On stillness and soul food

68 comments

My mornings in France have taken on the kind of familiarity I feel restored by, as I discover and accept that I am just as much a creature of habit and routine as I am of change and adventure. Perhaps even more so.

I wake perched precariously on the edge of our bed, with Lee fast asleep on the other side, and our resident cat sprawled lazily across the vast gap between us, the King of the castle. As the only early riser in this temporary household, the mornings are mine alone, and have fast become my favourite part of the day.

I pull on a sweater and stand at the kitchen window while the kettle boils, gazing sleepily at the cloak of mist that invariably carpets the hills beyond the chateau, rolling and rising like the sea. I walk from room to room, drawing back curtains and pushing open shutters, the closeness of winter hanging in the air like a whispered promise; inevitable and true.

And so the days begin, with coffee and quiet reverie. I had plans of regular walks in the morning stillness, but the biting cold and my apparent inability to get out of my pyjamas much before noon have relegated this to an occasional stroll through the grounds, most often spurned by my growing passion for foraging, or the occasional visitor to the chateau.

This past week, it was the turn of my dear friend Monica, who was given the grand tour of all my favourite country corners, where we stuffed our pockets with the few remaining figs that still clung to barren branches, revelled in the beauty of the frost-trimmed leaves, and harvested some delicate lavender stems for a recipe I had been saving for just such an occasion.

Food has become such an integral part of my experience here in France, I suppose as is only right in a country famed for its culinary acumen. From learning to recognise wild fruits and vegetables, to filling my basket at the weekly market, to researching recipes on Pinterest, to finally, and most importantly, indulging my burgeoning passion for baking, food is never far from my mind, or my mouth for that matter. For weeks I had been tempting Monica with photos of home-cooked offerings, so when she finally caved and booked a last minute flight from New York to Paris, it was inevitable that food would bear prominence over her time here.

And so we began with lavender, the tender stems standing proud of their frozen bushes as they silently guard the front of the chateau. I knew I wanted to cook with these fragrant flowers, and had already found a deliciously tempting recipe for lemon and lavender cookies that Monica and I soon set about bringing to life. While Frank Sinatra sang out from my laptop, we donned our aprons, filled our wine glasses, and began.

Sifting and kneading, rolling and cutting, it was a perfect afternoon made all the more sweet by being together for the first time since January, when Monica visited me in India, excitedly breathing in the aroma of cookies turning golden in the oven. In all honesty, our first batch overcooked to a slightly less tempting shade of brown, but the second were cooked to perfection, and with a slick of frosting and a sprinkle of lavender on top, it was time for the best part of all: eating them.

The cookies were a sublime balance of tartness and perfume, and we loved them so much that I thought it would be nice to share them with you too. As such, I have put together a little printable recipe sheet, featuring some hand-drawn flourishes I enjoyed sketching almost as much as I enjoyed eating the cookies themselves. It’s free to download, and available here. Please feel free to print out as many copies as you like, and share it with all of your friends. I hope you will enjoy the cookies as much as we did!

The days that followed were spent attempting yet more recipes, some with greater success than others (I officially make the worst pumpkin gnocchi in the world. My friend Brian, on the other hand, makes the best I’ve ever had). We then ventured out in search of food prepared by professionals, driving to the neighbouring medieval villages of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, and Montpezat, 13th and 14th century beauties nestled deep in the heart of the Midi-Pyrénées.

Our numbered days together passed all too quickly, as such times are want to do, though not before a fleeting trip to Paris, where food remained at the forefront of our minds. This deserves, and will receive, a post all of its own, but despite Paris being, well, Paris, this was not the part of Monica’s visit that will remain the fondest in my memory. Instead, I will think of the laughter, the deepened bond, the dusting of flour that still remains in the crevices of the kitchen. I will think of the food we made together, the tangible feast we will feel nourished by for years to come.

Now, back amongst the quiet of my work and my boys (Lee and the cat!), the wash of joy that has tinted my life since our arrival in France seems brighter than ever. So many wonderful things have graced our path in such a short space of time, things I am excited to share with you in the coming weeks and months. Amongst this heady mixture of time and stillness, life is happening at a pace far greater than that of the past year out on the road.

Though the mornings are spent in sweatpants and slippers, and I spend more time looking at the countryside from behind paned glass than treading a path across it, I am still moving in the right direction. I have learnt that life tastes all the more sweet when you give it space to simply be, unaided or planned. This time in our lives is like a delicious treat I will savour forever. In the words of Julia Child, Bon appétit.

