Return to Brittany

We returned to our home in northern france two and a half weeks ago.  There were three firsts for us.  Firstly, we went in our car and not our camper van, secondly we towed a trailer that carried our newly acquired John Deere ride on tractor mower, and thirdly we had our two dogs with us.  It was a nervous type of journey, ever watching our trailer, worrying about the dogs as we could not entice them to pee at any time during the long journey, and wondering what we would find as we had left our french home for nearly 5 weeks.


Since arriving I can’t quite believe how much we have done.  It is a place that draws you from job to job, those we look forward to and those we just have to do.  Weeding is high on the have to do jobs that neither of us really look forward to, but its a case of getting on with it, it will all be worth it in the end.

At least we have variety.  From buying white goods to make our life here easier  (seems hard to believe what we did before washing machines and fridge freezers) to bringing over a tractor mower that will save us hours and buying a rotovator to take away back breaking work.

Our first job was to plant the seed potatoes we left chitting back in April.  That was four weeks ago and as we arrived and walked towards the field, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  The potatoes we had planted on our last visit had grown so much more than we had expected and needed mounding up.


The rest of the two beds that we had started needed to be weeded so we divided our time and each started work.  Its hard work but so rewarding when you can step back and see the results.  Not only did we weed but we planted up vegetable plants bought from the local garden centre.  Unfortunately we had not spend enough time in France this year to grow our own vegetables from seed.  We also put a black plastic covering over our other 2 beds, this seems to be the best way of killing all the grass and weeds.  Plus its something we can use over and over again and is kind to the environment.


The gates and fencing you can see in the photo are also a project that we have managed to get done this week.  A local contractor came for 4 days, in between rainy days, and fitted 2 long fences and 4 gates. The place is really starting to look like home.

We have also put up and planted a poly tunnel, an absolute bargain at our local agricultural supplier.  We are thinking of putting in more next year.

We’ve removed the final patch of stubborn ivy from the ruin.  This is something that doesn’t really need doing but we just love it.  We see it as the central point for our garden.  An outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining, and a place to take in the countryside views.

This is what we found when we arrived after signing on the bottom line.  The next 2 photos are taken from the same position, but minus all the destroying ivy.

We’ve done so much its hard to put it all into one blog, but I will end with just one more job that we have started.

We have a small house in the grounds that needs attention.  It is tired and uninviting and we want to turn it into something that warms and welcomes.  We have just started tearing it apart.  We want to take away all the tired modernisation, and open up the natural stonework that is all part of this beautiful stone french farmhouse.


We didn’t know what we would find but thankfully we have found stone.  A bit too much breeze block (blocking up a beautiful, long demolished, witches hat fireplace) and rough concrete rendering and grouting.  This is all something we will tackle in due course, but in the meantime here is a photo of current progress.

We even had time to play with a satellite dish.  Don’t think we quite the right place for it so we will get back to it when we can be bothered.


All in all a great 2 weeks, so here’s to the next fortnight.

Jill and Paul



The Lure of France


When we bought our property in France last November we could not have envisaged the lure that France would have on us.  Each time we visit we are sad to leave, but somewhat reconciled as we are also happy to go home to see our son and help him through his chemo ordeal.

We have visited each month of 2018, snatching 9-10 days of each chemo fortnight, to coincide with the better days!  We team our trips to France with a visit to Paul’s dad, who, at 92, loves to see us on our way back from Portsmouth to Northampton.  He has seen more of us this year than any other.

This last visit to France has seen us yet again tackle the ivy that has enveloped our ruin, wanting to turn it into a romantic outdoor eating and cooking area.  The copse behind it was further trimmed adding to our wood pile.  Paul even has a plan to make our own wood fired hot tub, we could carefully site it to take in the promise of amazing sunsets across the valley that lies before us.

We tackled more of the field and planted some of the potatoes that had been chitting since our last visit, making edging for this bed out of wood we found in our barn.  We keep saying, this is the house that keeps on giving.

Potato bed

We are yet to tackle the tractor that was left behind, a 1950’s German tractor that we got going back in November.  Clouds of smoke swamped us for its first 5 minutes of running, but after that all seemed fine.  Except for the fact that we had no idea how to drive it.  20 minutes later, with grooves set in the lawn that today are still visible, we managed to get it back in the barn, where it has remained.


Friends we made when buying the property are going to pop over next time we are there.  Charlie is a farmer that relocated from the UK, and just loves to dabble with, and transform, unloved machinery.  His help will be invaluable with this ancient relic.  His wife Debbie is a mind full of information, from 2nd hand furniture to dog food, she knows exactly where to go.  We are fortunate to have found them.

