The Christmas Box, a story for Christmas 2017

The Christmas Box

Soft flakes of white snow were beginning to float glistening and glinting past the window pane as Kate looked out from her hot steamy kitchen into the garden. The bird table was dusted with a fine white frosting and as she opened the window to let out some of the steam escaping from the fruity pudding on the stove she could sense the other worldliness that is evoked by falling snow. She liked the way a snowy scape seems to change the parameters of sound; a bit like being under water in a swimming pool and just catching the muffled voices above. Kate was reminded of a fragment from a Christmas poem that she had learnt when she was a child:

The sunset sky like a rose aglow

The earth a vision of stainless snow

Three little angels hand in hand

Wandering over the silent land

* * *

It was the week before Christmas and Kate was preparing for the imminence of her families arrival on Christmas Eve. Somehow they always came to her and Phil’s.  This was fine as Phil enjoyed the entertaining bit and of course she loved to cook and to look after everyone even if Auntie May could be a bit abrasive at times. Perhaps this year Christmas would be different.

Not intrinsically different she hoped, as what with the usually drunken but fortunately hilarious antics of her sister Ruby and her husband Tom and Aunt May’s increasingly bizarre yet endearing observations and running critique of proceedings, they did have fun.

Then there was the music with Phil getting out his guitar and accompanying everyone

Christmas Time, Mistletoe and Wine…

* * *

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,

Jack Frost nipping at your nose…

Well definitely this year the latter might well be true and the bets were on for a white Christmas in the south-east of England.. Then there was the dancing and the little shows that the children put on for them; especially young Zelda who at 9 hoped one day to go on the X Factor. The Board games and the charades, not to mention the Christmas telly…all had their part to play in the panorama that was the family Christmas.

It was as a rule all quite convivial starting with a fish supper on Christmas eve followed by a little bit of television then off to the church for the thankfully short sermon and Christmas message given by the Reverend Dodd along with Christmas Carols galore.

Well we might as well take the kids as they are not going to sleep much anyway”.

Then after a fitful night and a speedy breakfast, it was the grand ritual of the opening of the presents first thing on Christmas morning over a glass of bucks fizz for the adults and sodas for the children.

Hadn’t she given that to Ruby two Christmases before, Kate had thought last year as she clutched the diamanté embossed compact; Estée Lauder if you please. It had been a ‘Midnight in Paris’ moment all over again, with the bottle of perfume that never went away and the parade of eternal gifts that seemed to do the rounds over the years to be wrapped, presented, re-wrapped and re-presented. A family tradition in itself. Perhaps a lot of families did that. The present that keeps on giving… Certainly Auntie May had a present cupboard in her bathroom full of gifts that over the years she had received from various friends and members of the family. Kate had opened it a couple of times and was actually quite shocked at the extent of the presents that she recognised.

Following the pre-Christmas lunch walk with the dogs and a dive into the Blue Bell Inn – not that she ever went with them – she was far too busy making sure that all was ready for a 2 O’ clock Christmas spread..they all trooped back in. One year – and not to be repeated – she had gone on the walk to the pub and my goodness the lateness of sitting down to the Christmas lunch knew no bounds which included a tray of rather over done roasted veggies and people pretending how delicious it all was.

She usually found that for her it was quite difficult to eat much as she had put her heart and soul into the preparations of everything and consequently she seemed by the time Christmas Day arrived to have hardly any appetite at all.  She had after all been dreaming of creating the perfect roast potatoes, chestnut stuffing, Christmas puddings, tarts and cakes for months. She still had not bought the Christmas Crackers or decided on the cheese board though she had ordered a Stilton cheese from Devonshire’s.

Just one year though she reflected as she rubbed the butter into the flour and ground almonds, it might be nice to do something different.  Such as go and stay in an ice palace in Iceland she thought as she wiped the trickle of sweat from her brow. Boy it was hot in that kitchen, she had better turn down the heating.

A sudden “rat a tat tat” sharp knock and “ring, ring, ring” of the door bell made her start and led Kate to remove her hands quickly from the cinnamon dough that was destined to form the mince pies. A rinse under the hot tap, removing as much of the sticky gloop as she could, followed by a quick wipe on the chequered cloth and she ran to the front door where upon opening she found herself staring up into a pair of the brightest of blue eyes belonging to a rather on the stubbly “I could do with a shave” kind of face.. Well at least in her opinion he needed one. Perhaps he was an inspirational hipster…His auburn hair tied back in a ponytail suggested that he might be

He did look familiar to her, though she was not sure why and could not place him. He was probably local and she had seen him in the Blue Bell on a Friday night, or passed him in the village high street…

He was rather nice looking though..If she were only ten years younger she mused, or more like 20 years younger she corrected herself.  Not that she had ever been a flirt or subject to picking up strangers in bars let alone on her own doorstep, but he did look rather as if he knew how to enjoy life and give a girl a good time even if he were unshaven and standing in her doorway looking pensive and kind of professional in his dark blue suit the shoulders of which wore a dusting of snow. Not your average looking courier she surmised.

Special Christmas delivery Madame; Could you sign here please.”

