Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raclette, Champagne and Family

When Vlad and I visited my French family in the Champagne region of France this fall, we left with a giant bottle of it - a magnum, to take home and drink with the boys.  The bottle sat on the credenza for the two-month-wait and finally, Christmas Eve was the appointed time to crack open the bottle.

Patrick, my cousin, works a few weeks every year at a local Champagne winery and takes home cases of it in payment for his work.

Now,  a magnum is equivalent to two regular bottles.  It's a hefty thing and one must take care when pouring it into the delicate champagne flutes.

One could even say that a two-handed approach is recommended.  So Vlad poured and poured and we drank and drank.  We decided to take the remaining Champagne to the dinner table to have with our Christmas Eve raclette.  Raclette is a type of nutty, deliciously-flavoured melting cheese that you melt by inserting into little Teflon pans over the heating element in a raclette pan. Atop of the cheese-melting compartment is a Teflon grill upon which one can cook an assortment of blanched vegetables and marinated meats.  I'm sure that marinated tofu could be grilled as well as an assortment of seafood.


Our two boys all grown up.  We had the best Christmas Eve just hanging out and talking and looking at old pictures.

Tristan is back from Chicago for 5 months until his residency starts.  It's a blessing to have this last opportunity to be with him before he goes off to start his life in a faraway place.

In the meantime, I love having him home, as do his Dad and brother.

I wish all of you the warmest, cuddliest, joyful holidays.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Knittin' and a Bakin'

To say I've been busy is an understatement.  My boy is home from Chicago and will be with us until we drive back there with him to settle him into a new apartment and a new job.  He begins his residency on July 1st.

Christmas for French Canadians means tourtière and sugar pie.  I made sugar tartlettes with Ricardo's recipe and they are delicious.  I've written about my Mom's recipe for tourtière here.

Since my return from France, I've been bitten with the knitting bug... or is it the snow and below zero temperatures?  Anyhow, the project at the top is Jo Sharp's Shrug knit in Kidsilk Aura which is mohair and silk , after that, Churchmouse Yarns and Teas Alexandra's Airplane Scarf made with Kidsilk Haze which will take eons to knit.  I talked about it in my previous post and have gotten about 30% of it knitted. The last project is a pair of Toe up socks by Churchmouse Yarns and Teas and my first pair knit entirely by myself.  This pattern makes you knit a tube and later, when removing the provisional yarn you so cleverly placed previously, you make the heel... I'm going to knit the two tubes and deal with the two heels afterwards.

A housefull of men, a window seat full of yarn, countless books on my tablet, I am ready to take on winter.  Bring it on!

xo Stella

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cold Weather Comforts

Since it's December, I can play Christmas music just like  My Mom used to do. We would grin and bear it but now I understand why she did it.  It's so uplifting.

I am counting my blessings as I got a last minute contract that brought it a little cash just before Christmas, my big boy is coming home and I am not working for the next month.  Today, it's gray and mild outside with just a little snow but I don't mind.  I'm inside doing housecleaning and knitting in rotation and enjoying my time alone before Vlad and Damien get back from work.

I'm knitting Churchmouse Yarn and Teas's interminable "Alexandra's Airplane Scarf".  It's just knit, knit, knit on circular needles with the finest Kidsilk Haze yarn.  BUT, I am doing the beaded version by inserting six beads every thirteenth row.
Where do the beads come from you ask?  Even if you didn't ask, I am going to tell you because there's a good story behind it.
This summer in Provence, while visiting with my friend Nelly, I asked her about the scrap of fabric with beads dangling from it that she'd offered to give me the previous year.  I must have been hit by lightning back then because I said no, that I wouldn't know what to do with it.

Turns out, it's a fabric segment from a 1920s FLAPPER DRESS!  After thinking about it for a year, I hoped and prayed that it was still available.  When I asked, Nelly just plucked it from a corner in her vast repository of antiques and said: "Here you go, I was keeping it for you!"

I have since started a board on Pinterest called Wearable Art where I dribble and drool over clothes that were made in a time when many gifted needleworkers made a life making beautiful clothes for other people.  Granted, these people can still be found today at Dior and Chanel...

Speaking of Dior, yesterday on Netflix I viewed a very interesting documentary called Dior and I, on the preparation of a "season" by the then new designer at Dior.  Raf Simons has since left the house and gone on to greener pastures but I must say that I loved watching the talent behind the famous couture name.  The buzzing back room "atelier" reunites a cast of very, very talented people who are given the task of making what the designer has in his mind...

On the same note, I also watched Iris a number of weeks ago.  It's a documentary about nonagenarian Iris Apfel who, despite her age, dresses to kill and is the most ardent connoisseur and flaunteur of accessories you could ever meet.

