The clock’s ticking

Posted in Cookery, Favourites with tags , , , on 26/01/2015 by Sheree

I don’t feel the need to celebrate my birthday and I guess that’s partly a reflection of my advancing years. Of course, when your birthday’s close to Christmas, it does tend to take the shine off of it. Additionally, the date generally conflicts with my beloved’s business activities. As a result, in earlier years, I’ve spent birthdays either on my lonesome  – cue violins – or with his sales team. I spent this year’s birthday with my hygienist and dentist – a novel way to celebrate!

I visit my hygienist once a year which is enough to keep my gnashers and, more importantly, my gums in tip-top condition. American by birth, she’s no run of the mill practitioner, she’s one of the best around and operates out of a swanky London address. My teeth always look several shades lighter after she’s done her worst best and they feel so smooth and clean.

Next up, a quick trip across town to my dentist who had come up with a novel way to make my front teeth look less obviously crossed. The man’s a genius! My teeth look so much better but no one’s yet worked out why or how – a result. My pearly whites were now deserving of an outing, but where?

When I lived in London, I used to maintain a list of hot restaurants and hotels, all based on personal recommendation. It was a much prized list – think Trip Advisor, but so much better! Business colleagues and friends would call me to get a copy of the list, or better, a suggestion before booking their trips to London. Of course, once you no longer live in London, the list quickly loses its lustre.

There was one restaurant I wanted to visit, Adam Handling’s at the Caxton Hotel in Victoria. I’d admired his cooking on Professional MasterChef, bought his recent cookery book “Smile or Get out of the Kitchen” and tried a number of his recipes. But I’d decided, it was no substitute for the real thing. I booked a table for three. Yes, I took my dentist along!

Any place that welcomes you with a free glass of wine as you cross their threshold is going to get my vote. The staff were warm, welcoming and contributed greatly to the hotel and restaurant’s ambience. While we awaited the arrival of my beloved, my dentist made short work of the delicious nibbles served with our (free) drinks in the bar.

Wild Sea Bass  - here one minute, gone the next!

Wild Sea Bass – here one minute, gone the next!

The meal exceeded my impossibly high expectations. I got to try nine of Adam’s fantastic dishes – now you understand why I took my dentist. I also learned that my version of Adam’s Pistachio cake was spot on.  I did take a few photographs but they were largely of plates quickly and greedily licked clean. There’s no picture of my starter as I’d already wolfed down the meltingly unctuous pork belly with octopus before getting my iPhone out to snap my main course and dessert.

Pistachio Cake with Artichoke Iceream - heavenly

Pistachio Cake with Artichoke Ice Cream – heavenly

The restaurant was busy but even so I blagged a visit to the kitchen. A haven of tranquility as the chefs calmly cooked and plated up. It was a small, well-ordered kitchen, not that much bigger than mine, with an obviously  happy and well-trained crew. I’ll be going again on my next visit to London, there are dishes still to try on the small, beautifully designed and crafted menu. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to work my way through Adam’s recipes at home.  Of course, don’t just take my word for it, the restaurant has just picked up it’s first (of many) awards.

Bookatable

 

Postscript: Last week-end, a crowd of us got together down on the beach to eat Galette des Rois and other sweet treats – a French tradition in January. I took the edges from the two cakes I’d previously made from Adam’s book out of the freezer and turned them into cake truffles using a recipe in another favourite, much-thumbed cookery book, Momofuku’s Milk Bar.

Melting mouthfulls

Melting mouthful

I mixed the Pistachio cake with a little of my homemade lemon-curd and then coated the small truffle-sized balls in white melted chocolate and milk-crumbs. I mixed the Hazelnut and Burnt Butter cake with some liquid cheesecake and rolled the result in 70% dark chocolate and chocolate crumbs. It was a wonderfully messy job – thank Heavens for disposable latex gloves. They were a BIG hit. A clear case of “waste not, want not.”

 

Plans awry

Posted in Favourites, Hazards with tags on 04/01/2015 by Sheree

Our festive period tends to follow a pattern. We entertain friends the week-end before and then spend the entire period cycling plenty of kilometres, to wear off the additional calories, returning to work in the New Year, batteries recharged.

I’m not a fan of Christmases en famille. As children we never had table busting family Christmases. Frankly, not enough relatives. My father was an orphan and while my mother had living relatives, her older sister and mother, whom we saw at least once a week. No need to spend Christmas Day with them though we would see them over the festive period.

Initially, we spent Christmas with friends of my parents but, once they had children of their own, we spent the day chez nous. First as a foursome and then, after the arrival of my youngest sister Jane, a quintet. Occasionally, I recall, we’d have Christmas Day lunch at a hotel or restaurant. But with a Mum who was a fantastic cook and hostess, and a father in the food trade, why would you?

