The judge’s decision is final

August 26, 2016

Concours Tarte au Citron meringuéeet Tenue Monochrome

The ever inventive Laurent from Kaopa is holding a lemon meringue pie competition on Sunday.

The idea arose at a party to which we had been asked to bring desserts.  He was singing the praises of his partner’s tarte au citron meringuée.  Discussion ensued – I find the French have peculiar notions about pastry and tend to mke things too sweet for my taste – and the result was the competition.  I am now rather taken aback to have been asked to be one of the judges.  Laurent says its OK for me to participate as well and that we will be blindfolded, relying solely on our taste buds and palate, but still I feel that this is a bit irregular.

My mother, amongst her many other accomplishments, was a judge for the WI – I still have her badges and certificates – and I remember spending mornings with her amid the cool grassy smells of a marquee set up in the grounds of some stately home, assessing faultless ranks of victoria sponges, cottage loaves, apple pies and jars of jam and preserves.

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They all had to be tasted and graded.   Tiny slices were cut out of the cakes, spoonfuls of jelly, lemon curd and chutney had to be sampled (too many entries in the pickles class was something she found extremely trying!) and the loaves were cut open to check for any backsliding in the kneading process.

It so happens that my friend Jane has recently been very successful with her redcurrant jelly at the local show and it brought it all back to me.

At such events there are strict rules about general appearance, presentation and colour as well as texture, fluffiness/crunchiness/density and so on, depending on the item.  Labels have to be attached at the approved height and imposed recipes scrupulously adhered to.

judge's comments

A Dorset friend who regularly enters items in the Briantspuddle Summer Show (I am not making this up) takes particular exception to the little notes that the judges leave with their comments, in what he calls their nasty cramped writing.  He usually carries all before him with his marmalade but there was an occasion when the jar (or was it the Gentleman’s Class Fruit Cake?) came off the back of his motorbike and arrived looking somewhat dinged in.

The Kaopa event is sure to altogether less stressful and formalised.  I think it’s largely going to be an occasion to eat lots of lemon meringue pie and drink delicious coffee.

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PS  Attentive readers will have noticed that we all are to wear une tenue monochrome.  Markus has dyed a whole outfit kingfisher blue, in which he will certainly cut a dash.  Photos to follow.

D’la salade trois fois par jour

August 14, 2016

salad 0 title 1

Ma Rosalie, titipanpan, elle est malade, Elle est malade, titipanpan, du mal d’amour.

Pour la guérir, titipanpan, faut d’la salade, De la salade, titipanpan, trois fois par jour.

This silly little children’s song, which continues merrily on, with several changes of rythm and theme, has been running through our heads as we contemplate our unusually successful vegetable garden.

After a wet May and June and a month of July with weekly thunderstorms,  the vegetables look promising these days.  But we are confronted with the usual gardener’s conundrum.  Why does everything grow at the same speed and is ready to be eaten the same day?  Even with successive sowing the cucumbers, courgettes and the green beans are all ready to be picked at the same time.

But by far the worst in the category of “We want to be picked – eat us  NOW otherwise we’ll sulk and bolt” are the salads.

First they behave nicely ...

First they behave nicely …

Then they look pretty ...

Then they look pretty …

Then they go wild ...

Then they go wild …

Then ther is no stopping them ...

Then there is no stopping them …

salad 7

Now for the serious part – the answers to last week’s quiz.  Thanks to those of you who took part!

  • Pissenlit (dandelion) salad
  • Pieds et paquets – a provençal speciality made with sheep’s feet and stuffed sheep’s tripe.
  • Sometimes euphemistically called roupettes de coq, these are exactly what they say on the tin – or more usually the jar.
  • Alouettes sans tête,  literally larks without their heads, are actually a provençal version of beef olives.
  • Tête de Moine or Monk’s Head is a cheese from the Swiss Jura but very much appreciated in France.
  • Paris Brest is a choux pastry ring, split and filled with confectioner’s custard.  It was created in 1910, in the shape of a wheel, to celebrate the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race.  (Well done Hazwool!)

Not what they seem

August 5, 2016

It’s that time of year when many of us are sitting under sun umbrellas doing crosswords and word games so here’s a little quiz.

But first the context.  We have always been amused by the fact that a particular type of large saucisson from Lyon is blandly – and officially  – called un jésus.


It reminds me that in my family a boiled suet pudding was irreverently known as Boiled Baby or, if accompanied by golden syrup, Putty and Varnish.

So we put together an imaginary menu for a “holy dinner”.

After a few slices of the aforementioned jésus with a glass of Dom Pérignon, the meal would start with Coquilles St Jacques.  The main course would be Filets de St Pierre, Sauce Cardinale.  To follow, a selection of cheeses, including St Nectaire, Pont l’Evèque and of course our local St Félicien, and for dessert, a choice between a Religieuse, Sacristan or Jésuite.



