Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to the spring edition of Fat Dogs News. Inspired by the season of renewal, I’ve introduced a new feature, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Here’s the list for you to cherry-pick at your leisure.
  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Jack's Latest Tantrum
  • Fabulous French Entrée
  • Fat Dogs Part VI
  • Fantastic France
  • French Recipe
  • Fat Dogs Wales
  • Bookish Corner
  • Et voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

Ever been to a carol singing concert in January? It happens here. A quirky time of year, I know, but that fits perfectly with our offbeat community. Concerts take the form of a round-robin involving five churches. It’s chaotic; there’s mayhem and much terrible singing. Still, it’s great fun. To find out what happened, click on the image below.
Since Christmas, our weather has been ridiculously varied. It began with snow storms which swept the country, leaving us with a light covering. I may have moaned about not having enough white stuff to make a snowman, but not the dogs. Behaving like wet Gremlins, Aby and Max enjoyed endless battles over stick ownership. You can probably guess who won. Yep, it wasn’t Max.
Gales left us with fallen trees, electric fence faults, and a grumpy Jack. Then came an impromptu hailstorm. We watched from the study window as large snowy balls thunked on roofs and bounced across the lawn. “That’ll be another bloody car bonnet destroyed then,” sighed Jack. Fortunately, they were a slushy variety, and we got away with minor damage. The YouTube link below will give you an idea of the thunks.
Finally, the sun shone brightly. Spring plants responded by bursting out of the ground, yelling ‘Bonjour!’ – a sure sign of the new season.
Snowdrops and crocuses were followed by mimosas, one of my favourite early flowering trees, and we have lots here. Their show against azure skies makes dog walks extra special and inspired me to get stuck into another favourite spring pastime. Planting!
After dusting down my tiny greenhouse, I now have a modest selection of border plants and vegetable seeds brewing. The only disappointment is my onions, which I decided to grow from seed this year rather than using sets. Sadly no show yet, so any advice on seedling sweet-talking would be very welcome.
Glorious sunshine has also brought the wildlife out to play. On watery walks, I'll spot ragondin (coypu) enjoying warming waters and waterfowl nesting.
In the forest, the deer, with stags still in velvet, are shedding their winter coats, and we have several female boar waddling around, which can only mean one thing...
Our frog community is singing its heart out in the garden pond, and lizards are scampering around the borders. It’s a beautiful time to be in the countryside.
And Nap, our (now enormous) rescue pot-bellied pig, has struck up a new and deep friendship with Gabby le hen. As you can see, they're besties!
March the 1st is Saint David’s Day, our Patron Saint of Wales. With the launch of Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates, the day had extra significance this year. To help me celebrate, I invited Shelley from the Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company on my blog.
The team has kindly contributed several mouth-watering recipes to my Welsh Recipe section (which you can browse through on my website). Click on the link below to learn about their company and the international event they have inaugurated in honour of a very special Welsh food.

Fat Dogs Memes

Max finally got fed up with being the subject of photoshoots.

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...

For this issue, I have a guest ranter. Don’t be alarmed; Jack hasn’t calmed down. His last one ended up as a monologue Shakespeare would have approved of – exceedingly long. I’ll share it another time. So to Paul-Dominique (Paul-Doh), our fuel delivery man, who, I might add, has cheered my husband up no end. Jack says it proves that his tantrums are perfectly normal. They aren’t.

The background.
Paul-Doh (normally mild-mannered) periodically trundles up in his oil wagon and dispenses fuel into various tanks. On this day, he appeared at 7.45 am, a shock since he was due at 3.00 pm. Jack and Nathan were busy, so, still bemused, I took out a coffee and Madeleine cake. I wish I hadn’t bothered.
Bonjour, Paul-Doh, you’re early.”
“Oui. My mother changed my schedule. Do you have fuel?”
“Erm, yes, now that you’re here.”
Non! Not this, diesel and petrol.”
“I see. I think so, although the forest truck might be low.”
“You must come to the station today and fill up.”
“Why today?”
“They’re revolting again.”
“The French. They’re on strike, all the refineries. We’re almost out of stock.”
“Oh dear, another strike? That’s not good.”
“Catastrophe! The French, they're bad, bad people. Always striking. [Paul-Doh is as French as a French thing.] Come before two this afternoon and bring Jerrycans. I will fill them for you. We’ll probably be without fuel for a long time.”
“Thank you, I will.”
“And what about Brexit?”
“Yes, I thought so. Do the anglaises in Angleterre like it?”
“It certainly doesn’t suit anyone we know. Ahem, it’s a very political situation.”
“It is. Merde for everybody! Politicians, devils, all of them. The worst are the French. Nobody likes them.”
[Paul-Doh had evidently got out of bed on the wrong side. I proffered his coffee, hoping it might cheer him up. Still a bit huffy, he nodded and gingerly removed his oily gauntlets to reveal a dirty canvas sock-like contraption. It was wrapped around his middle finger.]
“Goodness, what’s happened to your finger?”
“I sliced it on the underside of a carburettor I was working on. You know which part I mean?”
[I didn’t. Detail. I nodded sympathetically.]
“Ouch! You poor thing, it looks horribly sore.”
“It is. At the hospital, they put twelve stitches in it. I told them it wasn’t enough. Can you guess what happened?”
“Obviously, my finger burst again. Bloody everywhere. So I had to go back. Terrible they are at that hospital. I’m sure they’re better in Angleterre.”
“Oh dear! You must be very careful.”
“I will, this is why I have to wear the cover, but it keeps slipping off. Merde! Thank you for coffee. I am finished now.”
[This was a relief. Pau-Doh clambering back into the cab, stuck his head out of the window, wagging his injured digit.]
“And don’t forget. Come at two today. Later it will be a disaster!”

