In these stressful times, we can very soon feel overwhelmed and find ourselves worrying about things that might never happen, detracting our attention from the reality we are actually experiencing. This is by no means… More
I thought I’d share with you an article I wrote for the September 2017 edition of French Property News magazine.
Photos by Katie Anderson from Love French Style Blog. (Thank you Katie, you’re a star)
A damp and disintegrating property and freezing winters made Allie and Brian Sanders question their sanity in moving to France, but now they can’t imagine living anywhere else!
Seduced by the promise of long summer days and affordable country houses, Brian and Allie Sanders went searching for the perfect French escape. Brian, a professional musician, and Allie, a beauty and holistic therapist, had spent years restoring their properties on the north Devon coast but once the works were finished, they found themselves on the look-out for another challenge.
They had devoted much of their spare time to scouring the internet and French property magazines for their dream escape but they hadn’t expected to find it so easily. A less-than- loved riverside house, once a ferryman’s cottage, on the banks of the River Charente, seemed to have everything they wanted… or at least the potential to become just that.
Looking around its gardens, although overgrown and boggy underfoot, they realised they had stumbled upon a gem. The house itself was dark and the recently lit log-burner barely hid the smell of damp walls and rotting timbers, but somehow they had fallen in love. And the following summer, with their north Devon properties sold, they were heading off to their new life in the sun.
With no income, they knew they wouldn’t be able to survive long on their savings. So they set to work renovating the attached annex to create a two-bedroom gîte; this would at least ensure a small income if nothing else. Clearing what was a haven for snakes, mice and spiders was not for the faint-hearted but after several months of working around the clock, the cottage soon began to take shape.
“I installed a bespoke spiral staircase, setting the base over the entrance to the old well; its hardwood treads made it look as if it had been there forever,” explains Brian. “We tried to keep as many original features as possible, so we pointed stone walls with a lime mix and kept old timbers exposed. The last thing we wanted to do was to turn it into a clinical box.”
“At this point Brian was pretty much nocturnal,” continues Allie. “He’d work through the night, coming to bed at around 6am, when I would get up and tidy the rubble ready for his next shift.”
Allie, an avid fan of interior design, has always been passionate about colour, fabric and furniture. “Our budget couldn’t stretch to many labelled brands, so I bought fabric remnants and asked a local seamstress to make soft furnishings with our own label. It was such fun sourcing the materials and I was so excited to receive the finished items,” she said.
With Brian’s keen eye for spacial design, he managed to create generous circulation spaces without losing square metreage in the rooms. He even built a concave wall at the top of the staircase to mirror a continuation of the spiral.
“We are really pleased with the overall result, and no-one has ever guessed it was once home to so many undesirables and creepy crawlies,” laughs Allie.
The couple’s attention soon turned to the house. The previous owner’s idea of renovating was a little off the mark. Plasterboard had been glued directly to the old sandstone walls, which, of course, offered no insulating properties and provided numerous damp patches and a dank mildew odour that seemed to impregnate anything that dared to enter
In addition to this delightful offering, when they removed the ceilings they realised there wasn’t an awful lot holding up the first floor.
The joists, or what remained of them, started at one end, had crumbled halfway along and had been guided
to the other side by scraggy bits of batten. Live wires tucked into crevices, trunking filled with water and unsheathed cables, meant that the electrics were a rather pressing issue too. Their search for sunnier climes had dealt yet another blow with one of the coldest winters on record. Temperatures of minus 14 degrees, with snow that prevented them leaving the house for nearly a week, were followed by flooding that blocked the roads in several directions.
“We seriously questioned our sanity and wondered whether or not we should sleep with armbands on in case we were washed away in the night,” jokes Allie.
Several very cold winters came and went and during this time the house was in various states of disrepair and disruption. “At one point we moved the kitchen into the bathroom temporarily, this room very soon became known as the Bitch-en,” says Allie. “We even spent a few weeks without doors and windows on the ground floor. It was four degrees inside the house, with the log-burner going. We had to remind ourselves we were living the dream, as we sat with our coats and bobble hats on.”
