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Posts Tagged ‘Le Chant d’Oiseau’

Season’s Greetings!

This is possibly going to be the shortest ‘blog I’ve ever written. I know, you’re thinking that’s a good thing, right?

Anyway, we’d just like to take this opportunity to say thankyou to the legions of folks who’ve contributed to making our lives in France happy ones. The guests who’ve stayed with us, either in the gites or on the campsite (sometimes in the house!), the folks who’ve contributed their time to comment on this ‘blog, family, friends in the UK and further afield. You’re all lovely people, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Here’s to you all, without whom this would still be possible, but nowhere near as much fun.

Thankyou.

Stu, Syb, Liam, Hannah, Niall & Sheila.

Not forgetting of course, Bracken, Splodge, Wisp, Bill and the Ninja Chickens.

Have a great Christmas and a very happy New Year. See you in 2010!

Le Chant d'Oiseau

Le Chant d'Oiseau

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Just a quick ‘blog, while waiting to receive our ‘grand-dog’, Bill. He’s being dropped off to stay here for the morning as Hannah & Steve have to pack up their stuff from the house to move back here for a while. It’s a long story, fit for a ‘blog in itself, but I can’t divulge too much yet. It’ll be nice to have them back, but their puppy is mad. Bill’s a spaniel. Unfortunately named too, as Bill is also the name of my dad – Hannah’s grandad! Don’t think he knows yet though. Bill, not Bill! Bill is also the name of a cartoon dog here in France, and Steve and Hannah thought Bill looked sufficiently similar to Bill (not Bill) to merit the name. So Bill it is.

Phew, I’m glad that’s sorted.

Anyway, Bill’s coming to play with Bracken. I say ‘play’, but invariably it boils down to a bit of a snarl and a snap on Bracken’s part as Bill has a penchant for biting her ears when she’s not looking. Plus, he pinches all Bracken’s toys and takes them to his basket. Bracken pinches them back, then jealously sits on them while Bill chews her ears, making her snarl and snap, and the whole merry-go-round begins again.

So. Because Hannah, Steve & Bill (and CoCo the hamster) are moving in with us for a few months, I’ve been busy bringing Chardonneret into line with our ‘vision’ for Le Chant d’Oiseau. The old kitchen was ripped out, and new, improved electric sockets were first to go in, chasing out deep gouges in the walls for cable runs. Then came the easy bit. Having someone else paint all the beams with Xylophene, a wood preservative and insect repellent. Then all the tiles came off from the walls, and the walls made good again with plaster. New lights went up in the kitchen area, ensuring plenty of light to see by in what was once quite a dark corner. I’ve left the softer lounge light in place as a contrast. There’s plenty of lamps around too, giving a lovely ‘glow’ to the place. The kitchen was a breeze to install, all white units with a rather sexy looking stainless steel sink unit and sexy new robinet. (French for ‘tap’, pronounced ‘rob-ee-nay).

La cuisine.

La cuisine.

The lounge area

The lounge area

Bedroom area.

Bedroom area.

I prefer the French words for some stuff, don’t you? I mean ‘tap’ is a tad, well – industrial, whereas ‘robinet’ (roll the rrrrrr when you say it) is more romantic somehow. Smoother, rounder. Robinet…..

I digress. The bathroom is the last job on the list. Bidet out (no more washing of feet in there, thankyou), tiles off the walls, pipework boxed in. Then a new bath panel to be made, small shelves and recesses to be created for candles (romantic getaway, you see?) and new taps, shower etc. Then it’s a case of repainting and decorating in there et voila (French for ‘there you have it’, or ‘look what I’ve done’).

But, the pressure’s on now as Hannah & Steve have been told by their landlord (after having given them due notice) that they’re needed out of their house sooner than they wanted to be, as new tenants are due in asap! So, while they have a lovely kitchen and lounge area to enjoy, with a freshly decorated bed too, the bathroom’s like a still from a documentary on Beirut in the 70’s! So, what to do in times of stress? Revert to typically English type and have a cuppa tea, and write a ‘blog!

