Letters from London

I love receiving letters. I love receiving parcels even more. Since moving to France we have received more parcels than we ever used to receive in London. Granted most of them are from my mum! (Usually containing our favourite magazines!) Reuben received his birthday presents in the mail and we had a nice housewarming gift sent to us in the Summer.


I have a wonderful friend in London who recently sent me Sania Pell's beautiful craft book 'The Homemade Home for Children'. I already had Pell's 'The Homemade Home' and had been lusting after the children's book for a while. Her photography is stunning and the craft projects are inspiring. I've already picked out a couple of projects I would like to do, a height board and a clay car garland (based on a butterfly garland in the book) for the boys' bedroom. I will also be saving any magazines I come across and looking for suitable stones to make alphabet pebbles.

Have you received any interesting post recently?

Becky x
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Chestnut festival in Laguépie

Is that a conker or a sweet chestnut? Would you be able to tell them apart? It's only recently that we have been able to recognise the subtle difference between the two. Sweet chestnuts started to appear in the markets about a month ago. On a recent drive back to our village we foraged along the roadside for our first batch which we roasted in our wood burner. My memories of eating sweet chestnuts are on Bonfire Night and on cold winter days at Christmas markets. One of my favourite Christmas songs starts with the line 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...' I don't find them particularly appetising but as they're all around us at the moment we're embracing them!


Laguépie is a village that sits comfortably where two rivers meet and every year they hold a popular Foire à la Châtagne, Sweet Chestnut Festival. We were greeted on arrival by pumpkins! A fun display of pumpkins and squashes all shapes and sizes. I had my eye on the larger ones for Halloween carving and Reuben picked out a couple of small ones to display at home. We wandered through the market and came across chestnut honey, cakes being cooked on a spit, beautiful birdhouses (see picture below), colourful pottery (which I resisted), fresh oysters and clogs. There was an aerial assault course and outdoor games for the children to play with and a bar, suitably placed in the middle of the market, for the grown ups!

And then we found the chestnuts...

There were chestnuts being turned and roasted in large wire barrels over hot fire. There were chestnuts to buy by the kg, varying in price depending on size. We bought 3kg which were weighed out for us with traditional scales. We have plans for sweet chestnut purée in time for Christmas, but do pass on any good chestnut recipes if you have them. 

On the walk back to the car we came across what I can only describe as Maypole dancers, though I'm sure they are called something else in France. Men and women in traditional costumes danced around a pole with ribbons held up by a lady in the middle and accompanied by two accordions. We watched them until they finished their dance and allowed the boys to take in the music and performance before them. It was a lovely end to another festival that I'm sure we will return to next year.

What seasonal festivals have you been attending lately?

Becky x

Find more pictures from the Laguépie Foire à la Châtagne on our Facebook page
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Cette semaine...


1. I baked my very first Viennese whirls
2. I caught the boys having a moment of brotherly love
3. I received this beautiful book from a wonderful friend in London
4. We picked and were given more figs, and made round 2 of fig jam
5. I got new slippers in the post (thanks mum!)
6. The boys had great fun washing the car!

Becky x


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Brotherly love


Caught in the act! A rare moment of brotherly love. They were sat on the doorstep bonding over the tractor that was passing our door every two minutes. Reuben put his arm round Jacob and said 'you're so kind to me Jacob' and gave him a kiss!

Becky x
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An afternoon baking Viennese whirls


When an email comes through inviting you to an afternoon of biscuit making what can you do but accept! Despite half term having only just begun I abandoned Andrew and the boys for an afternoon with the promise of a box of biscuits on my return. My biscuit making attempts in the past have been pretty basic. I may have 'The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits' on my shelf, but so far Reuben has a distant memory of making Halloween biscuits last year, and his other favourites are 'Fig and Fudge' biscuits from the 'I Can Cook' CBeebies cookbook (which we have made...a lot!) Seven of us attended the bake off hosted by Glynis, a fellow expat and experienced baker who has her own cake business here in France. We each chose a biscuit recipe and I picked the Viennese whirl. Little did I know that this was one of the more challenging recipes, with a cooked buttercream and use of a piping bag. I could have chosen chocolate bourbons, ginger nuts, iced rings, custard creams, or jammy dodgers. The Viennese whirl happened to be the sheet in front of me and one of Andrew's favourite biscuits so I thought I'd give it a go!


