffee-shop.See you there!

Le Fête du Ventre and Other Activities.


My fellow guide and I had a huddled conversation this morning over how on earth we were going to get our 50 Amercan tourists through the heart of the city of Rouen this morning. Lining the streets on every side, cheek to cheek, was every conceivable stall groaning under the weight of speciality and artisan foods from the length and breadth of Normandy.  Finally colourful umbrellas held high, Joan of Arc’s story having already being recounted on a quiet corner, we snaked our way through the crowd to the Vieux Marché and the cross in the garden outside the Eglise Jeanne d’Arc.

Maybe the end of the historic tour, but for me, the start of a fun-filled lunchtime. A quick call to my younger boys back at home to describe the sweet stall I had just passed, and the boys were hastily on route to the café where I had taken refuge for a pause, before launching ourselves into the crowds to taste all that was on offer.

Having started with a creamy hot chocolate, our next stop was of course the sweet stall. But barely had we paid for two groaning bags than we spotted our favourite chocolatier on the other side of the street making chocolate truffles before our eyes.

-“on offer, for a limited time only” he called, and I knew it was true since last year, once thoroughly addicted, the truffle source dried up by about the end of December, leaving an agonising 8 month wait until this year’s Fête!

Now loaded down with two bags of sweets and a huge groaning bag of truffles, we came across the Macroon stall and walked away with chocolate, Tiramisu, Spéculoos, and Framboise flavours.

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But the fun was still to come. As we reached the corner the noise became deafening. Right there, across the street from the Oyster bar,  a jazz band was entertaining the crowds. If you look really carefully you can see the oyster shells piled high on one of the tables.

Leaving the band we headed down the street to see what else we could find!

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-wonderful fresh vegetables,

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– Normandie “escargots” (snails)

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and crates of delicious “champignons”.

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-Don’t forget the “Neufchatel” cheese, formed in the shape of a heart by the Normandy dairymaids to the allied soldiers in the First World War.

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The soft pretzel breads caused a stir with my boys! So much so that they forgot to clamour for a fresh crèpe or a gauffre (waffle)!

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But full on fresh bread, sweet bags in hand, with music still ringing in our ears we headed happily home!  I hope our American visitors enjoyed it as much as we did!

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End of the School Year!


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If you were thinking that it’s been a long time since my last post, you’d be right! The school year since March took on a kind of frenetic energy, and, for that matter looks to continue for  few more days yet!

Today, the primary school kids that usually hurtle out of the school gates were in an excitable state but keen to linger for their last moments of junior school. I became camera woman taking the inevitable last moment snapshots. It’s moments like this that remind you that you are inescapably in France. The school, a typically “Madeline style” old brick and silex house, with large front courtyard playground and tall metal gates was overflowing with children this afternoon all saying their fond farewells to their “maitresses”. For primary school teachers to kiss their pupils is common, and today the children queued in long lines to wait to have their hands shaked and their cheeks kissed before making their way out onto the street, mindful that next year they would be in Collège. Anywhere else such displays of affection between staff and pupils would be abuse litigation possibilities!

Collègians and Lycéens finished school two weeks ago, after a flurry of exams. Unlike the UK, results for state exams are published only a month after being taken. The adolescents can relax into their holidays without anxiety hanging around them for the summer. Tonight I watch my older two prepare for the huge open air concert on the Rouen Quayside. The campbeds are already laid out for visiting friends making use of our city centre location! Following the success of last year when Mika played to a 60,000 strong audience, The city of Rouen has hosted another set of free concerts, tonight Martin Garrix takes over from the support bands at 11.30. It will be a late and noisy night!

The city will be buzzing through till July the 14th with masses of tourists joining the local population to watch the fireworks at the end of the French national holiday commonly known as Bastile Day. From that moment onwards, the local population winds down in preparation for the real French national holiday- the month of August!

Another school year is over. The school reports are in, and I’m a proud parent. Two of my children have averages of 19/20 in French. I have to record the fact because I am often asked if it is possible, and it’s a great moment when you realise that it is.  I stuck my neck out this year and registered at university to study French, mindful of the ever growing gap between my children’s expertise and my faltering one. To date, it’s the best thing that i’ve done in France. I am over the moon to say that I passed the B2 diploma. At some moments there were doubts, without question there were frustrations and it certainly wasn’t a breeze, but speaking and writing  the language with confidence creates opportunities, and opens up friendships and job possibilities. I am poised for the next diploma, the DALF C1, and all the amusement that it will hold for my children as I study along-side them next year!

But until that moment I can say only one thing:

Bienvenue à l’été!

 

 

And A Bird Pooped On My Head!


A great friend of mine asked, at the begining of the summer how I would feel about house-sitting her mini chateau in return for caring for her elderly and ailing dog. After a year in a appartment, albeit a lovely one, the lure of a garden, a tennis court and an orchard was extremely appealing. No suprises that  I said yes.