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Missed the lemon and lavender cookie recipe? It’s free to download, and available here. Holy deliciousness.

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{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Monica December 13, 2013 at 22:10

Hannah, this is such a sweet tribute to our time together and to the life you are wrapping yourself in day by day. I’m so honored to share a small part of your grand adventure. And those cookies…. Mmmmm…. Here’s to many more delicious memories! BON APPETIT ;)
Monica recently posted..Grand Opening: Welcome Home

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:20

It was a joy to spend this time with you my dear, and I’m so grateful to you for flying all this way! Here’s to more shared laughter and afternoons of baking in 2014…

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Sandy Frankfort December 13, 2013 at 23:09

Dearest Hannah,

You are such a beautiful soul and your eloquent expression soothes and inspires me. I feel like I’ve known you for years and I am so grateful we are connected in this life. I enjoy every word, photo, song, and piece of you that you generously share with all of us. I look forward to meeting in person one day…somewhere. xoxo

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:23

Thank you so much for your wonderfully kind words Sandy, they truly mean the world. I’m so happy that you have been enjoying the blog, and I too look forward to meeting you in person one day. I am certain it will happen x

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Rhonda December 13, 2013 at 23:43

Thanks so much for the lovely photos and words… I always feels transported to your temporary home when reading your thoughts. And thank you VERY much for what looks to be a delightful recipe!
Rhonda recently posted..Foto Friday

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:24

Thank you Rhonda, your continued support means so much to me. I hope you will enjoy the cookies, they really are delicious!

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Rhonda August 11, 2014 at 20:12

Hannah! I FINALLY made your cookies yesterday and they are delicious ~ Jim can’t stop raving about them. I did include a photo on our facebook page (jim rhonda delameter) if you’d like to check them out. Of course, I think yours are a bit prettier:) Thanks again and I hope life is finding you well out of the chateau. You have been quite absent from blogging so let us know where you are! (other than in Spain with Carmel and Shawn) XOXO

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Hannah August 12, 2014 at 10:02

Ah, that’s so great to hear, thanks for letting me know! The blog has suffered as our business has boomed, but we have big things in the works so stick with me – a new post isn’t too far away :)

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Steph December 14, 2013 at 02:54

Having had the joy of meeting you in person, I feel like lemon + lavender is the perfect Hannah combination. :) I’m glad that life in France continues to be so sweet!
Steph recently posted..Chewing the Fat with One Giant Step!

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:27

That is so sweet, Steph! I hope all is well with you and Tony, and that our paths will cross again soon – I would love the chance to cook for you both :)

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 05:50

Hannah, first, I miss the chateau. You describe it so perfectly, I can see you standing there in the kitchen in the morning waiting for the kettle to boil. Second, you tried the pumpkin gnocci recipe!!! I think it might take a couple of attempts to perfect. Finally, love the photos, they’re beautiful as always.
Kim recently posted..What a year it’s been

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:30

Oh Kim, you would have laughed so hard if you had seen my appalling attempt at recreating Brian’s masterpiece! It was a very sad dinner that night indeed!!! You guys will have to come back so you can teach me how to do it properly…

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Charlie December 14, 2013 at 08:29

Such beautiful photos and words, you really have a knack of making a moment in time come alive. Lavender and lemon sound delicious. I’m not really one for cookies but this flavour in a cake would be perfect, think I’ll do a little baking today!

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Hannah December 14, 2013 at 14:31

Thank you Charlie, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I have seen recipes for lemon and lavender cake, so I’m certain it would make for a wonderful day of baking. Let me know how you get on!

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Colleen Brynn December 14, 2013 at 23:24

I just love your closing words. This is how I try to approach life, hard as it may be sometimes, but I always know that it is those times, when I successfully manage to let life just be, that I am unequivocally that happiest.
Those cookies look amazing, and I love that scarf! x
Colleen Brynn recently posted..The Wedding

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Hannah December 15, 2013 at 09:31

Yes, it is not always easy to relinquish the reigns a little and simply allow ourselves to enjoy the ride, bit I too have found that it is precisely in doing so that the real joy of life is found. I’m glad my words resonated with you, and I hope you get to try the cookie recipe one day! Oh, and the scarf, should you be interested, is from Zara :)

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Victoria December 15, 2013 at 22:58

Gorgeously evocative, Hannah. I really want one of those biscuits!
Victoria recently posted..A weekend by the beach in Bali

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Hannah December 16, 2013 at 09:31

Thank you my dear – I hope you get the chance to try the recipe, they are so delicious!