The plants we took over are now planted in the first stage of creating a garden and the lawn has been mowed.  Our petrol mower worked valiantly, but finally made us realise that a ride on mower would be an essential purchase.

Flower Bed

The sun even shone when we got back home to the UK.  We scooped up dad and although nervous about meeting our granddaughters again, since they had previously been frightened of him, he need not have worried.  Poor chap was exhausted as he seemed to have become their best friend as we had fun in the garden.  The tent was a great success as we had filled it with sleeping bags, teddies and all their toys.  The perfect place for two little girls to play pretend.

Our thoughts are now to our next visit.  This time we take the dogs and a trailer and have no return trip booked!

How exciting!!!



Here we go again!

We are always itching to go back to our small holding in France, but this time it is somewhat more exciting.  Firstly, our youngest son has just had his last chemo dose.  He seems to be feeling better than before, maybe because they dropped one of his drugs, but also maybe because this was his last of 12 doses of chemo and he feels so relieved. There is still a scan and its results to go, but we are all feeling optimistic.  Secondly, for once we are putting no “must have” bits and bobs in, just to make sure we are packed to bursting in our camper.  Not an inch of space must be wasted.


We do like to make a trip worth while.  It’s so nice to have packed plants that we have carefully taken from the garden, we don’t want to compromise the beautiful summer spread here in the UK.  The rain has stopped so we can pack in the sunshine, even cut the lawn too.  For once we were both involved in the packing, two heads are certainly better than one.  We could pack more, but are worried about the load we are making our lovely camper van take.

We have spent the last 3 weeks, the time since our last visit, getting a few much-needed jobs out-of-the-way and chatting about our plans.  The nice thing about this slow move in is that we have time to consider what we want to do and whether we need to buy tools to do it.  It’s amazing how much you will struggle before buying the correct tool.  Our mitre saw was proof of that.  But then maybe that is the measure of it.  We have to toil needlessly to prove what tools we need before spending the savings we have for all the work we want to do.

Of course selling the cottage here in the UK would solve all of that, but again, maybe that too is making us more considered.  It is a cottage we love but does not give us the life style we crave.  Long gone are our novel books and money spent on rock concerts, we are now into self-sufficiency, alternative power, water collection and livestock rearing bibles.  Instead of Paul going to read the news on his computer in the early hours, he now watches video’s about how to irrigate our field, or build your own wood burning hot tub.  Our French neighbours will laugh, but we will be like the pigs we eventually have in the field, in our element.  I’m not sure that it’s actually the learning that most excites us.  From talking French, or as best we can anyway, or milking a cow, they are all adventures that lie ahead.  They challenge us, they reward us, and they completely tire us out, but we are happy in our work and love the difference in our life style.

We are not sure whether family or friends will come to visit, but they can be rest assured of a warm welcome, all be it a bit rustic and cobbled together.  An extra pair or two of hands will make light work of the endless jobs.  There will be time left at the end of the day to enjoy a glass or two of wine, a crusty baguette and delicious cheese and pate.  Just take in the peaceful French countryside and watch the sun go down on a lovely warm day.

And honestly – we actually got more in the camper van after I took the photos.  We are now experts!!!

Our Property in France

IMG_1711 (2)

Our 4.5 acre field.

With Christmas and the New Year behind us and the accompanying good news that our son is winning his battle with cancer we find our thoughts are constantly with our lovely farmhouse in France.

We try to spend a week there each month to decorate the house and start to tame the land. The house is now full of bold colours and I have developed a passion for ridding our trees of the ivy that strangles them.  Paul has consumed an amazing book on wood and how to cut it, chop it, preserve it, and burn it.  He moves on to whittling and carving it next.  We now intend to plant an acre of our field with trees, ranging from the mighty oak to hazel for coppicing, even sloe, elderberry and hawthorn for our field hedging.  We want to encourage wild life and learn how to self sustain.  Even find alternative ways of powering, lighting and heating our house.  Take us of grid, so to speak.

We located and visited a local dog kennel so that we can escape the toil , minus dogs, from time to time.  Low and behold, although practicing our french, we arrive to find a very English lady.  We manage to find a local fence and gate contractor to enable us to gate and fence our land, would you believe it, he was English too.  Finally we investigate buying a polytunnel from a company in Brittany, and of course, he was English .  It seems we are not the only ones to find the secret of the “French way of life”.

Gone are the Sunday openings and the cozy English pub that is open “all hours”.  We struggle to find a restaurant that is open each evening, and shops that greet us with a “we are closed until……..” sign.  Everything stops for lunch, between 12pm and 2pm so we have finally learnt, just don’t bother doing anything; just make lunch and eat.