In all our many, many years of marriage, we’ve had a total of eight family Christmases, only one of which was with the outlaw. A few of you may be wondering, somewhat enviously, how I managed this. I cannot claim any real credit. Rather it was all down to my mother-in-law’s lack of ability in the kitchen. Her cooking carries a government health warning. Would you want to spend Christmas with her? No, me neither! Given half a chance my beloved would have spent every Christmas with my family – my mother used to dote on him –  with whom we’ve spent seven Christmases, the last one here in France in 2005.

It was memorable for a number of reasons. We finally persuaded my father that my mother’s forgetfulness and sudden-found shy reticence was the result of Alzheimer’s not a personality change. The newly installed dishwasher in the new kitchen sprang a leak on Christmas Eve and I had to wash up by hand throughout the entire festive season. My parents spent three weeks with us, my sisters and my one brother-in-law only stayed a week but, at the end of those three weeks, I was exhausted from waiting on everyone hand and foot. I still recall my beloved cuddling up to me in bed, the day my parents left, saying: “Haven’t we had a wonderful Christmas and New Year?” My response was unrepeatable!

I have spent a number of Christmases working – one of the perils of being in Finance. But we’ve enjoyed more abroad, skiing in either Austria, Germany or Switzerland or relaxing  in warmer climates such as Spain, Dubai and Arizona.

Since moving to France, in recent years, we’ve settled into a bit of a routine with the bikes. Christmas Eve we indulge in our usual oysters and champagne – very French! Christmas Day we dine at a local restaurant. This year we ate warm, home-made, cinnamon buns for breakfast and enjoyed a ride in the bracing air which gave us a good appetite for lunch, followed by a brisk walk along the sea-front in the sunshine. Pretty much all according to plan.

2014-12-25 15.08.34

Boxing Day, my beloved and I both went down with a gastric-flu type of bug. We were laid low for several days which left us far too weak to cycle or indeed do much of anything. It was only on New Year’s Eve that we once more felt almost back to normal, though we didn’t see in the New Year. New Year’s Day, we enjoyed afternoon tea at a hotel overlooking the sea. It was afternoon tea French style, teeny-weeny pastries with tea, not a scone in sight. We had planned to stay and watch the fireworks but after enjoying the sunshine, felt chilled as soon as the sun set. We hurried back home to a bowl of hot soup.

2015-01-01 15.16.582015-01-01 17.09.58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We may not have logged the hoped for kilometres but we’ve gotten an early start with the New Year detox and  reorganised a lot of drawers and cupboards. The late Wallis Simpson allegedly said “You can never be too rich, or too thin.” To which I would like to add, “or ever have enough storage space.” I’m going to be busy recycling this coming week, which will leave me with a warm, self-satisfied glow.

Highlights

Posted in Favourites with tags , , , , , , , on 01/01/2015 by Sheree

New Year’s Day is not a bad time for sober reflection on the last 12 months. What were the highlights of another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year? In no particular order, here goes:-

1. Amael Moinard (BMC) wins stage 2 of Tour du Haut Var in Draguigan

Amael Moinard

There’s nothing nicer than seeing someone you know win. Particularly someone who spends most of the season working his socks off for his team mates. We saw Amael’s victory in the company of his wife and children which made it even more special. His two young boys were thrilled, going onto the podium with their father to receive the trophy. A moment they’ll always treasure, which was captured by the mother of another professional rider who kindly gave me the picture. A fellow VeloVoice (Thanks Chris) gave it the Andy Warhol treatment, I had it printed and it now hangs in the Moinard’s hallway. A constant reminder of a special moment, one we were fortunate to share.

2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wins Vuelta al Pais Vasco

VpVstage1winnerBertir

A stunning win on stage one by Bertie in truth secured him the overall. He looked to be back to his best, heralding the prospect of a thrilling summer of racing.

3. Book de Tour

book du tour small cover for style v5

I edited Greig Leach’s narrative accompanying his marvellous record of last year’s Tour de France. It wasn’t the Tour we were all anticipating but it was none the less thrilling. The crowds for the UK Grand Depart in Yorkshire were unprecedented –  wonderful to see, and experience. The race had more twists that a barleycorn, an emphatic victor and each stage’s tales were beautifully captured by Greig in bright clear colours which convey a real sense of movement, occasion and emotion. I’m hoping this first successful foray into printed medium will be just the start of a new venture for Greig. His paintings deserve to be more widely shared.