To drink, a light St Amour Beaujolais could go well with the fish and a Châteauneuf du Pape with the cheese, then maybe a nip of Chartreuse or Bénédictine with coffee.

Now here’s another menu made up of of everyday French dishes and specialities.  Your task is to identify them.  Hint: they all have misleading or obscure names but one really is what it says on the tin!

Answers next time.

  • wet the bed salad
  • feet and parcels
  • cockerel testicles
  • headless birds
  • a man of god (with his head!)
  • a dessert which sounds like a train journey.


crossword in the garden




Canti Sognanti at les Sarziers

July 23, 2016

Giulia and Elida

The evening was an enchantment, as we knew it would be.

The weather was perfect; a delightful collection of people gathered and enjoyed an apéritif in the garden, a delicious ‘auberge espagnole’ dinner and dessert in the calabert after the concert.

For those of you who were not able to join us, and for those who did, Markus has put together a short video which gives a flavour of the magical voices of Canti Sognanti and their wonderful performance at les Sarziers.

Markus really does not have the right software for this kind of thing, so he’s not entirely pleased with the result, but he’s done a pretty good job all the same.  (Be sure to have the volume right up and headphones or speakers!)

Many thanks to Manu for the sound recording, and the photo.

And to Catherine, Elida and Giulia: Grazie mille!

Here’s the link


Concert at les Sarziers

July 9, 2016

We are getting geared up and excited about our summer concert which will happen next Saturday, July 16th.  We are thrilled to welcome the fantastic Canti Sognanti – a trio of a cappella singers from Italy with a repertoire of polyphonic songs from around the Mediterranean and much further afield.

It’s going to be a beautiful concert and if you are around you are very welcome to join us.

Canti Sognanti 2016 final

The War of the Bees

June 30, 2016

dangerous lavender

We were having lunch with E at the village café and I asked a simple question about lavender.  What followed was a delightful imbroglio which she authorised me to relate, but without mentioning any names . . .

I had asked why all the lavender plants on the bank above the cemetery had been uprooted and whether there was a plan to replace them.  Well, she replied, the problem was BEES, which were attracted to the lavender flowers and threatened to sting the elderly ladies of the village when they went to tidy their family graves.

Into the bargain, said the ladies, the bank is too steep and access to the cemetery is not only perilous on account of the bees, but hard to negotiate if you are in your eighties.  So a rope handrail has been erected.  However this has not met with their approval and there is a mega plan under discussion at the Mairie to reorganise the whole cemetery approach with a solid handrail and bee-repellent vegetation.  These things take time however.

letter box

Meanwhile, the entrance to the Mairie and Post Office was redesigned a year or so ago, complete with level access, handrail, post box and tasteful shrub border.  But, eh oui, the lavender in the  border attracted more bees and the ladies could no longer post their letters without endangering their lives.  So the post box was re-sited to the side of the Mairie, well away from the shrubs, and for a while all was well.

Then one day, it happened to be April 1st, the Inspector of Post Boxes put in an appearance.  There had been a complaint.  Apparently the position of the post box made it difficult to open it for clearance without scraping one’s knuckles on the wall.  An inspection was duly carried out and the officer was appalled to find the box “hidden away in a poky corner, where no one in their right mind would think of looking for it!”  E unfortunately took this for an April fool and was firmly corrected. Things were getting tense and she swiftly whistled up the village muscle power to move back the post box before the situation could escalate any further.  And once again the lavender had to go!

It goes without saying that the village planters do not feature lavender.  Mostly brick red geraniums and lurid petunias.  This year however there has been a move to put in some perennials such as gaura and some non-bee-attracting small shrubs.  The ladies at the far end of the village are not happy.

They want trailing geraniums as seen in the village centre and complain that the perennials are not bushy enough.

E is obliged to make a big detour on Friday mornings if she wants to get to the council meeting on time as they leap out of their houses and ambush her on the way.  There has even been talk of acquiring a supplementary supply of geraniums for that end of the village although no extraordinary budget has as yet been authorised.

Meanwhile the lime tree on the place du marché is in full flower and swarming with bees so maybe our indispensible friends have found a satisfactory compromise by keeping to the high ground, and life on earth is safe for the time being.

lime tree




Path marking Part 2

June 18, 2016


Our next experience of marking a route was altogether a more exciting affair.

We are coming to the end of the Ardéchoise – a crazy week which has seen over 16,000 cyclists descend on St Félicien for the 25th anniversary of this legendary cycle event, the largest of its kind in Europe.  Participants can choose from a network of routes covering the whole department, to be completed in one to four days or just the big one day event on Saturday.  Every village and dot on the map pulls out all the stops to welcome the vélomanes with decorations, refreshments and entertainment.  Arlebosc is no exception.


