Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hunting in France

My hunting experience in pictures:

Getting ready to go out

on our way

looks like the dogs found something

My first shoot

that was sore!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to choose a wine glass

Coming to live in France some people can feel a bit intimidated when it comes to choosing a wine for a dinner or even when choosing a glass for serving the chosen wine.  Living in France, I discovered that wine is a very important part of everyday life and French culture. 

If like me, when I just arrived here, you are wondering what type of glass you should present at your table for your chosen wine; I can give you a few hints to avoid a mayor faux pas. 

Most wine connoisseurs agree that a wine glass should be made of crystal.  The transparent crystal should be thin and without too much ornament in order to let the wine lover appreciate the contents of the glass in all its senses.  In some parts of rural France you will see short Champagne-shaped glasses in porcelain; these are meant to be for coffee, NOT for wine.  To be on the safe side, make sure your wine glasses are of transparent crystal. 

A wine glass should have a stand for easy manipulation when wine tasting.  I have seen wine glasses with no stands, I suggest you don’t try to be too avant-garde and avoid those glasses, at least when you are in France.     

White wines are easier to accommodate to any shape of glass due to their qualities.  Red wines can be more complicated depending on their body.  In France different regions have created special wine glasses for their wines.  The most popular are:

  • The wide “ballooned” wine glass for wines from the Bourgogne region, because the wine from Bourgogne should “roll” freely in the glass to be tasted at its best. 
  • The smallish wine glass shaped as an egg, for wines from the Bordeaux region.
  • Very tall wine glasses come from the Alsace region.
  • Flutes are reserved for the Champagne region.

How to choose a wine glass

    An advantage of knowing what type of glass goes with which wine is that if you are served a glass of wine without seeing the bottle, you can at least start locating the wine as being a Bourgogne or Bordeaux. 

    Remember that a wine glass should never be filled all the way up.  The ideal is to fill it up a little bit more than half the way, that is, leaving a third of the glass empty to leave space for the wine to develop. 

    My selection of best wine gifts under $25 for wine lovers

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Argenton Sur Creuse In Pictures

    St Sauveur’s church on the Place Carnot was built at the end of the 15thCentury, admire its beautiful 50 m high gothic bell tower

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    The Hotel de Scevole was built during the 17th and 18th century. 

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    La Bonne Dame
    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    La Coursiere street leads to the top of the hill where the little chapel of the Bonne Dame stands.This is worth a visit as you can overlook the whole town from there.

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    The River Creuse on November

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    Musée de la Chemiserie et de l’Elégance masculine:  Shirt and Elegance Museum 
    This little museum is located on what once was the first lingerie workshop in the area.  The workshop opened in 1860 and soon developed to be one of the main sources of revenue in the area.  My favourite part in the museum is the floor dedicated to the women who worked there as it is a testimony of the economical development of the town an also testimony of the way of life of the women in Argenton.   

    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    Place de la Republique
    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved
    Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Iturrizaga.  All Rights Reserved

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Microwaved Steamed Ginger Pudding to warm up a cool afternoon

    With autumn here we are having more and more cool afternoons.  The sun still shining and during the hottest time of the day you can expect at the most 20°C, but once the sun starts to go down, the cold temperatures climb up and we can be as cold as 5°C already!  A fun way to keep warm during these autumn days is to bake cakes and biscuits.  Children love to get their hands in the kitchen to grate, mix and decorate their baked efforts. 

    Some of my favourite recipes to warm up during a cool afternoon are steam puddings, always delicious with a scoop of ice cream or with hot custard.  The only thing that ever put me off from cooking a steam pudding was the length of time that it had to be steamed.  However, not long ago, I found the solution to this when I found a recipe for steam puddings cooked in the microwave. 

    Microwaved Ginger Steamed Pudding

    Did you know that you can cook a traditional steam pudding in a microwave?  Yes, steam puddings can be cooked in a microwave in a fraction of the time.  Instead of traditionally steaming your pudding for 1 and ½ hours, you can have your pudding microwaved and ready to serve in less than 5 minutes.  Do you want to try?  Here we go, you will need:

    Ginger Photographed by: Frank C. Müller

    225g Self raising flour

    2 tea-spoons of ground ginger

    25g steam ginger finely chopped

    50g butter

    50g caster sugar

    2 tablespoons of honey

    2 eggs

    2 tablespoons of milk

    A pinch of salt

    Ginger jam (for the syrup)

    Before you start, prepare all your materials and ingredients.  Start by greasing a 1 litre pudding basin.