Actually, that brings me back to why I started this ‘blog in the first place. Apples. We have four apple trees here. One’s mature, around six years old, we think, and the others were newly planted just last year. In previous years, the mature one’s given us fruit you could count the numbers of on two hands, and the odd foot thrown in. This year, it went mad! Hundreds of crisp, red, juicy apples.

Apples in the autumn sunlight.

Apples in the autumn sunlight.

So. Having so many leads to a problem. We couldn’t sell them as we live in a predominantly apple-growing area, so everyone has apples!

Thank goodness for t’interweb thingy. After searching, it appears there are a million and one things to do with your excess apples. Cider, obviously is a popular choice. As is apple juice. For that though, a press is essential. Actually, I have a press. Or rather, I did have a press. Syb decided it’d make a great planter for all things geranium. We argued, and even put it to the vote amongst guests. She won. The superb little press sits in our garden, stuffed full of nasturtiums at the moment. I’d even made new legs from an old oak beam to replace the rotted, worm-eaten old ones. I’d even made a handle for the press from a lump of seasoned pine! Why? Why did I grease the screw thread, and rub down all the pressing blocks? So that I could store them away somewhere while the thing was planted up and made to look ‘charming’, that’s why!

So, the choice is to either take out all the plants and use the thing as was intended, or forget the cider. Or the fresh apple juice. I’ll maybe take out the plants another time, eh? I have enough to do just now.

Jam’s a popular choice it seems, and it so happens that Steve’s grandma has a recipe that she’s passed on to Steve, and he in turn to Syb. We tasted a jar given to us by Steve’s grandma and it was delicious. After ‘Tweeting’ about said jam, I was asked by a few people for the recipe. Given that Twitter is restricted to just 140 characters, it would have taken a week to post it there, and been lost in amongst the Britney videos, ‘inspiring’ quotes for the day, and ways to make a million dollars in three minutes. So, I thought it’d be better placed here. That was the reason for this ‘blog. But, ‘comme d’habitude’, I seem to have been sidetracked. It happens in real life too. At the moment, I’m meant to be returning to Hannah’s place to pick up the next load of ‘stuff’ (she’s 20, Christ alone knows how she’s managed to collect so much crap) and to bring it back here, along with my grand-dog, Bill. So, here we are again. Bill’s a spaniel, named after a famous French cartoon dog…remember? Good. Here’s the jam recipe.

Please let me know if you do make it, and what you think.

With grateful thanks to Steve’s grand-mère.

Preparation: 20 mins (yeah right…)

Cooking time: 40 mins

Ingredients: (Makes 4 pots of 350g)

1.2kg peeled apples

Citron juice

1kg of sucre de confiture (jam sugar)

2 sachets of sucre de vanille (vanilla sugar)

2 BIG spoons of Calvados! (If you don’t know what this is, please leave the kitchen now!)

2 small spoons of cinnamon powder.

Preparation:

Peel apples and cut into very small cubes. Place in a bowl.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into the bowl of apple pieces.

Add the jam sugar and the vanilla sugar, mixing together with a wooden spoon.

Add the cinnamon and Calvados.

Place the mix in a pan, on a low light, bringing to the boil, and leave to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place the boiling jam into pots, place screw top lids on the pots, and turn upside down for 5 minutes. This sterilises the pots.

After 5 minutes of upside-down-ness, turn them back the right way up and leave to cool.

Can be eaten the next day, or placed in a cool, dark room (cave) for later!

Here’s some she made earlier…

Confiture pomme

Confiture pomme

Lovely autumn colours and flavour!

Lovely autumn colours and flavour!