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Elisa Choi December 16, 2013 at 09:29

Hannah I enjoyed your words and photos. such sweetness of life and that is the present! Have you been baking in the past? That was really good cookies.. will try it soon! :)
Elisa Choi recently posted..Woman at Ayala Triangle

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Hannah December 16, 2013 at 09:33

Thank you Elisa, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I have never really done much baking before – this was my first time making cookies, but I had Monica’s help so I can’t take all the credit!

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Mike Gothard December 16, 2013 at 16:08

Sigh…your photographs and post are lovely, as always, Hannah. Hope your guys have a special holiday season.

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Hannah December 16, 2013 at 20:44

Thank you Mike, that is praise indeed coming from such a talented photographer as yourself! It’s lovely to know you are still following our journey after all this time, and I wish you a very special holiday season too. I hope the year ahead is filled with joy for you.

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Lunaguava December 16, 2013 at 19:40

I am greatly enjoying your stay in the French countryside and the stories you share. You are a very gifted writer. You seem to have eased into a state of hushed domesticity, similar to what we are currently experiencing in Guatemala, by Lake Atitlán. Your photos are remarkable as ever, but the second photo, after the blue-eyed beast, is the closest thing to home (or how I remember it) I have seen in many years. Thank you and good luck!
Lunaguava recently posted..Love, Gone Swimming

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Hannah December 16, 2013 at 20:48

Thank you so much for your kind words Luna, I really appreciate them. I love how you coined our current state “hushed domesticity”, it fits perfectly, and I’m happy to hear you are experiencing something similar over in Guatemala – one of my absolute favourite countries I have ever visited. And that second photo is actually one of my favourites from our time here – the mist here is just hypnotic, so I’m glad it conjures fond memories for you :)

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Kaleena's Kaleidoscope December 18, 2013 at 02:38

Your days at the chateau sound like an absolute dream, and how lovely to have a friend come visit! I currently live in Korea and having friends visit is one of the best feelings ever. We have a place in my city where you can pick fresh herbs like rosemary and lavender (otherwise they’re pretty hard to come by in this country), and now I’m really tempted to get some and try out those cookies. Oh, and love the cowboy boots! ;) Happy holidays!
Kaleena’s Kaleidoscope recently posted..The Tale of a Wannabe Runaway

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Hannah December 18, 2013 at 11:24

It has been wonderful to finally be in a place where friends can come and share this special experience with us. And I definitely think you should go pick some lavender – that sounds like such a fun thing to do in Korea! I hope you enjoy the cookie recipe as much as we did. Happy holidays to you, too!

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Lisa Imogen Eldridge December 18, 2013 at 10:29

I love Paris and your photos are so fab. I am an early riser too and I love the time just before the rest of the world awakes and comes alive. Your writing is so descriptive Hannah. Thank you.

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Hannah December 18, 2013 at 11:30

Thank you Lisa, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And the mornings are such a special time, it’s like you’re the only person in the world for just a short while, with room to dream and think, and simply be.

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Carmel December 18, 2013 at 15:14

Ah….the good life. That sound blissful. I would adore a kitchen and time to bake all day long…

That blue-eyed boy is so CUTE! I want to hold him. We had a blue-eyed siamese when I was younger and I loved him so much.

You should check out http://loveandcupcakesblog.com/ – Paola has some amazing recipes and adorable projects. I think you’d like her style.
Carmel recently posted..WAT TOOK YOU SO LONG

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Hannah December 18, 2013 at 16:42

Carmel, you would LOVE it here so much. Please come visit so we can bake together all day long! And yes, the blue-eyed boy is adorable, isn’t he?! He’s called Ven Ven, and is most definitely the King of the castle. Thanks for the link as well, I’m off to check it out now…

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Melissa December 18, 2013 at 19:49

I’m so glad to have recently discovered your blog and am looking forward to reading earlier posts about your time in the French chateau. How idyllic. I enjoy your atmospheric writing style, and your photos are just gorgeous.
Melissa recently posted..Emilia-Romagna Is for Eating

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Hannah December 18, 2013 at 20:16

Thank you so much, Melissa – I’m so glad you found me too! I hope you will continue to follow our time here at the chateau. I really appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment :)

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Hogga December 19, 2013 at 16:27

wow, those cat eyes are beautiful
Hogga recently posted..Why Everyone Should Go Eat a Pecker

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Hannah December 20, 2013 at 12:27

Aren’t they?! The perfect shade of blue.

