School by Evie and Isabelle

Evie’s Story

The school that I go to is good and I like that we get homemade lunches. I have learned a lot of French and my teacher speaks German and French but not English. When I started there was a boy in my class who speaks English and he helped me. Now I hardly need his help at all!

The classrooms are very different and unique. We sit on individual wooden desks and we walk to the dinner hall every day to eat dinner. We have 1.5 hours for lunch which usually has 4 courses. We have a starter, which is normally a salad, main course, cheese and dessert. Every meal comes with lots of bread. Also, there is a nursery down the road and we go there to read books to the nursery children.

I have made very nice friends and everyone is really nice. My school is very small and has 37 children in it with 2 classes. We get 2 long break times to play out and normally get some snack, like fruit. In the school yard we play games like hopscotch and have lots of fun.

So far I have been on 4 school trips and they were so fun. One was about animals and habitats in the water. We wore wellingtons and went fishing in the river with nets. I caught some small fish and sea snails but we put them back. We have also been to watch a performance about different music from around the world. They were playing instruments like flutes, violin, piano, drums etc.

This is the school and the library.

Isabelle’s Story

French school is the best experience I have ever had in my life and the best thing is learning knew words and helping the class learn English. Also my teacher is very nice and helps me lean French. I also get to make knew friends and they are very nice.

I only have 23 people in my class because it is only 1 class but it is mixed with kids in year 3 and year 4.We are not allowed to bring pack lunches. In our school we have a room called the cantine (the dinner hall) and we have a cook called Corrine. She makes  great dinners and last week she made ratatouille and it was amazing. We go on a bus to school and it is very fun and the bus driver is very nice. In the mornings we have a lady called La and she is nice and funny, she helps everyone get their seat belts on.

My school is called Oriolles and we have old school desks, in 2’s, with a compartment  underneath. We also have a really big chalk board and our classroom is really really big. We bring our own pens and other things in our backpacks. Some times if it is people’s birthday 🎉 the dinner lady (Corrine) makes a birthday cake and we get to help make it. Afterwards we get to eat it!! On the bus if we are lucky we see a snake or a deer.

We also have half days on Wednesdays . Last Wednesday we went to see a show about this girl and her friend and they travelled to different places in the world and there were lots of different instruments like a violin, piano, flute and drums. We also have this after school club and it is called TAP and we do lots of crafts and games,mosaics and drawing and making Halloween masks and that is my favourite part of the day. My teacher is called Adaline Roux and the people who do TAP are called Alan and Florence .

This is my school.

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Swift September

When we came up with the idea for our website it was my intent to write a blog post to summarise what the Crow’s have been up to each month. So here is September’s, slightly late…………but better late than never!

September has been one of the craziest months of my life. Packing up our house in England was stressful enough in itself. I HATE packing and unpacking equally! As our French house comes furnished, luckily it wasn’t anything big. But when we were unloading the car it seemed as though there were hundreds and hundreds of boxes and vacuum bags to move inside and unpack…..urgh.

I left the kitchen to Ian as that’s his department. The first thing I did was remove all the generic pictures from the walls and put up our own. Even with this little change the place was becoming to look more like our home. The girls were delegated with the task of unpacking their boxes upstairs (out of the way), and with the help of some background music to keep us going, we were off.

It did become apparent quite quickly that we didn’t have half as much storage as we needed. The kitchen was lacking, without room for all Ian’s gadgets and pans, and the girls room looked like a bomb had hit it (scary considering how much we threw out when we packed!). There is only one place you can go to solve all your storage needs, Ian’s favourite (most hated) place…………IKEA. Lucky for us its only an hour away in Bordeaux, and as the girls discovered, Toys R Us is next door!

So now my house is also my home, looking how I want it, and because you can never go to IKEA for just what you need, also complete with matching cushions and throws!

September also saw the girls start school. They have exceeded our expectations in every way, quickly picking up the language, making new friends, eating food we never thought possible and generally making our lives brighter with their confidence and courage. This is more than evident in their first day pictures! They will be posting a blog of their own soon…….much to their annoyance. I quote ‘Which random people will want to read about our school mum? Do I have to?’ Errrrm yes you do.

Evie and Isabelle have also discovered a huge amount of conker trees around our house. After some research we had lots of fun creating conker crafts for our house, especially as its said they deter spiders!! There are now conker people all over the house 🙂

We were lucky enough to have our neighbours host The Lord Chamberlain’s Men in our shared garden. Our ‘VIP’ seats on the raised pool side, with a glass or 3 of fizz, watching the performance of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ was nothing short of fantastic. If you ever have the chance to see these guys then it is a must, even the girls loved it. They do tour the UK, but lucky for us ended the tour out here. Their website http://www.tlcm.co.uk will have details for next year.

