Monday, 20 August 2018

Aix marks the spot - Part One


In previous blogs, I have introduced you to other Australian families who, like us, have been so drawn to France that they have up-ended their 'normal' and headed there to live. What is interesting is that each of us has a very different story. Of course, there are similarities (from the simple - markets, fresh food to the complex - profound emotions) but our stories - what we have each done, what we hoped to get from our experiences, how long we stayed and where we stayed - have varied quite significantly.

Today, in Part One of 'Aix marks the spot', we meet Meredith, her husband and their two children who left Sydney for their French life in Aix-en-Provence. 

What was it that prompted you to head to France with your family?  

My husband is a natural cook and had studied catering with the French chefs.  From that day on, he wanted to live in France.  It was all my husband’s idea, although he would say that I made it happen.  

 To undertake a trip such as yours there must have been a fair amount of preparation? What were some of the things on your pre-departure to-do list and do you have any hints for families who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

There is an enormous amount of work that goes into living in another country.  We made our decision to leave Sydney around February 2010 and were on our way 4/5 months later.  My husband had been talking about wanting to live in France for so long that I was sick of hearing about it.  I gave him an ultimatum, that we either go in August 2010 or that he simply never mention it again.

He looked me in the eye and said “Alright, let’s do it”.   
I held out my hand and replied “You have to shake on it”. 
And he did.

We always felt that 1 year would never be enough and assumed 1-3 years would be the probable outcome. The children were 7 and 10 years old when we left and almost 10 and 13 when we returned, two and a half years later. 

So, probably the main piece of advice that I would give to any prospective families wanting a similar sea change is to allow as much time as possible.  It takes most people a year to settle in and the last thing you want to do is to have to turn around and come back.  

Of course, packing up a family and moving to Europe is no easy task.  You just need to make extensive lists and work your way through them. Given that I have a British passport and my husband and I both spoke some French, we had quite an advantage to start with.

I would certainly suggest that anybody thinking of living in France should start learning the language in earnest.  On the other hand,  don’t be put off if you don’t speak French.  Most French speak English and it is relatively easy to get around without it. 


How did you choose where you would live? Did this area live up to your expectations? 

Once we’d decided to move to France, I asked my husband the same question,
"Where do you want to live?".   He looked at me as if I was an ‘imbécile’,
“The south of France, where else would you go?”.  And he was right.

My search began with schools.  We assumed the kids would go to an international school and I could only really find three such schools in the south.  There were two on the Côte d’Azur and one in Aix-en-Provence.  Put simply ‘Aix marked the spot’ and that was where we went.

Aix-en-Provence boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, is 25 minutes from the sea, 3 hours by TGV to Paris and is the gateway to the Luberon valley.  It was no surprise that Aix was voted the most desirable place to live in France by the French!
  
I really didn’t have any expectations.  We were going to live in the South of France and we were going to have a totally different life experience with our kids.
  
Of course, it was extraordinary and the best thing we ever did.

You have two children. How easily did they make the transition into French living? Can you tell us a bit about their experiences of school, making friends, adjusting to new routines, food etc? 

We actually decided to put the kids in the local French school initially, which only lasted 4 months.  My youngest son was struggling with phonetics in English and therefore he was drowning in French.  I was very proud of them both, they never cried.  They just went off every day to school and came home talking about what they had for lunch. That is the best thing ever. The French schools provide a 3-course lunch every day for the kids and it is outstanding.

We quickly decided that having an authentic ‘French’ experience wasn’t as important as having happy children and therefore settled on an ‘International’ experience, moving them to the local International school.  They were ecstatic and loved the change.

They adapted very quickly to their new school and once they had English speaking friends they were very content.  They quickly became connoisseurs of olive oil, cheese and what was the best saucisson at the market.  But they never really embraced going to museums and art galleries, they were far more interested in skiing and climbing trees.


Once settled, what did a typical day look like for you and your husband?

A typical day started with us checking our emails for any work issues back home.  Then we would drive the kids 15 minutes to school stopping on the way back for a morning coffee and a few fresh goods at the market.
  
If it was a Tuesday we would be going direct to the hiking group, a combination of French and international people being led all over Provence to places you would never find on your own.

Two days a week we would go into the centre ville for our French classes.  We only lived 5 kms from town but it was always fun to go into Aix for French lessons followed by a wander around the market and lunch.

We had to work a bit from home but this would normally be followed by walks around the property, a visit to the local Set club for tennis, or an excursion around the region.
We were kid free during the day so we had plenty of time to explore.

And my husband would delight in deciding what he would cook for dinner and then cook something delicious every night.

