We went back to France two weeks ago to spend another lovely holiday in my brother's old farmhouse near Toulouse. At this time of the year the figues on his figue trees around the farmhouse are ripe and we ate figues from morning till evening.
There were blue ones and green ones --hundreds of them, and we were not the only ones to enjoy them. In fact, we had to be careful while picking them as so many hornets and other insects also seemed to enjoy them. One day Dieter decided to bake a tarte aux figues.
You can buy the thin layers of Pâte Brisée in every supermarket in France, but Eileen is including her favorite French recipe.
In July we spent a week in our French friends' holiday cottage in rural France. It was heaven!
The cottage is an outbuilding of a mill at a small river, surrounded by forests and fields. There are no other houses.
Almost 2,000 years ago the Romans settled here and we drove across a nearby river, over the old Roman bridge that is 1,600 years old and still safe.
There are flowers and wildlife everywhere. Everybody seems to have time, but sadly, a lot of young people have moved to the bigger cities.
We picked our own berries, collected firewood for the evening, ate wild mushrooms from the forests and bought wonderful farm products from the small local markets.
Our friends' cottage is romantic and decorated with French antiques and fabrics.
At night we listened to the barn owls and woke up to wonderful birds' singing. It was a wonderful relaxing week and quite a contrast to flashy Paris!
With four lemon trees in our garden, we always have fresh lemons for our salad dressings. However, sometimes there are so many lemons that we have to use them in a different way. One year we tried to make lemon marmalade. That was good, but most members of the family did not like that bittersweet taste. Then Dieter, who is in charge of desserts, found a wonderful recipe in one of our cookery books.
The recipe was an instant hit. The dessert is so delicious and light that you can even eat it after a huge dinner. It has become our favourite family dessert. Susan has named it Dieter's Lemon Fluff and requests it at every visit.
Whenever we are on holiday in France or England we browse the antique markets and shops. We prefer markets and antique centres with a mixture of professional dealers and people who just sell for fun or from their attics or car boots. Over the years we have bought a lot of paintings during such holidays, which we love to display in our home. Some paintings remind us of places we have just seen like the castle in France . . .
Old warehouses in Marseille . . .
Or the Customs House in King`s Lynn in East Anglia/England.
The children`s portraits complement our collection of antique toys.
And others look nice in the kitchen or in the conservatory.
The paintings are oils, pastels etc. and are not valuable. We do not bother having them restored and usually don't have the original frames repaired.
We have never paid a lot for the paintings. The French castle, for example, which we bought in a small town in the south of France (Mirepoix) last year was only 90 Euros. Of course, you should not look for the paintings in very popular places with lots of tourists, but try to stop at small shops or weekly markets and you can easily find nice paintings from the genuine owners or rather their grandparents.
This morning we passed along our favourite florist`s shop in Bonn and saw that the orange trees are out, definitely a hint that spring is not far away.
Here in Germany you find flowers displayed in front of the florists`shops everywhere now, even in front of the supermarkets. There are also stalls among the fruit stalls that only sell flowers during the year.
Being so close to Holland the spring flowers such as tulips and daffodils are offered everywhere and at reasonable prices.
These hardy spring flowers can now be seen in flowers boxes all over Germany.
Spring is in the air! Looking at Eileen`s shivering dog, I thought I should send you a weather and garden report from Germany. While China and other parts of the world are suffering from extremely cold weather and heavy snow, we have another very mild winter.
Look at the picture of the Gertrude Jekyll rose in January! We have never seen a rose blossoming in January, but this winter everything is possible and this rose has never stopped blossoming since May last year!
We love watching the growth of our first spring flowers in the garden, which are already in bloom.
We can even sit in front of our house in warm sweaters and enjoy the sunshine and the arrival of spring. Here I am with grandchildren Samy and Lilly posing for Opa Dieter!
Another Trip to France! Why just go to Paris? After finishing shopping, leave Paris and head West to a wonderful region where Cider and Calvados and the best Camembert are produced. It is only a two-hour drive from Paris, and many French people leave the capitol on weekends to stay in their country or seaside homes in Normandy.
Don't stay at the famous beaches of Normandy, but explore the glorious countryside.
There are magnificent old villages, medieval abbeys, castles and picturesque towns as well as unspoiled countryside. You will learn a lot about French history and French cuisine.
Two years ago we rented a house half an hour from Rouen, a lovely city with ancient streets and buildings and a medieval Gothic cathedral. Our holiday home was an old half-timbered house from the 18th century with many original features and the old glass in the windows.
We rented the entire house from an elderly gentleman who lived next door, who was originally from Germany, and who loved visiting with his guests. We found the rental via the internet, and at a very reasonable price. The sitting room above, as the rest of the house, is furnished with antiques. The ancient church clock across the street struck every quarter hour, and we thought we had returned to the 18th century! It was heaven, and we are sure to go back for another vacation.
When we traveled to Provence for the first time in 1980 we immediately fell in love with the beautiful countryside, the ancient towns, the glorious food and the vibrant colors. Since that time we have come back again and again, at least once a year. We were fascinated by the Easter antique markets in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon, Barjac, etc. and decided to take some furniture back home to remind us of the wonderful colors all year. Most of the furniture is painted in light blue or shades of yellow, reflecting the colors of lavender, sunshine and honey. At first we just took back some flower stands that we could easily put into our car.
But what we were really looking for was an antique cabinet to display various collections or just vases and dishes in. These cabinets often came from old shops and I remember that you could easily find the complete furnishings of a huge shop, bakery or pharmacy. Unfortunately, most of the cabinets are so tall that you cannot use them in modern houses or flats. Finally we found one in a light blue that we could just get into the house.
We have had this cabinet for almost 15 years now and still enjoy it every day, especially in the dark months when it reflects the colors of spring and summer. The small table is from an old boulangerie. It has been bought to display an antique doll house and some old French fabrics.
The old wardrobe which is in the entrance of our house, is no real wardrobe. We found the three antique doors in an antique shop in Provence, had a frame set up and built in the doors to make a wonderful wardrobe.
We are a little sad that our house is full now and we can no longer go furniture hunting, but there are still lots of small antiques to be found in these markets. In March we will be back to look for more...........
Many German families own nativity scenes that have often been in their families for several generations and have been passed on to children and grandchildren. Ours is at least 100 years old and it was made in Grulich, a town which now belongs to the Czech Republic. All the figures and animals are carved from wood and the artists have used very vibrant colours. We open the huge box a few days before Christmas. The children are excited when they unwrap the figures they have not seen for a year. They enjoy arranging them around the buildings, having the three wise men with their wonderful animals coming from the left side and and all the shepherds and sheep coming from the right side. The buildings did not come with the figures. We found them on eBay last year, it was the ideal setting. It shows the town of Bethlehem as an oriental place with lots of small towers and walls. There are cliffs and trees, a small pond and even a well. Everything has been made of wood.
Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without a German feather tree trimmed in antique German ornaments! We began collecting these 30 years ago and now try to buy at least one special ornament every year.
100 grams Powdered Sugar
Maria & Dieter
We are a German couple living near the romantic Rhine valley and the cities of Cologne and Bonn in Germany. Three years ago we met Susan through the internet and have become great friends. We have so much in common and share a passion for antiques, good food and traveling, that it is fun to meet and do things together. Over the last 3 years we have met Susan and her sister Eileen in Paris, Germany and the USA. We are already planning our next trips to Provence and Prague and Dieter and I feel honored to provide photos, comments, reports and recipes from Europe to Susan and Eileen's blog.