But nearly nine years on Allie and Brian can finally put away the tools and paintbrushes. With their gîte, chambres d’hôte and beauty spa open for business, they have a complete package to offer their clients and, of course, a stylish and comfortable home.
“We just love riverside living and are so pleased to be able to share our ‘French escape’ with our guests,” says Allie. “And when people ask us, would we ever take on a renovation project again? Our reply is, definitely not… but only because we could never imagine living anywhere else!”
I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in touch and believe me I have a good excuse. The ripping it out to start again took far more time and energy than we could have imagined but we can finally say, we have finished the house… well for this year at least !
But before I tell you about our demolition and renovation adventures, I thought I’d ease things in with the tasty Moroccan spiced soup recipe. It’s a real winner !
1 white and 1 purple cauliflower.
4 gloves garlic, roasted in olive oil until tender (retain the infused oil)
2 chopped red onions
2 tablespoons of moroccan spices
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch salt
1 litre organic vegetable stock
Half a French baguette cut into crouton sized pieces.
Fry onions for 2 mins using infused garlic olive oil
Add garlic and throw in the spices. Continue to fry on a low heat for 2 mins.
Add washed and chopped cauliflower and toss in the spices. Stir fry for a further 2 mins on low heat.
Cover with veg stock and simmer until tender.
Add to a food processor or hand blend until smooth and creamy.
METHOD FOR CROUTONS.
With the remaining garlic oil, gently fry the cubed bread until crisp. Leave to rest on a piece of kitchen roll to absorb the excess oil adding a generous amount to each bowl of soup just before serving.
When one thinks of salads, limp lettuce with a bit of tomato springs to mind. But for me a salad is an excuse to mix a delicious concoction of anything that can be eaten cold or raw.
A good salad can sustain you for the best part of the day, will contain a selection of seasonal veg, maybe some fruit and nuts, a slow release carb, either quinoa or rice and can be so delicious, you feel you are surely being just a little naughty by eating it.
The dressing doesn’t need to be full of fat either. One of my favourite is 20mls of a good Balsamic vinegar with 20mls extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. For a more summery taste you can replace the mustard for a teaspoon of mint sauce… really tasty with diced apple or pear.
Some salads don’t even need a dressing. For this Winter Rice Salad the flavour is added at the beginning. Onions and diced courgettes are lightly fried in olive oil with a selection of spices; Garam masala, cumin and a pinch of Mexican Chile powder. These are then mixed in with the cooked rice and once cool, chopped tomatoes, avocado and kidney beans are added. It is truly delicious, contains 4 of your 5 a day, a complex carbohydrate, meat free protein and some good fats. You could even go the whole hog and add some spiralized carrot or some grated cauliflower, why not both, season with freshly ground black pepper then sit and fill your chops. (Now I’m feeling hungry!)
Next time I shall share with you the recipe for my Spicy Quinoa Salad… It’s worth the wait.
Enjoy the clean feeling of Figan Food at our Riverside Retreat. Details to follow soon.
Soups are so quick and easy to make and are a great ‘go to’ when you’re feeling hungry. If you make up more than you need, pop it in the fridge and it’s there the next day for lunch !
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1/2 butternut squash (peeled and diced into small chunks)
1 sweet potato (peeled and sliced)
1/2 beetroot peeled and chopped into small pieces)
Olive oil for frying
Tablespoon dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon of pepper corns (ground with pestle mortar for freshness)
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Tablespoon Worcester Sauce
Organic stock cube
3 or 4 fresh basil leaves (ripped or chopped)
Teaspoon of wholegrain mustard.
Pinch of of salt
Fresh coriander to garnish
Hand blender or food processor
1/ Fry onions and spices on a medium heat for 2 mins turning regularly.
2/ Toss in chopped veg and coat in spices and fry for another 5 mins on a low heat to sweeten the veg.
3/ Add enough water to cover veg along with a liberal dash of Worcester sauce, a crumbled organic vegetable stock cube and a pinch of salt.
4/ Cover and simmer until the veg is tender.
5/ Once cooked, transfer the soup mix to a saucepan and blend with a hand blender.
