Tarte aux Pommes -Celebrating Autumn!


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Down at the farm, Domain Duclos Fougeray yesterday, the trees were bare of their apples. Only last week the orchards were heady with the scent of thousands of apples, Yesterday the you would have been forgiven for feeling drunk with the scent of them all in the cider sheds. Production of cider, Pommeau and Calvados was underway!

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Pommeau is a smooth blend of 1/3 Calvados (apple brandy) and 2/3 apple juice aged in oak barrels, resulting in a sherry/port-like alcohol at 18% and is for me “normandy in a glass”!

Totally delicious!

From the cosy warmth of the “degustation”(tasting) barn the conversation soon became passionate about the  perfect marriage of those drinks with typical Norman specialities, and it wasn’t long before we succumbed to the heavenly combination of a traditional Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) with a smooth warming glass of Pommeau.

Having tried the farm’s hand-made bite-sized apple tarts, I knew I would have to learn how to make them. And then a wonderful neighbour taught me all I needed to know about this not so humble desert, and from so few ingredients, the sublime taste is worth its weight in gold.

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The farm makes its own organic apple and cinnamon purée which is heaven in a jar, but it’s easy to make back home.

Follow the recipe below to make a traditional Tarte aux Pommes with crispy caramelized pastry.

Take a pie sized circle of puff pastry, 5 Royal Gala apples or similar for the tart, and another 5 sweet apples and cinnamon to make a purée of apples. Enjoy a french moment at the local market buying some rich creamy normandy butter and reserve about 4oz for the tart. (The rest of the butter you can enjoy on a warm crusty baguette whilst you wait for the tart to cook!) and prepare a spoonful of demerara sugar.

Take a sheet of baking-paper or baking parchment. Cut to a size just larger than the size of the apple tart. Evenly brush over the surface of the baking paper some melted butter and sprinkle with some demerara sugar. Roll out the puff pastry to the size of a large dinner plate, and lay onto the buttery baking parchment. Spread over the uncooked puff pastry a generous helping of apple and cinnamon purée, and overlay with very thinly sliced sweet apples (desert).

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Glaze with a small amount of melted butter and place in a medium oven, approximately 165-170° and leave to cook for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and sprinkle (optional) with a little more sugar if desired and cook for a further 4 to 5 minutes. just enough to melt the sugar.

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Enjoy with  your friends, family and a dollop of thick farm cream…

or secretly by yourself at midnight in front of the glowing embers of the fire!

Don’t forget a little glass of Pommeau for total apple heaven!

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Buying a House in France – Getting a Mortgage or Prêt Immobilier


Yesterday a large fat white envelope appeared in my letterbox. After all the all the effort taken to get this far you would think that I would be dancing around the room, but the mortgage process in France has been such an exhausting journey that I gave the envelope the kind of look you would reserve for a very wilful and difficult child that has had a month-long tantrum! And perhaps thankfully I was too worn down to rip the contents out of that envelope as, had I done so, I would have surely annulled the mortgage offer inside, since in small black letters were the words,

“Do not fold or tear. This envelope is to be used for the signed return documents”

When you have lived in France as long as I have, you learn to be very very careful about all official correspondence as, no matter what, you must comply with the seemingly most bizarre requirements. I have learnt not just to read things through once, but to do it ten times, to never ever fill in a form with blue ink when it stipulates black, and always, always provide copies of every official certificate, plus a few extras, even when applying for something as mundane as a rail travel card!

But I digress!

You may remember that in September I “bought” a house without my husband ever having seen it, and underwent the scrutiny of the 87 year old owner and the notaire in a particularly transparent overview of my financial capability to buy the said house on an overhead projector screen! At the time both notaire and owner declared that the mortgage interest simulation rates obtained  so far were simply not good enough and that I needed to “have another go” at the process.

I confess to being a “detail” person, and frequently drive my husband to distraction, which is perhaps why he spends most of his time half-way across the planet, but that aside, I took the notaire at his word, and minutes after having signed the “compromis de vente“,  was striding down the main banking street of Rouen determined to come up with a deal.

There are a good 12 or so banks on the main thoroughfare, and by the end of the afternoon I had visited each and every one of them, and left with a date and time of “rendez-vous” with most and already in posession mortgage simulations from three. Last stop of the day was with the “Courtier” (mortgage broker) recommended by the notaire.

By the time I finally met with the courtier three days later I had 9 mortgage simulations in my ever expanding “dossier” file.

