Amanda on November 24th, 2011
Radish

Radishes In The Market

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and as the church bells pealed in solemn remembrance I stood in twenty-two degrees of glorious sunshine in the market square watching the parade on one side and negotiating half a kilo of Bleu des Causses on the other. Even for south-western France, it was incredibly warm. Normally by mid-November the fires are lit, every chimney is smoking, sales of haricots blancs have rocketed and I am holed up in my warm kitchen for the winter. Not so this year.

Down in the markets summer lingers on with delectable consequences. Late tomatoes adorn most country stalls adding a splash of shiny scarlet to the otherwise more earthy autumn hues. Vast piles of damp lettuces stand side by side with pumpkins and squashes, whilst delicate combinations of pink, white and red long-legged radishes dance before the eyes.  Read More »

Warm November In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on April 4th, 2010
Fresh Asparagus

Fresh Asparagus

Spring is in full flow here in the beautiful Quercy. The countryside is foaming with blossom. Rivers of blackthorn, late after the freezing winter have run into the cherry, wild pear, plum and quince, providing a fountain of confetti for the thousands of avian brides newly arrived from their overwintering grounds in Tropical Africa.
As I drove down through the vines yesterday, delicious spreads of butter-yellow cowslips covered the verges. The crowded woods created a chartreuse backdrop and the enticingly warm breezes lured me from the car for a quick ramble through pristine fields of new meadow flowers. Read More »

April – Spring In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on March 9th, 2010
Blosson In The Quercy

Early March Quercy Blossom

Early March and spring rushes in to relieve the chill of a long, hard winter. My almond trees are spreading their delicate petals to the seeping warmth and the Rosemaries have suddenly exploded into a riot of pale blues. The sun is hot now, despite the still-cool air, hot enough to eat lunch outside – and on the spreading pavements and boulevards of Cahors that is exactly what they have been doing.
Outside one of my favourite cafes – just beside Gambetta’s statue – a party of English tourists noisily settled into a large table for eight, excitedly rustling their maps and expressing wonder at the glories of the architecture. Dressed in pale creams and beige linen, newly streaked hair perfectly groomed, they pushed their up-to-the-minute shades into their hair and looked expectantly at Florian. He was busy juggling beers for a pair of regulars, stopped en route to the bar to kiss my ears, and shimmied in without seeming to notice his suddenly expanding clientele. Long years of experience. Read More »

March In The Quercy – Spring At Last from French Life

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 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

Amanda on October 9th, 2009

Chestnuts

Chestnuts

Happy Birthday to You, Squashed Tomatoes and Stew!
Autumn has seeped inexorably into the south in the last few days.  I prowled around Prayssac market this morning admiring box after box of fat, glossy chestnuts and tempting over-sized quinces.  Cardoons are beginning to appear and knobbly, pink Jerusalem artichokes.  All the vegetable stalls have an abundance of late-season tomatoes, and they don’t seem to be diminishing… seasonal tastes are changing and the tomato glut is beginning to tell, prices have dropped to rock bottom and still they can’t sell them all.  The café and restaurant menus are undergoing a subtle change too.  Earthy soups, spiked with Quercy saffron.  Guinea fowl, deliciously pot roasted and served with lardons and chestnuts.  Desserts of apple and pear, quince and walnut replace the soft fruits and frothy, frivolous confections of high summer.  It’s food to go walking on. Read More »

Autumn is Approaching in The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on July 1st, 2008
Picture Window

Picture Window

High summer in the Quercy and the skies are as blue as the wild cornflowers that line every field. Scarlet and pink geraniums foam from every windowsill, whilst on the limestone cliffs helichrysum and santolina bloom riotously on bone-dry outcrops of rock. Out in the immaculately groomed vineyards grapes are beginning to swell. Dogs lie panting in the shade; cats lie dozing in the sun and lizards scuttle hither and thither with newly minted energy.
I haul myself lethargically round the throbbing markets. Courgettes are proliferating faster than the Quercynoise can eat them; the stalls are overflowing with slender green and yellow fruits, jostling for position with the ubiquitous heap of haricots verts and napped by a sturdy column of tomato crates. Read More »

Summer Entertaining from French Life

Amanda on May 1st, 2008
Market Flowers

Market Flowers

Welcome to lovely May in the Quercy, perhaps the most beautiful month of the year. It’s the month of flowers – and indeed fabulous flower festivals are being held in tiny stone villages all over the country. In my hillside garden the oleanders are in bud, the olives are putting out their new silvery leaves and chilly lizards are sunning themselves on numerous crumbling walls. The vigorous old Gallica rose by the stone steps leading to my kitchen door has burst into a thousand fragrant blooms and the many cistus’, not to be outdone, unfold their delicate, papery petals each morning, only to drop them all again each evening. Read More »

May – Loveliest Month of the Year from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2008
Jonquilles

Jonquilles

Spring has come early to the Quercy. An exceptionally mild winter followed by a week of brilliant sunshine, clear skies as blue as the virgin’s robe and warm southern breezes, have transformed both the landscape and the markets. The almond trees have suddenly exploded into riotous blossom and all my lemon trees are following suit, stiff, waxy white petals unfurling to release a delicious fragrance that pervades the whole terrace. An unseasonal haze of light green floats over the fields and vineyards, farmers and vignerons have been hopping round the vines, clippers going like lightening. The sap will rise early this year and there’s no time to lose. Read More »

