Saturday, 10 September 2016

An introduction to a wonderful new book (their second)  written by our dear friends Louis and Hardy of La Creuzette, Boussac, France.

Now available on AMAZON!

Our dear friends Hardy Olivier and Louis Jansen Van Vuuren  own a Petit Chateau in Boussac, France and  have been the resplendent hosts to hundreds of lucky people from all over the world.  Offering  courses in art, writing and cooking while experiencing the French lifestyle at the same time,  guests are taken to nearby places of interest, including gardens,  brocantes as well as local markets.   Accommodation is in their magnificent home, La Creuzette, where  the ensuite bedrooms are beautiful and the beds are made up with exquisite antique French bed linen.  The food, served on beautifully laid tables (Louis' specialty) is unforgettable.  Louis and Hardy's arrival in Boussac 15 years ago has also resulted in the happy creation of our very special South African community, as some of the guests, including ourselves have bought homes there.   

Louis and Hardy have just published their second book - "The Story of a House"  which is now available on Amazon!   Here is an excerpt:

"A South African couple’s search for the perfect home in France, and some of the beautiful dishes they create for their guests.

Louis Jansen van Vuuren:

A few years ago we bought a tiny little house on a crooked street in the middle of France. Our Parisian friends called the region of our new-found home La France profond. They rolled their eyes meaningfully at each other and pointed to a captivating shop window on the Place Vendôme.
“How far exactly is your little place from Paris?” Frédérique carefully took a sip of champagne. Her well-groomed nails were lacquered a fashionable shade. “Chanel,” she said, when she saw me looking at her fingertips. They looked like wild strawberries against the golden sparkle in her glass.
“Three and a half hours south from here.” The imposing towers of the Notre Dame cathedral were hazy through the restaurant’s decorated windows. Further along the embankment a gilded dome reflected silently in the Seine. I could smell the unmistakable aroma of roasting chestnuts being toasted over a distant brazier. The waitress took our friend’s order first: “I would like the Confit de Canard...” She licked her glossy red lips absent-mindedly.
The little house in the Auvergne was our refuge for two exciting years. Hardy was a banker in Cape Town and I lectured at the Michaelis School of Art. Months of long leave had accumulated over the years and I spent every possible moment in La France profond. I planted beds full of bearded irises and peonies and gazed at the robins frolicking in the maybush. I had only ever seen robins on European Christmas cards. I filled canvases with my new experiences, and after my second exhibition in Paris, I decided to retire and live full time in the French countryside. Shortly after that Hardy decided he had had enough of designer suits and silk ties. He had heard very clearly the seductive Gallic call.
The little house on the crooked street in the Auvergne would be too small for two full-time Frenchmen. The search for the dream home began. Whenever Hardy visited La France profond from the Cape, we would view literally a few hundred houses. There was the stone house with deep-blue, shoulder-high hydrangeas; the watermill that could be converted into a cottage; a derelict old barn in the middle of an apple orchard... If it hadn’t been for the offensive power standards on the boundary of the little farm, it might have been our new home. There was also a castle for sale in the Loire. When the agent fetched us in a shiny limousine, I realised that our pension funds and piggybank coins wouldn’t do it. But we played along and enjoyed the sham of
10 lounges and 20 giant bedrooms. Not to mention the 45 hectares of forest. Alas, our dream house was not yet destined to be.

During a lightning visit in autumn, Hardy called very early one morning from the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. He had a property magazine in his hands, and he was speaking with his mouth full. Most probably a pain en chocolat or one of those irresistible éclairs that the patisserie chefs fill with an exotically flavoured crème pâtissière. The fondant icing is my favourite. Only the French can become so excited about food that it is elevated to Biblical proportions. When the humble éclair is decorated with caramel, it is called a baton de Jacob. Imagine, the staff of Jacob!
“I think I have found the house of our dreams.” Hardy was breathless with excitement. In the background the departure of the train was being announced.
“Wait! Don’t hang up,” I yelled loudly into the receiver. “I think I have found it. Close by, in Creuse.” He was listening with half an ear, chewing away. Hardy was determined that the house he had discovered in the magazine would be the right one. The conductor blew his whistle and Hardy was gone.
I felt the same. The photo of the petit chateau in my magazine held me captive. I circled the stately sandstone house waiting in the tall grass with a heart shape in neon blue koki pen.

