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A Year Of Fancy Dress (Part IV)

Another fancy dress party?  No, this is something a little different again !

It all started after the 1920s party in London.  During the evening a young man danced with a group of girls – he swung them out, twirled them and had some truly awesome moves on the dance floor.  A group of onlookers stood around with open mouths – wanting to be that man.

A few days later, Adrian did some research and found out what kind of moves this man had been dancing – Lindy Hop.  More research and Adrian found some classes in Northampton and started to go with a friend from work.

Fast forward to August and a few flyers at his dance class advertised a dance festival weekend.


Over The Top !

When we bought our little place in Bellebouche over 9 years ago, we knew that at some point, the roofs of the outbuildings would need replacing.  We fixed up the pigeonnier in 2005 as this was particularly dangerous.

The other roofs were OK, but not brilliant – the best of  them being the Grange where an old stock pile of hay had been stored and the remnants still remained.  The corner of this roof, over the last 8 years had deteriorated.  The main concern was with the centre barn which had partially collapsed along the apex,  allowing the weather into the main barn.  The left hand barn roof had collapsed in a couple of areas and the right hand barn was going in the same direction.

Something had to be done.  Over the last 3 years I had got quotes off various artisans for the whole works – on the premise of  replacing all the old under tiles with new ones and using the original old terracota tiles on top.  After speaking to a number of artisans, we came to the conclusion that what was best was modern tiles which all fit together in a lego fashion, so should be totally sturdy and not fly off in a high wind – which we are prone to in the winter.

This year we took the bull by the horns, agreed on a roofer and signed a deal for all the outbuildings to be re-roofed.  Early March a team of workmen arrived with heavy plant machinery and pallets of wood and tiles.  Scaffolding was put up around the grange and the right hand barn.

This is a photo of the grange roof when we first moved in to Bellebouche.  Seems in good condition and water tight. Over the years the far left hand corner, you can see the green on the wall, started to leak a little .


A day after all the workmen had arrived, all the tiles, lathes and old voliges were off !  The tops of the walls were fixed and levelled off  and a few chevrons replaced.  Next new voliges, membrane, lathes and then the new tiles.


The smell of the new voliges was lovely – like being in a sawmill !

Even though we had fixed the pigeonnier a few years back – to keep all the roofs at the same standard with the same tiles, we decided to have it re-roofed again.  It was the smallest roof of all the buildings and only took the builders 2 days to replace.  Next up was the two story high, centre barn.  As I stated before, the apex had almost gone and I was surprised that the workmen put up a net across the whole roof to catch any falling debris – I was fine, even during high winds and snow, walking underneath it, throughout the years !



After the centre barn the left hand barn/secret room roof was removed.  Now access to this part of the barn, I thought, would be a problem.  Foolish me, with a telescopic Manitou there was no problem at all !

Once all the tiles and voliges were removed it was obvious that the state of the old oak chevrons was going to be a problem.



80% of the chevrons were either rotten or in a very poor state.  For a new roof, the roof line had to be laser straight perfect.  So all the chevrons were removed, the walls fixed and levelled and new chevrons installed.




This is the roof with the levelled walls, new chevrons, voliges, membrane and lathes fitted.

To add to the problems, I had bought 2 large roof windows to be installed at the back, in the secret room.  It took the workmen 3 days to install the two windows.


But the light in this room is now amazing.  We will eventually put french windows in, opening onto the courtyard and our swimming pool!

Next up – the right hand barn.  I thought that this was in a worse state than the left hand but only 20% of the chevrons were rotten.




Now in May and the workmen proceeded on – the atteliers were next up.  These are not just workshops, they are three “rooms” with external doors but right at the end is the bread oven, which is accessed from inside the house.




The roof had become a bit of a garden due to the pine needles  from the christmas tree falling on top of it.  The old tiles were just resting on top of the bread oven roof, which was basically old rocks, soil and rubble.  When the old tiles and wood were removed, major work had to be done.  The new tiles are all of a certain size and fit together so the roof of the  bread oven had to be levelled to allow the tiles to be fitted.

Due to the nature of a bread oven becoming very hot when lit, wooden chevrons and lathes could not be used.  So concrete laths were made in situ and part chevrons – just at the edges – with metal covered ends were fitted.




The inside of the atteliers was also a problem.  All the main A frame beams had to be replaced, one of which would be fitted into the house wall and potentially through the chimney in the front.  After serious discussions with the builders, a solution was agreed to fit a metal shoe to the end of the frame, fitted through into the chimney.


The last building to be done was the stable block.  Seemed like a simple job but once work had started on it, it became apparent that the roof line was not exactly straight and resulted in a triangle of  roof causing a problem.

When we first were looking to get the roofs done we went to see a farm complex the roofers had done – to see the quality of their work.  One particular thing that did catch our eye was a large triangle of zinc on one of the buildings.  The roofer explained that the roof line had not been straight and due to the fact that the tiles are all standard and fitted together like lego it was not possible to cut the tiles to cover that area.