In Part Two of 'Aix marks the spot', Meredith will share some of their more colourful moments living in France and talks about their eventual return to Australia. 

PS A sneak preview to the continuation of this story is that Meredith loves the area so much that she joined forces with a company called On The Tee Travel to create and host some exciting ‘Golf Getaways’ to Provence, The Riviera and even Mallorca, Spain.  More next time...


Plus...in Part Two, a funny episode related to the following photo will be revealed.

I wrote about our family's French adventure in 'But you are in France, Madame', please contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.


Sunday, 12 August 2018

In the French kitchen with kids by Mardi Michels

Opened, unwrapped, studied, a quick flick through and then to the ‘acknowledgements’. I, myself, am not a cook, although I am looking forward to proving myself wrong with a cookbook for ‘…francophiles of all ages’. I am, however, gluttonous for stories and even more so when these stories enable me to meet and learn about people. Thus, straight to the end of ‘in the French kitchen with kids’, where my inkling about this Australian-born, French-loving, Canadian-living lady was proved right. Mardi is also a passionate people person. Her book was created with others, for others and it is clearly important to Mardi that she encourage families, and kids, to cook, discover and learn together. ‘In the French kitchen with kids’ happens to be about French cooking, as France is another of Mardi’s passions, but I sense that it could just as easily have been about any cuisine as long as togetherness was at its heart.

Australian-born, just like Mardi, I took my family to live in France when my children were 6, 9 and 12. At school, a vegemite sandwich, piece of fruit and a treat for recess was no longer the way to go. Instead, the children stayed at school for a generous three-course meal on occasions or came home to enjoy their two-hour lunch break on others. There was a third option; eating at a friend’s house. Only, invitations in meant invitations out… Whilst all of my children’s friends were exceptionally polite and ate whatever we put in front of them, the stress of providing an acceptably French meal was real. If I had been armed with Mardi’s cookbook (which covers actual food eaten by real French children), I would have known what sauce to serve with the pork cutlets, how to prepare a good vinaigrette to mix with salad leaves, that fish fingers could be an acceptable option and how to check when my beans were ready.

I am going to leave the detailed food commentary to those more qualified than me, but make mention of the little tidbits, facts and ‘did-you-knows’ throughout, plus Mardi’s personal anecdotes (why vegetable soup is included being my favourite). These turn the book from a set of instructions into a story – and what kid doesn’t love a story?

Practical details:
Published by appetite by Random House
Length 184 pages
Recipes divided into sections: breakfast, lunch, after-school snacks, dinner, dessert, special occasions and basic pastry recipes along with tips for cooking with kids and lists of equipment.
Available world wide: Amazon for print and ebook copies

PS: As a somewhat impatient cook, when I witnessed a French friend in Australia prepare baguettes in front of me, with minimum fuss and a modicum of waiting (2 hours) for the dough to rise, I determined to see for myself if they required an authentic French touch or just any old (mine) would do. Click here to find out what happened.


choux puff tower - pièce montée


Thank-you, Mardi for generously sending me a copy of your book. It has been a pleasure to get to know you and to witness your enthusiasm for everything that you do. I wish you much success with this, your latest endeavour.

If you would like to find out more about Mardi, the best place to start is here at her eatlivetravelwrite website or in Mardi's own words:

Follow me!
Thanks so much for your support (always!). Please follow me on my various social media channels (and tag me if you make something from the book!)

Like my page on Facebook (this is the best place to keep up to date with book events, signings etc…)
Follow me on Instagram
Follow me on Twitter 
Or to rent Mardi's house in south-west France click here

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Book Podcast with Rosemary Puddy

Photo credit: @grosgrainhomewares

On Christmas Day 2017, I wrote a blog post. Actually, by the time I had finished it, we were into the small hours of the next morning. It hadn't been a normal Christmas and, truthfully, the morning itself had been a little sombre. Getting out into the mountains for a lunchtime picnic had changed our perspective and cheered us up and by mid-afternoon, watching Die Hard, sipping champagne and anticipating our festive dinner, things were back on track.  Receiving notification that my interview on The Book Podcast was live, was the icing on the cake.

I didn't make much of it at the time and it got a little lost in Christmas, yet Rosemary's program deserves attention. Her story is that, after a stint on local radio, she was at home in her library examining her extensive collection of books when it struck her that very few books on her shelves were by women writers and even fewer by Australian women writers.

