Sunday, 26 December 2010


I missed saying "Happy Christmas" to you all. So, did you have a nice Christmas? With good meals and lots of presents?
We did. I fetched Nicholas from Brest airport on Tuesday 21st, his birthday! He was one of the lucky ones to leave London and get to his destination, and on time if you please! We have been having a good, quiet time together, as we always do. With a series of excellent meals, no restaurants, we seem to be able to do better at home. What did you have for Christmas meals?

The temperatures are going up down, up down, we have lovely sunny days (although as usual the weather forecast for the Finistère is awful) but rather cold nights. I have to put thick socks on over my shoes to get across the terrace to the north side of the house, the one that leads to the garden, so that I don't slip and kill myself while peeing the dog.

My load of wood for the winter was delivered last week. All neatly cut into 40cm lengths, split and stacked on a pallet.  Last year it cost me 225€, expensive enough, this year it's 275€. Can't do without unfortunately: a woodburder means wood. That being said, my little house is lovely and warm.

I've finally got photos of my two grandsons wearing the sleeveless pullovers I knitted for them just before going to the States in September. I forgot to take photos of the finished product and had to wait for Cécile to put photos she had taken on her blog.

This week I have made quick and not very expensive curtains to block out the draft that comes up from the veranda into the sitting room in the evenings in winter. There is a sort of archway about 1m70 wide, and a couple of metres high. I bought a steel curtain rod and some rings with clips on them. The things to hold the rod up with are placed too high for me to screw them in, so I stuck them with super glue. Then I bought 6 metres of fleece, really cheap, in a nice off white. I cut the edge and tore it into two pieces 3m long, turned over the top into a pelmet of about 25cm and clipped it to the curtain rings! It trails on the ground and makes sure that drafts don't get under it, and it needs no hemming, it doesn't fray. I'm really pleased with the result, which took me a couple of hours in all, not even. It looks good and is very efficient, in fact, with the woodburner going, the sitting room is almost too warm now!

I can show you my pre-Christmas knitting, now the presents have been given. I did a jacket for Marius, with toggles, a sleeveless pullover for Leif, a bit pink, but I really need to knit pink sometimes and it's not easy having two grandsons. And a sleeveless pullover for my brother Michael. They all seem to have liked their presents!

So, on to food: for Nicholas' birthday we had a bottle of nice champagne, the most enormous snails, then fish, then a sort of pavlova with a difference (meringue, fresh heavy cream and raspberries in a champagne glass. For Christmas Eve, we had a plateau de fruits de mer, which actually almost went wrong, because the fishmonger seemed to have forgotten my order, and gave me all the shellfish unopened, and the fairly large lobster I had ordered turned into two very small ones, but it was all good, and too much, so last night we had the rest of  peeled shrimps, langoustines, a few praires topped with the meat from the tail of one of the lobsters in a cocktail sauce (fresh mayonnaise, a teeny bit of ketchup, tabasco and cognac) in a champagne glass, with a bit of salad at the bottom! For our Christmas lunch we had a glass of champagne with three frozen raspberries in it, a few nibbles, a shoulder of lamb with roast potatoes, roast parsnips and peas, and no dessert, not hungry enough. Before Christmas, Nicholas made me onion soup, lovely. And today he did me a lamb curry which was quite delicious, lovely not to have to cook!

Plateau de fruits de mer before I opened the oysters (there are all sorts of things hiding underneath...)

Lamb curry

 A bit of a blurry photo of onion soup

Salade tière de coquilles St Jacques

 Foie gras maison and champagne (with a bit of saucisson lurking in the middle)...

Lobster cocktail

On Christmas Eve, just after lunch, we took the car and went up into central Finistère, the Monts d'Arrée, to visit the Montagne St Michel and the prehistoric burial chamber (allée couverte) at Mougau Bihan. Nicholas was looking for photo material. There was a bitter wind, but lots of sun, and the Montagne St Michel was still covered in snow. Quite different from the summer painting trips that Yves and I often make.

Mougau Bihan, Finistère

Nicholas at the top of the Montagne St Michel

Ellie at the top of the Montagne St Michel

The path to the top of the Montagne St Michel, Finistère

This afternoon we went for a walk along the banks of the river Odet just outside Quimper, but it was bitterly cold. Then we went to the Anse St Laurent near Concarneau so that Nicholas could photograph old fishing boats that are falling apart on the mud flats. And now it's time to sit in front of the fire as darkness falls and catch up with my blog.


