Friday, 30 November 2012

Magic Roundabout 7

Yes there back!

Its over a year since we did our last roundabout but whilst out on our travels earlier in the month this one caught our eye. Located at the junctions of the D960 and the D761 on the outskirts of Doué-la-Fontaine it features something that you would least expect on a French roundabout.

Can you see what it is yet?

Why there is a Giraffe in the middle of a roundabout we did not know at the time.

But a quick look on Google earth and...

it reveals that the roundabout is right next to 'La Zoo de Doué-la-Fontaine.' which has a tower of Giraffes and some good revues from Tripadvisor.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Prehistoric Fierce Creature?

When I had finished out in the garden today and was about to brush myself down when I noticed what I thought was a piece of grass suddenly move...  Elizabeth bring the camera.

Now to us that looks prehistoric. All we can say, at 20 mm, is is a good job it is not 1000 times larger...

Our best ID is that it's the caterpillar of the Garden Carpet moth (Xanthorhoe fluctuate) but, we as always, will correct if this is not the case.

It really was most creepy in the way it moved and then froze into a defensive position. Mind you its what I do when Elizabeth is around with the camera.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

European Differences.

We always look out for the latest advertising magazines both from the shops we frequent and coming through our mailbox. We find that they are a very useful way of picking up on offers that are not always highlighted when you go into the stores themselves.

The German company ALDI ( Albrecht Discount) is one of the stores we use, especially for their offers and they do a great gluten free chocolate, a rarity these days  as surprisingly most of the French chocolate contains gluten. They also have a cheap tin of really good corned beef...  (corned beef hash.... yummy!)

I digress; Last week we picked up their latest information, which at this time of year contains many children's items...

including this DVD of the French stand up comedienne Florence Foresti doing a 90 minute show recorded in 2010.

It's title made us look again... 'that' word on a children's page. Then you realise the word has no meaning in French.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Apple Cake - Sans Gluten..

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about some recent successes with gluten-free baking, inspired by my friend and fellow-blogger, Jean .

Here is one of the recipes I promised in that post. It's an adaptation of the Somerset Apple Cake Jean baked for us once. The adaptation came about because I hadn't read the recipe properly and I didn't separate the eggs as I should have done.... so it was guess work from then on. Fortunately the result was very good, so here it is:

Gluten-free Apple Cake

You will need:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g sugar
  • 125g Gluten-free SR flour (or ordinary SR flour if gluten's not a problem!)
  • half tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 1tsp almond essence
  • 2 eating apples - 1thinly sliced and one chunked
  • Sugar and lemon juice to sprinkle over the apples
  • A little milk

What to do:

  • Set the oven to 180C, Gas 4
  • Line an 8" tin with baking parchment.
  • Thinly slice one of the apples and cut the other into chunks. (You can leave the skin on if you wish).
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Gradually add the flour, baking powder and ground almonds alternately with the beaten eggs and almond extract. 
  • Mix thoroughly, adding enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
  • Drain any lemon juice off the apple chunks and fold them into the mixture.
  • Carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon.
  • Drain the apple slices and arrange these on top of the cake mixture, sprinkling them lightly with a little sugar.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the cake is golden and beginning to come away from the sides of the tin.
  • Allow to cool and it's ready to serve!
If preferred you can divide the mixture into bun cases and top each with a slice of apple.
These will only need about 25 - 30 mins in the oven.

Hope you enjoy them... we certainly did!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Shadow Play

Who are these two having fun in the Shadows...

Better kiss and make up

Can you see who it is yet? 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go!

Today, according to the Facebook entry Office-de-Tourisme-du-Pays-de-Richelieu, there was to be a Marche Noel in the town of Azay-le-Rideau.

Never ones to miss a good afternoon out, we had an early lunch and set off.

From the outset it was obvious that there was nothing at all happening in Azay le Rideau, other than people like us walking round in search of the missing Marche Noel. Not to be beaten we went a little further north, over the Loire to Langeais.

