God save the Cakes!

This is the intriguing title of Episode 4, Season 7, of ‘Le Meilleur Pâtissier’. This is the French version of the ‘Great British Bake-off’.

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Although I have watched and blogged about ‘Le Meilleur Pâtissier’ before, I haven’t been watching this current series. It was the title and the trailer for this particular episode that caught my eye. If you have been watching this year’s Great British Bake Off, you may remember pâtisserie week. I guess ‘God Save the Cakes’ is the French equivalent.

The format is much the same, as in the UK, with a signature bake, a technical challenge and a showstopper. The French bakers had to make apple pies, a royal trifle and a cake that represented one of the Queen’s hats.

The French version of apple pie was unlike any apple pie I have ever seen and was designed by Cyril Lignac. Unfortunately, I have been unable to download a picture of Cyril’s apple pies, although you could always Google them. Instead, here’s a photo of Cyril! 35B8DCDB-F542-4691-806E-1DC86C8239F5
The technical challenge was to make a ‘Royal Trifle’. I enjoy a traditional trifle but a royal trifle was new to me. The challenge was set by Mercotte, a French version of Mary Berry, and a food blogger, critic and cook, in her own right. Her website has some lovely recipes. It is ‘La cuisine de Mercotte’ at Mercotte.fr  

Below is Mercotte’s Royal Trifle. Mnnnnn… Someone on the programme did liken it to a jellyfish! The recipe is available on her website.

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The final challenge was to make a cake to represent one of the Queen’s hats. Here are some examples of the finished cakes which were baked by the contestants. They look pretty impressive.

Are you a Bake Off fan? Perhaps you’ve seen a different version? I’d love to know!

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Les parapluies de Carcassonne

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Our visitors mainly fly into Toulouse for a variety of reasons. One or two opt for Carcassonne. Last week, a friend came to stay for a return visit. Previously, we’d taken him to the walled Cité, so this time we planned to visit the lower town or Bastide. We had just enough time, after lunch in a local restaurant, before he had to be at the airport. Perfect!

I was particularly pleased that we would be playing tourist, as I would finally get the chance to see ‘Les parapluies de Carcassonne’; rather late to the party on this one!

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There are about 3,000 umbrellas which stretch for roughly half a mile, along the length of the pedestrianised streets. They are part of the Umbrella Sky Project which was began in Águeda, Portugal, in 2012.  The concept and design came from Patricia Cunha, the Portuguese artist who was born and lives in Agueda.

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I have read that the idea behind the project was to make people smile. Well, it certainly worked for me. I didn’t imagine that walking under coloured umbrellas could make me feel so happy!

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There have been many Umbrella Sky installations in other French cities and world wide. Have you ever come across one and, if so, what did you think of it? I’d love to know!

La fête du cassoulet

Last weekend was the annual ‘fête du cassoulet’, in Castelnaudary. This year, we weren’t able to go as we were back in the UK, avoiding the heat – haha! Epic fail…

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Castelnaudary is known as the capital of cassoulet and credited with inventing this dish. However, Toulouse and Carcassonne may well dispute this fact! I’ve written previously about this French style ‘sausage and beans’

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/cassoulet-or-sausage-and-beans-french-style/

The cassoulet festival takes place during the last weekend of August. Not the ideal time for eating a hearty casserole containing duck, goose, sausage and beans, in my opinion! I do love a cassoulet, and cook them myself, I just prefer eating this dish when it’s cold and I need comfort food.

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We have attended the fête du cassoulet before and it was great fun! The sleepy, little town of Castelnaudary really comes alive. Of course, it’s full on holiday season and the Canal du Midi is awash with tourists.

The festival is organised by the ‘Grand Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary’. Confrérie translates as ‘Brotherhood’ but probably equates more with a guild. The Castelnaudary Cassoulet Brotherhood was founded in 1970 to protect the quality and standard of cassoulet.  I hasten to add that there are also women in this Brotherhood! They all wear special robes and a hat which is shaped like a ‘cassole’, the dish in which Cassoulet is cooked and served. They even have a hymn to praise cassoulet which is sung in the local Occitan language.

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This is a screenshot of their website. Do go and have a look if you want to find out more and even listen to the Cassoulet hymn!

Although we didn’t make it to the ‘fête’ this year, we were able to glimpse the essence of the celebrations through this video:

Have you ever eaten Cassoulet?

If you do happen to be anywhere near Castelnaudary, next summer, I recommend that you go along to celebrate the twentieth Fête du Cassoulet!

 

Happy National Croissant Day!

I couldn’t miss the opportunity to wish you ‘Happy National Croissant Day’! January 30th is International Croissant Day. This is a new celebration for me. One which comes from the States, apparently.

Although, to be honest, I’m more than happy to celebrate croissants every day. Especially if they happen to be almond croissants!

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The croissant was originally created in Austria. The shape is based on a crescent moon which features on the Turkish flag. Why? Travel back to 1683 when the Ottoman Empire laid siege to Austria. The Turks decided to tunnel beneath the city walls.The Viennese bakers who were working in the basement, heard the sound of digging and alerted the army who defeated the Turks. In celebration, they baked their bread in the shape of a crescent moon—the symbol of the Ottoman Empire – and created the Kipferl. This croissant arrived in France in 1770. Marie Antoinette, who was Austrian, was feeling homesick. The French bakers decided to make her favourite pastry which became known as the “croissant”.

Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly how much of this is fact and how much is fiction!

Are you a croissant lover? Do you have a favourite croissant? Savoury, perhaps? Or are you a purist who prefers a classic, butter croissant? Are you a dunker? I’m definitely not!

