Ou Se Trouve Le Canard Perdu? Le Canard Rouennais, or Rouen Duck.

“Husband à l’Etranger” has been repatriated this autumn after many years of working internationally and as you can imagine this necessitated a measure of celebration on the home front, as well as enjoying the  rare opportunity to get together with friends and especially our very dear neighbours who are always ready to come to the rescue in moments of need with pots of cream, bags of emmenthal râpé and cups of sugar.

Yesterday the perfect moment arrived to “fête” our friendship which started not long after we bought our house – a jolly conversation from balcony to street in which we discovered two of our children had been in the same lycée class for a brief moment in time.

All that was missing from this pre-Christmas bit of fun was the venue. But it didn’t take long to resolve that minor issue. Our neighbours had a friend staying who suggested we all went to try ‘Le Canard Rouennaise’ at the smart Hotel de Dieppe a few minutes walk from our home.

The ceremony behind Rouen duck is quite an experience. Prepared in the dining room in front of the diners it is not for those of delicate disposition, the cracking of bones and extraction of blood being only part of the visual experience. But this is France and the French are renowned for their ability to eat the most extraordinary ingredients and products that are gruesome enough to make your toes curl.

So what of this extraordinary duck? The breed itself is the product of the amorous relations between the migrating wild ducks taking a brief “séjour” in the cliffs above the river Seine at Duclair and local farmyard ducks they spotted from overhead. The resultant canette is medium sized, big breasted, small thighed, blood rich and succulent, and waddling about the farmyard was historically the perfect bird to spit roast in the event of the arrival of an impromptu guest. Not having time to bleed the duck, this impromptu meal necessitated the suffocating of the bird before roasting it on a spit for twenty minutes over a wood fire. The breast was served with a sauce rich in blood, liver and bone marrow.

Inevitably in order to protect the recipe, the “Ordre des Canardiers” was founded, and the confection of the Canard Rouennaise rests on the fundamental premise that the duck be a “true Rouennaise duck”, suffocated and not bled, the commercialisation of which is permissible under the title “exception culturelle”. The breast must be removed, spit roasted for 17-20 minutes and served with a sauce made with the pressed extraction of its own blood.

Ultimately one such duck was presented to King Edward the Seventh by the maître Chef Louis Convert of the cruise liner Félix Faure, and it is this recipe, recreated in 1933 by the chef Michel Guéret who was his young intendant, which the “Ordre des Canardiers” present today as the authentic.

Within minutes of being seated at our table a silver mobile preparation table was wheeled into view. The bird, recently having undergone its spit-roast was relieved of its carcass in front of us before its bones were ceremoniously carved into pieces small enough to fit the enormous silver press. The loud cracking of bones must be imagined as an essential part of the process.

The “Maître Canardier”, complete with blue ribboned medal around his neck, set to with aplomb the process of extracting the blood and bone marrow into a waiting gravy-boat by authoritatively turning the enormous wheel of the press.

The secret base of the sauce, a confection of duck liver , “vin de Beaune” and spices was brought into the dining room, which Monsieur Le Canardier flambéed with a glass of cognac before adding the extracted blood, 20 grammes of pure Normandy butter, lemon juice and a glass of port.After the great excitement of the preparation, there was only one thing left to do… déguster! (Taste!)The copious breast meat of the “Rouennaise Ducks” was quickly polished off. It wasn’t long however before the men at the table noticed that for three birds there was scant thigh or wing meat. At 50€ a head the conversation soon fell to the subject of the “canard perdu”-  or the lost duck.

As we poured uproariously out of the restaurant into the frosty misty night, we were still searching for the “canard perdu” all the way home!Bon appétit!

Picnic at the Chateau

Husband à l’etranger had barely stepped of the plane, nor had a moment to sleep off the ‘decalage horaire’ (jet-lag) before I whisked him off to our lovely friends for an “Apéro Dinatoire” at their mini-chateau. This lovely evening out is a wonderful way to spend time with friends whilst trying a myriad of “amuse bouches”, or canapés acompanied by a glass or two of carefuly selected wines. The idea behind the “apéro dinatoire” is to eat gradually through the evening without ever sitting formally at the dinner table, nor eatening anything that we would generally consider a full blown meal. Nevertheless, by the end of the evening the stomach is pleasantly full and the tastebuds tantalisingly tested! The “apéro”, and the “apéro dinatoire” are very much part of the french culture and way of life, and a seemingly effortless way to entertain without the stress of a sit-down dinner, the former being an invitataion to drinks, whilst the latter, an invitation to stay the whole evening.

