Amanda on December 21st, 2009
Christmas Shopping In Toulouse

Toulouse Christmas Market

It’s official, I have become a bumpkin!  Five years of rural French living have squeezed the sophistication out of me, like toothpaste from the tube, almost without my noticing.  It was brought to my attention with blinding clarity one wet chilly Tuesday in late December.

It all began with a request to Santa for an LBD for Christmas.  The old boy deputed one his elves – heavily disguised as the beloved – to escort me to the metropolis, wine me, dine me and buy me something wildly gorgeous.  The metropolis in our case is Toulouse.  Sophisticated, rose-pink and undeniably youthful – it was a bit of a shock.  The city centre was heaving, people were moving en masse like a nest of chic ants.  Every sleek, soignée girl had knee-high shiny boots.  Mine were ankle-length and a tad dusty.  Every man was cool to the point of boredom and well under twenty-five.  Mine was harassed, fifty and a tad dusty.  Hmmm. I mused, slightly appalled at the yawning gulf between the two, time for a change of lifestyle. Read More »

Christmas Shopping In Toulouse from French Life

Amanda on December 14th, 2009
Frosted Juniper

Frosted Juniper

Strong northerly winds have swept the vines bare, the temperatures are dropping fast and outside my warm kitchen snow is falling. The prickly junipers and rosemaries on our rocky hillside, that in summer hang so grimly on to their precious water resources in searing tropical heat, are now half frozen and veiled with white. The Mediterranean pines are beginning to look like the marches of the Arctic Circle.

Winter has arrived in the Quercy.

In the fields sheep huddle in their winter woolly jumpers. A lone donkey watched me nonchalantly as I walked swiftly past – snowflakes gathering on his eyelashes – he stood there patiently waiting for the storm to pass, he’s a wise old beast and he’s seen it all before. I could spy a familiar figure toiling in the distance. Monsieur the elder was pruning his vines. Why now? I wondered for the hundredth time, why do they wait until the weather is cold enough to freeze a bowl of soup in thirty seconds? I really must enquire one day. As I neared his vineyard it rather looked as if I was going to get the chance, he spotted me, and came wading, waist-deep through the immaculate ranks.

‘Beh, ma belle!’ He greeted me affectionately, removing his beret and preparing to scratch my cheeks. As I gingerly pushed back my swathes of wrappings to receive his enthusiastic embrace I noticed his worn shirt and waistcoat, reinforced with just a light jacket. He wasn’t even wearing gloves. He is well into his nineties and as fit as any man around. They breed them tough in these parts.

Winter Has Arrived In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on December 4th, 2009
Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Salut! And welcome to the beautiful Quercy in ankle-deep autumn.
It may officially be winter elsewhere, but here in this incredibly mild year, autumn clings on. The oaks, reluctant as always to surrender their leaves, are a splendid rusty brown and after every wind, a fresh layer of leaves means the forest floor disappears completely. It’s mushroom time, and my kitchen table is permanently coated with learned tomes on the edible – and otherwise – fungi of Europe. Fortunately I also have a couple of mushroom-guru friends who help separate the delicious from the deadly. Pharmacies will help too, but they’re cautious to the point of condemning everything but those you knew anyway. My gurus are better, and I now have a satisfying string of Clitocybe Geotropa drying gently above the wood burning stove in my kitchen, not to mention a good crop of Tricholoma Terreums and Shaggy Ink Caps growing in the garden. Of course a few mushrooms are great for a risotto and the bee’s knees for an omelette or to add to a casserole, but they don’t exactly keep body and soul together. To that end I hared into Cahors market this morning, early for once to the immense surprise of my favourite stall holder. Read More »

Forever Autumn In The Quercy from French Life