Wednesday, 28 October 2009


I love it when the postman arrives. I love to see my name connected with this address in black and white. I also love unwrapping packages and today two arrived for me. The first was a belated birthday present from my best friend Brenda - my birthday was back in August but the choice of gift more than made up for the tardiness: a hot toddy scented candle (this girl knows me well). The second was some promotional material from wonderful artist Nicola Slattery ( who will be running a course here next October. Her paintings are so dreamy and the colours a real treat. I lingered over the pictures and visualised her and her group being inspired here next autumn. It's not just the postman who brings gifts, nature provided for me as well today when I spotted some parasol mushrooms in the field behind the house. These are marvellous creations. They start life just as a folded umbrella with a little collar to keep them tight against the stalks. At some hidden signal, the collar drops down and the mushroom canopy opens up revealing a delicious creamy underside. I braved a field of cows (normally very friendly but currently nursing some new born calves) and a horse to reach my quarry and was rewarded with a sack of these giants of the European mushroom world. Next task - toss them in butter and then freeze them ready for risotto and soup in the months to come.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sunshine on a rainy day

So, here we are just a week away from November, the evenings are drawing in and the leaves are starting to fall. We drained and covered the swimming pool last weekend and it seemed as good a time as any to put my summer clothes away and bring out the woolies. Needless to say, when I received my daily message from the Meteo (weather) office, the temperature for this week is predicted to rise to 20 if not more. Too busy (or lazy) to unpack my trunk, I sweltered during the car ride to La Clayette to do a spot of grocery shopping. The youths hanging outside the store grinned patronisingly at me, they dressed in skimpy T shirts and ripped denim, me swathed in Marks cable knit jumper, combat trousers and boots (at least I left my scarf in the car). I spent longer than usual in the frozen food aisle, ostensibly searching for something for supper but in reality trying to bring my body temperature down to under 50! As I drove home (windows open, cool air fan at maximum output) I realised that I didn't know the term for Murphy's Law. As soon as I reached home I skyped my french language guru and dear friend JP. The french language is wonderful and they have a term for everything so I wasn't surprised when a few minutes later the term 'la loi de l'emmerdement maximum' appeared on my screen accompanied by a warning that this was 'not polite'. More polite, I was told, would be "C'est bien ma chance!" said with a pfff, raising of the eyebrows and shaking of the right-fist (if you are right-handed). I thought I'd go and try out this new phrase in the barn where Billy and Mark are currently laying floorboards. The phrase seemed appropriate as (if you remember) we bought windows yesterday to keep out the wind and cold which were fitted first thing this morning. These have now been opened to full capacity to allow the warm air outside to circulate in the barn building. Stepping out from the barn into the late afternoon sunshine made me smile, what a truly magical place this is.

Monday, 26 October 2009

How green is my valley

Just incase you think I live a complete Utopian existance, I'll let you into a secret, I was up really early this morning to ensure I'd be at the DIY shop when the doors opened at 07.00 hours. As autumn draws in we've decided that windows, rather than holes, are required in the barn and we'd seen some lovely wooden, double glazed, two paned ones in the Brico Depot catalogue. As we left home our vision was somewhat impaired by the low cloud level - the hills looked as though they were wearing a fur lined trim (similar to the one my soon to be mother in law has on her new coat) to protect them from the chill morning air above. However, as we descended from our lofty location the sun was doing it's best to burn off the early morning mists and pockets of greenery began to emerge. I asked Mark whether he had ever watched 'Brigadoon' but he hadn't. If he had, he'd have known exactly where I was coming from. It's been a week since I last went to Macon and the changes in the landscape are startling. The Val Lamartinien has transformed with the introduction of browns from the ploughed fields and golds from the turning leaves slipping into the palette of colour from which this land is painted. But it was the greens that took my breath away. How many shades of green are there? With poets, creative writers and artists poised to descend on Les Cerisiers I got to thinking how they would paint or describe such a scene. I was completely lost for words and overwhelmed by the green before me. Green or more precisely descriptions of green is big business. as I perused the shelves of green paint in Brico I wondered whether there is a team of folk somewhere whose job it is to come up with new names for obscure shades: Peppermint Beach, Crushed Pine, Moorland Magic. If there is job out there for someone with a flare for making up names for new colours I think I'd like a go at it. Job offers to this site please.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Jammin in Burgundy

One of the things that's most surprised me and is a complete departure from my BB (Before Burgundy) self, is the overwhelming desire I now have to grow and make things. This week I've had my future inlaws staying and Barbara (future mother in law) and Adam (future son in law) have both expressed a desire to make jam. There is something amazingly satisfying about creating food from your own produce or items that you 'find' lying around the place. Despite the seemingly endless hours and effort that I put into cooking and shelling sweet chestnuts (DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU ARE FEELING FRAUGHT) I suspect that when I am tucking into chestnut stuffing on Christmas day, a certain smugness will overwhelme me. Anyway, I will devote todays blog to two of my favourite recipes 'Down the lane jam' and 'Quirky quince and orange marmalade'. Visitors to Les Cerisiers will be feasting on these during their stay.

Down the lane jam

Whatever you can find in the hedgerows down your lane


Find a child who is willing to help you gather hedgrow treasures and several large tupperware containers. I was lucky enough to have Adam staying here in August when we harvested several ton of blackberries and elder berries (which we froze), and again in October when we picked rose hips, hawes (frow the hawthorn bushes) sloes, rosehips, hazelnuts and crab apples.

