I have another interview today with someone who has lived in France and travelled almost as far as you can go to get here. Annemarie and Steve Rawson left New Zealand behind to work in Southwest France as estate managers/guardians of several properties in succession in the Tarn. Sadly, I didn’t meet them while they were here, although being based near Gaillac, they weren’t that far away.
Annemarie has written two books about their experiences here, My French Platter and My French Platter Replenished. I have read and enjoyed both of them and recognised so many things about la vie Française I have also experienced. Book details below.
Annemarie is clearly a fabulous cook, one of her tasks in her guardian jobs, and both books include recipes at the end. She has kindly given me permission to copy a recipe from Book 1, My French Platter, so for chocoholics like me out there, please find her Chocolate Terrine below.
Life on La Lune: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Annemarie. First off, I’m sure readers will be keen to know what led you and Steve to leave New Zealand and live in France for a while.
Annemarie: Thank you for getting in touch! There were many factors behind our decision. Firstly, it was having loved our previous trips through France. As much as I loved the cities we visited for their beautiful architecture, museums and little back streets we could wander, it was the pull of the countryside with its pretty villages, markets and slower pace of life that drew me to France.
During the six months after we returned to New Zealand from a trip, I was constantly online looking for jobs there and trying to figure out how we could make it work. Steve had a British passport, spoke French very well and was coming to the end of a contract when I found the perfect job for us. The stars aligned and the timing was just right.
How did it feel to leave behind the security of jobs, your house and familiar people and places?
Funnily enough, I didn’t think too much about leaving everybody and everything. Only once, when we had a big leaving party at our place and lots of family and friends were there. I had a real pull on the heartstrings then. However, it was so exciting to be doing something so different. People thought us mad. Of course, there were times living at our first assignment, that I really missed our friends, particularly our two sons.
During your stays, you worked as guardians of properties for clients in the area around Gaillac in the Tarn. What was the attraction of that area?
We didn’t choose the area, the Tarn chose us. That was where the first job was based, so that’s where we went. Steve and I had never travelled through that part of the country, so it was a joy to discover such unspoilt and beautiful villages and people during our time there. So many were not part of the usual tourist trail.
Life on La Lune: it’s true that you don’t need to go far in this region to find picturesque and unspoilt places that are not over-touristy, especially out of season.
Living and working in a country is obviously very different from visiting it on holiday. What did you find about life here that you weren’t expecting?
I agree, but I can’t really think of anything that we weren’t expecting. It was more about adjusting to. Such as the opening hours and days of shops and supermarkets. In New Zealand we can shop all day and seven days of the week. In France there was the two-hour closure for lunch for a lot of shops and the smaller supermarkets (8 à Huit) in the country towns. We needed to plan our shopping around those hours – and don’t forget the milk! That was a way of life I came to respect, once we got used to it. It was a great work/life balance.
Life on La Lune: we were also tripped up by the two-hour lunch break when we first moved here in 1997. Then, even the big supermarkets closed for lunch. But I do agree that it’s a more civilised and less fraught way of life.
You and Steve are clearly very gregarious people. What differences did you find in the way French people socialise compared to Anglophones?
Yes, we are outgoing people, and at first I think some of the older and more formal French were a little taken aback by us but then warmed to our relaxed personalities and accepted our invitations to drinks or dinner with alacrity!
What I loved most was how important family and the Sunday lunch were: almost sacrosanct. French people thought nothing of driving several hours to be with their parents and siblings for a lunch that went on for hours.
You are obviously a fantastic cook, and your descriptions of the feasts you cooked up for clients made my mouth water! What challenges did shopping for ingredients and cooking in a foreign country present?
Knowing I had to cook for a crowd wasn’t daunting, it was interpreting what I knew I needed into what was available in the French supermarkets. That was the hard part. When we travelled as tourists we’d just pick up bits and pieces we needed to throw a meal together. Not having to find the likes of say, baking powder to bake and cook with.
