Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Feast at Espinas

One of the final and most enjoyable events of the summer happened a couple of days ago we went to a big village feast at a place called Espinas which is just up the hill from us. Us and about 500 hungry French people all stuffing our faces. We were all together with the Lafon family who are our neighbours and have become like a family to us.

Here is a little video of us all enjoying ourselves. The singing lady is Sylvie who is a great person, always full of fun. The accordion music is very traditional.

Just so that you can enjoy the menu along with us here are some pictures of the food. We were stuffed.

We started with soup with beans and vegetables. It also had bread in it which seemed unusual to us but it is very traditional here. Then we moved on to pate, salad, stewed pork with capers, grilled sausage and lamb chops, white beans, cheese and ice cream followed by coffee and eau de vie. The wine was flowing like water and a great time was had by all.

The soup

Mirelle serves the salad.

Terrine not for the faint hearted!

Chops anyone?

Pass the wine!

Chin chin Mme Lafon et Mme Wallace-Jones

M. Lafon attacks the saussice

What a great evening!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wine Tasting

Yesterday we went to the Domaine De Bouscaillous which is a great vineyard in the Gaillac region. We were royally welcomed by Mme. Causse the owner. She is half the attraction of a visit to this wonderful place because of her warm and charming welcome. She speaks English although we usually try to use French and her knowledge and detailed explanations of the grapes and the process of wine making help you to really understand how the wine tastes so good.

Here are the chais where zillions of gallons of wine ferment making a wonderful musty winey smell and Mme. doing her stuff.

Just a few of the bottles for sale, they include a sweet fruity white dessert wine, a deep rich red, a nutty spicy white aged in oak barrels and a light crisp white called perle which has just a hint of sparkle to it. They usually have a sparkling white too in a champagne style. We celebrated our wedding with it but sadly they have sold out for this year.

And of course they win lots of of awards.

Here is john doing his stuff, our dear friends Heather and Gus enjoying a sip, and a couple of sample bottles.

Check out more details here

and try to visit if you can.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Country Walk

This morning John and I had a wonderful country walk. We set off on a thankfully cool damp morning and walked about 12km all around Verfeil. It was beautiful and we had some amazing views of the village as we climbed higher and higher. "It's only a small hill" John trilled happily disappearing like a ferret up a trouser leg. About 2o minutes later uphill all the way we arrived at the top of the hill, well John arrived there and I was still puffing my way up. It was worth it though and there we were miles from anywhere in the middle of France. The views of the village were fantastic although it did look a long way way!

We have some amazing fields of sunflowers around the village and as we walked we saw lots of beautiful wild flowers and some quite varied wildlife including many butterflies a lot of weird red and black bugs and a scary looking spider. Walking is the very best way to enjoy the landscape and you certainly get up close and personal with the insects as my bites testify.
We also got a good look at the Seye which is the little river as in Verfeil Sur Seye.
The cows didn't seem to mind our presence and happily there was no sign of a bull. Phew

My trusty boots were very welcome as the path was steep and very slippery in places and I got terribly thirsty so the wild plums we found along the way were very welcome and refreshing.
We felt as if we had walked along way when suddenly the path vanished and we had to back track and hack through the undergrowth until we finally heard traffic and scrambled down to a little road.
We were glad to see the sign post pointing to Verfeil
and the cold Perrier was more welcome than you could believe. So far we've done three walks totalling about 30 kms cor, maybe I will go for that half marathon after all.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Albi, Bezique and being a French housewife

First of all Albi which is a stunning town and the Prefecture of the Tarn departement. It is about 30 miles from us which makes it our nearest town of any size and we love it. I have been visiting it since I was a small girl and have happy memories of sitting outside with my mum at a lovely tea shop in the Cathedral square and eating delicious strawberry tart. Its a really bustling university town with fabulous shops and an incredible cathedral. The enormous cathedral is dedicated to St Cecilia the patron saint of music and it has a very scary painting of the medieval idea of heaven and hell with all the sinners being punished in all kinds of nasty ways. Visit Albi here.


We sat in the Brasserie Du Vigan and had lunch, wonderful salad and rose wine, whilst watching the children run through the fountain in the square. It was incredibly hot and they were having a wonderful time jumping in and out of the jets of water which squirt straight out of the paving.

After lunch we went to Eurodif which is kind of French Woolworths and we mooched around without really wanting to buy anything until....John saw that they were selling green felt by the metre so we bought two metres to transform our dining table into a great card playing surface. We've been looking for some for ages which may seem odd but there is a good reason!

We are hooked on a game called Bezique which seems complicated when you begin which is really enjoyable and addictive. You have to collect groups of cards like four aces which are worth 100 points, 4 Kings for 80 and so on a Bezique is a combination of either the queen of spades and the jack of hearts or the queen of clubs and the jack of diamonds and is worth 50 points unless you have a double Bezique which is two queens and two jacks. Oh I forgot to say that you play with two packs mixed using the cards from 7 upwards. A double Bezique is worth 500 points and Ive only ever had one. It was cause for much excitement. Anyhow the table looked great with its new green cover and we felt very swish, it also stopped the cards for whizzing in all directions especially as the fan had to be on full because it went on being hot. Here we are making like card sharps on our newly acquired felt.