I was advised to start by making my cooked buttercream. This involved heating milk and flour to create a thick roux like mixture, and then leaving it to cool whilst I made my biscuits. Mixing the ingredients together was straightforward but having to use a piping bag with a stripe of pink gel was a challenge. The mixture was thick and my biscuits ended up all slightly different sizes, but the pink stripe made them look very pretty, even when uncooked. Whilst my biscuits were baking and cooling I finished off the buttercream by creaming together butter, sugar and vanilla, and then mixing together with the cooled 'roux'. The result was a very very creamy filling which although required a little extra work was well worth it. Assembling the two halves with jam and buttercream was a little fiddly, especially as the whirls were so delicate a few cracked on top.


I may be biased here as they were my biscuits but they tasted devine! So creamy and the biscuit just melted in your mouth. We all got to taste each others with tea and coffee on the side, and take a box home. Reuben and Jacob were straight in there with the jammy dodgers and iced rings. Andrew immediately put the Viennese whirls in a separate box, for later!

What have you been baking this week?

Becky x

There are lots of Viennese whirl recipes online and here is a good cooked buttercream recipe
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Monster mobiles


 

As Halloween approaches we're getting crafty with the boys and have recently had fun making these monster mobiles. I got the idea from Pinterest where you can find a whole load of Halloween craft ideas. To make these all you need are toilet roll holders, paint, coloured paper for the mouth, and something to make the eyes and arms out of. You can use googly eyes and pipe cleaners for the more professional look but we just used paper. Paint the rolls in your chosen colour and wait for it to dry before sticking on eyes and a mouth cut out of coloured paper. Reuben went for a more friendly monster with smiley face than a scary one. If you're using pipe cleaners make two holes through either side to push the pipe through, otherwise cut and stick your arms (and in Reuben's case legs!) onto the roll. We used ribbon to hang our monsters up.

Happy Halloween crafting!

Becky x
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Tractomania!


As a mum of two boys I have accepted the fact that I won't be splashing out on a beautiful dolls house, or taking them to ballet classes. I'm trying very hard to learn to love 'rough play' (it's important for their learning of boundaries) and even when they are not around I notice every train, plane, and motorcycle that passes me by. Living in the countryside tractors have become part of daily life, they're in the fields, on the roads, and on occasion drive past our house. Jacob screams with excitement every time he sees one and so when I saw the above 'Tractomania' event advertised I knew we had to go.


On arriving at the market square in Caussade we were immediately greeted with a display of beautifully shiny classic cars. Jacob exploded with screams of 'wow, wow, wow' and wriggled to be let free from his pushchair. There were cars on display, cars for sale, tractors new and old, and an old steam train which every so often let out a very loud 'whoo whoo'. There were car bonnets being opened and 'oohs' and 'ahs' from those (mostly men) standing round, and motors in motion gathering lots of attention. An aeroplane propeller caught Reuben's eye and we got an insight into the inner workings as we watched it turn round...and round. For those of you who worried about the health and safety of our boys when I posted a photo on Instagram recently of Andrew showing them how to light a fire, here there was an 8 year old blacksmith giving a demonstration in forging iron.


We looked around and thinking that was it headed off to find a quiet spot for a picnic lunch, and that was when we stumbled across the 'mania' in Tractomania. Stall upon stall of...stuff. Tractor parts, lights, bulbs, wheels (small and giant), tools, nuts and bolts, some new, some vintage. Some amazing old rideable toy cars and tractors that I kept steering the boys away from as the one Reuben did see he wanted straight away. We then we reached the tractors on auction, ready to be bought for use or added to a collection. By this point it was still lunchtime so most of the stall holders were sat with friends having a meal, huge sausages were being cooked on a BBQ, and bottles of wine were being opened.


The event was a good start to the Toussaint two week break, and being in a farming area it is obvious that an event like this draws in a good local crowd as well as those from afar. I may not have been too fussed about the tractors but I did love seeing the vintage cars. Andrew had a good look around the stalls and had his eye on a few chainsaws for all the Winter wood that needs chopping. The boys loved it and I'm sure it won't be our last Tractomania experience!

Becky x

Like our Facebook page to see more pictures from the day including Reuben's favourite tractor!
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Cette Semaine...


1. Andrew gave the boys a lesson in how to light a fire
2. We made monster mobiles ready for Halloween
3. I taught my first English lesson to French 7-9 year olds at the Chambre de Commerce in Cahors
4. I finished sewing my Wiksten tank dress
5. We sneaked a coffee after Villefranche market whilst Jacob slept and took in the river view
6. We took the boys to Tractomania! (think tractors, old cars, motors, antique tractor parts...)

Schools in France broke up this week for the Toussaint holiday so we're planning lots of trips out and about over the next two weeks!