Rather odd she thought to be presented with a red, leather bound ledger, but she could see clearly listed other names. Some of the signatures seemed familiar.

In addition the flourish of an identity card indicated to her that this was a legitimate company called “Sapphire Deliveries, Great Britain, Europe and the World”. It all sounded plausible even if it were not a firm that was known to her and so she signed with the proffered pen.

I thought you guys were all electronic these days” she suggested.

We like a more traditional approach”, he informed her as he passed over what was actually a very large parcel.

That told her.

Quite unpredictably she asked him “Would you like..”; somehow she could not stop her lips from moving and expressing the thought:

to come in for a sherry?”

She remembered how years ago; a life time really, how her Mother used to invite tradesmen in – and back in the 1960s/70s they would have been just that – tradesmen, for the odd Christmas bevy by way of a thank you for all their hard work and dedication throughout the past year. Each year Jack the milkman, was not only offered a glass of sherry, but also got a Christmas card with a fiver in it.

Even the local Bobby PC Bull was not immune from her Mother’s generosity. Trooping up the garden path on Christmas Eve and enjoying a small toddy over the hatched-back door..he never actually came in. How things had changed, she thought….You were lucky these days if you had a milk delivery service and she did not even know who her local ‘bobby’ as such was. The idea of a local policeman or woman standing outside the old post office for most of the day hadn’t happened for many years. Mind you with the post office not even being there any more he or she would be hard pressed to do so. PC Bull and his family had even had a Police owned house in the village with its own little police station and cell. Not that she had experienced the latter, but rumour had it…..

Snapped back to the present she heard the young courier announce:

Love to really, I would…it smells like Christmas here… Better not though as there are lots more parcels to deliver, and the governor might not be best pleased with me if I dilly dally”

and with that he wished her a very merry Christmas but not before he had planted a big and not entirely innocent kiss on her floury cheek. She flushed and blushed something chronic, but before she could remonstrate or even reciprocate (however unlikely on her part that was) he had disappeared down the path in a flurry of snowflakes.

Joni Mitchell’s It’s coming on Christmas was playing on the radio as she stepped back into the kitchen with the parcel.

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace

…A river to skate away on thought Kate anticipating the next line as she placed the parcel on the only part of the kitchen table that was not covered in flour. She used to love that song.

I really must stop feeling so maudlin, she reminded herself, harking after the past. Somehow Christmas made her feel a bit like that. She part loved it, but partly it reminded her of how her life seemed to be escaping her… as if suddenly everything was on fast forward. This time feeling this way was probably because this was a song from Blue an album that she had loved so much in her late teens and one that she had shared with Patrick oh so many years ago…

Hang on a minute, maybe it was Hejira with Patrick that she had enjoyed so much and Blue with Phil all round the wrong way time wise, but Phil had liked a lot of Mitchell’s older stuff.   Poor Joni Mitchell, she recalled now had Alzheimer’s. Life could be very cruel, Kate reflected. and what was kind of frightening was that suddenly she could not remember which album which of her loves had liked, Patrick or Phil? Blue or Hejira maybe both….Phil was overall more of a rock and roll man; a one band in himself she liked that about him .

But Patrick, my goodness whatever happened to Patrick?   She had met him at a party; at Christmas time in fact and discovered that they were at college on the same campus. She at the College of Technology and he was at the Art College. She had wished that she had studied art, but her parents had persuaded her to pursue “a more practical, business oriented course” so she had taken the pre-professional course which also included learning to type…no bad thing for the future as it happened. She had gone on to have a very successful career as a lecturer in business studies at the University of Kent.

She had hit it off with Patrick immediately and they quickly discovered that they liked a lot of the same things……books, visiting galleries, going to concerts; rock and classical. Lots of famous bands and musicians played at the art college in those days from Rory Gallagher to Fairport Convention to Barclay James Harvest…Mocking Bird, she wondered who today would remember that haunting melody?

One of the first things he told her was that she had a Pre-Raphaelite neck….Laughing she had rolled her eyes and had wondered if that were a compliment or not.  He liked to recite from Keats “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. As she thought of it now it all seemed a bit pretentious but they had been young and it was the 1970s.  Patrick wore cravats for goodness sake!

She had not thought of him for a very long time…something about the playing of that song on the radio and the young delivery man had brought him to mind. Perhaps it was the auburn hair. She was reminded of the ghosts of Christmas past.

Kate recalled the day that she and Patrick had made love in the cornfield at the end of her parent’s garden. It was edged with cornflowers. He had called her his Cornflower Girl and yet the relationship had not ended well.

After the break up she had for a while retreated into herself and become more introverted. Then she had met Philip at work and he seemed much more grounded.  He liked the Rolling Stones and Hawkwind. She did too, but it was different after Patrick and in a way softer as Patrick was so very intense it had made her feel as if she had been like an elastic band wound round a catapult waiting to be shot. Phil was exactly what she had needed. He had become her rock. He had anchored her…Not that she was not capable of holding her own, it was just that she needed someone who was a bit more rooted in reality with a sense of loyalty and not nearly so dramatic.