Two inspiring movies that make you want to engage your creativity and MAKE something.  I think making things is an integral part of our humanity and if we don't make something, a pie, a scarf, a dress, a tutor, a bench, a steam engine, a garden, a balloon animal or a pretty room, there's a big hole in your chest cavity that hurts until you can feast your eyes on the thing you made that delights you and others too.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Gentle on my Mind

I seem to have caught the cold that is going around. Both my men at home have it, my sister had it and now it's my turn.  I'm taking care of it today, lots of fluids, rest and throat drops to douse the bug and hopefully, have a weaker version of the darn thing...

So I've been reading and knitting and catching up with friends in France just to connect, tell them that I love them and am thinking about them in the wake of the horrific events of yesterday...

I watched two wonderful if dramatically different films on Netflix today.  One is based on the long-time, best-selling book:  Autobiography of a Yogi and is titled: Awake, The Life of the Yogananda, and the other is I'll Be Me, a documentary of Glen Campbell's last road trip as told by his wife, family and friends.

I'm very touched by this piece of work.  It's meaningful and generous and informative and Hey!, it's about Glen Campbell...

I remember thinking he wasn't my cup of tea when my Mom would hum his tunes but I've since grown up and seen the error of my ways.  Glen Campbell is magnificent.  A talented musician, a guitar player hors pair, a steadfast entertainer and a generally very decent (and sometimes naughty) human being.
I have a late-life crush on this guy.  His songs fill my heart and remind me of days when the long summers would stretch into the fall and I would hop on my bike on a Saturday and head for the giant culvert behind the college and just lie on my back and chew on the tender ends of weeds that grew by the side of the road.   I hadn't a care in the world and whenever I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, the culvert was just a short bike-ride away and the rivers of my memory would carry me down the flowing water to wherever I wanted to be.

At the end of the documentary, The Band Perry plays Gentle on my Mind and I think it's the best rendering, after Glen's, of course, that I have ever heard.  Let it take you where you want to go, to sweeter, gentler, more carefree times...



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Back in the Saddle

We've been home for a week today and the jet lag is almost behind us.  Yesterday, I started making lists and getting ready for the next two months.  Sounds a little uptight?  Well, lists work for me and keep me on track plus, there are a number of things that I have to get done before January when I start teaching again.

Then, there's Christmas.

One of the things I did yesterday was take stock of my knitting projects.  Which ones have to be done for when.  I just added two small projects for two friends in France.   Winter in Provence is mostly single-digit weather that can be cold because of the humidity, which makes it perfect to wear woollens.  I am knitting each one fingerless gloves that they can pull up or down because there's no thumb gusset.  Toast is the pattern that I have used to make at least ten pair of these already.

Espresso for Nelly who is an authentic "autumn" and New Jeans for Élisabeth who has favored navy this fall for her new wardrobe purchases.

It's good to be home and to get on with my Canadian life.  Yoga, meditation, knitting, sewing,  cooking, weight lifting, and stationary bicycling are on the agenda for the next two months.  With a sprinkling of outings, reading circle meetings and a couple days work-for-pay, the next two months are gloriously stacked up for fun and productivity.

Tristan is off to Chicago to begin his first round of interviews for residency, Damien is working full-time as a personal coach and doing a course towards qualifying for his next training and Vlad is working part-time with student teachers until he gets the call for his hip surgery in December or January.

In the meantime, I'll be writing in my gratitude journal, catching up with friends and steering the family ship into a fun and relaxing Christmas holiday...



Saturday, October 17, 2015

To Do List

We've hung the chandelier I purchased at the second hand store.  I like it.  With 8 days left before our return trip home, we are committed to crossing off every little thing on the to do list.  We will not be back for 10 months...



P.S. It's cooler this October than it was last year but the sun shines bright still.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Quilts of Provence

Many years ago, I purchased this book because I love fabric and I have a particular appreciation for the quilts of Provence or boutis as they are often called.  Boutis is a

Provençal word meaning 'stuffing', describing how two layers of fabric are quilted together with stuffing sandwiched between sections of the design, creating a raised effect.

These quilts whether intact or in pieces, are difficult to find as collectors have been scouring the region for many, many years...  I was telling my friend C. that antique French textiles are like cash to me.  I do not have any antique quilt pieces but I do have some antique flax and linen and their weight and texture remind of the long process women undertook to create essential linens to keep their family warm or to use in the kitchen...

Photos via Kathryn Berenson
This week, Corey brought over her collection of antique quilt fragments and we pieced them together to make cushions for her bed. Needless to say, I was a little humbled by the idea of sewing 18th century fabric.  The stitches, the filling, the fragility of the fabrics and the beauty of the dyes were a treat though.  (I have since read that often, the filling used in many boutis is silk.  This October in Provence is atypically cold and I understand the need for the warm and insulation of silk in bed linens.)
In the end, we made two shams in an Ikat print (back right) , a neck roll (lower front),  a small rectangular envelope of boutis (light blue pillow) with a red print inner pillow and a square pillow with blue and white ticking and on one side and Kelsch, a navy and cream check. Kelsch is a traditional linen from the Alsace region of France. See upper left hand corner of the photo.  The floral blue and red fabric on the right is from a quilt and remains to be sewn into two small pillows.

