Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to the spring edition of Fat Dogs News and the usual list of features for you to dip into:
  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Fat Dogs V and the New Project
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fun with French Property News
  • Recipe
  • Bookish Corner

Chez Fat Dogs

I don’t know how January treated you, but we had a wild ‘n woolly start to the year. Storm after storm hit us, inevitably causing difficulties in the forest. Nathan, our forester, called us early one morning after a particularly nasty overnight rainstorm. A whopping great tree had fallen. Not our tree, but it had crushed a section of our fence and had to be removed.
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Our electric fence energiser pulsated red, showing multiple faults, which meant action stations. Jack went to help Nathan with the broken fence, and I was despatched on a clearance job with the dogs.
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Off we sploshed, through endless rivulets of water running off the fields, removing debris from the electric fence cables as we went. We reached the fallen tree site to find that the men had already cleared the main trunk. Strangely, Jack was still fuming, and why? Because we had only just finished renewing the fence in that sector. It was boar-proof, deer-proof, but as you can see, evidently not huge tree-proof.
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Weather-wise, February was far kinder to us. This, of course, is the month when Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated. It occurred to me that the French, being a kissy lot, might really go to town. Not much seems to happen here, but I couldn’t be sure.

I had a dig around, soon became hopelessly distracted by the history, which raised yet more questions. Here are some of the snippets I unearthed:
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The first Valentine’s note is considered to have been sent by the Duke of Orleans. While imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, he sent poems and lettres d’amour to his wife in France.

During the Middle Ages, the French believed birds mating in mid-February marked the season of love. For this reason, lovers gave gifts on Saint Valentine’s Day. They also celebrated an event of a very different kind.

Valentine’s Day was known as ‘la loterie d’amour’, the love lottery. Single men and women would gather in houses and shout at their intended partner through the windows until they were all paired off. It was a simple, albeit loud celebration and one with a catch.

If the man did not like his chosen belle, he would reject her. Not to be outdone, the wronged women built bonfires, burned effigies of their ex-suitors and hurled abuse at them. Whilst the only thing sacrificed was male pride, the celebrations became over-exuberant and were eventually banned by the government.

Interesting though my romp through history was, I still wanted to know whether there are any other differences in how la fête de Saint-Valentin is celebrated in France today. I asked a French friend.

“It is not a fête for young children. Only people who are really in love celebrate.”
“Do you exchange fun cards of endearment?”
“No, not so much.”

Was there anything else? I knew who would know. Marianne, my beautician pal, is an incurable romantic.

“Ah, it’s bliss, but only for sweethearts, of course.”
“Are there any national celebrations?”
“Not many, although there is a village in the Indre called Saint Valentin. It is named after Saint Valentin himself and used to be visited by pilgrims. They call it the village of love, and there is even a Lover’s Garden.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“They say it’s incredibly romantic. They hold a festival every year in the village during February. Before Covid, people came from all over the world to get married, renew wedding vows and declare their amour. There were lots of events.”
“It sounds a perfect place for couples in love.”
“Yes, maybe it’s a little garish, but I want to go one day with my partner!”

I had my answer. Of course, there are many similarities in how la fête de Saint-Valentin is celebrated and a couple of key differences.

The Day is exclusively for lovers. Cards are not popular, but dîner pour deux in a special restaurant is. Sadly, due to current circumstances, that can’t happen. Instead, I suspected amoureux declared their love with flowers, perhaps a small gift, and dinner at home. A perfect alternative.