6/ At this point you will need to add more water. The amount you add will depend on how thick you’d like the soup to be.
7/ Once blended add a teaspoon of whole grain mustard.
8/ ladle your delicious winter warming Up Beet, Butter, Sweet Soup into large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander.
You may need to reheat the soup before serving.
Featured “Figan” Recipe…
“What could be more important than fuelling your body correctly ! We owe it to ourselves to be the best we can and this is so easily achieved with a healthy eating plan.”
I have to say I am not a chef and have always lacked confidence with my food but over the years I have tweaked recipes and realised that, if at first you don’t succeed… feed it to your kids ! (my grown up children can vouch for that) 🙂
My recipes are really easy to follow and use readily available ingredients found in most supermarkets or fresh food markets. Each tasty dish takes less than half an hour to prepare and often less time again to cook.
This really tasty low calorie, “Chinese No Noodles Noodles” recipe is one of my low carb meals.
Meat free, Wheat free, Dairy free and Sugar free.
Give it a go and tell me what you think.
Chinese No Noodles Noodles. (Figan)
3 courgettes (peeled and spiralized)
2 leeks (washed and sliced thinly)
2 Small onions (sliced thinly)
Small nub of fresh root ginger (peeled and chopped finely)
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
4 pieces of Cod (or peeled king prawns)
Olive oil for frying
Tablespoon Garam masala
Tablespoon of Coriander
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder or 1 fresh Chile.
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1 frying pan
1/ Fry spices, onions and garlic and ginger in the wok on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
2/ Add half the leeks, toss in the spices and fry for another two minutes, stirring regularly to prevent them from sticking and burning.
3/ While this is cooking add a dash of olive oil to the frying pan and on a medium heat, fry the remaining leeks with a liberal dash of soy sauce.
4/ After two minutes, turn the heat to low, add an espresso sized cup of water and place the cod pieces on top, cover and steam.
5/ Back at the Wok add the spiralized Courgettes, coating them in the spices and stir fry with another splash of soy sauce for a further 5 mins.
You don’t want to over cook the courgettes, they need to retain an al dente texture.
Once the cod is completely cooked (you will know because it will fall apart easily and will be evenly coloured throughout) the plating up can begin.
This is so easy to do, really quick to prepare and totally delicious… not to mention perfect for your new “Figan” lifestyle.
Losing 54 kilos in 6 months came partly out of necessity. “When you can barely move for the pain, you realise something has to be done,” explains Brian.
Having broken his back on two separate occasions, once in his teens resulting in extensive surgery and then again in 2011 in a road accident, pain management became increasingly difficult. Unable to do manual work for nearly 8 months and in pain 24/7 he very soon found himself spiralling into a state of despair and depression. Food became a source of comfort to him and the weight piled on.
In April 2016 Brian was prescribed a huge dose of steroids to reduce inflammation. These could only be taken for 5 days as an alternative to the usual pain killers and NSAIDSs.
” I was like a mad man, the steroids made me feels so aggressive, I actually wanted to bite people !” jokes Bri.
But despite the irritability, for the first time in a long time, he was almost pain free!
” It gave me hope ! Knowing that inflammation was such a key factor maybe there was more I could do myself to reduce the pain?”
The obvious start was to lose weight, at nearly 143 kilos and with a BMI of 40 he was at serious risk of heart disease, diabetes and many other life threatening conditions, not to mention the extra strain he was placing on his back. So he set to work researching the quickest and healthy way to do this.
“People say not to lose the weight too quickly or you’ll put it back on as soon as you start eating normally again. My response is, If I was eating normally, I wouldn’t have got this size in the first place. I needed to change my relationship with food and the only way to do this was to embark on a complete lifestyle change.”
He decided to look at food as a form of medicine. ” I needed to heal my body, so rather than seeing food as a reward or comfort I began to see it as something to make me well again.”
After quite a lot of reading on the subject he decided it was best to put his body into a state of ketosis to burn the fat of as quickly as possible.
“Without wanting to get too technical, the body starts to burn its fat reserves for its energy rather than taking it from the food we eat, It takes about two or three days for the switch to happen and during that time I had headaches and felt extremely hungry. But once my body had got over the change, my sugar cravings went and I began to feel human again.”