Was this because there weren't many Australian women writers? Was it because they weren't very good? Was it because they were overlooked in a male-dominated domain? She decided to find out and set about creating her podcast by reading books by, and then interviewing, Australian women writers. Her first interview aired in February 2017 and a year and a half later, her program is still going strong. Typically, one interview is played per week on a Tuesday morning in Australia.

Completely off the topic, I have just started running again (after a slight mishap when skiing in January). For this, my treadmill is brilliant as I can pace myself, set goals and speed up or slow down knowingly. It is also the perfect opportunity to listen to one of Rosemary's podcasts.

If you are a reader, or a writer, I would really encourage you to click on the link to The Book Podcast - link here. You will hear the back stories to the books, get hints on the craft of writing and will, I am sure, find Rosemary's interview style personal and easy to listen to. Each interview lasts for approximately 30 minutes.

My interview was Episode 43 Catherine Berry 'But you are in France, Madame'. Rosemary and I chatted about why I went to France with my family, the preparation phase, how the children settled into French living, coming back to Australia, why I wrote 'But you are in France, Madame' and whether that had been an objective all along (no!).

If you get a chance to check out the podcast and like what you hear, you can ensure that you don't miss future episodes by subscribing. It's free.

By the way, Rosemary's answers to the questions that she had asked herself - undoubtedly, there are many excellent Australian women writers. She hopes that her program is helping to bring them the attention and accolades that they deserve.

If, after listening to our interview, you would like to read about our family's French adventure, please contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Porky pies


C'est du pipeau! That's a porky pie...or is it?

Truth be told, this brief (therefore highly consumable) article tells me that I can (speak more than one language) so therefore I might (tell a lie easily). I do (speak my own language well) so I am a highly functioning liar.

Ah. Those childhood chants come back to haunt me:

...liar, liar, pants on fire...

Et pourtant je suis simple et je n'aime pas le mensonge. Je le jure. .... Je suis plutôt un mensonge. Un mensonge qui dit toujours la vérité (Cocteau)


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Parisian Life - Part Three



Today I am sharing with you the third and final part in the series 'A Parisian Life'.

In Part One Tahnee introduces herself and her family, talks about why they made the decision to go and live in France, and takes us through the busy period prior to their departure from Australia.

In Part Two, we hear more about the day-to-day life of the family once in Paris and, in particular, how Tahnee's three children managed the transition.

If you are thinking of doing the same thing - going and living with your family/children in France, I know that Tahnee would be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have (@treasuredjourneys) as would I.  

I hope that you enjoy Part Three. Bonne lecture!

Can you share with us a couple of the most memorable experiences of your time in France? 

Occasions that bring back happy memories are the times we shared with people. To give you just one example: Our first stop on a big road trip was in Dijon. My husband had met some people through mutual friends whilst on a previous work trip in France. They had said to him to please call them if ever we were in Dijon and invited us to their family home. We were met with such warmth and hospitality. Only two people out of eight spoke English, but this didn’t prove any difficulty as conversations flowed; it was magical. The grandparents' garden was amazing, they grew a lot of produce and lived off what they grew. Perhaps it was because we hadn’t been around our own extended family in quite a few months, but being there and being shown around their garden made us feel part of something. The kids enjoyed picking raspberries, seeing all the things that were growing, hearing the spoken French and being with people who were so welcoming. We felt like we were with family, or that we had known them for a long while. 


It’s funny because you will read that French people are usually very reserved, and not too willing to find new friendships, or let people in. This for us could not have been further from the truth. We found the people we interacted with to be warm, inclusive and simply lovely. Everywhere we went we were always made to feel welcome.

My French tutor became my friend. I discovered that her husband was just as passionate about wine as my husband. So we arranged a dinner for our families to meet. All of us had a wonderful time, and many subsequent dinners and outings occurred. Our children still keep in contact with each other. 

Even my beautician (who did home visits for waxing!) became my friend. In fact, after only being back in Australia for three months, she came to visit us for three weeks. 


My children would say that dog sledding through the snow, ice skating on the Eiffel Tower, parasailing through the waters of Monaco, tree top climbing in Provence, electric bike riding through Champagne, swimming in the ocean in Cannes, visiting the battlefields in Normandy, picking lavender in Sault, eating falafels in the Marais, getting their tongue stuck on an icy pole from their favourite icy pole shop, scootering through the streets of Paris, floating boats in the pond at the Luxembourg gardens, being in a school drama production, would be just a few of their favourite things. They were extremely fortunate to have done so much, including travelling throughout Europe, and to have seen and experienced so many different things.