(And just in case you’re interested to learn more about one of France’s most romantic villages, here’s a link for Saint Valentin.)
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/st-valentin-the-most-romantic-place-in-france/
February also saw a new garden project. For ages, I’d been meaning to attack a scrappy patch of ground next to the ancient courtyard walls. A couple of shrubs were doing nicely, but the rest was a mass of weeds. I got stuck in.
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After digging out the worst of the rubbish, I took the easy approach by laying a weed sheet over the intended area. Nathan very kindly helped me, although did look a tad disappointed when I explained the job didn’t involve using a chainsaw. We finished with a natural stone border and then spread gravel over the top.
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Much to Jack’s disgust, since he never understands why I spend so much time ‘faffing’ around, I added hanging baskets, a couple of suitably rustic ornaments and assorted chunks of château. My cherished hare was repositioned and given a new throne. Et fait accompli, all done!
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Meanwhile, as the days warmed up, spring was making itself known in the garden. Daffs were being chased out of the ground by crocuses, and hordes of perky grape hyacinths were in hot pursuit. Even the roses started to bloom.
Daffs-2
And there were further delights to be had in our surrounding area. I write a monthly piece for a website called My French House, and the team loves printemps! Here’s what I shared with them.
https://www.my-french-house.com/blog
So far, March has gifted us with periods of glorious weather. I always look forward to our trips into the forest, but never more so than when our youngsters appear. Jack and I were putting down corn for the deer one afternoon when this adorable little one appeared. As you can see, it was having a spot of bother with its legs. I guess that’s understandable when they’re soooo long and delicate!
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Not to be outdone, a family of wild boar burst out of the shrubs. Incorrigible greedy guts, they instantly fell on the corn, scaring our poppet away.
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Even our amiable big boy, Tripod, turned up. We never mind giving him a feed!
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The sunshine has brought villagers out of homes. Borders are being prepared, sheds spring cleaned, and greenhouses dusted down. I know this because the other day, I hailed a few pals on my way to what I thought might be a straightforward errand. I needed to post some parcels and chose our closest La Poste for the job. An easy task, one might think. Well, not exactly. If you click on the link below you’ll find out what happened.
https://bethhaslam.blogspot.com/2021/03/pocket-sized-poste.html

Fat Dogs Memes

Aby took one look at the hare and lay down. I could imagine exactly what was going through her mind!
Screenshot 2021-03-17 174457

Fat Dogs 5 and the New Project

Amazon .com FD5 #1 Hot New Release French Travel 13 Jan
As you know, Fat Dogs 5 was published in January. I was thrilled to find that it began life as an Amazon Bestselling #1 Hot New Release and stayed that way for several weeks. Of course, I have you to thank for this, and also for the amazing heart-warming reviews that quickly followed. They are giving my Fat Dogs that further magical boost, and I couldn’t be more grateful for every single one.

Lots of people have asked whether there will be a Fat Dogs 6. The answer is yes, definitely. In fact, I have stories stacked up for the next two episodes, and at the rate we’re going, there are likely to be many more. But my next project is going to be a little different.

This time I’m taking you to another country. It’s one filled with castles, druids and myths about dragons. It’s a place with snowy mountains, and valleys that resonate with the sounds of song and cheers for bunches of players chasing a funny-shaped ball. It’s Wales, and I’m going to tell you all about my upbringing. I can’t wait!
Used for NL spring _n

