Tag Archives: ex-pat living

Emerging From The Twilight Zone With Chutney

Seriously, when I realised that it had been a month (and a very odd month indeed!) since my last post, I felt like I had stepped inside an episode of The Twilight Zone and time and space had eaten me. There have been rather a lot of ups and downs with medical issues, but I am hopeful that things are on the upswing now. (fingers crossed!)

We did our very-few-blocks walk across the river to the Saturday market here in St. Girons yesterday and came back with a new digital kitchen scale and all of the ingredients for something wonderful — tomato chutney!

9 completed jars of tomato chutney

I laughed at the online instructions that said that the chutney took half an hour to prepare and one and a half hour of simmering before it was time to jar it. Perhaps if someone works a lot faster than I do they could do the prep in half an hour, but it took me an hour of peeling, chopping, and stirring. And Mark, the darling man, had to step in right at the end because I was gasping from chopping the onions.

This simmered for over 2 hours before it became the colour and texture that made me happy, but here is the recipe for anyone who’d like to try it. And it made 9 jars of recycled-marmelade-jar size final product. I tweaked the basic recipe with lots of spices after reading several versions of tomato chutney recipes online and deciding that just tomatoes, sugar, and onions was going to be a bit too bland for our taste.

Spicy and fragrant tomato chutney simmering atop the stove as it thickens

This totally fits in with our ethos of trying to live in an eco-conscious manner. We didn’t spend a penny on fuel since we walked to the market, we bought local produce with very low food miles, and we used recycled glass jars. The total cost for the ingredients was just about €7, I got 9 jars, and frankly that’s a much more sensible economic idea if you enjoy cooking than spending €3-4 or more per jar for quality chutney.

Glass jars simmering in boiling water to sterilise them

Here’s the recipe below. The amount of seasoning can be adjusted up or down according your own idea of what is spicy enough. Enjoy!


2 kilos of ripe tomatoes
500 grams of sliced and slightly chopped onions
8 fat cloves of garlic
8 cm piece of ginger peeled and chopped
375 grams of brown sugar
325 ml of cider vinegar
Juice of one lime
1 large or 2 medium apples — peeled and chopped
1-1/2 to 2 cups of raisins
10 cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp smoky paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
4 tsp cumin
4 rounded tsp allspice
3/4 tsp cinammon

Bring all ingredients to a full boil in a large kettle-style pan with a heavy bottom. Once boiling, reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for at least 2 hours, perhaps longer, until you see the liquid significantly reduced, the mixture thickened, and the colour of the chutney change from bright red to a brown-red.

Jars of hot chutney turned upside down as they cool to give a tight seal

Spoon mixture into hot, sterilised glass jars making sure to wipe the rims clean before sealing the lid tightly. Turn the jar upside down whilst cooling to allow for a tight seal.


Cooled jars of tomato chutney


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Hot And Humid in Summertime France

Ah yes — another installment of our adventures in ex-pat lifestyles.

Each glass of water slides down easily. Adding half of a lemon is rather refreshing, but truthfully, a quick dip in a cold swimming pool wouldn’t go amiss right now.

Don’t believe that little weather widget on the right side column because it is NEVER completely accurate — but it’s the best I can do since Yahoo removed their weather widgets which were actually quite reliable. Even the MSN weather forecast is quite wrong with their humidity index because the air is like suspended water globules right now.

Record-breaking heat is nothing new to my readers in Australia, the USA, and parts of Europe. But I haven’t felt humidity like this in quite a few years and it’s bringing back hot-and-sticky memories of a childhood in the South of the USA and hot-and-sticky memories of living for 18 months in Brisbane, Australia to blend with my hot-and-sticky present in the South of France. Oh my!

No matter how large their big houses might be, no one we know has air conditioning and, with the exception of the larger grocery stores, it seems to be a rarity here. We all cope through a variety of methods that are interestingly ‘retro’ after years of freezing-then-boiling as I came in and out of buildings and cars in Australia.