12 IMG_1008 (2) (1024x768)On Thursday from 7am a stalwart band of villagers, fortified with coffee, waved and cheered the three day eventers on their way.  We were joined for a time by the eleven pupils from the infants school who hollered Allez! Allez! at the tops of their voices before being shepherded back to class.

Many of the cyclists  of course come with family members, who spend the week in campsites and gites, and Damien of the St Félicien Tourist Office decided that something should be laid on for these accompagnants.  He devised three walking routes, to run on consecutive days, with a lunch stop at one of the local farm producers.  Thursday’s hike took them from the sleepy village of Bozas to Arlebosc, with a stop at Melodie and Johan’s farm for lunch and back to St Félicien, a distance of 18km.  The idea is to get these people out and about, to discover our beautiful and varied landscapes, meet the locals and taste all the wonderful artisan produce.  Of course this sort of thing is right up our street and we enthusiastically volunteered to help.

So the day before our little group set out to mark the route.

We were perhaps not very efficient: we stopped for lunch at the café, poked around the hidden alleys and secret gardens, stopped again for coffee with a friend and generally dawdled and chattered, but we got the job done and had a delightful time.

The next day we were at les Blanchettes in time to set up the tables and get ready for the hungry walkers to arrive.


After a glass of water everyone was ready to sit down and enjoy Melodie’s home produced lunch.


On the menu was goat pâté, followed by goat merguez sausages with tabbouleh, then goat cheese and goat’s milk yoghurt.  A full-on goat experience!

There were armfuls of cherries freshly picked from her father-in-law’s trees and to drink, her own fruit juice, Free Mousse beer from St Victor and coffee.


The weather has been very iffy over the week but each day the hikers were able to dodge the downpours.  There were 78, 35 and 65 walkers respectively and lots of great feedback.  We are already looking forward to next year, and so is Missy the dog, who behaved beautifully throughout.





Path marking Part 1

June 13, 2016

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We have recently been enrolled as official markers or baliseurs of the hiking network around St Félicien.  If a walker has got lost or confused on a particular route they notify the Office de Tourisme and an email alert is sent out to the team of markers.  Whoever is nearest and has the time responds and undertakes to resolve the issue.  Not quite SOS Médecins, but pretty efficient nonetheless!

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Whilst setting up our personalised Walksweeks routes, which broadly follow the white and yellow Petite Randonnée trails, we have occasionally done our own marking or remarking, where we felt it was necessary.  Now, however we have been supplied with the regulation paint, specially formulated to resist all winds and weathers, and a set of brushes.

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We have checked which way up the colours should go, how to indicate turnings and dead ends and we are ready to get stuck in.

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Sometimes it can be a bit acrobatic ….

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and a trusty Opinel knife comes in handy to prepare the support.

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To help walkers find their way over the wide open spaces, Markus occasionally needed to knock in a stake.

The paint got a bit claggy after a while . . .

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but all in all we were pleased with the job and enjoyed walking well-known paths and making them just a little bit easier for other hikers to follow.

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Allez les Bleus!

May 29, 2016

le tricolore

Social unrest permitting, France will soon be hosting Euro 2016, with matches scheduled in ten major cities.  Flags and bunting will be flying everywhere, but have you ever wondered where they all come from?  Made in China and shipped in by the container load?  Not a bit of it!  The nerve centre of French flag making operations is located in a discreet but beautiful Art Deco building by the station in Tain l’Hermitage, which has always intrigued us.  After reading a brief article in the local paper, we decided to take a closer look.

We peered through the window, then pushed open the heavy wrought iron and frosted glass door and entered the world of Manufêtes.

This family owned business started up in 1936 and has spanned three generations.  The present director, Benjamin Robert, employs a workforce of fifteen and is proud to explain that all the items produced here are hand made in the traditional manner.  His firm supplies the army and other national institutions such as the Sénat and the Banque de France and will make anything up to order, from embroidered regimental colours to supporter badges for the local football team.

With Euro 2016 matches taking place in Lyon, St Etienne and Marseilles, all nearby, he is facing a massive run on flags and bunting and has also put together a supporter’s kit including a wig, whistle and make up along with the flag.  (Security concerns dictate that all flag waving must henceforth be done using shafts made of plastic rather than the traditional wood).  Manufêtes is also producing the flags of all the nations represented in Euro 2016.

A hallway led to a little shop at the far end, well stocked with a cheerful supply of frivolity and a few more serious items destined for the Italian police and Veteran’s Associations.

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Markus blagged his way into the workroom, where everything is still hand made and embroidered on vintage sewing machines.

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sewing machine (1024x844)

The busy season at Manufêtes generally starts in April, in the run up to the ceremonies of May 8th, July 14th and November 11th and this year they are working flat out to meet the anticipated demand in tricolores. We learned that stocks have been seriously depleted since the Paris attacks in November last year, which is interesting.