A very Happy New Year to all of you should I not manage to post again before then.

Friday, 3 December 2010


It snowed during the night, but only two centimetres. Pretty this morning, and not too cold.

I made myself the most fantastic soup for supper last night, quite by chance really, adding bits and pieces of not much to not much... I started off with a free range chicken carcass that had quite a bit of meat left on it one way and another. I put it in a large saucepan with water, obviously, an onion, a clove of garlic, some leftover boiled rice and some salt. Boiled it very gently for a few hours. Took the meat off and shared it between Ellie and me. She thought that was a good idea! Put the meat back in, set it to boil, added the zest and juice of one (organic) lemon, and when it was boiling, I created a swirl in the saucepan and added a beaten egg (could have added more). Sort of my version of avgolemono. Then I put cubes of rather stale wholemeal bread into the bottom of a large (thai soup size) bowl, and ladled the soup over it and added freshly ground pepper. It made a very hearty, tasty, comforting supper on a cold winter's evening. Cost me nothing, and when I'd got the whole bowlful inside me, I didn't need anything else.

It always amazes me that people don't make more soup. There are all sorts of soups you can make for next to nothing that are really satisfying. You can even make soup out of vegetable peelings if you wash the vegetables before the peeling... A ham bone, or a couple of marrow bones, or a carcass, or the broth left after a pot au feu, a queue de boeuf or a poule au pot with a few noodles added to it... or a real country soup of split peas and cubes of smoked ham, or cream of lettuce just made with the outside leaves of a salad and a potato and a bit of cream,  I could go on and on. The very best of course is my Mum's poireau pomme de terre! And these are just the simple ones.

I saw a report on the television yesterday about soup, and it showed various people buying cartons of soup at the supermarket. Some are no doubt quite acceptable. But the lady was saying, I don't have time to make soup. Time to make soup? Precisely, it doesn't take time to make soup, you bung everything into a saucepan and the soup makes itself. Especially now you can just whizz it through at the end with a soup mixer. If she'd spent the time she'd taken going to the supermarket and buying the carton actually making soup, she'd probably have saved time.

When I was a child, I didn't much like soup. Not because of the soup really, but because my mother wouldn't let us drink until we'd finished our bowl. It "went against the wind" according to her. One of her quaint beliefs... But to me it was pure torture not being allowed to help it down with water. My children didn't like soup when they were little either. To such an extent that I gave up making it. Now I have soup almost every day in winter, and even in summer, cold soups. So good, and makes my food budget go so much further!

By the way, I found out yesterday that I was actually making a minute amount of money from the adverts on my blog! So I'm going to post more often to increase the traffic if you see what I mean. And I also wanted to say that I don't actually choose the ads, so dont worry if you see sexy Philippino ladies etc., I haven't gone quite barmy! Don't hesitate to click, I may get rich...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

IT's COLD...

Yesterday, Châteaudun, where I used to live, was the coldest place in France with -19° actual temperature and about 50cm of snow. I'm congratulating myself on having moved to the Finistère where last night the temperature went down to -5° and we have had a centimetre or two of snow in the last couple of days. It's chilly but not that chilly. My woodstove works well, my house is small and easy to heat.

I've started feeding the birds. A blackbird has been helping itself to my pyracantha berries. Can you see it? It's orange beak gives it away.

No walks for Ellie who suffers from the cold, you would too if you had to walk with your tummy four centimetres off the ground. So she tears up and down inside the house instead, chasing the cat, skidding on carpets and generally creating havoc. I do miss Oslo's staid behaviour.

I have been knitting like mad, but I can't put pictures yet because that would give the game away. (Now everyone will think they are getting one of my famous handknits for Christmas, which is not true, only two or three people are.) I've also been selling things on Ebay. All good winter-stay-at-home activities. Painting too, the house I mean. I've finished the bit of wall in the sitting room. I ran out of paint ages ago and finally got more. Looks good finished, can't think why I didn't do it before. The join doesn't show at all. And now the ceiling. It's been half done since the kitchen was installed (in other words, since just after I moved in!). Here the join does show, because either the paint has changed colour, or I didn't mix it up enough. The sitting room is a bit of a mess with moved furniture all over the place, but it's very satisfying getting it done eventually and moving everything back into its place. Find some interesting things when you move furniture...

