Let’s have a cake, we’re on holiday!

Watching James Martin make an absolutly scrummy white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake this morning, reminded me of this ‘cake tour’ in France on one holiday. It was awesome!

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I have a weakness of cakes, once likened to have a mouth like a CD drawer which accepts pain au raisin with ease!  I love to try local cakes. It tells me about the local produce and often includes learning a little more about the region.  But that’s an excuse, a piece of local patisserie is my treat, it lifts my spirits, gives me a sense of being spoiled.

So here are five cakes from our autumn trip.

So I started with a ‘Pastis de Quercy’

Something like filo pastry, with either apple or prunes, honey and pastis.  This one I bought at the market of Praysac, held on a Friday.  I ate it at the view point of Ballaye, overlooking stunning views of the River Lot.  We met a group of local walkers there who said we must go to Montcuq market on a Sunday  (one to save for…

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What have apes got to do with the need for water safety?

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Our early ancestors spent most of their time adjusting to a damp environment., so much that humans evolved as virtually hairless and young babies can swim instinctively. This is the basis of  the Aquatic Ape Theory.  We think we are more sophisticated now, but out of our normal environment, such as the annual holiday, proximity to water still presents dangers especially for children.

This post contains some tips for water safety and also a very useful link to an interview with Sharon Davies, form British Swimming Champion, where she answers questions about water phobias, teaching youngster to swim and gives some practical advice.

When do accidents happen?

RoSPA found that the majority of incidents happened on the first or last day of a family holiday. Other research highlights early morning or evening as being  the times when children are most at risk, when keen to explore they may easily slip away unnoticed.

A few thoughts to bear in mind.

Commonly people drowning are shown to waving their arms to attract attention. This is not what happens when children drown. Instead, they slip silently under the water and drown quickly.

On holiday where the environment, regulations and routines are different it is wise to supervise younger children closely around water. So, if you stay in a private property –you are the lifeguard and responsible for your children’s safety. 

Test your safety knowledge

If you would like to test either your knowledge or that of your children, here are two quizzes to try.

Key points on Water Safety from ROSPA
Before you go:

  • Check the safety arrangements in advance.
  •  Teach children never to swim alone.
  • Be cautious about booking properties that do not have safety fencing (in France such properties do not comply with the law).
  • Take a first aid course – know how to resuscitate a child.
  • Ask your travel company if the hotel pool has a lifeguard.
  • Actively supervise all young children near water.
  • Choose pools that are fenced with locking gates. 
  • Even if a pool has a lifeguard or alarm – know where your children are, and what they are doing in the water.
  • Let children take swimming classes whilst on holiday – a great way of gaining water confidence and learning essential water safety skills.
  • Inflatables are not a substitute for supervision or swimming ability
Some simple rules for children to learn
  • Never swim alone
  • Do not dive into unknown depths of water, and only jump feet first into water
  • Do not push or jump onto others
  • Know where to get help in an emergency.
Sharon Davies talks to Bristol Netmum about swimming and water safety.
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A useful link:

Graded grains make finer flour – Le Moulin Boutard, Bourgueil

I was kicking myself as I typed the title for this post!  We could never fathom the French system to classify flour and know which one to use and yet the famous catch phrase for a well known UK flour held the answer.

Graded grains make finer flour!

A few years ago  we  met Madame and Monsieur Piaumier, owners of the Moulin Boutard, at a Craft Fair in the grounds of the Chateau at Giseux. Monsieur Piaumier explained the finer the flour the ‘whiter’ it is, the higher the category the nearer it is to the wholemeal flour which we were looking for.

So the flour we use now ranges from Type 55 for making croissants, Type 65 for pizza dough, through to Type 170 for rustic wholemeal bread. We also get rye flour, spelt and a speciality mix of chestnut flour, fig and hazel nut for cookies.

This website gives some good descriptions of the different types.

The Flour Bin – Home and Artisan Bakers Supplies

Through the generations

In the nineteenth century, there were no less than 22 water mills on the River Changeon., but they closed one after the other when industrialised production of flour and bakery goods started to arrive.

The Moulin Boutard was a true water mill until 1956, when it too was mechanised to keep pace with the demands of the market. It is the only mill still operating in the Bourgueil area.

The mill is owned by the Piaumier family, a family with a traditions of seven generations of millers. The family member who will make it the eight generation is currently working in a mill near Tours.

