Saturday, 31 August 2013

Paimpol - August 2013

On Tuesday mornings the market comes to Paimpol.

Many people still fondly assume that the French spend their days wandering round market stalls, carefully selecting each individual fruit and vegetable, chatting with a seller of cheeses, handpicking a live chicken from a cage, perhaps discussing which herbs to use with a particular piece of meat...

In reality the bulk of the weekly shopping is done in supermarkets but the weekly market is a special occasion and many people will take the time to visit it to treat themselves to 'real food'.
And to chat with the stall holders, pass the time of day with acquaintances and sip coffee with friends.

If you arrive at around eleven o'clock a delicious Croque Monsieur, eaten at the café by the harbour, will set you up nicely for a wander round the market stalls and streets of the town.

And from your table you can watch people playing the game of 'Hunt the Parking Space'.

I am not a dedicated shopper, although I do find it hard to resist the hippy-style tunics and blouses that are so often to be found on French country market stalls.

But really, I prefer to wander, to take pictures, often with a view to dabbling in a little painting at a later date.

This one would make one such lovely painting I think?

And this house, facing the water and the bobbing boats caught my eye.

The French do love their shutters, window boxes and pots of flowers.

Just off one of the pedestrian streets there is an artist's workshop and gallery.

I've visited it in the past and admired the blue pottery and seascapes, but by the time that we arrived it was closed for lunch.

The French stop for lunch. It's frustrating and irritating, until you get used to it and adopt the same habit, and then it's a pleasant pause in a busy day.

Paimpol is very touristy.
Which is why we all flock there in summer.

And it's quite an expensive town in which to shop. Which is no reason not to indulge in a few pretty  souvenirs and gifts.

But it's also full of little architectural gems, most of which are seen when you raise your eyes from the shop window displays.

Which is not to say that the shops themselves are not also beautiful.

This IS France, after all, and they do do everything with style and panache.

You should buy flowers, they will be beautifully arranged and delightfully gift-wrapped and you will never again buy a cheap bunch from a garage forecourt, not once you've bought from a florist like this one.

So, what did we buy at the market in Paimpol?

We bought two little sandstone plaques, one of a Celtic cross, one of a peace dove, to hang on the wall of my house in Oxfordshire.  And the lady selling them was delightfully friendly and patient, even though we'd arrived as she was packing up for lunch.

We bought paints, brushes and canvasses from a stall on the edge of the market. And the man selling them treated us to his humorous 'patter' and that made us laugh, even though we knew he'd used it in various forms on every client that he'd ever had.      

We bought large postcards of water colour paintings of seaside scenes to frame and hang on the walls of my bathroom in Brittany.

And then we wandered back to the café by the harbour to enjoy a chocolate crèpe and a café crème, and to sit and watch the French world go by, encore une fois. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

La Rentrée

That's how it feels after a late August trip back home to France as I mentally prepare to return to work, and buy new pens and folders in preparation for the start of my last O.U course
La Rentrée

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Vegetarian Chilli


There is a lady in the UK, called Jack Monroe, who is cooking up a storm and generating a lot of heat in the kitchen with her blog   on which she posts about feeding herself and her son on the smallest of budgets. Jack's latest project involves recipes for meals, twenty or so portions of which can be served up for the cost of a posh latte, the idea being that we donate that money to a local food bank here in the UK.

Leaving aside the politics of hunger, and the disgraceful fact that food banks are now becoming commonplace as the credit crunch continues, and even working families with professional wage-earners are now struggling to put food on the table, Jack's certainly made me think about how much I spend on food and how I can cut my own costs. 

So, while we're in France here's one meal that I will be cooking. I think that Jack would approve...

Vegetarian chilli
Now, you can be a tad flexible with these ingredients
I. for instance, if you find that your newly-bought Carrefour garlic is, as sometimes happens, a little below-par, add more onion instead.
2. If your chilli plant has enjoyed the summer so much that it's gone over the top in producing plump, shiny chillis, throw in an extra one for good luck
3. Swap the tinned beans for cheaper dried ones (soak for 8 hours first)

But here's the official line:

1 tbsp oil (I use a healthy mix of organic sunflower, olive, flaxseed etc oils since I'm going for the cancer-buster properties of this dish here)
2 onions chopped
a red pepper and a yellow pepper, chopped (red and yellow veggies are extra-good)
2 cloves of garlic
Large tin tomatoes (excellent for anti-prostate cancer for you chaps)
a teaspoon of red oregano
4 teaspoons of hot chilli powder (hey, be bold!)
A heap of cooked kidney beans (mine are organic and need soaking and boiling, beware the poisons in under-cooked kidney beans)
a tin of chick peas
I large, plump red chilli, de-seeded and chopped (or two if you have a glut)
salt (not really, just being silly, no-one needs salt, unless you are a sea creature in which case feel free to indulge)

and to add to the cooked chilli
grated cheese and sour cream
all served on cooked rice


Chop onions, garlic and peppers and gently cook in the oil until soft
Add tomatoes and chilli with the spices and herbs and cook for 15 minutes
Add the beans in all their manifestations and cook for another 10 minutes while you also cook the rice

Et voila!

Add grated cheese and sour cream and enjoy

(Jack has a similar recipe that includes dark chocolate. Chilli and chocolate is a combination that never ceases to surprise me so I may add a couple of of squares of that too next time I cook this)  

Sunday, 11 August 2013


As I prepare for a visit to France I am thinking 'langoustines'...
The only time that I eat them is on a ferry crossing or at home in Brittany. Although once I arrived at the restaurant on the Bretagne to find that there were no langoustines left. I plucked up the courage to ask a waiter "Excuse me, are there any more langoustines please?" and he smiled and said that he would go and check. Well, I waited for a long five minutes and he didn't return so, feeling foolish for having stood there like Oliver with an empty gruel bowl, I  backed away from the buffet blushing with embarrassment and returned to my table with only a few prawns and a limp lettuce leaf. 
In France it took me a long time to tackle the purchase, cooking and consumption of something still breathing...

Lobsters were too much for me to tackle, much as I adore devouring their sweet, tender flesh, especially accompanied by French fries and mayonnaise and washed down with copious quantities of ice-cold beer

So one day my good friend C. chose langoustines for my initiation into the art of cooking live food

(Supper was also a kindly gesture aimed at helping to mend my newly-broken heart.)

Food will do it every time!

Such pretty colours, such interesting eyes, such freshness, such still-crawling!

So, into the pot of boiling water....

A few of them twitched alarmingly but S. reassured me that they were just indulging in a few random reflex reactions and felt nothing

I was not convinced but...

After two minutes of lively boiling and a good rinse under cold water they were ready

We consumed vast quantities with slices of fresh bread (there is no other kind in France) liberally spread with good Brittany butter, fresh mayonnaise and a glass of white wine

The next morning at the local market...

After several café crèmes with the English friends that I unexpectedly encountered as I was slinking into the cafe, intent on a quiet coffee and a good read, I set off shopping

Walking straight past the van that serves 'English fish and chips' to homesick Ex-Pats...
Past one fish stall that is adequate but not the best...
And up to the one parked in front of La Maison de la Presse

I ordered 10 live langoustines and a lemon sole, filleted bien sûr...

The evidence, langoustines boiling on my stove ------->

With buttered organic baguette and homemade mayonnaise the langoustines were my lunch

Petit à petit I am crawling towards cooking that first lobster

Maybe this time...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Roses for Love...

It is, as we all know, very important to take time to smell the roses...
This is a truth that I learned while living in France and one that I'd forgotten during my first two years back in the corporate cage when I fell into the trap of allowing work once again to dominate my life. That's always a danger if an employee is conscientious and hard-working, a good employer will not permit it to happen, but good employers are rarely found now.

But when I moved to this little house by the green I found myself again.
And now I spend a great deal of time wandering and pausing to observe the walnuts, to pick wild cherries, to admire a passing dragonfly, to rescue tiny snails from the path and butterflies from spiders' webs...
And to 'smell the roses'.

In ten days time I will be at my house in France and I am hoping that my friends, who I affectionately call The Hippies, will still have roses blooming in their garden because I'd like to spend another evening like this one...

Roses For Love:
One evening I enjoyed aperitifs with The Hippies and a pair of visiting parents. Such joy! Having no parents of my own I do adore spending time with other people's.

We sat in the garden, sipped our drinks and chatted about This and That and other such importantly unimportant matters.

As I sat soaking up the early-evening sunshine and inhaling the health air with its scents of flowers and newly-mown grass I gazed in admiration at S's rose garden

And then I could control myself no longer, I slipped from my seat and took a stroll amongst the roses stopping to smell their heady pefumes

Small, but beautifully blooming and fabulously fragrant...
And as I moved among the roses each one rose reminded me of someone long gone

A neat, dark red and delicately fragrant rose was Jeannie, my best friend who died in 2003 leaving a hole in my life that can never be filled. She was quite proper and grown-up and sensible but I could reduce her to helpless giggles with my silly humour and we shared a passion for languages that was quite wonderful. Jeannie kept my feet on the ground much of the time and I, for my part, often swept her off hers.