If truth be told Phil still was her rock..even if he did have somewhat of a bizarre sense of humour. Patrick although adorable in so many ways had not been loyal and never could be; at least to her. It had unbalanced her.  Perhaps only for a while, but it had led to her feeling an element of distrust about relationships and the capacity for them to be just when you thought that things were going swimmingly you discovered a betrayal of trust. What was that music Aunt May liked? Gershwin and Girl Crazy…well that was definitely him though she had not realised it when they got together. She had heard afterwards through a mutual friend that he regretted the break up, but she had believed in commitment and he at least at that time had not. She really had not thought of him for years.

Play something a bit more raucous please she shouted at the impervious DJ on the Radio. She got her wish as Slade’s Merry Christmas Everyone hit the air.

Kate looked at the package again; it was addressed to her and covered in brown paper with golden stars stamped all around its circumference. There was no address for the sender which seemed a bit odd. Still a parcel at Christmas time was always welcome and one addressed exclusively to her was rare. It wasn’t an especially heavy parcel and when she shook it she could hear the sounds of what she thought were individual packages within. There was a faint tinkling sound of bells as she rattled it….Perhaps an ornament of some kind or a piece of ethnic jewellery?

There was also a strange lingering scent about the package; a musky fragrance laced with a fruity smell…Perhaps it was her hands from the spiced pastry mix though the scent was more like Patchouli oil then cinnamon or maybe it was the rum infused mince meat that she had made earlier permeating the hot air of the kitchen….

Paranoia began to get the better of her and abruptly putting the package down she asked herself:

What if it is is full of Anthrax?

You do hear of such things”

Not recently though she had to admit feeling rather silly even if she was alone and with this realisation and telling herself to get a grip.

Kate anyway began carefully to tear off the paper whereupon she found within a somewhat antiquated looking box, subtly embossed at the edges with tiny roses with a center that was engraved with the words:

The love that is rooted in Memories

Good Lord what on earth is this about? Is this some practical joke? She wondered if this was Phil up to his old tricks again.  April 1st was a particular nightmare with Kate never knowing what was going to happen of the dining room chairs with a loose bottom? Something to collect from the paper shop except there wasn’t.   When she got back home the sitting room was full of what seemed to her like hundreds of daffodils in vases with Happy April Fool emblazoned across the back wall. She could hardly be cross.

She looked closely at the box which was painted gold with three little faded angels painted on the top. In fact it was a very beautiful object in its own right and would be lovely to keep as a jewellery box. Making the overall decision that there was nothing sinister looking about the box and demonstrating to herself some restraint she decided not to open the lid. Instead she re-wrapped it and placed the package under the Christmas tree in the corner of the dining room. It would be something to look forward to opening on Christmas morning. There were quite a few presents already under the tree as she had made sure with her check list that all the presents were bought and wrapped and placed under the tree well in advance.

The latter was so that she did not have to worry that someone had been forgotten. She remembered the year that she had actually forgotten to get something for young Flynn…..True he was only a baby at the time and she and Phil had gone mad on his present for his Blessing which had only been a couple of weeks before. Still she did not wish to encounter the undercurrent of pure wrath that was her sister Ruby’s who despite protestations of “Oh it doesn’t matter” and irrespective of Kate announcing that she was planning to get something in the sales for the little one, was in a bad mood for most of that Christmas.

Phil usually bought her something that at best was a kitchen utensil and at worst some flimsy excuse for a piece of underwear which was almost invariably returned to from whence it came; or if not too risqué was re-wrapped and given to another family member sometime down the line of Christmases to come…Of course she was lucky to get anything, but for once it would be nice to be really excited about the possibility of what might be in her Christmas Box. She placed the package behind the tree and tried not to think about as the lead up to Christmas unfolded. She would open it late Christmas Eve.

Mulled wine on the stove at the ready; hot chocolates for the children, everyone had arrived on Christmas Eve in high spirits ready for a modest fish supper and an ice cream dessert. Leaving for the Christmas Service replete, suited and booted they delighted in the silent world of snow outside…There was something about the crunch underfoot of boots on snow that was very satisfying as they followed the huge illuminated star on the church steeple.

Then Flynn landed a huge snowball rather more strategically then his sister Zelda would have liked and she collapsed in a heap on a mound of snow refusing to get up until a threat of Father Christmas not being very impressed by such behaviour led Flynn to help his sister up and for the group to proceed further. Arriving at church to the accompaniment of Hark the Herald Angels Sing – they were a bit late and very cold but soon warmed up through the energy of singing lots of rousing carols and with the heat of the congregation.

With everyone fast asleep or so it appeared…..Kate never could sleep as a child and rather suspected that her own niece and nephew found it as difficult at such exciting times as she had.  She and Phil had never had children…somehow it never happened and they were both so caught up with their careers – Phil was a music teacher.   Hearing enough faint snores to confirm that she alone was awake, she wandered downstairs to find her package from if not Patrick then someone related to him. Feeling a mounting level of excitement she fumbled around the tree only to discover that it was in actual fact not there…….it had simply vanished….”Oh my god…..”, she whispered, “where is it?”.

