Monday, March 11, 2013

Spring Green Cleaning

I have been trying to revamp a few ways in our house this year before we start the new season in order to deliver a more natural experience for our guests and my family! We are already doing all we can in the garden by avoiding any kind of inorganic products on our plants and vegetables and work instead with natural compost, chicken manure, potash and blood and bone. If needed I spray my roses with a drop of dish washing liquid in water and we compost all the natural waste from the kitchen and recycle as much as is possible. I avoid as many prepackaged products when shopping as I can and encourage Liliana to use the recycling bin as a source of art supplies! I make my own jams, soaps, cookies, cakes, bread [well...only toast bread as the French bread is part of the experience!] and try to only use natural moisturisers and body oils. I have always maintained a 'keep it simple and natural' philosophy and almost always cook from scratch...

So today I have spent some time researching 'Green Cleaning' and what I have discovered is below....I am now going to give this a go...let me know if you have any other suggestions and ideas to share! 

White vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda are about to become your new best friend.

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray:
For benches, sinks, toilets, and for spot cleaning floors
Mix 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spray and scrub.
For really tough soap scum or mineral deposits, warm the solution first, spray, and let sit before scrubbing, or use straight vinegar (but avoid straight vinegar on tile grout – it can cause the grout to break down). You can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil.
Another multi-purpose cleaner idea is as below:
Save squeezed lemons and limes and store them in the freezer. Once you have a good collection boil them up in a large pot of water then use the strained lemon water to clean teapots, coffee pots and as a multi-purpose cleaner.

Bathtub / Sink Scrub:
In a bowl, make a paste with baking soda, a squirt of your dishwashing liquid, and a squeeze of lemon, to the consistency of frosting. Dip cloth or sponge into paste and scrub.
For really stubborn grime, allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing.

Mirror & Glass Cleaner:
1 tsp vinegar
2 cups of water
Mix in a spray bottle. Spray on mirror or glass, and wipe clean with old newspaper. (The ink doesn’t smear, and it leaves no lint!)

Floor Cleaner:
1/4 cup dishwashing liquid
1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice
7 litres of warm water
6 drops essential oils
Combine in sink or large bucket, and use with mop.
You can use this on any floor, unless the manufacturer has specified to avoid all detergents.

Toilet Cleaner:
1 cup baking soda
2 cups vinegar
6 drops essential oil
Add baking soda and drops of oil to toilet bowl and then pour in vinegar and it will react Let sit 15 minutes and use your brush – white clean and germ free or nasty deposits gone.

Laundry powder:
1 part olive oil soap in flakes [grate a block of simple castile]
1 part baking soda
1 part boric acid
 Use 3 tablespoons per load.
Clothes Softener: 
Use white vinegar for fabric “softener

 Homemade Dishwasher Detergent:

  1 cup of borax
 1 cup of Washing Soda
 1/2 cup of citric acid [You can find citric acid in most natural and health food stores]
 1/2 cup of kosher salt
 Mix together and use 1 Tablespoon in each load
 Use white vinegar as a rinse agent (fill the rinse agent area with vinegar}

Oven Cleaner:
Baking Soda + Lemon Juice

Furniture Polish:
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
I love this! Works better then pledge in my opinion!

Kettle Descaler:
I keep a cheap bottle of white vinegar under my sink solely for this purpose...simply empty it into your kettle...heat the kettle then turn it off and leave it...then when cool empty the vinegar back into the bottle and put it back under the sink till next time!

Some other tips:

    *Don’t use vinegar on marble – it can damage the surface.
    *If you’re concerned about the smell of vinegar, you can always add a few drops of essential oil to your mix, but know that the odour of vinegar disappears as it evaporates.
    *For really dirty toilets, you can shake in some baking soda in addition to using the all-purpose cleaning spray, and add a little lemon juice, too, if you like.
    *If you don’t want to cut up fresh lemons, keep a squeeze bottle of lemon juice in your fridge. You can buy this, or make it yourself by squeezing some lemons ahead of time. If you buy it, make sure it only contains 100% lemon juice, with no added oils or essences.
    *Use 100% cotton micro fibre cloths for your cleaning – they will not leave lint behind, and you can throw them in the wash afterward and re-use them.
    *About dishwashing liquid: when you purchase look for words like biodegradable, septic-safe, and non-toxic. Don’t buy anything that contains petroleum distillates or phosphates.
    *Don’t scrub. Let the cleaning solution do the work for you. Spray tough spots — such as a soap scum-covered shower wall — with cleaner and let it soak while you clean something else. You’ll make double use of your time and save elbow grease.

If you are are unable to come to grips with making your own products as a daily then try changing your products to eco products or buy a natural range which is easily found on all supermarket shelves. Run a critical eye over your cleaning cupboard and see what you really can do without...keep it simple. You will spot the difference in your supermarket bill!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The thaw has begun....not soon enough for the cars!!

I have not been that impressed with my dedication to the whole blog idea over the last few months so am trying to make a bit more of an effort! The trouble is is that we have been virtually house bound over the last couple of weeks and one can only post so many white out photos...

We have had some comings and goings and shared some lovely moments with guests passing through en route to the Alps though...even a cat en route to Rome...