Keeping the heat out is the first step so I keep both sets of shutters all but closed in the daytime. The heavy old timber shutters block a vast amount of heat and then the roller-blinds that are right outside the double-glazed windows add another layer of heat blockage. I actually brought the shutters up quite a bit for the picture below so that you could clearly see the two layers of shutters.

Double shutters help to keep the heat out in the South of France

Yes, the rooms stay darkish all day long, but that’s certainly better than the bright and blistering sunlight! And yes, I can cope with that tiny square of light from each window. There is even a roller shutter over the French door to the back garden balcony and I moderate the amount of light on each side of the building as the hours pass.

The bedroom stays especially cool with both sets of shutters all but closed.

I’ve made it into a bit of a game so I don’t find it overly tedious — trying to see just how cool I can keep it indoors so Mark has a refreshing home to walk into at the end of the day after he’s been out in the heat on whatever building site he’s working on. The fan may not be as ice-cold as an air conditioner, but it is my friend and that’s all I have to say about that.

It may not be air conditioning, but it moves the cool air around JUST enough!

My pretty new red shopping trolley is thus far getting NO USE whatsoever because it’s too bl%!@y hot to wheel it down the charming streets of St. Girons right now. Ah well — it will be waiting when I need it.

Bright red shopping trolley awaiting a cooler day for adventures in St. Girons

All in all, sarong-on-body and water-in-hand, I am managing just fine. And thanks for asking!

P.S. Just to add a frisson of ‘How’s that?’ from the heavens, as I was ready to post this, the skies darkened, a rather noisy and fast-moving thunderstorm rolled through, the sun came BACK out, and now the wet streets are steaming below my front window. (groan!)

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Tour De France Photo Essay

One of the many joys of being an ex-pat resident of a country like France is getting to attend events like the Tour de France live without the hassles of around-the-world flights from Australia. We never imagined when we left Australia in December of 2010 that Mark would get to watch a stage of this famous race for two years in a row.

I’m turning the photo essay over to my husband Mark today since he’s the one who braved the drizzly weather to watch a Midi-Pyrenees stage of the 99th Tour de France on Sunday, the 15th of July.

Instead of being crunched by the crowds at the finish-line in Foix, Mark chose to watch from the village of Massat which is only about a 40 minute drive from our home in St. Girons. Here are some scenes in the village prior to the arrival of the caravan of floats and then the peloton of riders.

5 Jersey Display in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Man Waiting for the Tour de France in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Gendarmes in front of building decorated for Tour de France in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France

The caravan passed steadily by as people of all ages eagerly awaited the ‘goodies’ which are flung out to the crowds.

The pre-peloton caravan parade begins in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Haribo (candy) parade car in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Big Yellow Rider at the pre-peloton parade in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Mickey Mouse comic book car in the pre-peloton parade in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Waiting and watching for the Tour de France cyclists to arrive

Zoom! After all of the waiting, it was quickly over for another year and people began returning to their homes.

Tour de France cyclists passing through Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Walking home after watching the Tour de France pass through Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France

Caps, keyrings, fridge magnets, packs of candy & snacks, wristbands, tote bags, blow-up pillow, glasses case, and more. Mark was much luckier this year since he picked a spot that had less people than his position in Normandy a year ago and he thus increased his odds of catching the ‘goodies’ that are flung out by the caravan of floats prior to the arrival of the peloton. He came home a very happy-chappy with a huge grin on his face!

A selection of 'goodies' that are tossed out to the crowd during the pre-peloton Tour de France parades through villages & towns

©Deborah Harmes and ©Mark Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Fabulous French Weekend Markets

They are ubiquitous throughout France — the weekend markets that contain a mix of items from fresh fruit and vegetables to cheese and sausage to clothing. We’ve been to a variety of them in cities and towns from one end of France to the other.

Bright umbrellas shade the buyers and sellers at the Saturday market in St. Girons

One of the nicest markets we have attended has been in the town that we now call home — St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees down near the border with Spain. And no, just in case you think I am being biased, this truly is a well-rounded market since there are just as many ‘pretty things’ like hand-thrown pottery and linen clothing and original artwork as there are stalls selling food.