Luckily for me, a friend’s English cousin lived near Montpellier, had lived in France for years and was a fabulous cook. She came and stayed with us for three days, took me through the supermarket aisles and showed me exactly what I needed, and which was the best product to use. She was a lifesaver! My useless kitchen at the first job was incredibly difficult too.
Which was your favourite market in the region?
Oh, it’s so hard to choose a favourite market in our region. Most of them were fabulous for all the fresh vegetables they offered, charcuterie, music and the coming together of locals for their weekly catch-up. St Antonin-Noble-Val was definitely a favourite.
The smell of Toulouse sausage cooking and the chickens on the rotisserie with the fat dripping down, cooking the tiny French potatoes at the bottom was too hard to resist. Always, we had a sausage there and sometimes bought a chicken and the delicious potatoes.
Of course, our hometown market of Gaillac was excellent as well, and Steve would spend ages chatting with the cheese man at his van about his selection that day! At Gaillac there was both an indoor and outdoor market.
Life on La Lune: St Antonin’s market is a good one, although I find it a little crowded for my taste. I prefer the Sunday market in Limogne, but that’s a bit far from your former stamping ground.
Did you ever consider staying on in France and running your own hospitality business?
Oh yes, we most certainly did investigate running our own place in France. That would have been the best solution to our initial problems there. However, the practicality of it would have meant we’d have to sell our home in Auckland in order to fund it and, at that stage, we had no idea how long we’d be staying in France. There was also the pull of family back home, so it was easier to work for others – just not the people we first worked for!
When you were in France, what did you miss most about New Zealand, apart from family and friends?
I was often asked this question while living in France. I can honestly say there was nothing I missed about New Zealand, apart from family and old friends. We had it all on our doorstep where we lived near Gaillac. Yes, NZ has incredible scenery but so does France. If we wanted city life, we could get in the car and go and enjoy it.
And now you’re back in New Zealand, what do you miss most about France?
Initially, I missed the time taken to share good food, wine and time with family and friends. The French and Italians know how to do this well. Life there is about food and family, and I think they were the first to start the ‘slow’ movement around the world.
It was coming into summer when we returned to New Zealand, so once settled back in our house, we did a sit-down lunch for 22 on our balcony. It was fabulous, and we just took our time to enjoy our friends, the food and the wine. That was our first interpretation of life in France, transferred to New Zealand.
Have you visited France since your employment here? And when are you coming back (Covid permitting), so that I can get to meet you?
Yes, we have been back to France three times since working there to catch up with the lovely friends we made. Summer 2022 we’ll be back again, and we’ll most definitely meet up, Vanessa.
Life on La Lune: I shall look forward to that!
Finally, what advice would you give someone planning to live and work in France for a while?
My advice would be to research thoroughly what your status would be when working in France, how you pay tax, get into the health system and also the area you think you might want to live. So important to not be too remote from a doctor and a supply of good food!
Thank you, Annemarie. What you did was a little bit different from what most people moving here do. It’s been fascinating to learn about your experiences.
Now for that recipe…
- 75 g (2.5 oz) dark chocolate, melted
- 7 egg yolks
- 125 g (4.5 oz) caster sugar
- Scant tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
- 50 g (scant 2 oz) clear honey
- 140 g (scant 5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 85 g (3 oz) cocoa powder
- 225 ml (8 fl oz) double cream, whipped
- Dash of Cognac
- Butter a loaf tin and line with cling film.
- Mix together, one by one, the egg yolks, caster sugar, coffee mixture and clear honey into the melted chocolate.
- Mix softened butter with cocoa powder then add to the first mixture.
- Next fold in the whipped cream, 1/3 at a time, and add the Cognac.
- Pour into the loaf tin, fold the cling film over firmly and neatly, then freeze.
- Serve straight from the freezer with a warm knife to slice through evenly.
Where to find Annemarie
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