Jack’s latest tantrum

Jack’s a black belt at ranting, but beneath that grumpy exterior lies a heart of gold. We know not to take his outbursts seriously, and he fizzles out as quickly as he ignites. Until the next explosion...
eating with Cleo
This unfortunate incident took place a couple of weeks ago. Jack had one of his famous ‘bad backs’ and was looking decidedly flimsy when I joined him in the kitchen.
“You’re up late.”
“Jack, it’s 6.45. That hardly qualifies as a lie-in. How's your back feeling?”
“Bloody awful, thank you for asking. But that’s the least of my problems.”
“Oh dear. What’s up?”
“I was halfway down the stairs when that black and white cat…”
“Cleo.”
“Yes, that one. She appeared from nowhere, started meowing and tried to rugby tackle me before I’d reached the bottom. I’ve probably dislocated another vertebra by dodging her.”
“You poor thing, I bet that…”
“Annoyed me? Yes, it did! Then the other two cats started.”
“Started what?”
“Fighting. Claus, who as we all know is the size of a grasshopper, flew through the catflap like a detonating grenade and tried to beat up Brutus.”
“Ooh, bad idea, Brutus is huge. What happened?”
“I had half a mind to see if Brutus was going to do the decent thing and lower the pet density in the house, but thought I’d better intervene. I picked up Claus before she got flattened, and d’you what she did?”
“No, but I expect it was naughty.”
“The little sod spat at me, ran to the corner of the kitchen and started throwing up!”
“Oh, no! Is she alright?”
“Yes, of course she is. My bloody back isn’t, though, because I had to clear it all up.”
“Erm, I hope you did it properly.”
“I’m going to ignore that comment. By the time I’d finished, that black and white one…”
Cleo, Jack, we’ve had her for three years!”
“Yes, that one. She was looking like an extra from The Exorcist. Her eyes had gone all slitty, and she was howling like a she-devil. I thought her head was going to start spinning around.”
“Of course, she was probably wondering why the breakfast service was taking so long.”
“Very funny. Anyway, I got the cats fed and then sorted out the dogs, who were bereft with starvation.”
“Well done, you managed everything in the end.”
“Huh, don’t think that was the end. Milliseconds after feeding everyone, Max decided he needed an instant pee. He charged across the kitchen towards the door, turned right and smacked straight into a cabinet door. Why? I have no idea. That dog is totally defective. I’ve always said so.”
“Aw, poor Max, he is so accident-prone. Was he okay?”
“Yes, yes, as is Claus, who hasn’t developed bulimia yet, but don’t hold your breath.”
“Ah well, at least Aby seems to have behaved herself. One out of five isn’t too bad.”
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“How about that coffee now? It’ll do wonders for your back, and temper.”

A word from French Property News

FPN Apr profile pic
There’s something about this awakening period of the year that gives folks itchy feet. With that comes a spate of house moves. Here’s another super article on just that subject from the top team at French Property News.

Click on the link below to find out which of these dreamy homes you fancy living in. Me? I’m struggling to get past the gorgeous property in Mayenne, Vendée. It could be those shutters...
https://www.completefrance.com/home/beautiful-properties-on-the-market-in-pays-de-la-loire-1-6962360
Stunning home for sale in Vendee with Leggett

Recipe from France

Following the success of her last contribution, I managed to persuade my multi-talented pal, Lindy Viandier, to share another of her fabulous culinary creations. This one has an Easter theme, and she has kindly included a fascinating historical backcloth.

The Bells of Easter

Hello again everyone, as the days begin to lengthen here at our home, Les Libellules, my garden is waking up. There are already daffodils and primroses and newborn lambs in the field behind the house, which gets me thinking of Easter.

Easter is known as ‘Pâques’ here in France. ‘La Pâques’ translates as ‘The Passover’, but without the article ‘la', and an ‘s’ added, it becomes ‘Easter’.

Easter in France is celebrated in much the same way as it is in the UK, with roast lamb being the meat of choice for a traditional family meal, because it symbolises spring and new life, and also because Jesus is identified as ‘The Sacrificial Lamb’.

There are, however, some notable differences. French children also go on Easter egg hunts (les chasse aux oeufs) on Easter Sunday morning. But it is not ‘the Easter Bunny’ who brings the eggs, rather the ‘Easter Bells’ (Les Cloches de Pâques).

Traditionally, the church bells in France stop ringing on ‘Good Friday’ (vendredi Saint) until ‘Easter Sunday’ morning to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus. The story goes that the bells grow two little wings, dress with a ribbon, and fly to Rome to be blessed by the pope. Then they fly back with chocolate bells, eggs, chickens, bunnies and, most peculiarly, fish, molluscs and lobsters, and drop them for children to find. Someone usually shouts ‘Les cloches sont passees’ (the bells have been), and all the children rush out with their baskets.

One can never have too much chocolate at Easter, so here is one of my favourite desserts, ‘Pots au Chocolat’.
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(Photo courtesy of Kate McGowan)
This is the simplest dessert you will ever make and looks really impressive if you serve it, as I do, in tiny coffee cups with a thimbleful of cream on the top (no more as it is very rich).

