Diary of a skinny Crow

Before moving to France it was discussed at length how much we would strive to lead a healthier lifestyle. They say happiness expands your waistline, well this is definitely true for both Ian and myself.


Convenience foods were always our downfall in the UK. It was so easy to just nip out to the shop at the bottom of the road and with 24 hour supermarkets anything we could have wanted was within a 5 minute drive. In France it is very different indeed! Yes, we do have a ‘Spar’ in the next village 10 minutes away. However, it is much different from any Spar in the UK, most noticeable when you see the resident cat wandering around! It closes for lunch every day, at 7pm in the evenings, and you have to navigate those narrow roads to get there. Our nearest supermarket is located in Chalais about 15 minutes away. No 24 hours here.


With this in mind, since September we have stopped all our evening snacks. No more biscuits with our 8pm coffee, which easily turned into a full packet once opened; and that was just between the two of us! Food is also more expensive to buy here, although Lidl is helpful in providing most of the things we need, at a reasonable cost. All these factors together have lead to us planning our diet and controlling what we eat. We will write a weekly menu, shopping only for the things on our list. We throw much less away and save plenty of money!

diet-1From September to the end of December we were watching what we ate, but very loosely, Ian still devouring his crisps, peanuts and alcohol and me with my chocolate. We had lost some weight but not enough to satisfy a good weight loss. So, on January the 1st it was decided that we would refrain from alcohol (Ian) and chocolate (Lauren) until we arrived in the UK on 16th February. Obviously neither of us want to give in and loose the challenge so we are both doing well! Although as Ian arrives in the UK on the 13th he thinks it was agreed that he could drink then. Errrrm nope, so he will lose when he gives in then! Woop!


Our ‘Dry January’ challenge has helped massively and we have both noticed the weight beginning to drop off. To give ourselves a bit more of a boost and to try a new weight loss method we have also been restricting our carb intake. The first week we ate no carbs whatsoever apart from on the Sunday at the end of the week as our ‘treat day’. I lost 8lb, Ian lost 8lb, and that includes a Chinese banquet on Sunday night! We are now at the end of our second week, with some carbs during the week (minimal) and a 4lb weight loss each. I’m very much looking forward to Spaghetti Carbonara tonight for my end of the week treat! It is my absolute favourite meal!


Our progress to date has been excellent, even if I say so myself. I have lost 2 st 5 lb and Ian has lost 1 st 11lb. I really feel like we have turned a corner in our way of thinking, both when we eat and how I feel after I’ve eaten. We are both wearing smaller jeans that we had previously packed away as they didn’t fit. Personally, I eat smaller portions, I don’t crave sweet things as much (sugar withdrawal was hard!!!) and, much to Ian’s delight, I am only drinking 1 can of diet coke a week.

red_lentil_and_bacon_27157_16x9It does help that Ian is an excellent chef, our meals always taste delicious and are often full of ‘boring’ veg that he has turned into a masterpiece! Nevertheless, we do allow ourselves some treats and I find it easier to get through the week knowing I have a yummy meal to look forward to on a Sunday evening. One of our staple favourites for lunch during the week is Hairy Bikers Lentil and Bacon soup. Whilst it does have carbs in with the lentils, they are the ‘good’ kind of carbs so we allow it in our diet. It’s a lovely thick soup, very filling and I don’t miss having bread with it (although Ian does allow himself some, I am being much more restrictive!).

You can find the recipe here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/red_lentil_and_bacon_27157

Another discovery of mine, an excellent substitute for rice with any dish, is cauliflower! I made cauliflower rice for the first time last week and it was delicious. Hardly any calories too! I used about half a cauliflower for 2 of us and this was plenty. Ian paired it with a Chicken and Tomato Thai Curry. Mmmmmmmm.


This is the recipe I used, although its open for any variation. I am going to turn it into a chicken fried cauliflower rice this next week.


We have been doing more exercise and generally are trying to be more active. Ian walks daily, and I walk not so daily but more than before!

I will keep everyone updated on how we are doing. I cant stress enough how much better we feel in EVERY aspect of our lives. The big test is yet to come; our week back in the UK followed by a week in Disneyland approaches!

