Sunday, 31 January 2010

Cool Cats of Cormatin

Following on from the long cat sagas I have written on this blog, we regularly get asked by people who have stayed in the gites or on the campsite what the latest news is on the cat situation. So I thought it was time to give a cat update.

 Little Fifi, the kitten that arrived in the summer, is amazingly still here! Even though we have been away on holiday twice for about two weeks, she has attached herself to the house and to us and has decided to stay. While we were away different sets of people arrived every couple of days to top-up her food and water and to give her a little cuddle. To our relief on both occasions when we returned, there she was sitting in the middle of the courtyard squeaking away (she still hasn’t quite cracked a meow yet).

In October we briefly had a second cat. Some good friends were returning to England and were looking for a home for Charbon a very sweet big black fluffy thing. We have more than enough room, so as long as Fifi and he could get along, he was welcome. The fateful day arrived. Charbon, in his box, was duly introduced to his new playmate. She was not very impressed but apart from a quick hiss she just decided to ignore him. So far so good. Charbon was to be let out of his box and I was to give them both some food so that they could have their first dinner for two. However, the cage had been opened before I came out of the front door with the two plates of food and the dinner bell. All I saw of him was his black fluffy tail as he leapt over the fence into the forest and freedom, too quick for Cees to get a photo and never to be seen again. We have gained and lost a number of cats over the last couple of years, but this was the quickest!

So, this is a message to all you visitors to the area, whether you are in Cormatin, Ameungy, Taizé or Cluny and you see a big black fluffy lost-looking cat that answers to the name of Charbon, let us know and we’ll come and get him. In the meantime Fifi is alone with us again, crawling all over Cees’ shoulders, letting him pretend he is a pirate for a few minutes every day - Long John Silver eat your heart out.

For the other blogs on the cats click here, here and here.

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 25 January 2010

Mulled Wine on a Sunday Afternoon.

Having lived out of England now for about 20 years, I still find one of the joys of living in a foreign country is that things are never what you expect them to be. A couple of days ago we were invited for mulled wine and cake by a neighbour in the village of Chazelle at three o’clock Sunday afternoon. We explained that we might be a bit late as we had a lunch appointment, to which we received a Gallic shrug in return, 3 o’clock, 3 thirty no problem. We duly arrived just after 3 after a dash across the French countryside to find aforementioned neighbour’s house locked up, no dog and no neighbour to be seen. Ummmm... Fortunately Chazelle is not that big a place and so we started to wander around until we found a group of neighbours huddling in a wine cellar near the church, drinking what appeared to be mulled wine. With all the confidence we could muster we followed the noise and went in to find our neighbour serving rather hot mulled wine from large saucepans. There was a large table covered in the traditional cakes for this time of year the Galette des Rois (Kings’ cake) and everyone was busily chatting away and tucking into wine and cake. So what we thought was a quiet visit to a neighbour’s house turned out to be a village party!

 One of Chazelle’s residents is a retired Pâtissier (confectioner) and he of course supplies all the amazing desserts for village parties. He had made the Galettes des Rois for the occasion, beautiful puff pastry pies filled with confectioners custard, very lightly flavoured with almond, nothing like the supermarket cakes which have a heavily flavoured filling that is dense enough to sink a battle ship. But the real excitement about the cake is that there is a “fève” hidden inside it. Fève is just the French word for a broad bean and traditionally a broad bean was put in the cake, but nowadays the fève is a plastic, metal or in our case a porcelain figure roughly the size a of a broad bean.

The person who has the fève in his or her piece of cake is the king for the day. In my best attempt to blend into the background, the last thing I wanted Cees or me to do was find the bean. I spotted the piece it was in and carefully guided Cees not to take that piece, phew! On the next round of cake (there were 8 in total enough to feed about 100 people with only 20 residents in our village) I was too involved in conversation to be careful, and before I could take a bite into the galette, I spotted the bean in my piece, oh no..  too late to put it back on the plate, what should I do? I carefully ate around the fève and delicately put the little figure into my napkin waiting to see if anyone had noticed. No one. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of neighbours surreptitiously putting a figurine on to the serving plate, so whilst no one was watching, mine went that way too.

