Annemarie Rawson, author of Hawke’s Bay, recounts her adventures in France

Annemarie Rawson has written two books about her adventures in France. Photo / Provided

A Havelock North woman couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw her dream job appear on her screen.

Annemarie Rawson and her husband Steve were living in Auckland at the time. Annemarie was restless and looking for an adventure, then one Sunday afternoon she appeared before his eyes.

The job was to manage a 15th century farmhouse in France.

So they packed up their life in New Zealand and went overseas.

However, what awaited them was not what they had been led to believe.

Annemarie told her story in two wonderful books, My French Platter and My French Platter Replenished.

I asked a few questions to Annemarie.

What was it like preparing for life and moving to another country?
Intense, because there are so many facets of your daily life that need to be reviewed and changed or canceled, from car and home/contents insurance to paper cancellation and Sky box return and everything in between! Then there was the rental of the house, the storage of the contents of the house and the sale of the cars. There is a lot to think about and do. At the same time, it was exciting to get out there and go on an adventure.

You’ve faced some really tough situations, including dealing with a hostile boss. What advice would you give to others in the same situation?
Stand up for yourself when you’re being bullied, but have a plan B, in case everything turns to custard. That was my biggest mistake – not having one. Luckily for us, we made some special friends who welcomed us and helped us tremendously.

Who taught you to cook?
No one in particular. I learned to cook by watching friends create beautiful dishes, participating in cooking shows, and trying recipes for myself. I don’t do anything fancy involving many steps or ingredients, just simple foods with lots of natural flavors that can be supplemented with added flavors.

What is your favorite French dish?
Cassoulet. I tasted this creamy, simmered and intensely flavored dish for the first time during a stay in the city of Carcassonne. In a small shuttle that takes us to the village, Steve asks the driver where the locals eat. The driver dropped us off right outside the door of this little restaurant and suggested we try the cassoulet. No regrets. Cassoulet was once a simple farmhouse dish, but has evolved into a rich and complex dish, consisting of white beans cooked to maximum creaminess, sausage/cured pork belly, confit of duck and goose with a delicious hard crust. It has subtle flavors of onions, celery, carrots and bay leaf. I’m salivating, I remember. I have never been tempted to try frog legs or snails!

The second house in France where Annemarie Rawson and her husband Steve lived.  Photo / Provided
The second house in France where Annemarie Rawson and her husband Steve lived. Photo / Provided

And the New Zealand dish?
Nothing beats a New Zealand pavlova, especially the Chelsea Winter recipe, topped with whatever strikes your fancy, but usually kiwifruit. I like to thread the lemon curd into the whipped cream and top with strawberries and raspberries and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and mint leaves. He looks fabulous.

When did you decide to write your adventure?
On our return from France. The experiences, the people I met and the simplicity of country life seeped into my heart and changed me. It was mentally difficult to settle back into our (then) life in Auckland. The lives of our friends and families had not changed during our absence and although they were delighted to have us back, they did not want to hear me recount chapters and verses about our lives in France. It was then that I decided to put it on paper in order to have a “hard copy” of our lives and not just memories.

What was the hardest thing about publishing two books?
Take the plunge, expose and put myself at the mercy of a reader’s criticism. Luckily most were fabulous, bringing me to tears in some instances where they felt they were on an adventure with me and enjoyed a glass of rosé along the way. I have two rather nasty reviews that upset me for a brief moment, but this is my story/memoir and I’m not meant to be a scholarly tome.

How did you feel when you saw your first book in store?
Delighted but amazed that people are interested in the daily adventure of a New Zealander in France.

Tell us something surprising about yourself.
I can’t be seen without mascara! I have a fair complexion and freckles and I look washed out…like Miss Piggy without her false eyelashes.

Three tips for someone considering moving to another country.
1. Ask yourself why you want to go, and to this country. 2. Thoroughly research every aspect of what your life would be like there. 3. If you accept a job, ask for the names and details of people you could speak with to fully understand your role and those you would be working for.

What’s next on the agenda?
Finishing my next book, Late-Life Adventures in London and Beyond, and hopefully heading out again for a few months in the UK and Europe in May or June, depending on Covid. In the meantime, I love our new life here in Hawke’s Bay.

Lola R. McClure