    In a bowl mix the flour, salt and ground ginger.  Add the butter and then all the other ingredients.  Mix well.  That is your pudding ready to steam. 

    Place the mixture in a basin; make sure you leave room for expansion and cover loosely to allow steam to escape.  Microwave on full power for 4 minutes (in a 650w microwave) or 3 and a half minutes in a 800w microwave.  Leave to cool.

    For the ginger syrup put at least 3 Tablespoons of ginger jam in a bowl and heat it up until runny in the microwave.  Pour the syrup over the steam pudding and enjoy! 

    If you don’t have ginger jam, you can always make a light syrup with sugar, water and a piece of ginger root or caramelized gingers.  

    November is time for:
    Do not forget that November is the month to start preparing your Christmas puddings Remember that once cooked your Christmas pudding  needs to be kept in a cool place, ideally a larder. Christmas puddings are often dried out on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavour.

    Photograph by DO'Neil.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Hailstone storm in October and a recipe for carrot cake

    It was a glorious sunny October day, we had just planted our winter lettuces when without warning “cataplun” a loud thunder and hailstone galore everywhere.  It was unbelievable how soon the weather changed from our late Indian summer to a winter storm.

    We had to come in because of the ferocity of the storm, but we took advantage to warm ourselves up making a delicious carrot and cinnamon cake with the freshly collected carrots from the garden.   This is a great recipe easy to make and fantastic to get your little ones to eat their carrots.  My little ones love making this cake and usually the cake disappears as soon as it arrives to the table!  

    Carrot and cinnamon cake

    For the cake you will need:

    • 225g of self raising flour
    • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
    • 150gr dark sugar
    • 150gr carrots
    • 2 medium eggs
    • 150ml sunflower oil
    • 3 tablespoons of milk

    For the glazing you will need:

    • 50g butter
    • 2 tablespoons of orange juice
    • ½ orange rind grated
    • 225g icing sugar

    To make the cake, place the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and mix.  Add the sugar and finely grated carrots.  Add the eggs, then the oil and milk.  Mix well until evenly blended.  You can do this with a mixer or with a wooden spoon. 

    Place the mixture in a greased tin and bake in a previously heated oven.  Cook for 40 minutes at gas mark 4. 

    To prepare the frosting, melt the butter with the orange juice and orange rind.  Add the icing sugar and mix well until you have a smooth paste.

    Once your carrot cake has completely cooled down, swirl the frosting over the cake and that’s it, ready to eat!

    Just in case you were wondering about our lettuces… they did survive the hailstone storm. 

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Fun things to do with Children at Royan

    Fun things to do with Children at Royan

    Royan is one of my favourite places in the French Atlantic coast.  Every time I can, I pack up a few things, get my little ones ready and we go there for a few days.  It is a great place to visit with children as there is always something for them to do.  Even when it is cloudy or rainy we can just have an afternoon at the cinema or visit a museum or exposition.  

    However, during sunny summer and spring days, we like to go to the Jardins du Monde, a beautiful park not far from the town centre with lots to offer to curious children and adults.  

    Visit the Jardins du Monde

    The Jardins du Monde is a beautiful park where you will find:

    • A dwarf goat’s farm: My little ones loved this, I couldn’t get them away from caressing and playing with the dwarf goats.

    • An Orchids tropical greenhouse, the Japanese gardens, the English garden, etc. Enjoy the 18 acres of exotic gardens!

    • A water spring esplanade with fountains spouting randomly, ideal to refresh your little ones during a hot day.

    • A pedal go cart track

    • A live butterfly hot house where exotic butterflies flutter among the visitors.

    • The Bouncy village: a fun area with giant slides, bouncy castles, trampolines and adventure tracks to amuse children and parents alike.

    • Do not miss the bamboo maze.

    • For older children there are remote controlled boats and electric boats trips through the marshes and the park waters.

    At night time, when you leave your little ones at home or the hotel you can come back to the Jardins du Monde and enjoy the party at the Butterfly bar, an open bar in the heart of the Jardins du Monde park, open every night during July and August and during the weekends on May and June.

    For more things to do in Royan you can check my Family holidays in France article on HubPages.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Growing raspberries

    Raspberries are very easy to grow as they are tolerant to most types of soil. You can grow raspberries on open ground or in garden pots. Once you have planted your first raspberries there is very little to do but to water them. I usually just let mine thrive for themselves in the garden during autumn and winter and start pruning them in January. I have never applied any fertiliser to my raspberry orchard, it looks like just keeping the old branches and mulch of rotted leaves on the surface of the soil surrounding the bush is enough to keep them going. Once the warmer weather starts showing I just water my raspberry plants when necessary –which is not very often.