Her eyes welling up with tears, she took every blasted package from around the tree and found that yes it was true it was simply not there! Short of stomping upstairs and accusing anyone and everyone of stealing it she had by now convinced herself that she had dreamt the whole episode of the enigmatic courier and of Sapphire Services full stop. Of late she had found it difficult to differentiate certain dreams from reality. She crawled back into bed and allowed the comforting warmth of Phil next to her and her own extreme tiredness to envelope her into a dreamless sleep.

Next thing Kate knew the children were racing about and squealing like maniacs; trying to pull them all out of their beds!

Breakfast first you Scallywags”

she said as she got them to whip up the scrambled eggs and for her to make the toast. Phil made a huge jug of hot chocolate and Ruby and Tom having taken the dogs out across the fields were back in no time.

Later with the sitting room floor like some bizarre paper installation, Kate passed round more fizz and home made chocolate fudge. Not too much or there would not be enough room for Christmas lunch.

As she cleared up the paper deluge she felt suddenly alone….the others had gone off to watch television with the children. A nice Christmassy film..not White Christmas again…she hardly felt like watching it again so she stayed staring at the tree….She had had some nice presents this year really she had, what with the ‘smellies’ and the sparkly tops. Nothing from Phil though which seemed a bit odd even if his gifts were of the predictable variety she usually had from him at least one.

She had given him a divers watch as he wanted in the new year to learn to sea dive. She had also booked him some lessons at the local diving aquarium in readiness for the sea adventures that he had informed her that they must, as they approached their third age, have. If it meant traveling to some exotic location she was up for that!  No present but Phil had given her a huge wink and a kiss and a hug as he left the room.

Suddenly he was back round the tree again whereupon he placed a large brown paper package with golden stars round its circumference.

Happy Christmas my Darling”

You..? It was from you? I had wondered but I wasn’t sure….”.

Yes of course” he replied “Who else did you think it was from? I thought that you deserved a more imaginative approach this year”, he winked.

All the things that she thought might be in the package in fact were…..all wrapped in the beautiful soft tissue paper, all sapphire blue in colour; the earrings, the necklace, the ornate silver filigree  blue glass bottle filled with a Patchouli based fragrance and there at the very bottom of the box a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, all as it happened from her Rock.

* * *

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Chez Teresa Celebrating our Summer Guests

I was going to begin this blog with the title end of summer.…but that seemed rather too gloomy a title and actually although this season has passed like a summer breeze it has been a good one and we have had some fabulous visitors through our doors at Chez Teresa and there have been many enriching highlights.  I am haunted by memories of the sunflowers of summer and this glorious flower has truly been  in abundance this year as have the poppies and roses.  It is of course sad to see the sunflowers blackened and darkly swaying towards the end of summer, but then they are harvested for their delicious oils so we cannot begrudge them their bounty.

Moments to celebrate this season include the wonderful artists from Lexington, Kentucky who having booked for lunch back in the cold depths of winter visited us in June 2017 and were thoroughly delightful and so very talented.  To accommodate 14 hungry artists in our first floor dining room was indeed a challenge, but we set the tables up bistro style adorning them with pretty table cloths and with vases filled with summer flowers. Lunch was served on time.  It being one of the hottest days in June we admired their stoicism and good humour.  They were troopers who certainly made the best of a very hot and close situation telling us that a visit to Chez Teresa was one of the highlights of their visit!  Probably they were being kind, but they said that they enjoyed the food and they were certainly extremely generous with their compliments which were much appreciated by us. In many respects it was more like entertaining old friends than strangers such was the warmth and vibrancy of this congenial group of artists.  With painter Mary Neely at the helm, she gave us a beautiful picture, a copy of her painting entitled Poppy field near Chinon in France. Here we see an ancient farmhouse with vivid red poppies in the adjacent fields it now takes pride of place in our entrance hall.
Poppy field near Chinon in France
To be honest, in the past when I have thought of Kentucky, if I had thought of it at all, I associated it with KFC, the Kentucky Derby and of course Kentucky Bourbon and bluegrass music plus perhaps a less then liberal attitude among its people…. How narrow is that I now ask myself? Plus what was I basing it on?   All these people were enlightened and creative individuals and a joy to meet.  Lexington I had never heard of, but now I most certainly have and it is now on my wish list of places to visit in the future.
Says Mary
“If you are visiting Lexington I welcome the opportunity to give you a tour of my studio in downtown Lexington located in the Artist’s Attic of the Victorian Square building at 401 W. Main Street”.