Langeais dates back to Medieval times, with its imposing chateau, built on the banks of the Loire by Colin's favourite builder and bruiser, Foulque Nerra (or in English, Fulk lll, Count of Anjou).
Its narrow streets.....

and an equally imposing church which we decided to visit...
It was locked.........!!

We had noticed a poster in one of the shop windows in Langeais advertising an event in Pernay...
but we hadn't the heart to face defeat again. Instead we headed home for a cup of tea.
Tomorrow we'll stay at home!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Teddies Enjoying Themselves

You may remember in a recent post, Colin liked these hanging Santas

Well the stakes were upped today in Auchan, Chatellerault...

Colin now likes this rotating ski lift better...

So for all of you who encouraged him (you know who you are!) I only hope you're ready to come and help assemble the 'ski lift' across the garden of La Croix Blanche to his shed!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Autumn in the Aigronne Valley

Whilst visiting Tim and Pauline yesterday we took the opportunity to have a short walk in the area.

So here are a few photos showing the Aigronne Valley in November..!

Now isn't that just glorious? Tim and Pauline, we are very envious!!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Fine Stag....

Another of Colin's "wants" for the garden...

But it was too deer!! 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

One Thing Leads to Another...

Once the light summer evenings end, I start getting craft-crazy. There are so many things I want to make whilst I've got the chance before the round of planting, weeding, harvesting and preserving gets into full swing again.

I suppose I'm in the enviable position of being spoilt for choice. I was taught to knit and sew at a young age and it just grew from there. I love both and to these I've added painting, stone-polishing, pressed flowers, patchwork, drawn thread work, smocking, card-making and others I can't even think of right now.

That leaves me with too many choices... I'm not good at making decisions at the best of times but with all that to go at it can be very hard to choose.

However I was strict with myself and made my choice: I would start the winter off with some knitting. I found an excellent online store, Outback Yarns, which would ship yarn to France at no extra charge. 

One cardigan and two neckwarmers down, I'm currently waiting for another consignment of wool to make a jumper.

All very straightforward?? Well, not quite. Having bought the wool and the pattern and found my needles I felt I needed a knitting bag to keep it all together... So I got busy sewing........

With some fabric left over, it seemed sensible to make a second bag as a gift for my friend.

Now you can probably see what's happening here. One craft turned into two without even a blink of an eye. But it didn't stop there; oh no!

In searching for some suitable cardboard to strengthen and stiffen the base of the bags, I had cause to look into my art supplies... Well, you have to have a go, don't you!

 And, of course, I could use a gift card to put with the bag....

So we're only three or four weeks into "winter" and I've already attempted four of my favourite crafts.

I never thought I'd say this but I only hope it's a long winter!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

By Special Request!

Following on from yesterday's post, we've received some lovely comments from those who know Jean. I hope she has read them all and sees how much her skills and friendship are valued and admired.

Jean asked me to post a recipe for the chocolate cake I once made from a recipe books she gave me. The actual recipe is dairy free (as well as gluten and wheat free). I'm OK with dairy foods, so here's my version of "Chocolate and Almond Sponge", taken originally from Julia Thomas' Gluten, Wheat and Dairy Free Cake Angel book.

250g butter
250g sugar
250g beaten eggs (about 4 eggs)
2tbsp milk
1tsp vanilla extract
170g wheat and gluten free self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1tsp xanthan gum
11/2tsp gluten-free baking powder
30g ground almonds
little cocoa for dusting

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas 5
Grease and line the base of two 8"/20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
Using an electric mixer on a high speed setting, cream the butter and sugar for about 3 mins until light and fluffy.
Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla extract together and gradually add these to the butter and sugar mixture. (Don't worry if it curdles - the addition of flour will sort this out or alternatively turn the mixer to a higher setting)
Fold in the sifted flour, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder and ground almonds using a large metal spoon so you don't knock the air out.
Spoon the mixture into the two sandwich tins, smoothing to the edge with the back of a dessert spoon.
Bake for 20mins or until the cakes start to come away from the sides of the tins and are firm to touch..
Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 10 mins before turning out

