Making Sense of it All – It’s All in the Translation!


When we arrived in France seven years ago we threw our four children into french school. They were aged between six and twelve at the time. Normal, you might say – well not really, as they didn’t have a word of french between them. When I picked up my daughter on the first day after a couple of hours she was looking decidedly stressed, if not a little close to tears. In an attempt to soften the blow we gave them all mobile phones, thinking that they might be able to text us for translations of the more tricky words..

…well that might be all of them!

But those phones were confiscated by the well-meaning staff in order to force them to integrate. And amazingly, integrate they did. One by one the language got under their skin and by about a year they were fabulous french speakers.

Being fabulous french speakers, and being fluent and bilingual are not the same things. There are still days, seven years on where words do not come, coloquial meanings are a little ambiguous or words simply do not exist in the alternative language.

Incredibly my children haven’t really complained about the process although there are certainly days when they have felt tested, and in those moments they have muttered inwardly, and outwardly,

“why”?

And I in those moments have boyed them up in motherly fashion saying,

“because one day, and you never know when, this will all make sense, this will become an advantage and suddenly a door will open for you”,

and I always hoped it would!

And then suddenly, just when it was least expected, an opportunity came. An email popped in my inbox from the organisers of “Terres de Paroles” with a tentative question,

“can you interpret”.

Only days earlier my sister-in-law and I had been messaging about a canadian author, a friend that she knew from her home town of Waterloo who was touring Northern France for her book tour. Carrie Snyder, author of “Girl-runner’, or more poetically known in France, “Invisible sous la lumière”(Invisible in the light) was in Rouen. At the last moment the organisers of the event had found themselves without a translator. I volunteered my daughter, now 19 for the opportunity.WP_20160407_002[1]

Translating is always easier from the foreign language to your native one, but this event required translating in both directions which involves remodulating, interpreting and rephrasing the dialogue on the spur of the moment in front of an audience avidly waiting for the ‘raison d’être’, the inspiration, the motivation and the explanations  that the author wants to share about their book.

And as much as I was intrigued by the book, the characters, the setting and the plot, I was also thinking,

“This is why,…. this is why you have braved what we inflicted on you all those years ago”

..for my daughter seemingly effortlessly translated the long dialogues and questions from the french presenter to Carrie, and took to the microphone to return to french the canadian author’s responses for us. IMG_5653

Carrie signed for us a copy of her book, which we are excited to read. The french title seeming so much more succinct to us, a finger on the nerve fibre of the book, the raising of the achievements of a sportswoman, hitherto hidden in plain light of day under the discriminations of the era she lived and performed in, into the conciousness of today.

IMG_5650So to Carrie’s four children, a month without their mother in Canada, I say thanks for lending your mother to us, and for allowing this experience to show our four children just what a skill they possess; and to Carrie, thank you for coming to Rouen and sharing your book with us,

..and to everyone else, read this book -it promises to be good,

“Girl Runner” by Carrie Snyder,

or

“Invisible sous la Lumière” – for us, we are, after all in France!

girl runner

Tarte aux Fruits and a 19th Birthday!


My lovely daughter had her 19th birthday this week. It’s quite astonishing when I consider that we arrived in France when she was just twelve. Then she didn’t have two words of french to her repertoire, now she dances rings around me with perfect conjugaison, ado-speak and a measure of verlan thrown in! What, may you ask, is verlan? It’s an argot of the french language with inversed syllables and is largely meaningless to hapless adults, especially the linguistically challenged like me who often cannot get the syllables in the right order, let alone inverse them!

One thing that we are both capable of doing in equal measure however is eating french patisserie and so it came as no suprise at all when, on the subject of birthday cakes, my daughter opted for a french Tarte aux Fruits from Yvonne instead of a typically english cake. Yvonne is our old favorite boulangerie/patisserie in Rouen Gare where we used to live.  It is still no more than 10 minutes walk away, but a combination of home improvements, tax bills and all our electrical kitchen appliances breaking down in the same month made me baulk a bit, as Yvonne’s tarts are sublimely tasty, stunningly beautiful and extravagently expensive but more importantly a little on the small side!