Lauren x

Losing Weight the French Way

It was always our intention when moving out here to eat a little more healthily (quite easily done) drink a little less (nigh on impossible) and do a bit more exercise (no excuse with our glorious countryside) which should all lead to a slow and steady weight loss.

However with the steady flow of visitors since we have arrived it has been hard to achieve all three at the same time. As everyone who visits, quite rightly, are on holiday and it would be very remiss for us not to show them the full Chateau Crow hospitality!!

That said we have both lost weight since September, Lauren just under two stone and me just shy of a stone. But now with it being a quiet time for visitors it is time to ramp it up and get some more weight off.

Our New Years resolutions were for me to give up drink and Lauren to give up chocolate for the best part of 6 1/2 weeks when we return to the UK for the half term break. So far so good for both of us, but from this week onwards we are making some big changes to what we eat.

Since January 1st we haven’t quite watched what we have eaten, especially when Lauren has been baking; Bread & Butter Pudding, Lemon Meringue Pie and Walnut & Coffee cake! But this week we are going all in. No refined sugars, no complex carbohydrates & one cup of coffee a day, just eating lots of veg with fish,chicken & meat, and a little dairy too.

We are exercising at least once every day. Lauren’s making her debut at the Passirac Keep Fit on Wednesday and I am at joining the Chalais Ramblers on Friday, as well as our regular walks around Passirac.

Day one is nearly complete and so far so good, no hunger pains or withdrawal symptoms yet. Weigh in is next Monday morning and hopefully we dropped a few more pounds and will continue our regime for the following two weeks in preparation for our return to the UK.



Saint-Emilion is a name that everyone knows, even if they are not into their wine. For oenophiles its name is synonymous with quality, affordable red wine from the Bordeaux region. We visited the town on a glorious day in mid January, it was very quiet and one can only imagine how busy it gets in the summer.


The small town is steeped in history, having been formed by a monk called Emilian in the 7th century. However King John of England is probably the one person who did the most to establish the town in the 12th century when England ruled the area of Aquitaine.

Saint-Emilion is perched on the side of hill and within the cobbled, hilly streets are walls and medieval ruins dating back hundred of years. That it is a UNESCO heritage site tells you everything. There are underground caves (cellars), catacombs, a castle keep, subterranean church and much much more to explore.

Wine merchants abound on every street, selling the very wine that is grown immediately around the town and further afield, in between are dotted various restaurants and cafes, including two michelin star restaurants. This is a true gastronomes paradise.

The wine

Saint Emilion wines are generally not as expensive as some of the grand chateaux of the Mèdoc and it can be drunk almost immediately without having to lay it down. The dominant grape variety is Merlot, which gives a deep red, full bodied and velvety wine.

etiquette_baronSt Emilion has its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), you should find that on the label of most bottles, this is the most basic quality but that’s not to say its not good. Spend €8-10 on a bottle and it will be lovely drink.

The vineyards immediately surrounding the town (and by immediately I mean within yards), are ranked as the “Grand Cru’s”, which are the best quality St Emilions’. They are reclassified every 10 years to ensure the quality remains consistently excellent. They also have to  submit each vintage every year for tasting. Grand Cru’s can be bought for €12 upwards and will need laying down before drinking.

The top quality is the Premier (1er) Grand Cru. Which are the best Grand Cru’s and will be about €20 a bottle upwards and need laying  down for longer than the Grand Cru’s. These are examples of labels showing the Grand Cru labelling.

Once you venture outside of Saint-Emilion there are a huge amount individual chateaux offering tastings, “dégustation”, they all want your business and will be glad to show you around. Do a bit of homework before you go and find out which estates you want to taste and buy. The value you can get buying direct, “vente direct”, is amazing.

No blog post of mine would be complete without mentioning food!! Despite it being the middle of January there was still plenty of places to eat, although most of the high end restaurants were closed until mid-February.

We went to Lard et Buchon on the main street. Situated in a cave dating back to the 14th century it oozed history and class. Here are a few photo’s of our meal.

Bon Apetit


Tranquil January

We first visited the Poitou-Charente area last January. Despite it being cold and wet we immediately knew this was where we wanted to live in France. Another reason for visiting in the height of winter was that if we saw the place during the colder, wetter months and liked it then in the warmer months we knew it would be fantastic.