Mary Neely at her easel; an exceptionally gifted artist.
Perhaps 2017 has been the year of the American visitor to France, as we appear to have had quite a few visit us, including two large groups of picnickers from the company Walking Tours. The company is based in Canada, but the walkers hailed from across the United States. For the picnic lunches we be-ribboned and festooned paper bags filling them with Ploughman’s lunches comprising of fresh crusty bread; several delicious local cheeses (our region is famous for its wonderful choice of goats cheeses) plus some mature cheddar, home made cheese straws and a little salad.  Included also were slices of freshly baked Queen Victoria Sandwich filled with our strawberry jam fait maison, plus drinks of course.
Some of our picnickers having collecting their picnic lunches outside
Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre
The above association with us was established by Susan Walter who with her partner Simon runs Loire Valley Time Travel.  What an inspirational and apt name for an outfit that creates custom designed private tours of the Loire Valley chateaux and vineyards offering visitors the chance to step back into history!  For smaller groups a 1950’s Citroen Traction Avant gives clients a ride in a vehicle that must be truly like traveling back in time!  Larger groups can also be guided around the many cultural gems throughout this valley of the kings and queens of France.
We are never as busy as the other places in the village due to the fact that we are just off center from the main square and although we like to think that we are cute we are also quite small.  It has however been a good season for us and certainly on the Chambre d’Hotes front we have had many wonderful guests stay from all corners of the globe including from Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and of course from France.
Back on the salon front, we absolutely fell in love with the sweetest of Irish family’s, Trish and co who visited us several times during their two week sojourn at La Samsonelle just round the corner from us.  This delightful family were from one of our favourite cities on earth viz Dublin.   They enjoyed their holiday so much that they are planning to return next year.  We hope that when they do that they will pop in for a bite or two to eat again!
A regular of ours, Jim, brought in one of his best friends who lives in Florida…it was just when the hurricane struck and she was worried about her daughter and her family who were all caught up in the maelstrom….Fortunately they were okay and Lesley was able to enjoy her visit to the Loire.    She visited us three times and we liked her very much indeed.  Since returning to the states she has requested our recipes for pasta and salmon and ratatouille so we know that she enjoyed her lunches here.  We hope to meet her again as she was great fun.  Naturally our hearts go out to all those who suffered during this most devastating of hurricane seasons.   Our planet is definitely experiencing some very weird weather of late with frightening consequences.
We were also entranced by the fact that this summer a Turtle Dove decided to take up residence in the lamp post just outside Chez Teresa.   She first visited us in early summer on a reconnaissance mission consisting of her checking out the area and presumably the diameters of the lamp post as she set up shop.  At the time we frequently saw her gathering twigs and various items of interest to create her nest within the glass of the lamp.   Then suddenly she disappeared…  We felt quite bereft as we had got used to her cooing and sauntering about the place.   Fortunately for us she returned at the end of the season where she cared for her two darling babies or “Squabs” as I understand they are called……not the most romantic or flattering of appellations it has to be said, but they were very sweet.
The season extended into September/early October and Pat and Brian from the United Kingdom stayed with us for 6 nights.   They were such lovely spiritual people and in fact the morning they left they blessed us and our establishment wishing us all the best for the future.  How gracious and kind is that?  We are optimistic that such blessings will hold us in good stead for the years to come as sometimes life in France is not always the joy that some may think, running a small business can be hard…It is though admittedly a wonderful region in terms of culture, natural beauty and of course its overarching cuisine and delicious local wines.
We continued our association with the inspirational writer and novelist Hazel Manuel catering this summer for her writer’s workshops.  We received wonderful feedback from her students about the meals that we offered many declaring it

“Exceptionally good food..especially the Tajine and Cous Cous… and the wonderful salads and cakes!”.

2017 has also marked for us an association with Think Miracle, an enlightened group offering holistic retreats in France and India.  We hope that our association will continue into the future.  We met some very interesting and vibrant individuals at their summer retreats in France including lovely Claire Thompson and the very dynamic Stella Raphael.  The latter offers spiritual healing, nutritional advice and even tribal dancing as part of her portfolio. In addition, Think Miracle also offer adventurous sea faring spiritual journeys.  The retreat in France is set within rolling countryside and is surrounded by a sea of sunflowers….it is a truly magical and peaceful location just outside our village.
We have noted that more and more people are looking for gluten and dairy free options to eat including some of the participants at the retreats.   Consequently part of our cookery challenge this year has been, along with what we usually offer at Chez Teresa, to research and cook delicious tasting dishes along these nutritional lines.  Fortunately ingredients such as gluten free flours and dairy free products such as tofu are now easily available at local health food stores such La Vie Claire and even at local supermarkets.  We anyway delight in creating lots of different veggie and fruit dishes so it is within our remit.  Using the freshest of spices and herbs can help transform the simplest dish of vegetables in the form of curries, ratatouille, tajines, veggie hot pots etc.into tasty feasts.
* * *
This Autumn we will be celebrating our own Autumn festival at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre in Fontevraud by utilising as many delicious local Loire Valley produce as possible creating fresh soups and vegetable dishes and serving autumnal themed cuisine every day.
Autumn Vegetables by Mary Neely 
Although we are generally quiet at the moment here in Fontevraud l’abbaye – well at least we are – this lunchtime we just had a most interesting and adorable couple in from Barcelona….they are Catalans, but not for an independent Catalonia…..He looked like a Spanish Grandee..and she a pretty Senora, a little younger than us I guess… both were enlightened to the core.   They revealed that quite a large number of young people aged between 20 – 35 want Catalonia to be independent and they looked mystified at the fact that so many of their compatriots think otherwise….They, our customers that is,  told me that although they believe that individual cultures should be celebrated…… in their view it is one people one world…What a fabulous philosophy and one that we all hold dear here at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre.  Devolution along the Welsh and Scottish lines could work very well for Catalonia…well that is what I imagine could work.  To our shame as Brits, isn’t it bad enough with Brexit let alone making Europe more divisive by more splintering of the fabric of Europe Union?  I am not sure that people are generally cognoscente of what to my mind is a fact i.e. that being part of a United Europe is good economically, socially and definitely politically and in terms of harmony on so many levels not the least in terms of collaboration and shared funding (the arts, the sciences, education, agriculture and trade spring to mind).  What was it that Winston Churchill said about Europe coming together?  His call in 1946 was for a ‘United States of Europe‘…..why have we lost sight of this?  I appreciate that some people fear this idea like the plague but in the final analysis is it not better to be at the party as opposed to the uninvited…suppose it depends on the party, but I know where I would like to be…
Yes you know it…it’s The Laughing Cavalier by Franc Hals (1624, The Wallace Collection), though who is laughing in Spain and across Europe at the moment I am unsure….
Useful contacts reflected above include:
Places to visit in the USA with links to the Lexington Art Gallery where more fabulous paintings and works of art can be viewed in situ:-