Limesy Chateau

should you dream of owning your own perfect mini-chateau look no further than this one!

Somewhere about half-way through the evening one of the gathered company thanked “Husband à l’etranger” for our generous invitation to “picnic at the ruin” the following day, and he acknowleged the event mindful to ask me what I had planned when we got back into the car at the end of the evening. It was only a lot later that he discovered that the ruin was not our own, but one destined to make us feel that ours was merely in need of a quick flick of a paint-brush. There are ruins, and then there are RUINS!

Sunday saw us bumping down a pot-holed and grassy track in the balmy sunshine before coming to a halt beside a gathering of scattered cars and knee-high grass. In front of us a beautiful, and down-at-heel chateau and the distinct smell of a wood-fired barbecue. In the distance laughter and shouts from children gone wild, and the distant hubub of adults from somewhere deep in the bowels of the cellars of the house.

WP_20150614_015This is France at its best. For as we penetrated the gloom of the chateau listening for the direction of voices, we stumbled out onto a long terrace where, table cloth billowing in the gentle breeze, a table for twenty lay ready and waiting it’s lunch guests, china, cutlery and silver jugs laden with garden flowers. A little bit of perfection amongst the dust and debris of the chateau itself.

Minutes later the party from the night before took to their seats, and from the embers of the woodfire, a “côte de boeuf” (side of beef) and sizzled potatoes, accompanied by a full bodied red. No sooner finished than the best of Normandy, oozing ripe cheeses were passed around the table with hunks of fresh baguette; then as always in a typical french meal, the salad with a rich nutty dressing; followed by two gorgeous patisseries, the Framboisier, fresh raspberries engulfed in rich crème patissière and light gateau, and a chocolat moelleux, a gooey molten-centred chocolate cake.


WP_20150614_010Words cannot describe the camaraderie of the afternoon, nor the romance of the setting. A chateau commandeered during the second world war and left ravaged and pillaged over the subsequent years, only to be bought back by its rightful owners several generations later with dreams to restore it to its former glory. No running water nor electricity, and much immagination needed when it came to bathrooms! WP_20150614_028As dusk began to fall, the china, and glasses were stacked into the boots of many cars, as tired, happy, and ever so slightly dusty the friends parted company and made their way home again.WP_20150614_006

The Rouen Puces .. And The Tête de Veau!

Yesterday ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ and I went to the Rouen Puces together for the first time since living in France. The Rouen Puces are advertised as ‘the most beautiful indoor brocante in France’ and for a nominal entry fee it is a wonderful way to pass a day wandering amongst beautiful antiques and bric-a-brac.

There are five halls to wander through, brocanteurs packed together, sometimes with tables loaded with lamps, or bibelots (ornaments) and othertimes with complete room-sets of beautiful French antique furniture, lamps and paintings on the walls. ‘Husband à l’Etranger and I were in heaven!


This year we were both on a bit of a mission. Having stayed in the chateau a few weeks earlier and having some beautiful ornate plasterwork ceilings in our apartment, we were on the lookout for a chandelier, or at very least a pair of Girondoles (table top chandeliers). Having passed a good three hours ‘flaning’ the halls,(a word specific to strolling through brocantes) as every good ‘flaneur’ should, it began to dawn on us that we were getting hungry!



The Rouen Puces have made over one hall to an impromptu restaurant. However, in true French style, this was not any old basic restaurant! At a guess the hall could seat a couple of hundred diners, and the ‘menu du jour’ was written out on huge blackboards, the tables were surrounded by ornamental urns and pillars each topped with an enormous fern, whilst here and there large cream-coloured outdoor canvas umbrellas helped us believe we were in the garden of a luxurious ‘Cote d’Azur’ hotel.

A small queue of a ‘dizaine’ were waiting patiently for a table, and the Maitre D was calmly shepherding people to vacant tables. Behind a couple of ‘femmes gourmandes’ we were also waiting our turn. Finally the Maitre D approached and said he had a table for four, and if we were happy to share with the ‘femmes gourmandes’ we could eat immediately.  No guessing that we readily agreed!

The ‘femmes gourmandes’ took the aisle seats, whilst we wriggled ourselves through the narrower gap between tables. Respectfully pulling our seats towards the edge of the table to allow the two women their conversational privacy, as much as one can when sharing a small square table, the ‘femme’ next to me grabbed the side of my seat to yank me closer saying..

