Not always..... 'a tranquil retreat in the heart of the Normandy countryside'

Friday, 5 February 2016

My new life as a female ninja....

Not for nothing is this blog is called The Other Side of Eden. The prospect of gloomy winter days is matched in awfulness only by the reality. So, take heed all you folks seeking to 'live the dream'. Winter, in the heart of the Normandy countryside, can make you wonder whether you selected the wrong button on the dream machine.

Preparation is key if you hope to beat the winter blues. In my case this does not mean stocking up with tasty treats to see me through the dark days. Like the neighbourhood squirrel, which has been dashing  to and fro between it's nest and it's food store at frequent intervals since September, I would very quickly be surrounded by abandoned packaging and an empty larder before the clocks even changed for the winter.

No. The answer is to take up a new hobby ( hence my brief thespian phase when I first moved to France). This winter, ready for a new challenge and filled with the inexplicable desire to emulate Lara Croft, I enrolled on a Martial Arts class at our local leisure centre.  The Vietnamese discipline called Viet Vo Dao looks easy when somebody else is doing it. Unfortunately, like all the other apparently effortless activities I have participated in, (Scottish dancing and Step among them) a degree of co-ordination is required if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself.

The studio, where the class is held, has large windows which overlook the road and I have sometimes wondered whether passing motorists ever glance up  into the illuminated room and marvel if  they happen catch a glimpse of my nimble manoeuvres. The answer would have to be no.  They might catch sight of my head as I am much taller than some of my opponents; Dorain who is 6 and Océan who is about 11. What they wouldn't realise, is that the rest of me is moving in the opposite direction to the rest of the class.

Despairing at my inability to master the necessary steps my teacher, the ever patient Sondrine, tries out her English, 'left Alison, left!!'  Unfortunately, the problem is not that I can't distinguish between 'gauche' and 'droite' but that I just can't memorize the sequences of moves. Practice makes perfect, so when the dog and I go out for a walk I take the opportunity to try out my kicks (which has incidentally, the added benefit of firming up muscles which might otherwise  have given up in the fight against gravity.)

The other evening we were making our way down the lane towards home in the damp, grey twilight. I had forgotten the dog as I was engaged in defeating imaginary assailants with a series of deft kicks and punches. Then I heard the beep of a horn behind me. Turning, I saw Fudge caught in a car's headlights. She was ambling along the middle of the lane. With failing eyesight and equally poor hearing she was unaware that she was holding up the traffic. Just as I had been unaware that the driver had also been treated to the vision of a lunatic woman attacking invisible demons. Turning to retrieve Fudge I smiled weakly at the driver but he he didn't smile back. Hopefully he was scared!

If I could only get the hang of it all, I would be so happy. I wonder whether a key element to success is getting kitted out in the correct attire. The rest of the class have now bought themselves the necessary black pajamas and they all look as if they mean business.  I am on the brink of investing in a pair but  have just discovered the Bolivian Cholitas. These fearsome, South American, wrestling women are decked out in colourful skirts with frilly petticoats, How much more interesting it would be to dress up in a  flouncy skirt and bright blouse, safe in the knowledge that  beneath my deceptively feminine appearance there lurks an intrepid ninja warrior.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Farewell Sweet Fig

After a long wait, the time has come...

to harvest the (one and only) fig,

to be served with creamy marscapone and redcurrants

Monday, 25 August 2014

It's that time of year again....

......when the end of summer is drawing near.
 One compensation is that it's time to look out for edible fungii in the fields on our morning walk. 
 Yesterday I spotted this lovely giant puffball, 
which amazingly had avoided being squashed by the resident cows.
The flesh of the giant puffball has a lovely 'mushroomy' smell 
and a sweet, delicate flavour when cooked.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Balade Gourmande

Each summer some of the local food producers in the Bocage region of Lower Normandy get together and organise a 'gourmet walk'.  It's an opportunity to explore this beautiful area and to sample some of the local produce. This year the walk began at an 'escargot' farm near to St Georges de l'Odon, which is just off the A84 motorway.
The idea is that you walk through the countryside and  enjoy a gourmet meal en-route.  We arrived a little bit early and were able to see how the escargots, which were going to be served as aperitifs, were reared. I'd noticed some polytunnels near to the farm and thought that perhaps this was where the snails were kept but rather unexpectedly, inside the polytunnel, was this lovely vintage car!
So where were the snails?
Well they were all hiding under wooden planks in beds of tasty mustard plants.
They didn't look all that appetising 'al fresco' but were quite delicious dished up with herbs and garlic, piping hot from the oven!
After snails and cider we set off along a footpath through the woods and after a couple of kilometres arrived at our first stop for starters of pigeon pate and ...more cider!
We walked through a pretty valley where charolais cattle were grazing by the river bank...  
...and continued to follow the track uphill and there, up on  the ridge, the main course was being served. Tasty duck and beef kebabs served with a courgette sauce.
It was starting to get hot and the path was getting steeper

but the views across to Aunay sur Odon were worth the climb.
We walked through cornfields studded with poppies and cornflowers
The track, which had taken us through the fields of crops, swung down through
a tiny hamlet of  pretty houses. This one looked like a cottage from a fairytale.
It turned out that this was the home of Dutch born artist Annemarie Janssen.
 It was so unexpected to come across her studio when
 only minutes before we had been walking through cornfields! 
We left the studio and her lovely garden and followed a shady track and said hello to ......
......maybe I had drunk too much cider?
Just around the corner the cheese course was being served
5 different kinds of delicious, locally produced goats cheese
We set off again along a woodland path
 and then out onto a paved lane.
We were now going back downhill towards .....
dessert! Delicous apple cake and rice pudding (a Normandy speciality)
Now for the final stretch of the walk - thankfully it was cool and shady under the trees but I would really have liked to put my feet in the stream...
Almost 5 hours after we had set off we arrived back at the 'escargots' farm for the best cup of coffee ever!  This had been a brilliant day out in the countryside, everyone we met was so friendly, the day was very well organised and we had the opportunity to buy some produce to take home.

Friday, 28 June 2013