Becky x
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Sewing the Wiksten Tank

It's only taken a move to France for me to get my sewing machine out, and even then to date it's been sporadically. But I've made a start, and I have an allocated spot in the loft as my sewing space (alongside Andrew's music set up, the spare bed for guests, and anything we haven't managed to find a space for in the house yet!) which just needs beautifying!

Andrew bought me my first sewing machine a good few years ago now. I had just read 'The Gentle Art of Domesticity' by Jane Brocket and had dreams of making quilts for the family that would be passed down through the generations. I have yet to make my first quilt, but I have had a go at a cushion, a doorstop, some bunting, Christmas decorations, and other items that sneak their way around the house. It can be daunting when you first start sewing, but I've learnt you really just have to have a go and not worry about that wonky seam (of which I have lots!)

This summer I've had my aunt staying next door who, as the only other sewer in the family I know of, is slowly passing on her wealth of sewing knowledge and giving me the confidence to get making. After watching the Great British Sewing Bee last year I've decided there are only so many cushions a home can have and I want to start making my own clothes. I'm starting as simple as I can (no zips or buttons for me...yet.) I came across this pattern for the Wiksten Tank and thought it would make a good project as only beginner sewing levels were required. I bought the pattern online, downloaded the PDF, printed it out, then proceeded to take up as much floor space as I could cutting and sticking the pattern together.

I then managed to get as far as cutting out my fabric, lovely linen bought from John Lewis, but struggled with the first part of the instructions, mainly due to fear of getting it wrong. Sewing instructions often seem like another language to me, so a lesson from my aunt at the kitchen table was needed to get me started sewing my seams. The real challenge for me with this pattern was the bias binding, but only because it was something I had not done before. Another quick lesson sewing the neckline gave me the confidence to finish the armholes and here it is...


The pattern can be used to make either a dress or a top. I started with the dress, though I would call it a very long top as it's quite short on me. I have some lovely fabric from Ray Stitch (one of my favourite fabric shops in London) which I will be using to try the top pattern. I can see myself using this pattern a lot for a simple summer top that's quick and easy to make. I thoroughly recommend the pattern if you're a beginner sewer.

Are you a sewer? What have you been sewing recently? Do you have any good patterns to share?

Becky x
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Parisot Literary Festival

Anyone who lives in a small village will know that there are times when you really do wonder if there is anyone out there. It can be so quiet it feels like you're the only one in the world, especially now the days are getting colder and people retreat into the warmth of their houses. There are however also times when it feels like we're back in the middle of London (almost...not really...but you can see what I'm getting at!) The car park is full, there are people milling around, and there is a general buzz because something is happening. This weekend was one of those weekends, as our village held its first literary festival, the 'Festival Litteraire de Parisot'.

The weekend was a mixture of talks and workshops by French and English authors. There was an illustration workshop for children, dinner with the authors, and an exhibition of 60 years of 'Livre de Poche' (literally translated as 'the Pocket Book'.) Looking at the programme I picked out a few events that I wanted to attend and on a very wet Saturday morning I headed off to the salle des fêtes where Maree Giles, an award winning Australian author was giving a presentation of her book 'Invisible Thread'.

Maree's story was pretty powerful. The book is based on her real life experience in Australia, where after leaving home at 16 she was arrested for living a life in 'moral danger'. She was sentenced to time in Parramatta Girl's Home, a notorious juvenile detention centre, where girls were stripped of all dignity, offered no schooling, and were made to carry out menial labour intensive tasks such as laundry and scrubbing floors. The atmosphere was one of fear and punishments were harsh. Girls who were pregnant had their babies taken away at birth for the adoption market, leaving them emotionally scarred, unable to deal with not being able to see their own child.

'Invisible Thread' was written at a time when people did not yet know the truth about Parramatta and the victims of forced adoption. The book thus contributed to an apology by the Australian government to 'The Forgotten Australians' as they are now known. I must admit this was all pretty intense for a Saturday morning, but it highlighted an issue that I was previously unaware of, and I would like to read the book to learn more.

The second author I saw was Amanda Hodgkinson who gave a talk and read excerpts from her novel '22 Britannia Road'. I instantly recognised the cover of this book, thinking I had seen it on my Mum's bookshelf, though it may be because I worked in Waterstones for a year! A wartime novel set around the Second World War, the story centres around a Polish husband, wife, and child, who after 6 years apart are trying to live a 'normal' life together in England. They each have their own issues to come to terms with and having listened to Amanda read snippets this is another book on my reading list. Amanda also talked about her writing process which was insightful as it's always interesting to hear the process behind the writing of a book. She often sees images first which inspire her to start writing, and she doesn't write with a beginning, middle, and end, but allows the words to flow and take her on a journey which seems like a wonderful way to write.