Another highlight for us was the Eiffel Tower. Every night the large light that rotates 360 degrees would shine straight into our living room. We all loved seeing this and on the hour loved watching her twinkle away. Every night my youngest son and I would stand by the window and say goodnight to her, and wait for her bright light to shine directly at us. We never tired of this and did this every single night.

Back now in Australia, what do you miss the most? How do the children view their French adventure?

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of our time there. I can truly say I loved it, and if I could move back, I would. As easy as life is here in Australia, I would still move back. I miss the city, the buzz, the people, the language, the culture. There is so much to do there, you’re never bored. Also being so close to so many countries is amazing. The ability to travel and not take a lot of time to get to other European cities is fabulous. I found we did more on weekends there than back home. We made the effort to go to different places and not sit around. There certainly were weekends at home too, when schoolwork and assignments ruled over going anywhere, there were times where we did simply sit at home and relax. But with so much to do and see, exploring was always something that we really wanted to be doing. We didn’t want to stay indoors, we wanted to find out about other villages and towns. Australia is spread out so widely, so to do what we did in France doesn’t happen here, as places take considerably longer to get to.

I loved showing friends around who came to stay with us. Seeing Paris through fresh eyes is a delight and to see their wonder and excitement made us all so happy. The kids were so happy to be tour guides and share their knowledge. This showed us how much they had taken in, understood and remembered. I loved listening to them and found this really special.

The children recognize and understand how fortunate they have been. The gifts of travel and of living overseas have been invaluable. We are constantly talking about our time away. I like to do this to keep the memories alive, especially for my youngest son, as these early childhood memories are easily forgotten. So far so good. They are still there. He even reminds me of things we did.

I took them back to Paris after we had been home for eleven months. We were all missing it so much, we needed a little Parisian fix. The first day we were there they all said to me that they felt like they were home and we all felt very peaceful. I love how they know their way around the city, and know where they’d like to go. I often think that when they go back as adults with friends, it will be a very familiar place for them, that they won’t really be a tourist, it will be their second home.


Overall, would you recommend the experience to other families?

ABSOLUTELY!
Life is too short, we need to get out there and live it.
It’s very easy to get into your comfort zone and remain there. We chose to shake things up, to turn our kids' world upside down, we showed them a different way of life. To show them that different can be normal as much as normal can be different, was a life lesson indeed!  We chose to challenge ourselves, to try a new way of life. The point is - we chose. Everything in life is a choice, and this is the path we chose, and have benefitted from it greatly. 

My husband and I wanted our children to learn to appreciate what they have in life, to acquire tolerance and understanding of others. It isn’t easy but, in the end, I think we’re all trying to do our best, no one is perfect, but with love and understanding it makes things a little easier. 

To any person thinking of making a lifestyle change, I say 'go for it'. There is so much to gain from the experiences you create, memories to treasure forever. I am sure that the children really do appreciate and are grateful for what we did for them which is really nice. They will often reflect and say things to us that show that their experiences have provided them with a rich tapestry in education.

Thank-you, again, Tahnee for chatting with me and sharing your story and pictures. It has been a real pleasure. I'm sure that you have inspired many other families, and definitely given some ideas for future dinner-table conversations.

Read Part One here and Part Two here




***Our family story was slightly different, but based most probably on the same ideas of 'doing things differently', living a rich family life and loving France. We set off to the Alps for one year and ended up staying for many. I wrote about our experience in 'But you are in France, Madame'. It can be purchased on Amazon, here or contact me directly on cb222@me.com ***


Friday, 20 July 2018

No Beef with these bikes

Cadel Evans with my girls in Bordeaux in 2010
The 2018 Tour passed along the road through Menthon-Saint-Bernard





Here I go again. Talking about food when I have no right to do so. But, in honour of the Tour de France - a race that I have come to know and love over the last ten years - we made a French meal. Actually, we never need an excuse for this, and I use the term 'we' loosely. I watched, took photos and sampled the red wine as the beef stew (boeuf bourguignon) was being put together.













But, back to the bikes. In 2009, we were in the final months of preparation before our family adventure (which would take us from living in Melbourne to living in France) when the Tour passed through Annecy. I stayed up that night to watch the SBS coverage on Australian television and, as my interest to that point in the Tour was scanty and my knowledge sketchy, I didn't understand a lot of what was going on: the idea of teams working together for one lead rider, the different specialists within the teams, the terms and duration of the Tour, the names of the riders etc. was all unfamiliar territory. I can't tell you who won that stage, where the race went after Annecy and had to look up the eventual overall winner (Contador), but I can tell you that that night was thrilling. It was a turning point of sorts, as it had been suggested to all of our friends that they, too, should stay up late to see our future hometown. After years of planning, there was no alternative but to finally walk our talk...and go.

