A nearly-summer day

I’ve been busy preparing the house and garden for the summer. The house is easy, get in a man who can do everything and, abracadabra, you have new bathrooms! The gite is ready to rent out over the summer and the kitchen smells like duck and fresh bread for the summer workshops. The garden, however is a different story, as I inherited a jungle, a bird-full, bright green jungle, which I would like to slowly transform into a bird-full, bright green, ordered garden. Enter some very enterprising guests and family this weekend…..much was accomplished and the recompense was a delicious lunch in early summer temperatures, harbinger of summer days and lunches to come. The menu was simple but local: foie gras with spices and tapenade with figs, served with a large market salad, duck parmentier, cheeses from my favourite cheese man at the market at Vic-Fezensac, and roasted apple, rhubarb and strawberry crumble. The aperitif was even local, with a Monluc sparkling wine dosed with Pousse-Rapiere, and the wine that followed all came from within 20 kms. The hard work was worth it and the garden is even looking a little less jungle-like….

Don’t forget our market day French, cooking and lunch classes. The lunch will resemble the one above, only you will be speaking lots of French in a joyful and relaxed environment. Can’t wait to see you in my jungle, oops, I mean, my garden!



Repas de Chasse

I’m in recovery mode today from the Gargantuan meal with the hunters of Montesquiou in the Gers. The village is only a few kilometers away from me and I was invited by Louisa of @littleblackpig, as they hunt on her land and she therefore gets invited to the yearly lunch. She invited me along, as she thought that I would appreciate the menu, mostly made up of sanglier (wild boar) and chevreuil (venison). It’s a special treat, as these meats are not easily obtainable unless you know some hunters. For my English readers, the hunt around here is not at all the same thing as the ‘hunt’ in the English countryside. Here it is local, everyman hunting, in camouflage gear and it is taken very seriously. The average hunter is an older man with a spectacular moustache and rosy cheeks, so Louisa turning up with me, her workaway Spanish girl, Maria, plus the lovely Noemie who is currently helping her develop her farm, created a bit of a sensation. As one chap said, ‘ Je n’imaginais pas voir quatre nanas á un tel repas’, which being translated means ‘I didn’t think I was going to see 4  chicks at this kind of meal!’ Which was a compliment to me at my age!

And so it began, first the apero, with a choice of whisky, pastis or porto (yes, porto, they drink it as an aperitif in France).

Then some kir served out of huge jugs, to accompany the first course of garbure, a cabbage and duck soup which was presented in tureens, one for every 4 people. Oh, and did I mention the jugs of red and rosé wine on the tables? Next up was a few salad leaves accompanying paté de sanglier, saucisson de sanglier and sanglier ham and lots of crusty bread, of course. Then the civet de sanglier. If you are keeping count, this is the third course. Civet is a rich stew of meat usually made with red wine but in this case, with cider. There was an odd carrot or two in evidence but it was basically just meat in a delicious sauce and easily washed down with the local red wine. You may at this point think, as I did, that the meal was almost over, but no……I was then introduced to the ‘trou gascon’. This is a white armagnac, made with the first pressing of grapes and very delicious, and amazingly effective at making you think that you are still hungry (perhaps because you are rather tipsy at this point?). And it is just as well that you feel a bit hungry because next up, grillade de chevreuil, gratin de pommes de terre and stuffed tomatoes. This appeared to be the second main course of the lunch. We all had seconds. (Something I regretted later….). The there was  salad with some cheese, and then cider and sparkling wine to accompany the dessert (it is now 5pm) of croustade de pommes and pruneaux ice cream. Finally coffee and some more sparkling wine (which I also regretted later), and the meal was over. I tried, dear readers, to take some pictures and they are not superb mainly because of the trou gascon and those jugs of wine…..

It is now 24 hours later and I am beginning to believe that I might, perhaps eat something tonight. All I need is some of that ‘trou gascon’ to do its work……

Spring has sprung!

Life is busy here in Southwest France, preparing for our spring and summer Journées au Marché. There has been a lot of gardening going on, thanks to our Workaway guest, Elliott, and the kitchen is being readied to welcome our students. Spring has sprung and we are off to the market this morning, but watch this space for the announcement of our one day workshops, starting in April. If you are in Southwest France travelling or if you live here and want to improve your French by shopping, cooking and eating together, we look forward to welcoming you at the Auberge very soon!

Olive bread inspired by Dan Lepard

I made bread in my new/old kitchen for the first time today, and I could feel the spirits of generations of innkeepers and cooks looking over my shoulder. The house is the old village inn and though its origins are lost in the mists of time, the central bearing wall was left standing in the 16th century when a flood devastated the village. The inn is on the high road and had a bread oven the size of a small bedroom (it is in fact, a small bedroom now!). I’m not sure what the cooks would have thought of my modern electric oven and kitchen tools but the bread-making methods are likely the same and they would have appreciated, as did I, the minimal kneading required for this delicious bread. I’ll be eating it with some local goats’ cheese to keep the flow of history and tradition going!


vivreinfrance comes to British Columbia, Canada!

We are happy to announce that we are putting on a couple of half-day workshops in B.C. in a couple of weeks and we hope you might be able to come along. The basic details are on the attached flyer and there are still a few places left, so don’t hesitate to sign up by sending a message to me at eleanor.benson@gmail.com. I really hope to see you there, and I’m looking forward to speaking French, cooking and eating with you!Vivreinfrance BC_2.pages

Tapenade with a difference

Last year at one of our summer workshops, we made David Lebovitz’s Fig Tapenade, which was pronounced excellent by all of our participants. Wanted to make some of this for my book club lunch the other day, but I had no figs and no black olives and no desire to run out to my neighbourhood Monoprix to buy them. So instead I came up with some alternatives and here is the recipe for Prune Tapenade.
olive and prune tapenade


1 cup Agen prunes, chopped finely

1 1/2 cups green olives, chopped roughly

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbs capers

2 tbs lemon juice

2-3 tbs olive oil

splash of balsamic vinegar



Put all the ingredients except the prunes in a blender and whizz to form a chunky paste. Fold in the prunes and taste, then add salt if necessary.

And that is all! Delicious served with crackers or bread or vegetables. You could put the prunes in the blender too, which would make the preparation go faster, but I found that doing this made the mixture a bit too pasty and not chunky enough. (You could also chop the whole thing by hand if you don’t have a mixer!)

Petersham nurseries

On a recent visit to London, I went to visit Petersham nurseries with the lovely Marian Clark, landscape architect extraordinaire! She loves the place and I had no idea what to expect, so the beauty of their greenhouses came as a delightful surprise. Not only do they have beautiful plants but they are arranged on French and English antiques mixed with new pottery. The result is irresistible! Add to this an excellent café plus a restaurant with a great reputation, and you can find some ‘art de vivre’ with English and French style, a few minutes from the heart of London!  http://petershamnurseries.com/