A French Dinner and a Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé.

When I was very young I had a terrible aversion to learning to ride a bicycle. In fact, once I finally mastered it I had reached the grand old age of eight. The problem was that I was terrified of falling off and scraping my knees on our gravel drive, and it was only, one day in deepest winter, when the thinnest smattering of snow scarcely hid the worst of the sharp gravel edges that I finally got my bike out of the garage, clearly believing that the couple of millimètres of snow would cushion me from a nasty fall.

Last week we headed off to the Alps to ski. Now, as ever, I take my time about things and had never tried skiing until I was 46. While my husband and children scream down the slopes at speed, my kind of skiing is rather more gentle, but I love it all the same.

Just before we left I joked to my friends that if I arrived back home with all my arms and legs intact that I would invite them all to dinner to celebrate. Our first day on the mountain was one of exceptional beauty with vivid blue skies and crystal clear air,  the type you can only find up a mountain, and coupled with a temperature ranging between 16 and 18 degrees. What I didn’t expect to happen was to be struck by terror in front of the first slope with an irrational fear of crashing headlong of the edge of the piste, especially when the slope in question was before getting to the first télésiège. The clarity of the view brought into focus the pitch of the slopes and momentarily I was paralyzed by them. Ultimately I fell back on skiing down an alternative slope and then removing my skis in order to reclimb the incline to have another go. By the end of the day I was exhausted though happier about my slaloming skills and determined to take myself to task the next day.The mountains of course have a mind of their own, and the next day dawned with even the lowest pistes shrouded in dense mist. It was however my eureka moment. No sooner on the slopes than I réalised that, much like with the smattering of snow when learning to ride my bike, I could no longer see the source of my fear. In fact the piste running down to the télésiège seemed to blanketed and softened, and definitely shallowed by the mist. So much so that I threw myself off the brow of the slope with abandon, up the télésiège moments later and never looked back. By the end of the week I had mastered all sorts of slopes that I hadn’t tried before and more importantly, I arrived home all my arms and legs intact. Dinner  with friends was the logical conclusion.I decided, as you do when flying the crest of the wave , to set myself yet another challenge. This time to cook something out of my comfort zone. After a week in the Swiss Alps thoughts naturally turned to melted cheese and mountain goats and I decided to tackle the dreaded cheese soufflé.

I found a wonderful recipe for Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé. And what particularly attracted me to it was that by doing the first bake in advance you would actually know if it souffled effectively before doing the second bake when the hungry guests were eagerly gathered round the table.

I am pleased to say that making a souffle really isn’t as difficult as people make out, although I attribute a certain amount of my success to Arnaud, the excellent pâtisserie chef that I worked with all last season who gave me a good training on the various principles behind beating eggs, egg age and temperature when it comes to giving things “lift”.

For the recipe click here!

The recipe is simple enough. If you can make a decent smooth white sauce, crumble goats cheese and gently fold in soft whipped egg white then you shouldn’t have any problem making a cheese soufflé.

First simmer milk with bay, fresh nutmeg, onions and peppercorns.Next select a strong tasting goats cheese. I added some mature cheddar and some grated Parmesan for good measure.Have old eggs at room temperature.Weigh out all ingredients in advance, lots of fresh chives are perfect for this recipe.Simmer the milk and then strain out all the bay, onion and peppercorns before  adding to a roux of butter and flour. Simmer stirring all the time until a thick creamy sauce is produced.Let cool slightly before adding the chives and beat in the egg yolks on at a time.Then add the cheese and stir thoroughly. The warmth of the sauce will begin to melt the cheese. As the cheese mixture cools, whip the eggs to soft fairly firm peaks. If the egg white are whisked into too hard peaks they impede the raising process. Fold very gently a spoonful of the egg whites into the cheese mixture, and then fold in the rest making sure to not lose the air.Place into ramekins which have been buttered with an upwards motion and ensure there are no dribbles. Both glass and ceramic ramekins work equally well. I used a mixture. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Both fan ovens and standard ovens work equally well.And watch them rise!And start to fall – they only hold their shape for a minute or so out of the oven!I hope you remembered to lay the table!

Once the soufflés are cooked you can eat them after the first bake, a light and fluffy goats cheese fork full of heaven. Or you can let them cool, and gently turn them upside down out of their pots onto a sheet of baking paper covering a metal tray. These can be kept covered in the fridge a day in advance of when you want to serve them.

15 minutes before the guests come to the table, bake for a second time for 15 minutes at 180 degrees, or until nicely risen  and golden, with a slightly crispy shell.

