Moussaka, music and a parakeet….

One wouldn’t immediately link France and Bulgaria. Even less so their cusine. So it’s perhaps surprising that last night we were sat in a French bistro, eating moussaka and listening to a female acapella group sing Bulgarian folk songs.

One of our three A’s… Cafe Gourmand in Gorron has recently changed hands and a lovely French lady, Jessica has taken over. She’s extended the opening hours and has introduced a musical evening every other Saturday. So despite having eaten an extensive lunch we rolled along there yesterday evening to sample the music and food. You’ll appreciate the fact that we subjected ourselves to two cooked meals in a day purely in the interest of bringing you this extensive and informative blog….

The moussaka was very nice and the music too, though perhaps it was more suited to a different venue. The trio battled against small talk at the tables and food being served whilst they performed, as well as the poor acoustics. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable evening and we’ll try to continue supporting Jessica in her enterprise….though maybe we’ll have to eat less beforehand…

In preparation for our stay in Berlin, I’ve begun an online German language course with Babbel. It’s excellent and I’m finding it somewhat easier to learn than French. I think this is for two reasons. My late father had A level German and possibly my affinity for the language has been genetically enhanced, though it’s more likely that my regional origins and it’s latent ‘patois’, allow me to pronounce German with more ease.

A guide book to Berlin has been purchased, which along with articles on all the major tourist attractions and tiring walking tours includes insights into differing cultural aspects of the city. Always one to delight in the absurd, I read about the musical background of Berlin and found a paragraph on early 1920’s home grown cabaret music or ‘Schlager’. These were silly, surreal songs like, “Mein Papagei frisst keine harten Eier”, which translates to ‘My parakeet doesn’t eat hard boiled eggs’. I feel we should go to Berlin post haste, in search of such a discerning feathered friend…

Break out the maps and guide books, we’re off again…

I’d like to apologise to the readers who have missed my gastronomic rumblings….sorry, ramblings. Please be assured that normal service will be resumed shortly….

This year we are travelling a little further and by a less common means of transport. At the end of April, we’re driving down to Girona, leaving the car in the hopefully gentle care of an off airport car park and catching a coach to Barcelona. We’ll stay in Gracia again, revisiting some favourite haunts and restaurants and trying to discover new vistas and culinary experiences. From Barcelona we go to Girona, again staying in the old town, but in time for the flower festival, where lots of patios are decorated and open to the public.

In August, we fly from Nantes to Edinburgh, then drive to Durham to celebrate my mothers 90th birthday. To recover from this festival of excess, we return to Edinburgh and fly off to Cracow in Poland, then after a few days, catch the train to Wroclaw, then on to Bydgoszcz (it’s ok, I can’t pronounce it either) ending up in Gdansk for a few nights. From there we’ll be taking an express train, travelling 1st class naturally, to Berlin for five days and flying back to Nantes…..

To end the year in style, the plan for October is to drive down to Bilbao, fly to Seville, stay there a while, again exploring and revisiting, then by coach to Cadiz. After a few days in Cadiz, we’ll find our way to the airport at Jerez and fly back to Bilbao. Staying in Bilbao we are looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim and searching the city for outstanding restaurants….ah, you thought we’d forgotten about that…

Breakfast TV….sans croissant..

Some of you may recognize the above image as an example of the beloved ‘full English’. Not something we normally eat or indeed go to a cafe for. So why is it featured and what has it to do with TV? I’ll explain….

Recently one of the local papers ran a feature on British run businesses in Gorron, including our butcher, Elliotts and Cafe Gourmand which is our regular pre weekly shopping lunch spot. A French national TV channel M6, picked up the article and arranged with both to come and film this morning. The cafe was first up and the ‘crew’ was due at 9:30am. We were messaged the evening before and asked if we’d like to come in at that time for breakfast and a chance to appear on camera. Naturally being shy, retiring, wallflowers we jumped at the chance…

The film crew were already there when we arrived….a crew of one that is. Claire, a charming youg lady was camera operator, sound recorder and reporter. She chatted briefly to Susie and arranged an on camera interview over breakfast. Not with myself you’ll notice. It may have been Susie’s carefully applied lipstick that swayed Claire or her advanced language skills. Either way, the hours I spent with hair rollers in were totally wasted…

Oh, why a breakfast interview? It appears this wasn’t a piece about the English takeover of Gorron’s commercial centre or how well they integrate with the French. No, they were far more interested in our ‘full English’ and why we ate such a large, fried meal at the start of the day. Well, Claire certainly got her moneys worth from Susie, who was on fine form. I, of course remained mute…

By 10:30, Claire had moved on to the butchers and the dozen or so fellow breakfasteers were sitting round chatting….All in all, a very British occasion…

Right, left, write..marching to your own tune…

I’ve dabbled with playing a guitar since I was 12 years old. I’m still far from competent some 50 odd years later. I began with a steel strung acoustic. I admit that I didn’t have an instructional ‘play in a day’ manual but no matter how I tried I couldn’t make it sound tuneful. In short it sounded terrible.

