Beth Haslam - logo amsterdam
Welcome to the spring edition of Fat Dogs News. Here’s the usual pick ‘n’ mix to dip into at your leisure. I begin with a minor Jack grump. Now there’s a surpise…

  • Chez Fat Dogs
  • Fat Dogs Meme
  • Jack’s Latest Tantrum
  • Fabulous French Entrée
  • Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates
  • Fantastic France!
  • Recipe
  • Bookish Corner
  • Fat Dogs and French Estates Part VI
  • Et voilà!

Chez Fat Dogs

Jack peered through the rain-drenched window. “Another joyful day in the muddy sodding forest, then,” he said, reaching for his galoshes. This photo of Napoleon, our portly pot-bellied pig, gives you a clue as to why he was grouchy.
New Year welcomed slate-grey skies and torrential rain. Weeks of it. Hooray for Nap, who loved every second, bulldozing his enclosure and creating deliciously murky water features. But it was boo for us and outdoor maintenance work. Even Aby and Max, always up for a wet trek, eventually tired of their post-walk hosing down.
On a similarly miserable day, we came across two of my favourite people. Roasting or soaked through, they’re always chirpy.

The lads from our neighbour’s fruit farm paused to yodel ‘Bonjour!’ After a brief chat about the general ‘Merde-ness’ of the weather, they gave us apple treats before returning to their endless pruning job.

During this period, other folks in our farming community were mobilised in a different way.
And as we all know, the French are skilled at making their feelings known. A series of peaceful demonstrations began in the southwest and spread north. It was the farmers, and they had loads of complaints for the government to deal with.

A handful of weeks saw scenes like this with roundabout links to autoroutes blocked by bales, tractors and manure heaps. Was it inconvenient? Yes, but everyone in our rural area gave a resigned ‘C’est la vie en France’ shrug and used minor roads instead.
The sun finally appeared and had a dramatic impact on the plants and animals. Slender-stemmed daffs appeared first, followed by other spring compatriots, which are still bursting out of the ground. The forest is active, too. Fresh leaflets are unfurling in the canopy, overlooking sprinkles of pretty blue periwinkles below. It looks heavenly.
Spring is a fantastic time for dog walks in the surrounding orchards. With several different fruits grown, you’ll imagine the glorious chaos of conflicting scents. Meanwhile, the fading almond, apricot and early cherry blossoms are being plucked by the breeze as the plums take centre stage. It looks like confetti out there!
Lines of stumpy plum trees are festooned with flowers, encouraging the quince trees next door. All expertly snipped, all neat ‘n’ tidy and preparing to provide yet another bumper crop.
Encouraged by unusually high temperatures, I got stuck into some gardening jobs and began sowing seeds earlier than usual in the greenhouse. It wasn’t a bad decision. They’re zooming out of their trays.
Meanwhile, my ‘organic-potager’ layered with natural substances has been brewing all winter. While I’m dying to see how it turns out, I know something is missing.
Conscious that growing root veg will still be challenging, I hatched a plan. Teeny though it is, I’m creating a raised bed. With a weed sheet base and salvaged wood panel surrounds, it’ll be filled with a mixture of sand, compost and soil. This is where I’ll plant carrots, beetroots and parsnips – another minor self-sufficiency tick.
With that mini project complete, I started pruning our garden roses, and we have lots. Sadly, two of my favourites were looking decidedly wilty, and I knew why. Their border with Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ear) was infested with the dreaded couch grass, and it was suffocating the plants.
One manic weeding session and weed sheet later, I planted a line of baby buxus to continue our garden hedges theme and finished with a layer of ‘drive’ gravel. Easy – should look nice. It even received the paw of approval from Brutus.
Not long after, Jack made an observation of a different kind.
“Max has broken again. You’ll have to take him to that place.” Mystified, I checked a crestfallen Max, and sure enough, he could only turn in one direction. I have no idea how, but he had hurt his back. I knew who to call.
Doc Alice, the animal osteopath, possesses magical powers. She had a cancellation between trotting horse treatments, so I took him over. I have no idea how she does it, but within ten minutes, Max was supple, bendy, and perky again. Smiling, Doc Alice asked if I’d like to see their latest rescue. Of course, I agreed. Dog, cat, horse, sheep, goat, hamster, it could have been anything, though I was surprised by what I saw.
Sadly, my pic doesn’t do him justice. Poor Raul had spent most of his life in a cramped cage. Being rescued by Doc Alice had a dramatic effect on this enormous Spanish Mastiff’s health and well-being. As you can guess, he’s now devoted, as is the little pooch on her knee, who came as part of the rescue package.
In the absence of a Fat Dogs blog (apologies, I’ve been editing!), here’s a piece I wrote for the team at My French House. Click the blog link to discover why the year starts with pizazz on the French Riviera.

Fat Dogs Memes

One meets the cutest creatures during a weeding session!

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...

It’s been another one of those periods rife with unprintable Jack rants. To save you from his choice vocabulary, here’s a baby grump from me.