Delicious served with a crown of tender lettuce leaves, a few slices of fresh fig, parmesan shavings and a salad dressing of fig vinaigrette.


For the recipe click here!

Passe-moi le Fromage! Irreconcilable differences.

On New Years Eve some very good french friends of ours arrived unexpectately at our door bearing a ‘Tarte aux Pomes’.  We have what we like to call a ‘reciprocal relationship’ which means that if one of us has lent a plate, the other will return it with an “offering” on it. The plate for a superb tart aux courgettes was returned with Haggis, neaps and tatties in the form of apéros (yes this is possible, we are frenchified scottish anglophones after all), which was returned with a tarte aux Pommes, which was returned with a lone mince pie! (we only had one left!)


“Venez chez-nous pour fêter le nouvel an” “come and celebrate the New Year with us” they asked handing us the Tarte aux Pommes and momentarily we hovered in indecision -feeling the lure of great company verses the desire to celebrate with our children -before giving our regrets.

No sooner the door was closed than our two eldest declared that they were out to party with friends, and our two youngest were all but brushing us out of the door knowing our absence would allow internet time, and (clearly) pre-arranged gaming with school friends. And so after a minute or two of discussion, knowing well that our dear friends had proffered the dessert (with guilt strings attached) exactly because they knew their invitation would be difficult to refuse, we  decided to go.

Our friends are the kind where we can truly let our hair down, but they had explained to us that one of the invitées had recently come out of a long term relationship and was a little ‘triste’ (sad), and Husband à l’Etranger decided therefore that this occasion was one that called for his Kilt.

As we weren’t expected at any particular hour we arrived towards the end of dinner to discover the assembled company in a very sombre state. The poor sad lady had not uttered a word all evening. The arrival of the Kilt had an astonishing impact. Husband à l’Etranger whose beard had grown into a bushy affair after three months of gardening leave really doesn’t have to try hard to resemble one of the main cast of ‘Whisky Galore’ with his wild red hair, and particularly with a bottle of GlenLivet to hand. But six years in France also have honed his senses to arrive perfectly in time for the cheese course.


Whisky Galore, the film with James Robert Justice

The ‘triste ‘ lady at the table looked up in astonishment at the wild Scotsman whilst the other rather chic lady with a penchant for Phillipes (currently  number three) launched into a thousand questions, the primary being whether the Scots really didn’t wear undergarments under their national dress! Our generous hosts laid the table with more cheese plates and we set to work on a very fine Livarot and a velvety red.


But what really livened up the party was when I recounted to the table how Husband à l’Etranger had caused a rumpus during our Christmas visit to the family in England when my dear father-in-law brought dessert to the table before the cheese defying all french convention. Father-in -Law tucked into his dessert, whilst frenchified Husband à l’Etranger held out an agonising hour for all traces of sweetness to have disappeared from his palate before belatedly savouring his cheese, having tried unsuccessfully to convert father-in-law à la français.

If you really want to get a group of very glum French people talking all at once, try telling them that the English eat pudding before their Stilton and you will create havoc,  declarations that the English are catagorically “fou” (mad), barbarians and lacking in all forms of civilisation.

It was enough to even draw words from our very “triste” companion.

Bonne Année!


On French Time!

Returning home at 6 this evening, my arms laden with bags and bouquets of flowers I stop dead in my hallway, quite simply because I can go no further. There are two men, a huge cardboard box and a fridge blocking the way!

I am somewhat incredulous regarding the arrival of these two men, especially because they actually are in possession of a fridge. They were due on the 13th July but were clearly working on French time!

It is especially appropriate that they should arrive today, since tonight I am out to dinner, hence the flowers, and the two events dovetail nicely to demonstrate that elusive paradox known as “French Time”.

You may have read my previous post about our somewhat “désagréable”  proprietaire and landlord of the building in which I live. After a series of pitiful pleas to have the broken-down cooker replaced, and in the face of complete refusal by the same, I resorted to “storm tactics” in which I gained proof that every one of the miserable fitted electric fixtures in my kitchen were well past their ‘sell-by date’ and in a state of total “vetuste”. Eventually the campaign reaped results, and whilst in Italy on holiday in the early summer I received email confirmation that a new fridge was on its way.

I think I can be excused my growing paranoïa when July turned to August, August to September, and September to October, and now November, that the landlord had commenced a counter-offensive. I cannot count the number of emails that winged their way to the Agent, nor the number of phone-calls made to the kitchen fitter, only say that with the increase in time, the vocabulary, content and assertiveness of my communications improved dramatically!

