Loving this time of year here in France... the colours, the cool evenings, the chestnuts, the colours, the mushrooms, the colours. xx
(because really, if you spend six months in France, that's going to be the general focus of each day).
For much of our time here in France, we have been living with Vincent’s parents in their home in a town in Les Cevennes, an area of France that is sparsely populated and that is largely national park. It’s in the south east, about an hour’s drive inland from the coast. Food wise, it’s known for chestnuts, honey, small round goats cheese known as pelardon, sweet onions… not so much dishes, but rather produce.
Vincent’s father René is retired and now spends most of his days working on his several huge gardens. He grows the majority of the food that they eat and in summer each day brings back baskets full of produce that his wife Francoise then cooks up for meals and also preserves for the leaner months ahead. In Autumn, he harvests apples and pears from his orchard, and chestnuts from the copious trees on his land and all around. They forage for mushrooms (an amazing variety called cep) and continue harvesting from the gardens. He also keeps bees and produces and sells honey. It’s a busy life.
But an enjoyable one and one that is governed by the seasons. Late summer/ early Autumn is the busiest time… most days Francoise is chopping, cooking, bottling, preserving. Jars of tomatoes and beans are put in the huge pot to bubble away in the garden fireplace. Berries, apricots and plums are made into jams and tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants are made into ratatouille and bottled.
Of course, this is normal practice for rural families the world over and one that is also gaining momentum again in cities like Melbourne. While I love this deep connection to the seasons and the land, what’s also really interesting for me here is the style of meals that we eat. When I’m home in Melbourne and in charge of our kitchen, we usually eat a simple lunch - sandwiches, salads, soups - and then I will cook a “dish” for the evening meal. Pastas, curries, stews etc.
Here, the main meal is usually lunch. Like many other mediterranean areas, it’s an important and savoured time. In summer, we usually eat outside, beginning with a salad of just lettuce leaves, often picked that morning and tossed with a quick oil/mustard dressing. It’s followed by several dishes made from what’s been recently picked from the gardens. Or one main dish that focuses on one key ingredient. Like a zucchini gratin, or stuffed tomatoes. Small dishes might be carrot salad (grated and mixed with parsley, garlic and olive oil), potatoes fried up and served with a steak, tomatoes chopped and dressed with a simple vinaigrette, whole leeks cooked in a pressure cooker and then dipped in mayonnaise, eggplant or zucchini beignet (sliced and coated in a thin salty batter and shallow fried). Some plain rice or plain pasta (always with butter mixed through mais bien sur) may be served too.
Dinners are usually left overs, the same dishes rolled out again until they’re finished. A bit of this with a bit of that.
It’s simple and uncomplicated and dictated by whatever has been dug out of the garden that day. In winter, they benefit from the hard work of summer and open jars of beans, ratatouille, tomatoes, jams and purees. It makes sense. Even without the magnificent gardens that we have here, it makes sense to eat this way, to buy from local producers whatever’s in season and to cook it simply. With butter. and follow it with cheese and wine. ;)
It is mid September, the days are often clear and blue and warm but the nights and mornings are freeeezing. We are up high in the mountains and though we are still in the south of France and it is early Autumn, the climate is very different to what it is down in the valley.
We are living here in the middle of Les Cevennes in a little village of 200 or so people. It is the town of my husband’s maternal grandparents. The house we are living in is the house that his grandma was born in and died in. It is old enough that no one actually knows exactly how old it is, but definitely older than the French revolution. In the village, there is an epicerie (owned by a relative, as are most things around here) a hotel and restaurant and a little school. A little school that now has one extra student, a little boy from Australia. Australia! tres tres loin. So very far away. We are of course, the talk of the town. I am often stopped in the street by old ladies to be asked, ‘but aren’t you bored here?’ ‘Don’t you miss your family?’ ‘Yes, I miss my family’ I tell them, ‘but I like it here. I like the forests, I like the quiet, I like the mushrooms’.
Ah yes, the mushrooms. Always good to get that into a conversation. At the moment, apart from the Australians in town, the other hot topic is les champignons. Are they out yet, did you find any today, where did you go looking, there’s been too much wind, it’s been too cold, not enough rain, maybe next week there’ll be more, don’t tell the tourists where you found them… There is a special species which are hard to find, highly prized, highly tasty and fun to look for. On weekends, the roads around the town are lined with cars from the city, sunday drivers out to look for the ‘cep’.
Most days we pick up Leo from school - which he LOVES, oh my heart - and then we head out to one of the family’s favourite little secret spots and try our luck at finding some. Some days we are successful, other days not. But the forests are beautiful and the air is clear and finding them is not really the point. Well sort of.