Place all the hard fruits and nuts (chopped into small pieces) into a preserving pan with just enough water to cover the fruit. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes until the fruit is soft and the crab apples fluffy. Sieve the juice and pureed fruit then add the soft fruits and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Weigh this mixture and add the same weight in sugar. Heat over a low heat until the sugar has disolved then boil rapidly until setting point is reached (email for details). Pour into prepared jars and seal

Quirky Quince and orange marmalade (did you know that Quince is 'marmelo' in Portuguese and this is where the word marmelade originated? I didn't!)

2lb quince
3 oranges


Place the fruits in a casserole dish, cover with water til they float and then cook on a low heat for six hours (your kitchen will attain the scent of Heaven)

Strain the liquid then add the skin and cores from the quinces and the pith and innards from the oranges). Bring this mixture to the boil and reduce by 1/3.

Sieve the above

Add the chopped quince flesh and the sliced orange rind, weigh and add the same weight in sugar.

Bring to the boil and keep boiling until setting point is reached.

Pour into prepared jars and seal

Both these recipes will provide you with marvelous preserves. I have had to pay out for a couple of bags of sugar and now have a number of jars of mouth watering treats. Ah Bliss!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Finding your way in Burgundy

Today, driving back from the supermarket got me thinking about the way we navigate through different parts of the world. Having lived in the UK for most of my life I have grown accostomed to navigation that follows a pattern along the lines of 'keep going til you see the Red Lion on your left, take the next right, at the BP station hang another right then left at the White Hart'. Without pubs and petrol stations we'd be quite lost. When I moved to Dubai there was a distinct lack of pubs but an abundance of mosques and hotels: 'You need to go past the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, left at the white mosque, you'll pass the Crowne Plaza, the Hilton and the Radisson before turning left at the blue mosque'. Here in rural Burgundy, our riches are many but these do not extend to multiple hotels, mosques, pubs or petrol stations. Here, instead, we choose to pepper our descriptive prose with stone crosses and gates. So, for those of you travelling in this direction, 'once you've passed the lumber yard keep going til you see the stone cross on your left, take the next right and my house is the one with the big green gates after the house with the chicken wire entrance'.

Going back to my drive to the supermarket - when I left home I could bearly see the afore mentioned green gates. We're pretty high up here at 560 metres and sometimes we wake to find ourselves in the clouds (some would say my head never leaves them). Today was such a day. As we took the road to the shops we have to climb and found ourselves, as in an aircraft, through the clouds with glorious blue skies overhead. As we looked back to where our house should be we saw it had been swaddled in cotton wool. The photo will give you some idea of the scene. The cloud has since burned off and we're enjoying a marvellous afternoon here.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Housework and bunnies in Burgundy

I never thought I'd hear myself say this (let alone write it) but housework can be fun. The key elements are as follows: Find some music that makes you want to dance (Paul Simons Gracelands, which I haven't listened to in 20 years, seems to do the trick), turn the volume up, find someone who makes you smile and then dance around whatever space you have available (the living room in the house was my room of preference). Once you stop dancing the world seems an even more marvellous place and, like Snow White with all her little helpers, you can continue with the housework whistling (or in my case la la-ing) as you go. Thinking about Snow White and the forest animals that helped her makes me think that this could be a good time to introduce Jeff. Most of the locals round here keep a number of hatches with rabbits as part of their food staple. One of these rabbits managed to re-enact the great escape and turned up in our garden one July evening. Almost three months later, Jeff has become a firm favourite amongst guests and friends alike. He loves the company of anyone who'll pass the time of day with him and comes to see the guests off as they leave. This morning I found him conducting an inventory on the breeze blocks and wood we'd had delivered this week (the former for the barn renovation and the latter for fuel). Apparently everything was accounted for. He has been a great help to Mark and Billy offering free advice on the best way to put up beams, positioning of scaffolding and when to have tea breaks. Jeff has become the natural choice for client relations manager and has accepted the role with immediate effect.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Love these days

I really don't know what time of day I love the most. The mornings are crisp and clear and the light has a quality about it that really is hard to put into words (just wait until I've attended a couple of the creative writing events!). By lunch time the early mists have burned off and everything is tinged with a golden light that raises the spirits. Birds sit on telegraph wires and soak up the sun as do Harry and Eddie my two cats who have a special talent for finding the sunniest spots. As the evenings draw in, wood spoke plumes wend their way skywards as people return home and light their fires. There is a faint scent of woodsmoke throughout the valley and as I look up the first star appears. The sunsets this time of year are dramatic. I was reminded (loosely) of a description I read of a sunset recently which went something like: A smear of deep red oil paint across a blackened canvas. See what you think.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The first Burgundy Blog!

Today marks the day I join the 21st century, I am now a blogger! The reason I decided to bite the bullet and start this was to capture for myself, my friends and for posterity my journey. Once upon a time there was a girl (sorry, still can't always see myself as a woman) and a dream. the dream was to live in Burgundy in a beautiful house in a beautiful location and run an activity centre surrounded by enthusiastic and happy people. Well, the house and location chose me in 2007 and the rest of it is beginning to take shape now. As I type this my wonderful boyfriend Mark and friend Billy are out in the barn laying floors in what will one day become the activity centre. Already the place is taking shape, the huge windows have been unboarded letting light flood the space. The stone walls are revealing their beauty and the timber beams...oh, magnifique!! I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that this is all real. Life is good.