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…

Saturday, January 12, 2013


 As I sit here on a chilly Saturday morning with the fire blazing and a large mug of tea taking some time clearing a backlog of overdue emails I come across a mail for Jill dated October requesting my cheesecake recipe. Jill and her husband spent a few days with us over the summer and she wrote as below:

"Talking of food, the cheese cake lasted a couple of days. We were very glad of it on the train to Paris.  We returned the car in Reims and had a taxi to Gare de Champagne-Ardennes only to find our train was actually leaving from Gare de Reims.  Our ticket said that but we hadn't checked it so not your problem.  A quick train back and straight onto the correct TGV so no time to have any other snack so your cake was appreciated. I have searched your blog loving all the tales and fun you have personally had but I cannot find the recipe to the cheese cake.  PLEASE send it to me or tell me where to find it."

So here it is for Jill to make and enjoy over the summer is sizzling Australia!

I have always loved baked cheesecake but as I grew up in a household where we ate the unbaked style I never really explored making one myself. I did love it though and used to order it whenever I spotted it in a café or restaurant! My good friend Julia gave me a ‘New York Style Cheesecake’ recipe which was so rich and 'stick to the spoon' heavy with cream…a dense delicious affair! This was ‘the one ‘ I made at the house for a good couple of years until I met Sophie!
Sophie is just divine…a Korean married to a Frenchman she met when  working in Australia she now lives in Paris. She had visited on numerous occasions with her husband, son and family and decided that she wanted to celebrate her 50th in the garden at the house with a big dinner! Now Sophie loves food and good tea! She is so generous with her love of cooking that after her first stay at ‘Aupres de l’eglise’ after listening to me explaining about how, compared to London, it was so difficult to get Asian ingredients in Champagne she sent me a HUGE box from Paris full of Sushi rice, sauces, and seaweed!Amazing!
So I casually asked Sophie what she would like for her birthday cake…’A cheesecake’…that’s easy I thought! Then she continued ‘not the heavy American style but the light lemony French style baked Cheesecake ’Gateau de Fromage’. 
So I searched all of my cookbooks, the internet and all manner of sources and finally came up with this recipe! It remains a staple for any special occasion in the house and even the most discerning Cheesecake Connoisseurs approve…light, lemony, simple and gorgeous served with fresh berries, poached fruit or alone with mascarpone whipped with lemon zest and icing sugar! And Sophie loved it!

BAKED LEMON CHEESECAKEoriginal by Rick Stein

Preheat the oven to 150 deg celcius

1 packet of biscuits [200 gms]
100 gms of butter
2 tbsp of caster sugar

1.  Crush a small packet of biscuits of your liking…digestives, ginger              biscuits, specaloos or plain butter biscuits.
2.  Melt 100 grams of butter and mix the crushed biscuits into the butter with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar.
 3.  Line a springform cake tin with tinfoil and press the crumbs into it and                                                                         put in the fridge to chill.

500 gm of full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
200 gm caster sugar
3 eggs
2 tbsp of cornflour
300 ml of cream fraiche
Finely grated zest of a lemon and 3 tbsp of juice.

  1. Beat the cream cheese and sugar till combined.
  2. Add eggs and beat well.
  3. Pop your mixing bowl onto the scales and add the cornflour, cream fraiche and lemon zest and juice.
  4. Put the bowl back on the mixer and beat again till very well combined.
  5. Scrape the contents of the bowl on top of the base.
  6. Place in the centre of the oven for 50 mins – 1hr and then turn the oven off and leave the cheese cake in the oven till cold.
  7. Do not panic…It is usual for the cheesecake to develop an earthquake style crack across the top.

Place the cheesecake in the fridge from the oven till ready to serve. I often do this the day before needed…
When you are ready to serve I remove the cheesecake from the tin removing all of the tinfoil and placing on a plate or cakestand. I then carefully ‘ice’ with some more crème fraiche to make the top look prettier and then decorate with berries, a small bunch of grapes sprinkled with icing sugar, oe a simple slice of lemon cut and twisted…serve with fruit and wait for the compliments! Any leftovers in our house are usually snavelled by female guests for breakfast or eaten by Amelia and her friends! It keeps well in the fridge for a few days…sorry no pic's!