With these hideously low temperatures in the morning the run for the bread has become a challenge. After experiencing brake issues with our main Citroen car, and its mechanic...but that is a whole nother story!!... we were left with the runaround VW Golf....but after minus 9 at 8am caused this car to blow a gasket we were down to the 2CV!!
We had heard that these wee cars, while hardly the cutting edge of modern motoring, were actually brilliant in the snow! Thin tyres and light as a feather this proved to be right on the button. As long as you dress up warm and cosy the 2CV is the perfect winter snow mobile...
 So as crazy as it may seem that has become 'the' car in our lives after a run of disasters with the other two!! After much research we are now obsessively scanning the internet for a new 4 x 4 version of an estate...

Life in the country is quite a different kettle of fish from Central London...NO public transport and a taxi 15 min's up the road sets you back a small fortune...sooo those of you who live in the city and have had some transport disruptions of late due to inclement not grateful that you have the option of a bus, train or taxi and think of us heading off out in the 'Noddy car'!

After the car drama's of January we were delighted that a very knowledgeable and generous spirited  returning guest offered to double check the C5 as he felt that it was all sounding a little odd...given that we had now written the car off and consigned it to the big garage in the sky on the advice of our local mechanic who insisted it was 'dangerous and unable to be driven' there was nothing to lose!!

SO Ricky, after some 2 hours of pulling the car to bits, discovered that the calipers all looked fine BUT the handbrake had been over adjusted and was seized on one side...he released this and then he took Mike out for a drove fine with no pulling and all seemed back in order!! So we waved him off and were then secretly hopeful that a new car was now off the shopping list!!
The car continued to drive just fine and then when Mike returned to the UK the car went straight to our trusted UK mechanic who checked everything and declared all in order...a small bill and 2 new brake discs later and we have our car safely back on the road...and it is still driving perfectly in mid March!!

IN CONCLUSION: Upon much reflection and chat over many a coffee and glass of wine we can only conclude one of two things from this experience...either our French mechanic was dreadfully incompetent or he was trying to rip us off blind!!! We will never know BUT we will not be pulling into his garage anytime soon. He will continue to see us drive the car to the local Boulangerie opposite his business and will probably scratch his head as to why 'that dangerous car' is still on the road OR he will nod to acknowledge us as the ones that got away...without a huge 'facture'!! I doubt we would have got this treatment if we were not 'anglais' and the wonderful excuse of 'lost in translation' stood between us and the real story but we will never know!!

Cheers and thanks to Ricky!!! Champagne is on us next visit!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter in Champagne...Snow Snow and more Snow!!

A land of fantastic contrast, where you feel all of the seasons intimately the ‘hiver’ days can be long, hard and extremely chilly in Champagne.
One longs for hearty soups, broths and casseroles to warm the heart and the kitchen on these long days…it is time for reflection, hibernation and contemplation. Time to stoke up the fires, pile on the wool and lace up your boots against the harsh elements of the great outdoors. There is nothing more delightful than waking to a fresh powdering of snow over the garden and placing the first footprint into the virgin snow. Liliana greets the snow with a double welcome as it also means that the school bus will be unable to safely deliver the children so she gets to stay home and play! Now that the snow has been with us for quite a few days she is keen to get back to school though...the novelty is over...time to see her friends! Even Nou Nou the cat likes to get in on the fun!
 After the madness of the New Year supping Champagne and slurping oysters the long days are peppered with seasonal traditional celebrations where food remains the focus. Epiphany is celebrated on the 6th of January with the ‘Galette de Rois’. This flaky pastry cake appears in all of the boulangeries only at this time of the year and filled with frangipane, served warm cut into slices with the added fun of discovering who has the small ceramic gift in their piece therefore making them the wearer of the crown…king for the day!
Mid January the Patron Saint of Winemaking Saint Vincent is honoured in many small Champagne villages with a procession in traditional period ‘vignerons’ costume followed by a church service where the sermon focuses on the winemaking season past and the hope of a great season ahead. Followed by much feasting drinking and dancing throughout the village, the labours of the hard year past and the ever present chills forgotten as Champagne is poured into the wee small hours. We have been lucky enough to be involved with many a Saint Vincent celebration in the small village of Avize and it was a delight to see our girls dressed in the lovely pink bonnets and long skirts with grape picking baskets in hand.
As we pass the longest day of the year we watch the sky lighten by a minute a day and look forward to the year ahead.
The work is hard in the vines all year round and as Champagne has its roots firmly planted as a drink of celebration the pre-Christmas rush is felt throughout the area. After New Years Eve the real holiday begins for the local folk. The vines are dormant, the cellars full and the years orders filled. Apart from maintenance at the Champagne House, press and cellars there is only the winter pruning to attend to. 
 Small smoky fires can be seen near the white vans perched on the side of the barren vineyards…the vines are pruned and tied in by hand in preparation for the growing season ahead. The trimmings are burnt in a crude wheelbarrow made of half a 44 gallon drum…narrow enough to fit between the rows of vines and warm enough to warm the pusher. Food is prepared on the fire during the day to sustain the workers…fatty slices of wild boar ‘sanglier’, that was most likely shot and cured by a local in the Champagne forests, is barbequed and served in a baguette with a sauce made from melting the hearty stinky ‘Maroilles’ cheese with a little wine… I have tried this a few times when walking the ‘Escapade de Vignes’ and it is just delicious…especially after some hearty exercise in the great outdoors!
As we cosy up inside beside the fire we also plan our year ahead  and throw ourselves into our own maintenance and drawing up our building projects…we play cards and backgammon in the evenings and retire early to snuggle under heavy feather duvets and read. A stark contrast to the land of our loved ones in New Zealand where they are busy sunning themselves at the end of the school year and swimming in the sea…if we are lucky we may join them reliving childhood summers body surfing the waves, barbequing freshly caught fish and playing cricket on the beach…