Monday, December 24, 2012


When it comes to candles I'm a bit of a purist.
Garish reds and greens are not for me, I prefer the neutral tones that will always harmonize with your scheme and will enhance the candle holder rather than clash with it. 

Perfumed candles on the other hand are a different matter entirely. Clarets and deep forest greens and burnt oranges when combined with woody scents can be very comforting and bring a festive even pampering feel.

If the chores are done and you have a little time on your hands today, knock up some simple table decorations. Rope the kids in to find scraps of fabric and ribbon and using an ordinary jam jar you can create a pretty candle holder in minutes. I like to use some foliage - wood herbs like bay and rosemary work well but for a more traditional look use holly or ivy.
Pop in a stubby candle and voila! Simples.

Tealights can be used in small saucers and dessert dishes. I poked around our cupboards and found this cute little antique custard cup. Glass works particularly well so if you have old bottles or jars think about upcycling them. 

A very Merry Christmas to all of you 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Joy of Jouy

On my travels this weekend I discovered the most wonderful piece of antique Toile du Jouy.
Although much of it had been munched away by moths, enough of it remained to get me thinking about a new cushion project. The story of the Toile du Jouy began way back in 1760...

This well known style of fabric was developed by Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf in a town near Versailles called Jouy-en-Josas. He employed talented designers such as Huet to portray romantic figures in pastoral and often political scenes. Such was the quality of Oberkampfs prints that Napolean visited the factory and requested he bring some of his finest fabrics as gifts for ladies of the court. The prints became very popular and the style was adopted by many other factories during the early 19th Century although none truly matched the designs that were produced at Jouy.

It is the fine detail on the engraving of this piece that gives it such charm and sets it apart from the modern reproductions. It was probably a coverlet or curtain originally and dates from around 1835.

Friday, August 31, 2012

In a pickle

So, it's that time of year when the veggies are a plenty. Too plentiful to be honest, if there is such a thing. All my feeding, pinching out and nurturing has paid off and now I am faced with a daily basketful of red and yellow marbles. Well cherry tomatoes actually. They are at their best in a salad, or just popped in the mouth whilst being harvested, but when it comes to preserving them, there is a dilemma. To roast, to freeze, to bottle, to...? Well, what about to pickle? Or to jam to be precise as tomato is a fruit after all.

Jamming the little red poppets provides the perfect solution to the glut. There is not enough flesh to pad out the waiting jars and I can't be doing with faffing about drying them so I have found a recipe that can be adapted depending on what else is available and this solves the problem. The bonus is that they don't have to be skinned which was also presenting various time consuming issues. Whack a bit of chilli in and you have something that will spice up a cheese sarnie or is a perfect accompaniment to a curry. Great with sausages and burgers too.

This is what I did to them...

Cherry Tomato Jam


  1. 2 tsp cumin seeds
  2. 2 tsp coriander seeds
  3. 750g ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  4. 2 onions, finely chopped, (apples and courgettes optional)
  5. 2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  6. 5cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  7. 250ml white wine vinegar
  8. 300g soft light brown sugar
  9. 2 tsp soy sauce
  10. 2 large mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped ( optional)


  1. 1. Put the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan and toast over a low heat for 1 minute, then crush in a pestle and mortar.
  2. 2. Put the tomatoes and onions (a couple of windfall chopped apples or courgettes can be added at this stage) in a wide pan with the garlic, chillies and ginger. Add the spices, vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil, then simmer until reduced to a jam-like consistency - can take 3 -4 hours. Add the fish sauce and cook for 2 more minutes before spooning into sterilised jars.
  3. 3. Seal the jars while hot, then allow to cool completely before labelling and storing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wacky Races

         Close ups at Angouleme

The Circuit Des Remparts in Angoulême is one of only 2 street races in Europe ( the other being Monaco) and every September brings racing enthusiasts flocking to this part of South West France.