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Patti December 31, 2013 at 16:05

Lovely, lovely photos Hannah and the cookies look amazing! France is very special and although I loved our 3 weeks in Paris, I really look forward to return some day to visit other areas, out of the city to embrace the local country culture. Happy New Year Hannah!
Patti recently posted..When Harry Met Sally & Auld Lang Syne ~

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Hannah January 1, 2014 at 13:29

Thank you so much, Patti. France is indeed a very special place, and one I know I will find very hard to leave. I hope you get to return here one day, and wish you a very Happy New Year, too!

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Michelle January 3, 2014 at 23:24

I could feel myself sighing into this post… I can see the hills out your window and smell the lavender from here. Beautiful!
Michelle recently posted..Chasing Joy

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Hannah January 4, 2014 at 13:57

Thank you Michelle, I’m so glad I was able to transport you here to France for a little while!

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Alice Wonder January 9, 2014 at 09:04

Hannah, I can’t keep silent – your blog is soooo inspiring!) You have a great writing style and sense of style (I mean wonderful photos)!

Thank you and keep going!
Alice Wonder recently posted..Niagara arks Commission – Journey Behind the Niagara Falls

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Hannah January 9, 2014 at 11:20

Thank you so much Alice, I really appreciate your kind words and am so happy you are enjoying my blog! I hope you will continue to join in the conversation here.

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Sonya January 9, 2014 at 22:44

Beautiful! I love the way you savor the place.
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Hannah January 10, 2014 at 18:07

Thank you so much Sonya, I’m so happy you enjoyed it. It’s so beautiful here, it really is impossible not to enjoy every second we get to call it home. We are very blessed – it will be tough to leave!

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Phillipa January 11, 2014 at 23:10

Ahhhh, what a relief… I was able to catch up on how you’ve been spending your days. You describe everything so beautifully Hannah. So much so, that I imagine every view, every taste, every feeling and insight into what you and Lee have been experiencing at the Chateau… I can’t wait to try your ‘lemon and Lavender’ cookies!

One day soon you will have your own castle and turret to stand high upon… I will be sending you some old photos soon my friend…

I love you incredibly xxx

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Hannah January 12, 2014 at 12:04

Thank you my dear, I can’t wait to see the photos, and love you incredibly too. Speak soon xxx

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Amy January 12, 2014 at 08:37

That is one beautiful cat – the cookies and countryside look pretty amazing too. I am so inspired by your incredible house sit, so much so that I’m currently looking for my own in London over the summer. I doubt I’ll find one as incredible as yours but I hope it’ll give me the same opportunity to relax and build up a routine that you’re enjoying right now.
Amy recently posted..Our First Christmas on the Road

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Hannah January 12, 2014 at 12:03

He really is a very beautiful cat indeed! And such a sweet soul – it will be very hard to leave him. I’m so happy to hear that our experience has inspired you to consider house-sitting for yourself, and am sure you will be able to find something wonderful. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing where you end up.

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TammyOnTheMove January 21, 2014 at 00:55

The photos of the frozen leaves look so pretty Hannah! I am glad you are enjoying your time in France. How much longer have you got left?
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Hannah January 21, 2014 at 11:45

Thanks Tammy! We’re here until May, and are then hoping to find another house-sit, possibly in Spain. We’ll see what happens…

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Catherine January 31, 2014 at 13:58

Sounds like a wonderful few days, your descriptions are truly magical.

On a side note, might be a silly questions, but did you just pick the lavender straight from the bushes? I’ve made lavender cupcakes before (they were delicious!) but we bought the lavender from a food shop. Is all lavendar safe to eat?
Catherine recently posted..That Time I Met A Palestinian Prince

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Hannah February 1, 2014 at 10:34

Thank you Catherine! And yes, I just picked the lavender right of the bushes and pulled the little buds from the stem – they come away very easily. I then stored them in a jar, and have been using them regularly to no ill effect, so I’m pretty sure it’s perfectly safe to do this, though I’m not an expert! I also know people who buy the dried lavender in bulk online and use this to cook with. I guess it’s just like using any other dried herb. Another great way to use the lavender is to blend it with warm almond milk and a little honey for a delicious and soothing evening drink :)

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Christina Rosalie February 1, 2014 at 15:49

I’ve been so, so enjoying your posts from France Hannah, and this line in particular resonates: “familiarity I feel restored by”. Yes, I’m living into that too this year–and I can’t wait to see what 2014 holds for the both of us.

