Friday, September 26, 2014

Daily Grind

Vintage coffee mills or moulins à café are familiar sights at the brocantes of France. All shapes and sizes can be found, round, square or wall mounted. It seems every household once owned one. Often uncovered in poor condition now, occasionally we chance upon one that is a little more unusual or appealing to the eye.

This red one was a recent find which has ended up on our 'keep' shelf where it sits with its navy blue partner and I am now on the lookout for a third. Three isn't always a crowd. Art Deco collectors would love the all chrome version.

It may seem surprising to see the Peugeot lion emblem on a coffee grinder when we associate it mostly with cars. In fact, Peugeot Frères started producing grinders in the 1840's long before cars were thought of and they were made up until the 60's when ground coffee became more widely available. This lovely soft green one is sadly missing its label but the colour said ' buy me anyway'.

Below is a beautiful antique one from the late 1800's that is very rare. Any that survived are likely to be in the Peugeot museum or fetching a good price on Ebay. We may stumble across one one day. Here's hoping!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Borage the Wonder Herb

It's easy to see why the beautiful star shaped flowers of the borage plant are such a bee magnet.

This old fashioned plant self seeded in my vegetable garden and since flowering it has been visited all day long by bees busying themselves collecting pollen. I had no idea it was such a useful plant for culinary and medicinal use

Borage is in fact a herb and has a lot going for it other than it's bright blue petals. It is very undemanding in terms of soil and conditions so will thrive in most gardens and reseeds readily.The flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads or cakes. Ice cubes made with a borage flower look really pretty in summer drinks, especially Pimms where it was traditionally used before cucumber and mint. The smaller less fuzzy leaves work well in salads and taste very similar to cucumber.

As a companion plant borage enhances the growth of tomatoes by repelling the tomato hornworm and many other fruit and vegetables such as strawberries and squash seem to benefit from nearby planting. Anything attracting bees can only do good as they increase the pollination of neighbourings plants and as we all know, we need bees.

It is worth growing for the flowers alone but in medicinal use borage excels. The seeds are made into GLA, an essential fatty acid which is said to be useful in treating depression, rheumatism, fever, colds and flu. The leaves contains high levels of vitamins A, C, calcium, iron and zinc and can be crushed to relieve insect bites.

I have even heard that it can be used to treat a hangover. Perhaps that's why it's added to Pimms!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Café au lait

Antique café au lait bowls are something I always look for at brocantes. It's rare to find two the same and they come in an assortment of colours, patterns and shapes. Some are fluted with stripes and others have beautiful stencilled floral designs. It's hard to pick a favourite from my collection but I think if I was pushed I'd say the blue stencilled ones. 

I always try to find ones in really good condition so I can actually use them. They are just the perfect size for dips, snacks and soups. At a recent lunch I served gaspacho in them and when the table is laid with each place having a different one they really do look pretty.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bordeaux Canelés

Bordeaux is not just famous for wine...

The true origins of these little cakes is not known but as with many old recipes there are lots of theories.

The one that most agree on is that they were first baked by pre French Revolution nuns who were given egg yolks by the local wine growers. Egg whites were used to clarify the wine so the nuns put the by-product to good use by making these ridged cakes for the poor children.

The Bordeaux canelés are best bought and tasted in their home town where there is even a confrérie or brotherhood of 88 patissiérs who formed a group to protect the integrity of their canelés. Chocolate or orange flavourings? Mais, non!!

The official recipe is apparently locked away in a vault which makes the little cakes feel even more self important. Notoriously difficult to make, they rely on the exact blend of flour, eggs, rum, milk, vanilla bean and sugar as well as the correct cooking temperatures. Once cooked they are left to rest on a grill which helps form the glossy deep brown crust whilst the interior remains soft and custard like. The overall texture is meant to be slightly chewy to allow the subtle flavours to be fully enjoyed. Best eaten with coffee or wine. Naturellement!

I can't say they are my favourite thing being in the 'no alcohol in sweet food' camp, but I do love their shape and colour. You can see them piled high in the patisserie windows of Bordeaux where they look very appealing. I have found a couple of sets of the aluminium tins on my brocante travels in France and I have been lucky enough to find one beautiful copper set which I now regret not holding onto. They would make perfect mini jelly moulds too!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flower Juice

We like to keep up our British traditions here in France and so in May and June we go off foraging the blossoms of the elder shrub to make elderflower cordial.

The children love walking around country lanes, snipping the large flowers heads into a basket to make what they call 'flower juice'.
Once harvested, the flowers of this rather ill thought of shrub ( some may say weed),can be infused in a sugar syrup that when combined with sparkling water, ice and a slice of lemon, makes the most refreshingly fragrant summer drink.
Replace the water with sparkling wine or champagne and you will have a classy do,  and I am told that it can be used in a vinaigrette dressing too.
I use Sophie Grigson's recipe which is tried and tested, keeps and freezes really well. Try to pick blooms away from roadsides and those which are in bloom but with no trace of brown.


  • 20 heads of elderflower
  • 1.8 kg granulated sugar
  • 1.2 litres water
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 75 g citric acid


1. Shake the elderflowers to expel any little critters, and then place in a large bowl.

2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.

