Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to Fat Dogs News. With lots to cherry-pick through, here’s your menu for this winter’s bumper edition.
  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fabulous French Entrée
  • Fat Dogs Wales
  • Fantastic France
  • Lindy’s Delicious Recipe
  • Bookish Corner
  • Fat Dogs Part VI
  • Et voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

Remember the storm supercell that ripped through our woods in June? Having lost hundreds of mature trees, we qualified for aid from the National Forestry Alliance. A team of ‘rescue’ foresters was due in September. Still no show, and we understand why: those poor lads are inundated with work. While we wait, we’re continuing the feasible clearance jobs.

With most of the prepared firewood now sold, Nathan, our treasured forester who doesn’t do things by halves, took to his tractor and tackled the garden. First, he amassed a vast pile of woody debris from the moat-side trees and stacked them in the field.
Inspired, he set it alight, causing small shockwaves around the community. As it would, it looked like a Viking funeral pyre. Still, I’m sure we’ll use some of the ash in the garden. Continuing his manic garden tidying spree, he’s sorting severed branches and uprooted trees. I’d have a go with my baby loppers, but if you can spot him, you’ll see it’s not that kind of job.
Excitingly, monsieur from the forestry alliance called last week to say his woodsmen would arrive in January ‘attaquer le travail’. Hooray! In the next issue, brace yourself for pics of burly wood choppers and monster trucks.

Meanwhile, I’ve been involved in a potager improvement project. Nadine, a dog walking pal who is dead keen on bio, organic gardening, told me about a failsafe organic composting method. She guarantees ginormous legumes next season, though I’m unsure why she’s so adamant since she hasn’t tried it. There again, I’ve given up questioning details like that from French friends, most of whom were born adamant. Easily enthused, I decided to have a go.

There are six stages to this simple process. Here’s the recipe and how I sourced materials:
· After basic weeding, cover the area with cardboard sheets (given by friends, thrilled to get rid of old boxes).
· Stack a layer of straw on top of the cardboard. (Donated by Jean-Luc, melon farmer, in return for a brace of red wines.)
· Spread a fine layer of manure (enthusiastically dumped by Gilles, who you’ll know if you’ve read Fat Dogs Part 5).
· Layer fallen leaves/grass cuttings on top. (We have ample of our own. Nadine doesn’t favour Oak leaves. Not sure why.)
· Heaps of good quality composted earth goes on next. (Exchanged for a firewood bundle. Excellent deal.)
· Finally, another layer of straw is forked on top (thanks, again to Jean-Luc – melons).
· Allow to brew before using next spring.
It’s organic, it's cheap, and even if it doesn’t work, it won’t harm the environment. Will my legumes be marvellous next year? I’ll let you know! And talking of veggies…
Inspired by my project, I pickled the last of my beetroots. Some looked a tad woody this late in the season, but so far they taste fine. Jack'll love a couple of chunks with his Christmas turkey.
Love Le Palizac, though we do, life in our extremely old property is never without structural challenges. No strangers to leaky roofs, we’ve sprung two more.
Jack was frustrated because he couldn’t fix them; I was fed up with mopping up puddles, so we called our new best buddy roofer, Monsieur Bonnet. He and his brother did a fine job on the apartment lid, so we knew we’d be in safe-ish hands. Like a pair of Tiggers, they rushed over, galloped up and down ladders and triumphantly showed us photo evidence of the guilty parties. Ancient rotting tiles.
Hooray for the Bonnet bros, a new job for them. Boo! for us and more losses to the money pit. Hey ho. It’s all part of life at Le Palizac, and of course, coincided with – ooh, about four weeks of almost constant rain. Even the animals are fed up.
Despite being famously addicted to water, poor Aby and Max can’t cope with the clean stuff.
Transforming into tragic curs, they heroically succumb to a post-trek hosing down and retire to their beds, cleanish but morbid. The cats can't bear the thought of getting damp and have decided to hibernate. Outside, the penned birds are hunched up on their perches, the deer are miserable, huddling under trees, and the boar have started squabbling. But there is one animal who seems to thrive in the muddy conditions. And that’s Nap, who loves a good old rootle in the mud!
Happily, we’ve had a short respite, and this was one of our rewards. Taken last week in the dog’s field, that sunset was breathtaking.
You know what it’s like when you’ve wanted to do something for ages, and when it happens, it’s an anti-climax? As you’ll find out, that didn’t happen to my friend Jill and me.
Here’s the link to my tale about our extraordinary London trip.
https://www.bethhaslam.com/night-at-the-museum/