“Je  ne mord pas”  “I won’t bite” (well thank heavens for that!) and we set to  to studying the menus.

‘Husband à l’etranger leaned conspiratorially across the table to whisper…

“I really think they are going to order the Tête de veau” (veal’s head)

..and a second later, at the table the other side of us, the waiter approached with a steaming blue enamel pot. ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ grimaced at the idea of the skull lurking within, and I leant over to ask them if there was really an entire ‘cerveau’ (brain) inside. The couple and the ‘femmes gourmandes’ roared with laughter and lifted the lid to reveal a fairly innocent looking stew of somewhat floppy meat and vegetables and declared it was delicious.

Moments later a blue enamel pot arrived at our table and the femmes gourmandes rubbed their hands in anticipation and lifted the lid; and just at that moment ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ let out a loud…


Tête de veau will never be the same again for any of us!


Clearly, the small ‘pichets’ of wine supplied at our meals were subsidized by the stall holders. Our innocent little pitcher contained a deceptive quantity of wine. We were rather more cavalier after the meal than before and it wasn’t long before we were once more standing in front of the chandeliers and girondolles. Some hard bartering and walking away a few times secured a good price for the pair and we left the Puces happy with our purchases, and having thoroughly enjoyed our day.

American Thanksgiving in Normandy.

thanksgiving imagesOn Saturday I was invited to my first ever Thanksgiving by my American friend and her French husband and bilingual children. This Thanksgiving was going to be a truly international affair and set in the glorious Normandy countryside. In true Thanksgiving style every guest prepared a dish for the table.

There was only one rule set for the evening. No dish could be French, a slight hiccup for me having invested all my time in French patisserie! However, thanks to my sister-in-law I decided that Chocolate Fudge Brownie cake on a bed of molten chocolate was probably about as American as I was going to get! I decided to leave the ‘genuine’ to the Americans.

About  five minutes before our departure from the city to the Normandy countryside I pulled a hot oozing chocolatey pudding from the oven and we descended to the car to get ‘en-route’.

Anyone who has done the journey North out of the city towards Dieppe will know that the road dips into a steep valley as it approaches Barentin with the huge Pavilly train viaduct spanning the escarpment. Perhaps I would have been wiser to reflect a little longer on my dessert before taking a floating pudding with its chocolatey lake on such a journey.

barentin viaduct images

No sooner than I had started to descend into the valley, despite the fact the pudding had been carefully laid flat on the car floor, the chocolate sauce tried to find horizontal and distributed itself in quantity in the direction of the drivers seat. Having reached the bottom of the incline, and then climbing out of the valley, what sauce was left decided to once more find its level, pouring out in the direction of the boot. We arrived with a sauceless pudding!

Nevertheless, the chocolate brownie cake found its place on the table along side its more genuine counterparts and we went to meet the other invitées. What is the chance of two South Carolina families meeting on holiday abroad and discovering that they both live in France in neighbouring villages? Well it happened! There were Americans, French , Irish, Germans and English happily seated together around the table.

It gave a buzz for the conversation to freely swap from French to English and back again, with questions asked in French or English and responded to in English or French depending who responded with no-one at a loss to understand the conversation and no-one registering that the language had changed!

The French husband of our American friend explained the story behind Thanksgiving with his wife adding details. The turkey had been running around the farm earlier in the day before he met his end in the cooker, and the table was weighed down with traditional South Carolina casseroles such as Squash and yellow Courgette, corn and cornbread stuffing.

As dessert arrived at the table, our hostess explained how ‘Chess’ Pie gained its name. First it was necessary to explain the meaning of the word ‘chess’  which translates as échec’ for the French.

chess pie images

The story goes that there was a family in South Carolina  many, many years ago who received a last-minute dinner guest. When the cook came in to serve dinner, the lady of the house said to her that it was necessary to prepare a dessert since they had guests. The cook was a litttle peturbed since the cupboards were bare save for butter and sugar and a very small amount of flour. However she managed to create a pudding nevertheless.

When she came to the table she presented the hostess with the dessert, saying:

“Here’s your pie, Ma’am”

To which the lady replied “What kind of pie?”

“Jess (just) pie Ma’am”

but her accent was so strong that the hostess thought she’d said “Chess Pie”

The pie was so good that it has become a traditional South Carolina Thankgiving dessert.