There have been lots of other bits happen in September, too many to write about in detail, and I don’t want to bore you! We had an epic thunderstorm which went on all night and frightened the kids to death, naturally it happened when Ian was back in the UK so I had to sleep in the girls room that night (for their benefit of course!). We met the resident chickens, Henrietta, Madeleine and Colin the girl. They all have their own little personalities and are very entertaining, especially when chasing the girls for scraps of food. They look almost like a pack of velociraptors.

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Look out for October, which will be coming very soon!

Lauren x

 

Restaurant La Ribaudière: One Michelin Star

Our first visit the Poitou-Charente area was in early January 2016. Our aim that long weekend was to find somewhere we could rent. We immediately fell in love with the Charente and the property we now live in and all other viewings were mostly cancelled or were very quick.

That gave us some time to explore the area further. A quick look on the viamichelin.com website and we found a Michelin starred restaurant situated near Jarnac and, more importantly for me, close to what is now our nearest golf course at Golf du Cognac.

We had a lovely that day lunch at La Ribaudière. It was a foul day and like the UK the area had had a huge amount of rainfall in the previous weeks. The banks of the Charente were close to breaking point but it didn’t interrupt our meal.

Fast forward nine months later and we decided one Friday to have a lunch date. La Ribauldière felt like the obvious choice.

It’s a gorgeous drive through the heart of Cognac’s vineyards. We skirted the area of Segonzac, which apparently grow the most prestigious grapes of the Cognac area. “The Grand Champagne” which is used in the finest Cognacs and nothing to do with fizzy wine production!

As you can see from the photos below the weather was very different than back in January, with a couple of small cruising boats pulling up on the bank for lunch.

The nibbles we had with our aperitifs and the amuse bouche and set the tone for a lovely meal using ingredients from the chef’s own garden and local suppliers.

Here are a few photos of our seven-course tasting menu, the highlight being the langoustine ravioli in lobster sauce.

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Foie Gras with Smoked Eel & Asparagus

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Langoustine Ravioli with a Creamy Lobster Sauce

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Spicy Lamb with a date sauce

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Roasted Cod with Saffron Risotto

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A fantastic “chariot de fromage” was served, followed by two sublime desserts

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On the way home we had a little diversion through Jarnac past the Courvoisier Cognac House. 

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I cant recommend La Ribauldière enough. It’s seriously good value for a michelin starred restaurant. Compared to the UK, prices are 20% cheaper and thats before you take into account that every french restaurant must include service charge in their advertised price, which saves another 10%-12.5%

La Ribaudiere http://www.laribaudiere.com

Bon Appetit et A bientôt

Ian

 

Hennessy Cognac Visitor Experience 

Brandy is the generic name for distilled wines and is produced all over the world. In Italy its commonly known as Grappa, Spain just brandy, but the two main french brandy production areas are Armagnac and Cognac. I love my french brandy preferring the rougher (and cheaper) Armagnac to Cognac. I usually take a small glass of Armagnac most nights and find it really settles my digestive system!!

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The Armagnac region is in Gascony in the far South West of France and Cognac is located about 100kms north of Bordeaux. They both produce the finest Brandies in the world, with 99% of all production being exported around the world. Cognac is celebrating its 1000th year in 2016, originally being a trading post on the Charente river for items such ass salt & spices.

Cognac production is dominated by the four main brands Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin & Courvoisier. However if you venture outside the town in any direction and you will soon be in the heart of the vineyards supplying the grapes for the Cognac. It apparently takes nine litres of wine to make one litre of Cognac, so there are lots and lots of vines growing mainly the Ugni Blanc (known also as St Emilion) grape that’s turned into wine for distillation.
Having taken some advice we were pointed in the direction of the Hennessy Visitor tour. They have tours in English from mid April to mid October and last about 90 minutes. It’s probably best to book in advance. They do a 16€ tour and a 30€ tour, the only difference being the quality go the Cognac’s you sample at the end of the tour.

Your tour starts with a short boat trip to the other side of the River Charente.

What follows is a series of videos and short presentations on the history of Cognac production (Irishman Richard Hennessy founded the business in 1765), the wine growing, the areas of the best vines, the process of distillation and the creation of the eau de vie spirit, making the barrels (which is a true craft).

 

Its all extremely entertaining and easy to understand.

You then move over to one of the warehouses where the distilled eau de vie is aged in barrels. Some barrels date back to the 19th century!!

There are literally thousands of barrels in this one warehouse, god knows their worth.

Behind some locked gates are the absolute best eau de vies that are used in the Cognac’s that cost thousands per bottle.