The large, slightly blousy orange-tinged pink was my maternal grandmother, Alice. She was one of those fun, fluffy, disorganised grandmothers who think it more important to bake fairy cakes than to clean windows.  When The Black Dog hounded her I baked the cakes and cleaned the windows.

A prim and proper little bloom was Auntie Emily. She coped with more personal tragedies in her life than any person ever should, and she never spoke of them, or sadly I was too young to hear her if she did. She was a strong wonderful, my Auntie Em.

A bunch of yellow roses was my mother. A difficult woman who sought answers in addictions and, of course, never found them. She never quite got the whole concept of mothering and I, for my part, reacted by growing up independent and feisty and never quite understood why, until she died and it was too late. 

A ridiculously orange rose was my mother in law, Millie. She was already old when we first met and since I was taking her baby son from her, our relationship could have been thorny. But we were quite alike, Millie and I, quirky, adventurous, fun-loving and, above all,  devoted mothers, and so we became very close 'partners in crime'. Millie died on the day of my father's funeral. A double blow from which I am still reeling, twenty-five years later.    

Now, I read once, somewhere, that rose oil is excellent for those who are grieving and finding it hard to move past a period of mourning. Which is fitting, given that all of those women who were most important in my life have left it.

The English herbalist Thomas Culpepper wrote that red roses strengthen the heart, which is perhaps why they are given as a symbol of everlasting love

For me the scent of rose petals takes me back in time and evokes the memories of all the strong and wonderful women whose wisdom and love I carry in my heart today.

And as I wandered through the rose garden and bent to inhale the intoxicating perfumes of each bush, I felt as if the spirits of those women were with me and I could see, in my mind, each smiling face

Roses, for love...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Man Who Makes Roses

Brittany is full of special people

People who have stepped aside from the rat race, from the 9-5 routine with its emphasis on making money, acquiring material possessions, keeping up with the Jones'...

People who have chosen to walk a healthier, saner and kinder path through this life

One day I had need of someone to weld a broken piece of metal so I'd arranged to go to a nearby friend whose companion, S., is a master of metalwork

This is where they live

In an old hamlet comprising several houses and a manoir that are built around a central garden with a large pool and roses, roses everywhere

In Brittany you can buy a small village for the price of a three-bedroomed detatched in Abingdon

Well, almost....

As I arrived a strange sound filled the air

It was the community of ridiculously, unbelievably, bright green male frogs on the pond in the centre of the garden, each defending their testosterone territories with loud croaks and complaints

I scrambled through the overgrown garden to snap a picture

and then I wandered

This is the chapel...

It is a perfect place for meditation.
If you close the heavy wooden door you shut out the sunshine and light and are plunged into a dark and dreamy world of peace and reflection illuminated only by the rainbows through the tiny stained glass window

I asked to return with my mat and a candle for some periods of deep and intense reflection and spiritual healing...

"Of course, anytime, you are always welcome" was the reply

All around the central pond are rose-covered walks and little 'rooms' where painted benches invite you to sit and pause and stay a while....

It is a truly magical place

But the best surprise was, for me, discovering that the quiet and shy S. makes roses....

and once you ask him about his passion and he starts to tell you how he creates new roses, the patience required to pollinate a rose and to nurture its rose hips and how carefully you must tend the babies and how you never know what you will get and the wonder of it all, this shy man blooms as beautifully as his flowers

I was totally entranced and enthralled!
I could have stayed to listen to him forever

This is Zippy

S. actually made this rose

It's small and bright as a drop of sunshine and it smells absolutely divine!

And it is as unique as its 'father'

As S. walked me back to my car, which seemed a compliment coming from this shy and retiring man, we passed this rose growing in the hedge

He was surprised...

He'd never noticed it before

It was as if it had just bloomed today

My gift from S. is the small pink rose that he presented me with before I left...

It had no name, now it bears mine

And I feel truly honoured

A man who makes roses is a very special man indeed and a real treasure

n'est-ce pas?

I returned in a dreamy, almost meditative state.

As I was pottering around my courtyard in the warm sunshine the phone rang.

It was a prospective employer asking if I would be available in August...