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Welcome to the latest edition of Fat Dogs News. Not many sleeps ‘til Christmas now. Can you believe it? Jack’s fond wishes of spending the winter snoozing gently beside a roaring fire have been shelved yet again. Life here at Le Palizac is far too vibrant. You’ll find out why in a moment.

Here is the list of regular features for you to browse through.
  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates
  • Fun with French Property News
  • Recipe
  • Bookish Corner
  • Et voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

I’ve often considered how lucky we are with the endless dog-walking possibilities here. One of my regular haunts is the banks of the River Garonne near Moissac. This photo might show you why. It was a peerless autumn day when a pal and I decided to have a riverside amble. It was bliss for the dogs too.
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Come rain or shine, icy or not, Aby and Max just must to have that wallow!
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October ended with Halloween – Leclerc style. Our big grocery store loves dressing up. When I walked in to begin my weekly shop, I was met by a saucy sorceress. Trust the French to have a chic witch!
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Checking out the pâtisserie (when in France one simply must), I bumped into these toothy smilers. Presiding over the gateaux is a great place to be!
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The fruit and veg stall was even better. It was hard to miss those monster pumpkins.
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Mid-November saw us back on renovations. We have four little bridges that span the moat, one of which was becoming decidedly dicky. Several of the planks were unstable and had to be replaced. How Max managed to stick his paw down the single gaping hole so often beats me, but he did.
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Fortunately, the problem bridge crosses a section of moat that dries out in the summer. We had a team strategy session with Nathan and scrambled down to look underneath. A squelchy idea, but it told us what we needed to know. Two of the massive bracing timbers were fine. One needed replacing.

Timbers and floorboards are heavy objects. Dismantling them ended up as a tractor job.
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With our fixed skeleton in place, we needed new planks to replace the rotten ones. No problem there, we have lots of wood.
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After a week’s work, thanks to our forest, and Nathan for cutting the wood, we now have a repaired bridge that even Max couldn’t trip on. Mind you; I suppose he’s equally likely to fall off one of the sides. Huh, hadn’t thought of that before.
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Late autumn and early winter here are unbelievably beautiful. I take photos of this fantastic ginkgo every year. I bet you can guess why. It’s the reason I bought some specimens for our home.
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Dog treks in the forest, padding over leafy carpets beneath a gold-tinted canopy is a dreamy experience I look forward to every year. I’ll spot young boar (they call them ados here) charging around bramble bushes, and deer with flecks of sunlight reflecting on their rich brown coats. Hares too, we have some whoppers at the moment.
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Even the brooks and baby waterfalls take on a new, enchanting beauty.
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November in France is also the month for a different kind of celebration. Ever heard the phrase, ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!’? When the clock strikes midnight on the third Thursday of the month, France celebrates the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau wine. Bottles are opened, and folks in France raise their glasses to savour that first sip.

As the name suggests, Beaujolais Nouveau originates from the Beaujolais region near Lyon. This new wine is called primeur, early fruit, symbolising each year’s grape harvest. As I’m sure you’ll know, it’s a young fruity red wine, so young that it makes it from vine to bottle within a handful of months. That’s pretty special here in France.
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There doesn’t seem to be much argument that Beaujolais Nouveau is a tad lacking in finesse. It was traditionally a table wine quaffed at the end of the harvest. However, the novelty value of distributing a wine within the year of harvest became a marketer’s dream.

Recognition of Beaujolais Nouveau came in the 1950s where a date was set for the wine’s official release. Distributors competed each year to deliver the first bottles to Paris. Originally exclusive to wine merchants and restaurants of the region, this event quickly spread across France and the world.

But who gets to receive their precious bottles first? With worldwide deliveries allegedly made by elephants, hot air balloons, rickshaws, and more. There’s something about this wine that excites the imagination.

We’re no strangers to the world-famous fruity brew, but our taste rests closer to home. We recently nipped over to a special place as a ‘treat to selves’ for enduring yet another confusing document-infested meeting at the Prefecture in Montauban. Le vignoble de Gaillac.

