Saturday, April 16, 2016

Let the games begin!

For a while we have been planning a new dining area in the barn so that we can serve breakfast in the summer in a warm sunny spot...

Sometime in January when the temperatures were pretty miserable Mike set to making a fab new very long wooden table that seats somewhere around 16! And then he painfully started to hand cut and put together the 'walls! More like a screen I guess but cleverly designed to provide the perfect bar leaner for the odd glass of red when the table tennis competition starts late into the evening after dinner. The plan was to make either side of the walls out of stacked wood which was neatly looked fantastic for a bit but as it got colder and the wood stocks got lower the wall was eventually called in for duty!
Yesterday the staining of the walls was completed, and all set with the table tennis and badminton ready to go for the weekend...7 children in the house...just need some more wood!

So another cooking day today...I literally whipped up the dessert last night and it reminded me that I must share this amazing recipe with is like a little cooking magic! And delicious! The recipe comes from Annabel Langbein's cookbook 'The Free Range Cook'...a taste of home.

Annabel Langbein Strawberry Cloud Cake Recipe


Cook time:
4 hours (in the freezer)

Serves: 10-12 

150g plain sweet biscuits 1⁄2 cup desiccated coconut 11⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon 100g butter, melted
To fill:
To garnish:
fresh raspberries 

1. Line the base of a 26-28cm spring form cake tin with baking paper or waxed paper. This makes it easy to lift the cake out later.
2. Make the base by putting the biscuits in a brown paper bag and crushing them into crumbs by beating carefully with a rolling pin. Pour the crumbs into a medium bowl and add the coconut, cinnamon and melted butter. Stir well to combine.
3. Press firmly into the base of the prepared tin. It doesn’t need to be a thick layer – just enough to cover the bottom of the tin. Refrigerate the base while you prepare the filling.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, sliced strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla in the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high speed for about 6-8 minutes until the mixture is very thick and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved. To test whether it is ready, rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers. You should not feel any gritty sugar. If you do, beat a little longer.
5. Spoon the filling over the chilled base, smooth the top, cover with a sheet of baking paper and freeze for at least 4 hours. The cake will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month.

To serve, cut cake into wedges using a knife that has been warmed in hot water. Garnish with fresh strawberries or raspberries on top

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

 Busy day in the kitchen today as I prepare for a weekend of feeding our guests...we have a 50th birthday for Lucy at the house and her and her family and friends all need catering for in between their jaunts out and about in Champagne.

So I set about to prepare aperitifs for the weekend and the odd dessert...Courgette and Feta cheese slice, Gougere's with Rosemary and Comte cheese, Pastry spirals, Savoury Cake with chorizo, Pita Crisps...all put away in tins and jar and dishes stacked and sorted...job done

A patter on the stairs only to get a request from Liliana to make our firm family favourite Chocolate Chip Biscuits...her turn to take over the oven.
So time to share...I have been making this recipe since I was about 10 years old back in our family kitchen in rural New Zealand where I found a great amount of joy in working my way through any available cookbook as a way of entertaining myself as a child and teenager.

The most popular choice was always 'The Edmonds Cookbook' which was produced by a company that sold 'Sure to Rise' Baking Powder amongst other things. I can honestly say that I have made at least 90% of the recipes in this book over the years. A staple in any NZ cooks bookshelf!

The measurements for the dry ingredients are in cups not grams which I have noticed is the curious difference between recipes from New Zealand and Europe....


1. Cream together the ingredients below till light and fluffy:

125 grams of butter
1/4 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk

2. Add 1 1/2 cups of plain flour and 1 teaspoon of Baking Powder and mix in well...then add 1/2 cup of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.

3. Take tablespoonfuls and roll into balls, put onto a tray and squash with a floured fork

4. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 mins...sometimes less if you have a hot oven so check after 10 mins...

5. Makes around 20 biscuits unless you are like Liliana and love the biscuit dough raw!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Easter Holidays almost at an end!

Life has been busy over Easter with lots of families coming and has been a lovely time for all...some off to the mountains and some stopping in Champagne to explore and fill up on the local wine. We welcome the warmer weather and I love seeing some colour return to the garden.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A New Energy!

As the spring weather kicks in and we all come out of the winter hibernation period I feel inspired to start a new post and share some of the comings and goings in Oyes.

Life has taken a few twists and turns over the last few years and I felt as if I was being somewhat repetitive with my posts if I had started to write more about the dailies at the house...

But I have kind of missed the blogging as it is the perfect excuse to sit quietly and reflect on our experiences in France and push all of my thoughts into a compact version to share with others. AND it gives me the perfect platform to share recipes with our clients who are forever requesting a cookbook...maybe that will be born out of this new push to put words to never know!

So here is the first of a few new recipes that have been a hit of late...