“Well”, said the cheerful and energetic Courtier, “have you passed by any banks yet?”

Proudly I nodded the affirmative, and proceeded to rattle off the names of all that  i’d visited, noticing that as I did so his face becoming less and less cheerful in proportion to the number of visits that i’d made.

“Vous étès sportive, alors” (you’ve been very proactive!) “what banks haven’t you seen?”

What I then came to learn was that once a client has passed directly to a bank, a mortgage broker cannot “solicite” the same bank for a further month. Since a time delay is stipulated in the “Compromis de Vente”, this put a finite limit on the length of time available to the courtier. Consequently he was left with my own bank, the post office and one “bottom of the market” bank, the only meetings that I had organised after that of the Courtier. While I held the lead players, the Courtier had his work cut out!

To cut a long story short, I selected three banks from my 9 simulations for the best interest rates and made second appointments to create a “dossier” (mortgage application) With my now enormous cereal packet sized folder, I supplied each bank manager with page after page of official documents; “Bulletins de salaire” (salary statements), “contrats de travail” (work contracts), I had several hundreds of those since each guided tour is covered under a separate contract. They photo-copied each and every one!), “relevés de compte bancaire” (bank statements), passports, electricity bills, and “attestations for Allocation familiales” (family allowance statements). I even had a “Bilan cardiaque” (ECG) up my sleeve and they took that too! And then I left thinking that that would be it……

 

 

But no!

I received emails from the bank managers; some wanted a copy of my “Carte de Sejour” (Residency card), even though EU nationals  don’t need one, others asked for “Avis d’Impots” (Tax records) going back three years, and all wanted proof of our “apport personnel” (personnal contribution), and I sent them all in and thought that would be it…..

But no!

It turned out that to take out a mortgage with a bank, we had to open up a bank account, which meant reims and reims more paperwork, no matter whether we might actually be offered a mortgage, and then the final crunch……

“Monsieur doit signer”.

Aha, I said, flourishing under their noses our “procuration” (Power of Attorney) specially drawn up by the notaire. But on this all three banks could agree,

“NON” they said, “Monsieur doit signer”

Since Monsieur was in Canada, and likely to remain there for several more months, this caused something of a dilemma. But since the “Compromis de Vente” required me to provide a mortgage offer by the middle of November, or lose our deposit, there was nothing left to do but fly Monsieur back. And Monsieur duly arrived for a whistle-stop four day “signing schedule”, and finally, the opportunity to finally see what house his wife had bought!

In France  a life assurance policy is obligatory when buying a house. A buildings insurance policy is only advisory. Having received an “accord de prêt”, a nod from the bank that the loan to income ratio is approved, the next stage is to be approved by the life assurers. This involves a detailed medical questionaire, and dependant upon the age of the applicant, a huge array of medical tests. In order to anticipate the assurers requirements, I had organised a appointment with out médecin généraliste to coincide with the “signing schedule”. All of the banks had already provided us with a medical questionaire, one of which needed completing by the doctor, and we requested that the doctor gave us an “ordonnance” (prescription) for every blood test he could think of. Husband à l’etranger lost the majority of his blood to the syringe that afternoon and the results were ready by the following morning. We duly supplied each bank with the results and questionaires, husband à l’etranger had just about time to sip one coffee in his favorite bar before he was back on the plane,  and sat back to wait for our offers….

And one duly arrived several days later from one of my banks …but with strings attached!

No sooner was husband à l’etranger back on Canadian soil than the bank, who hadn’t originally required a questionaire completed by the doctor, posted one out to us,…. and requested two further blood tests,…. and a ECG done within the last six months. When I informed the bank that there was a four month waiting list for an ECG, and provided an ECG done in the last 12 months as an alternative, the assurer gave us the standard response:

“Mais NON!, Monsieur” and the name of a cardiac clinic who could deal with the matter the same week….

..in France!

My own personal charms were no match for the Courtier’s contacts, and thankfully several days later I received a message that his medical assurers had no need for further information and that his bank’s offer would be soon in the post; and I sat with my fingers crossed hoping it would arrive before the ever approaching deadline.

So when the envelope arrived on saturday, you can probably understand why I was too exhausted to dance a merry jig round the hall!

After all, all that’s left to do now is to get Husband à l’etranger to initial every page and sign the darn thing and return it within the deadline, and despite the fact that I have the “procuration ” (power of attorney) to do it for him, it says quite clearly in bold black print:

“A remplir de la main de Monsieur” (to fill in in Monsieur’s own hand)

And you know what that means don’t you…?