A Short History 

The changes at the Moulin Boutard over the years demonstrate how life changed so much more quickly from the 19th century onwards compared with when it was built by the monks of Bourgueil in the XII century.

1850 – The mill was extended

1928 – Mr. Albert Piaumier became as tenant operator of the mill

1930 – A diesel engine was installed and it is still in operation today,

1957 – The production rate is increased by the modernisation of equipment and it is then possible to mill 300 kg of wheat per hour instead of 100 kg.

1963 – Cleaning equipment and storage is installed.

1966 – A bulk tank is installed for receipt of wheat. This is the first mill equipped with this system in Indre-et-Loire. Also machinery installed for the manufacture of animal feed.

1974, – The son of Albert Piaumier, Paul, bought the Moulin Boutard from Madame Garnier Moreau.

I983 – A major change in the milling equipment increasing throughput up to 10 quintals (ie 100 kg) per hour.

1998 – Moulin Boutard gets organic certification

Graded grains make finer flour

Graded grains make finer flour

Ets Piaumier et Fils, Moulin Boutard, 37140 Bourgueil

 

Phone Apps for Saumur and the Loire Valley

1 telephoneHow quickly things have changed. The slow dial up connection when we first arrived here 15 years ago, now that seems more like a caveman chipping  at his tablet of stone.  People still live in caves, but with modern comforts,  in this part of the Loire Valley, but things have moved on fast for everyone.

We live in an exciting world, where we can fly over our house with Google maps, visit the chateaux from our sofa and plan a walk around Saumur whilst sitting in the garden on an iPod touch, phone or tablet.

At Les Mortiers there is a wireless connection to all our properties, ipod docks and phone signals and wifi that works all around.

Previously, we wished for a high speed internet connection like the sophisticated folk who lived in the towns and it took a while before it finally arrived at Parcay Les Pins. Guests ran around waving mobile phones in the air to get a signal.  The meaning of ‘mobile’ meant being mobile, climbing steps, venturing on to the raised filter bed or even driving to an area where there was half reasonable reception.

So here are just a few applications I’ve found which you might like to try when preparing for your holiday – or just enjoy a virtual holiday to brighten the day.

Saumur Touristic’Tour

In French, but some planned walks around Saumur which are easy to follow. It is mainly written in English and packed with local information and history, maps and photographs. It seems to have lots of potential to be a very useful app. when more is added to it.

iTunes Search:  Saumur Touristic’Tour

Chateaux de la Loire

Mainly in French, but a list of 66 chateaux and the distance to each from your location with links to the websites for most of the chateaux. Fun to use.

iTunes Search – Vallée des Rois Tour

Fontevraud Abbey

Henry II king of England and count of Anjou, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine along with their son King Richard the Lionheart were buried at Fontevraud Abbey although it is rumoured the remains were removed during the French Revolution. Fontevraud Abbey is the largest collection of monastic buildings in France. This app. gives a tour of the Abbaye and a rather complicated Agenda (Events List) which is best skipped. Do not be put off by the French text as there are three good videos.

iTunes Search:  Fontevraud

and they are all free!

Finally a Cellar is a ‘must have’ for visitors to France

We have found the  app. Cellar is invaluable for cataloguing our wine and a very useful reference to look at stocks when we are tempted to overbuy – it even gives statistics and a total value of your collection! There’s a wish list, a cellar with creaky doors and the good reason for not putting the car in  the garage!

iTunes Search – Cellar – manage your wine collection in style at a pocket money price of 4.49 euros

ITunes Search:  Cellar Manage your wine

How much more can we do to save the environment?

This is not a personal cry for help or a plea for the greater good.  It is more pondering what we can do as responsible individuals and also with the selfish wish to reduce our own running costs.

We have achieved a lot in the last 15 years turning what was a rather neglected farmhouse and out-buildings into our home, a workshop for making silk fishing lines and 3 gites, not necessarily in that order and with constant investment in both time and money. I would not dare to guess how much!

Our Eco-Friendly strategy was probably the first ever to be published for a gite business in France. It has grown incrementally, initially in small steps with eco-friendly cleaning products – low energy bulbs – natural fabrics and so on, a leap forward with solar water heating over 10 years ago, followed by more small initiatives, then another leap with geothermic heating to replace energy guzzling gas heating in the gites, a few more steps and then our latest project of photovoltaic cells and a wind turbine.