After another quick trip to London we stopped en route to the tunnel and, as we were on a fine time line as usual,  dashed into the local Middle Eastern fruit and vege shop and ran around throwing stuff into the basket to whisk back to France...thick skinned lemons, limes, coriander, sweet potatoes, chillies, soft flat breads covered in herbs and oil, avocados, pitta bread...dirt cheap at 4 packs for a pound.. Liliana had requested pears so I chose a couple of vaguely ripe ones and noticed a container of small deep orange mandarins so grabbed them too...paid up and rushed back to the car...on the road again...

At the tunnel waiting in some early sunshine we sampled those wee mandarins and they were absolutely delicious...sweet, intensely flavoured and easy to peel...perfect. Back home...into a bowl joined by their citrus cousins these wee orange fruit sat looking lovely alongside lemons and limes..

When preparing dinner for our guests on Friday evening I came across a recipe for a Mandarin Cake and thought that I had the perfect mandarins on hand to make this cake worthwhile. Whipped it up and boy did it go down a storm...We had a lovely UK Army Sargent and his German wife sharing our table with another two British couples...two generations who had come to Champagne to purchase the wedding Champagne from Simon at Champagne Nomine-Renard. Great company and good humour abound...and table tennis after dinner!

The cake was polished off over the course of the evening with the bride to be and her mum going back for multiple slithers...

So here is the recipe for Maggie and Emily...we wish you all the very best for a fabulous wedding in a few weeks time!!


175gm of butter 
175gm of sugar
3 eggs
175gm of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
6 small mandarins with good colour and good flavour!

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
2. Grease a 23cm cake tin and shake with a little flour to prevent sticking.
3. Roughly chop the manarins into small peices and blend them in a food processor until you have a pulp. Take a small bowl and set 2 tablespoons of the pulp aside for the icing.
4. Beat suagr and butter till creamed. Add eggs one at a time and blend well then stir in flour, baking powder and lastly add the mandarin pulp.
5. Pour into the tin and bake for 35-45 mins depending on how hot your oven is! Check that the cake in cooked by inserting a skewer and when it comes out clean the cake is done.
6. Place the cake on a serving plate.
7. Make the icing by mixing 3/4 of  cup of icing sugar with the mandarin pulp and a little hot water then drizzle over the warm cake. I decorated mine with a few large bits of mandarin zest and black poppy seeds...graphically through the centre...

Serve with creme fraiche if you fancy but this moist cake is fine going alone. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Here I am a year almost to the day since I last blogged after becoming bogged down with my LIFE!!

It has been busy and most enjoyable but most of all busy! Days fly by and I have come to a place where I accept that the life we have chosen here is France is not one for the faint hearted.

Entertaining people can be the height of the worlds best fun and a giggle a minute BUT it is also so very lovely to hang out by the fire with the cat in the long cold slow months of January with something juicy garlicky and soft slow cooking in the oven drawing in the day with the smells of promised gastronomic comfort.

This sums up my days at the mo as I put away all the end of year papers and gather together almost 10 years of life in France reflecting on the journey...with a scrap of a plan...will keep you posted!

                       the way...a very very Happy 2015 to your and yours!

                                                                   Seize the Day!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

ANOTHER YEAR COMES CRASHING IN! has been forever since I have had time to sit and indulge myself with a blog post! Life rolls over this house in waves as we try and paddle fast enough to keep our heads above water...

Unbelievably now that we have crept over the edge into 2014 it has taken till the 10th of Jan to stop and take stock on the madness that was 2013...a chilly start to the year gave way to the formation of the new Stables Room and then the guests started arriving in May and we waved off the last of the skiers returning home from the mountains early Jan and here we are today!!
 It has been a great year!

No profound predictions or premonitions of the year ahead will be found here but as we go into the year of the 100th anniversary of the 'Battle of the Marne' which occured on our doorstep, and will be commemorated in style in September, we reflect on 'our lot' and feel lucky to be able to spend time in this gorgeous part of France that has seen many dark days...the huge, some would say 'grotesque', memorial that the locals refer to as 'Le Carrot' looks down over our village of Oyes from Mondemont on the hill and is a steady brisk walk or cycle ride from our house...well worth a visit for a moment of reflection...

The Monument

the view from The Monument

looking up at The Monument
 And now to some pics of our new room THE STABLES which started out looking like this....
Stables early days...
 Then this....
Stables mid building
And now is a fully functional B and B room that looks like this....the polished concrete floors work brilliantly as does the plywood walls and roof...a lovely modern space while retaining the character and history of the previous occupants...the small patio area out the double doors have proved a popular spot for catching the sunset with a glass of something chilled and a good book!
New Stables Room

Stables Bedroom

Sables Bedroom

Stables Bathroom

The new room is off the courtyard just beyond the umbrella
AND we have a venture of a different type this year as we develop a new branch to our business. Click on the link below...

                                                    FRENCH BARN

...check out our new website and send me any feedback as we are very interested to shape FRENCH BARN into something flexible and aspire to use and share our talents so we can continue to grow creatively as we weave our way through 2014...

Hope to see you here more often this year....but for now it is time for some quiet...time to finish the gardening, make marmalade and soap and chill by the fire with the cat before the next wave of guests arrive!
My homemade soap!