These photos too are stunning. You’re such a bright light. xo

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Hannah February 2, 2014 at 11:56

Thank you so much Christina, I’m so happy you have been enjoying them! I think we all go through these times where stillness and familiarity can fill us up, and regenerate our resolve to work harder, seek further, and go deeper. I needed this time so badly, but now, after three months of peace, my traveller’s soul is already starting to yearn for more, and I know it won’t be long before we hit the road again. I can’t wait to see what your own time of stillness holds, and continue to be dazzled by the bright light you shine, all the way from across the world x

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Andi February 4, 2014 at 14:02

What stunning photos! And those cookies look SO good!!!

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Hannah February 5, 2014 at 10:11

Thank you Andi, that is high praise indeed coming from such a talented photographer as yourself, and really means a lot! And the cookies really did taste even better than they photographed :)

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Tasha | Turf to Surf February 12, 2014 at 15:26

Gorgeous, gorgeous photos here. So dreamy… and gosh, that beautiful cat! I think I’m falling in love with idea of living in France myself. And you have me very intrigued about house-sitting now. Especially now that I’ve realized some houses come with cats. Perfect :-)
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Hannah February 13, 2014 at 12:31

Thank you so much Tasha! And the cat was definitely a major selling point to us – when we started our search for house-sits, I was particularly hoping to find a place that came with pets, as I have so missed having animals around since we have been on the road. That beautiful blue-eyed boy is called Venny, and he is definitely the best part of living here :)

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Tamsin February 16, 2014 at 09:03

Hannah, love this post, what a great place to have found yourself for 6 months!
It look’s as though the French pace suits you well. I love the photos too, a familiar landscape and one I love very much too…you are only one hour from me which is practically neighbours in French terms! You are very welcome to pop round for a cuppa anytime :)

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Hannah February 17, 2014 at 16:52

Thank you Tamsin, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And thank you also for your kind offer of a cuppa – I would absolutely love to, and will send you an email now!

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Jenny February 26, 2014 at 14:11

Beautiful pictures and post! My partner and I have also found pets to be the best part of any house-sit. It always ends in a little bit of heartbreak when you have to say goodbye, but it’s better to have love and lost, right?
Jenny recently posted..Sleep, Eat, Work, Do – Krabi Town, Thailand

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Hannah February 26, 2014 at 14:41

Thank you so much Jenny! I must admit I am already dreading saying goodbye to our beautiful feline friend, but absolutely agree that it is better to know love, if only for a short while, than never at all. We had four beautiful cats when we lived in India for six months, and leaving them absolutely broke my heart, but I always end up putting myself back in the same situation! I long for the day when we can finally have our own pets again :)

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 5, 2014 at 21:13

I understand that heartache. Hence why I travel with mine.
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Ana March 11, 2014 at 17:22

Your life at the chateau seems to be so lovely and calm… nice for a few months, but I understand you when saying you are becoming eager for more travel! I had never heard about house sitting before reading your blog and, almost preparing ourselves for doing it from next year when we’ll get our so long desired 2 years leave, I already know that it will probably will change our life. I thank you very very much for that. By the way, this year I have discovered a French singer whose last album sounds to me sooo French: she is Coeur de Pirate, album “Blonde”. Hope you like the sugestion ;)

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Hannah March 14, 2014 at 10:09

That’s wonderful to hear – house sitting really has changed the way we travel, and we are already applying for new ones! It has really given us a new level of insight into French life, and we are excited to let our future travels be dictated by wherever we can secure a new placement, mixed in with some other adventures for good measure! I hope you will enjoy the process – don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about how to go about applying for them. And thank you so much for the album recommendation, I hadn’t heard of Coeur de Pirate before, but just checked her out on iTunes and absolutely love the album you mentioned!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 5, 2014 at 21:10

Intrigued by this recipe! And charmed by your friendship shared here so simply. Bravo.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 5, 2014 at 21:11

PS – We will be in France in September then off to Switzerland in October. :)
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..What Dog Owners Aught to Know About Kingston – Ontario

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Hannah August 12, 2014 at 10:03

Thank you – I hope you get to give the recipe a try!

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Ellen August 31, 2014 at 06:19

A beautiful post Hannah. I love the mornings too, though I can’t always manage to get myself up out of bed early enough. In Thailand (you’ll remember!) mornings are the coolest part of the day, and usually there aren’t many tourists or westerners out at that time, only the Thai people going about their daily business. It’s a sneak peek into another world. Plus, no sunburn at that time!
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Joyce September 23, 2014 at 20:20

I love, love, love all your photos. From your fall outfit to your gorgeous blue-eyed cat to the delicious cookies.

http://www.charactersandcarryons.com
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