Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to the summer edition of Fat Dogs News. Here is the usual list of features for you to dip into:
  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fun with French Property News
  • Recipe from France
  • Bookish Corner
  • Et Voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

I always thought chatting about the weather was a uniquely ‘Brit’ trait. Not so. We quickly learnt that discussing its foibles is a French national pastime too.

April’s hot spells, for example, sent the farmers into a downward spiral. Groans over scorched fruit blossoms rang through the orchards. The cruel spring sun was causing untold damage to their trees. And had we seen those singed petal edges from that freak frost? Zut! The harvests were doomed. We’d heard that one before. Mind you, it may be their complaints were heeded.
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May turned wet. Very wet. Dog walks were soggy, and Jack resumed quad-biking around the forest, fixing the electric fence.

Following yet another deluge, I found a Reeves hen pheasant lying flat out in the pen. She was alert but paralysed. I picked her up and quarantined her in a separate coop. With no idea what the problem was, I checked online.
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It seems that she had a form of ataxia. The advice suggested it was caused by a rare neurological virus. The illness was apparently not infectious, but it was considered incurable and therefore affected birds should be culled.
As little is known about the condition, I wondered whether it might react like a common human virus. The pheasant didn’t seem to be in pain, so I decided to give her a chance to overcome the illness. But she needed help.
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Over the next eight days, I hand-fed and watered her. Although her health fluctuated, she was able to swallow, so I continued. Silly though it sounds, I massaged her leg and wing muscles and supported her on a perch to see if she could grab the surface. Basic physio for birds. After each session, I returned her to the warm coop nest.
The changes were gradual, but she finally started improving. And then, one day, I walked into the coop to find that she had gone. I rushed into the adjoining enclosure, and there she was, wobbling around. I couldn’t believe it.

That was a few days ago. She has since made a complete recovery and is now back in her home pen. And to my amazement, she has even started laying eggs.

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The incident has taught me so much. Of course, I realise that most folks wouldn’t have had the time to spend on a sick bird, but to see her transformed from paralysis to full recovery was worth every second of the effort. And you never know, I might just write to the pheasant association with my findings!
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May closed with brighter weather and the welcome return of a favourite fair. Cancelled last year due to Covid restrictions, the plant fête was held at our local town, Belfore. Specialist horticulturalists come from all over to display their wares, offer gardening advice and sell their goods. I love it.
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A pal and I strolled under clearing skies among infinite plant stalls. We learned about new varieties, cooed at garden art sculptures and tried to resist the temptations to buy. And did we return empty-handed? Nooo, of course not!
It might have been inspiration from the fête that energised me into developing my latest minor project. It had been brewing for ages. Here’s the recipe for ‘Un petit étang’.
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Take one old tractor tyre donated by the lovely lads at our local pneu place. Borrow the wonderful Jean-Pierre and his middle-sized pelle. (That bit cheered up project-weary Jack no end!)
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Dig hole and pause to look for treasure! (Disappointingly, none was discovered other than an iron rod and lots of pottery shards. Nevertheless, I decided they were important finds.)

Plonk tyre in hole, line it and fill with water whilst giving strict instructions to Aby and Max not to test the depth.
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Take a visit to a top stone emporium – browse. Buy 15 euros worth of rocky chunks. Et voila! We now have a little pond and bijou solar-powered fountain. All I need is a few more plants, grass on the border and perhaps a minnow, and we’re done. Simple.
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For us, June is a beautiful month. Aside from plant growth, we are surrounded by the buzz of animal babies. In the aviaries, mums are brooding on nests, hissing bravely if I venture too close.
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We have had a handful of hatchings so far. Here’s one lost soul who needed to be returned to a panicking mum. What a cutie!
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Fawns will come soon, but right now, the forest is echoing with the squeaky squeals of baby boar. The French word for them is marcassin. We don’t know how long these families will stay around. And we know they cause lots of damage to farmers’ crops. Still, we can’t help but find them incredibly endearing. These photos may show you why.
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This period also enabled me to achieve a goal of a very different kind. Do you love French bread? We do. Having always wanted to find out how those crunchy loaves are baked, I plucked up the courage to ask a local award-winning Boulanger if he would allow me behind the scenes. What a fantastic couple of mornings I had. To find out what happened, click on the link below.
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https://bethhaslam.blogspot.com/2021/06/le-best-boulangerie.html

Fat Dogs Meme

I asked Jack to buy me ‘some’ Yorkshire teabags online. Just for me. Only me. You’ll guess why I won’t be running out for a while!
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Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

I’ll admit that it took lots of persuasion from Victoria at Ant Press before I agreed to write about my upbringing in Wales. Why on earth would anyone find it interesting? I wondered. It was yonks ago. Can I even remember what happened? And then I sat down to think about my childhood.

As I jotted down notes, memories flooded back. Some had never left me. I remembered the fun things, the exciting things and some of the things I would never want to relive. But most of all, I reflected on how lucky I have been.