The final event I attended on the Sunday was a canapé demonstration and tasting session by Anne Dyson, the founder of the Greedy Goose Cookery school in Ambeyrac, France. Anne showed us how simple canapés could be as she whipped up a beetroot and wasabi mousse, choux buns with tuna and mayonnaise, cheese straws and anchovy twists, and foie gras sandwiched between figs, prunes and apricots. With a birthday coming up at the end of November I now have ideas of how to feed my guests! I also came away with some good cooking tips:
  • always use the stalks of parsley (I don't know why but up until now I have always used the leaves and thrown the stalks away)
  • why use a small pastry brush when a large paintbrush (from your local DIY store) does the job just as well
  • roast (rather than boil) beetroot as you retain the colour and flavour
The weekend was inspiring and I hope that the overall festival was a success as it would be fantastic if it returned next year. If it does I might let Andrew attend some of the events as I left him to entertain the boys whilst I discovered the joys of writing, caught up with friends, and enjoyed tea and cake in the médiathèque! Along with our annual art festival all that our village needs now is a music festival...any takers?!

Becky x

P.S. If anyone has read any other good books recently do comment and let us know.
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Cette semaine...


1. We visited the beautiful town of Cordes-sur-Ciel...
2. and the towering Château in Najac
3. Andrew made apple sauce
4. We went foraging for sweet chestnuts...
5. and roasted them in our fire! (Yes just like the Christmas carol)
6. Our village held its first literary festival

Becky & Andrew x
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Najac and the Château fort

I've decided that when I retire I want to live here...


The beauty of Najac hits you before you even arrive as it can be seen through the trees on the drive there. (Unless you're the driver of course as the narrow windy roads and sheer drop into the valley force you to keep your eyes on the road!) The town is built around one street upon a long narrow ridge, with a château at the top of one end. Developed in the 11th century many of the houses still reflect an old French style. It's like going back in time and makes you think about how people used to live and the history of the town.


One of the things I'm discovering about living here is that after the summer madness, towns like Najac change dramatically. The streets are empty, many of the shops are closed, and on market days the stalls are fewer. There will be the odd tourist wandering around with a camera, but otherwise you catch a glimpse into what true French life in these towns is like. I love it! It's so nice to be able to walk around and take pictures without hundreds of people in the background. It's great for the boys as they are free to explore without having to be kept too close. As Autumn advances the colour changes of the scenery are beautiful.

Najac, however, is not for the faint hearted. You start at the car park at the top and are deceived by the nice gentle stroll past the Office de Tourisme. You then start the long slow descent into the heart of the town. As you walk down the château rises and towers above you. You reach a viewing spot (great for pictures of the surrounding hills) and then you have to decide whether to go all the way up to the château, which I'm warning you now is an even steeper climb than if you were to decide to just turn around and go back. Andrew thinks I'm exaggerating at this point but I'm not going to lie. I was pretty breathless by the time I got to the top, and I consider myself to be quite fit, even though I do absolutely no exercise whatsoever other than run after two little boys for most of the day! But I thoroughly recommend that you carry on as a visit to the château is well worth it. Reuben loved it. 'The flag is up, that means the Queen is in,' was his first remark. Jacob loved it. We had to hold him back numerous times as he tried to scramble up the walls to see what was on the other side (a very steep drop into the valley!) Once inside the château you can explore the ruin. The highlights were discovering a secret passageway, and climbing to the very top up a very narrow winding staircase. I held onto Reuben's hand very tightly and Andrew panted his way up carrying Jacob, who sympathetically panted along with him thinking it was some kind of game! Here the views really are amazing.


Even if the château is not your thing there is so much more to discover around Najac. There's camping, water sports such as canoeing and kayaking, cycling, walking, rock climbing, even paintballing. Check out this site for more details of what is on offer. I can't wait to take Reuben tree climbing! And dare I say it...we might actually try a new canoeing location next year!

Becky x
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Flower power

Over the summer we were given a very important job. Across the road from our house are flowers, that up until now have been kept beautifully by a neighbour who lives down the road. However, the watering can has become a bit too heavy for her to carry every evening, and as the flowers are across the road from us, would we mind looking after them? We couldn't really say no. Reuben took the responsibility very seriously. He knew the time of day they had to be watered and he and Jacob would pick their watering can before making numerous trips to the sink for 'more water mummy.'

Flowers in the village are a very serious affair. Outside most houses are beautiful displays that even in October are currently in full bloom. Outside our house our first attempt at flower keeping has failed miserably, even our lavender died. So this weekend we headed to St Antonin, where as well as their usually Sunday market they had 'Jardin Noble Val' a plant and garden fair.