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Well dear readers, the day finally arrived when I started the fire in the bread oven that would eventually burn hot enough to burn the soot from the vault and gradually turn the whole thing white hot. This is the point at which you know your oven is hot enough to cook.
Pizzas at this temperature take a matter of seconds to turn into molten rock, so you have to keep a fairly good eye on them. Croissants take nano seconds! So, it’s really no use placing them on a tray in the oven, walking back to the house for the camera and back to the oven (30 seconds) expecting them to resemble those on the shelves down at our boulangers. No. You’d find the charred remains of lumps of dough, about to spontaneously combust in extreme temperatures.


So, careful oven management is a pre-requisite of firing up irresponsibly large fires!

The fire was massive. Contained as it was within the vault, it was nontheless a scary, scary fire to witness. Sometimes the flames would belch out of the doorway (singed my eyebrows) or leap up the chimney in a bid for freedom. It was fantastic to watch, and I just kept piling the logs on. Hence the singed eyebrow!

The tell-tale signs were that the heat was such that the bricks of the inner archway were becoming ‘clean’ again. The layers of soot built up by subsequent small to medium curing fires were gradually being eaten by the ravenous flames. When I got close enough to actually see ‘up’ into the vault, there appeared to be patches of ‘clear’ brickwork. No soot. So, taking this as a sign from the god of bread ovens, I just kept whacking the logs on! The heat was intense. At this point, it’s a given that you’ve acheived something in the region of 1000°F. Now, I’m thick at maths, so I got bored with subtracting my shoe size, dividing by my mother’s age and multiplying by a factor of Pi r squared to the ratio of 7.658. So I Googled a temperature converter, and found that my oven was cracking out in the region of 538°C. Proper number!


No surprise then that what should have been tasty, lightly browned croissants were in fact a mass of carbonised dust.
I pushed the embers and the still burning logs to the back and sides of the oven, and sat back to wait for them to stop burning, and start glowing.
The roof of the vault was revealed in the light of the flames. It was marvelous to see. All my hard work of the past couple of weeks was revealed as a lovely brick igloo, glowing white hot with the sparks and the occasional flame rising to lick the roof. Truly an amazing feeling, having created something from scratch that will (hopefully) provide us with food (not to mention warmth) for a while to come. I now know how Gérard, our neighbour feels when he fires up his large family oven. It’s a feeling of power, certainly. Of controlling the elements, and bending it to your will. But it’s also a very soothing and calming thing too. To simply sit and watch the fire dance for me is very soporific, and once or twice I stopped myself from succumbing to the mesmerising effect of the flames and the heat. Long enough to chuck another log on!

There are a couple of very small points of escape for the heat, but at this stage I’m grateful for them as the heat was escaping as steam. Rather it found a way out naturally, without cracking the bricks or the outer layers. Once all the moisture has gone, I’ll fill in around the base with a little fire cement.

We have lots of guests in the next few weeks and we’re hoping to try the pizza recipes out on a few willing guinea pigs, ready for the spring and summer of 2009. We think they’ll go down a treat! Especially if they look like these….


That was my first calzone. Perfect with a beer on a warm afternoon!


And that was my first ‘proper’ pizza! Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

I’m also going to have a chat with Bruno, our boulanger friend to pick his brains about dough for fouée. That has to be on the cards, as it’s just simply delicious.

Although this wasn’t a particularly hard build, it ranks up there at the top as one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. If anyone wants the design, quantities and associated costs (for France) then let me know, and I’ll gladly send them on. If anyone wants any help to build one, again, just let me know!

Because I’ve built this oven, and we’ll be cooking regularly with it, I wanted one of those pizza peel things. You know, the flat shovel affair with the long handle (saves on singed eyebrows) to place your pizza in the heart of the oven.

So, off I trots onto e-Bay. I stopped by one of the ‘sponsored links’ pages, a company in the UK specialising in stuff like this to the catering trade. I saw exactly what I needed at just £10! So, I clicked on it to order, but no postage details to France from the UK. I e-mailed, then called the company based in Oldham to enquire as to what the total would be delivered.