Commonly known as 'Monaco without the sea', the race offers spectators the chance to see, Bugattis, Rileys, Fraser Nash and MGs as well as post war Porches and TVRs.
The event has been running every 3rd weekend in September since 1939 with only a break during the war years and is a unique spectacle worth a visit simply for the atmosphere.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Island life

Ile de Ré is one of this regions real treasures. A small island tucked away off the coast of La Rochelle only reachable via the sweeping 3km bridge, it is a popular place for Parisians, many of whom have a holiday home here. It is fairly flat making it perfect for cycling and is only 25 km from east to west yet it has something for everybody. Picturesque fishing villages feature along the coast and the long, sandy beaches with gentle waves are ideal for families and of course there are plenty of stylish boutiques and restaurants.
The capital Saint Martin-de-Ré is a must for shoppers but the island is also steeped in history, being the scene of a famous siege in 1627. The charm of the island is hard to resist and we return again and again only to discover new delight and taste the fresh Ré air.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

La bonne vie

One of the best things about living in France is, yes, the weather!
Sunshine is plentiful in the Charente-Maritime and the mild climate, rich soil, and space afforded us here means that growing your own fruit and veg is a cinch.
All rural dwellers will boast a 'potager' usually consisting of, amongst other things, miles of leeks, lettuces so voluminous they would struggle to fit into your average supermarket bag and, without exception, rows of tomato plants laden with juicy, unlikely shaped fruit.
I am no Barbara, but a little bit of the Good Life has been created in my back garden plot whose petite size caused much mirth amongst the locals.
My 'skills gap' in home growing was quickly filled by my elderly neighbours whose welcome advice included 'grow what you eat'. Absolutely. No point in having 10 courgette plants each birthing at an alarming rate when you are the only member of the family that will go within a mile of them. OK, so I have made some mistakes as a novice and I have the jars of chutney to prove it. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall devotees will no doubt be familiar with his recipe for Glutney which is in fact the reason I DO grow one courgette plant every year. 
Tomatoes, however are a very different matter and are allowed to inhabit a much larger portion of the patch, having truly earned their prime, sun drenched position. From the misshapen ( read ugly) but stupendously flavoursome Marmande variety to the dainty 'bonbon' of the tomato world, the cherry. 
So what can't you do with a tomato? Not a lot, really. From soup to bolognaise, from pizza to pasta it has the versatility only matched by the potato. To achieve the elusive 5 a day for their picky children, many a Mum has blitzed them, sneaked them into and hidden them in dishes in a way that no other fruit or veg would forgive them for. A freshly picked tomato is poetical and must NEVER be kept in the fridge. It's why Cheddar was invented.
This roasted tomato salad by Delia Smith has long been a mainstay of our Summer barbecues and with a crusty baguette to mop up the juices, it is the food of gods.

Roasted Tomato Salad

8 large tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil

Skin the tomatoes, cut through the 'equator' and place the halves in a roasting tin (cut side uppermost). Season with salt and freshly milled pepper. 

Sprinkle over the chopped garlic,and drizzle with some olive oil. Top each one with a basil leaf, turning each one over to get a coating of oil.

Roast the tomatoes for 50-60 minutes at 200 c. Allow to cool. 

Transfer them to serving plates making sure you capture all the juices, then whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 of balsamic vinegar and drizzle this over the tomatoes. Garnish with some extra basil leaves.They will keep for a couple of days in the fridge but remember to always serve them at room temperature. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The old and the new

I stumbled across this unusual 'petite demeure' near Cognac and did a double take. This would have once been the gatekeeper's house for the beautiful lodge next door and a local architect had taken what was undoubtedly a rather forlorn looking building and transformed into an eclectic dwelling.