    Once the fruit starts to show, that is when your work starts and you need to start watering regularly to slowly see your fruit swelling. Raspberries are very thirsty, so make sure that you keep them well watered.

    Raspberries are best left to ripen on the tree. Only harvest your fruits when they are ready to eat. Pick individual berries carefully, preferably leaving the white “plug” on the plant -only if the fruit is ready it will detach easily from the white plug. Eat them on the same day or keep them in the fridge for eating the day after. Raspberries start to deteriorate very quickly once they are harvested.

    Easy Raspberry Recipe:  Crowdie
    This is an easy and delicious traditional mixture of oatmeal, raspberries and cream which I learnt to make from my Scottish period.
    It only takes about 10 minutes to make and even less to eat! 
    You will need:
    • 50g. medium oatmeal
    • 300ml whipping cream
    • 25g icing sugar
    • 4 tablespoons of good whisky
    • 225g fresh raspberries
    To prepare this delicious and easy to make raspberry dessert start lightly toasting the oatmeal under the grill.  Make sure it gets a golden colour and it doesn’t burn.  Once the oatmeal is toasted put aside to cool down.  
    In a deep bowl, whip the cream until is firm and then add the icing sugar and whisky.  With a spoon slowly mix in the cream most of the raspberries and the oatmeal.  
    To serve place in individual glasses and decorate with the remaining raspberries.  

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Free French Classes

    On September the 5th I’ve started my new free French classes in my local Licée.  The French classes are part of the program of national education.  The classes are aimed to adults who want to learn French as part of the GRETA structure. 

    For those not familiar with the educational system in France, the GRETA is part of the national adult educational system.  Greta prepares adults for most jobs based on the local economy; you can do a whole diploma or just a single module.

    Greta offers free  French classes, but they also offer English classes for the French and a few other free subjects like logical thinking.  If you want to take part in a Greta program near your area you’ll need to find the nearest Greta address to your home.  The classes are free of charge but the number of students per group is limited to the number of subventions given to the program by your local authorities.  For example for this semester, my French class is limited to only 14 students.  Anyone else who wants to take part in the class will need to pay its own fees or wait until the next semester starting in January 2012.  The number of places available varies from semester to semester and sometimes the classes are separated in different levels so you can take a beginners, intermediate or advanced class, according to your French abilities.

    For more information in French about GRETA you can visit their official site in de Indre region. 

    Free French classes are not easy to find in small towns and villages in France, that is why the Greta program is so good.  Also, the French classes are very flexible in the sense that they try to accommodate to the students’ level of French and their main interests for learning the language.  This is the second time I am part of a Greta class in my area.  The first time was a few years ago, when I just arrived to France and all I could say was “oui” and “merci”.  Now my level of French has improved but I am coming back to the classes because I feel that now I need to learn to properly write in French.   Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will notice some improvement!

    At Chateauroux, Châtillon, Argenton, La Châtre... Get more information on the Espaces Libres Savoirs du Greta about all the courses financed by the regional councel.  There are also the visas Centre on: éco-citoyens, Internet, bureautique, languages and-tourisme. 

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Candle Light Castle Tour: Park and Chateau de Valencay

    The chateau de Valencay is one of my favourite chateaux in the region; firstly because it is family friendly and secondly because it is always trying to deliver new exhibitions and entertaining shows.

    Usually the chateau is open from around 10am to 7pm but for the delight of its visitors, this year it opened its doors twice (the 23rd of July and the 6th of August) to the general public at night time to offer a candle light castle tour.

    I have visited the chateau several times; usually I take my little ones there every year for Easter as they love to go egg-hunting in the Park of the castle.  However, seeing the castle at night time is and entirely different experience.  From the moment you enter the town of Valencay, you can see in the distance the castle, and you can start admiring the beauty of this building illuminated by candles.

    A romantic candlelit evening

    We arrived to the castle near 10pm, ready to spend an enchanted evening.  The entrance was very different to the day entrance, at this time of the night the garden paths to the castle were illuminated with discreet candles on the floor.  Once we reached the main hall of the castle I was surprised to see how well lit it was.  I have read that they use more than 3000 candles to illuminate the castle, but somehow I couldn’t imagine it until I saw it.  The big Chandeliers hanging of the ceilings with dozens of candles were breathtaking.     