December was always going to be an exciting time with family visits and Christmas, but January was always going to be more peaceful and quiet. A leisurely week spent with my son, Sam, has soon come and gone and now we are back to or normal routine of work, school, French lessons and just getting on with our lives.

For our New Year’s resolution Lauren and I are giving up Alcohol & Chocolate until we return to the UK in mid February for a break. So far so good, half way through the month and neither of us have wavered. This along with our regular walks in the forest have helped us both lose a good few pounds since the New Year. Another month of a better diet and more exercise will hopefully help us shed a few more.

I’ve added a new culinary skill and now bake bread on most days. I have a sough dour culture that I nurture and feed everyday and use this to bake our own sourdough bread. The results have been mixed but recently my baking has been more consistent and it makes amazing toast.

The landscape is particularly bare at the moment, fields are all ploughed and the vines are all pruned back to their gnarly base. Its amazing to think how verdant the fields will become in the height of summer. It’s going to be great watching them come alive in the spring.

It’s also very quiet in the towns & villages. It seems that during January a lot of retired ex-pats spend a lot of time in their home countries, or holiday in warmer climates. A lot of restaurants shut down after Christmas too or use this time for renovation or repairs.

But we love the quietness and calm this all brings. The girls have settled back into their routine. Their French is noticeably better since returning to school. It seems like having a two week break from their intense daily “French lesson” has given them new confidence in speaking and understanding their teachers. Our teatimes are now spent speaking in French about what the girls have done at school that day.

I’m still plodding along with my three French lessons a week. My accent is still a great source of amusement to the girls, but I will always have a go and not be afraid of making a fool of myself. I’m hoping to get out on my bike in the next week or so, weather permitting, but its now a quiet five weeks before our grand trip to the UK and Euro Disney.

Au revoir


Mums in France

The focus of life in France is very much one of family being first and foremost. In England, family life was so busy and hectic, fitting in work, school, clubs, social occasions, football and golf left little time to just sit down, relax and be together. My own personal daily life has changed dramatically. I’ve gone from working in a busy school, juggling this with children, housework, ironing and friends to taking a much easier role helping Ian with his Admin, working from home. I still have to do the ironing though!

Another thing I’m trying to adapt to is that the girls now call us Mama and Papa, the traditional French ‘Mum and Dad’. Its cute, I like it, but very different. I am trying to integrate with other parents but with a language barrier it is not always the easiest thing to do. Fortunately for me we have met lots of new friends, mainly English people, but these families are in a very similar position to us and we find ourselves drawn to each other. Christmas came and went quickly but it was not short of parties and invitations out, the girls too making new friends, English and French. Without our neighbours, Jane and Lee, it would have been much more difficult as they have helped a lot by introducing us to their friends, who in turn introduced us to their friends and so on! New Years Eve saw 30 people at our house, who’d have thought! These lovely friends alongside a fantastic Facebook group I was introduced to, Mums Space France, has made me feel more than welcome and offers a wealth of information and support. Coffee mornings are due to start soon, although will probably also involve some cake. Well why not.

There are things I miss a lot. I did not realise just how much I would miss my daily hectic life, well some of it! I do think that Ian has it a little easier as he does get to go back to England once a month, but with the children in school I cannot simply up and leave them!

I miss all the mums at school and the 15 minutes of nattering every morning surrounded by children running in every direction. I am lucky though as I have a lovely neighbour who I do see at the school bus drop off so I’m not totally alone! In France I get to pick Evie and Isabelle up. This was usually Ian’s job back in England as I finished work later so this is a plus!

Heather and Joanne, oh how I miss you 2 lovelies, my 2 best friends at work! Our daily gossips in the staff room and hysterical classroom antics brightened every day. Who knew you could become an expert tree cutter outer! Heather will sympathise with me on that! Or the time we kept a stash of doughnuts in our stock room; all the things we realised we needed from there on that afternoon! I miss the doughnuts…..

Whilst I love my 2 girlies very much, something else I miss is having ‘date nights’ with Ian. Its not so easy to find a babysitter in the middle of France when family are 850 miles away! Saying that we do find time to pop out for lunch at our favourite restaurant nearby and I suppose I’m no longer a golf widow!