When they started work on our place we stated that we did not want any zinc patch ups.  But, the stables were causing some consternation.  They tried extending the roof line out so that no tiles needed to be cut.  Unfortunately this would have resulted in the roof hanging over the road so was not possible.  After discussing with the roofers our options we came up with the idea of putting a zinc triangle on the roof then covering it with the tiles cut. The tiles would not provide a water tight covering but the zinc underneath would.


Finally, after almost 2 months of work – the roofs are finished.  The zinc flashing and  nantaise guttering complete the look.


Some of the downpipes are not exactly where we wanted them – to collect the water in our water collection system – and we had to back down on a few areas.  It has not been without problems, arguments, shouting, stress and a  few sleepless nights.

Overall, we are pleased with the standard and quality of the work – the roofs and buildings will outlive us !

A Year of Fancy Dress – Part III

Just before our Versailles Trip – I was on my way to buy a couple of vintage bikes, for an up and coming event, when I had the misfortune of being involved in a car accident.  Luckily no-one involved was badly hurt but it did leave both cars written off.  This resulted in me driving a small hire car which meant that I couldn’t pick up any bikes.  With the help of some wonderful friends, they took me in their car,  trailer in tow, we headed off for the Emmaus in Cholet.

There I found plenty of old bicycles, I chose two likely suspects and returned back home with the bikes in tow.  That was the beginning …


A Year of Fancy Dress (Part II)

What could possibly follow the success of the Prohibition Party ….



A Year of Fancy Dress (Part I)

2012 was the year of the music festivals – Main Square, Cognac, Melle etc etc.

This year, 2013, has so far … and will be … the year of masquerades and disguises – involving – hats, gowns, breeches, masks, wigs, waistcoats, polka dots, spats, bow ties and much much more ! (more…)


So, a little spell offline over a busy summer and something nefarious broke the blog. Or, more specifically something in the underlying SQL. A few hours polish and it’s fixed. Apologies for the disruption.


plenty of updates in the pipeline including….

A complete re-roof of all of the outbuildings. STRESSFUL!

A visit to a Masked Ball at the Versailles Chateau

Some Special Visitors for the summer 2013 season

A Vintage bike-ride along the Loire

And so on.



Carriages Await The Ardennes Refugees

There is never a dull moment at Bellebouche.  After having an afternoon walking a friends dog in their woods, I came home to discover these wonderful carriages sat outside my house.



2012 – A Re-cap

Firstly apologies to our regulars.  We have neglected this blog – with the ease of posting and adding photos to  Facebook we have regularly updated our pages there and not felt it necessary to replicate them here.

Below you will find a quick recap of some of the events that happened in 2012 …

Hats off to Heston

Clearing some weeds from around the house and I discovered quite the haul of snails. Big ones.

BIG Meaty ones. What can it mean? It’s a sign!


One made a break for it then stopped to munch some lichen…


I’m going all Heston on these boys.  I am following Heston’s recipe for snail porridge one of the signature dishes from his Michelin three star restaurant in the UK.


One of the greatest living Englishmen in his double-awesome ‘Fat Duck Cookbook‘ devotes 7 pages to this dish.

I’ve read it plenty of times and figure that whilst it’s challenging (on all levels) I’m going to man up and have a go at a spot of Michelin 3* cooking!

The process of prepping them takes a couple of weeks. They’ve been washed, purged and  fed up on a diet of  sweet lettuce, cabbage, carrot peelings and onion and fronds of dill.

slow food

They’re then weaned off any vegetable matter and have been on a sprinkling of fine ground polenta for about 12  days.

There’s no delicate way to put this but…

…they were all now doing ‘white’ poops! Ready to cook.


They have had nothing to eat for the last three days. This morning, washed and rinsed for the final time and into a pan with a little salt and some fresh bay leaves.


All done. I kept waiting for them to start wriggling again… a sad fact is that once you snuff out the life in them they’re never coming back… they’ve moved on to fulfill a higher destiny… my Sunday  supper!


Yeah. Big job. I had 62 to remove from their shells.  I only needed a dozen this evening for this dish… the rest of the shells have been rinsed, boiled again in salted water, rinsed again and dried in a low oven.

I’ll make a classic Bourgogne Escargot dish with them.


All naked and keeping their curls.


Ok. The initial cooking process is just enough to liberate the snails from their shells.  This stage transforms the texture and flavour.

Three hours @120c for the braising. The stock is made from an onion, halved and studded with cloves, chopped carrot and celery, bunch of rosemary, bunch of thyme, stalks from a bunch of parsley.  Added 250ml of Muscadet and 100 ml of water. Covered with a little baking paper and braised in a low oven.

The residual stock? I’ll be making soup with that!