After some time I was becoming so disenchanted I wanted to give up. My desire however was for an electric guitar (this was the early 60’s) and my mother found one in a second hand shop. The electronics were frankly dangerous and it came with a heavy valve amplifier. When I saw it, the reason I couldn’t play properly became immediately obvious. I’d been playing the guitar upside down…..

I’m left handed. At the time I didn’t think of any other way than to strum with my left hand and fret with the right hand. The new guitar made me turn things round and I began to use my dominant hand to fret the strings. My playing actually sounded tuneful occasionally…progress!!

I began to lean towards folk music, got rid of the electric and had various acoustic guitars, then discovered ‘prog’ rock and went back to electric guitars. I flirted with a twelve string acoustic and a few years ago found my blues roots and splashed out on a solid body guitar. Then last month I purchased my first ‘proper’ guitar, which is made by a small company in the UK. I still can’t play well, though I do look ‘cool’…..oh, ok, maybe the guitar does…

Gordon Smith Classic T sienna burst

The urge to write has always been strong in me. No, hang on, maybe that’s ‘the force’…anyway, I’ve always believed there was a novel inside me. However, getting to the end about half way down the first page probably won’t win you the Booker Prize.

My dabbling with writing continued off and on through most of my life, much like my guitar playing. Then one day I was persuaded (under protest) to attend a poetry evening, featuring local writers. I can’t say it particularly inspired me but it did enough to encourage me to put pen to paper. At the time I was studying for an OU Arts degree and I discovered sonnets. The format was perfect for me. Fourteen lines and finished. No worries about dragging out plotlines or fleshing out the characters. Just me and my thoughts and those magical rhymes.

The verse literally poured out of me, I couldn’t stop. Two or three a day became the norm that summer. I still don’t think a lot of them are very good. I began to write in other rhyming schemes which I think I enjoyed more. Then, when we moved to France my flow stopped. I really should try again, though I’m finding this blog equally as rewarding. To end, here’s a sample….

Handiwork

He looks at his hands,

Hands that gripped the plough,

Hands that wiped sweat from brow,

Hands that worked all the day would allow.

 

Hands that held his true love tight,

Hands that placed the ring on her finger,

Hands that caressed her that blissful night,

Hands that engulfed their newborn child.

 

He looks at his hands,

Hands that fumble to fasten his clothes,

Hands that struggle to turn off the tap,

Hands that cannot hold his tears back.

 

A horse sized cat flap and the IKEA maze..

Not long ago two new cat flaps were purchased, as the doors on the existing ones no longer ‘flapped’ but laid on the floor. I fitted them, one on the exterior door to the utility room (which is steel) and the other to the other internal door into the inner hall. This door is of the old fashioned flush design, a sandwich of corrugated card, faced with a sheet of hardboard on either side.

Both flaps worked well until we returned from an afternoon out and found the inner one somewhat the worse for wear and the hole in the flush door looking as if it had been attacked by a beaver family intent on finding material for it’s new lodge. Beavers not being native to this area of France our suspicions turned to the smaller of our dogs, Toto.

These were confirmed when the other cat flap was pulled apart in a similar manner and we found Toto cheerfully running round outside when we drove up a few days later. I replaced the internal flap (repairing the door as best I could) but it suffered a similar canine attack shortly afterwards. Now Toto isn’t a destructive dog but obviously had a need to exit the house while we were out. So instead of trying to keep him in, I thought it would be easier (and cheaper) to invest in a larger flap so he could come and go more easily.

I looked on line and found a suitably sized flap on that site named after a race of warrior women. In the Q and A’s someone asked if the extra large one would be suitable for a small horse. Two things crossed my mind : why would one keep a small horse in the house and supposing you did, is it reasonable to expect it to use the flap when it needed to do…..things?

Anyway one flap is fitted and I’ll have to attack the steel door with an angle grinder to fit the other one….and no, we’re not getting a horse and house training it…

We’ve recently moved our washing machine next to the new downstairs bathroom, leaving a hole in the fitted kitchen which it used to occupy.  To fill this void an executive decision was made to visit IKEA in Rennes for a unit of drawers to take it’s place. I’m sure there are people who love Swedish flat pack furniture with an undiluted passion. I’m not one of them…

It’s not so much the product but the dreadful pilgrimage through mocked up bedrooms, kitchens and office spaces, locating someone who can fulfill your order on paper and then steering hopefully towards the check out. We tried two signed short cuts but ended up back in kitchens each time. I swear I saw a man with glazed eyes and a month old growth of beard wandering aimlessly in search of a way out. We persevered though and retrieved our flat pack components from aisles 20, 24, 32 and 46 and lined up to pay with all the other weary shoppers…

Our quest sadly doesn’t end there..the drawer facades are out of stock and we have to go through the experience again in a fortnight…if you don’t hear from us for some time, you may well find us somewhere between ‘Tingsryd’ and ‘Uddevalla’ clutching a half eaten pack of smoked salmon and a bag of greasy meatballs…

A Tale Of Two Tummies….