Corey Amaro via Instagram

There is an informative video about French provencal boutis/quilts with Martha Stewart and Kathryn Berenson, author and collector,  here.


Friday, October 9, 2015


I was going to have a restful day because yesterday we were in Aix all morning and all afternoon at the market and in the shops.  Aix is a royal treat because it's a stunningly beautiful little city and because the weather was mild and sunny and because the shopping is so good.

I was going to putter around the house and do little jobs like vacuuming the cupboards and straightening out the contents of the entryway dresser.  As I was making this list of little things to do, the phone rang.  It was my friend Corey who was at a chateau and invited me to come over, help a little with tags and such and have a look around.

Despite the big day in Aix and the little sleep I got last night, I acquiesced, knowing that it was going to be magnificent.

And it was... Although the ruined chateau was heartbreaking, it provided a splendid backdrop for rummaging through antiques, lunch in the back yard by the reflective pool and general goofing around, oohing and aahing about this, that and the other 18th century or 19th century thing.

I came home after five hours that flew by like five minutes with my treasures: antique wallpaper and matching trim to make a panel for the downstairs loo, baskets for the top of the kitchen cupboards, a grain sack, a pretty cushion made with red and white ticking and a partial plaster cast of a woman's face.

I marvel at what exceptional experiences life throws my way and feel humbled by my good fortune.


Friday, October 2, 2015

My Ancestors, the Percherons

Amongst my ancestors from France, are the ones that come from Perche in Lower Normandy.  I also have ancestors from Upper Normandy, Paris, Poitou-Charentes and Brittany.

On this trip, we visited the region where several of my 11th generation grandfathers and some grandmothers, come from.

Le Perche is only about two hours west of Paris.

This plaque commemorates the Tourouviens who immigrated to Canada.  Mine are the Gagnons.
This is the Gagnonnière, the original Gagnon farm with outbuildings

 The three buildings today are inhabited by Parisians who seek the quiet and natural beauty of the countryside.  While we were there, the owner of the original house above welcomed us with great patience.  There are many, many Gagnon descendants who visit La Gagnonnière.

Indeed the Perche is perfectly pastoral and will soften the heart of the most hardened city dweller in less than half a day. We were immediately taken as well with the kind-hearted, Canadian-loving Percherons who have long been aware of the close ties that unite us.



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Story

My friend Rose is the one who introduced me to Vaux-le-Vicomte via a beautiful coffee table cookbook she had at her store, Wellington.  A couple of years later, I picked it up at a used bookstore online and wrote about it here.

Rose also told me about a writer Ina Caro, who had a novel approach to visiting monuments and castles and the like in France, by century.  I discussed this book here.

We have just now returned from our annual triplet as described here.  We went to Vaux-le-Vicomte and had a blast whizzing around the huge gardens in a golf cart as proposed by Caro in her book.

Vaux is owned by the comte de Vogüé and his wife.  His mother was a Sommier and the chateau has been in the Sommier family since 1875.

For the sake of the story, notice the dépendances (outbuildings) on  either side of the castle.

After Vaux, we headed to Perche country, where many of my French ancestors come from.  We had a reservation at a 17th century B & B run single handedly by the lovely Jackie. 

Before we left her house after our second day there, we talked of Vaux and what a beautiful place it is.  Jackie then said that she had never been there but her uncle Emile lived in the chateau's dépendances because his father was a coachman for the Sommier family.   She then recounted that old madame Sommier had a liking for Emile and kept in touch with him until her death.  Jackie said: "As a matter of fact, when he did his first communion, she gave him a missal that she had specially engraved.  I think I have it around here somewhere..."

Loosely translated, the message inscribed says that she will never forget him and she hopes that the missal will help him remember her.

How's that for a (his) story?


Thursday, September 24, 2015


 My friend Nelly is an antiques dealer.  Yesterday, we went over late afternoon to chat over tea and cookies and for me to look over some of her stash to see what I could see...

 I bought some ribbon, a couple hats to put up on the wall by the staircase and a black-beaded necklace.  And then, we stayed for supper...

Nelly's daughter and her husband were visiting and were supposed to leave before supper but they stayed to contribute their particular specialties to the dinner fare.  Valerie made Socca, Renaud made Pistou for the pâtes au pistou and Nelly made a roasted vegetable salad.  Alain purchased bread and a fantastic head cheese which was free of the offensive bits you can sometimes find in head cheese.

The ambiance, as you can see, was magical but best of all were the hosts.  Kindness, a passion for life and a love of people and beauty were in abundance...

Nelly's house is, I'm guessing, 17th century. A maison de ville (town house) with garage on the street level, kitchen and living room next up followed by bedroom and bath and lastly, a studio with terrace at the top.  The tile on the first floor is original and gorgeous.  Visiting Nelly's is pure eye candy.

We will meet again in October when her town hosts a vide-grenier, a community-wide garage sale.

I. can't. wait.