 

French Perfume Commercials – oui ou non?

Has anyone else noticed the weird and, not necessarily, wonderful perfume adverts that abound on television at this time of year?

I’ve written before of my love of fragrance:

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/fragrance/

but this love doesn’t always extend to some of the bizarre perfume commercials that are all over our screens at Christmas.

By the very nature of perfume, it is difficult to convey its essence without actually smelling it! I have read  descriptions of perfumes which describe them beautifully but when you actually get to try them they may not live up to expectations.

French perfume adverts are particularly ‘over the top’ in my opinion. Although it’s not only the French ones. Gucci Bloom, I’m talking about you!

Many of these fragrance commercials feature celebrities. My favourite perfume, of the moment, is ‘La Vie est Belle’. Julia Roberts is the star of the advert for this fragrance which is set in Paris. Neither of these facts have any effect on my perfume choice. I actually sniffed the fragrance on someone else, liked it and decided to see if it would work for me. My ‘research’ (looking on Debenhams website) tells me that the ‘stunning glass bottle’ , which contains the perfume, represents the shape of Julia Roberts mouth. Really?? I had no idea.

Another perfume commercial, also shot in Paris, is Coco Mademoiselle which stars Keira Knightly. It involves her riding on a motorbike through the empty streets of Paris – that must be a first! I mean empty Parisian streets, of course! Without getting into too much deep analysis, I imagine that KK is representing a strong, powerful, independent and beautiful woman. Is the inference that if we buy this perfume, we are demonstrating our similar characteristics? Or am I overthinking this?!

Finally, I’m singling out the latest Jean Paul Gaultier perfume: Scandal. This is a relatively recent advert which – guess what! – is located in Paris. The story, behind this commercial, is of Madame la Ministre. She works for the government during the day and parties (or worse?!) in Pigalle at night. My research tells me that this perfume ‘embodies day and night’ and that the star of this commercial is a Hungarian model. I have yet to try this.

There are so many other perfume adverts I could have included but three are probably enough for one blog post!

What do you think? Do perfume commercials encourage you to try or buy? I’d love to know…

Fancying France…the Fringe!

This intriguing  odd title for a blog post, came to me on the train home from Glasgow. It has nothing to do with my actual fringe ( known as ‘bangs’ I believe, in the US! ) which is in dire need of a trim, but everything to do with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I don’t have a bucket list. Do you? But there are many places I haven’t visited and activities I haven’t tried…yet. Going to the EFF was one of these. As a Brit, I am ashamed to say that I have never been to Scotland until this week. Mr FF was playing hockey in a ten day tournament and it was a great opportunity to watch him play. What I  really mean is that it was a great opportunity to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh, especially as the Fringe Festival was taking place!

We stayed in a modern and well equipped Airbnb flat in a part of Glasgow called Glasgow Green.

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This was a very convenient area, well located for the city centre and the hockey venue!

As we had limited time, we decided to take advantage of an open-top, hop-on-hop-off bus tour.

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I think this is a brilliant way to get to know a new city. We hopped off to visit Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. IMG_0144

The Necropolis may seem a strange place to visit but this vast multi-faith cemetery, modelled on the Père-Lachaise graveyard in Paris, has amazing  views over the city of Glasgow, as well as being very interesting in its own right.

The photo below is from the website of the Friends of the Necropolis. Here is the link to their website in case you would like to find out more.

http://www.glasgownecropolis.org/

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And then there was Edinburgh!  But where to start? It was the seventieth anniversary of the Fringe. The atmosphere was amazing. So many people; different ages, different races, different styles but all set on enjoying themselves and everything that the festival had to offer.

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Our strategy (?!) was to try to experience events across the art forms. We started with political stand up, went on to a female a Capella group and then to Shakespeare,  enjoying an abridged version of a Comedy of Errors. This was followed by a brilliant comedy drama set in an evening class. Our final choice was an experimental dance performance; probably my least favourite show. On top of this were all the street performers – fire eaters, musicians, dancers et al.

It was totally brilliant to have experienced the Fringe Festival, even if was for such a brief visit. I really hope we’ll go again but next time we’ll plan a bit more with what we want to see and aim to book some events in advance.

Do you have a bucket or an unbucket list? Have you been to Glasgow or the Edinburgh Fringe? I’d love to know!

 

The Merry month of May…

Especially if you’re in France!  May starts with a Bank Holiday and there are several more to follow. On May 1st  there is the celebration of  not only Labour Day (La Fête du Travail) but also La Fête du Muguet. This translates as Lily of the Valley Day.

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I have written about these celebrations before!

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/1st-may-la-fete-du-travail-and-la-fete-du-muguet/

The next Bank Holiday takes place on the 8th May and is to commemorate the end of World War II in France. It is known as ‘La Fête de la Victoire’  and is celebrated with parades and religious ceremonies.  Traditionally, the French president lays a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and lights the flame at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I was quite surprised that our local supermarket had a ‘special’ opening on that day. 

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The final Bank Holiday  is on the 25th May; Ascension Day which falls on a Thursday. As a result, many people take a day of their annual leave on the Friday to be able to take a four-day weekend. This is known as a ‘pont’ or a bridge. It is quite usual to hear the phrase ‘faire le pont’.

And, then there’s Eurovision! No Bank Holiday for this, of course, but all part of the May madness. I did watch it when we were here last year as I wanted to see what it would be like without Graham Norton. This year I managed to avoid miss the contest somehow.  I must admit that I do like the French entry which came twelfth. It’s by a singer called Alma and the title is ‘Requiem’ . This video of the song is worth watching for the background shots of Paris:

Are you a Eurovision fan?  I’d love to know…