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So on wednesday I got down to what I had been putting off for months. Making my own Tarte aux Fruits, Yvonne style. What I discovered in the course of the day was that they are supremely easy, and moreover, by the end of the evening – equally delicious.

There are two important facets to the Tarte aux Fruits. Firstly a rich sweet pastry which holds it’s shape and which doesn’t succumb to the moistness of the Crème Patissière. Then the smooth sweetness of the crème to contrast with the slight acidity of the fruit.

In my humble opinion pastry making is something of an art form. Throughout last summer I had the pleasure of standing in the kitchen with a professional patisserie chef and watching him effortlessly making perfect crisp pastry cases. I learnt several things.

-Firstly it is very important to keep the pastry cool and work the flour and butter mixture to the minimum, stopping mixing when the dough can just hold itself together.

-Secondly that the least amount of water or egg possible should be used to bind the ingredients together as during the baking process the evaporation of the liquid causes shrinkage.

-Thirdly the pastry should always be chilled for at least an hour before baking to prevent slippage in the mould during cooking.

-And finally the dough should never be stretched when fitting it to the mould as this also encourages slippage of the sides of the pastry case during the baking.

I asked the chef how to stop air bubbles appearing in the base of the pastry case, and he recommended using a pastry ring as opposed to a tin, and a perforated silicone baking sheet placed directly on the oven wire rack. In this way, no air is trapped between the pastry and a pastry tin.baking sheetsCercle-a-tarte-inox-24-cm

 

Having prepared the pastry case I began to cook the crème patissière.

I added the milk to the pan and incorporated a small proportion of sugar. By adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as I bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.

It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.

By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.

I switch off the flame on the hob. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.

When the butter is incorporated I remove the pan from the flame and pour the Crème Pâtissière thinly over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool. At this point it is possible to freeze the crème for another day or use straight away for a gorgeous tart.

Once cooled I put the crème patissière in my Kitchen Aid and beat until smooth before filling a piping bag with the crème.

The piping bag is partially stuffed into its nozzle to form a “bouchon” (cork) to prevent the creme from passing through the nozzle when I fill the bag. When I have transferred all the creme into the bag, I untwist the “bouchon” and push the creme down to the nozzle opening with the help of a spatula.

piping bag

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Starting from the centre of the pastry case I squeeze the crème patissière through a 8mm round nozzle spiralling outwards until I reach the rim of the pastry case. This prevents the need to spread the crème with a spatula and the danger of damaging or”dirtying” the pastry case itself.

Once done it is just a simple matter of positioning the fruit. I chose raspberries with a strawberry edge, and every so often upturned a raspberry and filled it like a mini “cup”with a raspberry coulis.

strawberry tart

Afterwards  you  can dust softly with icing sugar, or lay a sprig of black currents or redcurrents and a sliced strawberry or two as decoration.

I was worried that my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t have a real Yvonne tart for her birthday. But when she came in from work she opened the fridge and uttered a “ooooh”.

After dinner, when we were sitting replete from second helpings, my pudding monsters declared it was a huge success, especially as they didn’t have to forgo being greedy as they would have done with Yvonne’s little masterpiece, and moments later it was “snap-chatted” to celebrity and my daughter declared that judging by the responses of her friends – I better get making another one!

 

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!)

Tarte-aux-pommes-Crème

“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

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.

cheese_and_wine

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!

 

Fagots and Ficelles


What every garden needs is a fit gardener, and as much as I love gardening, there were a couple of jobs in my garden that needed the brute force and muscles of a guy! Having not been maintained for forty odd years, it had become something of a winderness with a tree canopy to rival the best of any tropical rainforest. We have had a stream of “garden” types knocking in the door over the last few months, some of whom were surely more the genre of burglers on a reconnaissance tour but one amongst them clearly knew his trees, despite the absence of leaves, and I decided to put him to work.