                 – Artists Attic , Lexington, Ky    
                 – Skyuka FineArt Gallery, 133 N Trade St. Tryon, NC
                 – Main Cross Gallery, 401 W. Main St., Lexington, Ky.
                 – WildFlour Bakehouse located at Cargo Court, Louisville, Ky.
                 – Gallery B, Lexington, Ky.       
Mary Neely can be contacted via:
                  – Email

                  – Web Site 

Loire Valley Time Travel are happy to cater for small and large groups of visitors to the Loire.

…and for the creatives among us and those seeking a spiritual and holistic path why not check out:

Writing Retreats – Hazel Manuel, Writer

Retreats – Think

Tribal Dance with Stella Raphael-Reeves – Yogamatters Blog

Teresa’s Tasty Tea Cup Red Berry Crumbles

I just made a gluten free crumble as I bought lots of gorgeous berries at the local market this morning in Montsoreau.  Packed to the hilt with zinc and omega 3 filled seeds and nuts plus cinnamon to calm your blood sugar levels and ginger with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects this gluten free version of a classic is a nutritious, delicious but also healthy dessert option.  In this particular version I’ve added a few chopped apricots because a) they are scrumptious, b) shades of red and apricot make for an appealing colour combination on the plate and c) apricots are packed with Vitamin E so good for the nourishment of our skin.

Teresa’s Tasty Tea Cup Red Berry Crumbles


  • 5 cups of fresh mixed berries (I prefer raspberries, blueberries and blackberries)
  • plus a few chopped apricots for good measure
  • 1/2 cup of liquid organic honey
  • 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup of rice flour
  • 1 cup of ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • pinch of powdered ginger
  • pinch of powdered cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds and flaked almonds 
  • a generous sprinkle of cinnamon
  • pinch sea salt
  • 4 Tbsp cold butter (or  dairy free equivalent for vegan)
  • some extra sugar to add to the top of the crumble pre-cooking


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade and butter your baking dish.
  2. Mix the berries with ½ cup of liquid honey. .
  3. Add the fruit directly into the dish and spread until flat.
  4. To a mixing bowl add the brown sugar, ground almonds, rice flour, walnuts, salt and butter. Mix all ingredients with your hands until all of the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  5. Add the powdered ginger and cinnamon
  6. Add the topping mix to the fruit in an even layer.
  7. Sprinkle the sunflower and flaked almonds on the top with a little extra sugar
  8. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden.
  9. Enjoy with Greek Yogurt, Creme Fraiche or Vanilla Ice Cream

I served ours with local fresh Angevin live yogurts.  A sensible option to my mind.  Full of protein, Vitamin D and good for your health on a number of levels including good for promoting strong bones and also for good gut bacteria plus such foods are know to engender a sense of well being.  Its the tryptophan so I understand.

According to top nutritionist and medical professionals and authorities such as *Dr. Dalton-Smith, tryptophan contains sleep-inducing nutrients.  So says Dr. Dalton Smith

“Calcium is effective in stress reduction and the stabilization of nerve fibers, including those in the brain.”

8 Apr 2016

Top UK Nutritionist Patrick Holford suggests that our skin is a barometer of our body’s health, and suggests that by improving our internal systems by incorporating such foods as live yoghurt in our diets we can boost considerably enhance our health.

Served alongside today’s crumble were dishes of red berry jam also made this morning.  Packed with Vitamin C and sugar of course…. I do however try to restrict the amount of sugar that I use.

I sometimes think that when we make a small amount of jam it has a more exquisite taste.  This one was just a case of tossing a punnet of raspberries, a punnet of strawberries and a few blackberries – the latter picked from the hedgerows of Fontevraud combined with sugar and lemon juice, brought to boiling point and cooked for 10 minutes…Bliss in a pot

Whether you need to eat gluten free or not this crumble really hits the spot in terms of being deliciously sweet but also dare I say it it might even be good for you.  Good for your skin and good for your tummy…well maybe not the sugar element, but we have to live a little don’t we?  An intelligent dessert on a plate.


*A practitioner for 18 years, Dr. Dalton Smith graduated from the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in 1999. She works in Anniston, AL and specializes in Internal Medicine. Dr. Dalton Smith is affiliated with Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center.