Its taking us time to adjust, but somehow it seems right.  Gone are the must haves, new are the make do’s.  Gone are the “at any time”, new are the restricted hours.  After all, a shop owner or worker has a life too.

We struggle to find what we need to buy, but is that half the fun of a new place, a new country.  Some things are more expensive, others cheaper, but still we buy here in the UK and take over. Just so easy in your own language. This must change!!

That leads us to our French.  We learn every day with Duolingo on our mobiles, and Rosetta Stone on our computers.  Our vocabulary has grown immensely, but we still struggle with understanding the french tongue.  I’m sure it will improve once we are living there and we have to make the effort.  Everyone is very kind, they listen to our attempted French and try to  make it easier for us to understand.  We do get by.  We did learn, with no English spoken, that we could buy a rotavator and it would be delivered, it would be guaranteed for 3 years and would require a service every 2 years.  At 600 euro we left saying we were only in the country for 4 days and would come back when we returned in 4 weeks.  Although, that’s what I thought I said.

2018 will certainly be an interesting year.  Cure our son of cancer, sell a village cottage in Northamptonshire, develop our property and land in france, and settle there.

With the snow and sleet falling outside my study window and the temperature plummeting, I am dreaming of a hot summer in France and working on the land, getting to know and to love it as much as I think I will.  It is a new chapter in our life together, and one that is a dream of ours.  So near, yet so far away.




Our Life Changes


Could this be us!

It’s funny how things turn out.  One minute your life goes in one direction, then it turns around and heads off somewhere else.

A year ago we took on a half-acre walled garden and loved all the planning, executing, growing and harvesting.  Looking forward to a few years of produce, getting better and better at growing so that we could harvest something every week of the year.  Our first year has been amazing, we have not bought a vegetable in months.

Then, a chance email sent in February, a telephone interview and a screen test, found us heading to France for a property search with “A Place in the Sun” in August.

We spent 5 days viewing 5 properties.  The first 4 fell so far short of what we were looking for we felt deflated, wondering if we had been too optimistic about the property we could buy for our budget.  The 5th seemed perfect, just what we wanted, and we could afford it.  A brief phone call with the estate agent and the property was ours.

We have since spent a rather surreal 4 weeks.  Bought a property, learned one of our sons, at the tender age of 25, has cancer and has 6 months of chemo ahead.  We sign documents on the French property, set up a currency deal, pay our 10% deposit and set up a French bank account, even find our favourite (french) local bar and restaurant.

We are now planning the next trip over the channel to sign final documents, hand over our savings and take delivery of the keys.

Thoughts drift from the half-acre walled garden to the refurbishment of the french property and how we will deal with its almost 5 acres of land.

Fortunately, with winter coming we are now starting to put the walled garden to bed.  We never saw our first year providing winter veg, thinking that would be the second years target.  Now all we can think about are DIY projects and when we will be able to visit france in the new year.

We will celebrate Christmas and the coming new year with so many mixed emotions.  We will be well into the chemo regime, knowing whether it is working well and how it is effecting our son.  We will be running both our cottage here and a farmhouse in france.  We will worry about the walled garden and our 5 acres in france.  We will yoyo between both properties and hope that our cottage sells and we are able to buy our foothold here in the UK – a canal barge!!!

Now who would have thought that 1 year ago!

We were due to take over the walled garden on 4th November 2016 and were looking forward to years ahead cultivating it.

Now thoughts have moved to france, with all the opportunities and worries it will give us.  All the decisions we will have to make and how we will achieve getting the best from both worlds.  Our family and friends here in the uk, our life in france.

It seems we do nothing by halves.

Foraged and home grown produce a plenty.

I really love this time of year.  Our small vegetable garden has done its job.  It has provided us with more green beans than I thought possible, spinach, courgettes and winter squash, tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, sweet and chilli peppers – not forgetting a couple of bunches of lovely sweet grapes.  All is coming to an end now so we spent time, in the rain, doing a massive clear up with a little help from a failing incinerator.


We have cleared away all the large and dying leaves from the courgettes and patty pan squashes so we can see the few fruits they are still bearing, and find that these magnificent plants will keep on giving for a few more weeks.  It also reveals 7 maturing winter squash that we will store over the winter to provide us with a taste of the garden when the days are dark and dismal.

As if we don’t have enough to do we have also foraged crab apples to make our much loved crab apple jelly, adding chilli to half the jars for added kick.  With courgettes turning to marrows we had to be inventive.  Who would have thought it, but delicious marrow and ginger jam it is.