4. The Basque Country

Cycling: 32th Clasica San Sebastian 2012

We managed three visits by dint of our trip along the northern coastline of Spain to last year’s World Championship in Ponferrada. We’re slowly exploring more and more of the region on two wheels and refining our list of must-visit hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s a region which never fails to delight us and we’d move there in a nano second were it not for the weather. Once again we visited places we might never have gone to were it not for bike racing and our lives would be poorer because of it.

5. Marquez Boys Double

marc-marquez-alex-marquez-motogp-moto3

Having watched Marc Marquez take the world of MotoGP by storm, breaking records every which way since his rookie season in the 125cc class, it was great to see him (easily) retain his World Championship and for his younger brother Alex take the MotoGP3 title. Their parents must be so proud of them.

6. Conviviality of Cannondale Pro Cycling

Jake Hamm CPC Studio 8785b

Our friends at G4 provided the casual wear for Cannondale and, because I lend them a hand wherever I can, I got to spend time at training camps and races with the boys. We were made to feel part of the extended Italian family and looked forward to meeting up with them at races. In return, I think the boys enjoyed my cakes which I believe have moved up a notch since moving from club events to WorldTour. While the name continues, the team’s backbone is no more. But we wish all the former staff and riders every success in their new teams and roles. Thank you for a memorable year, we’ll cherish it forever.

You may have noticed that, one way or another, every highlight involved two wheels! I’m hoping 2015 continues in a similar vein.

Season’s Greetings

Posted in Uncategorized on 25/12/2014 by Sheree

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my reader(s) good health, much happiness and every success for 2015, and beyond.

With any luck, and fair weather, I’ll be spending my Christmas on my beloved BMC logging some much needed base kilometres ahead of my 2015 challenges: a QOM on Strava and a 5% improvement on my current best time up Col de Vence.

However you’re spending yours, enjoy and keep riding!

 

Back next year

Another twist in the tale

Posted in Hazards with tags , on 18/12/2014 by Sheree

The Book de Tour books to be signed by Vincenzo Nibali finally arrived via FedEx while I was collecting my beloved from the airport. The FedEx van was on the point of departing as we drove up to the garage. I quickly rescued my long-awaited package. As soon as I got inside the flat, I opened the box to discover everything had been beautifully and carefully wrapped and the books had arrived in mint condition.

Having missed out on Plan A, personally taking the books to the team’s first camp at Montecatini Terme for signature, I now invoked Plan B. The following morning I took the books over to Astana’s service course and handed them, with explicit instructions who was to sign what and where, to the mechanics who were driving down to the team’s second camp in Calpe. The boys promised to take great care of them, get them signed and bring them back safely to me. They thought they’d probably be back with me on 18 December which would enable me to return them, FedEx Priority,  to USA in time for Christmas.

During the camp, I received confirmation that Nibali had signed the books and were now in a safe place prior to their return to France. I checked yesterday and was advised the mechanics were on their way back and would arrive at the service course late at night, so they would park the van and unload the following morning. I said I’d call this morning to arrange a convenient time to go over and pick them up. I even had one of my prized fruit cakes for the service course staff to enjoy with their morning coffee. In addition, I had arranged with FedEx for them to pick up the package this afternoon and speed it safely back to USA.  We were good to go.

If everything had gone to plan, I would now be emailing the FedEx tracking number to the book’s author and confirming that the duly signed books would be winging their way back to him by 22 December. But, as we know, very little has gone to plan where these books are concerned. It’s as if they’ve a life of their own.

This morning, merely as a formality, I rang the chap in charge of the service course to enquire when it would be convenient for me to drive over and collect them.  There was a heavily pregnant pause until he found the courage to admit they were still  somewhere “safe”. Yes, the mechanics had forgotten to put them on the van but, no worries, they’d pick them up in early January after the next training camp at the same hotel.

I sprang into action. I contacted the hotel where the staff, having received instructions from the mechanic, had located the box which had already been closed back up. Understandably, the hotel staff were unwilling to re-open it or indeed split the contents. My first idea had been to send the Kickstarter subscribers’ four signed books directly back to USA and have the others brought back to me in France. With the hotel unwilling to disturb the box’s contents,  I’ve arranged to have them all shipped back to France – priority delivery for 22 December.  I’ll then check them (I’m hoping and praying that they’ve been properly re-packed, but have no way of verifying) before despatching them back to USA. Sadly, it means they’ll arrive after Xmas, but not too long after!

Having scheduled the pick up with FedEx and promptly sent all the accompanying paperwork to the hotel, I was keen to use the tracking number to see what was happening to my precious package. Nada! It hadn’t budged. I contacted FedEx. It appears the 72 working hours required to return it to translates into 48 hours to pick it up and 24 hours to speed it from Spain to Nice. Right now I’m wondering why I didn’t drive down and back to Calpe.