My two sets of neighbours living below me have both chosen this month to move out, both equally frustrated by the landlord, and yesterday quite by chance I happened to bump into the Agent in the lift with two prospective tenants. It was a brave move on her part to ask whether ‘par chance’ I had heard from the fridge man.

“J’ai appelé plusieurs fois Madame, I said  Mais je n’ai eu aucune réponse”  (I’ve called several times with no response) I was very polite in the circumstances!

Clearly with me and potential tenants likely to meet over the next few weeks, the agent made the all important phone-call, and the fridge is now with me, the very next day! It is mid November.

This kind of scenario is one that every Britain thinking of France believes is the norm. The French are quite simply always late, the workmen invariably delayed and everyone takes three hours for lunch. But is that really the case? The answer simply is that that depends!

Yes the agent had quite clearly taken a three hour lunch with plenty of wine when we first signed for this apartement, which could explain why the “apartement with garage” that we’d signed for didn’t actually come with a garage. But no, not all business men and professionals are the same. French professionals often work longer hours and more intensively than their British counterparts, but take longer fixed holidays than the British and generally for the entire month of August. For this reason I would have been foolhardy to think that a fridge ordered in July would ever have been delivered or installed before September.  It appears however, that French workmen do indeed work to “French-time”, and when the kitchen fitters arrived this afternoon and I enquired ever-so politely about the delay, I received what I thought was an ever-so typical reply:

“C’était un poulet avec le fournisseur” – (there was a chicken with the supplier) In other words, clearly the supplier was having  problems and was nothing to do with the fitter. It must have been, I thought, a very big chicken!

However, the joke was ultimately on me! My fluent french speaking son assures me that I misheard (how typical) and that there was actually:

“Un boulet avec le fournisseur” (a mess-up, to be polite!) Frankly I prefer the more colourful chicken option, which leads me nicely on to the invitation to dinner.

Tonight I shall be celebrating the arrival of the fridge with French friends who have invited me as the lone “Anglaise” to spend the evening with them and several other couples.  One of the common misconceptions about the French is that they are always several hours late for a dinner party. When I first arrived in France I found this concept very  ‘inquiétant’. After all, how late should one be? When invited for our first French dinner party I suffered a not inconsiderable level of stress, even before I arrived, and that was before I crossed the threshold and attempted to speak French all evening.

For the first French dinner party ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ and I were fashionably late! However it was quite clear, within minutes of arriving, that being late is not in fact “de rigeur”. And why? Because at a French dinner party, no drinks are served until the last invitée has arrived. To arrive late means to deprive your fellow guests of a drink for an inconsiderate amount of time. But when the drinks at last are served it will  invariably be Champagne and the party can begin.

Champagne is served as one might serve wine in the UK, with one major exception, it is served, and savoured. The French in general really know their wines, or Champagnes, and the morning afterwards, you will not find a dozen empties in the recycling bin, but one or two carefully selected and expensive bottles which will last the evening. And while there are millions of bottles of cheap wine circulating in supermarkets all over France,(I suspect for the millions of foreigners who stampede France every year) the French on the whole are highly selective. Whilst in Britain guests arrive for dinner holding a bottle of wine, the French have in general an “empty handed” policy prefering, if need be, to arrive with a box of special chocolates, generally exquisite, but costing a small fortune!

But French timing doesn’t stop there! One of the other extraordinary phenomenon regarding the French dinner party is that the French also leave on time. Our first dinner party, having booked a baby-sitter, we felt bound to return home by midnight. As we stood to go, we were astonished to find all our fellow guests stand in unison, and felt guilty that we had so clumsily terminated the evening. We are several dinner parties further on, and have discovered, to our quiet amusement, that this phenomenon of leaving together is universal. To save the host from numerous trips to let his guests out onto the street, (remember that the French have, very often, wonderfully ornate, but locked, metal gates to their gardens) the guests leave “en masse”. And so, after the coffees and digestifs have been served, the invitées start to observe and take their cues from one another, gradually closing the conversations in order to rise as one, around midnight, and leave!

Who says the French know nothing about timing? In general they are impeccable, although workmen all over France leave alot to be desired…

but at least now I can chill my Champagne!

And the pleasure I get from opening my new ‘bon marché'(cheap) fridge is definitely heightened by the wait.

And perhaps that was the point!