Mushrooms, sliced almonds(!), parlsey, butter (more later), air dried cured beef (more later), 85g of garlic (a lot!) and two shallots.  This lot goes to layer the complexity in the garlic butter.


So – some more on this ingredient. The Blumenthal recipe calls for a salt cured and air dried duck breast. It takes (minimum) 20 days to make that and adds a layer of savoury flavour to the butter.

I had some home air dried beef on hand ( I make Biltong every summer – a hangover from time in Africa) – when it’s shaved like that in the foreground it is pure essence of Umami on the tongue.

I would *never* have put it in a herb butter. Genius.


Take-away-trick. Sauteé the garlic until lightly golden before blending.  This was 85 g of garlic in 50g of butter. Transforms the harsh garlic edge away before adding to the base butter mix.


Blended 200g of butter with 200g of parsley. The shallots were cooked gently until translucent.  The mushrooms zapped until caremelised.

The Blumthenal recipe called for ceps – none in the supermarché so I used normal champignon de paris. Caramelising the mushroom like that gave them the same great flavour you get from the mushrooms in a classic English fryup. YES!


Vinaigrette to dress the fennel topping. 140g rapeseed oil, 10g dijon, 50g of walnut infused white wine vinegar. I tasted that and thought it a bit one dimensional!

Heston might disapprove but I added two big pinches of sugar and a slug of fine ground white pepper. When he comes to my house and pays me £180 for his supper *then* he can complain!


Tiny amount of stock (40ml) and 20g of sifted porridge oats – enough to just hydrate the cereal and then blob in the herb butter.


Now to plate up :-

Porridge is made.
A layer of chiffonade ham.
sp=construct- porridge and ham
The snails have been sauteéd in a little foaming butter and then given a final seasoning with fresh pepper. A handful on each portion does the trick.


Finally, dress with the fennel shavings in their walnut vinaigrette.

A very long walk but what a journey. It was good!

The layers and complexity were all there…

Oats tasted of oats.
The butter to envelop the oats was multidimensional – savoury, herbal, very little hint of garlic… astonishing.
The ham was… ham. Salty and textured as it’d been well cured.
The snails? Herbal, meaty.. some were quite soft.. like a just-cooked foie-gras… rich and fatty.
The fennel, fresh, anis flavour… the bite of the vinaigrette dressing and the aroma of the nuts coming through.

Hats off to Heston. He da man.


12 days prep, one day pre-prep and about 7 man hours of my own time all in. The luxury of time is the key ingredient in all of this but the complexity and layering of flavours was something else.

My attempt was an approximation of the Blumenthal dish because whilst I had all the ingredients… he has the tools! I’m just never going to cough €4000 for a Pacojet.

Still, gave a good account of myself and will undoubtedly do it again. No question.

I’ve eaten food of this calibre a few times before and the combination of ingredients and techniques that are in play brings the dish to a whole ‘nother level.


Nothing for me to add, Heston says it all.

Except of course if you’d like to take me to dinner I’d quite like the tasting menu, please.

3.5 hrs worth of eating? £180!

Festival Of Games – 2012

Every year we make sure that we spend a day at the Festival Ludique International de Parthenay, or Flip.   This year the weather has not been too kind but we managed to visit for an afternoon of sunshine with the odd shower.

Flip 2012

Each year, over the fortnight, it draws thousands of people – young and old – into the town of Parthenay, to enjoy and partake in game playing.  I have blogged this festival before in 2006 and not much has changed since then.

lost in thought

Father and daughter (?) playing a board game in the streets.  It is so lovely to see all generations of people just stopping their day to day rush and spending time playing and being with each other.

Games Festival 2012

Over the years we have had a go at some of the circus school games but this year we decided to just sit back, with a Belgian beer, and watch the children doing it with ease and laughter.

Games Festival 2012

When the rain did come, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.  Numerous marquees around the town were filled with people hiding from the rain – but – still playing games!  The rain passed quickly and everyone poured back out into the streets again.

Games festival - 2012

Inside the Palais du Congress were all the video games and interactive games for young and old alike.  It was funny to watch young girls playing a dance game, holding handsets to record their moves and scoring points for every correct move they copied from the animated dancers.  They did it so seriously.

Games festival 2012

All the young boys were on the racing car and shoot-em up games.  If not shooting or racing, other males were on the 1st floor of the building partaking in the Rubiks cube tournament.  Some were so good they weren’t even looking at the cube while they completed it and others only used one hand.  I personally have never been able to do a rubiks cube without taking it apart!

Flip 2012

Face painting was very popular this year. It seemed to be, wherever you looked, children and adults alike were painted with patterns and bright vivid colours.

And the new hit game of the year – there didn’t seem to be one – unlike one previous year where everyone was playing Blokus.  We played it too and loved it so much we bought it.

Trends for 2012 – well – you can’t escape them – only a head shot will do …

Flip 2012

Zombies !!

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