I went to an exhibition last weekend of my friend Jean-Yves Marrec's pastels. My favourite is the one pictured below, but he does a lot of seascapes, and harbours and boats and is very clever.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Good Lord! I've managed to upload all the photos I wanted in one go.

This is an artichoke sculpture I have been working on for ages, couldn't get the colour right. But now it's finished, and looks good and I'm inordinately proud of it, as you can guess by the number of pictures!

It's about the size of... a large artichoke! What's it good for? Not much really. Just an object of beauty.

And here is Ellie showing off the size of our big beach...

She was one year old a couple of weeks ago. Oslo has been gone for a whole year. How time flies... And here is a sun-worshipping dachshund:

Well, we get little enough of it (sun) nowadays.

Nothing else to report really.

Monday, 15 November 2010

MORE CATERPILLARS, BERRIES AND GRAFFITTI (and Google being very very annoying...)

Google is being very boring, I wrote this a month ago, but have not been able to publish it because Blogspot, run by Google, has mucked up the method of putting photos in the blog, it's virtually impossible, one can add one photo every few days as far as I can see. I've got fed up with this so I'm publishing without the photo that should go with the last paragraph. So this was written in October...

I've done a bit of gardening, wonders never cease. When going down the path a few days ago, I nearly trod on the subject of the photo below. A very large, firm, fat caterpillar, about 7 to 8cm long, and after a long search on internet I've found that it's an Elephant Hawk Moth.

My pyracantha is in full berry and illuminates my front terrace at the moment. Won't be long before the birds get the berries. Have you noticed what a year this has been for fruit of all kinds, nuts, berries on trees, etc? Is it the hard winter we had? The absence of spring frosts? A wonderful month of June? Or a combination of all these factors? Blackberries were very plentiful, apples and pears too, chestnuts are just falling out of the trees (every other tree in the Finistère is a chestnut tree, I've picked up kilos)...

I went to the beach Friday morning because the time for low tide coincided with the time I had to pick up my vegetable basket. So we went to the big beach at Tréguennec. It wasn't very sunny, in fact it's the first time this year I've felt cold, but it was magnificent all the same, hardly a soul in sight. There is a new graffiti on the first blockhaus on the beach. I'm admire graffiti immensely, their complexity, the talent the artists have for getting an overall view while working fast and very close up. It is amazing that the tide, which covers this blockhaus when it is high, does not wash them off. They manage to last several years or until they are painted over.

I made a terrine a few days ago. I've never done that in my life before. I fried up some onion, minced some pork belly and some bacon and a côte échine, lots of parsley, a bit of garlic, added salt, pepper, fresh thyme, chili, nutmeg and a couple of spoonsful of armagnac. Mixed it all up, put half of it in a terrine dish, the put four rabbit fillets in the middle with some prunes, put the rest on top, with a bayleaf to look pretty. Covered it with tinfoil and put it in the oven in a baking dish of water for an hour and a half. It's very good, I'm quite pleased with myself. A little dry maybe, next time I'll put a bit of liver in with the meat, but the flavour is excellent. The ingredients cost me 8€. And it will provide lunch for days and days.

Photo meant to be here (terrine!)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


I'm back from my visit to the States to see Cécile, Aziz and the children. I had a good trip, and warm weather for the first week. Then it went rainy and colder. I liked their new house, which reminds me of illustrations one sees in children's story books of the "Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" 's house, that is, quirky, slightly crooked and up a lot of stairs. It's an old house, especially for the States, and there's a lot to do, but it has character and history.

Leif had his first birthday while I was there, and Marius prepared for halloween, choosing which costume he was going to dress up in. And I had the dubious pleasure of keeping them for a day and a half while their parents took a breather in New York.

I had an American lady housesitting while I was away, everything went well, the dog loved her and got walked about three times as much as with me. Here is a picture in front of a crab dinner and margaritas...

Now everything is back to normal, no more travelling for this year (or next, probably, with the state of my finances), but Nicholas' visit at Christmas to look forward to. I must get on with painting the sitting room and finishing the upstairs bathroom.

I finished a pottery doorstop in the shape of a spineless hedgehog before leaving. Here is a picture of it, I'm really pleased with the result, and it's nice and heavy and holds the door more than adequately. I shall be picking up my finished artichoke sculpture tomorrow, after innumerable coats of enamel trying to get the right colours. If it's not right this time, I'll give up. I'll show you a picture next post.