To paraphrase Dickens, “Tis a far, far bigger lunch than I have ever eaten…”

Somehow, we managed to consume three Christmas lunches in December. I should qualify this by stating we did so willingly. Susie has always claimed she has a back up tummy specifically for desserts, which can be opened with an imaginary spigot when her primary stomach is nearing a gastronomic plimsoll line.

I must confess I have assisted her on occasion over the past month when even the reserve tummy was in danger of reaching capacity. For example, in Vitre I famously ate the best part of two main courses and both desserts. To be fair I did try to walk it off afterwards, in which endeavour I failed miserably.

We had Christmas lunch at Cafe Gourmand, then a few days later another at L’Abbaye. On Christmas Day itself we ate at L’Aromate, which was simply superb and more importantly negated the requirement to undertake an excess of washing up.

On New Years Eve we had dinner at Au Bon Accueil. We splashed out on a half bottle of champagne and enjoyed a beautiful set menu of seven courses.

A highlight of our New Years dinner was the unusual combination of smoked scallops with mandarin, it doesn’t sound as if it should work, but it did. We’d sat down to our meal at eight thirty and at midnight (and prior to our second dessert) all the exterior lights in the town went out, including the Christmas decorations. We fully expected them to come back on after 2018 was welcomed in but no, they are on a timer and not even New Years Eve can change that….We got home at well past 1am.

Luckily, we’d taken advantage of L’Aromate’s ‘plat emporter’ (take away) service for lunch on New Years Day. Merely requiring a quick steam or a few minutes in the oven, we speedily had a lovely lunch just as if we were in the restaurant. More importantly there was again a minimum of washing up….and no need for a second stomach..

Autumn : Mists, mellow fruitfulness and sweaty runners….

I guess we are hunkering down for winter. Not that we are expecting Arctic weather but since coming back from Spain, I’ve lit the Rayburn and we regularly light the wood burning stove of an evening. The house now benefits from a double glazed front door which has improved the temperature on the ground floor no end. Replacing two broken cat flaps might have helped too.

Our lunch time habits have slipped back into our previous routine too, visiting Cafe Gourmand, L’Aromate and L’Abbaye each week. It’s been a delight to drive round locally and see the trees in wonderful Autumn colours. We had an opportunity to see a more extensive display on Sunday, with a visit to Briouze.

Why Briouze? To find out we must return to Seville. Whilst there we purchased the set of hand painted ceramic bowls featured above from Xavier, the owner of the apartment we stayed in. There was a show cabinet outside our apartment door and we fell in love with the brightly coloured ceramics Xavier had for sale. Sadly we couldn’t transport them back in our luggage, so Xavier agreed to post them on to us….

The postal service in Spain does not come out of this episode in shining colours sadly. Apart from not having ‘fragile’ stickers to put on the box, their carriage was very expensive. However, Xavier was due to meet his sister at a family gathering in the south west of France where he originates. His sister Christine lives in Alencon (about ninety minutes drive from us) and works for La Poste. The box was handed over to her for posting off back in Alencon. Christine has as much faith in the French postal service as Xavier has for it’s Spanish equivalent.

Briouze is about 45 minutes drive from us and a friend of Christines was going there to run in a half marathon (or some similar energetic race) which was taking place during Briouze’s autumn fair and he kindly agreed to bring our package with him. We arranged with Christine to meet him in front of the church before his race and collect our well travelled ceramics.

After a slightly hurried and stressful lunch at L’Abbaye we set off for Briouze. The afternoon was glorious and the Normandy countryside revealed it’s golden hues as we drove along. I wish I could say Briouze is a delightful, charming town. Our view may be coloured by the diversions blocking access to the town centre and the huge number of cars trying to park. I managed to find a space in a small field, leaving us our own ‘mini marathon’ to get to the church on time. Negotiating farm equipment, burger stalls and men selling helium filled kiddies balloons, breathlessly we found our contact, still waiting patiently despite us being ten minutes late. He was pleased to hand over the package and he jogged off to warm up for his race.

We walked back to the car at a much more sedate pace, resisting an urge to liberate a medal from one of the passing junior runners in recognition of our own seniors pass the parcel event.

Ah well, it was worth it in the end…..