The galette des Rois is in fact supposed to be served to summon the kings for the Epiphany, so ours was a bit late, but none the less tasty. Originally the cake was divided into as many pieces as the number of guests plus one extra. The extra piece called “God’s piece”, “The Virgin Mary’s piece” or the “piece for the poor” was given to the poor after party. We ended up taking home half a cake so they must think we are very poor!

Just a little bit of trivia, possibly because of the separation of church and state or possibly because the French population don’t want the president being King for any amount of time, etiquette says that the President of France is not allowed to “summon the kings”. Being France of course he can’t miss out on an edible delicacy, so he has a special Galette des Rois delivered to the Elysée Palace every year which has no fève in it. Maybe that is an idea for next year’s party, because during the whole time we were there, no one admitted to having found a fève in their piece of cake!

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 18 January 2010


 At this time of year when you are snowed in, like we have been for the last week, I use the time to try out new recipes and in particular to try and perfect local dishes. The French are big on cheese in all regions but we in Burgundy sadly only have two AOC cheeses, so it is a bit strange that one of the most popular local delicacies is in fact a cheese choux pastry recipe called Gougère.

At an apératif evening the other day I got talking to the local ladies about these lovely little tasty morsels and I ended up with a host of different recipes, handed down from Grand Mère - bien sûr! I've pulled together the essence of all these recipes and here is the result which works quite well I must say.

60ml water
200ml milk
80g butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
140g flour
4 eggs
180g grated cheese (Gruyère is the best)

Heat the milk, water and butter in saucepan gently stirring until the butter is melted and the mixture just comes to the boil. Add salt and pepper and all the flour and stir vigorously until the dough is smooth and comes together in a ball then remove from the heat and allow to rest for a couple of minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time (most important) and mix them in quickly, the mixture does look a bit curdled but it will be OK. Make sure each egg is fully mixed in before adding the next one. You can do this in a food processor, but it is relatively easy by hand. Let the dough (and your arm) rest for about 5 minutes. Add half to two thirds of the cheese and stir it in. Let the dough rest again, this time in the fridge, for about 1 hour. I am told it can be kept covered, at this point, for up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Put rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough on grease-proof baking sheets or baking sheets covered in baking paper. To make more “professional” but boringly uniform gougères, you can use a pastry bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe the dough on to the baking sheet. Scatter with the remaining cheese and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. They should be golden brown.

Homemade gougères are best served warm, and if you are making them in advance, you either prepare them and cook right before your guests arrive, or you can reheat them in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Some people stuff them with cream cheese mixtures, prawns or salmon just to add a bit extra, but I find that homemade ones go soggy if left stuffed and uneaten for too long. So give it a go and just eat them warm, straight from the oven. Bon appétit!

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Le Tour de France

La Tuilerie Website

Winner 1903Le Tour is a national institution if ever there was one. The whole country gets excited as it winds its way through the highways and byways of this great country. The original Tour was done by a group of sixty young men in 1903 who set off on their bikes from Montgeron (just outside Paris) for a six stage 2428 km race round France, but only 21 arrived back in Paris 19 days later. They had no back-up teams, no following trailers, no spare bikes, you feel hungry, you stop and eat the sandwiches which you have prepared yourself that morning, you get a puncture you sit down at the side of the road and fix it, now that is real racing!

In 2009 there were 20 teams of 9 riders travelling 3459.5km spread over 21 stages and 23 days with 156 finishers. These men are supported by huge quantities of people who feed and water them on the move, give them a new bike when they have a puncture or another technical problem, talk to them through ear pieces to tell them to slow down, move forward, pull over what ever the tactics of the moment dictate to make sure that they and their teams come in with the right number of points, not too many and not too few. There are big bucks these days, not just the honour, sad but true.

Tour de FranceLe Tour starts in a different place each year, but for many years has ended in the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The journey is not a continuous one around the roads of France anymore, Le Tour hops and jumps from place to place, sometimes the riders are bussed and sometimes flown between the finish of one day and the start of the next, thus allowing a number of different routes to be chosen each year. But everywhere they go there is a BIG party. Le Tour transforms the French roads and villages it passes through for a brief but exciting moment in time.

