Home of the Tarte Tatin

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The Tarte Tatin or upside-down apple cake is a very popular dessert in France, usually served warm with fresh cream. It is one of my favourites.

We are driving from Blois to Gien, where we are taking back a secondhand dishwasher which, sadly, does not work. We are usually more successful with leboncoin.com. At least the sellers are going to give us our money back but this is our second two-hour trip!

As we go through the town of Lamotte-Beuvron, I look up from my knitting (we are going to see my little grandson next month) and see a typical brick and stone building. It’s a hotel called Tatin. “Like the tart”, I say. “Yes”, says Jean-Michel, “I think that is where it comes from”. So I check out my phone. It does, indeed.

Tradition has it that two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, who ran a hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron at the turn of the 19th century just opposite the train station, invented the eponymous tart when Stéphanie, run off her feet by the hunting season that had just started, was making an apple tart and forgot to line the pastry mould and only put the apples in. When she realized her error halfway through cooking, she simply added the pastry on top of the apples and finished baking it.

Another version says she dropped a regular apple tart when taking it out the oven so served it upside down.

Even this doesn’t seem to be true. The tarte Tatin is a Sologne special from way back, popularized by the Tatin sisters in their hotel restaurant.

It was later served at Maxim’s in Paris where it is still a speciality today. The story goes that the chef from the iconic restaurant took a job as a gardener at the hotel Tatin so he could spy on what was going on in kitchen and “steal” the recipe.

So what is the secret? You are really supposed to use a copper tart case but I doubt if anyone really does. You grease the bottom of the pan with a generous amount of butter followed by a layer of granulated or powdered sugar.

Then you add firm apple wedges sprinkled with sugar. A thin layer of shortcrust pastry is then placed on top of the apples. Cook in a hot oven. Turn out and serve hot.

We decide to stop and take a photo on the way back as it will be 5 pm and time for tea and cakes by then.

After taking the photo, we drive into the town centre which I recognize from our previous visit. We had stopped for coffee at the local PMU café where they sell lotto tickets and you can bet on the horses. I never buy lotto tickets but I was feeling lucky so I bought a 2 euro one. I didn’t know how to play so I had to watch a video!!! And I won 4 euros so am able to pick up my winnings. The lady seems surprised that I don’t buy another ticket. But I reckon you should quit while you’re ahead 😊.

We find a pâtisserie and ask if there is tarte Tatin. There is only one for six people which costs 22 euros so we buy some other individual cakes instead and eat them in the little square opposite the unusual-looking town hall.

At least the second dishwasher trip wasn’t entirely wasted …. Now I know where the Tarte Tatin comes from.

Costa del Sol – Tarifa, Casares and Benalmádena

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We leave Cadix in the rain with no regrets, heading for Tarifa. It’s still raining when we get there but it clears up sufficiently after our coffee to walk around the village. Unfortunately there isn’t much to see.

As we drive up the Mediterranean Coast from the industrial port of Algeciras, we keep seeing the Rock of Gibraltar and the weather keeps improving.

The Rock of Gibraltar

We leave the motorway to climb up to the white hilltop village of Cesares. We take the very steep descent on foot to the village centre. We are obviously off-season as there are no restaurants open and only one bar that is serving food – El Flamenco Rosa. There are five tapas so we take one of each and a glass of wine. We find a pasteleria to complete our meal.

Typical street in Cesares

El Flamenco Rosa

We return to the motorway and an hour later take the turnoff to Benalmádena. We are surprised by the plunging descent to the coast road. When we arrive at our hotel we are given glasses of local sparkling wine which we drink on our very pleasant second floor balcony. Tomorrow we take the plane home from Malaga.

Hotel Puerto Marina

The beach at Benalmádena
The marina at Benalmádena


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The coastline at Cadiz

After leaving the monastery at Jerez de la Frontera, we head for Cadiz where we discover it’s carnival time! Many people are in home made costumes grouped around comedians and very talented singers. What a pity we can’t understand.

Paseo at sunset

Next morning, the town seems much calmer and we are able to visit the sights with only light spitting. Inside the old fort there is an exhibition on munitions explosion in 1947 that took hundreds of lives and left thousands injured.