If you’re a cat slave, this is a familiar scenario. It’s just before 5 am. I’m in a deep sleep. Was.


I’m shocked into consciousness by paws strolling around the bed. It’s Brutus. He flops onto my pillow in an Oscar Wilde-like pose, stretching his extra-long paws across my head. And I’m not happy. Jack grunts and rolls over to his side of the bed. This is the hissed ‘conversation’ that takes place.
If They Could Talk
“Brutuuuus, get off. You’re all soggy.”
“No problem, Mum, you’re nice ‘n’ warm. I’ll soon dry.”
“Go to sleep further down the bed.”
“No can do; it’s cosy here. Just how I like it.”
“Okay, but do you have to wash yourself so loudly?”
“I’m a clean boy.”
“A noisy one, too. Now settle down.”
“Brutus, what are you doing now?”
“Mebbe got a furball coming.”
“Oh, no. Get off right now.”
“You’re just making things worse. I might be about to hurl.”
“K. Just a quickie vomit. Back in a mo.”

[Brutus clambered halfway down the bed, had a handful of trial retches and returned.]

“No worries. False alarm.”
“Thank goodness. If you do that one more time, Brutus, you’re going outside.”
“Yeah, make me.”
“Okay, well, go to sleep and purr more quietly, please.”
“Brutus! What’s going on now? Are you going to be sick this time?”
“Just a couple of test gulps, you know, checkin’. Um, no, nope, nothing coming up here. I’ll have another quick wash, and then we can have a nice snooze.”
“Mum. Muuuum!
“What on earth?”
“Guess what I’ve just realised? It’s nearly breakfast time.”

Fabulous French Entrée

French Entrée logo
In this issue, the top team at French Entrée has kindly shared this lovely article about a beautiful area of France particularly favoured by Brits. I’m not surprised - it’s stunning. Click on the link below, and you’ll see what I mean.

Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates

I had to share this link with you. Not only is the article beautifully written, but it focuses on Anglesey, the island where I spent much of my childhood. My thanks to the wonderful team at Welsh Country Magazine for allowing me to spread the North Welsh love.

Fantastic France!

Ready for a quiz? Pierre, at French Moments, has created another winner. If you have a sweet tooth, I’m sure you’ll breeze through this one. Click the link below and try his French Desserts special.

Recipe from France

Thanks, as always to my author pal, Lindy Viandier, for contributing another of her culinary creations. Even the thought of this cordial is bliss. Read on, and you’ll see what I mean.

Lindy's Elderflower Cordial

Nothing is more pleasurable than foraging through the hedgerows on a warm spring morning, gathering elderflowers to make a refreshing cordial. The joy of being immersed in their heady floral scent, surrounded by the sound of birdsong and the chirping and buzzing of crickets and bees is second to none.
My small country kitchen is now filled with their fragrant aroma as I make this simple, but versatile cordial.
  • 25 – 30 elderflower heads, depending on size (only use the freshest, whitest, most fragrant flowers that you can find)
  • 1kg castor sugar
  • 1.5 litres of hot water
  • 50 g Citric acid powder
  • 2 unwaxed oranges (lemons or 1 grapefruit work well too, I have also made this with lime and a little fresh mint to give a Mojito twist.)
  • A clean muslin square for straining
  • Dissolve the sugar and citric acid in the hot water in a large pan by stirring, then leave to cool. (I used my copper jam making pan and did this before going out to collect my flowers.)
  • Trim any long stalks from the flowers, wash them thoroughly and drain in a colander to remove any insects.
  • Wash and finely slice the oranges or fruit of your choice.
  • Add the flowers and orange slices to the cooled syrup, cover with a fine tea towel and leave to infuse in a cool place safe from curious cats for 24 hours, stirring from time to time.
  • Sterilise two sealable bottles and a pouring jug.
  • Remove the flowers and fruit from the syrup. (I discard the flowers, but save the fruit slices.)
  • Strain the remaining liquid through the muslin into the jug and pour in to the bottles. (strain a second time if the liquid is still too cloudy for your liking.)
  • The sealed bottles should keep for about 3 weeks in the fridge.
The cordial can be poured over ice and topped up with sparking water for a refreshing drink, or topped up with sparkling wine for a twist on a Kir Royal for an aperitif.
I’ve poured it over orange and pineapple and mango segments to liven up a fruit salad, and also used it to make a delicious sorbet.
The orange slices I saved, were soft and succulent after soaking up all that delicious syrup, so I simply finely chopped them with their peel, and stirred them through some home-made yogurt and topped with toasted almonds. Bon appétit.

Bookish Corner

As a ‘treat to self’, I recently read the latest novel from one of my favourite authors. If you love historical fiction too, I guarantee this book will hook you. Set in France, here’s my five-star review of Kathryn Gauci’s wartime epic.
Kathryn Gauci: In the Shadow of the Pyrenees: The Freedom Trail to Spain
France, World War II. Much of the country is Nazi-occupied, though at first, it doesn’t feel that way to citizens of the sleepy southern Pyrenean villages. That would change, along with their lives.