3. Add the zest of the lemons to the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin cloth ( or clean tea towel), squeezing out the last drops for maximum flavour. Pour into sterilized bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the fridge. Use plastic bottles if freezing leaving a gap at the top for expansion.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mangeoire a poule

I have often glanced at these poultry feeders or 'mangeoires a poules' whilst perusing a brocanteur's stand and didn't really imagine that they could be put to much decorative use. Le brocanteur said that they were now in much demand and highly sought after. 
I could feel the price going up as he spoke. 'Très rare. Ancienne' he said.'Yeah', I thought.

But with a little imagination, they can be reinvented as neat little planters. Perfect for narrow window sills or any outside space. Fill with compost, sprinkle in some seeds of your choice - herbs would be practical. Feed, water, grow.

Or you could get a few chickens instead!

Friday, February 21, 2014

All that Jaz

The Jaz brand was born in the 1920's by a small group of engineers who realised there was a very lucrative market for alarm clocks. Getting the workforce up and out to work on time was not easy without them. The solution was to produce a quality, mass produced product that was still pleasing to the eye.

Why Jaz? Nobody really knows but possibly a cool name reflecting the musical influences sweeping the continent at the time.

These days, the clocks are highly collectible. I have several on Chateau Chic in perfect working condition with an alarm to wake the soundest sleeper. It's worth knowing a little more about the cockerel emblem on the face in order to date them more accurately. The emblem did not exist prior to 1942 and from 1942 -1967 the tail is pointing down. On later editions, 1967 and onwards, the tail is pointing up.

Classic alarm clock 1940's

1920's chrome clock

1940's Cream Bakelite Art Deco

Monday, February 17, 2014

Vintage bottle dryer

Vintage galvanised metal bottle dryers can be used in so many ways. I particularly like them for displaying teacups but I have also seen them used for drying herbs. 

I used this one as a quirky Christmas tree adorned with fairy lights. You can find the one below on Chateau Chic. It's the perfect size to sit on a worktop or counter.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Getting the sack

At first glance vintage agricultural sacks don't look too appealing.

They are rustic and coarsely woven and often have a rather farmyard smell but none of this has ever put me off buying them.

I know that with a little gentle handwashing and care they can be made into the most wonderful, original chair coverings, cushions, table runners and even Roman blinds. There are probably plenty more ideas but I have enough to be going on with...

I only buy them if the mice haven't gotten to them first and I tend to buy unusual and colourful designs and then ponder what to make with them. Here is a chair that I have covered a while back. The stork design in pale blue worked perfectly with the French grey on the chair.

And an idea for my next project...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Vintage soda syphon

You can't help but be attracted to the striking blue of these vintage soda bottles. They catch my eye whenever I see them at the markets and whilst they were a very common sight in the 1920's and 30's very few of them have survived intact.

I now have the beginnings of a collection, well two is a good start. Both of mine are in perfect condition and I waited a long time to acquire them. I place them on the windowsill in my kitchen where they are naturally backlit. They look different throughout the day depending on the light and weather.

Bars and restaurant owners would have taken these to a facility where they would have been recharged. Can you use them? Not really. The pewter tops require special removal but they make a stunning focal point.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lampshade tutorial

You can easily transform a lampshade by recovering with fabric of your choice. If you don't have one already, they can be picked up really cheaply at junk shops or yard sales. 

First of all, gather everything that you need:-

  • plain lampshade
  • fabric
  • large piece of paper ( a length of wallpaper is ideal)
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • straight edge
  • spray fabric glue (repositionable)
  • glue gun
  • cutting mat and cutter ( optional) 

1. Trace the lampshade onto the paper to create a template. Take time to do this accurately following the line slowly top and bottom and marking the start and finish point.

2. Join the edges with a ruler. Add 1cm to one of the vertical edge. This will create a neat finish where the edges join.

Add 1cm to top and bottom edges.

3. Cut out the template and then trace around it onto the wrong side of your fabric. If you are using a patterned fabric, be sure to position the template along the grain of the fabric. If you are using fabric with a motif or embroidery like mine, make sure it is central. Cut out the fabric.

 4. Spray the wrong side of the fabric with a thin layer of glue. Do this in a well ventilated area. Turn down the vertical edge with the 1cm allowance and glue in place.

5. Starting at the raw vertical edge, carefully roll the shade along the fabric, lining up the edges as you go. Most small creases can be smoothed out but you may need to peel it back from time to time to ensure it lays flat. The folded seam should neatly cover the raw edge where they meet.

6. When you are happy with the finish, tuck under the overlapping fabric at top and bottom. You may need a little glue from a glue gun at this stage to ensure it sticks firmly.

7. That's it. Sit back and enjoy your handiwork!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Wood Art


From October onwards our French neighbour busies himself from dawn to dusk moving, cutting and meticulously stacking his woodpile. Trailor loads of metre long logs are trundled down to the designated area and arranged in a geometric style that would please any maths teacher.

For several weeks the ritual continues until at least a year's worth of logs have been accumulated and stacked. The end is result is very impressive. In France, wood is measured in 'stères' or cubic metres and even a modest house can burn several stères a year, hence the need to constantly replenish stocks and make sure wood is seasoned.

Woodpiles are something of an obsession in rural France. As much part of French life as growing and preserving produce. 

Does size matter? Apparently so. The bigger and longer the better! A woodpile it seems is a symbol of masculinity. Hunter-gatherer at it's most basic level. 

We haven't needed much wood this year. So far the winter has been mild. I'll go and touch wood!