Le musée Aux Anciens Commerces, Doué-la-Fontaine

Stepping back in time… is exactly what it felt like the other day when the cousins came over for their annual visit and on one of probably the hottest days in July, we visited the museum in Doué-la-Fontaine which is dedicated to the theme of the French shopping experience of yesteryear.  Mainly focusing on the early to mid part of the 20th century it is crammed with memorabilia and objet d’intérêt from this period.

I suppose because we run a small boutique selling old artifacts and brocante I found it of especial interest.   Some of the mannequin heads on display reminded me of old friends!

If you are interested in hats you will find a milliner..We had great fun trying on lots of different hats from different periods.

Here Tony and cousin Mollie try out some of the latest trends tres debonair..

Dolls and Toys from times past…

There is also a replica Tabac containing all things smoking related including a fabulous array of old pipes.   Plus an assortment of other shops including an attic of dreams (though the latter might fill your head with nightmares) the museum offers a great deal to those interested in social history and the local economy.

The visitor gets the sense of an esplanade here with its sweep of shops galore

At one point I was talking to the cousins about a book I am reading about the French Resistance during WW II, and how particularly at the beginning of the occupation many in particular women tried hard to keep up an appearance of fashionability with their chic attire.  An aspect that was compromised somewhat as the occupation progressed, unless that was they were to collaborate with the occupiers or obtain items on the black market.  This led me to mention Maurice Chevalier and how history has judged him rather unfairly it would seem…or at least there is still some confusion as to what extent he collaborated during the occupation.     It is true that he performed for the Germans but also in prisoner of war camps in Germany where oddly enough he performed but also some communication with French prisoners. It is equally true that he worked to gain the release of such prisoners in exchange for his performances.

Edith Piaf is also sometimes tarnished with a similar brush of collaborateur but she is usually seen in a more sympathetic light.   Like Chevalier, and indeed with him she did perform in Germany during the time of the occupation, but she also insisted on having her photograph taken with french prisoners and it is now believed on good authority* that at least 150 of such images of prisoners of war were then used to produce fake passports and documents enabling them to escape.  I am not sure how any of us can really know how we would behave during an occupation.  It seems to bring out the best and most courageous behaviour in some people, and the worst in others.    The early 1940s were complicated times and none of us can really hand on heart say what we would or would not have done to survive and save our family from such unimaginable brutality.  Anyway just as we turned a corner in the Museum there was an old black and white photograph of Maurice Chevalier wearing his ubiquitous straw boater.  “Goodness, are you psychic?” asked Mollie.. Coincidence more like as I suppose so many of the magasins reminded me of the 1940s.

A still from the 1956 film, Love in the Afternoon in which he plays the role of private detective, complete with the bowler-type hat he is wearing here. Chevalier, with the aid of Audrey Hepburn who plays his daughter in the film, is shown breaking with the past by putting foot and hand into a stock of straw hats he has collected through the years.

Recently at a Vide Grenier, I bought a la mode de Chevalier a stylish straw hat which is currently on display at Chez Teresa.

A fashionable stylist plies his trade and skills on the streets of Paris

Once on this site in Doué-la-Fontaine there was a beautiful chateau with Lord and Ladies in situ.  All that remains today is one large crumbling, moss laden wall and  the stable block where the museum is now housed.  The last occupant was Joseph-François Foullon de Doué, or Foulon de Doué.  He was a French politician and a Controller-General of Finances under Louis XVI.  He was murdered by the mob in Paris during the first French Revolution of 1789.  It was a particular gruesome murder by all accounts so I will remain silent on the specifics except to mention that in a bid to save his own life he staged his own death and even staged a mock funeral.  He was however betrayed and paid the terrible consequences of being a much despised aristocrat with an exceptionally brutal end..    Incidentally another fairly spooky thing is that I have just written this article and today is the 22 July and so it is the anniversary of his death…

A tragic end during tragic times…well yes I know that the revolution has come to symbolise the birth of a democratic republic, but considering the first revolution was followed by Napoleon, then then the return of the Bourbons followed by more Napoleons; it was actually a long road to the Republic.

As we sat in the sunshine enjoying our cool and thoroughly refreshing drinks at the on site cafe we contemplated the lives of the lost families and the generations that might have been..we guessed however that you could apply this “what if” conundrum to so many events throughout history not the least the two world wars.

If old fashioned grocery packaging takes your fancy then there is much to see here. 

Le musée Aux Anciens Commerces can be found at 290 Chemin du Lavoir inDoué-la-Fontaine,  Combine it with a visit to the zoo or the glorious chemin de la Rose park.

+33 2 41 52 97 58

Talks given in French and English.

  • The Forgotten Women of the French Resistance, by Anne Sebba, 2016

Charles Hair’s studio of pots and more pots galore…

When we visited back in May 2017, the fabulous pottery of Charles Hair in Thizay just along the road from Chez Teresa en route to Chinon it was a revelation in the form of thousands of beautifully crafted pots in various guises – from pots for the kitchen – pots for the table – pots for the garden and of particular interest to me literally hundreds of fabulous tea pots!

One of Charles Hairs fabulous Tea Pots – I adore this particular shade of blue…

The above is the much celebrated kyusu.  Shaped like a kettle this is the Japanese word for Tea Pot.