I am enjoying the quiet here, the forests, the mountain air. There is no phone reception or internet at our house. An idea which was simultaneously terrifying and exciting. And while sometimes it is just plain annoying, on the whole it has been good to unplug and live a little more deeply connected to day to day life. My French is coming along pretty well and for a little while at least, I am enjoying being part of this little community…
Thanks to Lachlan Telfer for some of these photos.
Another one... just for fun.
Thought I'd share a few photos from a week spent in Provence recently. My parents are here visiting and so we took a little trip. We stayed in a gorgeous little airbnb apartment, visited a couple of museums, went for drives through quaint little villages, ate our weight in icecream, peaches and melon, played soccer in the park, relaxed, wandered through amazing markets and generally had a lovely old time. Apart from Leo's 24 hour fever during which he slept almost an entire day.
When he came back to his normal self, he became keen on learning how to use my camera, so during a day trip through the Luberon valley he took quite a few photos. Some blurry, some diagonal, some of random people walking past us, but some good ones too. He took this last one of me in a lovely old church and although it's dark and I'm fuzzy, I quite like it.
Speaking of the poppet, his French is coming along in leaps and bounds. He had his first day today of 'garderie', or kinder/ nursery and although he was a bit hesitant at first, he ended up really enjoying himself and managed just fine with the language. It's amazing to see and I'm super proud of him. Anouk too is starting to come out with a few words. Bilingual children... what a gift.
Well I was expecting to have written here a little more than I have, but life in France has been really rather busy. We first had a lovely couple of slow paced weeks staying with Vincent's parents during which we did some much needed re-setting. Breathing slow, eating slow, eating lots, sleeping in (yay for grandparents on hand), gardening and wandering and adjusting to 'la vie Francaise'.
But since then, things have been turned up a notch. We moved into our little apartment in the old city in Montpellier and each morning I toddle off to my French intensive class. 3.5 hours of overwhelm (introverts are not made for language classes). But challenging as it is, it's great to be doing something that uses my brain in a different way, to see and hear daily improvements, to have some time away from the kids, to walk from our lovely apartment down through the beautiful streets, to pick up a croissant if I'm running late and haven't had breakfast (and sometimes even if I have), to be immersed in life here.
But the hot and long summer evenings mean that the kids are not asleep until 8.30 (if I'm lucky. ok who am I kidding, it's more likely 9, sometimes later) and then there is the post bedtime clean up, the wash-off-the-sweat shower and then the homework begins. So nights are late, teething one year olds mean that the nights are also wakeful, and life in the street outside wakes me early. I'm TIIIIIRRRREEED.
Still, it's fun. Fun to be living in and discovering a new (to me) city. And a beautiful, lively, interesting one at that. I try and take a different route home each day, sometimes getting lost in the labyrinthine cobbled streets and am often gobsmacked by the beauty of this old city. We complement Vincent's dad's weekly supply of fruit and vegetables and his mum's jams and preserves with daily market goods - cheeses and hams and ok, yes, haribo lollies.
And then on weekends it's back to the hills for adventures and grandparent hugs. And more garden goodness.
I have one more week of classes, and two more weeks of Montpellier life and then new adventures lie ahead... until then! xx
Well the preparations were long and draining, and there was stress and anxiety and tears, but now we are here and the weather is fine and the trees are heaving with fruit and all is well. The South of France is an idyllic place and the romanticism surrounding it is justified. Of course, life continues to be made up of complexities and challenges and I don't want to pretend that that's not the case. However, the cherries really are that red and tasty (and available on the backyard tree whenever we feel the urge!) and I'm loving the extra hands that are currently available for playing with little ones. We are lucky to be here, for sure.
Well hello there.
I'm a little bit excited to be here in this lovely new space and to introduce my new online home. AND of course, my new logo! My friend and very talented artist Kirrily of I and the Others created it for me and I love love love it. Go check out her work (and if you live in Melbourne, keep an eye out for her street art).
Now I must say it does feel a little bit strange to be introducing a new website which essentially is about my handmade baby quilts, when in fact I'm actually taking a little hiatus from creating them. But if you're in the market for one, rest assured I will be returning to them. I'm just taking a little break while I journey with my family to France for 6 months.
So in that time, I'll be sharing here some of my photos, tales of an Australian living in the south of France, hilarious failings (no doubt) with my language progression, and hopefully some of my Mother-in-law's humble recipes using my father-in-law's amazing and bountiful garden produce.
When I return to Melbourne in November, in addition to finding a place to live and getting my son ready for school next year (what the what?), I'll be getting some quilts and baby blankets ready for sale. Perhaps with some lovely French fabrics included in them!
I hope you enjoy this little space as much as I do, please get in touch if you feel like it, follow along on instagram and see you in France!