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I’m Lost in Cheeseland with a Giveaway

Today I’m proud to be a guest over at Lindsey Tramuta’s legendary blog, Lost in Cheeseland for her Franco File Friday feature.

For those of you who perhaps don’t know Lindsey yet, she is a lovely American living in Paris and writes about all topics of life in the City of Light. I’m sure there are countless amusing tales we can relate to as we have settled in over the years of la vie after marrying a Frenchman.

Lindsey was better prepared: she was no stranger to the French language, having studied it since she was 12 and continued her studies at The American University of Paris.  I met my French sweetheart in Scotland where we spoke English together, so I arrived in Paris with a giant thud when I realised I had to speak French. Quoi? C’est normal;  live in the country, speak the language – but somehow I hadn’t completely thought of that one before I came.  I was too head over heels in love.

Raising brioche and kids

Now I love it when my children can help my French.  Although being a Mum this week set another challenge with la rentrée (back to school) – hence my lack of blogging and online life.

I found myself back in the classroom on Monday morning, sitting next to my terrified daughter amongst a classroom of bewildered new students on their first day of Collège (the equivalent of 1st year at Secondary School.) New school, new teachers, new subjects, new friends, a locker with a code, new confusing timetables (week A, week B…) and a whopping load of typical French paperwork to complete. I wonder who was more scared: my daughter or me. Ouf!  We have managed to jump that first hurdle and survive this first week. TGIF.

TGIFFF. Thank goodness it’s Friday. It’s Franco File Friday.

Head on over to the Franco File Friday feature over at Lost in Cheeseland

and enter the giveaway: 2 lucky readers can win a copy of Mad About Macarons

it’s open to all readers!


X-ray of a Macaronivore’s Spine

Things are a bit slow this morning. Who am I kidding? It’s afternoon already and still in pyjamas but what a spectacular firework display last night and fun on Bastille Day, our Fête Nationale en France. I’ll do a post on it but in the meantime, here’s something I want to share with you all.

You’ve got to laugh.  I must be mad to have let this go on for so long.

This could also happen to YOU if you’re not careful.

At the end of May I seized up in front of the computer – just like that.  Stuck in my chair in absolute agony. Doctor came next day, confirmed it was a “sore back” without any examination, “see the physiotherapist”, take painkillers (the ones that gave me an ulcer last time, thank you) and you’ll be as right as rain. Why do people say that?  “Right as rain.”  How can rain be right?

What’s up doc? Shouldn’t we point that the other way?

Things worsened, doc came back same time next week, then the next, then the next.  He was impressive at bringing out the credit card machine, to be fair. I couldn’t even get in the car without seizing up. And I still had no idea what was wrong. Meanwhile, making macarons was one of the few things I could still do…

Macarons for the end of year school bake sale…

After seeing doc#2 six weeks later, infiltration treatment was on the menu for a herniated disc. Following the injection, doc warned, “You may just get a sore head, in which case lie flat”. Mon Dieu! He didn’t tell me I would be flat out for over a week with the most skull crushing headaches, propping myself up with orthopedic pillows, not even able to talk but “carry on as normal” chatting on Facebook, blogging to take my mind off things.  I just couldn’t speak or sit up, that’s all.

This week was the first time I woke up without having the impression that someone was drilling through my head.  In any case, carry out pizzas and sushis were enough motivation to get back in that kitchen. Then came the revelation. I could just see it. Book 2: Mad About Blogging and a Herniated Disc. This photo could be for the book’s spine.

X-ray of a macaronivore’s slipped disc

What would be the main theme of the book?
SIT PROPERLY AT THE COMPUTER! We can all get carried away in front of that screen at times but PLEASE, be careful.  Ensure that you’re sitting with the screen at eye level and have a good posture. I should have read Carol Gillott’s blog post on bad backs at Paris Breakfasts

And now for something completely different…

I’m so excited. Mad About Macarons is featured on THE PARTY TIMES ONLINE, the online magazine that accompanies Party Pieces. A couple of recipes from the book are featured, courtesy of Waverley Books, plus they have now posted a fabulous international competition for you all.  Just pop on over and tell them why you think the macaron is so special...