Imagine my shock when I got an e-mail back quoting £54 ex. VAT just for posting the peel? So the whole thing would cost me £64 PLUS VAT! I sent them an e-mail back to say I thought that was a tad excessive. I begrudge paying that amount to post something worth only a tenner! The reply? That was the best they could quote after searching around. Sorry.

So, back to eBay and again to one of the shops there, this time based in Germany. No problem, the peel’s on it’s way this morning (just had confirmation). The peel was €13.50, and the postage was €12.50!

Is it that these companies trying to export to Europe are held to ransom by excessive transport/postal charges? Whatever it is, I wonder how much potential trade is lost per year? Just a thought.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Since we spoke last, I’ve been very hard at work with my latest little project – the bread oven. It’s taken shape quite nicely and today we spent a nice hour or so sat in front of it, watching the first of many ‘curing’ fires licking the roof and belching smoke out of the chimney! Sad eh? It reminded us both of the first time my mam got a front loading washing machine, and we all sat there mesmerised by the laundry being spun this way and that. We don’t do that anymore though.

Anyway, these curing fires are small-ish ones which are lit to drive out any moisture within the build. It’s working really well too. There’s evidence on the parpaings (breeze blocks) that water’s been squeezed out of the béton refractaire base that everything else sits on. Only a couple more days and I’ll be ready to light ‘the BIG one’ in there. This one is the one that burns off all the soot that’s vgathered on the roof of the dome. The dome then turns white, as it’s literally white hot – around 500°C! Then it’s ready to cook!

Here’s a few pics of the construction as it developed.

There’s more….

All we have left to do now is sand back, stain & varnish the wooden surround to hide the béton refractaire layer, then paint the parpaings with crepi. There’s a chapeau to be made for the chimney, just in case it rains while the bread-making process is underway!

All in all, I’m very, very pleased with the way it’s turned out! If you’re visiting us anytime, then pizzas and fresh fouée may well be on offer!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Well. After all the excitement of seeing those bread ovens in action over the past few weeks – the one at the vide grenier on Sunday, plus the one at the wine fair in Saumur – I had to get cracking on one of my own! I decided in the end not to bother with buying a ready-made one stuck on the back of a trailer, but opted instead to go for building one of our very own here at Le Chant. I told you I was trawling t’Internet looking for inspiration? Well, I found it. I Googled a website which is the first I’ve seen that details not only the plans used, but also the costs involved. So, many thanks to Marsu. Check out his site here. Ok, so the costs were for a four constructed in May/June of 2005, but actually, when I did some comparisons with my DIY bibles (Bricoman, Brico Depot & Leroy Merlin catalogues) the costs are even cheaper these days!

So – onwards and upwards! I already have much of the required materials strewn around the place, so that makes it a little cheaper still!

I’ll keep you all informed as to progress with pictures, don’t worry. I hope to be firing it up for the first time in a few weeks (or sooner) if possible.

Here’s a few pics just to whet your appetite! The first one’s as I was ‘dry building’ the walls to get an idea of scale etc. The old bricks on the front of the pillar are hand-made terre cuit briques from last century, we think. They’re lying around the place here so I cleaned them up to add them in as a feature to match the arch I’ll build for the mouth of the oven.


The second one was taken as I’d finished and checked everything for square and level. It’s bang on!


And this one’s to give an idea of where it’ll stand in relation to the bbq’s.

And the ones below are what the finished project will resemble. It isn’t big, but right for the space I have available for it. It’s situated on the ‘lean-to’ end of our old barn. It’s where we hold our twice-weekly meals on site in the high season. There are 2 stone bbq’s for guests to use there too, which will eventually form part of the feature.

So this area should form a very nice social ‘hub’ to the place when completed in a few weeks. It already proved very popular this summer after we completed the new roof!