Having tackled the “lawn” on his first visit,  the visual impact of which was so positive, I decided to rope him in for the major task of removing two trees. One of the trees effectively blocked the view of the garden from  the conservatory, a Thuja, which had fallen over some time in the distant past and was growing horizontally across the garden, and the second, a large Hawthorn tree which effectively dominated the rest.

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“Fit Gardener”, as we like to call him, on account of his chic french gardening attire and cheery disposition made short work of the two trees and used what remained of his allotted time frame to start gathering up the overwhelming quantity of branches into small bundles. He came into the kitchen and asked if I had any “ficelle”, and I looked at him a bit non-plussed until it dawned on me that he was looking for natural twine.

When it comes to rubbish, recycling and refuse removal, the french are at the top of the game. Every dechetterie (dump) in France has a stock of bags for different purposes, including yellow for paper and recycling of packaging and white for garden waste, along with each house having a green bin for bottles and a black bin for general waste. When I visited the dechetterie I explained to the man in charge that my garden hadn’t been touched for years and he handed over 25 reuseable garden sacs to fill with garden debris.WP_20150510_005“Fit Gardener” had made a massive inroad into the branches from the Thuja in my absence, gathering and roping them into bundles with the twine. The rules on the recycling website are that the bundles or “fagots” as the French call them must be no greater than 15cm thick, but ours were at least double that, and well tied with bio-degradeable twine. I stared in astonishment at the twenty or so fagots left at my gateway, expecting them to be carted away, but “Fit Gardener” assured me that the recycling truck would pass on the monday morning, having expected all house owners to have been gardening over the weekend, and would take it all away. I was unconvinced.

When I woke at 7 the following morning the pavement outside my house was empty, and all the fagots gone.

Time hadn’t been on “Fit Gardener’s” side, and the nasty thorny Hawthorn lay still spread across the garden. I didn’t believe that the guys driving the recycling truck would look on kindly to fagots of Hawthorn, some of the thorny spikes being a finger-length long, and so I took out my secateurs to chop each branch into metre-long lengths before filling the large recycling garden bags.

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It took several days of back breaking labour before all the branches were safely removed from the lawn and the bags stacked in a row ready to be put out onto the street on sunday night.WP_20150510_008

On sunday, pleased with my progress I headed off to work as usual, a full day of tours of the city for an ocean-going cruise-liner that was moored up at the Port of Rouen.WP_20150510_001

WP_20150510_002Not even having time for a pause for lunch,( which suggests the day had not been organised by a Frenchman), by the time I arrived home in the early evening exhaustion was setting in, dinner was still to cook, and the kids had very kindly left the remains of breakfast out on the table (apparently for me to tidy up when I got in as they had been very busy during the day – playing computer games!) So you can imagine the groan when the evening came to an end and I was locking up, only to spot the gardening bags still waiting to be moved out onto the street!

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You can see that I got more daring as time went on – filling the bags with ever greater quantities of thorny branches!

Once I had lined them up I had severe doubts that the recycling van would take them all. I looked at my neighbours little pile of greenery waiting to go and conceded that his waste was much more reasonable and crossed my fingers that the van-driver would take pity on me!

WP_20150510_006My neighbours bundle
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My bags!

When I left for work on monday morning I was astonished to see that the pavement outside my house was competely clear, and that my neighbours little pile was still resolutely lying on the ground where he had left them. And then I went for a closer look….WP_20150511_002

…only to find that my neighour had made one serious omission. In the land of “red-tape” and regulation, rules and obligations he had failed to put any ficelle around his bundle of greenery; whilst my back-breakingly bagged monsters had all disappeared!WP_20150511_001

Which just goes to show that a bundle of greenery without “ficelle” is simply not, and never will be a “fagot”  – nor will it ever be good to go!WP_20150510_004Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Waking up to chocolate – La Pièce Montée


Waking up on a monday morning on the first day back at school after the easter holidays is not something I usually relish, but today there was a little sweetener to help me out of bed. The INBP or Institute National de la Boulangerie Patisserie was holding a class on “chocolat” on the cruise boat “Scenic” at the Quay de Rouen and needed my help with the translation.

