Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some French Window Shopping

The store windows are all so tempting. These little jewels above are French macaroons ~ dainty little cookies which appear in every shade and flavor imaginable. They are a bit pricey, but a very delightful treat, and well deserving of their elegant display! You can purchase them in beautifully arranged gift boxes ~ but we each selected just one. Mine was lavender. Other flavors included raspberry, green apple, mango, white chocolate, black cherry, butter cream... and so on. Wouldn't they make a wonderful hostess gift?

These are cannales, a traditional pastry of the Bordeaux area. They are small cakes, and I understand that are baked at high temperatures, which causes the outer edge of sugar to brown and carmelize! The cannales are made using a batter more like crepe batter, and the outer edge is somewhat hard, while the inside stays yummy and moist ~ very rich indeed!

The "Les Mis" look seemed to be popular in France this summer ~ lots of layers of soft, feminine, lightweight clothing, always in neutrals, creams, lavenders and pale pinks.

Colorful faience ceramics from Brittany. Faience is an earthenware pottery covered in an enameled glaze, and then typically hand-painted with intricate flowers, birds, and characters. It was hugely fashionable in France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The quimper faiencerie was founded in the late 1600's and their wares, depicting Breton figures, remain popular today.

And an interesting cracker (?) that we found in our bread baskets in Brittany - the craquelins are shaped like a very shallow bowl.

Looking in a charcuterie window and wanting to try one of everything! Here you can find prepared meats (sausages, pates, terrines), along with a tempting array of quiches, stuffed tomatoes, and all manner of inviting veggie creations ~ is there a child in France that doesn't like his vegetables!?

And this is the store window that caught my husband's eye ~ antique books and maps. You can see he's proudly holding the purchasehe made there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

France in Bloom

France in June is a magnificent rainbow of color ~ poppies dot the roadside, lavender fills the air, and roses are lush with blooms! Whether it be in elegant formal gardens, rustic kitchen gardens, civic plantings, or front yards and window boxes, flowers are in abundance. It's enough to make a gardener with even half a green thumb positively swoon. This photo was taken at Langeais Castle ~ nothing like a chateau to dress up some simple daisies!

I was captivated by the poppies ~ their vibrant colors along the road side always brought a smile.

And the hydrangeas were breathtaking ~

These are the formal gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau ~ on one side there are gardens designed by Catherine de Medici, Henri II's wife, and on the other side - gardens designed by Diane de Poitiers, his mistress of long standing. Both ladies were instrumental in the design of this famous chateau.

Inside the chateaux, we found outstanding fresh flower arrangements ~

And the flowers for these arrangements typically are provided by their own kitchen gardens, which provide a wondrous palette of bright colors and variety of flowers ~

These are the amazing gardens at Chateau de Villandry. This first photo shows the vegetable garden, which is laid out in nine separately patterned grids, with each grid having a different geometrical design and combination of plants. This garden will be completely replanted for the summer / autumn growing season.

Still at Villandry ~ these are more of the formal gardens. See the heart designs? There are four knot gardens here - each representing a different aspect of love ~

Almost every village we visited, charming in its own right, was further graced with colorful floral displays ~

The gardens at Chateau de Valencay ~ And at Chateau de Cheverny ~

This next one requires some explanation, I guess! Every summer, Chaumont-sur-Loire hosts an international garden festival. Designers from all around the world conceive and plant a 'garden' that reflects some vision or concept of theirs - think of this as gardening modern art. This particular garden had laundry in shades of pink, lavender, and blue hanging over flowers of the same hue.

Here I am with the roses ~

And a little garden nook just perfect in its simplicity ~

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Home from France

Our vacation in France this summer was glorious! Before I say one more word about our experiences ~ the magnificent sights, lush gardens, delicious food ~ let me say that most wonderful of all was the opportunity to share this adventure with my sweetie husband and our lovely daughters. France is a special destination for us, but family vacations anywhere and anytime are moments to be cherished!

We spent one delightful week at the very charming Berry-sur-Cher, a longere - a long white stone farm house - built from 1750 to 1890. Owned by a woman who lives in Boston, she rents out her beautiful home when she is not in residence - it was an extraordinarily fortunate 'find' for us as we were searching for houses to rent in the Loire Valley. It was located on the outskirts of the tiny village of Meusnes, which had a church, a boulangerie (a bakery - of course!), and a post office. Our nearby town was Selles-sur-Cher, where we could find several nice cafes and shops, plus a good size market on Thursday mornings.

I loved the outdoor eating areas!

There was this cute table just outside the back of the house that was just perfect for breakfasts.

Late in the evenings we would return from touring and have dinner in this lovely dining room. It stays bright in France till well after 10:00 p.m. so your touring day can be quite long! We would spread out one of the pretty tablecloths, and unwrap the day's collection of cheeses, sausages, and pates, break apart the ever present baugette, open the wine ~ and spend an enjoyable hour discussing our adventures and planning for the next day. Oh, and then, there were the almost-too-pretty to eat pastries that we just couldn't seem to resist!

Our living room was rather elegant, but we found it comfortable and inviting. A couple nights we had a fire in the fireplace - despite the warm late June days, these old stone houses retain their coolness except during the height of summer's heat.

Our kitchen was well equipped and thoughtfully stocked with condiments and tea, plus a welcome basket with wine and cookies!

A cozy place for breakfast ~

And a charming cupboard of plates, cups, bowls, and pitchers ~

I loved all the details ~

To celebrate our homecoming, and just in time for Friday Flea Market, I am offering free shipping on all my Provence pillows ~ these cheerful pillows feature French fabrics that are bursting with the colors of southern France. You'll find several more to choose from ($36 -$40) on my website ~ Rose Meadow Cottage Designs.