We are headed back to England mid February and I’m already booked in with my 2 favourite school teachers for a girlie meal out. We have a meal booked at our favourite place, The Parkers Arms, where we held our wedding in August and a meal out for Ian’s birthday, just the 2 of us. Plenty of socialising planned and the chance to catch up with friends and family; I am very much looking forwards to it! With Ian having to go back to England once a month, I do find myself on my own quite a lot. It makes for long lonely days when the girls don’t get home from school until almost 5pm, so its not all fantastic in France, but its quite close.

Mum out 🙂

Our First Christmas at Chateau Crow

Bonne Année to all our followers. We’ve been rather busy over the last few weeks with two work visits to England for me and lots of Christmas preparation for Lauren, so the blog has taken a bit of a back seat.

Christmas and New Year is now over and I think I speak for us both in that it has been a brilliant and wonderful time, spent with family and close friends, whilst trying to conform to the French traditions and customs as much as possible.

We were joined by Lauren’s Mum & Dad, Nick & Carol, on the 15th December. The weather was so good we had lunch outside on the Saturday after they arrived. Now the weather here is a lot cooler, either bright clear days that have 2 -3 hours of warm sunshine, or grey foggy days. You never feel the cold much as the wind rarely gets up on the clear days, but to spend the 17th December eating lunch outside was an unexpected surprise. Lauren has been very happy with the weather as she has been able to hand the washing outside up until the 23rd December!


Lauren’s Grandma Maureen & Grandad Duncan joined us a week later landing at a very foggy Limoges airport.


On Friday 23rd we had lunch in our favourite restaurant Le Poirier, which has already been mentioned numerous times in previous posts. Needless to say the food was up to the usual standard and much wine was consumed, especially the Rosé consumed by the grandparents as you can see from the photo below!! Hic hic.

You may notice the girls are absent from the picture as it appears they had a better offer than spending the afternoon with the oldies! Evie and Isabelle were invited to a friends birthday party where they were filled with Chinese food (Friends mum is Chinese) and lots more delicious treats! Unfortunately there were no left overs much to the disappointment of us grown ups. The girls have made lots of new friends over the past few months 🙂


In France the main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve, so we decided to do the same. A turkey and gammon joint was located in Angoulême (the french normally eat beef or a large chicken). Cranberries appeared in the local supermarkets the week before christmas (at €3.90 for 200g!!) along with copious amounts of sprouts. Lauren & Carol made their own stuffing and to finish Lauren had made her Christmas Puddings in October, to the secret family recipe.

I cooked most of the meal with a lot of help from Lauren & Carol and a great time was had by all.

The girls awoke at just after eight on Christmas morning and a long leisurely day was enjoyed by all. Despite being in France, numerous presents from family and friends were happily received from Santa. The girls surprise present being a fantastic, magic filled trip to Disneyland in February, along with new hats as you can see!!



Lauren gave me a telescope for my present. The girl done well…..I think she got the many hints over the previous months!! The sky here is so bright at night when its clear, so expect to see photos of the night sky in the near future (when the bloody fog has gone!!)


With having had our main meal on Christmas Eve it allowed us all to have a wonderfully relaxing day opening our gifts, drinking, watching telly and just being lazy. I was banished from the kitchen by Carol, who proceeded to make us a great meal  of turkey trimmings and leftovers from the day before.

Boxing day is not a public holiday in France and is just treated as another day, with all the shops open and everyone at work. However us Brits weren’t going to let that small detail get in the way of a good party.

We were invited to a party at Stewart & Louise’s, along with a number of the many new friends we have made out here. Needless to say we had a great time with great hosts. The kids (and some of the grown ups!) loving the huge space in their converted railway station house, especially with the various nerf war games in the huge loft!!

Even the designated drivers enjoyed themselves!img_0100

On the 27th we visited a market in Rouillac which is called “Vingt Sept”, literally “27”in English. Its called this because its held on the 27th day of each month, irrespective of what day the 27th falls on. It’s technically a “foire” (fair) rather than a market as its held every month rather than every week.

Its huge and takes over the whole town. You can buy anything you can imagine there, food, clothes, household stuff, agricultural machinery, even cherry pickers (two traders), live animals for slaughter or pets, etc.etc.etc.

