Quick in-and-out

Very busy cleaning…proper cleaning: cupboards empty, shelves washed, moving furniture, cleaning skirting boards kind-of cleaning.

My mum is coming to stay!!

I’ve “bottomed” the kitchen & the dining room; Mr FD has done the bathroom and his study. Still got rooms to do, but we’re getting there. Too knackered to do anything other than flop in the evening.

And the cats are no help…

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Are we sure they’re not Belgian…?

The Boring Old Farts decided to join in a little with the Fete Patronal last night. We had already arranged with Richard that we could stay the night with him, as Saturday night is always the noisiest and longest drawn out of the Fete, and he invited us and Friend Cathy up for a meal. It was very nice – we had mozzarella,tomato & avocado salad, with a green salad. Then a delicious vegetable gratin, breaded cod, new potatoes and peas, and then the Banoffi Pie that I took up. After this we decided to come back to the village to watch the Son et Lumière display and the fireworks. We were a bit late, so we missed the procession of stilt walkers – or so we thought! Actually, the stilt walker (singular) was a part of the S&L display.

He and his LED lit companions arrived in the square, and after a delay of about 10 minutes started their slightly surreal display – juggling and spinning sparkler-like fireworks, leaping on sprung stilts, skipping on stilts. It was quite amazing.

One of them was high up on a trolley affair, playing the role of the Queen, I think, as the other performers would bow to her and she appeared to be directing their actions. As I said, there was one stilt walker, on these sprung stilts, so he leapt, and bounded around at great speed; there were two other performers who span these firework/ sparkler things around with great alacrity and skill. It was, quite frankly, not what I had expected at all, but very good.

 

My photos are rather disappointing: I don’t have the knack of using my phone to take photos, so these really only give a poor flavour of what was going on.

We had to feed the cats and check that they were OK with all the noise, so we went back to the house to watch the firework display from the balcony.

While the display was very impressive (although my photos certainly aren’t) I copuldn’t help feeling very sorry for the Poor Cats (the feral cats that I feed) and wondering if they’d found a place where they might feel safe from the horrid flashy banginess that was going on not too far from their home.

Not our display, but a better photo. Not taken by me!

I may go aong to the Place this afternoon to watch the Waiter’s Obstacle Course – it might be quite fun.

By the way, the title for this post comes from our belief that Belgians are really rather weird. This stems from our trip to the Christmas Market at Brussels, where there was the most amazing carousel – not with ponies, or tea cups, or motor bikes, as you would find on normal carousels, but with wooden articulated caterpillars and huge spiders.

There was another, with a tiny rocket, with just one seat in it, which went directly upwards, as the carousel went round, through a hole in the canopy, and then down again, with the face of the occupant peering out through the window.

Not only that, but the nativity scene in the main square included lit up sheep (in blue, red and green), some of which had evidently escaped and set up their home on the balcony of the Town Hall… And, of course, there is the Atomium (I couldn’t remember the name so I googled “Brussels Ball Thing” Google knew what I wanted!!); it pleases me that in 2013 CNN named this as the World’s Most Bizarre Building! We visited – you can go inside – and yes, it is bizarre!

So, having watched last night’s rather strange and bizarre Son et Lumière spectacle, I turned to Mr FD and said “Are we sure they’re not Belgian…?” because all the evidence points towards it…!

Domestic Goddess-ishness

I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, or the USA, but here in France it is becoming more and more difficult to find cereal without chocolate in it – whatever the type of cereal, there’s a version of it with chocolate. Even Special K, that well known dieter’s brand has a chocolate version!

Mr FD did the shopping on Thursday, and as we were unpacking he muttered an oath of annoyance – he’d bought chocolate meusli instead of fruity meusli by mistake.