You can always find live music each week in several places sprinkled up and down the streets and laneways.

Musician busking for change in front of a brasserie in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees of France

The setting is especially charming, too — from the open-to-the-skies square at the end of Rue Gambetta down through the avenue of plane trees which parallel the swiftly flowing River Salat. Those traders beneath the lush green trees must be quite grateful for that shade on those blisteringly hot and sunny South of France Saturdays. We shoppers certainly are!

Shopping beneath the plane trees at the St. Girons Saturday market

We feel quite lucky to have this year-around weekly market a mere few minutes away from our new apartment. We walked out the front door with our canvas shopping bags and voila — we were across the footbridge over the river and right in the thick of things in just under 15 minutes.

Footbridge over the River Salat in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Picturesque St. Girons hugs both sides of the River Salat in the South of France

The produce is always ultra fresh and significantly cheaper than what we pay in the local supermarkets.

Shopping in the Rue Gambetta square in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees of France

We fell in love with the vivid colours used by one potter who had a booth at the markets.

Bright coloured pottery for sale at the Saturday market in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France

We picked one vivid green bowl, changed our minds, and decided to go for the larger orange bowl you see at the bottom filled with fruit.

Buying a piece of pottery at the Saturday market in St. Girons


Large orange-glazed pottery bowl from the Saturday market in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France

Hope you are enjoying these slices of life in the South of France!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Where Did Deborah Go This Time???

It’s never intentional — these unexpected life events that keep me away from the computer and away from writing and editing. But life in all of its upsy-downsy messiness has just breezed on through this past 4 weeks. I’m out on the other side now and hoping for some smooth but interesting weeks ahead.

The strange and scary bit was a week in the local French hospital. Too boring to get into — but I’ll be doing a lot of back and forth with specialists for the next few months. However, let me assure you that I’m not going ‘over to the other side’ anytime soon — trust me on that very firm statement!

Right in the middle of that bit of unexpected strangeness, we moved from our tiny-tiny-tiny village of Engomer into a proper Midi-Pyrenees town — St. Girons. And no, that was not without hiccups either.

The new 1-bedroom apartment that I found is in the old town section. Yes, there is traffic outside during the day, but it tapers off dramatically after 5:30 each evening. It’s a lovely old building of probably very late 1800’s to early 1900’s vintage. The windows are double-glazed and there are electric roll-down shutters in addition to the old-fashioned fold-back wooden shutters so I don’t feel like I am sitting out in the street listening to the passing motor scooters (lots of those!), cars, and buses. We also have a small balcony overlooking a long green garden (more on that in another post) with the mountains rising up behind and that side of the apartment is cool and quiet.

Here are two interior ‘before’ shots so you’ll be able to see the transformation in later posts. It’s a compact living-in-town apartment and it really is just what we have wanted for quite awhile! And by the way, no — I could not cope with this teeny-tiny kitchen ‘as is’ and it will be changing quite a bit.

Livingroom of the new apartment in St. Girons


Kitchen (the unimproved version!) in the new apartment in St. Girons


Whilst still in Engomer, 15 minutes outside of St. Girons, I was having a staying-in-bed day after being discharged from the hospital. Sitting there amidst a nest of pillows with my computer, via Skype I ordered the electricity to be put into our name and EDF did that quite efficiently with no snags once they ‘found’ us. It turns out that our building is known by two different numbers. Seriously, I had to laugh about it because this was like walking into an episode of the Twilight Zone as I heard the woman on the line explain that almost all of the buildings in town are still officially registered with their pre-World-War-II addresses, even if they are now another number altogether!!!

I encountered the same issue with France Telecom (aka Orange) as I was choosing the Unlimited Internet & Unlimited Telephone package. The woman on the line kept insisting that there was no such apartment number in our building and no one had had landline service in that building since 1993. What??? Then I told her the EDF pre-World-War-II building numbers story — and I heard her say, “Ah, there you are!” She then informed me that it would take 18 days before I would have a working phone line and internet and I could be the President of France or offer her a million euros and they couldn’t do it any faster.

