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Delightful conversations set in rural France with a crackling fire and homemade cake

The Boston Globe 3/21/2023 Sheryl Julian
Kate Hill (left) and Tamsin Jardinier of the podcast Les Dames du Paradis, which is recorded in the French southwest, where the two live in neighboring towns. © Handout Kate Hill (left) and Tamsin Jardinier of the podcast Les Dames du Paradis, which is recorded in the French southwest, where the two live in neighboring towns.

A charming new podcast, “Les Dames du Paradis,” is really a tête-à-tête between two women with a large age gap, who chat about ordinary, everyday experiences. They might mention the times during the pandemic when neighbors left one another food, or going to the market without a list to see what’s in season that minute, or the idea that right at the beginning of spring the cherry tree planted decades ago always flowers. They live in rural southwest France, and sit before a live fire, which you can hear crackling merrily in the background, with a freshly baked cake and a pot of coffee or tea. Both have lovely voices so you can listen intently and wonder how an hour just flew by.

Kate Hill, in her 70s, is American-born with a mid-Atlantic accent after many years away from her native California. Tamsin Jardinier, in her late 40s, is from London. “We are from two different generations and two different countries, living in a third collaborative world,” they say.

Les dames are friends residing in neighboring villages midway between Bordeaux and Toulouse. They took the name “Paradis” from Paravis, a hamlet in the region with a ruin from the Middle Ages that was once a convent for cloistered women. Wandering around the place together one day, something clicked. “We felt too cloistered in our separate and personal secular ‘convents,’ “ they write in an e-mail. They were two women in a rural area who teach part of the year and work independently the rest of the time, keeping up with friendships online. The duo met when they found each other on Instagram, though they live only 2½ miles apart.

Hill has lived along the Garonne River in Gascony since 1988. She is a former San Francisco art dealer who has also worked in restaurants, and as a baker, yacht chef, puppeteer, and cooking teacher, now a writer. She holds retreats for writers, artists, photographers, cooks, and others at her early 18th century residence, a former pigeonnier (dovecote) called Relais de Camont, in Sainte-Colombe-en-Bruilhois. It was a ruin when she bought it in 1990.

Jardinier has a background in photography, pottery, and design. She worked at Linley in London, a luxury furniture and design firm. Now she coaches entrepreneurs, including artists, florists, and marketing executives, who want to bring more creativity and structure to their ventures. She inherited her home in Montesquieu near Agen when her mother died. Jardinier moved there in 2013 and runs yoga retreats.

The most recent “Paradis” episode (the third) opens with an explanation of the marmalade cake that Hill has made, which they both sample and describe in such an enticing way that as soon as I finished the podcast, I went searching for the recipe.

Hill tells us on the podcast that she adapted the cake from the celebrated author Claudia Roden.

Cairo-born Roden, 85, a London resident, who was recently named Commander of the Order of the British Empire, begins her Gâteau à l’Orange (orange cake) by boiling 2 whole oranges, skin and all, for over an hour, then pulverizing them. She explains that this Judeo-Spanish cake is important in her Sephardic culture. Instead of all-purpose flour, it contains ground blanched almonds (which makes it ideal for Passover and for gluten-free bakers).

Rather than boiling oranges, Hill explains on the podcast, she decided that marmalade would act similarly in the batter; she uses her own homemade bitter orange or Seville orange marmalade. The one-bowl cake is simple to assemble and once baked has an unusually moist texture with a delightful and pronounced orange flavor. It’s surprisingly light. She says it’s “a new pantry staple.”

The dames call their conversations “the art of lost living” and mention often how they had to force themselves to slow down when they moved to the area. Hill was waiting in line somewhere as the clerks were taking their time with every customer, she tells us on the podcast. But then, when it was her turn to be waited on, she had the clerk’s full attention. The wait was something she had to get used to.

Both cook all the time. Jardinier, who writes Unfolding Conversations on Substack, about diet and health, used to run the yoga retreats in her French home and cook for the guests as well, before she moved the retreats to stunning locations around France. She still prepares meals for participants, following an Ayurvedic plan of seasonal vegetarian cooking. “It means you cook dishes to suit the changes in digestive needs,” she writes in an e-mail.

Hill, who lived on a barge for 24 years, ran the company out of Peabody, where her late mother lived; she was Hill’s booking agent. Hill taught Gascon cooking and held dinners for guests on the boat, where she hosted culinary tours as the barge cruised along the Canal de Garonne. She wrote “A Culinary Journey in Gascony: Recipes and Stories from My French Canal Boat” (1995).

Jardinier says that she felt secluded before she knew enough French to have conversations with shopkeepers and neighbors. When the friends met, they planned initially to invite other women nearby to get together for monthly lunches, but that never materialized.

The pandemic, of course, further isolated everyone. Now the friends have monthly rendezvous. “Paradis” podcast evolved out of these brainstorming sessions. And for two women who love to sit and chat in front of a fire, their dogs at their feet, a perfect homemade cake was a given.

Find “Les Dames du Paradis” on Apple Podcast or Spotify or subscribe on Substack to get episodes with cake recipes automatically. Follow Tamsin Jardinier on Instagram @athomewithtamsin or go to Follow Kate Hill on Instagram @katedecamont or go to

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