We had a couple of chill out days after that, enjoying good food and company. On Friday we visited our favourite market in Riberac. It was noticeably busier than recent visits, probably due to the run up to the New Year, which is celebrated more than Christmas over here.

We had a coffee in Nick & Carols new favourite cafe now known to us as the “Allo Allo” cafe.img_0903

On the way back we had a lovely lunch at La Taverne in Aubeterre, definitely a place to revisit when the weather is better and we can dine outside.img_0904

The grand finale to the festive celebrations was our first New Years Eve party at Chateau Crow. Everyone we have met in France has made us feel so welcome. Most of  the people we know are on a similar adventure to ourselves, with the same outlook and values of life. So it was great to host a New Years Eve party for our friends and relatives.

The evening was brilliant, the time flew by, fireworks were the order of the day at midnight, followed by the traditional songs including a Conga around Maison St Louis, the Hokey Cokey and a very poor attempt at Oops Upside Your Head aka The Boat Song!!



We’ve now got the house back to ourselves, its already feeling very different after a few sad farewells earlier today. But our next visitor, my son Sam, flies in on Thursday, with him spending a week with us after a busy Christmas for him in the pub he works at.

The only thing that was missing for me this Christmas was not having Bethany & Sam over to stay, FaceTime is all well and good but I’m especially looking forwards to seeing Sam again.

As for New Years resolutions they are much the same as usual, eat less, drink less alcohol, more country walks with Lauren and getting out on my bike which will start this week come rain or shine.

We have got so much to look forwards to in 2017, we are all back in the UK for the two week break in February when we do Euro Disney on the return trip. We are also busy planning our grand Italian Tour in July & August.

We have already got numerous people visiting us from Spring onwards and theres lots more exploring of our local area to do as well as improving our french and generally enjoying life.

Bonne Année from Ian, Lauren, Evie & Isabelle




Preserving & Pickling in a French Kitchen

Food in France can be expensive. Meat and fish in particular are a lot more than in the UK, but the quality is very high and in general you pay for what you get. Fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive but only if they are not in season or locally produced.

Our local market in Chalais has an ever changing set of producers who sell just one thing. And that thing is usually whats in season.Kiwi fruits seem to be the latest fruit, with us buying a kilo for €2 last week. Mushroom vendors are now starting to appear, but we have had Charantais melons early in the year, tomatoes and peppers about 6 weeks ago.

The french are very particular about what they buy, but they know a bargain and they also bulk buy when produce is in season. They eat what they can and then they set to work preserving & pickling what they can to see them through the winter months.

So when in Rome…..I decided that I would do the same, but also try and use some of the fruit and vegetable that cost nothing but a bit of time foraging and searching for them.

Our larder is now getting rather full.

We have Apple & Blackberry Jam made from foraged fruit


Fig chutney…the figs were donated by some friends who have a fig tree in their garden but don’t like figs.


Preserved lemons…these were bought from the supermarket, then preserved!! Tomatoes dried in the oven and preserved with oil


Peppers…roasted in the oven, skins removed and preserved in a garlicky olive oil

Nettle & walnut pesto, which is miles better than the italian original and a fraction of the cost.


Piccalilli, to go with the gammon joint we’ve got for Christmas.

I just need to think what we can do with all the Kiwi fruits we now have!!


Le Bistro Claude- Fine Dining in Cognac

A few weeks ago we had a day in Cognac first visiting the Hennessy Cognac Experience which was followed by lunch in Le Bistro Claude in the heart of the old town of Cognac.

I found Le Bistro Claude through my Viamichelin app, which informed me that this was the best place to eat in Cognac vieux ville.

One thing we have learnt in our short time in France is that the french like to eat at lunchtime rather than the evening. By law restaurants have to offer a “Menu du Jour“, a menu of the day. Usually consisting of three courses, the food on offer is usually seasonal, local & features on the a la carte part of the menu. Even Michelin starred restaurants have to offer this.

The price varies depending on the type of restaurant, but you can pay anything from 10€ upwards. Our lunch was €25 for three courses and the food was delicious. Unsurprisingly the place was packed with people eating off the rather expensive a la carte menu, this is certainly the place to have a business lunch.