I went last night to a feng shui workshop the other side of Quimper. Last minute decision, I only actually found out about it a couple of hours before it took place. I really enjoyed it, and think I shall attend future workshops (about one a month). I've been interested in feng shui and geobiology for ages, but it's really complicated to learn out of books. The lady holding the workshop was very nice, and explained things slowly and very understandably. It'll get more complicated of course, but I'm quite hopeful that I shall get a better idea of it this way. And I'll meet a few more people!

Friday, 3 September 2010


The life boat at Loctudy

Looks quite big, but it wasn't, the claws were virtually empty and the body of both came to about eight mouthfuls (but nice...!)

Now I know you are going to find this difficult to believe, but I just lunched on not one, but two free lobsters! Very, very small mind you (otherwise I could hardly have eaten two could I!), but free nonetheless. I went to get my vegetable basket at Loctudy this morning, and as usual went on to the fishing port to get my fish for the week direct from the boats. I bought some "dos de colin" which I'm going to do for guests on Sunday in a coconut thai curry, four sardines (3€ the kilo), a lovely big mackerel (3,50€ the kilo) and when I went to pay, she split two cooked lobsters and put them in a bag for me. I protested that I had not asked for lobster, but she insisted that they were giving them to people with a "carte de fidélité" (that is, I'm a faithful, albeit only once a week, customer). (I think they must have over-estimated the number of tourists still around and cooked too many?) So I said, well thank you very much, pocketed the lobsters and bought a bit of mayonnaise from a charcuterie on the way home. If I'd known, I wouldn't have bought so many sardines!

What with lunch and the heat, I'm feeling quite comatose...

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I spent the weekend before last meeting up with friends I made in India last March. Seven of us decided to get together and one of the Norwegian ladies who lives in France just over the border from Geneva kindly offered to host us in her lovely big house.

I organised housesitters ages ago, to look after the house, dog and cat. I found two Swedish ladies from, roughly my age, who flew into Brest airport the day before I left, hired a car, and drove down here. Normally I leave my car for my housesitters, but this time I drove across France. I left on Thursday morning, and drove to Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire Valley, where my friend Marylou has a crêperie. I haven't seen her for two years so it was a good opportunity to catch up. I arrived at the end of the afternoon, having strolled along,  stopping off to look at things on the way. She gave me dinner in her restaurant, working like a slave all the while, I don't know how she keeps it up.

I left the next morning about 10h00, and drove the rest of the way, along the Loire (I grew quite nostalgic during this bit of the journey), then through Burgundy and on to the border. Not a part of France I know well. I don't like mountains. I felt claustrophobic and closed in when I was not far from my destination. And there was an awful lot of traffic, it took me for ever to get there.

The river Cher at Montrichard

The weather was perfect Saturday and Sunday, we were able to eat out all the time on a wide terrace overlooking the mountains, in true style I took no photos, relying on other people to send me theirs; with the result that I have none as yet. We chatted a lot and analysed what it was we got out of our stay in India; there is no doubt that everybody came away changed to some degree. We cooked meals by rota, vegetarian it had been agreed. Very good food, good atmosphere, a very nice weekend.

My hostess and a couple of fellow guests Place des Nations, Geneva

And on Monday I headed back to do the same drive the other way round. I left at 10h30, went back to Azay le Rideau with the same awful traffic, and had dinner with Marylou and her partner by the river (Vienne? I'm never sure which one it is). I slept at their house that night and set off the following day for Angers where Yves was working for the day. I found a small, very cheap hotel just where I wanted it, by the river Maine at Bouchemaine, just down the road from a very good restaurant, l'Ancre Marine, which Yves found a bit complicated, but which I enjoyed thoroughly. A wide view over the river, a full moon rising, good food, a nice bottle of Chinon. I had tartare de daurade and then  sweetbreads in a sabayon d'agrumes, a curious mixture but very good.

The village of Bouchemaine is very attractive, at least the old part by the river. It has tiny streets and old stone houses, and a path along the Maine where it joins the Loire. There were fishermen, a few late holidaymakers, and lots of birdlife. We spent a night there about 12 years ago when I was working for Vacances en Campagne and we didn't regret going back at all.