There is a great deal of information about ketosis and lots of disinformation online, any doubts or fears should be discussed with your GP or a registered dietitian.
“Initially I juiced as I saw it as convenient. I found some great recipes for some tasty juices, I decided on a ratio of 80% vegetable, 20% fruit or less preferably. I added a lot of ginger which I like, it’s also possibly an anti inflammatory. I then drank a minimum of 3 litres of water daily,” explains Brian. “There’s no point in lying to you, it was hard. I felt hungry and really tired but the weight began to fall off me. I had initially planned to stick with only juices for ten days but the results were so incredible, I decided to continue the fast for a month after a checkup with the doctor. During that time, my blood pressure and resting heart rate came down, my cholesterol plummeted as did my weight. In fact, by the end of the four weeks I had lost 18 kilos or just over Two and half stone in old money !”
This wasn’t the only remarkable result. Old scar tissue seemed to be visibly improved !
” I had two scars on my back, one from a minor accident about 8 years ago and the other from the first spinal surgery. They felt sore so I asked Allie if she could see anything odd about them and she was shocked to see that they had turned bright pink and had become raised, almost like fresh burns.”
After a quick search on the internet there seems to be a lot of people who have experienced the similar results from a juice diet.
” It was an unexpected bonus. One of the scars has now almost disappeared and the other is very faint. I thought to myself, if I am healing like this on the outside, I must be healing on the inside !”
Brian couldn’t of course continue fasting. His body needed protein to prevent muscle wastage and certain fats to prevent his cholesterol getting too low, so he had to find a new way of eating that wasn’t going to set him back to square one. As an avid reader with a passion for science and psychology he researched the best way to tackle the issue. He uncovered some interesting findings that helped him to see things more clearly.
REGIME CHANGE !
He soon realised that it was easier for him to say he was going to cut out certain food groups, rather than trying to remember a long list of the foods he was needing to avoid. Life was hectic enough without having to try to remember a long list of do’s and don’ts.
So he decided to cut out DAIRY, SUGAR, WHEAT and MEAT.
“People asked, what on earth is there left to eat? Well I can promise you, I don’t go hungry. My wife is a very inventive cook, so we embarked on a vegan diet supplemented with fish. One of Allie’s many signature dishes was a spicy quinoa made with peppers, raisins, broccoli, spinach with toasted cashews. We replaced bread with homemade buckwheat crepes or spicy rice or chickpea pancakes and if we ever had a real “sweet tooth” craving, we might have a square or two of dark chocolate, 85% cocoa, with a strong espresso. If we’re out for a meal we can throw caution to the wind, eat what we like. It’s nice now and again but you can’t beat the clean feeling of eating vegan!”
After 12 weeks he had lost 30 kilos.
“I tell people I’m not on a diet. This is now the way I eat. I don’t feel I have given anything up, how could I when I have benefited so much ! I cycle most days now, I am back to work full time and my level of back pain is totally manageable. I feel confident, energetic and young again. All I have done is to stop eating the foods that were doing me harm.”
I have noticed a huge difference too in not only Brian’s physique and confidence but in mine too. After 6 months of eating my ‘Figan’ dishes (fish plus vegan), I have lost 13 kilos,(2 stone) although it doesn’t begin to rival Brian’s impressive weight loss of 54 kilos, 8 .5 stone.
We are both so keen to share our success we plan to open a weight loss retreat at our riverside cottage here in South West France. Combined with reflexology and massage therapies in my beauty salon, delicious whole foods and guided bike rides through the stunning Cognac countryside, it’s the perfect introduction to a healthy and sustainable new lifestyle.
Well the proof is in the pudding… A sugar, wheat and dairy free pudding of course !
I shall be featuring some tasty ‘Figan’ recipes weekly from now on, but if you would like to contact me for further information, you can seed me a message through my blog Facebook page @riversidetalescognac or email on Info@thefrenchescape.com
Let the renovations begin !