And believe me  – it was good!

The French were interested to know whether we had any regrets moving to France –

It appeared not –  and as I read once:

“You only regret what you haven’t done”

Though judging from the sigh of contentment on the part of one of the South Carolina contingent and the words:

“Aah, comfort food” – one could be forgiven for wondering!

As for me, my only regret was not letting the host’s dogs feast on my car’s chocolatey offering while I was enjoying my own feast at the table!

The Great French Hospital Food Tasting Experience.

Just last week I was invited to sample hospital cuisine. I was very excited. I had heard all about French hospitals and their meals were legendary.

To make the visit authentic, the hospital decided that it was mandatory also to undergo a minor operation, but insisted that being asleep all the way through It would be a minor disadvantage. In light of the prospective lunch, I willingly agreed.

I could write pages on French hospitals, I have, in our short time in France, seen inside many and  usually the x-ray department, but that’s another story.  What I find the most interesting is how such a huge and complex system that makes up the French health system functions, in my experience so seamlessly.

Having agreed that in order to taste the delicacies on offer from the French hospital canteen I should submit to the ‘intervention’ (operation), I found myself sitting in the specialists ‘bureau’ with my diary open whilst we discussed a suitable date. “Could we fit it in before half-term and whilst ‘husband à l’etranger’ was in France” I asked. A quick phone call down to the operating theatre and my chosen date was booked – just three weeks away.

Stage two was to book an appointment with the anaesthetist and reserve my bed.  Within the fortnight I had enlightened the anaesthetist to my total phobia of anaesthetics and been reassured (somewhat) that ‘ambulatoire’s’ (day patients) were so-called as they did actually leave the hospital at the end of the day on their own feet and not in a coffin. For 50€ I could reserve my bed, 38€ of which was paid for by the state and the rest by my ‘mutuelle’ if I had one; for a little extra I could buy ear-phones and access to a  TV.

The night before the ‘great French hospital food tasting experience’ I received a phone call stating I was first on the list, and would I arrive at 7am, and at 7.15am I had pushed my cheque of 120€ for my operation under the door of the Specialist’s bureau. No matter whether I made it through the experience, the specialist earned his bread and butter!

Disappointingly my hospital bed did not ‘cut the mustard’. No wider than a coffin, I lay on it in a state of total discomfort, and I hadn’t yet arrived in the operating theatre. On the ‘wheelie-table’ in front of me, Alice in Wonderland style lay the smallest of tablets labeled ‘Eat Me’.  Reassuringly the nurse advised me that this was a ‘calmant’ and that once swallowed I shouldn’t make any attempt to move around since I might find myself a little ‘woosie’. Rather alarmingly the bed around me appeared to shrink such that any form of movement at all threatened to catapult me from the bed onto the floor. I clung grimly to the metal side rails.

When I awoke next, I was disappointed to find myself still in the tiny bed still in fear of falling off. I was relieved to hear that in less than an hour I was going to be introduced to my long awaited ‘French dejeuner’, the operation had apparently taken place without my noticing.

Lunch arrived at last. It was a long time since midnight the night before and I had been long anticipating my glass of ‘vin rouge’. Imagine the betrayal at the arrival of a white plastic tray containing, not Confit de Canard et Pommes Dauphinoises, but sandwiches! Anyone who has lived in France for even a significantly short space of time will know that the French do not eat sandwiches, a crusty baguette maybe, but definitely not sandwiches in white sliced bread. The French have no idea how to make sliced bread, which is at it’s best long-life, tough, tasteless and dry; add in sections a few slices of soggy tomato and processed ham in ‘Clingfilm’ and one arrives at some sort of culinary hell.

So here below the menu:

Ham and tomato sandwiches in white sliced bread

Tin (with peel-back lid) of pear compote baby food

Natural yoghurt

Bottle of water.

When ‘husband à l’etranger’ arrived to collect me he was quickly dispatched to the nearest boulangerie to pick up a ‘Tarte au Citron’. After several hours of clinging onto my hospital bed, restorative sugar was necessary.

For future reference,if I am to benefit from the legendary excellence of French hospital food I have to identify which illnesses classify me for the superior cuisine!  As we drove speedily away from the hospital ‘husband à l’etranger’ spotted a group of kitchen ladies hanging round an open door dragging on their cigarettes.

“That’s who made your sandwiches” he said.

I shot them a glare,

“From now on” I said “I’m going to eat at home!”