Our Hannah’s boyfriend Steve’s spent the evening with us tonight. We fed him for the first time. We’re not exactly sure what he thought of the meal – one of Syb’s ‘concoctions’ that sprang from nowhere, using just whatever was to hand as we’ve been really busy today. He’s a chef you see. Quite a good one too, so Syb was a bit alarmed when Hannah said they’d be stopping for tea after spending the afternoon clothes shopping together in Angers. Panic! Still, it all turned out ok, and the pumpkin potato mushroom pasta chicken thingy went down a treat!

Steve even had seconds, though we think he was just being polite! I also tried to get his expert opinion on my bread oven, being French and all that. I could see he was impressed by the way his eyes glazed over and rolled into the back of his head as I explained how it’d work. To be fair, I can just imagine that he was thinking that I’d be asking him for all his best bread & pizza recipes. Oh, I will. I will…..

Anyway, it’s late here. I’m a tired, but happy ex-pat after reading some new reviews of our place on TA after the upset of the other day. It’s absolutely humbling to think that people think enough of this place to want to tell others that it’s actually quite a nice place to spend a holiday. So, on that note.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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A Bad Day!

Anyone who knows us will tell you that we’re friendly, hard-working and sociable people. It’s a struggle at times to make a living here, especially in the current economic climate. We try to improve things for our guests year on year, and we can only do this when time (and more importantly) money allow. We didn’t arrive in France with a bottomless pit of cash to draw on. We sold everything we owned in the UK to fund our dream, and then we took out a mortgage to take up the shortfall. A not inconsiderable shortfall. Things had to be prioritised. Firstly, we needed to convert our grenier into living accommodation for the family. Then we set about trying to improve the facilities here at Le Chant. We’r constantly doing that too. To the point that we ourselves go without, (ask our kids!) to ensure that our guests don’t. We believe that’s a good way to build our business, and set it on a firm footing so that we can spend the rest of our lives here.

Why am I telling you all this? Really, just to let you know how some small-minded people think it’s ok to undo years of hard work, of patience in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds. It’s one thing to have a dream. It’s another thing entirely to be able to maintain it. When we see reviews online that are dated from 2006, but appeared only yesterday, and detail something that we simply do not recognise as our home and business, we get deeply upset. I personally feel right now like throwing in the towel. I’m sat typing this with my wife at my side. Both of us in shock really.

I’m sorely tempted to ask Trip Advisor to remove the latest review, but then I understand that we have to get over it. We don’t mind constructive criticism here, and have taken on board many, many times what folks have said. It’s improved the place no end, and in the process we’ve had guests turn up time & time again. Often bringing friends and family here on subsequent visits. Indeed, many have become friends to us. So, at times like these, after yet another very busy season, one full of laughter and returning friends, it’s sad to think that these words could do us so much damage.

I’m not going to name these awful people, but suffice to say they weren’t typical of our usual friendly, fantastic guests. We’re grateful for that at least. We truly hope that their own business is strong enough to withstand such personal and blatantly false attacks.

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Bonjour!

It feels like ages since I last apologised for not updating the ‘blog! Indeed it is, June 23rd was the last time. Apologies then, but we really have had a very, very busy summer. It still is busy, but with the regulars having left Le Chant d’Oiseau on Saturday the dynamics have changed slightly. We still have some lovely guests here, but the ones we know well have left until next year, but the e-mails and ‘phone calls telling us how much they’ve enjoyed yet another holiday here are still coming in, and they’re keeping us fueled with enthusiasm for now!