Wine has been produced for over 2000 years in Gaillac, making it the oldest vineyard in the southwest and one of the oldest in France. We have the Romans to thank for that. Following their conquest of Gaul, they cheered up the locals no end by importing wine-growing methods and cultures that became established in the region.
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Those Romans knew a good spot when they saw one. Benefiting from an ideal wine-making climate, Gaillac is surrounded by a mix of hills and plains seated on beds of clay-limestone, silty sands and pebbles. Selling the wine was simple too. Gaillac is close to Toulouse and the River Tarn. This flows into the River Garonne, part of a natural trade route to Bordeaux.
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Whites, reds, bubbly, they are all produced at this magnificent vineyard, but it is the deliciously dry rosé that we had come to buy. We relieved the vineyard of two cases and returned home with the promise of an excellent evening apéritif.

To celebrate my birthday this year, we enjoyed an entirely different kind of treat. Jack and I set off for an ancient village I had always wanted to visit. Cordes-Sur-Ciel rightfully takes its place as one of the most extraordinary villages in France. Though, as you’ll soon find out, perhaps not so much for Jack!

Click on the image of Cordes below to find out what happened.
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Fat Dogs Memes

It was the ‘You didn’t see me, right?’ expression on this youngster’s face that gave me the giggles. That’s what bursting out of a thicket unannounced does for you!
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Jack’s latest tantrum

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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... In fairness to Jack, this was more of a team rant.

The background
We had been out and returned to find a car transporter in one of our fields. Random, but true. It took a while to track down the owner (long story, it’ll probably end up as a chapter). The truck had a variety of non-matching number plates and no insurance certificate, which caused it to be somewhat incognito.

The transporter was being used to carry a vast hedge cutting machine owned by the telephone company. They were tidying up roadside hedges and trees in the area and forgot to ask if they could leave their rented truck on our land while the hedge-eater was at work.

A few days later, two men appeared to remove the transporter and realised they had a problem. It had been raining hard, and with no tread on any of its many tyres, the truck was stuck. The men had a bright idea.

After an animated phone call, up trundled the positively enormous munching machine driven by a very chirpy Spanish chap with just one tooth. His job was to tow the transporter (which now looked like a Dinky toy) out of the mud. We watched as he pondered his rescue mission. Jack was the first to grump.

“I don’t believe it. What is that man doing? He’s wandering around in bloody carpet slippers.”
“Interesting, not sure. They must be his special driving shoes.”
“Yep, there he goes, flat on his face. I knew he wouldn’t say upright for long.”

Poor Señor picked himself up. No worse for wear other than being extremely muddy, he climbed into the muncher’s cab and started his manoeuvres. Jack smacked his forehead in despair.

“See that? He has jack-knifed the transporter! How on earth?
“Well, it is awfully slippery out there, Jack.”

“Tyres like that shouldn’t have a problem in those conditions. The angle he took was far too acute. I’ll have to go and tell him what to do.”
“Hm, how is your Spanish these days? Not sure you’ve progressed much beyond café con leche. And that chap doesn’t speak English, or French.”
“I’ll manage to make myself understood.”
“Try not to be rude, Jack.”

Several gesticulations later, the towing cable length was adjusted, and the muncher repositioned at the cost of more churned-up field. They tried again. After the fourth-ish go, Jack sighed.

“At least they’re heading in the right direction now. God knows how he’s going to get it past our wood bundles.”
“Good point. Oh, no. Look! The transporter is sliding towards the stack. The drivers don’t seem to have noticed.”
Le bois! Attention le bois!” came a familiar voice from the other side of the lane.

Nathan had turned up at the critical moment to see his lovingly created wood bundles under attack. We’ve rarely seen him so animated.

“Ah, just in time,” said Jack. “I’ll ask Nathan to pull the transporter sideways before the stack gets demolished.”

Nathan nipped onto his tractor and dragged the transporter into a sensible position. Now they were both pointing in the correct direction and facing a new challenge. How they were going to manage the manoeuvre was puzzling.

“It’s going to be a tight turn getting onto the lane, though, Jack. What if they skid into that deep drainage ditch?”
“Oh my God! Look! He’s driven straight across it. Brilliant. The road is covered in mud now. But…hang on. Honestly, this beggars belief.”