Fat Dogs Memes

It’s another round of her favourite game, ‘Find the Cat’, and Cleo has forgotten something!

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...

The background.
Buying Le Palizac came with many surprises. One was learning that we’d inherited a mini business. We sell wood, and not very much. Not that the great French bureaucracy cares. The business accounts must be produced, and this dreadful job falls to Jack, ex-business chief, who knows a thing or two about numbers.

Completing his usual scrupulous job, he scanned the vast number of required documents and sent them to our accountant. Unfortunately for him, newbie Madame Benoit wasn’t nearly so impressed. This was about the ninth telephone call, and Jack was grumpy.
Monsieur ‘aslam, there is a-nother error in your papers. I cannot process them until it is rectified.”
“What error, madame? I have sent you over a hundred documents, and so far, there have been zero errors, just a lack of understanding on your part.”
“Then I must be exact.”
“That would be helpful.”
“Quarter two.”
“And…?”
“There is a missing cheque. Your client figures do not add up in this quarter.”

[N.B. Dangerous ground. This is tantamount to a smack in the chops for my human calculator husband.]

“Interesting. Why don’t you give me a clue? Better still, email the details. Much as I love chatting, as I have repeatedly said, it’s far easier looking at data rather than having a vague conversation about numbers over the phone.”
Ah, non, monsieur. This is preferred. You must find a second cheque from Monsieur Gallinule.
“There isn’t one.”
Pardon?
Monsieur Gallinule has only given us one cheque, and it was for the correct amount. This is not complicated.”
“But I cannot authorise your submission until it is corrected. The government is not accepting errors.”
“This imaginary cheque, what is the catastrophic shortfall?”
“You are missing a cheque for €2.00.”
“We don’t sell wood by the stick, madame. Let me tell you something about Monsieur Gallinule. He is around eighty-five years old. He is extremely short-sighted and in poor health.”
“That perhaps explains why his payment to you was late.”
“We never press monsieur for rapid payments, madame. Now, look again very carefully at his original cheque.”
“Yes, yes, I have it here. The amount is €246.00.”
“Wrong. The figure I submitted for him was €248.00.”
Non! It is what I said. There must be another payment.”
“I realise that deciphering Monsieur Gallinule’s handwriting is an adventure into the unknown. Frankly, it’s illegible. It’s a challenge we have to bear. However, if you look extremely closely at the numbers, you will see that his six is actually an eight.”

[After allowing the penny to drop, Jack continued.]

“As you’ve now probably worked out, the numbers are correct, madame, and the bank accepted the cheque. Is there anything else before I throw myself out of the window?”
Pardon?
“Nothing.”
Ahem. Non, that will be all. I can now accept these accounts.”

Fabulous French Entrée

French Entrée logo
I love reading articles from French Entrée; this feature is no exception. The location in question is not far from us, and as you’ll discover, the family have ambitious plans for their manoir in the Lot-et-Garonne.
Thanks, as always, to Zoe and her team for sharing this link to the family’s story.
https://www.frenchentree.com/living-in-france/my-village-montignac-de-lauzun-lot-et-garonne/