After making an appointment 2 weeks earlier for the installation on this past Wednesday between 8 and 10 AM, I arrived at 7:50 AM. Then I waited and waited. No one ever arrived and it was clear that I’d been stood up by the installer. Grrrrr!!!

Back to Engomer, more packing, and when I called Orange to inquire about the missing installation man, some snooty idiot told me that it hadn’t been necessary because the phone was already on. No — it was not! I had picked up the brand new phone that was plugged into the apartment wall and listened for a dial tone repeatedly as I waited there all morning and it was most certainly not on.

After lunch, I loaded my car with boxes and bags, went back to the apartment, listened in vain for a dial tone, and finally sat waiting, waiting, waiting on my mobile phone (using up €13.50 in credit along the way!) for an Orange tech department person who again told me that the phone was already on. I retorted that I was sitting right there and no it was not, he said he would call the house line to prove it. Then he was quiet for a second or two before saying, “It would seem that you have a fault on the line. They will fix it from outside and you should have your phone on in 2 days. Au revoir, Madame Harmes.” And he hung up. Grrrrr!!!

The following morning, Thursday, was the appliance-delivery debacle (see below) and a mere few minutes before those men arrived, the installer from Orange (who should have been there the previous morning!) arrived at 8:15, picked up my phone, told me there was no signal (no kidding!), and he input some kind of code into my phone from his phone and the line was activated. Voila! A live and working phone.

This also gave me the ‘ability’ to set up my internet connection with a book full of all-in-French instructions for my Livebox. But without the internet already connected, I had no access to Google Translate to decipher words that I didn’t have stored in my limited-French-vocabulary brain. From somewhere in the past, I managed to dredge up memories of being walked-through that process by the online techs in Australia and I actually did it all correctly. Woo-hoo!

We had to buy appliances since the apartment came with none, so instead of taking the ‘cheap & cheerful’ (and potentially problematic!) option of buying used appliances, we decided to order a new front-loader washing machine and new refrigerator and cooker (stove with 3 gas top rings, 1 electric ring, and all electric self-cleaning oven). Easy, time-saving, and they’d just deliver it all to the door and bring them up the one flight of stairs so Mark wouldn’t have to do the lifting. Right?

That was the ‘in theory’ part of the story. I ordered all of the appliances from the same company up the road in the very large and metropolitan city of Toulouse. The washing machine arrived in 2 days. Hooray! But the refrigerator and cooker didn’t arrive for another 8 days. They are supposed to call an hour ahead of time to let you know when they were arriving , but they just arrived at 8:30 AM with no advance phone call.

Something had urged me to spend the night in the apartment on that previous night. I raced down the spiral of our stairwell, opened the large front door, then listened to the sound of two sturdy young men hefting those appliances up the stairs. When they wrestled the large boxes into place, I asked them to unpack each appliance so I could inspect them for damage prior to signing that I accepted them. Cardboard and styrofoam went flying all through the room and there were the pristine new appliances. I was ever so glad that I had asked for the unpacking when I spied a large caved-in left side on the cooker — and then one of the young men pointed to a matching caved in side on the right. Forms had to be filled in and I had to write REFUSED on the form, sign it, and they had to carry that heavy appliance back down the stairs. (sigh!)

Day after day the apartment has been filling up with furniture and we now have comfy lounge chairs, a coffee table and end table, a tv console with a flat-screen television and new dvd player, and some bookshelves, a bed, and wardrobes. Lots of pictures will follow in the days ahead as we assemble, arrange, and decorate! But we’ve been sleeping and eating here for 3 days now and we’re temporarily cooking on a camping stove with a tiny gas bottle. Ah well — living in flow.

Gads — I didn’t mean for this post to be quite so long!

Gotta run — boxes and bags to unpack. More soon — really and truly.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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