Never mind, I said, I’ll make cake. And so, this morning, I headed to my trusty recipe book…

When I was young, and newly married and eager to be the “perfect wife” (whatever she looks like!) I decided to keep a recipe book with cuttings and favourite recipes from magazines stuck into it. I even had sections (here’s pretentiousness for you!) labelled “Cellar Book” and “Dinner Party Menus” I wasn’t really very committed to these pages though…I only ever wrote one thing in them:

Apparently on 31st December – but I don’t know what year – Paul, Sharon & Judith (my BiL, his wife & my SiL) came for a meal. We had Paté (courtesy of Sainsbury), Oriental style salmon, Camargue red rice and mange tout. Pudding (no idea what it was!) came courtesy of Paul, who is a chef. And that’s it…No other record of dinner parties – although we did have friends for meals at regular intervals.

I stuck some very random recipes into this book, which I have never used and can’t imagine I ever will! For example, here’s the recipe for Fillet Steak Royale:

I’m not going to be buying fillet steak for anyone!! Although the sauce looks rather good – it might work with extra mushrooms as a pasta sauce!

There are however some less showy, or expensive, recipes that I turn to every now and then – Michael Barry’s Duck with apricots is one that was featured on BBC “Good Food” way back when the TV show started in 1984. Quite simple, but rather nice.

DUCK au Michael Barry

serves 2

  • 1 biggish duck breast
  • 1/4 pint water
  • 1/4 pint stock (chicken works best)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • zest 1/2 orange
  • 4 oz soft dried apricots

To serve: tagliatelli, mange touts, carrot batons

  1. Fry duck breast quickly, then trim off skin. Cut duck breast into chunks.
  2. Pour away most of the duck fat. Replace duck in pan with everything else EXCEPT the lemon juice. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile cook tagliatelli, and then stir fry quickly with the vegetables (I usually just cook everything normally…)
  4. Remove duck, & keep warm.
  5. Stir a slake of cornflour made with the lemon juice into the sauce to thicken it.
  6. Put pasta & veg into serving bowls, add duck & pour sauce over.
  7. For a finishing touch, add toasted almonds, if desired.

But in my recipe book, it’s the “Baking” pages that I turn to most regularly as there are one or two recipes there that are my “go to” recipes. As the pages testify, I’m not the tidiest of cooks

And so the recipe that I used today is one that can be very easily adapted. Here it is:

OAT & ORANGE TEA LOAF

Tea loaf in the sense that you have it with tea, rather than it’s made with tea – although I have a recipe for that kind of Tea loaf too (see below)!

  • 6 oz Crunchy Oat Cereal
  • 6 oz soft brown sugar
  • 4 oz SR flour
  • 4 oz wholemeal flour
  • 2 oz sultanas
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 6 fluid oz orange juice
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice (or to taste)
  1. Mix dry ingredients
  2. Beat egg into juice.
  3. Add to dry ingredients & mix well
  4. Put into 2lb loaf tin
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 180°C/350°F/GM4

And there you have it! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Sorry the weights and measures are in UK “old money” – it shows how old the recipe is!

This time, however, instead of the Crunchy Oat cereal I used the Carrefour Chocolate & Nut meusli, that Mr FD had bought by mistake,  I added some nuts instead of the sultanas, and used milk instead of orange juice. All finished and put into the oven, I then realised I’d bought two very brown bananas in order to put them in the cake…So I made another one, using two mashed up bananas in the milk/egg mixture as well. Here are the results of my Domestic Goddess-ishness:

Two chocolate-and-nut Meusli tea loaves (one with added banana), and 14 adapted recipe Anzac biscuits. Jan told me, in no uncertain terms, that if the Anzac biscuit recipe was messed about with, the results no longer had the right to be called Anzac biscuits. Fair enough. These are therefore Choc-nut-meusli biscuits. The recipe that I adapted can be found at the end of this post

At the same time as I’ve been baking, I also had a pan simmering away for two hours with a tin of condensed milk in it – I’m making a banoffi pie to take up to Richard’s tonight. I’ve already crushed chocolate/coconut granola biscuits for a base, and that is chilling in the fridge. The toffee sauce is now cooling, and the bananas waiting to be sliced. I kept a sharp eye on the water level, and had the timer set on my mobile…I once had a disaster with making toffee sauce like this, when I forgot about the tin of condensed milk, it boiled dry and then exploded, leaving toffee spattered around the kitchen. Mr FD has not let me forget it!