My broken and plastered wrist has rather curtailed my ability to do very much at all.  Thankfully it is my left wrist, and being fiercely a right handed individual, I have struggled on with one working digit.  The result, some new snack bags for our local pub that we have given the range name of ‘Gone in a Minute’.  This was a suggestion from a customer to our little bakery as they were literally, gone in a minute.  Time will tell if they are a hit or a miss.

Stromboli and other bakes.

It’s not very often you get asked to invent a new starter for the pub over the road.  With a new menu pending they wanted something a bit different to the normal breads, oil and balsamic.  Hmmm.  I know, how about a tear and share.  Ok, basic idea decided, now how to execute it.

I thought about different flavoured rolls served in a ring all stuck together.  But then that’s just a different take on their usual bread, oil and balsamic.  It had to be a stuffed bread, something that was a starter in itself.  It had to be soft and delicious.  Stromboli!! Or rather, my twisted take on it.

Stromboli is a stuffed focaccia from Italy.  It takes its name from the notorious active volcano off the north coast of Italy which is famous for its round swelling shape.  Stromboli was created in the area and is often served at weddings and birthday parties.


Picture from Gino D’Acampo’s Italian Home Baking


Baked and served as a long swiss roll it is cut at the table, but we wanted to create something that looked a little more appetising that a long loaf.

The solution – cut the swiss roll before baking and hey presto.


These look a little pale as I leave a final finishing bake for the pub so they can serve it hot without burning.

Now for the recipe.

Dough Ingredients

500g Italian 00 bread flour

10g Fine sea salt

10g Fast acting dried yeast

50ml Olive Oil

300ml Water at room temperature

  1. Put the flour into a mixer with a dough hook, put the salt to one side and the yeast to the other making sure they do not mix together at this stage.
  2. Turn on the mixer and mix on a slow speed (1 on my kitchenaid) until all combined.  Increase the speed to medium (4) and mix for 10+ minutes.  You are looking for a smooth elastic dough.
  3. Remove from the mixer, form into a ball and leave in a covered bowl to double in size.

  4.  When doubled in size, knock back and roll out to about 30x25cm.  This is tricky, but   have patience.

    5.  Now the interesting bit.  Cover the dough with your filling leaving a 1″ strip along the top edge.  You will need this to seal the edge as you roll it up.

    6.  Here we are using diced roasted veg using, courgette, aubergine, red onion and tomato.

We later added the forgotten mozzarella – half a ball of mozzarella cut into chunks and spread evenly.  We also used a Moroccan spiced lamb mixture, but please use anything you like.

7. Once rolled and sealed, cut off both ends (you want to have nice stuffed twirls).  Do this carefully as you do not want to squash the roll you have created. Cut into 12 equal slices.

8. Use your cut slices to put into baking tins (we oiled the tins and put a strip of baking parchment on the base) in whatever shape you like.  We happened to be creating 2 shapes.  One for 2 to share and one for 4.

9.  Now cover and put aside until doubled in size.(sorry, no photo to show you).  My gage was that I should not see the bottom of the tin.

10. The tins we used.  The 4 sharer a 20cm sponge cake tin, the 2 sharer a 12cm x 22cm loaf tin.

11.  Drizzle again with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme (veg only) and bake in a preheated 200c/gas mark 6 oven for about 20-25 minutes, turning the round ones half way through baking.

12.  You are looking for a hint of nice golden brown. What  was looking for was the finished dough to still be nice and soft.  We took ours out 4 minutes before the end of cooking to allow the pub to reheat.  If you are making a batch to freeze (as they do freeze well), I would do the same.

13.  To keep the loafs nice and juicy I drizzle with olive oil when they are piping hot out of the oven.  Leave for a few minutes then carefully remove from the tins, you don’t want to break any of the joins.


Our other makes and bakes this week.  Made doubly difficult due to a fall I had and this


and the gallant efforts of my hubby (

 Sourdough loaves, ciabatta rolls, tomato chilli jam, summer chutney, selection of test crackers (again for the pub) and French baguettes – boom boom.

How Paul has put up with my critical instructions I will never know.  Safe to say, I am very proud of him.  He has, at times, singlehandedly kept The Old Bakehouse Deli ( going.  We have had to close for online orders since its too much work for 1 person, but Paul has kept up supplies to our local pub, The Witch and Sow.  He has done all the cooking, washing up, washing, ironing, coffee making, lawn mowing, housework, even helping me to dress and ferrying me to hospital and doctors.  How he thought he might find retirement boring he will now never know.  He’s not had a minute to blink.

More recipes to follow if you like this one.

Previous Older Entries