We’re back

Just checking in to let you know that the Chateau Duffy crew is back from their latest trip and pretty much in one piece. (There were a couple of injuries, but not hugely serious!) Well, the Brits are back – the Americans are still in transit – but the trip is over.

There’s a huge amount to say about it, not just about the construction that took place, but also the community building and relationships made – especially amongst residents of St Denis des Murs itself. This trip was something of a landmark in terms of our relationships with local residents – culminating in a great party on the site on Friday night, complete with a Chateau Duffy movie screening! (More on that later…)

Chateau Duffy April 2013This is how it looked a year ago. 

Chateau Duffy, Monday April trip

 Hard work during our first proper day on site last week. 

Chateau Duffy Thursday, April 2014Thursday morning, after the concrete flooring had gone into the house.

Chateau Duffy, Friday night, April 2014The site getting ready to party on Friday night. 

Several regulars commented that they felt it was one of the best trips we’ve had and we’ve certainly returned very keen to return this summer. Finally, it looks like the dream of making Chateau Duffy habitable might actually be realised!

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll share with you some of the stories and highlights from the trip, so stay tuned…

Gathering at Chateau Duffy again

It’s been a year since our last trip, but tomorrow sees the start of Chateau Duffy #5! In fact, a few of the crew are there already, but most arrive on Saturday for a week of hard work and good fun.

Chateau Duffy April 2013Chateau Duffy the day we left it last year, complete with new, concrete floor.

This trip has been so highly anticipated that it was fully booked last autumn. (Although, in true Matryoshka Haus fashion, some have dropped out and others have seized their places.)

What’s brilliant about Chateau Duffy is the way in which the team reflects the way in which the community has changed and grown since the last trip. So this year we have people who have only been part of the community for a few months; new partners; a Texan from the Learning Lab (lovely Brendan); and Californians met during Matryoshka Haus’ trips there last year.

The Texan crewEric, Carl & Regina en route from Texas to Paris.

While we’re there, we’ll be celebrating Easter together, which is always a very special experience – it’s up there with Thanksgiving as an important occasion to be together as a community.

There is a plan – there will be more pointing (much more pointing) and work may begin on the house next to the barn – and we’ll let you know how we get on.

In the mean time, if this makes you keen to join in the fun, you can register your interest for the summer trip here.

How to feed the ‘sweating serfs’

Chateau Duffy is in France’s Limousin region, a rolling landscape of pastures and oaks dotted with centuries-old villages and soft brown cattle. Using local beef in a traditional French Beouf Bourguignon stew seemed an appropriate way to feed the sweating serfs.

Like any recipe, you are free to alter, adapt, or screw it up. The real trick is to let it cook low and long.

Bon appetit!

– Richard Paoli

Beef Bourguignon

Should serve 6, or 4 with nice leftovers

Thick cut bacon, 1/4 pound
Olive oil, about 1/2 cup
Small onions (often called boiling onions)
Stew beef, 2 pounds, uncut if possible — if not make sure the pieces are 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Flour, a cup
Salt and pepper
Bottle of a dry but inexpensive red wine
(Plus two more bottles of the same wine to drink with the meal.)
Carrots, 6 medium.
Peas, 1 pound, frozen will do nicely.
Bay leaf, 3 or 4.
Dried thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons

Cut the bacon into strips so they resemble fat matchsticks.
Trim and peel onions.
Wipe mushrooms clean and cut into quarters.
Cut beef into 1 1/2 inch cubes
Peel, slice carrots into 1/4 inch rounds. Blanch for 5 minutes in lightly salted water, drain.
Put the peas in warm water to defrost and then drain.

You’ll need a cast iron or enameled 6 to 8 quart pot. Place the pot over medium heat (medium heat for all the following steps, too), add a tablespoon of oil and the bacon. Render the fat from the bacon and when the strips are just about to crisp, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside in a big bowl. Toss the onions into the pot and saute until golden. Remove the onions with the same slotted spoon and add to the bacon. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and saute the mushrooms, probably in two or three batches. This allows them to brown quickly. Add mushrooms to the bacon and onions bowl.

Place the cup of flour in a plastic bag large enough to hold the beef. Add add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper to the bag and shake several times. Now add the beef and shake the bag, making sure the beef pieces are all evenly coated with flour. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot and, in batches, saute the beef, browning the pieces on all sides. The browned beef goes in the bowl.

Add a cup of red wine to the pot and scrape the bottom to loosen all the crusty bits. Then add the rest of the bottle and cook off the alcohol. Takes about 5-8 minutes.

Add the bacon, onions, beef, and the bay leaf and thyme. Cover. Cook over low heat (just simmering) for 3-4 hours.

About 15-20 minutes before serving, add the carrots and peas.

This stew can be served from the cooking pot at the table. Best served in a soup plate with sliced boiled potatoes, or wide egg noodles, or lots of crusty bread.


Photo: Liz Clutterbuck

The master at work in his domain...



Like many others when it comes to cooking, I fall into the category of I-like-food-so-I-think-I-can-cook-whereas-really-I’m-much-better-at-eating. So it was a delight to find myself having a one-on-one tutorial with a professional chef during Chateau Duffy April 2012.

We were tasked with feeding the many hungry mouths returning from a long and damp day on the building site. This should have taken the pressure off, since we probably would have washed our red wine down with just about anything after such a day, but by this point in the trip we had all become used to chef Richard’s lavish and authentic four course dinners.

Trusting that he would be able to un-do anything I did badly, I concentrated partly on the task in hand, but mostly on gleaning as much culinary information as possible. We covered everything from exemplary chopping technique to vineyard classifications, spaghetti handling and the perfect plate presentation (If we eat first with our eyes, then in France we ate very well indeed). I even acquired a tailored four course dinner party plan, including a recipe for gin marinated salmon (yes!).

By the time dinner was served, I was already full – mostly due to sampling the entire menu throughout cooking, but also with the many gems of gastronomical insight I had gained.

My name will be first up on the list for sous cheffing come August, and until then, where’s that gin…

– Lindsay

More than a house is being built through Chateau Duffy

All the friends sat down on wooden benches to a sumptuous feast they had cooked together. There was the best cheese in the world. There was bread and wine.

One friend stood up to share about how special it is to thoughtfully eat bread and wine together. There’s more to it than tastebuds tingling and then digestion. Something spiritual happens. It’s like a metal spiral through the notebook of history.

I was one of those friends. We were resting during the building of a friend’s house. Most of us had been doing this work with our bare hands. We fell through floors, stacked tile after tile, wore holes in our shoes and trousers, burned hay (and ourselves!), pulled up weeds and balanced along roof-beams. All of us – such as a former manager to the stars, a trainee vicar, a web content editor, a psychotherapist, a typographer – had more dignified jobs back home. But we happily pitched in together among the dirt and the laughter.

Why build a home together?

Because, like communion, there is far more to it than 400-year old bricks and home-made lime mortar.


– Rachel Nunson