And, to end with, here is my super-simple recipe for Tea Bread with tea in it. It’s yet another “old money” recipe.

  1.  Soak 12 oz dried fruit in 1/2 pint of cold tea for about an hour.
  2. Add 12 oz SR flour, 6 oz sugar, 1 beaten egg.
  3. Put into a 2 lb loaf tin.
  4. Bake for 1.5 hours at 180°C/350°F/GM4

You can use any tea for this – your usual builders’ tea, yes, but also a red fruits tea, or a Rooibus work quite well. I’m not sure mint tea would work, however. Lemon tea might bring an added citrussy note to the finished cake.

Do let me know if you try any of these recipes!

 

Flash Fiction: The Mirror

Fractured Faith sets a flash fiction challenge, based on receipts that he picks up (we all have to have our hobbies!!) asking people to write fiction based on what is shown on the receipt.

This week he offered us this receipt:

This really is “flash fiction” – I wrote it, and didn’t really think much about it. I haven’t even tried honing it or editing it in any way.  I just thought I’d write and then (near enough) press “publish”. It was a bit of fun. And it is based on a real experience that I had…

 

It had been the morning from hell – yet again.

PE really was her least favourite subject to teach her Year 6s – and it was bloody football this term. What did she know – or care – about football? The kids knew more about the off side rule than she did, and were always whining.

“Miss, it was a penalty. Did you see the way Kevin laid into me?” (I know how he feels, Dean)

“Miss, I hate football.” (I know how you feel, Gary)

“Please can we have Marie on my team, Miss, she’s better than Harriet…” (I couldn’t care less…)

Finally, she trailed them all back to the classroom, where she suggested they had silent reading for the last ten minutes before lunch. She was really looking forward to the cheese-and-beetroot sandwich that Steve had prepared for her, particularly as she’d not had time for breakfast. As usual, she’d not had time to finish all her marking the evening before, so she’d had to leave early to complete the task at school. Five sets of thirty books took too long to mark, especially as one set had been creative writing, so she had had to wade through thirty rambling, badly spelled stories, which showed a remarkable lack of concern for any form of grammar. And, of course, each required an encouraging comment from her at the end.

The bell rang for lunch, interrupting her thoughts.

“OK, class,” she raised her voice to be heard above the sudden rush of noise that greeted the sound of the bell. “Enjoy your lunch, and see you back here at one o’clock”

Blessed silence descended as the last of the class slammed their way out of the room. Laying her head on her desk for a moment, she breathed deeply and savoured the momentary relief of quiet. Then, re energised, she reached into her bag for her lunch. Nothing, except her purse, her phone, the usual detritus…But no sandwich.

Reeling her thoughts back she reviewed her morning rush: grabbing the foil wrapped packet of sandwiches, she had noticed a stain on her skirt. That had required a rapid change of clothes, and a speedy exit from the house, forgetting to reclaim her lunch.

“Dammit!” she muttered.

Luckily, there was a baker’s near to school, which made good, but expensive, sandwiches. She rarely bought them, as she and Steve were saving for a deposit on a house, and every little economy was another tiny step further away from their squalid rented apartment. But today? Well, today she deserved a crusty cob, filled with something delicious – egg mayo, perhaps, or tuna and sweetcorn.  Considering the choices, she hurried towards the main entrance. On a whim, and feeling generous, she opened the staff room door, and spoke as she went in

“I’m going to the shops. Anyone want anything?”

A pause. Great, there was only Gerry in there. Greasy, slobby Gerry who made her skin crawl every time she saw him. Every time he brushed past her in the corridor, just that little too closely.

“Yeah, love,” he said, “You can get me a paper.”

“Sure thing – what do you read? Guardian? Telegraph? Times?”

Gerry gave a snort.

“Nah. The Mirror. I’ll give you the money when you get back”

Taking a slurp from his cup of coffee, he turned back to the books he was marking – but not reading -with a rapid tick, and scribbled “Good” on each page.

