Chatou Brocante and Antiques


We’ve been doing a bit of work on the house again, and this time the shower-room is taking shape. There just the physical water connection, a shower screen and a mirror left to do, and when it comes to mirrors, there’s nothing better than trying to pick up an antique one, especially when the antiques faire at Chatou is on.

We’d never been to this particular fair before and so didn’t know what to expect. The brocante is laid out on a small island in the middle of the river Seine, just outside of Paris. It was mid-week so not too many people were there, but it was huge and fabulous, and there were plenty of makeshift restaurants to choose from in the middle of the day.img_1325-2

What I liked best was the artistry of some of the stands, and there was plenty that I would have loved to buy, though the mirror remained elusive!img_1310img_1311img_1326

There were so many amazing urns and cloches, but our bartering didn’t manage to get us any bargains!img_1327I so nearly went for the pineapple, but “husband chez nous” didn’t look away for long enough.. it was after all “mission mirror”!img_1316I loved this one, a grey and gilt trumeau mirror….the price was to die for too!

And after all, why have one when you can have three!img_1318-1img_1322img_1330

So many lovely things that it was hard to head home.img_1309img_1319

But since the great mirror hunt continues, there’s still the excuse to come back for more. The basin is very lonely all by itself.

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

WP_20150501_016

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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Day trips – A day at Jumièges.


This week, a visitor to Rouen asked me to give her some ideas for her month stay in Rouen.

The river trips haven’t started yet, a fun thing to do in Spring from the begining of the Easter holidays, but nevertheless a trip further down the Seine is a visual treat and its lanscape never fails to impress me. Often visitors come without a car, and this visit to Jumièges is possible by a local bus, and gives a great taste of the Normandy lanscape along the Seine in the footsteps of the Impressionist painters.

Jumièges is a village dating back to medieval times build on a loop of the Seine, and home to one of the Romanesqe, and early Gothic Monasteries, now in ruins. Norman dukes made this the settlement for the first monastery and abbey from the 7th century. The second abbey was built in 1062 and later modernised in the Gothic style in 1278 before being ruined during the Wars of Religeon. The river carves its way through the lanscape with the huge chalk cliffs banking the rive gauche facing over the fertile Jumiége plain with its orchards and Abbey.

Take the number 30 bus from Rouen. Get advice from the TCAR office at the Gare Routière near the Theatre des Arts for the times. In off-season, there are, I believe more buses on a sunday than other days of the week

In Jumiéges there are several small restaurants in the shadow of the abbey, but one of my favorite walks, to prolong the day, and especially in beautiful weather is to turn out of the gate of the abbey to the right, and hugging the bounary of the abbey site as well as possible, to pass behind the monument, passing the wonderful manor which also stands in its grounds, and continue to circuit the site until back at a crossroads with the main street of Jumièges once more. From there cross the main road and take the small lane opposite heading across the plain and orchard fields towards the river. Passing the huddle of houses overlooking the river aim for the Bac ferry which crosses the Seine every 10 minutes (but check the last crossing time before you leave). This small ferry is free to car and foot passengers and lands, very conveniently, in front of a lovely café overlooking the water’s edge.

Spend some moments watching the occasional river traffic before heading either further along the rive gauche, or returning to the rive droit and Jumièges. A 10 minute walk down the lane running perpendicular to the river will take you back to the centre of Jumièges, its cafés, restaurants and bus stop.

Allow yourself a couple of hours for the walk, in addition to the visit to the abbey site, in order to not miss the return bus back home.

And cross your fingers for a sunny day!

 

Monet’s Seine and the Hand of War.


Some of us live in war zones, and some of us are lucky enough to live in peace. A great many places have felt the full power of war, creating and destroying  history in equal measure. Normandy is one such region of France where the evidence of war sits silent, witness to former invasion.

When I arrived in Rouen nearly three years ago I took the city at face value. The antiques quarter, the cathedral quarter, the colombage timberwork, the redbrick, and the postwar ‘communist’ style concrete river frontage. Each element having its own undoubted character and atmosphere.