For me, Wales was filled with fun, animals and lots of mini-adventures. Here’s a snippet from one when I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager.
Clare and Jane’s dad sent us off on an adventure to find the old mausoleum. This was where the estate principal family members had been laid to rest. We mustn’t go in, he said, but we were free to explore outside. This was far too exciting a prospect to turn down.

We set off, a happy band of ghost hunters, racing across fields and trekking through woods. Finally, we found the approximate site and started casting around.

At first, we thought we were in the wrong place. Jane yelled. She’d discovered a partially concealed track. We tethered the ponies and started groping our ways down the brambly, yew tree-lined path, grumbling, tumbling and unpicking prickly thorns from our clothes.

Facing us were trees. Dark, foreboding trees. And then, just ahead, we spotted railings. The wrought iron stakes with arrowhead finials corralled a sombre Gothic-style building. We had found it, the mortuary chapel with an octagonal bell tower.

Whispers hissed among us. Who dared to scale the fence for a closer look?

“Go on, Beth, you’re the littlest. You climb over.”
“No fear, Di. You go!”
“Not likely! Clare, how about it?”
Mausoleum-mmtrust

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...

RR in weeds

The background

Our ancient gas-guzzling car finally died. Sad though it was to part with an old friend, it was exciting to have a brand new replacement. Or should have been. Jack decided we should go green and buy a rechargeable hybrid and launched into extensive technical research. He was doing fine until he reached the human interaction stage.
“How bloody hard can this be?”
“What, Jack?”
“I tried this car company’s website, and could I find details about the hybrid models? No, of course not. They’re far too coy about sharing mundane technical information.”
“That’s frustrating. Did you try the chat box facility?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And?”
“Nothing happened. I spent at least ten minutes twiddling my thumbs, looking at three bouncy dots on the screen, waiting for Eric, who was supposed to be at my service.”
“Ah, so he didn’t reply?”
“No. The sod had probably gone for a two-hour lunch.”
“Oh dear. Anyway, I thought you’d emailed them.”
“I did. Twice. And did anyone answer? Not a sentence. Dammit, I’m trying to buy a car from these people, not negotiate a hostile takeover!”

Jack did eventually manage to communicate with someone. To cut a long story short, we bought a new hybrid car. Now he had to transfer the money to pay for it, which caused the second part of his rant.

“D’you know what our daily euro bank transfer limit is?”
“No, but…”
“They’re evidently worried about all those plantations you bought in Colombia. It'll be just about enough to buy a small tricycle!”
“That’s annoying.”
“It certainly is, which I told them in words of one syllable in my email.”
“Oh Jack, you weren’t rude again, were you?”
“Definitely not! After answering all their security questions, including my waist measurements, shoe size and the length of Aby’s toenails, I simply pointed out that I was trying to transfer a sensible amount of my money, not theirs.”
“I see…”
“I added that if they were happy for me to pollute the Tarn et Garonne for the rest of my days by driving a petrol-belching wreck because they refused to increase the transfer amounts, then shame on them.”
“Blimey, that's a mouthful, Jack! I honestly don't think these people understand your humour. What did they say?”
“Laurent, the cheeky swine, said I was very droll and referred me to their mission statement on commitment to protecting the planet. It’s somewhere on their website, obviously impossible to find.”
“Hah, well, at least he answered! Was there a satisfactory conclusion?”
“Sort of. We both agreed it wouldn't endanger the banking world’s already dodgy reputation if a customer were allowed one high-value transfer on an exceptional basis. And, in return for being allowed to spend our own money, I promised I wouldn’t snitch on him to Greta Thunberg.”
“Excellent. All’s well that ends well, then.”

Fun with French Property News

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As we all know, France is home to lots of fabulous locations. Some are so spectacular they take your breath away. Unfortunately, for wannabe homeowners, many of these places are for dreams rather than purchases. But not all.

Take a look at this lovely article from the team at French Property News. In it, they showcase several stunning areas including those where affordable properties can be found. I have sailed to Dinard and know exactly how beautiful it is, and we sooo nearly bought a property in the north of Var. That's another department I’d love to visit again soon!
https://www.completefrance.com/home/cheaper-places-to-buy-property-than-alps-cote-azur-and-alps-1-6964362
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And if you subscribe to their mag, check out the FPN July edition. It features information on buying a French property remotely mid-pandemic, the sunniest places to live in France, and a guide to moving to France post-Brexit.
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French Recipe

Once again, I have managed to persuade my multi-talented pal, Lindy Viandier, to share another of her fabulous culinary creations. I love this dish. Here is her interpretation, along with some fascinating information about its history.
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One of my favourite French entrées is Coquilles St Jacques which are scallops in a white wine sauce, served in a large scallop shell. Some recipes add morsels of white fish, salmon or prawns and garnish the top with piped potato, but this is the traditional 'à la Bretonne’ recipe from Brittany.

St Jacques is the French name for Saint James, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee who became one of Jesus’ first disciples and was the first to be martyred. He is said to have worn a scallop shell in his cap.