The whole warehouse has a smell of sweet alcohol. This smell is the alcohol evaporating through the wood of the barrels and is often known as the Angels Share.

We were then shown how the differing eau de vies are blended and combined to make the various differing styles of Cognac’s.

Then its back over the river to taste two of the “cheaper” styles of Hennessy Cognac’s the VS & VSOP. They were surprisingly different, but very enjoyable.

Lastly we are invited to buy the Cognac’s, with the VS Cognac starting at €40 to the XO at €150!!! Then to the Paradis Cognacs at hundreds & thousands a bottle!!

It was a great experience and even the non-wine buffs amongst us found it most enjoyable.

 

Spectacular Sunrises

We wake up most mornings to spectacular sunrises. Here are a few I have shot recently on my iPhone6 using the time lapse feature on the camera.

 

Circuit des Remparts: Vintage Car Rally in Charente

Driving home one Saturday afternoon in September we suddenly became aware of the cars passing in the opposite direction to us were rather special!!

What we encountering was the first day of The Circuit des Remparts car rally, which culminates on the Sunday with a race around the streets of Angoulême.

We stopped and took a couple of videos before my battery ran out 😦

 

Tartiflette

Tartiflette is one of my favourite dishes. It’s from the Haute-Savoie region of France and dates back to the early 18th century and is typical of the food of that area of France.

I discovered it quite by chance, seeing it on a menu as a starter and thinking that sounds an interesting name and ordered it without having a clue what it was! Needless to say I loved it!

It’s a dish of baked potatoes, bacon, cream, onions & reblechon cheese (similar to camembert). I add mushrooms if I have any spare. I cook it for all our guests and it always go down well.

Here is my recipe for 4 people.

  • 500g of new potatoes
  • 150g of smoked bacon lardons or bacon bits
  • One onion or a couple of shallots
  • Two/three cloves of garlic
  • 200g crème fraiche
  • 100g milk
  • ½ Reblechon cheese (or whole camembert)
  1. Turn on oven to 180C Gas Mark 6/7
  2. Slice the potatoes into 5mm pieces and parboil them for 5-6 minutes, drain and let them cool.
  3. In a pan fry off the lardons in a glug of olive oil.
  4. Roughly chop the onions and finely chop the garlic. Add to the lardons after about 5 minutes and continue to cook until everything is just taking on colour.
  5. Put the cooled potatoes into a large earthenware pot (see photos below) with the milk and crème fraiche and mix gently covering the all the potato slices in the creamy mixture, season with salt & pepper as you like. (I sometimes add some chilli flakes for a bit of heat)
  6. Add the lardons/onion/garlic from the frying pan on top of the potatoes.
  7. Take the cheese and cut into 5 mm slices, leaving on the rind. Cover the lardon mixture with the cheese and bake in the oven for 25-30 mins until the cheese is melted and golden.
  8. Serve at the table with a dressed green salad, a sliced French baguette and bottle of crisp dry white wine.

Bon appetit 🙂

Before going in the oven

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Out of the oven

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Happy full tums

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A bientôt

Ian 🙂

Treating the Grandparents at Le Poirier Restaurant

We have had the pleasure of Lauren’s Grandma & Grandad staying with us this week. They’ve begun to understand our love of the Poitou-Charente region  and I am sure they will be back before Christmas.

We’ve taken them twice to our favourite restaurant, Le Poirier, in nearby Bardenac. Restaurants like Le Poirier are one of the main reasons I wanted to live in France. Rustic french cooking at its best.

The formula is quite simple. They only open for lunch, serving a 7-course menu the 13€. Yes thats not a typo…thirteen euros!!! There is no choice. All the food is local, seasonal and its is simply cooked.

Theres no fancy service, you use the same crockery and cutlery for all the courses, just wipe you plate with the bread that’s part of the 13€ price!!! Oh I forgot….the 13€ includes all the red (or rosé) wine you can drink (and water t00!)

The service is swift and simple. You get every course served on a platter and just help yourself until you’ve finished that course. Oh I forgot again….the 13€ includes your tip* too, although I always leave a little bit more.

*The price you pay for your meal in France always includes tax and tip. You only pay what you price you see on the menu and it is illegal for them to add an extra service charge on your bill.