Then last a year last summer I had the great fortune to find myself outside the Musée de Beaux Arts on the final day of the Impressionist Exhibition, and was drawn inside like a moth to a flame. I was fully expecting to find myself in front of the ‘waterlillies’ but was astounded to find myself in front of a series of paintings little known to the vast majority of public, lent by private collections, many of which I am unable to reproduce, but all of which depicting views in and around Rouen in the time of Monet.

Monet stayed in Rouen between the years of 1892 – 1898 while painting his famous series on the Cathedral, and produced a wide variety of paintings of the Seine in various media, along with his friends Pissarro and Gaugin.

Today, as I wandered the Seine trying to determine where he would have placed his easel, what came into sharp focus was the riverside architecture at the time of the Impressionists, in comparison with the post war buildings we find today.

Whilst the post war Rive Droite retains its verticality, the war wiped out the classic stone architecture with their shop fronts and awnings, their mansards and tall chimneys for a bland concrete sprawl.

The Bouldieu Bridge, here painted by Pissarro exists today, but not in it’s original form. Even at the time of the Monet, the long masted ships and steam boats would have docked at Rouen, their wares being transported up river by barge just as the container ships of today are offloaded onto ‘peniches’ to continue their journey to Paris. The bridge was destroyed on the morning of  9 June 1940 by the French, just 52 years after its construction to prevent the progress of the German forces. The new Pont Bouldieu built in 1955 equally provides a source of inspiration to the modern day artist Arne Quinze.

But how the river traffic has changed…

I spent hours walking the Seine before realising that Monet had placed himself on the Rive Gauche east of the Ile Lacroix.  Not immediately finding his vantage point, this painting gave me a clue.

The Ile Lacroix is one of the few areas of Rouen riverside which retains its greenery.

Sadly this abundant greenery from this painting taken from the Rive gauche no longer exists. I took artistic liberty to take the view from the other direction.

The Seine below Rouen has changed beyond all recognition, swathes of building taken out in bombing raids, industrialisation and the construction of  huge grain stores sadly change all but the moody aspect of the skies!

But inspired by Monet I enjoyed watching the rivercraft  passing, or moored to the posts which remain to this day. Watching the ‘peniches’ (barges) making their way steadily upriver laden with coal, sand or gravel I thought about how they formed  makeshift bridges  ‘end to end’ laterally across the river for allied access until the new bridges were constructed at the end of the war.

The moody weather didn’t detract from the activity on the river, nor from the craft moored there.

The chalk cliff of Côte St Catherine remains, dominating the eastern flank of the city.

monnetFrom Côte St Catherine Monet painted his famous view of Rouen.

Sadly, as much as the tall masts from the Armada celebrations in 2008 evoke a little of the sense of the river at the time of Monet, where masts and steam competed for dominance, we can never reclaim the architecture –  the rubble long since cleared and replaced.

Had it not been for Monet, would I have ever wondered what was there before?

 … thanks to the Impressionists artistic genius, I have at least an idea what the Seine and the Rouen quayside was like before the hand of war had its say.

Where do you live?

This post is part of the Expat Blog Hop – Feel free to hop from blog to blog, but in the meantime tell me where you live and leave your email for a opportunity to receive a free momento of ‘Monet’s Seine’.

Steve Bichard.com

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HJUnderway

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Un Homme et Une Femme

 Victoria Corby

10. Décembre – Noel en neige – Christmas in the snow


I have just begun to light the fire on a regular basis. We have a great hybrid open fire/woodburning stove with a nifty slide up front so that we can watch the flames dance throughout the evening and shut it up at night to slow burn throughout the night ready for stoking in the morning! It wasn’t until the middle of the month that we finally turned on the central heating. It is hugely satisfying to have lasted so long without it, and indeed to have enjoyed the left-over wood from the last tenant. At last, mid-december it was necessary to order more wood. We ordered three steres – the unit for a metre cubed of wood and had it delivered later that week by a local guy who was able to tell us where our wood had come from – many pieces being from the pollarding of the city centre trees. It was good to know the wood was from a sustainable source and not only that but it smelt delicious and burned well! We took to foraging in the forest across the road for kindling, piling it onto our trolley and stacking it daily into the basket next to the fire to dry.