Pots au Chocolat (Chocolate Pots)

Ingredients (Serves six-eight)

  • 150 grams good quality plain / dark cooking chocolate broken into squares
  • 50 grams good quality milk cooking chocolate broken into squares
  • 1 square of chilli chocolate (optional)
  • ½ pint / 260ml single cream
  • Two egg yolks very lightly beaten with a small hand whisk
  • A knob of salted butter
  • One teaspoon of Brandy (optional)
  • 6-8 small coffee cups or very small ramekins or ‘verrines’ (small glasses for mini deserts or aperitifs)

Method

  • Warm the cream very gently in a non-stick saucepan.
  • Add the chocolate and heat slowly, making sure that it is completely melted and that no grainy particles remain (it should appear smooth and glossy – don’t overheat it as it will thicken and become fudgy).
  • Add the brandy and the butter and remove from the heat.
  • Add the egg a little at a time, mixing quickly.
  • When the mixture is smooth and glossy, divide it between your chosen serving dishes (a mixture always looks fun and attractive at Easter time).
  • Leave the dishes to cool completely, then chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.
The higher the dark chocolate content, the richer and stiffer the dessert.
If making this for children, I use 50% dark and 50% milk to give a creamier, mousse-like texture, so adjust quantities to taste. You can also whisk one or both of the egg whites and incorporate this into the mixture to give a lighter mousse effect.
Bon appétit!
Lindy
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(Photo courtesy of Kate McGowan)
(Oh, and by the way, this is one of the 18 recipes featured in Lindy’s soon to be published memoir Damson Skies and Dragonflies. I’m dying to read it!)

Bookish Corner

book
In this edition, I’m taking you to two different countries. My first review is set right here in France.

Annemarie Rawson: My French Platter: A Journey to a Dream Life in France: 1

What a rollercoaster story!

The author recounts the decision she and her husband take to become managers of a country house in France. As they prepare to move from their home in New Zealand, the relationship with their new employers becomes more and more precarious. By now fully committed, they decide to go ahead anyway. Sounds tame? It isn’t!

The author’s relaxed storytelling style instantly hooked me. Highs, lows, tensions and recipes, yep, those too, it’s a cracking yarn that will have you on the edge of your seat one moment and reaching for your pans the next.
Front e-book cover
(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)
http://www.smarturl.it/FrenchPlatter1

Lally Brown: Treefrogs Can’t Sing: British Virgin Islands 1978 to 1981

Fancy reading about what it’s like to live in paradise? If so, grab this book.

This is a sequel, where the reader is taken back to the Caribbean island that many dub heaven on earth. It’s been eight years since Lally and her husband’s last stint on their beloved Tortola. They return with their two young children, and things have changed.

The author’s writing is captivating, intelligent, and as the title suggests, it oozes humour. From start to finish, Treefrogs Can’t Sing delivers a huge feel-good factor. It’s another gem, I loved it and sincerely hope a follow-up is in store.
Treefrogs can't sing Cover KDP
(Click on the book image for the Amazon .com link, and the link below for Amazon .UK.)
http://amzn.to/38BeHDW

Et voilà!

Now that spring is nicely underway, the next excitements we have in store here at Le Palizac are the arrivals of baby animals. Birds, boar, deer, reptiles and tiny mammals, they’ll be popping up all over the place.

In preparation for our newbie garden birds, I recently installed lots of extra bird boxes. The feeders needed regular replenishing too. I was halfway through filling one the other day when I realised I had company. Claus-Paws, the family ninja, had decided to help.
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Foiled by being shooed away, the kitten on a mission decided she was a great big warrior cat. Off she bounded towards a couple of Reeves cock pheasants having a snack nearby. Neatly forgetting she was a third of their size, she came to a grinding halt just centimetres away.
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They took one look at the furry upstart, fluffed up their feathers and completely ignored her. Vanquished, she stalked off to kill a dead leaf instead. Poor old Claus-Paws. She has far more success with her toy mouse!

That’s it for this edition, I do hope you enjoyed the update. There’ll be lots more to come in the summer. Until then, stay safe, well, and enjoy the seasons as they develop in your part of the world.

Hugs and warm wishes from all of us here in our little corner of France.
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
Aby and Max summer 2020-2
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