The premise for our original visit was a Springtime exhibition at the studio  dedicated to the theme of le jardin and as such set within Charles Hair’s lovely garden featuring pots and jardinieres for plants.  These pots were in situ on the greenest of lawns with on the day we visited a glorious backdrop of beautiful roses and one brightly coloured azalea that was of such an intense bright almost electric orange I nearly fainted with delight as it reminded me of the azaleas and rhododendrons of Cornwall and my native Kent.

Pots in situ in the garden of Charles Hair

Charles in his garden at his Studio surrounded by his ubiquitous pots!

Charles Hair’s studio is open most days and is at any time an interesting and vibrant place to visit whether you are a tourist or a local.  The garden has however a rather particular and tranquil quality to it and with the current display of Charles’ brilliant pots especially designed for gardens and patios, this is a treat of a place to visit, especially on a warm summers day.

The magic of pottery chimes at the window…..

Potter Charles, is mainly self-taught in his craft, but he also studied for a time in Japan where he learnt a great deal about technique and also says Charles ” about tea ceremonies”.

Initially when you walk through into the main studio space in Thizay (this is also the home of Charles, his partner Stephanie and their children) you will see a floor that looks rather like Jackson Pollock has recently paid a visit and decided to wildly splash vivid colours across it.  If you look closely at this next photograph you will see the Pollock effect floor!

A perfect pot for any occasion and in this instance for a display of glorious tulips

(Charles explained that if and when the tulips droop, the effect in this vase is like a fan)

By contrast the rest of the space is tranquility incarnate, with a large number of ordered pots on display on glass shelves and systematically arranged according to colour and mainly in straight lines.  These are product of an ordered mind I should think…perhaps Charles is a Virgo; I forgot to ask.

Symmetrically lined pots at the atelier of Charles Hair in Thizay

Charles makes his pots on his wheel and then dips them in a solution of mineral powders dipping them for long enough to create the desired colour effect that he wants.   The majority of his work is simple and plain with a wonderful sheen and luster to each pot of every size and hue…..Twenty – thirty years in the making there are literally thousands of pots, bowls and to my delight tea pots and jugs as well as decorated wall plaques.

Charles also creates wall plaques and the sun is a theme on the latter and one can see the influence of the orient on Charles’s work.

The Sun is King at the studio

The pieces are wheel-turned or hand-sculpted and are made using sandstone or porcelain.  What I like about this kind of art and these kind of pieces is the fact that they are decorative, but also useful reminding me of that old William Morris adage of:

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

That is my philosophy in life and I think that possibly it might also be the belief of Charles Hair and his family motto.

Pots galore at the studio of Charles Hair in Thizay, just along the road from Chinon

There are pots in the studio, pots in the various lofts and outbuildings; pots in the garden..pots..pots..pots and yet more pots galore…leading me to ask Charles if he could ever imagine himself stopping making pots and wasn’t this passion somewhat of an obsession albeit a glorious one?  He tells me that his wife sometimes poses the same kind of questions.   Pots are clearly his life along with his family of course and as we left I could hear laughter in the garden.  I do urge you to visit soon.

Our homage to Charles Hair and his pottery at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre

(if you look closely you can see Charles at his potter’s wheel)

We had a group of 14 artists in for a luncheon this week, and they very much admired the exhibits that we have on display of Charles’s work…in particular they referred to the quality and luster of the glaze on the blue bowl with one of them calling out to Kentucky based artist Mary Neely “Come look at this glaze Mary, it is just wonderful!”

This particular group of artists work as part of a co-operative called Artists Attic and are much respected and celebrated in Kentucky and form part of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen.

I have long had a love affair with pottery and recall being enthralled when Tony and I visited the studio of Bernard and Janet Leach back in the late 1970s.

Since then we have loved the work of the Kent Potters and the pottery of Jean McCree in particular.  Check out her studio in Newton Road, in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK

but when in the Loire Valley please do not hesitate to contact the

1 rue des Marais
37500 THIZAY
LONGITUDE : 0.143406 / LATITUDE : 47.167461

02 47 95 90 01

Portes ouvert for Charles Hair

  • from 02/01/2017 to 30/12/2017 : from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 18:00 (except Monday – Tuesday – Sunday morning)

Earlier on in the year Charles Hair co-hosted an exhibition at the studio of Einav Benzano, our local and very talented maker of original jewellery.  Here she is emerging behind one of Charles Hair’s pots…It was a unique collaboration.  Einav’s studio is next to us at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre

The very beautiful Einav behind one of Charles Hair’s fabulous pots…or is she emerging from it?  Who can tell?  I anyway love the luster and pattern on this pot!

Summer is a “comin in loudly sing cuckoo…”

Come in for a cuppa and a chat to Chez Teresa about pottery and the arts anytime…

6, av Rochechouart, Fontevraud l’abbaye

just next to the l’abbaye royale…

For more information about the work of Jean McCree check out the

Kent Potters Association Picture Gallery – Jean McCree

Jean McCree. I am an established sculptor and potter having worked, exhibited and taught for over 20 years and am an active member of the Kent Potters …