So, now it is August and we are back to full on summer here at La Godefrere. It is a lovely sunny Sunday and I have left Mrs.Parish sat knitting in the garden to come in and write up this week’s blog. It has been a quiet week and the weather has gradually improved as we have gone on. We had a family of four staying in the gite for two weeks. They didn’t have the best of weather but still had a great time and found plenty of places to visit. They left yesterday to return via the Channel Tunnel which of course has been much in the news, so hopefully they were not too much delayed.

Of course a changeover in the gite usually means cleaning and ironing. Our visitors left the gite in an absolutely spotless condition and Mrs.Parish’s experienced eye found little that we needed to clean. Just the sort of visitors we like. So we have changed the bed linen and put in fresh towels and we are ready for the next set of guests who arrive on Monday. The gite has been pretty much fully booked over the summer and on until the end of September so all good stuff for us. It still left a whole pile of ironing and so this morning I set to and did two episodes worth of my ironing DVD, the series of Twin Peaks. That is basically three hours worth of ironing, although I am quite a slow ironer and have to stop when the action gets tense. I am now in the final three episodes of a 29 episode series and it is getting quite weird now. The action is getting near to the heroes finding access to a White Lodge (good) and a Black Lodge (evil) in the forests of northern USA. It is far too long, complicated and weird to explain further but the mystic very tall bald person has just returned to warn Agent Cooper. I will let you know what happens in the final two parts after my next ironing session.

While dozing in the garden this afternoon my thoughts turned to bread and the important position it has in French life. In our local town Ambrieres there are two bakers (known as boulangerie in French). This week our usual Boulanger is on two weeks holiday so they just shut up the shop and put a notice in the window and tell you to use the rival baker down the road. Of course this makes getting bread more time consuming as there is a great big queue. Getting bread is almost a daily task and the French eat bread with each meal often with the main meal of the day instead of having potatoes. Whenever you eat out at a restaurant in France you will always get bread to accompany the meal and if you run out the bread basket will be automatically topped up. When our friend Emile was in hospital last year he was told he should not eat bread with his food as they needed to control what he ate for his illness. He was outraged and said a true Frenchman could not eat a meal without bread and went off in search of bread when none came with his meal.

Boulanger's sign in Mayennes

In fact bread is so important in France that it is regulated by law! It is known as the “Decree n° 93-1074 of 13 September 1993 made for the application of the law of 1 August 1905 with regard to certain categories of breads”. The basic measures of the decree are to ensure that all bread sold under the sign of a boulangerie is made to a strict standard. This is to ensure that the French can have faith that their bread is made properly and also why Boulangers have full apprenticeship training and it is a respected profession. The main bits of the decree are:

Article 1 -- Bread called "pain maison" or an equivalent name can only be sold under those names if the bread has been entirely kneaded, worked and cooked on their place of sale to the ultimate consumer. However, this denomination can also be used when the bread is sold away from the premises to the ultimate consumer by the professional who ensured that the operations of kneading, shaping and cooking occurred at the same place.

Article 2 -- Bread called "pain de tradition française", "pain traditionnel français", "pain traditionnel de France" or some name combining these terms can only be sold if they have not been frozen at any point during their making, do not contain any additives, and are produced from a dough which has the following characteristics:

1. Made only from a mix of wheat flours suitable for making bread, safe water and cooking salt;
2. Fermented with yeast suitable for breads (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and a starter, in the sense of article 4 of this Decree, or either yeast or a starter;
3. Relative to the weight of the (wheat) flour used will contain no more than
a) 2 percent broad bean flour;
b) .5 percent soya flour
c) .3 percent malted wheat flour

There are further articles which cover what can be used as a starter. Of course there are two sides to this decree. On the one hand consumers get good quality bread and on the other the prohibition of additives means that within 24 hours the bread is going stale ensuring that the French have to buy their bread daily! You can of course liven up the bread by a short blast in the oven. There is a maximum price for bread and although supermarkets sell cheaper bread it is not as good as fresh bread from your local boulangerie!

The Romans associated bread with circuses as the way to keep the population quiet. Here at La Godefrere it is the cats who provide the circus entertainment (although now that the cows are back they contribute). Our cats are quite strange in their behaviours. Moggie and Archie behave quite like dogs and often accompany Mrs. Parish and I on an after dinner stroll around the grounds. This means that they follow us around the whole of the big field which is walking around a 5 acre field. They just trot along behind us and occasionally stop for a wee before bounding along to catch us up. Minou cannot believe her eyes and stays firmly close to the house not wanting to indulge herself in that sort of exercise nonsense.

Minou's sensible hideaway!!

I have never known cats to expend such energy when not associated with trying to catch food. Moggie has taken to rushing across the garden and up our large walnut tree in an attempt to catch the two pigeons that seem constantly at it at the top of the tree. They are often invaded mid embrace by a crazy tree climbing cat and you see a cat zoom up the trunk and two pigeons shoot out of the top. It seems to be an effective form of contraception as they have not nested yet. 

A couple of days ago I called the cats in for their supper at around 9pm.Minou and Archie were sat outside ready and waiting but Moggie was nowhere to be seen. I called him and then saw him running towards the house with a mouse in his mouth. I immediately raced him for the door as there was no way we would want Moggie and a mouse indoors. Fortunately I beat him to it. Just as well as the mouse was still alive and kicking. Moggie put the mouse down ready to play with it for a while as cats do. The mouse took its chance and ran for the vegetable garden and made it before Moggie caught him. Now Mrs. Parish has done an excellent job in the veg garden and there are rows and rows of stuff growing and bits with netting over plants. The mouse got into the vegetation and Moggie was frantically searching for it. Every now and then I saw Moggie leap into the air over a row of plants trying to outflank the mouse. The mouse got under the netting and Moggie had to try and find a way of getting the mouse out. After about 10 minutes of leaping cats he had to give up as the mouse had disappeared. After some reviving supper Moggie went back for another look but the mouse was long gone.

The mouse that got away!

Time for me to go and start getting dinner for tonight. I am cooking a nice salad from our garden. It is also time for another of those essential French traditions as you may not have a meal without bread and you certainly cannot have a meal without wine!!

Sante, Graham