People regularly ask us how long we have lived in our Riverside cottage and we when we say 8 years, I can see exactly what they are thinking by the look on their faces…. And you are STILL living in a building site?
Well I can truly say, not for long.
When we bought the house we knew we would eventually have to tackle certain jobs like insulation, double glazing and heating etc but there were so many other more pressing jobs to do, like renovating the gite, landscaping the garden and setting up our businesses.
This year however, I cracked ! “I refuse to live another winter in a damp and cold house.” Not only that, we wanted to expand our holiday letting business to include two chambre d’hotes bedrooms and there was no way we could entertain the idea with the house as it was. The summers were fine but anything outside of high season posed considerable problems.
There was only one thing to do… rip it all out and start again.
The previous owner’s idea of renovating a property was more than a little off the mark. He had stuck plasterboard directly to old sandstone walls, which of course offered no insulating properties and provided us with numerous damp patches and a dank mildew odour that seemed to impregnate anything that dared to enter the building.
In addition to this delightful offering, when we removed the ceilings we discovered that there wasn’t an awful lot holding up the first floor. The joists, or what remained of them, started at one end, had crumbled somewhere between half and three quarters of the way along and had been guided to the other side by two skinny pieces of wood. Where these could barely muster the strength to find their way to the wall, other scraggy bits of batten had come to their rescue to complete the final few centimetres. This of of course, once discovered, couldn’t be ignored.
Three weeks and several hundred euros later the house was made safe, well structurally anyway. The new joists had stabilised the bouncing floors and had allowed us to remove a wall between the newly located dining room and kitchen, giving us an open plan ground floor… perfect for parties !
The next thing to do was to tackle the electrics. We knew the gite was fine, that had had a complete rewire during its renovations, but the house needed to be sorted. The discovery of live wires tucked into crevices in the stone walls, trunking filled with water and unsheathed cables, meant that this was a rather pressing issue too…
To be continued…
I have been driving for many years and apart from the odd minor accident as a learner driver, I would say I’m a pretty safe on the road. I have never driven drunk and I have never used my phone other than to update my Facebook status. (back in the days when we didn’t know how dangerous that was !)
So when I drove past two policemen to the shrill of a whistle, I assumed they were congratulating me on my driving ability, or expressing admiration for my new hair cut and highlights.
Well I was wrong !
The second whistle stopped me in my tracks and I was ushered to the nearest parking spot and told to get out the car.
Now as many of you know, I am quite a friendly kind of person. I like to laugh and smile, hug, shake hands and share a joke or two. Well, policemen don’t do that! In fact they assume you are drunk, on drugs or in need of the latter if you do any or most of the above. So when I exited my vehicle, lunged forward an enthusiastic handshake, accompanied by a girly titter and incomprehensible French, the astonished policemen assumed I was under the influence and over the limit. The Nerve of him !
” Do you know why we have stopped you?” he asked. (In French of course.)
” Umm, non !”
” You failed to stop at the Stop sign madam,” came his curt reply.
” Oh noooon. Je suis vraiment désolée,” I replied, followed by an embarrassed laugh.
It was no laughing matter.
” Your license and insurance madam !”
That I could do. I pointed to the car as if to say, they’re in my car. (where else would they be) The policeman nodded and I ran to grab the necessary documents.
” I didn’t see the sign. I am so sorry,” I repeated with a smile. ” It’s a lovely day though isn’t it.”
The tension was rising and I soon began to realise these were real policemen and I had been a very naughty girl.
“Madam, have you been drinking?”
I began to explain that I rarely drink, in fact I’m sort of allergic to alcohol. It gives me terrible migraines and it seems to get me drunk really quickly. My explanation was interrupted…
” Blow in to this tube please madam,”
Would you believe that although it was only 10.30am, the policemen had actually mistook my friendly babble for drunken ramblings. Needless to say I proved his assumptions wrong… Ha… in your face !
” You failed to stop at a Stop sign… do you realise you could lose you license for this?”
Well that wiped the smile off my face.
” j’ai compris.” I muttered.
My documents were handed back to me and I was told I would be receiving my 90 euro fine through the post in due course.