I now feel like an old hand. Not only did Annecy again feature this year as a start town for the 10th stage, Taste Le Tour with Gabriel Gaté visited Le Père Bise in our village, Talloires. Go to Series 14, Episode 10 for more.

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***

 
 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

French love Down Under



A quick post today, to share some photos from an inaugural Bastille Festival in Sydney. We celebrated a week early, but the love for France in Australia is in evidence as, not only were there large numbers around me today, but Brisbane is hosting a big festival this weekend, Melbourne hosts theirs on July 14 and 15, Circular Quay in Sydney celebrates over four big days Thurs 12 through to Sun 15 July, the Sunshine Coast holds their festival on the 28th July...and that is just a small selection of all of the parties, get-togethers, balls, special film sessions etc. to celebrate the French National Day Down Under. I was the guest of French Cargo and spent a lovely morning with Kathie signing books and chatting to her customers. I might just take this opportunity to say 'thank-you' to Kathie. She has been such a wonderful support for me and this writing venture.

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***









Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A circular, culinary blog


I have lived and breathed the French language for a very long time. Yet, every once in a while,  a word comes my way that requires a bit of extra thought. I don't mean the words that are new to me but that I understand because of their context, or words that I have forgotten and that I can jiggle to the surface. I mean words that I know, but that don't seem to make sense in context. Writing about how to make a baguette last blog led me down several cooking related paths including to the salt farms of Brittany and the following:

La Fleur de Sel, Le Guérandais, est délicatement cueillie, selon une méthode traditionnelle millénaire, à la surface de l'eau des oeillets par les paludiers de Guérande. 

But, un oeillet is a carnation (or an eyelet). Of course, a carnation is a flower and the fine salt (La Fleur de Sel) that is being collected is so-called because of the flower-like patterns of the crystals that form in the salt crust as the seawater evaporates. But, this is somewhat of a false path.*

In fact, in the salt harvesting process, sea water passes through a succession of ponds and it is the final set of ponds that are known as the 'œillets'. Is this more related to the winding related to eyelets?





An interview with chef, Jamie Oliver, in which he talked about his mentor, a lady named Rose, came up in conversation. She was strong, kind, clever, someone who, according to Jamie, favoured simplicity and taught him to focus always on what he could do better. A 'salt of the earth' sort of person.

And then, absent-mindedly, I picked up a cook book that I have had on my coffee table for a very long time, but have probably never done anything more than flick through distractedly. I like the idea of cooking. I love the idea of being a good cook. But, sadly that is where the passion seems to start and stop. This time, though, I read the About section of the cookbook; a human story, which is of far more interest to me, and learnt that the writer/chef Patricia Wells and her husband's

"...love of France grew...Almost before we'd unpacked our bags in Provence, we had more French friends than we had made in all our time in Paris. Within a year, we could no longer even remember life before Provence. For us, it symbolised all the essential elements of happiness we sought in life - friends, family, food, and feasts."

Now, this was something that I could really relate to, and took me on a bigger wander around her book...which led to the Fleur de Sel.

Strangely enough, it was not just me baking last weekend, My FB posts attracted return comments from both Annette at A French Collection and Mardi from eat.live.travel.write who is about to publish a...cookbook.

*as far as I can tell - please do let me know if there is indeed a connection.

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***

Friday, 22 June 2018

Make your own baguette




6 g salt
500 g plain flour
7 g yeast
450 ml warm water
...and that is it!

When we moved back from living in France to Australia, there were many things that we missed. So many, in fact, that it was a difficult period for us all. But, let's not dwell on that today. Instead, close your eyes and breathe in, listen to the crunch and taste the, nearly authentic, French bread that made us feel a little closer to our French home. Of course, you'll need to turn on the oven to as high as your oven will go, and chances are you'll look more longingly at the long, cylindrical shapes you create if you have on hand the nifty baguette trays (as ordered on line by yours truly). Don't forget to divide the dough into 3, score each loaf, set your timer for 18 minutes or so and then ahh..Miam! Miam!

One more hint: how to know when your water is warm enough? You can count to ten with your finger in the water and it doesn't burn. Like the precision of the technique? Let me know how you go.

***Purchase your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame', which takes you with us on our French adventure, at Amazon, here ***

Salt, flour, yeast and water and you are ready to go

Combine ingredients in order listed

After leaving to rise for a couple of hours
Flour your board, scoop out your risen dough
Ready to go
 knead away
and away
and away
and away
divide into 3 
shape, stretch and score
Taste test anyone?