In the main function room of the cruise boat Frank, the chef, had set up all the equipment he needed for his “pièce montée en chocolat” or “show-piece” and was busy melting the chocolate before all the guests arrived. There was a discinctly chocolatey small in the air, and Frank gave me a sample chocolate to try – and with a welcome like that he’s clearly someone worth hanging around!

First stage on the agenda was to make Vanilla Ganache bonbons. Frank dusted the inside of the chocolate moulds with real gold. We were all agog to know how he managed to powder the inside of the moulds evenly until he explained that he mixed the gold with alcohol at a ratio of 1:9 and sprayed a coating of the mixture inside the forms. When the alcohol evaporated, the mould retained the gold dust.

The idea of digesting gold is not unknown in France. In 1531 Diane of Poitiers, mistress of Henri II of France drank, in vast quantities, gold infused beverages reputed to be the elixir of long life as a result of her obsession with eternal youth and supernatural beauty which rendered her complexion unnaturally pale. The discovery of her skeleton in 2009 showed that her bones contained an exceptionally high concentration of gold.  Perhaps if we eat enough of these chocolates we will also become outstandingly youthful and beautiful, it’s definitely worth a try!

Having powdered the moulds Frank went on to line them with a thin coating of molten chocolate. Patisserie is a science, he told us, and chocolate should be worked not at 28.7, nor at 31 but at an exact temperature of between 29 and 30°. For the novices amongst us, a matter for a thermometer, for Frank a simple matter of touching the chocolate against the back on a finger.

WP_20150511_004Frank scraped the mould with his spatula, and inversed it to allow the excess chocolate to fall back to the table and not to pool in the bottom of the mould. Today Frank had a possey of aides, one of whom rushed off with the mould to the fridge.

Meanwhile he set about making the vanilla ganache filling. Into a bowl of melted white chocolate he poured, via a sieve, a mixture of boiled milk, cream, sugar and split vanilla pod. He incorporated the two thoroughly and set them aside to cool. Ideally, he said the mould of chocolate casings should be left overnight to cool.

Frank sprinkled each casing with finely ground caramelized sugar, the recipe for which can be found at the end of this post, and then filled the casings with the Vanilla Ganache ensuring that it settled just below the level of the chocolate shell. Again he called upon one of his aides, who rushed the mould back to the fridge and we all agreed that this was better than a TV cooking show!

The INBP are renowned for their entry into national concours, or competitions, and an essential element of the concours is the “pièce montée” or “presentation showpiece”, and  Frank took the art of chocolaterie to an all new level. For sometime a pink pot had been sitting on the workbench, and as he began talking the realisation slowly dawned on us that this was no orginary pink plastic pot, but made entirely out of chocolate. None of us were rude enough to take a bite out of it to verify that he was telling the truth!WP_20150511_006

Moments later he presented a brown wooden stem which he fixed in the pot with a generous quantity of molten chocolate. Having got to know Frank a little, we divined that this could well also be made of chocolate, and he confirmed that he had made it by lining a plumbing tube from his DIY store with cooking paper and pouring in yet more molten chocolate.WP_20150511_007

Frank proceeded to pour into the pot ground cocoa beans which remarkably resembled fine grit gravel.WP_20150511_016

The little brown rings that surrounded the pot were also chocolate textured by brushing with a wire brush!