Friday postscript: We have lift off, or should that be pick up? The package was picked up from Calpe this morning and is now in Madrid awaiting its flight to Paris from whence it’ll head to Nice. Should (fingers crossed) be here no later than Monday.

Monday postscript: I’ve been tracking the parcel which was due to be delivered this morning. Imagine my horror when at 11:00 a message flashed up that they’d tried to deliver but I wasn’t home. How could that be? My beloved and I were both home and no one had rung the bell. Fuelled by righteous indignation I rang FedEx’s call centre and was referred to a very calm lady  – no doubt used to dealing with irate customers – who’s promised to resolve the situation. I have paid for delivery within 72 hours, that has now expired.

Tuesday postscript: Called the nice lady at FedEx and the package is going to be delivered this morning. However, a quick check on the tracking system shows no date for next delivery – we shall see! I have taken the precaution of asking our security guard at the barrier to the Domaine to give me a call when the FedEx van arrives.

Wednesday postscript: The books were safely delivered in mint condition, have been carefully, individually wrapped for their final journey back to USA after Christmas (on FedEx’s advice).

All’s well………………………….

Postal problems

Posted in Favourites, Hazards with tags , on 19/11/2014 by Sheree

book du tour small cover for style v5

Book de Tour rolled off the publisher’s presses at the beginning of the month but I’m still waiting to receive my copies, all of which need the signature of the winner, Vincenzo Nibali. The author packed up the copies and sent them straight away via USPS aka US postal service. Who then handed over responsibility to the French postal service. I have been tracking the package’s progress with interest. The French postal service claimed to have tried to deliver the parcel last Friday and this Monday, but I wasn’t there. Actually I was home on both occasions but no one, not even Postman Pat, rang my doorbell. He did however leave me one of those slim yellow receipts.

I was so excited to see, and feel, the finished product and, if I’m honest, thoroughly check that all my edits had been correctly incorporated. I hot footed it down to the main Post Office yesterday to claim my parcel and pay the customs’ fees. It soon became obvious why the postman hadn’t bothered to deliver the box. It was decidedly bashed about on all corners, one of which was torn open, as if someone had been using it as a football. Also, the box was palpably damp to the touch, leading me to suspect it had been left out in the rain. But was it US or French torrential rain? Probably the latter!

I looked carefully at the torn corner and could just make out a couple of damaged spines. Additional the lightweight bubble wrap was loose and flapping – not a good sign. Was this the total extent of the damage or was it even more extensive? I sought advice and guidance from the post mistress. If I opened the parcel, I was explicitly accepting the state of it’s contents.

The post mistress pointed out that along with its bashed and gaping corners, the parcel had ballooned in the wet. She told me not to accept delivery, but to return it and have the sender claim on his insurance. I was in a bit of a quandary, it was too early in the day to contact Greig, but I finally decided to follow her advice. We simply couldn’t present Greig’s biggest financial supporters with a damaged “reward”.  She also gave me some helpful tips on packing heavy, fragile parcels such as these. Great advice which I’ve passed on to Greig.

Greig’s shipped me replacements express-delivery which should arrive within the next 5 days. This incident has doubled my resolve to keep hold of the books to obtain Nibali’s signature. After all, he only lives a few hours away in Lugano. Much better to preserve the integrity of the soft (not hard) cover books, which can easily get damaged, by retaining possession. It’s also given me food for thought as to how I’m going to maintain the pristine order of my master copy. This is the one where, in the run up to next year’s Tour, I’m going to try and obtain as many signatures as possible from riders featured in Book de Tour. The result will be auctioned on eBay, with all proceeds going to the charity of the author’s choice.

I keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue and everything comes to those who wait. Yes, but for how long?

Book de Tour Postscript: According to USPS, the package arrived in Nice on early Friday afternoon and was sent out to its final destination. My apartment is at worst an hour’s walk from the sorting office. Here we are on Wednesday morning and I’m still waiting. Who’s delivering it? Postman Ant? I have a feeling that Greig’s going to be sending me package number three later today! Let’s hope it’ll be third time lucky.

Book de Tour Second Postscript: Greig has indeed sent me parcel number three. This time via FedEx. it’s due to arrive before midday tomorrow. Sod’s law dictates that as soon as I leave tomorrow to collect my beloved from the airport, FedEx will arrive to deliver said parcel. They cannot leave it with anyone, customs duties have to be paid. They’ll leave, only to return on Monday, probably when I’m returning my beloved to the airport. I need to contact FedEx and have them advise me of when the parcel is likely to arrive. To do that I need the tracking number. Greig’s sent me a tracking number but the FedEx site says it’s not valid! Here we go again.