La Vie ‘en Bureau’

It’s official – All architects wear black – or taupe, which is the new black! All architects also come to the office in jeans – black ones of course, or maybe grey as long as they’re teamed up with a  pair of bold  framed black-rimmed glasses. Well I can’t speak for the whole of Europe of course – but in France and England ‘black casual’ is synonymous with ‘architect’. Need I have been concerned about dress code? –  Well I have the jeans but I’ll have to nip out and invest in the glasses!

Now down to business:

One of the delights of working with architects is being among people with the ability to plan, which is heaven after being in rather close company with my family (bless them for their careless ways – and ‘husband à l’etranger excluded) whose prime skill in planning is the ability to organise as much time as possible to spend on an Xbox but not a lot else!  In architectural heaven, these fabulous people spend their morning planning everything with a minutiae attention  to detail, and before the morning is out have also planned where we are going to be eating lunch, who will be eating lunch,  booked the table and arrived on time!

So as all the blackly (or taupely) clad architects gather round the table  it is interesting to see how the french architects take to their menu of choice.

Today we have headed off for a Chinese buffet. For a midday, the Chinese restaurant is doing well for a small town. Chinese, it appears is a popular choice with the French. Inspecting the buffet it doesn’t take long to notice that Battered Frog’s Legs in Sweet and Sour sauce are included on the menu and the conversation inevitably turns to food.

Having spent the morning studying the ‘Plan Cadastre’ (Land Regisistry map) we find ourselves analysing how geographic location influences taste. We determine that those from the  marshlands and damper regions of France – ie the Marais de Poitevin, have an affinity for ‘grenouilles’ (frog’s legs), even though they are increasingly difficult to find these days in France, and tend to be imported nowadays from the Far East.  Those with an ancestry which lurks in the more Southern regions of France have a preference for Escargots (snails). Snails being introduced to the Mediterranean regions by the marauding Romans.  Only R (Armenian) and I, both of whom are ‘imported architects’  have of course tried and like both and we were placed firmly in the category of ‘foreigners will try and like anything’.

P  raises the question –  ‘why do the English refer to the French as ‘froggies’ and I feign incomprehension and quickly slip away from the table to refill my plate.

It was A who went on to discuss how escargots cooked in Garlic and butter in their shell were infinitely nicer than those cooked without their shell. Several fell into the trap of suggesting that this was for the most part probably because the shell retained the garlic butter, leaving them juicy and delicious, before A went on to reveal that he was actually talking about ‘Limaces’. It took a little more translation before I cottoned onto the fact he was actually referring to slugs!

On that note we all fell into a pensive mood and busied ourselves by taking a ‘slug’ of our preferred beverage to cleanse the palate. The truth then, about the French drinking at lunch. The inebriated frenchman sloshing his way back to the office tanked up with red wine? A fallacy, i’m afraid. In all my lunchtime sorties with this crazy bunch of architects, not one has touched a drop of alcohol at lunchtime. The truth is that generally the  bottle of wine downed by the average Englishman at a business lunch would be shared between the entire table for a French lunch. The same goes at a French dinner party. So the truth about drinking –  quality but not quantity, and quite often none.

And the quality of the architecture in the afternoon? As detailed as the morning of course….

but a bit more garlicy!

12. Fevrier – Le mois des diners – The month of dinner parties

With the snow gone and spring on the horizon, the French mamans were more inclined to linger in the playground at school drop-off and lunch-time. And so it was that our first invitation to dinner appeared. Over the autumn term I had got to know a charming Spanish woman, completely bilingual, and married to a local notaire. She also had four children, whose ages were remarkably similar to those of my own. She and her husband had made a point of introducing their children to many languages and had a similar outlook to my own. Her children were already bilingual, French/Spanish and the two had spent a year at an English boarding school and were  fluent in English too.

The dinner party was to be held at their house in Rouen, close to the school in a chic area of town. Once the initial euphoria of having made it into the French social circle had worn off, I suddenly realised I had no idea as to the etiquette or dress code of the French dinner party! I am not completely clueless about dressing for dinner, but now it came to the crunch dressing for the playground is nothing compared to dressing for dinner when you haven’t actually met the husband, and his wife is always impeccably dressed, but hidden under a winter overcoat! I decided on simple and classic with a slightly more “avant guarde” necklace and heels!

I wasn’t sure about the whole gift idea, but had no-one to ask without looking “gauche”, I knew with certainty that a bunch of chrysanthemums would place the kiss of death on the assembled company, so I opted for some excellent handmade chocolates from our boulangerie, a rather fine Chablis, and my husband threw in a wild-card African red just to challenge to the dinner crowd! I might add that having grown up in Africa, his choice of  bottle was not an uneducated one!