Next Frank retrieved a green fuzzy ball from a box on his work-bench, and by this point we were all shreaking out in great amusement that the ball had to be chocolate; and it was, a hollow ball rolled in cocoa-butter and afterwards with green sugar for texture. There was a call for some help, and one of the guests helped place the ball onto the chocolate stem, rapidly cooling the chocolate “glue” with a dry-ice canister.WP_20150511_012

If we weren’t astonished enough, Frank decided it needed decoaration, and made a water-lily flower out of chocolate pieces, wonderfully appropriate for the land of Monet….WP_20150511_008 WP_20150511_011….and some smaller flowers from sugar dough which he got a volunteer to help place onto the ball.

WP_20150511_019Having poured another layer of molten chocolate to seal the ganache into the refrigerated “bonbons” and chilling them again in the fridge, Frank was ready to assemble his “pièce montée”.WP_20150511_018When it was done he laid out all the Vanilla Ganache chocolates on the chocolate stands below.

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Needless to say, nobody stayed in their seats very long, and it was very lucky that Frank had made a huge quantity of Vanilla Ganaches earlier, (he said he’d been up half the night) because a pretty large number of the audience were heard counting up how many they could have and were planning their raid strategy before Frank had even laid out the first lot!  I, for one, was pretty glad to be the translator, because I was much closer to the table than the rest of the crowd which definitely gave me the advantage!

WP_20150511_021For the receipé click here.

All aboard for Patisserie Classes – A little matter of Translation!


For the macaron recipé click here and for the method click here.

Did I mention how much I love my job?

The beauty of it is its variety, and the diversity of people that I meet on a daily basis. Today was no exception. Again, leaving my teenagers fast asleep on a damp and dreary Mayday holiday, I was up with the lark to meet 20 or so visitors to Rouen from their cruise ship and head them in the direction of  the INBP, otherwise known as the Institute Nationale de Boulangerie et Patisserie. And as we all know, when you are looking for heat..

..head for the kitchen!

Today I stood alongside Sebastien in the demonstration kitchen, leaving  the 20 strong group to settle in the auditorium for a cooking demonstration of a Tart à la Mousse de Noix de Coco avec Garniture de Framboise et ses Macarons. Coconut Mousse Tart with Raspberry Sauce and Raspberry Macarons.WP_20150501_009The INBP was created in 1974 and has 8000 students passing through its doors each year. The training courses cover Boulangerie, Viennoiserie, Patisserie, Chocolaterie, Glacage (finishes) and Confisierie (sweet-making). There are students who decide to change careers and join the INBP for accelerated training courses, and others that take the traditional ones, and of course the all too necessary competitions for Maitre patissier, boulanger or confissier; Le Coup de France and the Olympiad.

Sebastien is French, and a self-confessed “nul” (dunce) in the english language! Personally, the opportunity to work along-side one of the “greats” of the patisserie profession translating his lesson from french to english for the participants is a win win situation. I get to learn the skills, and get paid for it – and what’s more have some left-overs to take home with me!WP_20150501_006With twenty in the class it isn’t possible to let each member of the group create from first basics. Sebastien did the lionshare but with plenty of opportunity for the group to get a bit of “hands-on” during the process. Look at Sebastien’s hands working with lightening speed!

WP_20150501_001We started with the creation of macarons, the method for which is here and the recipe here. As the macarons were cooking in the oven, Sebastien showed us how to make the perfect pastry case. I couldn’t believe my luck. For years my pastry cases have always been my great failing. Not because I can’t make pastry, but because the cases are never perfect. I always have bubbles of air trapped between the base and the tin, and the colour is never even. We have a boulangerie close to home where the pastry cases are always a vision of perfection, perfectly square, perfectly smooth and an even golden brown. I have always wanted to know how they manage it and today I was in pastry heaven.

Sebastien started with a thin pastry round mould, and not a conventional tin. Secondly he used a wire baking tray as opposed to a flat sheet metal baking tray, and finally he lined the wire tray with a perforated silicone sheet. And this my friends is the secret. Any air that would otherwise form between the pastry and the tin simply dissipates through the air airholes in the underside of the silicone and wire tray.