As Jack spoke, the transporter slewed sideways in a new direction and started making steady progress towards the trees. Furious, he started yelling again.

Señor watch out, the trees! Er…arberos!
“Jack, I don’t think that’s a word.”
Arbres! Mes arbres!” fretted Nathan.
“I know. Why don’t we leave them to it and have a nice coffee, gentlemen? I have some fresh Madeleine cakes. You both love them.”
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Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

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It’ll need oodles of editing and general faffing, but I’ve finally finished. The first draft of Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates is written. Phew!

Here's a snippet that appears in the latter stages of the book. I was a teenager and had been given a 50cc motorbike. My mother, a very proper lady who had never been near a motorcycle in her life, fancied a go. Pa and I watched her try out my pride and joy.
“You do realise your mother hasn’t ever ridden a motorcycle, don’t you?”
“Yes, Pa, but I couldn’t say no. She seemed so keen.”

Ma whizzed past us looking thrilled, or hysterical. It was hard to say.

“See how the bike’s weaving?”
“Ah, yes, I do, Pa.”
“I’m afraid she has never had a good sense of balance.”
“Strange that, since she’s such a good horse rider. Mind you, the helmet seems to have slipped over one of her eyes, so perhaps she can’t see very well.”
“Possibly. Your mother does have rather a small head.”

Ma zoomed past us a couple more times, less wobbly now. By the fourth-ish lap, she was looking somewhat strained. She flapped a hand as she zipped by, so we waved back. This generated a rictus grin and then a shriek.

“Any ideas what she’s trying to say, Pa?”
“None at all.”
“I wonder if there’s a spider in the helmet?” [Ma had a spider phobia.]
“The entire county would know if that were the case. Did you tell her how to operate the brakes?”
“Ooh, no, I forgot about that.”
“That was an oversight, Beth.”
“Sorry. It took a while to explain the gears. I didn’t get around to the brakes bit.”
“Is there much petrol left in the tank?”
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A word from French Property News

Fancy a second home in la belle France? If so, then read on. Hot off the press from the top team at French Property News, here’s yet another mouth-watering article to get your itchy feet tapping.
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https://www.completefrance.com/french-property/buying-and-selling/gorgeous-holiday-homes-for-sale-in-france-8553064
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Recipe from France

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I reckon that my pal, Lindy Viandier, is onto something rather special with her Christmas recipe. Actually, I can't wait to try it. Read on to find out why!
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(Photo courtesy of Kate McGowan)

Christmas Dinner Soup (Or How to Eat Franglais)

As we’re a Franglais household here at Les Libellules, we eat our main Christmas meal around 8pm on Christmas eve, followed by the opening of presents.
Christmas day chez nous has a more relaxed air to it and for lunch I often make soup from many of the ingredients that go into a traditional Christmas meal – notably Brussels sprouts that we grow here in our garden.
It was not uncommon in the UK for me to serve a satisfying home-made soup at lunch time with a crusty roll or a chunk of granary bread and butter. This did not go down well with my French husband the first time he stayed at my house in Wales.

In France, soup is eaten as an entrée – a prelude to a meal, not the main event. What was more horrifying to him was that I served it with bread!

This was just the beginning of my culinary journey into the French way of life.
The following soup, I eat on its own with bread a la anglaise at lunchtime, and Mr V has a smaller bowl without bread followed by a main course, cheese and dessert!
You can chose…

Ingredients (serves 2 generously as a lunch or supper dish and 4 as a starter)

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 200 g of pumpkin cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 medium carrots finely chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips finely chopped
  • The green of a small leek shredded
  • 100g of fresh cooked (roasted or boiled until soft) chestnuts very finely chopped
    10 – 12 fresh or frozen Brussels sprouts depending on size
  • A large handful of red lentils
  • A level teaspoon of turmeric (optional, but adds colour)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste (black pepper increases the anti-inflammatory action of the turmeric)
  • 1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock
  • A small amount of leftover turkey or chicken cut into very small pieces (optional)