Moving Le Tour outside the borders of France was done for the first time in 1954. Le Grand Départ was in Amsterdam and the first stage was from there to Antwerp. This Tour passed through the streets of Delft on July 8th that year where a little Cees had his first view of the circus that surrounds Le Tour. This coming year (2010) Le Tour will have its Grand Départ again in The Netherlands as it sets off from Rotterdam. The so called “Prologue” will be a race around the city itself and the next day (4th July) the first stage will be from Rotterdam to Brussels.

La Tour de France in CormatinTo travel in a circle around France it is almost impossible not to travel through Burgundy. In 2006, Le Tour came to Mâcon and turned the city upside down as the riders raced up and down the main boulevard in a very exciting finish to the 18th stage. In 2007 Le Tour came even closer to us by passing through Cormatin itself in the 6th stage and in 2010 Le Tour will be just down the road starting the 7th stage on July 10th in Tournus. We have some trusty campers who come every year to stay with us when Le Tour is nearby and who knows maybe we will see all of you guys and gals again and possibly some new faithful followers next summer!

La Tuilerie Website

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year in Taizé

La Tuilerie Website

 Taizé is deserted by the monks at then end of each year. Only the monks too old or infirm to travel and a skeleton staff of so called “permanents” (young volunteers who live all year round in Taizé) and one or two other monks remain. The week spanning the new year is the one week in the year that no one can stay in the Communauté. The services still go on, but are usually held in the tiny Romanesque church in the village itself, much as all the winter services used to be up until about 15 years ago. All of the rest of the monks will have gone off to the annual European Taizé meeting. This is all part of the “pilgrimage of trust on earth” initiated by Frère Roger over 30 years ago.

Frère Roger did not want to create a cult or a following around the community in Taizé and his idea of the “pilgrimage of trust” was for each person who visists Taizé to go home and live out what he or she has learned whilst in Taizé. Hopefully they will have an increased awareness of themselves and of others and they will have picked up many practical things they can do within their own environment. This learning is often reinforced by these young people coming together on a regular basis for so called Taizé prayer meetings, but then they go back to their local churches and to their own community and live out the “pilgrimage of trust”.

Brother Alois is quoted as saying  “Many people spread across the earth are taking part in the “pilgrimage of trust” in their daily lives. … Sometimes we have to go towards new horizons, far away or nearby, to discover the hope of the Gospel over and over again. Our world, where so much suffering wreaks havoc, needs women and men who radiate God’s peace by their lives. So let us make courageous decisions to go forward on the road of love and trust.”

Every year since 1978 for five days at the end of one year and start of the next, the European meeting takes place. This time thirty thousand young people arrived in Poznań, Poland on the 29th December. They are housed with host families and they have been attending morning services in one of the 150 host churches that is near to their accommodation. In the mornings, they take part in a program organised by that parish and then they travel to the exhibition centre housing the event in Poznań itself for the mid-day service, lunch, afternoon workshops on faith and social topics and then the evening meal and evening prayer, returning to their accommodation at the end of the day.

In mid-September the preparation centre was set up in Poznań, a lorry load of furniture, computers and other equipment necessary to set up this centre arrived.  Ten permanents and a handful of brothers of the Taizé Community and sisters of St. Andrew also arrived. They have been working with the local representatives to get this event off the ground. The shear logistics of accommodating, transporting and feeding such a large crowd is mind-blowing. One should not underestimate the amount of people involved. Mâcon, the capital of our département Saône-et-Loire, has just over 30,000 inhabitants, so this event will have housed, transported, fed and ministered to a crowd almost the size of the population of Mâcon. Quite incomprehensible.

I don’t know they do it, but the brothers are used to managing large crowds and getting things done. Even when away from home, their day is regulated by prayer and meditation and this sustains them over the three month marathon of organisation. It is through the giving and sharing required during the organisation of and the taking part in, one of these European meetings, that is the essence of Frère Roger’s initiative. To pull off an event like this, everyone has to agree to put aside any differences they may have and break down any barriers blocking their paths and in doing so they will enrich themselves and the others around them. That is the heart of the “pilgrimage of trust”.

The logo has been taken from the Taizé website. Copyright © Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, 71250 Taizé, France.

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