The pleasure had gone from the idea of a shop bought sandwich. She had to go into the newsagents and buy a newspaper she wouldn’t be seen dead with. God, she thought, it’s even worse than buying The Sun….And they know me in that shop… What will they think of me buying The Mirror?

Finally, knowing she was being stupid, but unable to stop herself, she pulled her car keys out of her bag, and drove the five miles to the big, anonymous Tesco outside of town. There she rushed in, and grabbed the last, slightly dog-eared copy of the despised newspaper. Glancing around to check that there was no-one she knew, still painfully aware that she was acting in a ridiculous way, she handed the paper over to the cashier together with a £10 note. She kept her head down, avoiding eye contact – please, don’t let her meet one of the parents from school…

After what felt like an eternity the cashier handed back her change and the paper. She folded it carelessly and shoved it into her bag; then, with a glance at her watch, she realised that there was only ten minutes before the end of lunch time. With a suppressed scream of annoyance, she screwed up the receipt and tossed it in the nearest trolley. No-one need ever know about this, she thought.

As she drove into the staff car park she heard the bell ring, signalling the end of the break. Gerry met her at the front door.

“Thanks, love,” he said, passing her the unpleasantly sweaty coins he was holding in his hand. “You took a long time. I hope you didn’t go to any trouble finding a copy…”

 

It’s started…Boring Old Farts Unite!

No one told us about this when we moved here!

This isn’t “our” Fete but gives an idea of what it’s like

Every year the village has its Fete Patronal. We knew about that. What we didn’t know when we bought the house is that it sets up in the square outside  – a bumper cars, a mini roundabout, a mini dodgems, and RIGHT outside the house (so it’s a bit difficult getting out of the gate!) a huge Casino lorry that opens out to have slot machines and other arcade games. Round the corner is a shooting gallery, various crane-grab games and Hook-a-Duck, and a Wheel of Death ride.

In the past Mr FD has “had words” with the fairground people, which ended up with him getting threatened by a man weilding a metal bar, which wasn’t fun. Since then we’ve mostly just “sucked it up” as they say, and try to avoid the worst of it by going away on Saturday night…usually staying at friends’ houses out of the village. The Fete starts, on a small scale, on Friday, with the rides open, and then is full on for Saturday and Sunday, often not finishing until 2 am on Saturday night. You can imagine the noise with the bells-and-whistles-and-sirens of the rides, the music, the loudspeakers, the crowds… Sunday evening it closes about midnight – unless the weather is intemperate. You can imagine that we might just be praying for rain over this weekend… (because we’re boring old farty Killjoys!!)

This is this year’s programme:

It looks like a great time (if you like that sort of thing!) We’re not up for spoiling anyone’s fun, but it’s not much fun for us.

Actually, with the “Objectif Mars: Spectacle et animation” and the Course de garçon de café (a waiters’ race?) it seems to be getting bigger and more elaborate than in previous years. There are stilt walkers too!! (I’ve just looked up “Defilé de rue déambulation échassier“) Maybe we should go to the Vin d’honneur , get pickled and tryto enter into the spirit of things! It would probably make things better for us!

They’ve started the set up already (Thursday afternoon) with the big Dodgems going up on Tuesday. This afternoon they are trying out their sound system, so we have quite a lot of thumpy thumpy music going on. I think we must be getting old and grumpy, because I feel we should enjoy this as part of village life, and the programme looks exciting but it’s just not quite “us”. Added to which, I always feel terribly sorry for the Poor Cats whose territory gets invaded with the noise of fireworks and crowds. They must get terrified.

This year we’re decamping to Friend Richard’s house. He might be away, but he’s happy for us to stay in his house. The cats are OK with the fireworks if the shutters are all closed so we’ll be off. And locking the gate, as otherwise our courtyard is used as a convenient pissoire!

Grumble…grumble…complain…moan…

Wedding card dilemma.

A friend of mine is marrying his boyfriend in September, so I wanted to make a card for D and his partner (who I don’t know).

