Nicola Harrington - guest blogger living in France with 7 holiday rental gites

Nicola Harrington

At about this time each year, I really enjoy getting hold of all the ingredients for baking Christmas cakes. How exciting! Christmas really feels round the corner and bringing a bit of British gastronomy to La Belle France feels particularly satisfying.

Baking Christmas cakes put aside, this is also the time of year when I always feel like the time has come for some house decorating. Strange, I know. Why now of all seasons? Well, I think possibly because the days are so short at the moment, the weather isn’t so good, and the great outdoors isn’t particularly inviting, so now seems as good a time as any for some house painting and maintenance… Just as well we have six gites to maintain!

If you add my two current favourite pastimes together, i.e. baking and decorating, it may all of a sudden appear a little overwhelming, but I enjoy both equally as I find them so therapeutic and rewarding. They bring out the creative side hidden inside of me in equal measure and I particularly love the fact that they are so very different from one another, each providing a satisfying result in its own way.

Today I started in earnest: I arrived at La Maison Creme nice and early, intending to redecorate the downstairs bedroom, the downstairs toilet, and the upstairs double bedroom. As I walked through the hall, I noticed that the paintwork there was looking a little tired too, and since I had all the stuff out I thought I might as well tackle the hall stairwell and landing as well. Oh, that flush of enthusiasm when you start a project! Was I being overly optimistic?

Well, it seems not, as I just managed to finish painting the last wall before 4.30 pm, but I was still a little late collecting Iona and Joe from school.

As I arrived outside the school gates, 9 mothers turned and stared… then I realised I must have paint in my hair… oh yes, not only that but also splattered all over my face! Not a great look, to be fair.

Very solemnly, one mother turned and said very seriously: ‘Thankfully, you don’t live in a town, Nicole.’

Another woman who was carrying a huge basket was pushed towards me.

‘Nicole, we’ve bought 5kg of flour so that you can make the Christmas cakes for the Christmas fête.’

Help… I’d completely forgotten all about offering to bake the cakes. The school Christmas fête is planned for 4th December. That is less than 3 weeks away.

‘How many cakes would you like?’ I ask

‘Well, we already have orders for 7, so how about 9?’

I might just get them baked, marzipanned, and iced if I make one a day from tomorrow.

At least now I have the flour and I can indulge in my love of hunting for the other ingredients: mixed dried fruit (I often use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes and even figs), Brandy, sherry, whisky, rum (blow it, I use them all, nothing beats a nice, nutty, boozy Christmas cake!), lots of nuts (brazils, pecans, walnuts, etc.) and almonds, and the list goes on.

All that is left to say is wish me luck, please: once I have washed my face and hair from all that paint and made myself presentable, I shall be diving into that huge bag of flour. I need to make sure the school mums don’t pop over any time soon, as the result will probably be very similar to the one this morning, with the flour having replaced the paint in my hair and on my face!

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