As I took my paperwork, the stern policeman attempted a smile and extended his hand to mine. ” Bonne journée madam et bonne route.”
” Merci monsieur… A la prochaine fois…”
Although next time I think I’ll just keep quiet !
It is surely every girls dream to have a fairytale wedding… well in this land of castles and vines lives a young woman, who’s job it is to make this dream come true.
Sam Bottomley, the director of Best Events Company, is a highly organised coordinator of wedding events. From design, and planning to full management of your special day, Sam is able to offer you a professional and personal service. Whether she’s sourcing florists, vintage cars, musicians, reputed caterers, or a fairytale chateau, Sam will work her magic.
And I have to say her list of trusted venues is pretty impressive, Chateau de la Roche Courbon, Chateau Javarzay and from 2017 Domaine de St. Palais and Chateau Le Mung. An enviable choice with many others to suit the smaller wedding.
A fastidious list maker and ticker of boxes, Sam’s job is to do everything you don’t want to or have the time to do. From translation and paperwork to the procurement of personalised decorations, ribbons and bows, no job is too small and helping to keep your budget on track, whatever its size, is all part of the service.
Having such a huge responsibility is something she takes in her stride. Organisation is essential and ensuring the needs of the client are met is first on her to do list.
“I like to speak with my clients regularly, either at pre arranged meetings in London or over Skype. Being able to work evenings and weekends means I can fit in and around their work schedules.”
And once the special day has come to an end and everyone is sleeping soundly in their beds, the sense of achievement is often overwhelming.
“Watching the day unroll after hours of meticulous planning is extremely satisfying and to receive countless compliments at the end of the evening makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
So if you are planning your wedding in this beautiful part of south west France, why not contact Sam Bottomley at Best events Company … Your wish is her command !
Somewhere deep in the Charentaise countryside is Gérard Fauvin’s wonderful piano emporium. You could easily drive past “Domaine Musical de Pétignac“, such is its understated facade. But hiding behind its four walls, extensive outbuildings and grounds, is an incredible piano paradis, a haven of harmony with a plethora of ivories begging to be tinkled.
Gérard, the main man, is a delight to behold. One could liken him to Einstein in appearance, with his shock of white hair seeming to defy gravity. But Gérard is more than a caricature of one of The Greats, he is a personality with substance, a genius in his own right.
As one of the world’s leading piano technicians for Steinway and Sons, his reputation precedes even his multicoloured attire and funky spectacles… with one round lens and one square.
He has built, restored, tuned, hired and sold, some of the worlds finest pianos. Gérard is Mr Steinway and what he doesn’t know about pianos, really isn’t worth knowing.
Gérard and his delightful wife Fabienne, discovered their beautiful ‘maison de metre’ in 1986 and soon realised its potential to become a stunning family home and an inspirational place to work. Fabienne, a talented artist with a discerning eye for design and fine art, has created a chic and stylish interior for musicians and aficionados alike.
Over the last 30 years Gérard has personally trained 37 apprentices, and with the help of his incredibly talented team, restored thousands of historic instruments to their original condition. Although Domaine Musical de Pétignac is able to supply brand new instruments of the highest quality, he says there is a certain sound which only comes from years of ageing.
Brian and I recently attended his annual event, Fete De la Musique Et Silence… and what an incredible evening it was. With thousands coming along to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this unique musical soiree; the atmosphere was electric.
Dotted around the grounds were pockets of musicians performing on stages in front of appreciative audiences. Music from every genre, taking you on a journey of discovery and enlightenment. We stood in the doorway of the classical concert room and listened to a piano recital, performed on a Steinway concert grand, before passing through to the front of the house where amateur musicians were free to sit and play, practice or plonk.
Gérard seemed to know everyone there and greeted them all with gusto and enthusiasm.
With his staff intermingling with the crowds, on hand for your every need, the whole evening seemed wonderfully orchestrated… just as one would expect from a man who has devoted his life to the art of precision and perfection.
If you would like to buy a piano or perhaps would like your family heirloom restored or tuned, you need look no further than Domain Musical De Pétignac.
Call now for your Rendez Vous.