Fabulous French Entrée

French Entrée logo
I adore articles prepared by the top team at French Entrée, and this one’s a cracker. We all have fanciful dreams, but what happens when they become a reality? Click on the link below to find out how one couple swapped an apartment in Amsterdam for a farm in France. It’s an inspiring story.

Fat Dogs and French Estates Part VI

It’s that time again when I start working on my new book, and I’m excited!
It seems an age since I last shared tales about our lives here. While I’ve been in Wales, at least in my head, stories have been stacking up.

If you’ve followed the series, you’ll know I left you in Fat Dogs Part V with Jack sprouting a new medical complaint and the portent of new challenges. I’m dying to tell you what happened next and promise to supply regular snippets as I write.

Fantastic France!

Thanks again to Pierre at French Moments for kindly allowing me to share his fun quizzes. Think you know all about the French Riviera? Click on the link below to find out!

Recipe from France

A big thank you to my hugely gifted author friend Lindy Viandier for contributing another one of her culinary creations. As a lover of the tangy French speciality Tartelette au citron, I adore the sound of this recipe, which I’ll try out on Jack soon.

Sharing this piece also lets me wish Lindy the best of luck with her forthcoming memoir, Mellow Mists and Walnut Wine. This is the sequel to her runaway bestseller, Damson Skies and Dragonflies, and I know it’ll be another literary triumph.

Lindy’s Tarte au Citron

Spring is a time of growth and renewal, with trees bursting into bud and flowers finding their way to the surface of the soil. Crocus, pansies and snowdrops being the first to appear, followed by daffodils and tulips. But in the vegetable garden spring is more a period of preparation. The season of pumpkins, squash, apples and plums is over and the season of salad vegetables and berries has not yet begun. One variety that is in abundance at this time of year though is citrus fruits: oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes.
We are too far north at Les Libellules to grow them in our garden, but they are displayed in a plentiful array of orange, yellow and green on market stalls and supermarket stands, and as they are in season, very cheap to buy.
I’m going to share with you my own recipe for ‘Tarte au Citron (lemon tart). The filling is softer than the classic French one, more like a baked lemon curd.
I mention planning to make this tart in my forthcoming memoir ‘Mellow Mists and Walnut Wine, but I changed my mind and made another citrus dessert instead – it is that which appears in the book. So, I’ve decided to share my original intended dessert recipe with you now.
It is surprisingly easy and extremely light and ‘moreish’ Definitely a dessert to impress.
25cm / 10” tart dish (or nearest larger)
A 320g pack of ready-made or equivalent quantity of home-made shortcrust pastry

200 g / 7oz of plain flour (sieved with a pinch of salt)
100 g / 4oz of butter or margarine (cut into cubes)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp of iced water

Lemon filling
2 large free-range eggs
100g / 4oz of raw cane sugar
150ml / ¼ pint of single cream
50g / 2oz unsalted butter
Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed Lemons
  1. Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4
  2. Line a flan dish with the pastry and cover the centre with baking parchment or kitchen foil and weigh down with either cooking beans or dried beans and bake for 10 minutes
  3. Remove the beans and foil, and bake for a further 5 minutes until pastry has just begun to set and turn slightly golden
  4. Remove from oven and leave to cool
  5. Whisk the eggs, sugar, cream and lemon zest and juice with a hand whisk until creamy
  6. Melt the butter in a saucepan and quickly whisk it into the lemon mixture
  7. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case and return to the oven for 10 minutes at 180 degrees/gas mark 4
  8. Reduce the heat to 160 degrees/gas mark 3 and bake for a further 30 minutes (or until the filling is ‘just set’)
Turn off the oven and open the door and allow the tart to cool slowly for at least one hour before serving – it is best served cool rather than chilled.

Fat Dogs Wales

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates finally launched in January, and I’m proud to say that it is regularly listed as an Amazon category #1 bestseller. I have you to thank for its early success; also, many of the all-important lovely reviews which are coming in. Thank you so much. I genuinely couldn’t be more grateful.