The seven courses usually consist of Soup, Vegetable dish (we’ve had potato salad, mushrooms, couscous), a Carb dish (e.g.Vol-au-vonts, Croque Monsieur), Meat (usually Pork) served with a vegetable dish (ratatouille is the latest seasonal dish), Salad (just fresh lettuce in a dressing, always served after the meat), Cheese, Dessert & finally coffee. You can also sit outside and enjoy the glorious view 🙂

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On Sundays they still do the seven course menu, but the meal takes on a more relaxed tone, with lots of French families treating themselves. The ingredients are more expensive and the price goes up to a whopping 21€ for adults and 11€ for kids. You also get new plates for each course 🙂

Here’s what we had today

Some nibbles with our Aperitifs

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Red Pepper Soup

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The next platter was actually two courses. Charantais melon with local air dried ham and foie gras paté

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Fish Course (Monkfish I think)

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Charolais Veal with a Cep Potato Cake & field mushrooms, cheese stuffed courgettes

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Salad and Cheese followed (sorry no photo), but the cheese board was yummy. Finally dessert was a really light raspberry sponge.

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Coffee finished off a splendid meal which was enjoyed by all, including the little ladies.

As everyone who knows me will testify I love my grub. Much that I like fine food I would prefer this type of meal over michelin starred food any day of the week. This is the sort of place you could come every week of the year, as it appears a lot of the locals actually do and we seem to have done since our first week here!!

Bon Appetit et a bientôt

Ian

Floyd on France

I have always enjoyed cooking and entertaining friends. My passion for cooking was first stoked by the late, great Keith Floyd. His TV programme and subsequent book “Floyd on France” was my first insight into french cooking. My copy of his book, as you can see, is well used and is also signed with a wine glass as befits the great man himself.

I have cooked many of his classics over the years. Coq au VinFrench Onion Soup,Bouillabaisse ,Boeuf Bourguignon & Chicken stuffed with 30 cloves of garlic have long been my amongst my favourite recipes.

His book has, of course, followed us to France and now having settled here I have begun to stock up the kitchen with olive & sunflower oils, flavoured chilli oilsherb oils, vinegars, herbs and spices, peppers & salts and other condiments, that are, according to Floyd, french cooking essentials. However each new purchase is often met with a roll of the eyes from Lauren when I say it essential for the kitchen!! I think six different types of salts is enough now 🙂

I hope to regularly blog about my kitchen exploits, giving recipes too for the simple country food I love to cook. I aim to make the most of the local produce. Nettle soup has been a firm favourite. I’ve started preserving, making the most of the abundant walnuts, figs, rhubarb & tomatoes. We have also begun making a sourdough starter and hope to bake bread when it’s ready.

More of this in future blogs along with our trips to the amazing restaurants in the areas, but I will leave you with this link to a classic Floyd of France clip.

Ian 🙂

Parles vous Français?

Our knowledge of the french language is limited to say the least. I learnt Spanish at school and Lauren German, so no help there. My french is atrocious to say the least, but I am always prepared to give it a go, even if I don’t make myself understood in my north Manchester accent.

Through various trips and holidays to France I’ve always prided myself on being able to order drinks and a meal in restaurants and bars. Although I’ve not always got what I thought I ordered, but I’ve always considered that part of the fun as I eat anything (more of this in later blogs)!!

In preparation for our french relocation we all, kids included, downloaded the Duolingo
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I’ve set myself a target of been reasonably fluent in conversational french in the first 10 months we are here. It’s quite an ambitious target but one I am going to enjoy attempting. Our girls are already a month into their french education and are already miles ahead of us with their pronunciation and vocabulary. Evie, our eldest at 10, speaks with immaculate pronunciation, losing her strong Burnley accent in no time at all.

Lauren & I are now taking french lessons on a one to one basis for an hour a week. Our teacher takes you right back to the basics. Placing great emphasis on being able to pronounce words correctly, using books that are used in infant schools. This may sound very basic but it needs doing. French is a wonderfully expressive language and without understanding how words are spoken you will never make yourself understood.

We also spend our Thursday evenings in the local language club where like minded french and english people while away a couple of hours. Amongst other things everyone has to give a brief report on their week in their non-native tongue. At first it can be quite daunting but everyone is in the same boat and its quite entertaining too.

In addition to this we listen to french radio all the time in the car and slowly but surely we are beginning to understand the gist of the conversations, picking out more words day by day. I also use the iTranslate app on my phone to help my vocabulary and we are also going to try to watch some french TV with subtitles on. It all helps your progress.

I’m going to measure my progress by how I go on in the local shops and markets. At our local Spar run by a lovely very french couple I am now having conversation about the weather as long as the usual Ça va?

The Monday market though is where I can see the best progress. We now pick up the amounts we have to pay quite easily and again try to have a conversation with the stallholders, often asking what is the correct way to say words and they are always most obliging.

I’d also like to think I am starting to gain a french accent although I have a long long way to go on this!! I will hopefully blog about my french progress most months so until next time…..au revior et à bientôt.

Ian