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

If there’s something I love, it’s learning a new word, and that’s precisely what happened when I read this fascinating article from Welsh Country Magazine.
Click the link to discover more about a Welshman whose invention you know well. But you may not know much about him.
https://www.welshcountry.co.uk/robert-recorde-it-all-adds-up/
I write a monthly blog for Patrick at My French House. Usually focussed on all things France, you might think it strange that I'm introducing this piece here. There's a connection, I promise.
Patrick wanted to explore Celtic heritage, and its roots in France, Britain and across Europe. He asked if I wanted to write the piece. I’m a Celt. I jumped at the chance. Predictably, I immediately became hopelessly embroiled. If you’re interested in history and Celtic influences in France, click on the link. You may be surprised by what you learn.
https://www.my-french-house.com/blog/article/75435/exploring-celtic-roots-in-brittany-france
Patrick produced a magical video to go with the article, and here it is.
https://youtu.be/mfp2RFpJw5c.

Fantastic France!

Ready for another quiz? Pierre, at French Moments, has created a Christmas cracker. Click the link to see how you get on with his formidable December special.
https://frenchmoments.eu/december-quiz/

Recipe from France

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Heartfelt thanks to my author pal, Lindy Viandier, for contributing another of her culinary creations. As a devotee of chilis, this sounds delicious and perfect for the wintery weather we’re currently experiencing.

Lindy's Chili with a French twist

We are at the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere – and approaching the chilliest also, so I thought I’d make a chili (pun totally intended).

I’ve still got some late tomatoes that were hanging to their straggly branches until mid-November, plus a couple of green peppers, so still including produce from the garden here at Les Libellules; but what is the ‘French twist’? The answer is Puy lentils.

Puy lentils are small dark-green lentils that are grown in the Auvergne region of France, not too far from where we are in Burgundy. They provide a staple in many French dishes and are eaten regularly in place of rice, pasta or potatoes, adding valuable fibre and vegetable protein.

They are packed with antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory qualities, lower cholesterol and help to regulate blood glucose levels. I use them in all my recipes that call for minced beef, either replacing the meat totally, or adding equal measures.
For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, who don’t want to be eating a hot chili, leave out the minced beef, and mix together with the rice, then it can be served cold as a salad.

I had a happy accident along the way, mistaking a jar of fennel seeds for oregano (marjoram). I stopped myself before I became too heavy handed, but shall be adding them deliberately next time, as they provided a pleasant surprise for my taste buds when I stumbled upon one.
Ingredients
(serves 4)
  • minced beef (replace with lentils for a veggie option)
  • 80g Puy or other green / brown lentils soaked overnight
  • 100g Kidney beans soaked overnight (or a 400g tin)
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium green pepper roughly chopped
  • sliced mushrooms
  • 8 medium / large fresh tomatoes or a 400g tin on chopped tomatoes if not in season
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds (I didn’t crush them.)
  • 2 teaspoons of dried oregano (marjoram)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste.
Method
  • Boil the lentils in salted water for 30 minutes then drain.
  • Dry fry the mince on a low heat until it has changed colour.
  • Add the onion, garlic and pepper.
  • Season with the oregano, black pepper and fennel seeds (add salt to taste as required)
  • Stir in the chopped tomatoes.
  • Add the sliced mushrooms, cover and simmer for around 40 minutes.

I serve this with brown rice, but potato wedges go well also. Alternatively, I mix with cooked shell pasta and top with grated cheddar and grill until the cheese is bubbling.

Bookish Corner

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In a departure from my usual memoir reading, I recently returned to another favourite genre: historical fiction. Catherine Meyrick is a new author to me, and as you’ll guess from my review, I’m now a dedicated fan.
Catherine Meyrick - The Bridled Tongue
How were women treated in the Renaissance? With disdain, mistrust, respect? This fictional work set against a historically accurate backcloth of strife between England and Spain provides the answers.

The plot involves a wealthy merchant’s family with a dark past. It is time for Alyce, his wilful daughter, to be married, and her father provides two choices. Shunning the unwelcome advances of one suitor, she accepts betrothal to Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer with a reputation. Neither expect love.