Book de Tour Third Postscript:  Greig had missed a digit from the tracking number. Armed with the correct number, I contacted FedEx only to be told the parcel was already on its way to me. I popped out to the airport to collect my beloved only to find the FedEx lorry was just heading back to base, as I returned home. I ran after it and managed to retrieve my parcel at around about the same time Team Astana were leaving Montecatini Terme – Plan A out the window!

Let me check

Posted in Cookery, Favourites with tags on 16/11/2014 by Sheree

It’s not unusual for our friends in France to ring us just the day before to invite us round for a meal. This charming spontaneity always rather amuses me. Indeed, if it had happened while I was still in the UK, I would have assumed I wasn’t first pick and that someone else had dropped out at the last moment. No so here.

Given my beloved’s relentless circumnavigation of the globe or, in recent weeks, long trips back to the UK, I can’t operate with quite the same insouciance even though I pride myself on being able to produce a meal for at least four at the drop of  hat. That said, I’ll quite often invite friends round for lunch or dinner during the week while he’s away but will serve what I would typically eat during the week, albeit with a dessert. I often won’t bother with a starter, just some nibbles to chow on in the kitchen while we’re chatting and I’m putting the finishing touches to the meal.

Here, last minute invites, particularly those during the summer months, when there’s a crowd, often involves everyone pitching in and preparing a course. Guidance is, of course, required to achieve some sort of cohesion. But, even so, pot luck seems to work out just fine and a good time is always had by all.

There are times however when I like to make it more of a special occasion, particularly in the run up to the Festive season. Additionally, we have more space available indoors for entertaining than we have outside. However, our friends’ gardens will trump a balcony every time when the weather’s fine.

Having friends round also gives me an excuse to try out a couple of new recipes. Accepted wisdom says you shouldn’t experiment but there are plenty of dishes more appropriate for a crowd than just the two of us. The other great thing here is that people generally eat everything. At first, I used to enquire if there was anything my guests didn’t eat but after being assured countless times that they eat everything, I’ve stopped asking. Their children are the same and will happily eat anything I put before them.

A lot of the meals I prepare are ones that cook happily in the oven while I’m out riding my bike or can be quickly assembled or reheated on my return, thanks to plenty of forward planning and preparation. But a festive luncheon or dinner party is different. I revel at the prospect of several days’ preparation in the kitchen beforehand, not forgetting poring through my countless cookery books to choose what I’m going to cook. We’re talking three courses pre-dinner nibbles, petit fours and maybe even goodie bags of edibles to take home – the full nine yards!

It usually takes a while for a cookery book to become a well-thumbed, ingredient spattered favourite – I know I should get one of those acetate holders. Some, however, become cherished overnight. My most recent acquisition is Adam Handling’s “Smile or get out of the Kitchen“. For those of you who don’t know, he came to prominence on MasterChef: the Professionals in 2013 as one of the three finalists and many people’s, me included, favourite to land the title. He didn’t win but it quite rightly hasn’t stopped his ascendancy.

The recipes are all illustrated so you can see what the final dish is supposed to look like. I’m not sure I’ll be able to achieve his level of precision but I do want to try and match the flavours I’ve no doubt he achieves. I’ve read the book from cover to cover, several times, always a good sign.

A little slice of heaven

A little slice of heaven

I first made his pistachio cake for a friend’s birthday party. The recipe reminded me of one of my more popular bakes, Tarta de Santiago, and proved even more delicious. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photograph of the finished cake. Luckily, I kept back a couple of the edges which I had cut off to neaten the cake and, if I say so myself, it was scrummy.

Looks innocent but packs a flavour punch

Looks innocent but packs a flavour punch

Next up was Adam’s recipe for celeriac veloute, or soup to you and me. I love nothing better than making a big pot of soup to keep me going for a couple of days during the week. This was so delicious that I was sorely tempted to slurp it all down in one go. Fortunately, it’s too rich to do that so my beloved also got to sample it. He immediately said it was the best soup he’s ever had – praise indeed –  and I remembered to take a photo!

Now, you might be wondering why I’ve only tried two of his recipes. Well, when I test new recipes, I like to take my time, something that’s recently been in very short supply. But Adam’s recipes are going to be providing the inspiration for all my December Sunday lunches.

You can buy his book at www.adamhandling.com where you’ll find links to his restaurant – well worth a visit – and his chocolate. I can personally recommend the chocolate which I foolishly shared with my beloved. Won’t be doing that again!

 

 

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