Based on actual events, the author tells a gripping story of resistance fighters, ordinary men and women, willing to give their lives to save the plight of others. Their role was simple. To help those persecuted by the Nazi and Vichy governments flee across the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain. It was the execution that was perilous.

Clandestine meetings, hazardous mountain crossings, spy networks and treachery aid and blight the rescuers’ efforts. For those who fail, unspeakable suffering and death often follow.

As always with Kathryn Gauci’s books, this novel is outstandingly well-researched. Her descriptive writing adds depth, enabling the reader to experience those same harrowing emotions and raw fear felt by her characters. The superbly crafted plot includes a masterful twist that adds a heartrending irony in the closing chapters.
I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent novel and will often think of the ‘Justines’ who fought so valiantly for freedom.
(Click on the link below for more information about Kathryn and this novel.)

Fat Dogs and French Estates Part 6

I’m delighted/relieved to tell you that the first draft of Fat Dogs Part 6 is complete. Ahem, and now comes the fiddly bit: editing. Granted, it’ll take a while, but I’ll get there eventually.

To keep you going, here’s an extract which comes later in the book. Picture the pastoral scene. It’s our local village fete, alive with sounds of merriment and curious metallic clunks as metal hit metal.

“Jack, what is that noise?” I asked.
“We’re in France. Local teams’ll be playing boules, or bocce or whatever they call it.”
“Pétanque! Of course. You’re right.”

We were with friends, including Camille and Anton, who was recovering from eye surgery. Did this hold him back? Poof, no!

Camille and I browsed Gilbert’s stall. Try though we might, nothing was remotely appealing amongst his unusual stock of quasi-antiques. I was examining a set of enormous rusty old keys when Anton nudged my arm.

“The pétanque tournament's about to begin. Let’s enter.”
“That’s a fun idea, though I’ve only played once or twice.”
“No problem, we’ll be great.”

Camille looked decidedly grumpy.

“Anton! Enough! What about your eyes?”

Jack, overhearing, started chuckling.

“Anton can’t see, and you can’t throw. I can’t wait to see what happens.”

This was rather rude.

“We’ll be absolutely fine,” I said.

We weren’t.

Anton persuaded a hapless pair of youths to give us a best-of-three-games match. Sandwiched between other competing teams, as we began, two issues quickly became apparent. Anton couldn’t see the little black ‘jack’ ball we were aiming at, and I couldn’t get the hang of the ball’s weight, which was frustrating.

We ignored the cries of ‘It isn’t hockey, y’know,’ from my unsupportive husband and ‘Anton, you’re throwing in the wrong direction again’ from Camille and soldiered on.

Et voilà!

Back in the forest, our post-storm clear-up project has finally begun (huge sigh of relief here). I promised to share photos of burly Romanian foresters and tried, but as you’ll read, I failed miserably. Actually, even spotting the team of three is like spying a Short-Toed Treecreeper – tricky.
When they arrived, determined to be polite, the dogs and I followed the buzz of chainsaws and eventually found them. As one of them backed away from Max, who was giving him a toothy grin, I said, “Bună, bun venit la Le Palizac. Vă mulţumesc pentru ajutor,” or something like that. This should have meant, ‘Hello, welcome to Le Palizac. Thank you for your help.’ Two of them looked perplexed and pointed at the third. It turns out that he was the only one who spoke French, and none of them had any idea what I’d just said. Thus, my foray into Romanian ended. After a hasty translation, the French speaker conveyed my welcome message, which they gracefully received.
A week later, I left the house for an early appointment and saw them preparing for work. Deciding this was a marvellous photo opportunity, I pulled over. The French-speaking forester appeared from the far side of their truck. Mildly surprised, as he would be because he had no trousers on, he gave me a weak wave. Who knew they changed kit in the middle of the lane? My intended ‘Bonjour!’ turned into a strangled ‘Ooh, pardon!’ and I scurried back to my car. Result: no photo. Sorry.
Instead, these photos and the YouTube clip give you an idea of their work so far. Seeing the damage done to a mature, healthy forest by one vicious storm is still gut-wrenchingly awful.
As you can probably tell, the foresters are cutting fallen trees into lengths. What happens next? Once the ground has dried, enormous tractors will shift the trunks to higher ground. Hopefully, I’ll be able to show you stage two in the next issue, though, as you can guess from the photos, it’ll take a long time to clear all that debris.
There's no doubt about it; we’re incredibly grateful for their help, which allows us to get on with our usual projects. Of which, much to Jack’s chagrin, there are many!

Thanks, as always, so much for joining me on this update. If you’re about to embark on a mammoth Easter egg hunt, bon chance! I’ll be back in the summer with more news ‘n’ views from our corner of France.
Hugs from us all,
Beth - logo - cropped for newsletters
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