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stockpot.
  • Gently sauté the pumpkin, carrots, parsnips and leek until slightly softened, taking care not to brown.
  • Add the turmeric and coat the vegetables, then add 4 or 5 twists of a black pepper mill.
  • Add the chestnuts and finally the stock.
  • Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for one and a half hours or until the vegetables are soft and the lentils disappeared.
  • At this stage you can either blend the soup with a hand blender, or leave it rustic and chunky, or, like me partially blend with a potato masher (the pumpkin, parsnips tend to blend totally, but the carrots and chestnuts remain, giving two textures).
  • Bring up to the boil again and add the sprouts, reduce the heat and add the turkey or chicken morsels and simmer for a further 10 – 15 minutes until the sprouts soften, but are not mushy.
  • Taste and season as necessary.
    This soup is perfect on cold winter days - why wait until Christmas?
Bon appétit!
Lindy
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Bookish Corner

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Once again, I have enjoyed some great reads. These two gems took me to rural Spain, and for very different reasons, I loved them both.
Helen Stephenson: SIDNEY DELICIOUS: The memoir of a Spanish rescue dog
Told by the adorably scruffy rescue dog Sid, he recounts tales of life in the countryside and finding his forever family. But they have to be patient. Sidney Delicious gets up to all sorts of doggy mischief. He’s a pooch with wanderlust and a foodie extraordinaire.

This is an enchanting story that will play with your emotions. You’ll smile, giggle, and you’ll need your tissues. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Sidney Delicious too.
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(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)
https://bit.ly/3ujI2L9
My second featured memoir is entirely different in style and content. Having been captivated by this author’s writing style, I couldn’t wait to read the latest episode in her series. It was another literary breath of fresh air.
Lisa Rose Wright: Chestnut, Cherry & Kiwi Fruit Sponge: A final year to write home about - and mother makes 3 in Galicia
In this third episode of the author’s Writing Home series, Lisa and her husband, S, continue with their house restoration work as they settle into life as smallholders. And then they have a thought.

Finish their refurbishments, relax and put their feet up? Pah! That isn’t their style. Lisa’s intrepid 83-year-old mum isn’t getting any younger, and they want to have her close by. They fall in love with and buy a cottage next door, but there’s one glitch. It is almost derelict, and Mum is keen to move in…now!

This book, which describes their cottage renovations and life in rural Spain, is written with the author’s charming free-flowing style. It made me laugh, it made me want to jump on a plane and join them in their beautiful corner of Spain, and at times I shed a tear. ‘Chestnut’ is another winner.
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(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)
https://smarturl.it/ChestnutCherryKiwi

Et voilà!

With Christmas Day almost here, our little corner of France is determined to celebrate despite Covid. Towns are sparkling with multi-coloured shooting stars, trees, baubles and drippy icicles. Not all of the lights work, but we get the gist. The North Pole has come to our village. A fair amount of hot air is required to keep the snowman upright. He’s apt to sag because of his punctures. No problem, we’ve decided he adds character to the ensemble.
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And then we have one of my favourite annual get-togethers, Sapin des Voisins. This is the one where neighbours gather around an enormous tarmac-melting bonfire in our village lay-by. Everyone brings a foody contribution, and ours is usually mince pies.

Our snail-eating friends were gravely suspicious the first time I offered my British festive fave. Why did they have spices in pastry? Most irregular, they decided, and probably another disastrous culinary invention anglais. All it took was a couple of test nibbles. Now they’re a hit and get devoured in seconds.
As Anton hurls tree trunks on his fire, we’ll share a glass of vin chaud and chat with pals. The deliciously spicy wine packs quite a punch. And I know exactly what’ll happen. Jack will instantly go fishing in his beaker for stray cinnamon sticks, there’s usually at least one. He’ll moan about the horrors of turning a perfectly good wine into a health food before swigging the lot.
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For the big feast itself, we’re not sure what we’re having. Jack fancies goose. That’s fine by me and the family, so long as we can have parsnips, roast potatoes and sprouts. Must have sprouts!

Whatever your plans may be, Jack and I hope you have a truly inspired Christmas and a very happy new year. And we want to sincerely thank you for joining us on our adventures here in France. Stand by, we have plenty more to share!
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Hugs from us all here in our little corner of France.
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
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