Different countries have different relationships with their flags.  In Switzerland for example, both national and canton flags are everywhere: adorning bridges, stretched out along pedestrianised streets, hung about in shopping malls and supermarkets or enlivening allotments.  Swiss flags the size of table cloths are flown astern of the stately lake steamers and many gardens have a  pole, usually flying the flag of the relevant canton.

Swiss flag

Of course the Stars and Stripes are very often to be seen flying proudly on private properties in the US too but whereas the Swiss happily brandish their red and white number in folklore shows and flag-throwing competitions, Old Glory is treated with a great deal more respect and must never, for example, touch the ground.

The relationship of the French with the tricolore is a little uneasy, since it has been hijacked to a certain extent by the Front National far right party and until the November attacks it was rarely used or displayed by private individuals.

That all changed on November 13th as people the world over superimposed the bleu blanc rouge on their social media profile pages and iconic buildings on every continent were illuminated in the French national colours in a gesture of solidarity.

sydney opera house

Meanwhile the French themselves hung the flag from their balconies or, for want of a flag, often adopted more creative ways of expressing their feelings.

Blue, white and red brassieres, the colours of the French national flag, hang from a balcony in Marseille, France, November 27, 2015 as the French President called on all French citizens to hang the tricolour national flag from their windows on Friday to pay tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks during a national day of homage. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1W3FC

On high days and holidays in Paris and other large cities the buses fly two little flags from holders fitted on the front – there is even a special verb for this practice: pavoiser. I love the air of insouciant jollity that this gives the bus as it forges ahead in the traffic, flags streaming.  One year (it was in 1998) I was sorry to see that on July 14th most buses only sported one flag and some none at all.  I wrote to the RATP to find out why and to my amazement (the Paris transport system was not known then for its customer care) I received a charming reply.  It turned out that when France had defeated Brazil in the Stade de France two days earlier to win the World Cup, bus driver joy had been so unbridled that they had appropriated supplies of the little flags and initiated a spontaneous pavoisement of their vehichles.  Inevitably quite a few of them never returned to base, hence the paucity of flags available for la fête nationale two days later!

I wonder if history is about to repeat itself as it were!

allez arlebosc! (768x1024)

Photo credits: REUTERS/Jean-Paul  Pelisser and Markus (others unidentifiable)


Bikes without tears

May 8, 2016

Markus with the cows

Back in February Markus had one of those big birthdays and his sisters had the bright idea of clubbing together to help him buy an e bike.  He’s been talking about getting one for ages, but they are pretty pricey, so the sisterly initiative is great for getting things moving on the bike front.

an idyllic valley

Markus is no slouch on an ordinary bike but you need to be really motivated to cycle in our area without a bit of assistance.  The roads and lanes are beautiful and virtually traffic free but the gradients are brutal.  Added to which, I personally have always fancied the option of being able to put on a spurt and escape the attentions of the farm dogs which tend to leap out with murderous intent as you are passing their property.

the bikes

So the first step was obviously to hire e bikes from St Félicien, capital of all things cycling in these parts.  They have a range of around 100km depending on the terrain and temperature and the battery takes three to four hours to recharge.  Their top speed (with assistance) is limited to 25 km per hour.  In France, if the battery power allows the machine to exceed this speed the bike is classed as a moped and requires a license plate and insurance.  In addition they are not allowed to use bicycle lanes.

bikes detail

We took advantage of a lovely sunny afternoon (unfortunately all too rare this Spring) to take them for a spin and we had a wonderful time.  In 2 ½ hours we covered 32 km and effortlessly climbed up to the Col  de Fontfreyde, nearly 2000ft above our starting point (it sounds more spectacular in feet than a mere 600 metres).  The countryside was looking gorgeous and it was fantastic to cover so much ground, compared with walking, but out in the midst of it all and not shut up in a car.

under the cherry trees

We were interested to realise that these machines operate more like normal bikes and less like motorised ones than we had expected.  In French they are known as vélos à assistance éléctrique which perfectly describes the experience.  You are the master of your bike.  If you do not pedal nothing much happens except for a spurt to get you started.  After that, the more you pedal the more assistance you get.  It takes a little getting used to because the bikes themselves are fairly heavy and there is always a certain amount of resistance from the dynamo, which means that free-wheeling requires a pretty steep gradient.  But the super plus is that if, as I did, you cross a little bridge at the bottom of a valley and don’t notice that the lane has suddenly become as steep as the side of a house … you stall and get off… but … put your bike into third gear and max assistance, stand on the pedal you’re off again like a bird on the wing!

on the open road

Altogether a great experience and something that we shall certainly be suggesting to Walksweekers who might want to get a different perspective on the varied and spectacular routes criss-crossing our corner of the Ardèche.

snow chains required!


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