Here’s a picture of D taken next to the statue of Red Rum in Southport:

Usually the wedding cards that I make are a bit more feminine in feel, and possibly more suitable for a heterosexual couple (though why I should think that I don’t know!!) Anyway, using a card I found on t’internet as inspiration, I’ve come up with this (Please note the inner piece of card with the quotation on it is mounted using a brad, so that it moves. That’s why it doesn’t look straight!):

As always, click on the image to biggify it.

What do you think? Is it too sombre for a wedding card? Should I have gone with something more flamboyant? D isn’t a very “camp” guy, so I didn’t want to go all rainbows and gay-rights-ish, but maybe this is a bit dour…Or is it simple and sophisticated?

I wondered about something like this one that I made earlier in the year.

 I suppose I could do a rainbow gradation like this (although not with the Bible verse on it):

Or make something completely different…

I think this one’s a bit girly though…

 

What do you think?

Social whirl

We’ve had a very enjoyable week of social occasions – of which I took no photos whatsoever!!

THURSDAY LUNCH – Friend Sandra invited us to lunch – but we had to pretend we didn’t speak French, so her student got plenty of practice speaking English! She had invited several people, and had two tables set – the English table (only speaking English) and the French table. On our table were Mr FD & I, Gilles, the student, Veronique, a French English-teacher, and her children (who didn’t speak English). On the French table were Sandra, Gille’s wife, Veronique’s partner, and a lady from across the street whose name I’ve forgotten. It was fun. Sandra had made Marmite-on-bread amuse bouches, followed by onion tart. Then we had meatballs with home made pasta, then cheddar cheese and Jacob’s crackers, and finally a Bird’s trifle! 

For those who don’t know, Bird’s Trifle is basically a trifle in a packet – everything supplied : jelly, custard powder, artificial cream powder, dry sponge fingers – I’m not sure quite what the French made of it!

Gilles spoke well, but when he was looking tired, after about 2 hours, I took pity on him and spoke a bit of French! I know what it’s like when you get brain freeze in another language!

THURSDAY EVENING:  Friend Cathy invited us up for a Champagne celebration for the end of my treatment. Lots of people were there – Cathy, Richard, Alison, Gerome, Mr FD, Clare, Jean & two of their three children. We sat outside and drank our way through several bottles as the sun went down.

Delicious food included a very good mirabelle tart made from scratch by Alyssia and Jo, the two children (who are now young adults, if I’m honest!) None of this bought-in pastry rubbish!!

SUNDAY LUNCH: We went over to “the other side of the mountain” to see our friends Mij and Bill. After a gin-and-tonic, we drove across to Le Crozet, to the restaurant there

It was lovely! I had a Caesar salad for starter – loads of chicken, and deliciously crunchy croutons. This was followed by supreme of pintarde (guinea fowl) which came with gratin dauphinoise (which I love!!) Then carpaccio of orange, with a cinnamon syrup, and a sharp, red fruit coulis. Delicious – and all for under 20€. I think it was 18,50€ (£16.80 or 21.43 USD) which, in my opinion, was very good value!

We went back to Mij & Bill’s for a good catch up. It was a very enjoyable and sociable time, spent with good friends.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: I went to visit Charlotte, who I met during my first chemo session. She really helped me feel comfortable with the process, which she herself has to go through every three weeks, as her cancer is incurable and, I assume, advancing. She rarely talked about it, except in the vaguest terms, but I did understand that it is terminal. She is a tutor in French, English and maths, and TBH, I was a tad nervous about going to see her. It’s all very well chatting as you go through chemo, but I wasn’t sure how well we’d get on outside of the hospital setting.

I needn’t have worried – we got on like the proverbial house on fire. I took her a little rose plant, and she had bought me one! So we exchanged rose plants, drank fruit juice, ate brioche and discussed lots of things – poetry, writing books,teaching, holidays… The time flew by and before I knew it three hours had gone and I needed to be moving. What a delight! I hope that we can meet up again in the not too distant future.