    Walking through the corridors and rooms of the castle, bumping into people dressed as if they were expecting the Prince the Tayllerand, or even Napoleon at any minute, you couldn’t avoid to feel transported in time.  Every room, from the smallest bedroom to the big dining room and kitchens were candle lit, even the outside windows of the castle were lit with candles.  The gardens were not exception to this extravagance and they were also candle lit so you could appreciate the beauty of its park in a romantic horse and carriage ride that would have Cinderella green with envy!

    It was impossible not to feel transported in time to the great banquets organized by the Prince de Tayllerand in this castle.  There were also flamenco dancers all along the castle –I suppose to highlight the fact that the King of Spain lived exiled in this castle for about 4 years. 

    To end our magic visit, we were taken back to the gardens where we were treated to a small but beautiful firework display in front of the castle, accompanied by period  music.

    If all that hadn’t been magic enough, on the way home we stopped in the middle of the fields to appreciate what I call “nature’s fireworks” which is an amazing event that happens every summer in the region, a “rain of stars”, meaning and abundance of shooting stars, so numerous that you don’t even have the time to make up enough wishes…

    Who said that magic doesn’t exist anymore?   

    For more information on tours, opening times and prices  you can visit the Chateau de Valencay official site.

    Chateau de Valençay

    The town of Valençay has a lot to offer to the tourist. A detour into Valençay is certainly worth your time. It is not a surprise that Valençay is known as one of the "Most beautiful detours in France".  Located in the Indre department  Read More

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    The French Countryside

    The French regions offer visitors a diversity of landscapes that’s unrivalled in Europe. Add to it the abundant fauna and flora, the high quality of their cultural and historical heritage, and you will easily understand why France remains a favourite tourist destination in the world.

    Hiking, biking, horse riding, paragliding, hot-air balloons or camper vans, all means of transport are suitable for exploring France!

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    A Detox weekend

    Colza fields
    Listening to the opera with a glass of Haut Medoc in an empty room overlooking the fields of colza wasn’t my idea of a fun Saturday night.  This time however, I felt completely happy just sitting on the window sill tasting the wine and listening to the music, simply enjoying being on my own.

    I cannot remember the last time I spent a weekend on my own.  Come to think about it, probably never as I am usually not at ease spending time on my own, least of all in the middle of the countryside with the nearest neighbour one kilometre away.  I never realized how liberating for the soul it could be to disconnect from everything and just enjoy “being there” being yourself. 

    My detox weekend did not follow a traditional detox programme.  I had no spas, massages or colonic irrigations.  All I had was time with myself and nature, plus of course a couple of bottles of Haut Medoc, some local goat’s cheese and freshly baked croissants and coffee.  Probably not a very healthy diet, but an enjoyable one.  My detox plan involved cutting off from the internet, tv and telephone.  A big detox if you come to think how attached we are to these things. 

    My weekend started on a Friday afternoon when I arrived at an empty country house which a friend kindly let me use . My first impression was “Oh my God, what am I doing here in the middle of nowhere”.  For a few minutes I hesitated and wanted to go back to the security of my own home, but I was here now and the sun was shining.  I braved it, opened the door and unpacked my few belongings.  After I unpacked I sat on the door step with a glass of wine, the sun warming me gently.  The rest of the afternoon I just sat there and read a book until the sun disappeared and I had to go in.  My dinner for the night consisted of another glass of wine, nuts and raisins. 

    Fields of Wheat on the front and Rape-seed (colza) on the back

    Saturday morning came with yet more sunshine; an opportunity I took to go out on my bike searching for the nearest goat’s cheese farm and baker.  By the time I got back to the house it was already the early afternoon.  I had taken a long time cycling, stopping on the way to admire hidden castles, rivers, flowers and wildlife.  I was exhausted after my long ride and I just sat again by the door to soak up more sun and greedily enjoy two freshly baked croissants I had bought at the nearest village.  It was a beautiful day and without a second thought after I finished my lunch I put on my walking boots and wandered among the fields of colza and wheat.  For some reason the colza’s yellow flowers looked so inviting that I couldn’t stop myself from going in the fields, the yellow carpet ahead of me just made me want to roll over it!.  After a while I reached the woods and continued my walk until I reached a small pond where I sat for a while before walking back.  All I could hear was the wind and birds chirping. I never came across another soul on my walk.  On my way back I couldn’t believe I’d just ventured into the woods and fields on my own.  I have always been scared of the woods (watched too many horror films) but this time I felt secure. 