We could have got carried away very easily! There were some beautiful plants and some lovely ornaments for the garden. The boys had their eye on some wind chimes and ladybirds made from painted bronze. There were lots of perennials, herbs, cacti, fruit trees, and more, but we were on the lookout for plants that might survive the winter in the pots outside our house that we wouldn't have to keep replacing.


We ended up with Liriope spicata, a perennial with grass like foliage that currently has flowers that look like lavender, and two varieties of Sedum.

We have a small garden away from the house that we are currently preparing for the winter. We have big vegetable planting plans (in a small space!) and Andrew is drawing up designs for a chicken coop. The plant fair put me in the mood for finishing the hard graft in the garden whilst the sun was still shining and we spent an afternoon with family and friends digging up a huge tree root and turning over soil ready for planting a lawn.

How do you prepare your garden for winter? What are you're favourite plants? As newbies to gardening we'd love to hear your tips.

Becky x

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Cette semaine...

 
1. We went to Villefranche market and found a whole load of squashes
2. We went to our first children's birthday party here in France
3. We bought some plants from the Jardin Noble Val plant fair
4. Then we dug up this tree root from the garden
5. Reuben chose this book from his school library

Becky & Andrew x
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Have you seen our friends?!

You may have noticed a couple of friends pop up on our sidebar this week. I would like to take a couple of moments to introduce them!

When we first arrived in France we talked to people about advertising our businesses and finding out about what's on in the area. There were two words that almost everyone mentioned...TAG on-line. Computer on we searched for what has now become something we look at on a daily basis. Even my mum follows it back home in London, she often knows what is happening in the area before we do! TAG on-line is the most useful resource we have found for news and views in the local area. On it you can find our businesses Media Man 82 and Mini Monde, as well as other local businesses, we have been interviewed in their Face-to-Face section, they have been kind enough to put a link to our blog on their local blogs page. You can also find gardening tips, restaurant reviews and so much more. Val who runs the site is a star and you will find her daily musings amisdt the posts of local info. I thoroughly recommend checking out the site if you are in the area, or even if you're just interested in finding out what is happening in the Tarn, Aveyron, and Tarn-et-Garonne areas of South West France!

One of the great surprises about blogging and social media has been the 'virtual friends' from different parts of the world that I have been getting to know. One of these new 'friends' is Clare who writes the family and lifestyle blog Maybush Studio from her home in Sussex, UK. Clare is an experienced blogger, and like me a wife, mother, and enthusiastic sewer. Throughout the month of October you will find her badge on our sidebar so do click and have a look at her inspiring blog!



If you are interested in linking up with 'La Famille Brown' do let us know. We now have our very own blog badge (see right) which can be used on your website or blog. Just send us an email and we will send you the link!

Becky x

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Reuben's first French birthday party

This week we experienced our first French children's birthday party. It was for a little girl the same age as Reuben who is in his class at school. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and I wasn't sure what Reuben would think of the whole experience. In the past he has been a bit funny about large groups of children and group activities. Luckily there weren't too many kids at this party and nothing was expected of him participation wise!
Reuben being pushed by the Birthday Princess!
We arrived...early as usual. We're never quite sure how long it will take us to get to places here so we leave early and always end up arriving on time...way before everyone else. A few other kids arrived, all from Reuben's school, so he was happy to recognise some faces. After a quick play they were ushered to the table where there was a spread of 'bonbons' (banana and Nutella in pastry shaped like sweets,) cannelés (a small French pastry,) and Capri Sun. A cake, made with more Nutella, was brought out and the mother apologised as although the little girl was 4 she only had 3 candles. We sang 'Joyeux Anniversaire' (Andrew hummed and Reuben pretended not to know the words) and then it was present time. The little girl loved our present, a little tea set found in a craft shop in Cahors, and it went very well with her chef hat and apron that she received from someone else. She proceeded to give everyone little cups of tea until another girl broke one of the spoons and it was put away to be glued back together.

Reuben takes to the mic
The kids were then left to play and they were quite happy on the bikes, singing with the microphone, catching butterflies out of Elefun's trunk. Even Jacob enjoyed being pushed around on a car by older children. I was impressed with Reuben's socialising skills, even if he didn't understand anything. Andrew and I tried our best to socialise with the grown ups. We managed to start a few conversations but quickly got lost as we failed to keep up. We left after a couple of hours with two screaming boys who didn't want to leave the party!

Hopefully having attended the party it will mean a few more nods at the school gate as we will now recognise some parents. We also know how to plan Jacob's party in January (just after everyone has recovered from New Year) and will be stocking up on some jars of Nutella!

Have you been to a birthday party recently?

Becky x
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