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We still keep chipping away at the little holes too. A planned schedule to move from halogen bulbs to LED bulbs where appropriate and with a quick payback to fund the next phase. In one gite the consumption of 750 watts of lighting in spotlights (Poppas) is now reduced to 60 watts. A few more bulbs have been put into critical areas and all checked to see that the lights still provide the right ambiance.

We do not know what comes next, we just keep chipping away at it. Suggestions are very welcome.

First take a look at our Eco-Friendliness here.  You will find a lot I have not included here, but there must be more?

What is driving like in France – update

Driving in France is changing. None of the plus points in my previous post have changed, but regulations to ensure public safety are coming into force this year.

Here is a brief summary of the points which holidaymakers should be aware.

Control of speed.

Radar detectors have been illegal for some time, but now radar warnings on satnav equipment are also illegal. New systems will not include this facility, but it will be necessary to update existing ones systems so this information is no longer available.  The non-technologically inclined driver may find difficult to disengage this function although the website for our own Garmin was very helpful.

For the police, enforcing the new law will not be an easy task particularly as many vehicles now come with embedded software systems.

Nonetheless, the penalty for the new offence is steep – a fine of up to 1500 € and the loss of up to 6 points on a driver’s licence.

Using a mobile phone whilst driving.

 The fine has been increased for using a telephone whilst driving to 135 € and the loss of 3 points on your licence.  (The French systems deducts points rather than adds them!)

Straying on to the hard shoulder

The principal cause of drivers staring on to the hard shoulder is driver fatigue and up till now, straying temporarily into the emergency lane on autoroutes in France was not an offence. Under pressure from autoroute companies anxious for the safety of their workforces, the French government has introduced a new offence, effectively  clipping the hard shoulder, for which the penalty will be 135 €. Also, the existing fine for driving on the hard shoulder on French autoroutes increases from 35 € to 135 €.

Motorcyclists – high viz clothing and number plate requirements

Motorcyclists riding a motor-bike with an engine capacity exceeding 125 c.c. must wear a reflective garment. The French Department of Transport has still to define the criteria for reflective garments and the measure compelling motor-cyclists on French roads to wear something hi-viz will not come into effect before 1st January 2013. In the case of non-compliance, the offender would be liable to a fine of 68 € with a 2 point licence deduction.

There is also an alteration to the law concerning non-conforming number plates which applies to all road-users but especially bikers. The penalty for driving with a non-conforming plate increases from 68 € to 135 €. The Ministry of Transport will also introduce a new regulation concerning the size of registration plates carried by motor-bikes with the aim of making motor bikes more identifiable, especially if flashed by a speed camera.

In-car breathalysers

Local authorities have already begun to introduce on-board driver’s breath testing equipment on French school buses and such equipment will become mandatory in all vehicles in July 2012. Breathalysers will be for sale in supermarkets.

Subsequently to writing this article, The Daily Mail has published a very useful article summarising what you should be aware of.

What is the connection between Miss France and chillies?

Miss France 2012 is visiting La Fleche on February 5th and there will be a chance to see the crown specially designed for her by Julien d’Orcel displayed in the window of one of the jewellers.

So why did I notice this? It happens that whilst on holiday in the Pyrennes we went to Espilette, having seen there was a Chilli Festival there about the time we were in the area.

We saw hundreds, no thousands, no millions (now I exagerate) of chillies, but we also made a discovery. Espillete is the birthplace of Agnes Souret who was the first Miss France.  It is a charming story of how she won the title.



In 1920, after suffering the rigours of the First World War, a Parisien journalist took an initiative to raise moral. He initiated the first competition for the most beautiful woman in France.  “La plus belle femme de France”. The journalist responsible for this grand scheme was  Maurice De Waleffe, the founder of Paris Midi.

1700 girls applied and 49 were shortlisted.  Then, each week, for 7 weeks, the photographs of 7 candidates were shown on cinema screens throughout France. A voting slip was given to everyone as they entered the cinema.

Agnes had sent a faded photo of her first communion with a letter saying that she was only 17 and did she have to cross the whole of France to try her luck?

Agnes Souret was a resounding winner and so became famous throughout France and farther afield, an innocent 17 year old girl with a Basque mother and Breton father was “La plus belle Femme de France”.

So often a charming story has a sad ending and this was so for Agnes Souret, for soon after here reign as Miss France, she died from appendicitis.

The crown will be displayed in the jewellers at 29 High Street, La Fleche, Dept 72, on Wednesday, February 8, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. A chance for budding princesses to go and have a look as Wednesday is not a school day for French children.