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Thus began days of endless summer in wonderful Normandy surroundings, a bit of tuning of basic tennis skills and visits to the orchard to harvest the fruit to make jam, and find unripe pears as doggy-treats for a pear-loving dog!

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The beauty of the chateau was that it is close enough to Rouen to continue working, and so it was that I could honour all my tour dates and guide an endless stream of Japanese and American tourists through the historic streets of Rouen.

One of the basic issues with guiding is what to do with personal effects. More often than not, the tour group arrive in Rouen by boat, down on the quayside. While those tours are always aided by microphone, the general indignity is having to carry a brightly coloured lollipop with the ship’s name blazoned across it in order not to loose the odd tourist along the way. On inclement days, the necessity to hold an umbrella claims the other free hand, leaving none with which to point to aspects of historic or aesthetic value. It’s not suprising then that I choose to descend to the ‘rendez-vous’ with nothing in my hands.

Leaving from the chateau early one morning on a hot sunny day it occurred to me that I had rather less pockets than usual. With my keys stuffed in one pocket, there was barely room for a hanky in the other. I deliberated a few moments on the need for a hanky on such a warm day, but having a sniffy nose and presenting a monument in front of thirty or so people are not good bedfellows. The hanky stayed.

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The Parvis in front of the cathedral and the Bureau de Tourism has a lovely shady seating area under two rows of plane trees. Taking advantage of the peace and quiet of the  early hours of this sunday morning I took a seat to wait and to savour the beautiful morning before the arrival of the group when suddenly – quite without warning..

…a bird pooped on my head!

After the initial horror, I felt up to the hairline of my forehead to feel copious quantities of slime slowly oozing their way onto my face. The next few minutes were a hasty attempt to restore my appearance and calm without mirror, and with only one solitary paper tissue to hand. The doors of the Bureau de Tourisme remained resolutely shut at this hour of a sunday morning!

It’s three weeks later now, the school year has begun, and once more the city plays host to the late summer arrival of a multitude of American and Australian tourists. Looking at the sky this morning, I deliberated on leaving my umbrella behind. After a weekend of 30° weather it seemed unneccessary that it encumber my day. At the last minute I swung it onto my arm and set out.

No more than three seconds into welcoming my group from their tour host and about one nano-second before I invited the crowd to move across the Parvis into the centre of the square, there came a shriek from one of the ladies at the back. If I thought I had been inundated with bird poop three weeks earlier, it was nothing on this poor woman. The rogue bird had managed to cover her hair, face and an extensive portion of her blouse. The tour ground to a complete standstill and the shocked victim was rushed off to the Bureau de Tourisme to repair the damage. Thankfully it was monday, and the Bureau was open, a significant improvement on my experience. Five minutes later she rejoined us in good spirits ready to get going.

It was less than five minutes later, from an apparently clear sky that I felt the first spots of rain. The speed with which the clouds followed, and the skies darkened beggered belief, but only moments later the heavens opened to torrents of rain. Three quarters of the group were umbrella-less, but generally good-humoured and optimistic that it would be shortlived.

It was not.

By the Eglise St Maclou, in all its fine new stone-cleaned whiteness, the drips were dripping down the necks of the unprotected crowd, and we hastily pressed ourselves under a small roof overhang to keep out of the worst of it.

By the Aitre St Maclou, the tour groups had bunched up, all trying in vain to shelter under the archway access point. It was a devil of a job not to loose Americans to the German group, and welcome some Russians to ours as we started to disentangle and move on to our respective destinations. One lone couple of elderly Canadians had completely lost sight of their group – and may even now still be wandering the rainy streets!

By the Passage des Chanoines, with clothes now drenched to the skin, the more miserable of the un-umbrella’d group pleaded with me to take them back to their bus.

“Unfortunately” I said, “the very nature of inner city parking in Rouen is such that where you were dropped off is not where you will be picked up – we will, unfortunately have to make our way to the meeting point at the other end of the city”

As you can imagine, the sense of humour, so abundent at the start was rapidly begining to diminish from a small quantity of the group.

We made our way, ducking and dodging between short arcades, doorways and cafe canopés to the Vieux Marché and the site of Joan of Arc’s death from burning at the stake. To add insult to indignity, an open overhead spigot-gutter shot a spout of water over the  more unwary, until finally the sight of the tour operator came into view, hair wet and plastered to his head, and we headed off to the bus. One woman stepped into a huge puddle on the kerbside, but didn’t appear to notice, the rest, forewarned by me of it’s existance hardly seemed to care.. they were wet enough already.

Once home I looked down at my jeans, sodden to the knee, and mused that if any advice could be given to any tourist, or tour guide (for that matter) about to embark on a guided tour – it is this…

Don’t forget an umbrella regardless of the forcast ..

and for heavens sake, …more than one tissue!