And then the snow began to fall! As we reached the penultimate week of term the roads iced over and our pathway became a death trap. I am used to the British system of gritting the roads. Here in France the system seems a little more haphazard. Our road was not gritted, despite being generally a well-used route into the city. The ploughs cleared one lane of the ring-road, and the route into the city centre and school appeared to be un-gritted! The French also have a dubious system of building basement garages on steep slopes below the bulk of the house and ours was no exception. Hence, on that first fall of snow, the whole exercise of getting the car out and making the school run was almost an impossible dream! Harry made the run, his car being further up the slope of the drive than mine, and I had only to hope that there was a brief thaw in order to pick them up again for lunch. The thaw came and at 4pm I once more set off to collect the children. Parking up, the half an hour wait was enough for the wind chill to refreeze the wet and slushy roads. Rouen is a city on a series of hills, essentially a series ravines carved out by the tributaries of the Seine. By 5pm havoc ensued, cars, including my own were simply not able to get out of parking spaces nor negotiate the tricky sloping bends and road junctions. Some cars were seen sliding sideways around cambered junctions, whilst others simply failed to stop at “Give Way” signs at a sloping junction, careering into passing cars on the main road!

Having resorted to ringing Harry at the office to help rescue the car from its icy position, we spent 10 minutes finally manoeuvring  it to the centre of the road. Being an automatic, and not  known for handling icy conditions well, it was agreed that we would have to reverse the length of this narrow one way street rather than negotiate the sharp inclined junction at the top. It was at this point that a black Renault pulled up behind us hooting loudly for us to pull over to let him pass. These are early days for my language skills, and the word “reverse” was not amongst them. The burly Frenchman was not going to give way to an obviously illiterate foreigner and eventually forced us back into the kerb, only – and to my delight- to be beaten back himself by the steep slippery inclined junction. We managed to achieve the centre of the road again and reverse our way back, barely containing our smiles as we watched him do likewise whilst all the time avoiding eye contact!

The snow lasted a month and is probably the longest duration of snow that I have encountered. The roads were generally cleared and  the children generally managed to get to school, but as the bad weather continued we wondered if we would be able to leave France for our brief trip back to the UK at Christmas.

One of the delights of the French build up to Christmas is the lack of decorations from October. Autumn remained autumn, and Christmas became Christmas mid-way through December. The department responsible for Christmas lights sent out its “technicians” during the rush hour to install the lights on the traffic lights at the main intersection, complete with “cherry-picker” to bring the traffic to a complete standstill and a multitude of mini Christmas trees were installed in various paved areas around the city garnished with a series of ostentatious fabric garlands and oversized bows in various shades of silver!

What a great Christmas – This has been the first Christmas without all the family, and as such I wasn’t sure how it would be. The snow gave on a magical quality, the tree stood in a corner looking fabulous after a few mishaps in buying the wrong sort of Christmas lights from the supermarket thanks to my missing vocabulary. Starting with a fish laden chowder, thanks to our excellent fish market, followed by a plump turkey, and finished with Christmas Pudding, thanks to our local Comptoire Irlandaise. I had every intention of making my own Christmas pudding, buying packs of sultanas and mixed peel, but I came unstuck on the suet. The French haven’t heard of suet which translates as Rognon de graisse du boeuf. Eventually I found a small butcher who knew what I wanted but only had Rognon de boeuf. I wasn’t convinced that it would work, and neither was he. So I thanked my luck when I walked into the Comptoire and discovered not only Christmas puddings, but also Golden Syrup, Marmite, and Rowntrees Jelly. Of course all were at fabulously expensive prices, and next time I shall get suet sent out from England, but we bought two puddings and two jars of mincemeat. Angus’s teacher cooked up one of the puddings for his class to try towards the end of term, which went down with mixed results, and I had a baking day and made loads of mince pies, which were taken into Harry’s work and the kids school as a little taste of England!

Peaceful and good-humoured, Christmas day continued with a fabulous snowy walk in the forest across the road, and finished with mulled wine in front of the fire and a fabulous new board game we’d bought the kids called Taxifoli – a race to drive clients round Paris with specific missions in mind – and all in French!

The weather cleared sufficiently for our brief spell in the UK. We opened up our house again, stoked up the fires and brewed up another vat of Mulled Wine for all our old friends. A fabulous round up to a busy four months in France!