After all the excitement of the Bezique... time for the real world again. Housework! A friend once told me that a real French housewife should spend all her time either at the market, in the kitchen or cleaning her house. I am trying to aspire to this ideal although our lovely neighbour Renee, aka Madame Lafon is trying to train me up the in correct ways and times to do things but she sometimes despairs of ever making me into a proper French housewife, I just can't manage to get lunch on the table on the dot of midday everyday and our shutters are never open the correct amount for the time of day. On the up side I have today cooked lunch, (home made aubergine fritters with spicy tomato sauce), changed the bed and hung the quilt out of the window, mopped and waxed the lounge and kitchen-diner floors, scrubbed the table, cleaned the sink, and done the washing.

This week I've also managed to hoover, clean the cooker, unblock the drain in the bathroom and I got up early twice to make lunch before the sun got too hot. I've also been market shopping, made soup from the leftover chicken and emptied the bins, taking the rubbish and the bottles down to the communal bins. In all these endeavours I have been assisted by John the wonder husband who has to clean the cat tray and is a dab hand with the ironing as you can see.

As far as holidays go to be honest it's all been a bit full on and you can't get any feline help. All they do is sleep because it's been so hot, see? Then theywake up and want to play in the middle of the night.

Happily it is much cooler today so I'm off to do some more chores before the temperature rises again. Maybe one day I'll make Renee proud of me. In the meantime, wine costs 1 euro a litre, our speech and drama results were great well done to all and thanks to John's hard work, I'm ahead at Bezique and I'm planning green apple and goat cheese couscous for supper so life is pretty good.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Market Day

Sunday is market day in the pretty medieval village of St Antonin which is about 13 km from us. It is a fantastic market and it has become something of a tradition to get up early and head off for breakfast at the cafe in the main square. From this vantage point you can see and be seen and enjoy the atmosphere which is bustling to say the least.

Under the Halle activity is intense. In August it becomes quite manic with crowds of visitors eager to take part in the excitement. The village is crammed with good things to eat and the piles of jewel toned courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines beg you to buy and cook, whilst all around are heaps of cheeses, sausage, hams and other goodies to feed your imagination and make your tummy rumble.

The aligot man sells his speciality of smooth mashed potato enriched with cheese. You can tell if the aligot is good by how stretchy it is and he lifts it high in the air so that strings of cheese and potato hang enticingly from the spoon in fragrant loops. The smell of warm cheesy potato drifts enticingly across the square mingling with the scent from the hot roast chicken van. The tiny, blood red Mara des Bois strawberries are piled high on another stall and release a sweet and long forgotten summer sweetness.

With all this wonderful produce cooking is an essential activity although making chutney on the day it managed to reach 40 degrees was probably a mistake. I was as crimson as the plums which went into the spicy concoction! However the chocolate and blackberry mousse, green apple and goats' cheese couscous and chilled leek and potato soup have all gone down well this week. I hope the photos make your mouth water.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Taking the cats for a walk

The amazing countryside which surrounds us. Ideal for walking naughty cats.

We got up this morning to discover a scene of devastation in the kitchen including one of our favourite wine glasses broken on the floor. Monsieur Camille has far too much energy and because it was a cool damp morning we decided to take both him and Amelie on a walk around the village. They are getting very good at trotting along on their leads, although they do get tired and have to be carried sometimes. However it was an ideal morning with lots of interesting things for humans to look at and for cats to sniff and chase so we all had a lovely time.

The village of Verfeil is so beautiful and it is easy to take it all for granted when you are here for a long time. It is what is called a Bastide which means a Medieval town built on a grid plan with central market place or Halle and surrounded by defenses. Our Halle is still in place although the defensive walls are gone. However you can see that the village was built on a hilltop in a good position to see what was happening around it. That didn't stop it from being destroyed a few times during the Medieval period but a lot of the architecture has survived and we really enjoyed our walk around soaking up the history and the wonderful countryside.

The cats enjoyed it too, although we had to carry them the last bit! People are always fascinated to see cats on leads and we are often asked "what kind of dog is that?" What a terrible thing to say to a cat.

Tonight we are going the the mussels and chips evening arranged by the local rugby club. As many mussels as you can eat so they say..... will we live to regret it? Watch this space.

What shall I do next? Hmmmmm.....

John and Amelie a mutual appreciation society!

This is our village square and the war memorial.
Here is the church just off the square.

The Market or Halle in the centre of the village.

The bar, a very important feature with excellent meals cooked by Lydie
One of Verfeil's beautiful Medieval buildings.
Fancy making us walk all that way!