The next dilemma was to arrive at the right time, and we were not entirely sure what the right time would be. I had read that the French are invariably late – sometimes as much as a couple of hours, and that this is entirely fashionable and expected.  Our babysitter arrived early, and being French, but completely bilingual we posed the question to her. Her response was that one arrived generally at the time on the invitation, give or take ten minutes. Hence we set off in good time, arrived far too early and parked around the corner to kill some time.

Whilst sitting in the car, we noticed a police car pull in next to us, cut its lights and four armed officers step out. Scurrying stealthily to the street corner, the officers were joined by some more, and we were intrigued to see two further cars appear, lights already cut, and a group of officers start to congregate on the darkened street corner. The corner they had chosen was the boundary to a particularly beautiful, classic French town house in a sadly neglected state of repair, which was rumoured to be inhabited by immigrants. One by one the officers heaved themselves over the wall and disappeared into the garden. The plot was thickening , and we were watching enthralled when suddenly we remembered we were meant to be going out to dinner! We were now late! Hastily we left the car and made our way to the home of our friends, knowing that to give the true explanation to our lateness would give the game away, that in fact that we had been early and been forced to kill time in the car! There are times when a lack of fluency in a language can be the ideal way to fudge an issue – and we will never know exactly why all those policemen climbed over that wall. We did know that the owners were trying to sell it, and probably needed to clear it of illegal immegrants once and for all, but equally likely was a drugs link – only time will tell.

As is often the case with French town-houses, the exterior belies the true interior. Suffering the wear and tear of the passing traffic, the dusty brick exterior gave way to an interior full of beautiful furniture and furnishings. Original tiled floors, marble fireplaces and huge shuttered windows gave onto a terraced garden. Our hosts, an amiable and effervescent couple had invited us to join a group of ten, and we, the English amongst them, had arrived last! Although I spend all my day speaking French, it is always in short bursts of half an hour to an hour at a time. This was to be my first experience of sustained French conversation, and with the exception of one couple and our hosts, the others were strangers!

Unlike the British, who usually start with a glass of wine, or a gin and tonic, the French commence with an aperitif, and the tray was laden with bottles of Whiskey, Port and a huge variety of bottles I have never come across.  We ealised that the guests were waiting for our arrival before being offered a drink and instantly felt guilty for our tardiness. Negotiating the aperitif tray was my first hurdle, closely followed by a quick question from the host whilst I was concentrating closely on a conversation on the other side of the room. I missed the question entirely, looking quizzically around to my host and a translation from Harry at my side (something I have never done before as I am usually on my own). The disappointment was almost audible as my host became aware that I might be utterly incapable of speaking French, and his relief was tangible as I launched into my reply to the now awaiting crowd. The moment was saved and the general hubbub in the room recommenced!

Dinner went smoothly, being a Friday no meat was served, but fish. A consommé to begin with, followed by a layered bombe of rice, fish and spinach. The third course was salad, followed by cheese, and finally a delicious desert of gooseberry compote.

The conversation around the table was quick and witty, much of the nuance lost to me, but I was able to keep up and respond when needed. We were quick to notice that the wines at the table were exceptionally high quality. In this country where wines can be bought at bargain prices, there are those who are true connaisseurs.  Having started to relax, and with  at thmy husband at the  far end of the table, my host proceeded to pull the rug from under my feet with a question on my views of Sarkozy. Having managed to completely miss the mood of the assembled company  regarding their politics, I decided this was absolutely the kind of time when I would make a huge “faux-pas” , and managed, with what I thought to be an inordinate amount of linguistic skill to reply “a la Francaise”, with a question of my own – therefore completely avoiding his question and forcing my host to reply to his own!

As we retired for coffee to the fireside the conversation turned to the art of the French language and the ability, or lack of, for the average Frenchman to master the hardest of tenses – the subjunctive. My head was fast becoming befuddled and exhausted and as midnight approached, my husband threw in a perfect example of the subjunctive as we made our bid for the door and to relieve our babysitter. Interestingly, as we rose to leave, so too did the entire party, and we have noticed that at all ensuing dinner parties, this is the French form of behaviour. A charming end to a charming meal!