The story recounts Alyce’s life as she establishes a home with Thomas. And it’s fraught with difficulties. Throughout, the author deals with powerful themes: jealousy, fidelity, illness, and accusations of witchcraft, which Alyce has to face. All alone.

I found the plot entirely plausible. Catherine Meyrick’s descriptions are outstanding, colourful and gritty, transporting the reader to an age rife with angst, suspicion and hardship. Yet, despite these harsh realities, hope is offered with the possibilities of healing and love. This is an excellent novel.
(Click on the book image or the link below to take you to the Amazon page.)
https://t.co/2I0ptaaslX

Fat Dogs Part VI

Work on Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 6 has been slightly delayed because of our storm damage jobs, but I’m still at it! As a taster of what’s to come, here’s an excerpt from an event that started in England. I was due to meet my sister, Di, at the Portsmouth ferry terminal. We would travel back to France together via ferry. At least, that was the plan...

I arrived early at the Brittany Ferries depot. No problem, I had my Kindle and might even have a snooze. The phone rang. It was Di.
“You’re not going to believe this.”

“What?”

“I’m stuck in Oxford.”

“What are you doing there? Oxford’s way off your route.”

“Thanks for stating the obvious! I may have taken a wrong turn off the M6 motorway. Anyway, it’s choc-a-bloc here. We haven’t moved for ages.”

If anything was going to get my anxiety levels zinging back up to crimson alert, it was this.

“Crikey, Di, you’re cutting it fine; you’re miles and miles away.”

“I know! Find me an alternate route, can you? I can’t read the map and drive.”

“What about your Satnav?”

“It keeps trying to take me north.”

“Have you got it pointing at the right port?”

“Just hurry up!”

I rushed over to the bored-looking depot ticket man and asked for advice. Within minutes, we had a new route calculated on his computer. Di would make it, but only just. My new hero then called the boarding staff, telling them we’d be late. We were allowed an extra half hour. But no more.

DEFCON crisis level reduced one notch; I nervously sipped a ghastly beaker of coffee. Was this a good time to give Jack a progress update? I decided not. Many frantic phone calls later, Di was back on track. Goodness knows how she managed, but with a sprinkle of minutes to go, she called again.

“I’m here. Where’s the depot?”

“When you say here… Never mind. You can’t miss the depot; it’s a square building right next to a massive anchor.”

“There are loads of anchors.”

“Not this big. This one’s humungous.”

“Ah, got it. Hang on. Argh! There’s no opening on my side. I’m blocked!”

So near and yet so far...

Et voilà!

This Christmas issue wouldn’t be Noël if I didn’t share some festive scenes with you. The first couple I took on a foggy night in our little village. I was on a card-posting mission. There wasn’t a soul in sight. Despite being chilled to the bone, I had to stop and enjoy the magic of this ancient place.

The auberge, windows misted with cheer, looked so cosy I almost called Jack to come over for a meal.
Eventually, puffing dragon’s breath, the risk of frostbite started to set in. I surrendered and dashed down the steps to my car, desperate to warm my toes in front of our cheery log fire.
Feeling a bit ‘Yo, ho, ho,’ a friend and I decided to visit the Marché de Noël in Moissac. It was early, so we had the place almost to ourselves. Festive lights and Christmas messages chased across the abbey walls, vying for our attention, as did the carollers nearby. Incongruous, though somehow it all worked.
We pottered around the pop-up stalls, admiring infinite buying opportunities. In the nick of time, delicious whiffs of vin chaud from a restaurant distracted us from a full-on buying spree.
The little bistro had transformed into a ski station and looked enchanting.
Monsieur seated us in a cosy ski lift cabin and served beakers of piping hot vin chaud. It was the perfect way to end our evening mooch.
We’re now thoroughly imbued with the Christmas spirit and hope you are, too. Thanks so much, as always. We truly appreciate your fantastic support and hope you enjoy a suitably overindulgent festive period surrounded by loved ones. Merry Christmas!
Christmas All books from me
Hugs from us all,
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
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