On Wednesday, I dropped Yves off at the station in Angers, without the help of my GPS which gave up the ghost at that precise moment, then headed in the direction of Nantes. I stopped in an aire and rang the person who keeps Shahdlou to see if I could pop by and see him, and then headed up using my mapbook (what a strange feeling!) to Vay, near Nozay. Shahdlou looked good, he was in a field with 5 other horses, and a few beef cattle. I gave him the bread rolls I had pilfered from the breakfast table and he came and gave me a distinct sign of affection by leaning his head on my chest. One can only stay ten minutes, but it did me good. These photos are not good, but he kept coming towards me. For his age, 24, he's still looking good. The farmer who looks after him, and other horses from the same retired horses association, is in the picture. He's a really nice chap.

Then back to Quimper and my Swedish ladies who had kept the household going. It started to pour with rain, and went on for two days. And cold with it. They prepared me a Swedish dinner for the night of my arrival back with Janssen's fretelse pictured below. Very good and very welcome after a day on the road. They left on Friday to go and tour the north of the Finistère before leaving by plane again. I'm so lucky with my housesitters. I have another one arriving in three weeks time, an American this time, when I go to America to see Cécile and her family.

The weather has turned wonderful again. And all the tourists have gone! Which makes life easier and Quimper emptier. Schools go back this week. I can go to the beach with Ellie again. Back to normal...

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and was waiting for photos of menhirs and stuff, but I can't get hold of them so I'm publishing this very late, without changing anything.

The weather still isn't really summery, we have the occasional few hours of sunshine, but mostly it's a bit grey and cold. Yves was here for a week and we got out quite a lot considering. We took a picnic to the estuary of the Aulne at a place called Le Passage, near Trégarvan;  it was beautiful and very quiet.

We also went back to the Montagne St Michel to get another shot at the chapel, the scenery around there is so complex, so many greens.

Last Tuesday, we went for a walk with Ellie around the Anse St Laurent, near Concarneau, she loves that walk through the forest with all its smells, and I love it because you follow the sea most of the way. I took some good photos of mosses.

We also went to three exhibitions of paintings, there are lots around here at the moment. One was at Bénodet, of paintings by official Peintres de la Marine. Some were absolutely wonderful. And we went to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quimper to see Meijer de Haan, a contemporary of Gauguin, who lived around here with him for a while. That was very good too. And on Tuesday afternoon, we went to the Manoir du Moustoir, about ten minutes from here, where there was an exhibition of Mathurin Méheut, and a contemporary painter called Bonnot, and a few others, wonderful stuff, all so different.

de Haan

We ate out several times, once by the sea at Kerity, Chez Emma (Le Doris), no surprises there, all good fresh fish and friendly service, and at Ty Coz on the northern edge of Quimper, which I had wanted to try for ages. Nice place, quiet, tables well spaced apart, a fairly short menu but good food. I had a feuilletée de petits gris and mushrooms with garlic butter and Yves had smoked trout with a millefeuille of tapenade and frothy pea mixture, then porcelet confit dans son jus pendant 7 heures, which was simply wonderful, with lots of veg for a change, and pièce de boeuf which was also declared very good.  And then profiteroles and crème brûlée. Menu at 29€. There were much more complicated menus. The drink was very expensive though. Apéritif was exorbitant, but we had a good Chinon.  The only fault to be found was that the carafe of tap water was strongly javelisé, they should invest in filter jugs!

We also went out hunting for prehistoric burial chambers, unsuccessfully at first, but later, having parked the car roughly where the plan said we should find one, we walked for ages along an ancient sunken track, and eventually, having asked an elderly local lady for directions, found it in a field of wheat. There are so many around Brittany, that the farmers don't pay them much notice, and often they are covered in brambles and surrounded with crops. Only the more important ones, or those standing in places that cannot be cultivated, are kept clear of vegetation.

I've done a teeny bit of work on the bathroom, painted the ceiling, one coat at least, before I ran out of paint and had to go up to Audierne today to get more. Looks good though, pale shell pink instead of that awful varnished wood colour.

I've finished another painting,  of a hypothetical bit of the Finistère coast in winter at low tide, with a lighthouse and a village right in the distance, seen through pine branches. It all sounds complicated, and it is, far too complicated. I'm not happy with the layout or the subject matter. But it's all in a good cause, and  each time I learn something.

I picked a large bunch of wild flowers, with a bit of russet fern and some reddened dock leaves, on my way back from Audierne this afternoon, when I stopped to walk Ellie a bit. I'm going to try and still life it tomorrow. I put them in the silver christening mug I brought back from Compton last time I went.