    Colza (rape-seed) flowers

    Rape-seed (colza) fields

    The rest of the Saturday afternoon I just sunbathed and when the sun went down I sat on the window sill listening to the opera, sipping a glass of wine, admiring the colza fields.  I felt good. 

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Learning To Drive In France

    One of my resolutions for this year is to learn to drive. Not an easy task considering that I believe that I do not have the motor skills to successfully drive, but mainly because having to study the highway code in French and sitting a French Driving test are, to say the least, scary.

    After several visits to my local driving schools I decided on the one nearest to my home. It is only two blocks away so I have no excuse to stop going to the theory classes. To help “push me” to go to the driving classes I also enrolled the help of a neighbour who is babysitting my little ones while I go to the classes.

    The first step was to register for the course. Pay the 235€ for the theory classes and hand in photocopies of my passport, 4 photos and an A5 envelope. I was told that I could start as soon as I wanted. The classes are every evening -one hour- from Tuesday to Saturday. My first class was a bit of a disappointment as I realized that by “theory class” they meant to sit a group of people in front of a big screen to do a mock driving test, that is corrected by yourself at the end of the test with the help of the explanations given on the screen.

    I’ve been trying to go at least twice a week to the theory classes and I’ve noticed a slight improvement. In a month I’ve passed from having an embarrassing score of 12 out of 40 to a more decent 32 out of 40. Hopefully in another two months I will be able to sit my theory test.

    In the meantime, the Prefecture (the ones in charge of dealing with the paperwork) have not accepted my application for doing the test because my British passport doesn’t say in what country I was born. To make things worse I’ve been told that I need a document with my maiden name because unlike other countries, which accept your married name, in France you must keep your maiden name for official documents like a driving license. Now, finding a document with my maiden name is not easy, I’ve been married and using my married name for the past 17 years so I do not have any records of my maiden name in any up to date official document. I tried to provide my birth certificate as proof of my maiden name, but that was not accepted because it was written in Spanish!

    I’ll keep looking… maybe I’ll find something…

    The Cost of learning to Drive in France

    How much does it cost to pass your driving test in France?

    For doing my driving lessons, I have chosen a driving school in the countryside. After researching through the schools available in my area, I found that they all offer a very similar package for almost the same price.

    If you are doing your driving test in France, count on spending a minimum of €1,000

    Average prices you can expect to pay to learn to drive in France:
    • Theory classes: 235€
    • 1st evaluation  : 38€
    • Driving class   : 38€ per hour with a minimum legal requirement of 20 hours
    • Sitting the driving test: 55€

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Living in France: Meet Ryan O’Connell

    Moving to France and starting a new life is a wonderful way to broaden your horizons and revitalize your life.  True enough it requires courage and a lot of research to move to a different country but if you put your heart in it, you can make your move a success.

    Winemaker at O’Vineyards: Ryan O’Connell
    Today I want to introduce you to Ryan O’Connell, a young winemaker at O’Vineyards and  member of the Outsiders a group of winemakers who have all fallen head over heels for Languedoc Roussillon wines.  Ryan also runs a Languedoc Wine blog and is the author of the e-book “Wines of Carcassonne”.   

    How long have you been living in France Ryan?
     I lived in France on and off as a child, but I have been here more regularly since 2005

     What inspired you to come to France?  Why France rather than an English speaking country?
     My mom is French and my parents purchased a vineyard  in the south of France.

    Does the dream match reality?  Did you find in France what you were expecting?
    I thought I knew what French life would be like since I had lived in Paris as a child, but I found rural life to be a totally different experience, in a good way.  It's been wonderful here.  Although, country life means everybody knows everybody.  Without the anonymity of the city, I sometimes feel like I have no privacy.  But it's worth it for the beautiful landscapes and great wine.

    Ryan O'Connell
    What is it that you like the most about living in France?
     WINE!  and unpasteurized cheese.

    What has been so far your worst experience living in France?
     All the paperwork, bureaucracy here is exactly as bad as people describe.

    What advice would you give to any foreigners who want to come and start a new life in France?
    Learn about what part of France you're going to.  Each region has its own history and culture.  Don't expect all of France to be the same or all French people to be the same as it’s one of the most diverse and culturally rich parts of the developed world.  And people still latch onto their regional heritage (especially in rural areas), so know your stuff if you want to integrate! 

    Wines of Carcassonne.  A book by Ryan O'Connell

    For more information or to visit O’Vineyards you can call email them at