Our second invitation followed swiftly on the heels of our first. A rather striking ,tall woman approached me and introduced herself. Having never really talked to her before, although she was generally part of the crowd of mamans I chatted with, I was intrigued by this invitation, but completely unable to give my husband any information about it. It occurred to me that this dinner party was also to be held on a Friday and that fish was going to be on the menu. We had been fortunate at the last dinner party to avoid the prawn issue, as my husband is allergic to them. However this time I decided that I had better warn our hostess. Making phone calls is probably the most difficult part of French life for me at present, and after some very strong personal resistance to the idea, I finally picked up the phone and relayed the allergy issue to our hostess. And a good thing I did!  She went on to reinvent her menu!

I decided this time to experiment with our gift-giving. In the local florist I had spotted some wonderful distressed boxes planted up with hyacinths and bought some, as well as a rather more expensive bottle of wine. The clothes issue had been successful, and hoping that there would be a different crowd of people I donned a variation on the same theme. This time we turned up on time, and were neither first nor last, and duly complemented ourselves on our ability to unravel the French social dining code!

Interestingly, the gifts were rather hastily received and whistled away, and I noted that the following guests arrived empty-handed. Were Hyacinths close to Chrysanthemums in their connotations or were gifts unnecessary, or potentially embarrassing to the hostess? The host pressed upon me a small glass of “eau de vie” which the women of the group then advised me not to drink and the conversation commenced! This time my husband was fortunate that all the men spoke pretty reasonable English, most of them travelling far afield with their work. Not so the women, but they were a lively crowd, all of whom had careers of one sort or another.

The meal was a gregarious affair with much banter and good humour, and less formal than the last, but equally enjoyable. It commenced with a marinaded raw salmon, followed by a crab mousse and sautéed vegetables, a cheese course and a delicious pecan patisserie for desert. After languishing over coffee, the assembled crowd rose to leave at the same time, in time to meet the hostesses older daughters returning from a night in Rouen! As we ambled through the chill air back to the car, we pondered on the ability to entertain in  our rented house, the layout being such that the children’s bedrooms were only a stone’s throw from the dining table, and decided that our entertaining would have to take another form!

I took the plunge with an “afternoon tea” English style. Having invited ten or so mamans from the school playground, I spent an afternoon baking scones and a chocolate roulade ready for my guests. Having whipped the cream, lit the fire and warmed the teapot, I was ready for the first to arrive. Truthfully I was more than a little nervous about their arrival and hoped that there would be more than two to arrive first. I am still not keen on prolonged one to one conversation, and still not confident that people would arrive on time.

The first to arrive was the Spanish maman, and probably she was as anxious as me, but the “now-deceased” guinea pigs gave a good initial topic of conversation, even if she was a little bemused by my declaration that they had all been eaten by wolves. I realised a lot later that I had mistranslated the word for foxes, and had inadvertently added a new more deadly dimension to the forest outside my door! The other mamans arrived shortly after, and after a bit of confusion when I instructed them to “aidez-vous” to the scones (which they thought meant they might need some sort of rescue package during or after eating them) they educated me to the word “servez-vous” and proceeded to tuck in! The speed to which the scones were demolished put an end to the myth that French women don’t eat. However it was interesting that they didn’t touch the chocolate roulade. My learned friend from England reckons they can eat roulade all over France and that it isn’t nearly as interesting as the humble scone. The afternoon passed with genial good humour and demands for scone baking lessons and recipes. Who says that the English can’t cook!!!

Shortly afterwards we received our third dinner invitation. By now I reckoned we were in the know when it came to gift giving and dress code! This time I had come across some great little biscuits (if such a name can be given to them) called Pappilles. They are a smaller version of the French macaroon, but without the filling and slightly drier. They come in an assortment of parfums, to accompany tea, or coffee, or scented with vanilla, passion fruit or red fruits. We chose a good wine and set of for the opposite side of Rouen for the evening.

The French have a particularly un-amusing habit of numbering houses, which vary from three, four or five with the same number, to missing out a couple of hundred. For example our house number is 1455, and our neighbour is 1565. I have since learnt that it depends upon the meterage of the frontage of the house to the road. If an old house has sold off part of its plot for new development, the new houses will all have the same house number, despite the fact that the next neighbour is numbered several hundreds higher, and therefore with plenty of free numbers available to choose from!

As we drove along the road looking for the address we kept passing from the 300’s to the 100’s, until we realised that there was only one house between those numbers, and we hazarded a guess that it might be pretty large! It was in fact wonderful: a truly classic Maison de Maitre standing in outstanding grounds with curling steps up to the front door.

We passed another wonderful evening in great company. My comprehension of the conversation was satisfying and the conversation was a lively banter over the differences of the French and English ways of life!

The challenge is on now to prove that the English can cook more than just the humble scone – it is time to show how good, good English food can be!