Later that afternoon Hardy arrived at the station at Montluçon. He hardly greeted me. The magazine was rolled up like a baton and folded at the page with the house of his dreams. I froze. “Wait until we get home, I want to show you what I found. We can compare the houses later.” I said, with a poker face.
I poured a glass of wine on the veranda. The view over the landscape stretched to the volcanoes of the Auvergne. I flipped to the page with the picture of my dream house. I placed the magazine in front of him. His eyes turned bluer than ever. It was the same petit chateau as his! He had bought the city edition and I the country edition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Somewhere on a branch in a two-hundred-year-old cedar tree the barn owl rustles its wings and winks a yellow eye at the manor house with the shutters."


Louis is an acclaimed artist and it is under his  guidance that students of all levels leave La Creuzette inspired to create more and more.  Louis teaches his students in his magnificent studio which nestles amongst the tree tops and his friendly encouragement is accompanied by beautiful music - mostly opera.  How could you not be inspired!

Hardy, originally a banker, has, over the years developed into a chef extraordinaire!   In "The story of a House", they share their recipes of some of the delicious dishes they serve to guests. The exquisite photos were all styled by Louis. 

Here they prepare a meal in the Summer Kitchen

I've included a recipe from their book below:

Asparagus and crab charlotte
(Serves 4)

Asparagus and crab charlotte
(Serves 4)

1 bunch young white asparagus
1 tub Philadelphia salmon cream cheese 1 tin tuna
1 tin crab meat
1⁄2 tub thick sour cream (crème fraîche)
1 small bunch chives, chopped
1 small white onion or 2 spring onions1⁄2 lime or lemon
freshly ground salt and black pepper
1 pinch Espelette pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 ripe avocados
1 handful fresh, cooked broad beans olive oil, balsamic vinegar

Cut the asparagus tips in lengths of 4–5cm from the stem (we don’t use the bottom parts of asparagus stems). Peel the asparagus with a vegetable peeler and boil in salted water for 8–10 minutes until just tender, but not mushy. Refresh in ice water, drain and keep aside.
Prepare the filling by mixing the Philadelphia cheese, tuna and drained crab. Add the sour cream, chopped chives and spring onions, lemon or lime juice, and season with salt, pepper, Espelette and turmeric. Leave for at least 1 hour in fridge.
Remove skin and pip of avocado, and cube.

To serve: Cut the asparagus in half lengthways and arrange on the inner side of a 10cm metal tart ring. Cover the bottom of the ring with avocado cubes (keep 2 tablespoons to decorate the top). Fill the asparagus ring with chilled crab meat and sprinkle with remaining avocado cubes. Drizzle with lemon juice to stop them from browning.
Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Remove the tart ring, decorate the charlotte with halved cherry tomatoes or a bundle of fresh herbs (coriander leaves are good) scatter the broad beans around and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Espelette, and black pepper.
You can also prepare small charlottes instead of the bigger one by using smaller tart rings when assembling


Some of the beautiful images from the book are displayed below and  I was  so fortunate to have been given a signed copy which I cherish.   

A delightful photo!

The magnificent dining room at La Creuzette

Front and back covers of the book which fits into a beautiful sleeve, including a cookbook! I have previously written posts about La Creuzette and you can read them here and here .