Inside the fort
Cadiz cathedral

Jerez de la Frontera

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Inner courtyard of the Alcazar at Jerez de la Frontera

We leave Marbella and the high-rise coastline of Costa del Sol without regret and are very pleasantly surprised by Jerez de la Frontera, especially the Alcazar, which is balmy and peaceful.

The peaceful gardens of the Alcazar
Mosque at the Alcazar
View of the Palacio de Villavicencio

After our visit we choose a nearby restaurant- Bar Juanita – which at 1.30 pm is practically empty. It starts to rain so we go inside. By 2 pm, it is crowded! We choose various tapas and raciones and feel very much like locals.

Lunch at Bar Juanita

On the way out of the town, we stop to take a photo of the tiled train station.

Train station at Jerez de la Frontera

Next, the Carthusian monastery which is closed for renovation. The entrance is a replica of the front of the monastery.

Front gate of Carthusian Monastery
Carthusian Monastery


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Marbella is like the Saint Tropez of Spain – not that I’ve ever been to Saint Tropez. Not quite my style. But we want to stay a couple of days on the Costa del Sol which we have never seen before going to Cadix and Marbella has an old town which sounds better than endless high rise apartments with balconies overlooking the sea. The historic centre turns out to be rather kitch but we like the little park with its ceramic benches and fountain.

Troglodyte houses in Andalusia

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I live in a region in France – the Loire Valley – known for its troglodyte houses so it was rather fun to discover the same concept in Spain, but with an entirely different result. The cliffs here are clay and the cave houses in Guadix have white chimneys. Altogether, there are about 2000 troglodyte houses inhabited by 3000 people. It’s believed they date back to 1492 when Grenada was taken over by the Catholic kings, causing the Moors to flee to the surrounding mountains where they dug houses in the clay hills. The name Guadix comes from the Arabic Wadi Ash meaning the River of life.

Inside the Cordoba Cathedral Mosque

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The courtyard in the middle of the cathedral-mosque

The Cordoba cathedral mosque or mezquita-catedral de Cordoba is quite extraordinary. The architecture and decoration are sumptuous. It has changed religions several times over the centuries and is an incredible mix of Moorish and European architecture. The great mosque was built in 785 on the site of a Visigoth basilica. It was then expanded many times up to the late 10th century until it was able to accommodate 40 000 people. It was turned into a cathedral in 1236. The structure remained much the same until the 16th century when a Renaissance nave and transept were inserted into the middle. I’ve tried to illustrate these changes in the following photos.

Cordoba at last!

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View of the Cathedral-Mosque from out terrasse

In January 2015 we spent a week in Granada and it snowed! The one thing I regretted was not hiring a car to go to Cordoba for a couple of days. So on Monday after a very long day, leaving Blois at 8 am by car for Charles de Gaulle airport to catch a 2 1/2 hour flight to Malaga, where we picked up a car from a local rental firm called Malaga car.com, we were delighted to finally arrive at our rental apartment in the historical centre of Cordoba at 8 pm.

However it was not until next day that we were really able to appreciate the roof terrasse. Cold but sunny (about 12 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day), it proved to be the perfect lunch spot!

A Gift of Rabbit Ears

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Today is the anniversary of our first Covid19 lockdown in France. We arrived home from our holiday in Crete at 2 pm, just two hours after the closure of all non-essential venues, with outings restricted to one hour a day for exercise and essential shopping. At the present, in Blois, mask-wearing is compulsory in built-up areas, while restaurants, cafés, bars, hypermarkets, museums and all cultural venues are closed and there is a curfew between 6 pm and 6 am. Vaccination has begun but we are too young and too healthy to qualify.

The view from the Wedding Room at Blois Town Hall

This morning, I am off to the Town Hall to interpret for a wedding, limited to 30 people, with everyone wearing masks. There are about 15 people present altogether in the big empty “wedding” room with its stunning view of the Loire. In France, marriages must take place at the Town Hall first, even if there is to be a religious ceremony. If either of the spouses does not speak French, an sworn interpreter must be present. The bridegroom today is a professional basketballer from the US and the bride is from Belgium.