Our anniversary party is fast becoming a social ‘must’, with more & more of our French friends joining in the fun & games as well as English ex-pat friends and guests too. We now have a throng of returning guests who make a point of ensuring their holidays span over the 5th August – our ‘official’ birthday. Our summer holidays are usually excellent, but made even more so by the fact that we ourselves now haunt the gate, and the driveway for signs of our friends arriving to spend yet another two (or even three) weeks in the sun with us. It’s still full-on hard work for Syb & I, but it’s made fun because we’re surrounded by guests who’ve become good friends over the past three years. So, it was with a heavy heart, and a tear in the eye that we said ‘au revoir’ to our lovely ‘Boomerang Gang’ this year as we set off early on Saturday morning to drive to Chartres, where I’d been asked to be the official photographer at a wedding at the Chateau d’Esclimont! Sounds grand, eh? Well – it is! The wedding went well, the weather was stunning, the setting was breathtaking and the guests were all up for the occasion! It seemed strange in a way that it was us leaving our guests behind. Normally, we open the gates for them and wave them off back to blighty. This time, we were on the receiving end of the waves and cries of ‘see you next year’ instead. It served as a reminder of why we don’t leave this place very often at all!

Anyway, our party was a great success with all our guests mingling and attempting communication. One highlight was Syb being driven around the campsite on the pillion of Bruno’s (our boulanger friend) quadbike! I managed not to get a picture, but did manage to get a couple of Hannah having a go after! I made what has become a customary speech to the assembled throng in French first, then reverted to English to say the same to our English guests. There was much hilarity when I finished my French speech and begun in English…Apparently, many of our guests were mesmerised by my command of this beautiful language, and they were struck by the stark differences in ‘accents’. You see, my French accent is, well…French I suppose, but my English one is true Yorkshire! A bit of a culture shock for many! Still, at least our lovely French friends and neighbours appreciated my efforts. They understood most of it too!

The evening progressed well into the wee hours, and the last guests to arrive – after the party had finished and we were in the kitchen tidying up, were Isabel & Arnaud, our other boulanger friends. They’d been out for a family meal that evening, and were due to leave the next morning for a well-deserved holiday, but still thought to come & say hello, and bring us a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a great bottle of red! They stayed chatting with us for an hour in the kitchen, sat around the table, until the kids started yawning. So, we polished off the cognac, bade farewell and went to bed, happy at being here for another year, with the prospect of another year to come. We’re already making plans for the 4th Anniversary Party. If you want to come & see for yourself what we have lined up, you’d better book early as spaces are going fast!

We had some friends over from the UK during that same period of time and they came to each and every meal we cooked. You may know that during the season, Syb cooks for everyone on site twice weekly. Gite guests and campers alike sit around, eat good home-cooked food, drink good wine and have a laugh and a chat with their fellow holidaymakers. This year’s been no exception, and many friendships have been forged under the canvas of our two gazebo’s erected in the old barn for this purpose. Well, the barn’s undergone several transformations in this past year. Firstly, the gazebo’s went up. They looked lovely. Then this spring, after the ravages of the busy summer last year, I decided to lay a permanent tiled floor using the tommettes we salvaged from our loft when we converted it into our bedrooms. That made everything so much easier, and fitted right in with the look & feel of the place. We had some fairly strong winds last year, ripping the canvas roofs of the gazebo’s. I’ve repaired them a few times quite successfully, but the gales we had a few weeks ago put paid to any further repair work – they were completely shredded! So, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make a new roof from materials easily bought from Bricoman! I was gobsmacked to say the least at the offers of help coming in from our campers left & right. Everyone got stuck in, building, cutting, sawing, hammering and drilling. In just two days – or 13 hours, we created a fully waterproof, solid continuous roof which looks absolutely perfect. Not only that but also a lean-to for to cover our two barbeques too! So – in the face of such generosity, what can be done? A barn-raising party perhaps? This has been a fortnight to end all fortnights. So much laughter, cameraderie and generosity of spirit has rarely been seen. Despite the heat, our friends and guests were happy to contribute as much or as little as they felt comfortable with and the result is an area we’re proud to have here at Le Chant!

In fact, this ‘blog should be dedicated to the following people, without whom Le Chant d’Oiseau wouldn’t be quite the place it is now. So, in no particular order – a BIG shout of thanks goes to:

Joe, David, Andy, Jon, Doc, Tony, Dan & Marquey. Our sincere thanks to all of you for your friendship and your effort!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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