I used a basic butter cream filling to sandwich the cakes, but if you want something a bit more chocolatey, Julia Thomas suggests:

A chocolate filling:
Blend 55g butter and 2tbsp milk until smooth
Add this to 55g of good quality (60%) cocoa) dark chocolate which has been carefully melted.
Add to this half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
Beat in 185g icing sugar, until thick and creamy (adding a little more milk if required). The icing will firm up as the chocolate cools so it is better for it to be slightly soft initially.

Sandwich the cakes with your chosen filling and dust with cocoa powder.

Sorry but at the time I didn't take a photo of the finished cake but that's a favourite one of Lulu to compensate!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Baking in the Gluten-free World

I'd like to dedicate this post to Jean, a good friend and the author of Baking in Franglais as well as A Box of Beads and A Very Grand Pressigny.

Jean has been more instrumental than she realises in reawakening my love of baking and cooking, post Coeliac diagnosis.

Prior to diagnosis and when my children were growing up, baking was a constant. As a child I'd baked with my mum and I never imagined I'd do anything other than enjoy baking.

The crunch came when I found out I'd no longer be able to eat gluten in any form, ie wheat, barley, rye and in my case, oats too. It was a huge blow which meant completely rethinking both my eating and my shopping habits.

Shopping took twice as long as I read the ingredients on everything I bought. There were whole aisles in the supermarket which were now out of bounds - notably the cereal and bakery aisles, but also the pasta, quiche, pie and pizza sections, the ready meals and a great many processed foods. Fortunately for me I had never relied on these as I loved cooking from scratch.

My bible was the Coeliac Food and Drink Directory, which lists the foods anyone with Coeliac Disease can eat.

But even armed with this it took an age to shop. My son was still at home so he felt the change too. It's not easy your mum is coeliac and you love all the things with gluten in them. So he did the obvious thing and cooked for himself.

When Colin and I moved to France I had more time and Colin's encouragement, so I tried baking with gluten free ingredients. But you can only stand so many failures when you're used to being able to bake with your eyes closed. Even the birds were refusing my offerings!

Then we met Jean. We went to dinner several times with her and Nick (and Lulu) and she served some really imaginative meals and all completely gluten free. Not only that, she also baked both cakes and biscuits to die for - again, gluten free. To top it all she gave me a recipe book which I've now used so often I know most of the pages by heart.

This was the turning point for me. I started following these new recipes and the results were very pleasing. I've even started experimenting with ingredients which was something I enjoyed pre-Coeliac but gave up on post diagnosis.

We're enjoying the results of this new found confidence and I only hope it's not to the detriment of Colin's (or  my) waistline!

Here are one or two triumphs of experimenting with recipes.
I shall post a couple of my 'experimental' recipes in the coming days.

So a big "thank you, Jean!" You've made all the difference in the world to my experience of food in the gluten free world of Coeliac disease!

I also owe my thanks to Gaynor, Pauline and Susan, who have all taken such care when preparing meals for me.

And lastly a huge "thanks" to Colin, who has encouraged me all along and never laughed (openly) at my many failures!


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Le Lac du Verdon Wildlife

As it has been too wet for a walk today (shame), we thought we would share with you some of the wildlife we photographed last Sunday on the Lac du Verdon. If we have the ID wrong please feel free to correct us!!

This grebe, in winter plumage, was interesting in that it dived not long after we took the picture and though we waited and waited we did not see it surface.

There were plenty of Eurasian Coots

and Mallards.

This spectacular Cormorant  flypast

but not so spectacular landing

This pair of Ruddy Darters making love in the afternoon

but not this pair of Homo Sapiens...

and finally the Lac du Verdon Monster... If you click and enlarge the picture you can just see its eye.

Well that's what we thought but from a different angle its just a stick... Never mind better luck next time.