Go ahead and order yourselves a copy - you won't be sorry!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


image via

Last week I decided that I would divide and repot the Auriculas.  The ongoing care for these amazing plants is, quite frankly, laborious!  They have a reputation for being difficult to grow,  reluctant to flower, and they simply conk out for no reason.  Auriculas are demanding rather than difficult because they need alpine conditions and only do well if placed somewhere cool and airy away from the midday sun.  
Mine flowered too early last year as they were situated on the Northern verandah in full sun to keep them warm during a cold winter.  Instead of that perfect single bunch of flowers poised above the leaves,  most plants had numerous single flower stems flopping about the pot and so I decided to divide them this year so that the offsets were limited. 

One of last year's flowers 
I removed the plant from the original pot, and gently pulled it apart before planting them in two separate pots into which I had added pebbles which I hope will assist in the drainage.

Pressing down the potting mix around the Auricula

After adding pebbles to cover the soil
Some of the re-potted Auriculas

The greenhouse is brimming with pansies and foxgloves that are just about ready to plant out into the garden.
John and I comparing our handy work

I've been picking lots of Violets for my bedside table and just adore their fragrance.
Gorgeous Gladioli in the hall - store bought flowers at this time of the year are a necessity.
This is the first time I have put Wattle into a vase and perhaps the last!... They dropped within two days!
I had a group of lovely ladies over for lunch on Friday
The first tulips I have brought inside this year and I'm hoping they will flower..
I've also fed all of the indoor plants
The Hellebores are all in flower now

English Galanthus which was given to me by a friend

Delightful snowdrops dotted all over the garden
The Auriculas are doing well
The Pelargoniums are beginning to flower
My Hydrangea cuttings have all taken

The Hydrangeas cuttings beneath a cloche.
An unusual double Daffodil which was given to me by a friend

After a day in the garden,  soup for supper is usually the easiest.

The soup was delicious and so was the boiled egg on toast.

Happy week everyone!

ps - since posting this, I have read that the best time to divide the Auriculas is just after they have flowered... oh dear... fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Diana Watson
An artist that captures the true essence of nature

Sunshine in the Winter

Diana Watson knows her way around flowers.  It is almost as if she has climbed inside them.  She paints her flowers as though she were Thumbelina,  looking deeply into the blooms, taking note of the detail,  marks and imperfections of each petal.    As flowers unfurl, they reach a point of perfection and then slowly begin to deteriorate the more they open.  The petals become more fragile, look slightly bruised and the stems and petals start drooping.   It is this process that Diana captures so well.

We discovered Diana some 10 years ago when we bought a big glorious rendition of waxy orange tulips on a black background.  This painting lived on my balcony in Paddington for many years and it never failed to bring us pleasure.

Diana’s  still life paintings are also wonderful.   She recently received the exciting news that Rick Stein had purchased one of her still life paintings of lemons.  This painting is hanging in one of his restaurants in Padstow in the UK.  The Stein group have now asked her permission for copyright to use the image of her painting on their new menus! 

I chatted to Diana Watson earlier today and asked her a couple of questions:

What time of the day do you paint?  

DW:  I paint all day really - off and on - I start at 9.00 and usually end at 4.30.  

Are you disciplined to paint every day?

DW:  I guess I am,  yes - I am driven!

Were you a keen drawer as a child?  

DW:  Yes I was.  I remember sitting on my father's knee and I remember him teaching me how to draw horses.  We lived on a horse stud in Perth. 

Where do you find the flowers that you paint?  

DW: I pick them walking around Kirribilli and also sometimes buy them from the florist.  I photograph flowers and have a huge library of photos.  I sometimes wish I had access to a big country garden!             

Is the painting of flowers your ultimate genre or do you think you might move on to something else?   

DW: I love painting fabric and I guess that's always been a challenge for me.  One can view these works on my website  under the heading 'Nova'.  I had an exhibition showing these works in Perth a while ago.

What do you do to relax?  

DW: I love sewing!  Anything from wedding dresses to linen kimonos which I have made for the girls in my family.  I have managed to source some amazing linens and have  made an entire summer wardrobe for myself!

