I’m serious about getting organised this year. The cutlery drawer was top of my list for decluttering. It was completely out of hand, as this shameful before photo shows.

Before - cringe!

But after half an hour or so of dedicated tidying, I overcame the muddle. I invested in a deeper plastic cutlery tray in eye-assaulting green which is not only functional but cheerful.

Much better!

During the tidy-up, I found nearly 50 reusable wire ties, the sort that come with bread over here. I’d just been tossing them into the drawer. They now live in a small zip-up pencil case that was needing something to do. I also uncovered enough chopsticks to kit out a Chinese restaurant (and we don’t eat Chinese very often these days) and a good collection of fèves. What are fèves? They are little porcelain ornaments that you hide in the Gateau des Rois (marzipan cake) that you eat on Twelfth Night here in France. Here are mine.

Now, for meal planning. Things didn’t quite stay on target last week. But I see that Laura at www.orgjunkie.com recommends starting with just two or three days. So I’ll try that for this week. We’ve already had Monday tea, so here goes for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Now, Thursday is St Patrick’s Day and that’s our day so we’ll be celebrating!

Tuesday: Burgers in half baguettes with fried onions and lots of ketchup. Followed by banana custard.

Wednesday: Baked potatoes with ham and cheese filling, coleslaw and tomato salad. Walnut flapjacks. Here’s my recipe for those: 4 oz butter, 4 oz golden syrup, 7 oz rolled oats and 1 oz chopped walnuts. Melt the butter and golden syrup together. Then mix in the oats and walnuts. Press into a flan case and bake for 25 minutes on at 180 degrees C. I use the walnuts we collected last autumn and which I shelled and froze over winter. They’ve kept beautifully.

Thursday: Party time! Slices of barm brack for breakfast with some of my homemade hedgerow jam. For lunch, St Patrick’s Day soup.

Then for tea, we’ll treat ourselves to Irish Beef Goulash followed by Shamrock cupcakes. That should all be festive enough.

Happy eating this week, and especially on Thursday!





Road trip!

So we’re safely back from our road trip to Strasbourg. We – eldest son Benj and I – were away for 36 hours. We spent 15 of those in the car – it’s a long way to Strasbourg from the centre of France! It was tiring but a trip well worth making.

But distance isn’t really a problem. I enjoy driving, and luckily Benj and I share similar tastes in music so we were happy enough to listen to each other’s CDs on the way. We got through a lot. We also got through a lot of motorway service station sandwiches. I hadn’t realised my son had a chicken and mayo sandwich habit. And we saw interesting things en route – three chickens right on the hard shoulder of one autoroute, happily scratching away at the scabby grass as traffic thundered past at 130 kph only metres away! Also car factories, the watersheds between the Mediterranean and the North Sea and the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, ancient fortifications, the Vosges mountains, Germany, an army convoy, policemen on bikes with ferocious truncheons and a Figuereido transport lorry which we thought was one cool name. (Maybe we’d just had too many chicken mayo sandwiches by then.)

The goal of the trip was to visit the university. Benj wants to do a Langues Etrangères Appliquées course (applied languages), specialising in German and English. Strasbourg appealed to him because of its proximity to Germany, and because it has a very good reputation for languages. This was his third university visit. He’s already visited Limoges (with me) and Clermont Ferand (with Chris), both of them much nearer home! Strasbourg University is an old one, dating back to 1538, and it’s also France’s largest. In 1972 it was divided into three institutions, which between them have a student population of 42,000 – the Louis Pasteur University, Marc Bloch University and Robert Schuman University. The language school is part of Marc Bloch, named after the famous French historian.

Strasbourg is a huge city. Wikipedia tells me that it has a population of 273,000 which I frankly find hard to believe. I would have put it much, much higher. It’s the seventh largest commune in France. It’s beautiful too. The centre of it, on Grande Île, is a Unesco world heritage site, and you can see why. The towering, colossal Notre Dame cathedral is there. At 142 m it’s currently the tenth tallest church in the world. It was the tallest from 1647 to 1874, but has been pushed down the rankings since then! It’s in the Gothic style, a deep red colour and truly stunning. There’s a fascinating astronomical clock in it. It features a perpetual clock, a planetary dial and shows the positions of the sun and moon. At 12.30pm every day the twelve apostles have a procession around the top of it. We missed that show but caught one figure walking round at 1pm. Whoever it was went past the eerie, skeletal figure of Death.

We walked through many bustling squares and along narrow lanes. The whole city was clean and gleaming. Like the trams. We loved the trams. We parked at a park and ride in the morning, rather than attempt to drive into the city, and travelled into in style on a tram. We found the university easily, and as we were running early and had an unlimited day pass on the trams, got straight onto another one and went to see the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Justice. These were very impressive, modern buildings, in a tranquil part of the city. After the university visit, we were back on the tram, riding into the centre of Strasbourg to see all the beautiful buildings. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a tram, and each one was sleek, shiny and spotless.

We travelled up on the Friday and stayed at a Formule 1 hotel in the southern suburbs of Strasbourg, at Illkirch Graffenstaden. It was a low cost, no frills hotel, convenient to get to, and just perfect for our purposes. We strolled through the town, which was spacious and attractive, in the evening and found an Irish pub! (We moved to France from Ireland.) We drove back on Saturday, getting home about 9.30pm.

All in all, it was an interesting, enjoyable trip. I’d been wanting to visit Strasbourg for ages. I’d still like to go and visit the Christmas market there – it must be quite stunning in such a beautiful city. We’ll have to wait and see if Benj ends up there for his studies …