Early Spring Market from French Life

Amanda on January 1st, 2008
Plat du Jour

Plat du Jour

Living in the heartland of French gastronomy can be an exceptionally rewarding business. No more so than on a cold winter’s day when you blow into a warm, bustling café a few minutes before twelve-thirty, chilly, hungry and teased by the tantalising aromas wafting from the kitchens. It’s one of the great pleasures of life in France.
Ah Madame, vous allez bien?’ The proprietor greeted me, as I hauled myself up the marble staircase in one of my favourite eateries. He didn’t wait for a reply, but bestowed two quick kisses and a hearty buffet on the shoulder, then whisked me down the crowded room to a cosy table in the corner – narrowly avoiding collision with two speeding waiters, loaded to the elbows. I sank into the chair with a thankful sigh, shook out my napkin and prepared to enjoy myself. Read More »

Lunch in Cahors from French Life

Amanda on May 1st, 2007
Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Welcome to lovely May in southern France, it must be the prettiest time of year. Café tables spread optimistically across cobbled pavements; oleanders, palms and potted olive trees screen clients from the traffic. They sit there with their ice-cold beer or delicately tinted kirs, pale arms tentatively exposed to the caressing warmth of the Mediterranean sun, shorts and sandals or white linen dresses, sunglasses of course and a bottle of Ambre Solaire. Summer has arrived.

In the markets the beautiful Marmande tomatoes have made their debut, bulging on all sides, bursting with flavour and polished to crimson perfection. Read More »

Flavours of Summer Living from French Life

Amanda on November 1st, 2006
Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

The last few days of October were as hot and balmy as August, the markets were thronged with visitors and full of flowers. Great clumps of chrysanthemums in purple, white, crimson and gold jostled against rank upon rank of pierrot-faced violas and armfuls of more exotic blooms, a wonderful sight which brought out a rash of resident artists.

November came in with a deadly northeasterly and brought a sudden drop in temperatures. From a pleasant mid-afternoon twenty-five degrees to a perishing early-morning minus one. The lemon trees were hurriedly moved to their winter quarters and in Cahors the plane trees shivered and dropped fifty percent of their leaves in forty-eight hours. The vines glowed red, then rust and finally a golden yellow. Soon they’ll take on their winter persona and be no more than stark silhouettes against the winter skyline. Read More »

Crisp, Cold and Sunny in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on September 1st, 2006
Peppers

Peppers

It’s supposed to be the season of mellow fruitfulness, but there’s nothing mellow about September in Southern France, the weather is frequently hotter than August. This year, it seems, will be no exception as August was the chilliest since records began, according to our disgusted neighbours!

There’s change in the air. Rentrée has hit the children, work has hit the adults and the myriad visitors are packing away the Ambre Solaire and heading back to London, Paris and Lille. Out of date fête posters flap lazily from the many billboards and trees they decorated throughout the summer as the gallant men from the commune sweep up the last of the plastic cups. You can almost hear the land heave a huge, poignant sigh, the party’s over. Meanwhile the skies clear, the sun comes out, the temperatures rise and life returns to normal. Read More »

Early Autumn and the Heat Goes On from French Life

Amanda on August 1st, 2006
Carnac en Fete

Carnac en Fete

The season of the fetes has arrived in true style, vibrating with visitors all eager to join in the fun. Every little town, village and hamlet has at least one day of partying, followed by half the contents of the local cellars and at least four courses of splendid local cuisine, followed, if you’re not very careful, by some outrageously vigorous dancing. I was swept off my feet – literally – last year by an elderly Lothario who insisted on lifting his shirt and rolling the muscles of his six pack at me. I kept treading on his toes because I’ve never learned to tango and neither, I suspect, had he. When I waved at him the next day he didn’t even recognise me, but then of course it might not have been him… Read More »

Quercy en Vacances from French Life

Amanda on July 1st, 2006
Lauzerte

Lauzerte

High summer has arrived in the Quercy. Little stone villages drowse in the heat, scarlet and pink geraniums foam from every windowsill, dogs pant in the shade and cats prowl through immaculate potagers.
A few days ago several of our local friends were to be seen pillaging the roadside walnut trees, baskets in hand. It was midsummer’s day and midsummer magic was brewing all over Europe. In the Quercy we were collecting green walnuts to indulge in a little brewing of our own. It’s time to concoct this year’s ration of Aperitif de Noix, one of the highly desirable local liqueurs. It’s a devilishly potent brew, consumed with much lip smacking by the older generation and not disdained by the young. There are hundreds of variations on the basic recipe, but all include green walnuts, pricked to make sure there’s no shell, quartered – mind your fingers, they stain – and added to Eau de Vie, sugar and an innumerable selection of spices and other indigenous flavourings. Legend has it that the walnuts must be gathered on this one day and although it may not be true for the many whimsical reasons propounded, it’s certainly true that only a week or so later the shells have started to form and the bitterness that gives the ripe nuts their distinctive flavour has started to strengthen unpalatably. I made my first batch two years ago and find it goes deliciously well with the dried fruits and nuts at Christmas. Read More »

Living in France in High Summer from French Life