I loved chatting to Diana and found her to be a really inspirational woman!

Her forthcoming exhibition entitled "Campo de Fiori" is in Double Bay at The Frances Keevil Gallery  and opens This coming weekend…. beginning 6 August.  

Showing the huge scale of some of Diana's artworks


White lace

Summers end

Wild Flowers

Her paintings in real life are incredible!  If you have time over the weekend do stop by and have a look!

Saturday, 30 July 2016


A gentle place, where time stands still

This great photo was taken by Nicolas Neyret, a photographer living in Boussac whom I met on the day I left!

What is it about Boussac? ... I have asked myself and others this question so often.  Boussac is a small market town in the Creuse - a rural Department slap bang in the middle of France.  It is a town that is difficult to get to.  There are numerous ways to get here, by train and plane, but there is always a drive involved and it does become tedious!  We have been wondering whether the TGV will, in fact, be routed nearby as was once suggested... 
  Of course,  this also ensures that Boussac remains in some sort of time warp as tourists seldom choose Boussac as their destination.  

We have loved our quiet holidays here and this time was no exception.  I love to cook when I am in France.  There are the markets where locally grown fresh produce is beautifully displayed in colourful wooden crates.  I love Thursdays in Boussac when the markets come to town.  I normally sling the basket over my shoulder and take the short walk up to the square where the hustle and bustle of the stalls going up begins at 6.00 in the morning.  

My first stop is usually the  mobile Poulet Roti van where I buy a farm reared, roasted chicken or poulet fermier.  There is usually a queue and it is always good to get there early!   Predictably, Thursday lunch is cold chicken and a salad!   Poulet au Pot, seen below, is one of my favourite things to cook in Boussac as the chickens in France are so delicious, always tasting like 'old-fashioned' chickens!  This dish is so easy to prepare, so hearty and comforting on a chilly evening.

My preparations for Poulet au Pot

This year, we arrived in Boussac just in time to catch the last of the white asparagus season.  I adore the subtle flavour of these ivory spears.  The photo below was taken just before I cooked them.  I usually add the white spears to a salad or alternatively, serve them with lashings of butter and lemon juice!

Although I love cooking in France,  I also like to prepare dishes that are easy and summery.  Loads of roasted capsicum,  grilled zucchini, green salads, gently saute'ed fennel and new potatoes, always accompanied by plenty of fresh herbs.    Duck breasts, cooked on the BBQ, beef fillets, veal cutlets and fresh fish are our favourites.

Our beautiful 14thC church square.  There are sometimes wonderful concerts held in this church - piano recitals and opera are delightful to experience inside these ancient walls.  Sometimes, we loiter outside enjoying the sounds drifting out of the doors and windows...

When the weather starts warming up the doors on the small balcony off my bedroom stay open all day.

The warm sunlit evenings means eating in the garden which is such a pleasure.  We have an old Tulip tree sitting in the middle of the parterre garden and the table beneath is in the shade all day.  

I also took to walking each evening at 9.00pm with my neighbour and dear friend Deirdre.  We were grateful for the street lights which guided our return as the evenings grow dark around 10.00pm.  
The 15thC Chateau de Boussac which we pass by on our evening walk.

One of the little cottages which nestle on the flat area beneath the Chateau.
The little river and waterfall beneath the Chateau is always such a lovely sight.
Some random photos of the house and garden follow.
The seating area in the library

View out of the library window onto the garden

The other side of the library
The Long room early one morning

The table in the dining room before lunch, when the weather was chilly.

Taken early one morning with the first rays just touching the house. 

We get exciting electrical storms in Boussac and the two photos above show the build-up.  There was lots of thunder and lightening and hail after this particular storm!
View to the dining room from the tiny kitchen

One sweet corner of the garden

View from my bathroom window

The tiny kitchen where everything is possible!

Happy weekend everyone!

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