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Bon weekend from my little kitchen in France

Last week I was in Alsace-Lorraine, northeast France, which was unusually damp for this time of the year. But despite the weather, it is a beautiful region, the food is amazing, the wine is wonderful, and the people are friendly and generous natured. I started and ended in Strasbourg but in between it was strictly off the beaten tracks as I cruised (with CroisiEurope, the family-owned French company), along the Marne-Rhine Canal, stopping at gorgeous little villages and visiting glorious castles perched up mountains, eating flammekueche (tarte flambé), and nibbling on local cheeses washed down with local wines. Of course I’ll be telling you more about it in an upcoming issue of The Good Life Magazine which you can subscribe to for free here.

Meanwhile back in the village, this weekend is the annual Wood Club members end of (wood) year dinner at the home of my neighbours and Wood Club President Jean-Claude and his wife Bernadette. The first rule of Wood Club is ‘you don’t talk about Wood Club’ as Jean-Claude is convinced everyone will want in! But I’m sure he won’t mind me telling you! There are six members, all neighbours, and the aim is to harvest wood for our fires, whilst managing the trees in the fields hereabouts that are owned by Claudette, Bernadette’s mum.

Every year they spend a week or so cutting, storing, and then later cutting again and sharing. Mark, my other half, is the newest member and also the youngest and fittest so he does most of the heavy work and Jean-Claude never leaves the tractor, from which he orders everyone about. For a laid-back Frenchman, he sometime surprises with a bout of bossiness. To be honest, it’s generally a lot more work than it’s worth but the trees need managing and we’re a community and we’re honoured to be included as the only Brits in the village.

Every day when the Wood Club works, the spouses of the members take turns to cook lunch for everyone, though for the first few years, I was excused on account of me not being keen as I couldn’t cook as well as them (I did a barbecue instead). We’re not talking cheese sandwiches and a packet of crisps here I can tell you, oh no no, it’s always three courses at least. The sort of thing they prepare might be mackerel in white wine as a starter, and for the main dish, a steaming bowl of poule au pot, a chicken stew said to have its origins in the sixteenth century when King Henri IV of France allegedly said that he would ensure that ‘every Frenchman should be able to have a hen in his pot on a Sunday’ at a time when poor people rarely ate meat. Sometimes there’s a cheese platter and always dessert, maybe a tarte tatin or melt-in-your-mouth chocolate eclair.

This year though I was in. I’ve been learning to cook for a few years thanks to some of my very patient neighbours who were frankly horrified that a woman of my age was unable to produce a decent meal from scratch! My tear and share baked Camembert in bread went down a treat. My rustic French beef stew was applauded, ‘just like my belle-maman (mother-in-law) makes’ said Jean-Claude with a wink as he knows that I have watched her make it so many times, I now make it exactly the same way. And my piece de resistance – a brioche berry and white chocolate pudding. The great Julia Child once said, “no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve cracked it!

Wishing you a delicious weekend from a kitchen in an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, northern France,


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Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online. Her new book How to be French – a celebration of the French lifestyle, is out in October 2023 – a look at the French way of life.

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