The typical Charentaise stone still forms the framework but with the addition of a quirky cladded roof it has become something that even Kevin McCloud would approve of. I did think it looked a bit like a mad hatter's house but would have loved a sneaky peek inside.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Plump, plump

This month I have been busy making cushions, something that I have wanted to do for ages but never seemed to have the time. Partly due to my ever growing pile of antique and vintage fabric which practically needs a room of its own, I decided it was high to time to get on with them.
The sewing machine has been going like the clappers and here are some of the results...

I only use vintage and antique fabrics and try if possible to combine them with trimmings from the same era - buttons for example,  so that the end product is pretty much totally upcycled and unique.
Textiles from a bygone age have a quality and look that just can't be reproduced today and if handled carefully and looked after will give years of use and are a far cry from a department store mass produced cushion.
So , there we are. I'll let good old Bernina cool down for a bit before I design some more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fields of gold

Apparently rapeseed oil or 'colza' as it is known in France is set to overtake olive oil as the oil of choice for top chefs. Nigella and James Martin are amongst its devotees and the health benefits are unfolding daily. One of the reasons it is becoming a favourite is that it has a subtle taste that does not overwhelm certain recipes - mayonnaise is a perfect example. Not bad for an oil that was originally produced to lubricate steam engines!

Here, in May and June the fields are crammed with tiny gold flowers which are so bright they almost hurt your eyes. The contrast with the blue sky and green wheat fields is breathtaking and the heady scent is a sign that the long hot days of Summer are nearly here.

Every garden needs a trug

                                          Pinned Image

Simple, rustic wooden trugs are part of country living and useful for carrying around tools, pots and holding cut flowers. No gardener should be without one. I have 4 now  - in various sizes and shapes. One is even stamped with the previous owners initials. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tulips in bloom

I loved the freshness of colour in this display. Under a huge tree in a Niort park, the sea of pink tulips and white narcissi was a wonderful sign that Spring had arrived.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Refinished large antique wood frame

When I bought this wooden frame it was in its natural state and came complete with a  photograph of a rather serious looking gentleman, possibly a local Maire. 
I have brought it up to date with a modern paint finish -  Farrow Ball Pointing - but it still retains all its original character, even the old woodworm holes to prove authenticity!
The carved bow at the top is typical of the 1920's romantic era and this style is much copied today. How much nicer to have the real thing with original glass. If not used to house a photograph it could easily be made into a mirror, perfect for a bedroom.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vintage cushions

I would like to share these gorgeous cushions with you all. Crafted by my friend Annie with some of my beautiful French vintage fabrics - ticking stripes and romantic florals. Annie combines traditional textiles in a unique way to produce original designs with a personal touch. She sells through small boutiques and will make to order.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Frappez Chiens Dangereux

I was delighted to receive this photo from a happy client. She was getting a Cocker Spaniel "Rum Truffle", a 7-year old chocolate Liver Roan. Not dangerous but a good companion for her other sign 'Chien Bizarre'! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

“When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”

As Dale Carnegie rightly said we should make the best use of what we have...

At a local brocante last week an elderly gentleman had set up a modest stall selling some of his home grown produce - leeks ( as always), onions and these incredible lemons. Complete with leaves and stalks ( and very spiky thorns) he told me how he had brought the potted up lemon trees indoors in the autumn and let the fruits develop in his lean to. They were without doubt a taste sensation - putting the scrawny, waxed supermarket lemon to shame. Plump, juicy and with a tropical aroma that filled the room - just as nature intended. I did get a little carried away and bought 4 kilos of them but just the sight of them in the fruit bowl was enough to send the winter blues packing.

So, what did I do when fate handed me lemons? Why, made lemonade of course!

Gin and tonic anyone?

Is it a trunk or is it a coffee table?

                Well, it's both and it could also be a blanket box of course.

These old trunks are capacious enough to store magazines, books and toys and look very stylish as coffee tables. This one is extra large in size and character with it's sepia coloured outer with chunky leather handles either side. My husband who has lovingly restored it, describes it as 'a real corker' and now it would sit comfortably in any room. See more photos at Chateau Chic Direct