Party Times Competition to
Win 10
Mad About Macarons! books

Go on, I don’t have to tell you that they’re gluten free, only about 80 calories each, beautifully crispy meringue shell on the outside with a velvety, voluptious centre, so luxurious, lighter than a cupcake, etc. Be creative!  You may just be one of the 10 lucky winners.

And don’t forget to tell your friends – they don’t have to be macaronivores.  Although they soon will be… 😉

Azay le Rideau Castle and l’Auberge du 12éme Siecle, Loire Valley

Welcome to a weekend away in the land of fairytale castles, vineyards, and gastronomic pleasures. Antoine whisked me away for 2 guilt-free days: no children to worry about, no cooking, laundry, shopping, homework, and above all – no computer. Ouf! We all need a wee breather now and again, don’t we?  Thanks, Mum and Dad, for making this possible!

It was only 3 hours’ drive from Paris – albeit that the back was playing up again and so I had to lie completely flat out in the car.  I discovered every inch of our car’s interior details but it was worth being patient.  Look what greeted us on arrival in Azay le Rideau…

Azay le Rideau Castle, Loire

I picked my bedroom out: that one with the pretty tower, please.  I’ll let down my short, dishwasher blond hair and Antoine can serenade me below, with a kareoke version of Lady in Red from his Blackberry.

 Not so sure if I liked the kitchen, though.  Imagine cooking with that “oven”?  Pretty hot work, n’est-ce pas?

Fancy this for your kitchen oven?

On the other hand, the drawing room was rather civilised.  Draw in your chair for a game of cards in front of the fireplace with the salamander symbol of François 1st, sip tea from a royal porcelain cup, and nibble on a macaron, peut-être?

Anyone for tea and a macaron?

The beds were always so small.  Did they really sleep upright?  Jings.  That couldn’t have been comfortable. The concrete mattress was possibly the same original that we had in our B&B up the road: back-breaking!

On the way out, a lovely large bottle of the local Bourgeuil red was just sitting saying bonjour.  The red wines here are served chilled. Each time I’ve had the Loire reds, though, I’ve not been as keen as the whites; something I have to work on…

 The wee town of Azay le Rideau is picture postcard material.  Walking over the bridge, there were a few people fishing in amongst the lily pads.

Just a 10 minute drive out of of Azay-le-Rideau, however, there is a gastronomic restaurant in the village of Saché: L’Auberge du XIIème Siècle. Balzac lived in Saché (now a castle museum), and just up the road in Monts is where the abdicated Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in 1937.

L’Auberge du XIIème siècle

Antoine and I couldn’t help ourselves.  We ate there two nights in a row.  Put a gourmet Frenchman and a Scot together to pick a restaurant and the best value for money element comes into play. 😉 We went for the normal dinner menu at €35.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll show you the highlights as one meal, as we both tried absolutely everything, just for you

 The sommelier suggested a local sauvignon blanc for an apéritif.  This is perfect to get the appetite going, especially to accompany the five little amuse-bouches.  I’m apologising now, as I’m difficult in restaurants like this; I dare say that the cheese straw clashed with the langoustine mousse and the carrot-chive sorbet was a bit too sweet for my liking before a meal.  Now if they’d put spices in the carrot to react with the sugary sorbet, that would be totally dynamite…

The apéritif continues…

The rabbit confit (tasted just like roasted chicken bits) in the shot glass was tasty but so dry, accompanied by a little pancake with no sauce.  Wetting it with the sauvignon was the thing to do, I think.  The other pastry with snails was better. Time to go to our table indoors for the main meal…

Another amuse-bouche arrived.  This time a warm port caramel was sitting on a crème brûlée of foie gras.  I honestly would have preferred this for dessert.  It was far too sweet and the wine hadn’t arrived yet.  Why do I get so irritated when the sommelier has all the wine bottles in the centre of the room and you have to beg to be served?  Or am I just a wine artist?

 Now you’re talking.  A beautiful starter of sautéed giant prawns with asparagus, crispy potatoes on a lemon thyme jus arrived – enfin with a Chenin blanc, produced locally by an organic winegrower.

The crispy potatoes were revealed under the prawns – but they’d lost their crispiness.  Lovely idea, though; cut finely with a mandoline and in clean-cut, even rounds.