The next essential role in pastry making is not to overwork the dough. For those with warm hands it is essential to understand that the warmer the dough becomes, the more the oil in the butter used in the dough liquifies and creates a fatty pastry. Finally, the best pastry is created from well chilled and rested dough. Leaving the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to a day makes for a crisp and perfectly delicious pastry.

Having formed the pastry in front of our eyes, Sebastien reached into the fridge, and pulled out a ball that he had “made earlier”. We ribbed him that he had popped into Carrefour supermarket on his way over, and he winked and assured us that he had got up at 4am to prepare it for us. We noted sagely the rings round his eyes!

WP_20150501_005We made a mousse from pureed cream of coconut, whipped cream and gelatine which we poured in its semi-liquid form into a silicone mould and placed in the freezer to set. It was interesting to reflect on the fact that each country has cream that differs wildly from another. French cream is very liquid with reduced levels of fat. It is often difficult for the english in France to find cream that resembles that of their home country. But the fat content for a french patisserie recipe relies on a 30-35% volume of “matière grasse” or butter fat. In other words, France is virtuous for its “healthy” cream!

Our macarons were ready after 12 minutes in the oven at 150° and came cleanly off the baking sheet, as did our pastry cases. Needless to say, Sebastien perfected his already perfect cases of pastry, by scraping off the raggy edges at the base,

“Je suis “perfectionist”” he said whilst we were hard pressed to see any faults through a magnifying glass!

Using a piping bag Sebastien spiralled the raspberry sauce into the base of the pastry case, and placed on the top the now solidified mousse of coconut, which since frozen was easy to manipulate. It would thaw in the pastry case.

The group got together to form the completed raspberry macarons with the raspberry sauce and arrange them along-side fresh raspberries for the decoration. Sebastien looked at the baking sheet in front of him, and not without some irony gave a little word of caution:

” Mesdames, Messieurs, Faites attention que les coques soient tous le même taille!” –  Ladies, Gentlemen, watch that the macaron shells are all the same size!WP_20150501_011

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WP_20150501_007But it goes without saying that the best part of all was when we cut the tart into slices for our own “degustation” (tasting) before reluctantly heading back to the ship.

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Boating Season


Ther’s something really lovely about being up before the crowds on a sunday morning, and if I don’t go to the sunday market, the next best place to be is on the quayside watching the boats coming up the river. My kids cannot be roused before midday, so today I left them all in bed and headed out to meet one of the boats moored up at Rouen and welcome a group of 30 American visitors for a morning tour of the city.

My boat wasn’t there but plenty of others were, and no sooner had one set sail than another came to take its place.

WP_20150412_004I took a few moments to enjoy the spring sunshine and what promised to be another lovely sunny day. WP_20150412_002

And then my boat came in, moored and craned in place the gang-plank and we were good to go.WP_20150412_007WP_20150412_008

By the time they had moored up along-side the other 5 boats, there wasn’t much of a view of the river!WP_20150412_010

But Ile Lacroix, Rouen’s mid-river island was just visible under the bridge bathed in an early spring morning mist.

The American visitors had walked the gang-plank not knowing what lay in store for them but since the weather was beautiful, and the buildings magnificent, I think they had a nice suprise. Many are the days that the drizzle sets in and we find ourselves bedraggled with umbrellas blown inside out and trousers soaked up to the knees. But it’s the new season, the days are warming up and the cafés are spiling once more out onto the streets.

For me, it’s the opportunity to speak english again, and it makes me laugh when I struggle to find the words after a winter of unuse. By the autumn I will be fluent in my own language again, but for now i’m still tempted to use all those words in french which perfectly describe a object, an emotion or an action, where in english only a whole sentence will do!

All too soon the tour of the city is over and I describe to our visiors how to find their boat again, or give directions to interesting places so that they can stay on shore a while longer.

And for me it’s time to buy a baguette or two and a box of eclairs before returning home where my children are just getting out of bed!WP_20150323_011