But maybe this time he’ll get time for a second coffee!

 

 

Au Secours – Voleur!


In the spirit of Princess Di claiming that there were “3 in her marriage”, my husband has from time to time had occasion to claim that a third party was likewise also “enjoying” our bank account. The euro, it appears is startlingly easy to spend, and I have always rather ridiculed my husband’s claims, knowing full well that he lives with me, and I do have a particular penchant for flowers, nice wine and the not so  occasional box of chocolates.

Today I wandered down to my bank in our quartier and in the process of getting a ‘historique’ – a neat little mini-statement, noticed a rather bizarre cheque withdrawl. Puzzling over it for a few minutes, it was sufficiently strange for me to succumb to my husband’s theory that something was ‘not quite right’.

My local bank is fabulous. It’s esprit is something out 1980’s England where every bank manager knew his customers by name. No sooner my foot was over the threshold than the lone bank clerk welcomed me by name and tapped in to his computer my details without so much as a jog to his memory. I never cease to be amazed by their ability to do so – though my peculiar accent may have something to do with it.

Today I held up the offending ‘historique’ and explained that absolutely certainly I had not written this particular cheque, that in fact I had scoured my memory for at least the last six months and could not place it. I went as far as to explain that cheques weren’t much used any longer in the UK. The system for cheques in France is entirely different from that of England. To begin with, a cheque is considered to be cash. A cheque written one day will be cleared instantly the very next. A large proportion of the french public still use cheques to pay for everyday products. Frequently I find myself simmering in the supermarket check-out queue whilst a customer settles down to pay for their groceries by cheque – a lengthy process requiring production of a ‘Carte d’Identité’ and the recording of it’s reference number. Similarly, sticking with the ‘living in the 80’s theory’, extra curricular clubs and activities insist on a year’s fees and subscriptions being paid ‘up-front’ by cheque. Since the clubs have no facility for paying by direct debit, such cheques can amount to hundred’s of euros, relieved from the bank account the very next day. One of the French systems that in my opinion could really do with an overhall.

We have just had an extended bank holiday and as such the neighbourhood was pretty quiet with the majority of the city holidaying away in the country. The prospect of a crime was pretty exciting and it was not long before the manager and another clerk has exited their offices to take part in the investigation. Five minutes later we had noted that eight such cheques, all to the same value had been withdrawn at regular intervals, all in the the same part of town, and one not often frequented by me. It pointed to only one thing – vol et usage fraudulente d’un chequier. (theft and fraudulent usage of a cheque book). The cheque book was definitively no longer in my possession. Several signed declarations later, I left the bank under instruction of the manager to ‘porte un plaînte’ (make a statement) to the gendarmerie.

 

On arrival at the Gendarmerie, I handed in my identity card and reported my loss, handing over the bank’s documentation and we settled down to clarify matters and record it. A few minutes into the activity, a young police woman came into the bureau to take the officer’s lunch order, and we diverted activity to decide whether the officer’s sandwich would be ‘avec legumes ou crudités’ – much discussion pursued before coming to a decision between a ‘religieuse’ or an ‘eclair’. The general consensus was that ‘Chocolat’ was imperatif, and would they go to the maître boulangere, and not to Henri Bloggs au coin. I attempted to add my own order to the list, sounding much more impressive than anything back in my larder, but to no avail.

The ‘plaînte’ made, I signed yet more copious copies of paperwork, primarily for activating the insurance on my bank account and made my way back to the bank to hand it in.

I was no further than 100 yards from my bank when a cog in my brain made a slight shift – a slow dawning of conciousness, and I began to weigh up the possibility that it wasn’t so much a ‘perte de chequier’  but a ‘perte de memoire’. Some 9 months ago I had written a series of forward-dated cheques in order to spread the cost of a subscription to a club which we no longer attend. I passed by the bank very slowly weighing up the possibilities, making eye contact with the clerk who was pausing momentarily with his finger on the roller-shutter button to see if I was going to re-enter, before setting the shutter in motion.

And just as the shutter came to rest of the floor, and  the metal grill slid across the door to the gendarmerie for the  officer to tuck into his ‘poulet roti avec crudités’  and his ‘religieuse’, I concluded that I had just launched an attack for fraud by the Police Nationale on….

….my children’s ice skating club!

If only my memory had been as good as the bank clerk’s!