Locally smoked Gensac fish with avocado mouse and poached eggs with a chorizo crean sauce and a parmesan crust were the starters.



This was followed followed by loin of lamb and a cod fillet dish, the pictures do more justice to the food rather than my description!!



Dessert was a white chocolate pannacota which was followed by coffee. We drank a local Charantais red wine and had some rather pricy beers as an aperitif, but all in all great value  for such a high quality of food. We will be back.


‘Allo ‘allo- Good moaning. I was just p*ssing by the door

Well we are both another two months on and we are progressing with our quest to learn french. How quick that we are progressing though is the $64,000 question!!

I quickly decided that one lesson a week wasn’t enough so I now have two one-hour lessons a week. We both still get out to our language club on Thursday evenings but it’s more of a social occasion than the intense hour of one to one lessons we have, although I have learnt that sitting with the french members of our group is far more productive!!

Our vocabulary and general understanding is becoming much better. My french accent and pronunciation is improving slowly but surely (much to Evie & Isabelle’s amusement, who now speak with a perfect french accent) and I generally make myself understood with my improved confidence and knowledge.

I do panic a bit when asked questions but I’m learning to cope with that by asking for people to repeat what they are saying. We also spend a few minutes a day talking in just french with the girls, usually about what they’ve done at school. Their french is coming on leaps and bounds with my son recently commenting that if he didn’t know them he’d think they were french!!

However maybe the best sign of progress is in understanding the conversations on the radio, I can generally get the gist of what is being said and I’m getting used to the speed of the conversations.

I’ve also started attending an additional class in Chalais, this is slightly different in that its a group lesson, usually 6-8 people, so there is a lot of chatter around the table. For some reason the teacher thinks my french is good enough to go straight into the intermediate group. Again I understand the conversations but struggle to speak as I am still at the stage where I have to think in English then translate to French then speak it, usually very badly!!! (Think of the English policeman, Officer Crabtree in ‘Allo ‘Allo!!). It’s a very intense two hours but its just what I need to push myself.

Lauren is going at her own pace too, with one lesson a week, but she also does all the translation of Isabelle’s homework and the letters we get from school as well replying to them in french. I think Lauren knows a lot more than she lets on!!!

I’ve got a real test coming up on Friday when I have volunteered to go on a school trip with Evie’s class. Her teacher speaks little english so its going to be an interesting day. Its a trip to a Gastronomic fair in Angoulême and I will hopefully do a blog on this later in the week.

Donc au revoir et bonne journée




Outstanding October

October has been an equally busy month for very different reasons. The house is sorted and we are finding that our weekly routines are settling down. The girls are now comfortable with getting the school bus and look forward to going to school every day, albeit one or two wobbles but they were soon resolved.

News! We have had visitors!! Early October saw my Grandparents come out and visit for a week. They have missed the girls so much and were thrilled to be able to spend a week with us. We ate out LOTS and took them to visit the local market in Chalais, and Cognac about 30 minutes away from us. My Grandad took a liking to all the local wildlife we have around us, discovering Coypu (an otter type creature) in a small lake near our house, and turning into David Bailey the photographer much to my Grandma’s annoyance! Well you can never have too many pictures of white cows haha! The day that they flew home Ian picked up my parents and they spent 10 days with us too. More eating out, drinking and visiting places followed! We went on the Hennessy Tour in Cognac (see Ian’s blog), and even though i wasn’t too bothered about going, i really enjoyed it.

The girls had 2 weeks off for half term in which we took a trip down to San Sebasian. Ian has done a separate post about our trip, it was fantastic! It was a lovely place which we would recommend and we will definitely be visiting again. Its not often you can swim in the sea at the end of October! On our way back from San Sebastian we went through the Pyrenees, driving through amazing countryside with views to die for. We found a great little B&B in Oloron St Marie for the night before making our way back home….and in true Ian style we took the long way round!


The school holidays came to an end with a Halloween party, fancy dress of course, which included conker matches, a gunge lucky dip bucket, plenty of beer and good food. Not quite sure on how good an idea being Mrs Frankenstein was, I was still green the day after!

All in all, life is good, the kids are great and France is even better!!

Lauren x