Because of the interest in Wales the book has generated, I decided to include a new feature. And to help me do so, I’m delighted to introduce Welsh Country.
The team, based in Wales, produces a fabulous website, which is essential reading for anyone passionate about the Welsh countryside, Welsh food, and the history of Wales and its people.

To whet your appetites, click on this link to read the tale about a captivating Welsh eccentric.
If you’re based in the US and fancy learning more about Wales and Welsh societies nearby, I'm sure you’ll be interested in NINNAU & Y Drych. It is the North American Welsh Newspaper, which includes lots of excellent articles.
Click on the image below, which takes you to their link.
And I owe the editors a special thank you for kindly deciding to feature Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates in their forthcoming issue’s ‘Bookshelf’ section.

Bookish Corner

The books I feature in this issue are wonderfully entertaining. Lally Brown’s latest travel memoir positively radiates tropical sunshine, and Sharon Hayhurst had me laughing my socks off in seconds. Here are my rave reviews.
Lally Brown - Don’t Drop The Dolphin: An expat in the Turks and Caicos Islands 1990-92
Lally Brown and her husband have the opportunity to spend two years in the Caribbean Providenciales with their two young children. It’s tempting, but there are complications. Not a family to baulk at challenges; their can-do attitude wins through, and they agree. This is where their island adventures begin.

Despite many distractions, the children settle down to homeschooling. But it’s not always easy. Drama on the high seas, witnessing drug-running activities, and coping with island shortages threatens their academic studies. There’s magic, too.

The rewards for hard work are blissful hours spent on the beach, where the children form an extraordinary bond with a wild dolphin. The family soon becomes part of a unique, heart-warming wildlife event.

Lally Brown is a master storyteller. From the first page, I was captivated by her colourful descriptions of island life to the richly recounted tales of their eventful holidays in offbeat destinations. For me, this book is a joy!
(Click on the book image for an Amazon link.)
Sharon Hayhurst - Travels with Denise: That Wasn’t Meant To Happen! (Never a Dull Moment)
No matter where she travels, Denise has calamities, and it seems her anti-skill started early in life. In this second book of her travel series, the author takes us on a hilarious romp from childhood incidents to adventures as an adult with her own family.

Woven between hilarious lines, the author somehow manages to share moments of great sensitivity, vivid descriptions of beautiful places visited and fascinating travel information. That takes lots of skill and is one of the ingredients that make this book a winner.

Do I love the author’s sense of humour? Absolutely. Would I travel with her? Ahem, possibly not! This wonderfully upbeat book is packed with depth and fun.
(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)

Et voilà!

To round off this issue, here are some glimpses of a recent trip to our region’s capital city, Toulouse. Much of the architecture is unquestionably splendid. But as a French friend advised me before my first visit, ‘To enjoy Toulouse properly, you must look up’. Why? The key is in the light and colours.

Termed la ville rose, the ‘pink city’, most buildings are constructed using gorgeous pale-coloured brick that alters in hues throughout the day. Early morning light catches the upper echelons of structures, accentuating elaborate stone friezes, shutters and elegant balconies before gradually illuminating squares and filtering through alleys. Colours range from light pink to a warm orange, giving the city a sensational blush. This is a place filled with romance and a great vibe.
The Place du Capitole is the city’s historic heart. The Capitol has been the municipal seat for over eight centuries and today houses the town hall, a theatre and staterooms.
The Youtube link below gives you a 360º view of the square.
As you’ll imagine, the city has many fountains, and this is one of my favourites. Set within a tiny green oasis, it commemorates the Toulouse poet Pierre Goudouli (born in 1580 and died in 1649), who wrote his work in the Occitan language.
This is the Dungeon, so named because it was initially built in 1525 to store the city’s gunpowder, money and archives. In another of those ‘don’t forget to look up’ moments, I was fascinated by the (later added) Flemish-inspired slate-covered belfry.
The Basilica of St. Sernin was built between 1080 and 1120, with construction continuing afterwards. It is the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe and is now a UNESCO listed Site. Unsurprisingly, the basilica is a stopping place on the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Oft photographed and truly stunning, this domed building is the Hôpital de La Grave, first mentioned in 1197. During the 14th century, it treated plague victims before becoming a General Hospital for the needy in the 17th century.
Pont Neuf is the ironic name of this famous seven-arched bridge that spans the River Garonne. Built over several decades, it was finished in 1632 and is truly splendid.
Sightseeing stints are thirsty work, and I can’t think of many better places to soak up the ambience and relax with a drink. This gorgeously decorated arcade lined with cafes forms one side of the Place du Capitole, and it’s an absolute treat to visit.

I promise to give you more detail on these remarkable places in future blogs. In the meantime, as we enjoy spring, Jack and I wish you all the best with whichever season you are embracing. A bientôt!
Hugs from us all,
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