There is a legend that James’ body was put on a boat and set sail for Spain. A horse and rider saw the boat off the coast of Galicia in the northwest of the country. The horse bolted into the sea towards the boat, and both horse and rider drowned, only to re-emerge covered in scallop shells.

The scallop shell became synonymous with the ‘Camino de Santiago’, and scallop shell emblems mark the trails leading there, and hostelries that welcome pilgrims display one on their doors. Many pilgrims either wear a scallop shell badge or carry one with them in the backpack. In earlier times, they served as a receptacle to eat and drink from.

Although Coquilles St Jacques can be made in a dish, I like to make mine in a scallop shell. You can buy ready-made versions, and I have cheated a few times to save the shells. It is, as with all my recipes, a simple starter that can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge, ready to be heated through.

Ingredients

(Serves four)
  • 4 large scallop shells or small shallow ‘crème brulée’ style dishes
  • 4-6 large or 6-8 small scallops per person (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 large banana shallot very finely chopped
  • 30g of salted butter, plus extra
  • 1 tbsp of plain flour seasoned with a little salt and black pepper
  • 10cl dry white wine
  • 20cl single cream
  • 10cl milk
  • 50g grated parmesan cheese
  • 1tbsp very fine breadcrumbs
  • Four sprigs of flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Method

Prepare the béchamel:
  • Gently melt the butter over a low heat in a saucepan.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the flour.
  • Return to a low heat and add the white wine stirring to a paste, then the milk to loosen the paste, finally the cream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps (if they should occur, don’t panic, just use a hand whisk to remove them).
  • Gently cook for 3 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
  • Take an extra knob of butter and gently melt it in a non-stick frying pan.
  • Gently sauté for 2-3 minutes until soft but not brown.
  • Add the scallops and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until caramelised on the outside and soft and creamy inside.
  • Share the scallops and shallots evenly between the shells/dishes.
  • Cover with the béchamel sauce.
  • Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and finally the breadcrumbs.
  • Bake on a medium shelf in a pre-heated oven at 190 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden and bubbling.
Serve immediately garnished with a sprig of flat-leaf parsley, or allow to cool, and then refrigerate until ready to re-heat and serve.

(If using scallop shells, I stabilise them by putting the shell on a crème brulée dish to prevent the filling from spilling out.)

Bon appétit!

Oh, and by the way, Lindy’s memoir Damson Skies and Dragonflies is due to be published later this year. I’m dying to read it!
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Bookish Corner

book
My first recommendation takes you to Portugal and a beautifully curated anthology I had the pleasure of beta reading.

Alyson Sheldrake: A New Life in the Algarve, Portugal: An anthology of life stories (The Algarve Dream Series Book 3)

If you enjoy reading short stories, you’ll love this. The tales are contributed by colourful folks from different corners of the globe. Artists, bankers, families, an Interpol agent, retirees, and a British consul are among the eclectic mix. And although each account is distinctly different, there are similarities that draw them together.

The storytellers share a love for the Algarve, its landscapes, climate and people. They adore the food, wrestle with the language and strive to help those less fortunate than themselves. Their advice is summarised in a handy Top Tips section at the end of the book, which has universal applications for many considering a new life abroad.
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https://smarturl.it/ANewLifeAlgarve
My second featured book is written by Val Poore, one of my favourite authors.

Valerie Poore: Faring Forth Again on the Shoe: More tales of Barging through Belgium to France

I knew I’d be in for a treat with this memoir and was hooked from the first page as I joined Val and her partner, Koos, aboard the Hennie H. Through Val's vivid descriptions, admiring the changing landscapes as they gently fared the canals in Belgium and France was bliss.

Throughout their trip, the reader is given fascinating snippets of history. I loved those too. And, as with all great writers, there’s fun. Val often made me giggle, and especially with her vignettes about their simple living arrangements aboard.

This book contains humour and depth, and its story, so beautifully told, is a celebration of Val Poore's excellent writing. I highly recommend it.
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https://www.azonlinks.com/B093LRK88M

Et voilà!

We’re in the middle of the month now, and June is flaming! Temperatures are rising to the mid-thirties, and next week is set to be a heatwave. This makes for hot dog walks and lots of wallowing opportunities for Aby and Max. Frankly, it’s canine bliss for our mutts!
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And I can close this edition with further (tentative) good news. As with many other parts of the world, the fight against Covid isn’t over. It might never be, but we are all trying to find ways to manage it. Here, lockdown restrictions are gradually lifting. The latest came on the 9th of June when the curfew was extended to 11.30 pm. The interiors of restaurants and cafés also re-opened.
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I don’t know how long this will last, but I swear the whole country has heaved a sigh of relief. Folks can now enjoy that early morning coffee and chat with a chum at their local café. Us too. Savouring a delicious tartelette aux fraises after such a long time was such a treat!
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Until next time, hugs from us all here in our little corner of France!
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
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