Filet de canette au jus d’ollives, confits d’été et sa tapenade – for one?

The main course of small duck (canette) arrived.  This was perfectly pink inside, the confit tomatoes and red peppers a perfect match, as was the tapenade – once I’d found it underneath the pile of chervil.  You can see from the lighting that service was slow but after seeing the cheese trolley (extra 12€ supplement), it was worth the wait.  I’ve never eaten so much chèvre (goat) cheese in my life!  The best over the weekend was goats’ cheese that was more mature and dry.  The flavour was powerful and was perfectly matched with the fig jam.

Still room for some Loire cheeses…

I couldn’t help putting the strongest chèvre under this lady’s nose on the plate.  On the palate, I preferred sticking to the Chenin blanc.  Antoine’s red chilled Chinon just didn’t have the same reaction.  It certainly went with the cheese ok (go for something outside the region and the cheese tastes like washing powder and no – I haven’t tried eating it, if you ask) but the Chenin brought out floral honey notes.

Superpostition de nougat glacé, soup aux fruits rouges

Oops.  Photos, Jill?  Wine and photos don’t go together, as I’ve shown my knack of camera shake like this before, remember? 😉  Da-dada-da-da-da: dessert!  Hm.  Lovely.  It was a bit disappointing, though. Antoine’s puff pastry flute to accompany the strawberries and green mint sorbet was the same they used for the apéritif, I’m sure.  I don’t like overly sweet desserts, but this seriously lacked sugar.

And, since we obviously looked like we were still hungry at this point, a verbena infusion (verveine: see blog post for verveine macarons) arrived with some mignardises: an orange fruit jelly, a mini crème brulée (see what I mean about the port caramel? That would have been fantastic at that point to finish up, although perhaps not with the foie gras!), an almond financier (excellent), and a beautiful raspberry mousse.

still room for mignardises?

I took one spoonful, but then the spoon wouldn’t fit into the glass to fetch out the rest.  Ah well, I think we really did well by that point.  Time to order a crane to lift us out of the restaurant, Monsieur?

All in all, I would give it 14 out of 20. Where were the macarons? It was funny seeing clients order from the other menus – they had more or less the same things from the main menu, dressed up with bigger or smaller tasting portions. Antoine gets 20 out of 20 for taking me out – let’s face it, we don’t go out that much but when we do, I love getting ideas and inspiration for entertaining when my light fades in ze kitchen.

Or should I say he gets “vin sur vin”?   Speaking of wine, the chenin blancs were so good that we popped in to the cellars to find out more and stock up.  The winemakers were so passionate about their babies as they explained the much longer process of making wines organically.

Visiting the local organic wine cellars

First stop was at Château de la Roche en Loire.  Our favourite was the one in the restaurant: the 2009 Cuvée Céline. It’s so intensely fruity and “oily” that it can easily cope with partnering a meal from start to finish.  A real blockbuster that could even take on the toughest of highly flavoured dishes, was La Noblesse d’Aziaum 2006, from Pascal Pibaleau’s cellar.  Like all organic wines, you’ll see a lot of deposit at the bottom: c’est normal.

I’ll finally finish off with an image of one of my favourite trees, full of perfumed scents.  It greeted us on arrival at the B&B and we had breakfast underneath it.  Such inspiration for macarons, my friends!  I’ll show you next week. Any guesses?

Egg Yolk Recipe Series

I am so proud to welcome Marsha, the Harried Cook.  When her email arrived with her recipe and photos, she literally dropped a bombshell.  If you haven’t seen it already, drool over her Strawberries and Cream Mousse Pie, using pâte à bombe – a French term for a base of egg yolks and sugar.  What’s more, she’s offering a Giveaway of 2 Mad About Macarons!” books; hurry, the giveaway ends on Sunday 26 June.

Discover France Feature Article

Discover this super website, Discover France, for all of you who are mad about Paris and everything French.  If you have a moment, please read my first feature article for them.

I’m so proud to be listed amongst their featured authors. They also include an excerpt from the book:

Discover the Decadent Fashionable Pâtisserie: The Parisian Macaron

Ouf ! I’m finished now, promise…