I arrive early and park next to the Bishop’s Gardens (the Town Hall used to be the bishop’s palace) and wander through my favourite mauve and white garden, which is beginning to show signs of life with the coming of spring.

Stachys lanata

I notice a flourishing plant that seems to be sprouting up everywhere and take a photo. I’m always looking for new plants for the garden at home and our holiday rental garden.

A little further along, I see a municipal gardener walking towards his truck. I ask him if he can identify a plant for me on my phone. He immediately says, “That’s stachys lanata – rabbit’s ears (oreille de lapin). It has a white flower and grows about 30 to 50 cm high, but it’s mainly used for its decorative leaves. It doesn’t need much watering.” I thank him and repeat the name of rabbit’s ears. He adds that it is also called bear’s ears (oreille d’ours).

The communal compost bins

I ask if it works well in clay soil. He assures me it does. He then proposes to give me some but can’t find his shovel and looks around for a substitute. I explain that I have to go and interpret for a wedding so will hide the plant somewhere so I can get it on the way back. He points to some compost bins at the other end of the garden near where my car is parked and says he’ll put some in a bag for me and leave it behind the bins.

After the wedding, which is a very joyful affair despite the Covid restrictions, I see the gardener again and he tells me the bag is waiting for me.

The rabbits ears with flowers about to open taken last year in the same spot

When I open it, I discover that I have enough plants to cover quite a large stretch of border in my garden! In English, oreille de lapin is known as lamb’s-ear or woolly hedgenettle.

Now wasn’t that nice of him?

Friday’s French: se rappeler, se souvenir, mémoire, souvenir – part #2

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In 2014, I wrote a post about the difference between se rappeler and se souvenir which has remained very popular with readers. However, I have had to update the framework of my blog since then (WordPress) and the answers and comments have disappeared.

So here are possible translations of the four sentences in bold type:

I try to remenber not to use “de” with se rappeler = J’essaie de me rappeler qu’il ne faut pas utiliser la préposition “de” avec se rappeler OR J’essaie de penser à ne pas utiliser “de” avec se rappeler.

Which reminds me that rappeler has another meaning = ce qui me fait penser que rappeler a un autre sens OR ce qui me rappelle que rappeler a un autre sens [but the French don’t like repeating the same word in a sentence!]

You probably don’t need to remember that = vous n’aurez sans doute pas à retenir ce sens-là OR vous n’aurez sans doute pas à vous rappeler ce sens-là but retenir is more appropriate.

I could never remember whether the word memoire was masculin or feminine = je ne me rappelais jamais si le mot mémoire était masculin ou féminin

A little word about retenir which I forgot to mention the first time. The idea here is to keep something in mind or learn from experience.

Je n’ai pas retenu son nom = I can’t remember his name.

Je retiens de cette aventure qu’il faut toujours avoir un vêtement de pluie lorsqu’on fait du vélo = I’ve learnt from this experience that you should always take rainwear with you when you go cycling.

Retiens bien ce que je t’ai dit = Don’t forget what I told you. Make sure you remember what you were told.

Shared by readers in their comments:

aide-mémoire = memorandum

Q. What about (se) remémorer. When would one use these vs (se) rappeler.
* remémorer⇒ vtr (rappeler) remember, recall, look back on
La cérémonie avait pour but de remémorer les douleurs du passé.
* se remémorer⇒ v pron (se rappeler) look back on, recollect, recall, remember
Les anciens amis se remémorent les bons souvenirs.

A. In the first example, I think we’d be more likely to use commemorate, otherwise remember. “The aim of the ceremony was to commemorate the painful events of the past”. For the second example, I think I’d also use remember. We could say recollect or recall, but it’s on a higher register. “Old friends remember the good times together.”

Q. And the difference between remémorer qch and commémorer qch?

A. Well, commémorer is the idea of remembering something with a ceremony (commémorer l’armistice de 1918), as in our English commemorate whereas remémorer is only recall (ce village lui remémorait sa jeunesse). However, in all the years I have lived here (over 40) I have never heard anyone use the word remémorer.

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