My Little Cupcake

Posted in Live Racing with tags , on 07/05/2015 by Sheree

My Little Cupcake is my Facebook nickname for my dear friends’ middle son. I’ve known him for many years and, as the name suggests, I’m very fond of him. Like most teenagers he can inhale his bodyweight in baked goodies, which we often cook together, hence the nickname.

Alex helping me with registrations at Kivilev 2011

Alex helping me with registrations at Kivilev 2011

I take a close personal interest in his road racing as it’s almost three years since a two-week stay with me set him on the path of wanting to be a professional rider, just like his Dad. He’d previously taken little or no interest in cycling but I fostered it because I felt his alleged youthful mischievousness would be tamed by sport. I say alleged because I’d seen no evidence of it.

We now get together on a weekly basis, usually on a Saturday afternoon – racing permitting – to work on his English, the must-have language in today’s professional peloton. My beloved and I’d been on the road for most of April so we’d missed a few English classes but the two-week half-term has given us some opportunities to catch up and make sure we stay on or even ahead of the track. I always encourage him to talk about what he’s done since we last met in English. This invariably revolves around his training and racing. He races all over the region and in Italy so there are few opportunities for me to watch him race.

We had two such opportunities this last week-end. Friday he was racing in Vence, part of the season-long Tour de Cote d’Azur, where he was lying in second place overall. Friday was a Bank Holiday here in France and while it had started sunny, the weather turned to rain in the early afternoon, just as he started racing. One poor lad crashed out on the practice lap while the race leader came off on a corner late in the race and ended his chances of retaining the maillot jaune.

We watched the ‘minimes and younger’ category race. They looked so sweet and earnest as they raced around the short lumpy circuit, none more so than Astana General Manager Alex Vinokurov’s twin sons, who gave it their all but were roundly beaten by bigger boys. It didn’t seem to dim their enthusiasm or the support from their proud Dad.

Waiting for the race to start in Vence

Waiting for the race to start in Vence

Still in the peloton

Still in the peloton

On the attack!

On the attack!

Exhausted by his efforts

Exhausted by his efforts

Next up were my little cupcake and his friend and team-mate in the cadets. He’s currently struggling with some loss of power due to growing pains, which has affected his results but not his desire to go on the attack and try to shred the field.  The pair of them did this twice during the race but were eventually overhauled by a tactically more astute rider. They’ll learn.

In yellow! (image: Sylvie Rattalino)

In yellow! (image: Sylvie Rattalino)

Third place was however enough to see my little cupcake into the yellow leader’s jersey. I say “see” though by that time both we, and his parents, had returned home thanks to the heavy rain. Like all sports there’s lots of hanging around, particularly for the podiums, always held at the end of all the racing and generally preceded by interminable speeches.

Full gas

Full gas

Friends and rivals

Friends and rivals

Saturday treated us to glorious sunshine for a hilly 6km individual time-trial in the neighbouring Var where he finished an exhausted sixth. Sunday he raced in Martigues, some two hours down the road from us, and the pictures show he finished in the top five, high enough to keep his King of the Mountain’s jersey in what I assume is the Tour du Var. We supported him from afar and couldn’t be prouder of him if he were ours.

A trip down Memory lane

Posted in Hazards, Live Racing with tags on 02/05/2015 by Sheree
Yorkshire's Ben Swift with Bridlington in the background (image: Tour de Yorkshire)

Yorkshire’s Ben Swift with Bridlington in the background (image: Tour de Yorkshire)

Yesterday’s inaugural stage of the Tour de Yorkshire from Bridlington to Scarborough conjured up a number of ancient memories from when I was training to become a chartered accountant. I had worked as the junior on a two-man audit on part of a quoted group, based just outside of Bridlington, which manufactured portable cabins. The area was a popular  summer holiday resort, although we conducted our audit work out of season when the town was essentially mothballed. Not that we had much free time to enjoy the amusement arcades and buy “Kiss me Quick” hats or sticks of rock.

I recall we stayed in one of the few open hotels on the sea front, a relic from the town’s heyday, which probably wouldn’t fare too well in today’s Booking.com ratings. I can still remember the limited dinner menu which harked back to the Dark Ages with starters such as fruit juice or half a grapefruit with the ubiquitous glacé cherry. You might be thinking these were left over from breakfast but no, they were not.

Towards the end of the last week of our audit, snow began to fall heavily from Thursday midday. Blustery, high winds piled the snow into drifts, blockading us in at the company’s offices and preventing our return to the hotel. The Company’s MD was in town for a board meeting with a number of other senior group staff and they were all staying at a hotel just down the road from the office, well within walking distance.

As darkness descended, a small band of us, including the Chief Accountant and his assistant, made our way to their hotel, called Fenn’s Farm, hoping we’d find enough beds for the night. There were no spare rooms, so we had to double up. The MD gallantly gave me his room. I had thought I might be forced to share with the Chief Accountant’s assistant but she, rather fortuitously, seemed to have come prepared with an overnight bag and heated rollers ready to share with the Chief Accountant. After that I didn’t enquire too deeply about who shared with whom.

Back at the company’s office next day, it was obvious we wouldn’t be driving home that week-end but would have to take the train. I called the office to let them know what had happened. The line was bad and the message received the other end was that we’d been snowed in and had spent the night in a barn! Unbeknown to me, the audit senior on this particular audit had a bit of a reputation as the office Lothario, this incident had only helped to gild rather than tarnish said reputation.

The following year, I was the audit senior on the job but a number of faces had changed. The Chief Accountant and his assistant were no more but the MD was still in situ. While introducing me to the newly appointed Chief Accountant, he joked that I had looked better in his pyjama top. Lest the new man got the wrong impression, I pointed out that the MD had never seen me in his pyjama top. A loan I’d declined though I’d been grateful he’d given me his hotel room when we’d been snowed in.

You can tell how long ago this was, well before any notion of political correctness started to even creep in and well before the advent of mobile phones. Yes, I really am that old! Fortunately, we didn’t get snowed in on this audit and everything went according to plan though I never visited Bridlington again.

Postcards from Seefeld II

Posted in Hazards with tags on 22/02/2015 by Sheree

A week ago we had just returned from a week’s vacation where –  and I only have myself to blame –  I allowed my beloved to choose the hotel. In the many, many years we’ve been married I’ve allowed him to book hotels only twice before, neither of which was an unqualified success. It’s just not one of his competencies. He’s blinded by the pretty photographs and forgets to check the small print.

My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace

My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace

The hotel wasn’t a total disaster but we won’t be returning. On the positive side, it was in a fabulous location, the rooms were spacious with south-facing balconies and it was a small family run affair. Usually a bell weather, but not this time. Mein hosts, along with their overly fussy totally coordinated decor and menus, were firmly stuck in the last century. They pitch their offering very much at the German retiree market, a segment with plenty of spending power and a desire to return year after year after year.

The hotel claimed to have WiFi throughout but I soon discovered that the service worked intermittently in the bedrooms. Four of us on the hotel’s second floor had iPhones and iPads and, a bit like the Germans and their towels, you had to get up early to hog access the limited bandwidth.

Non fully functioning WiFi is one of my pet peeves and the hotel will get marked down on my booking.com evaluation. And, while we’re on the subject of complaints, I’d also like to confiscate the chef’s mandolin, the use of which was willful and without reason. Marcus Waring wouldn’t have approved either! Chef also liked decorating the plates with little dots of balsamic vinegar which added nothing to our enjoyment of the dish and, another cardinal sin, painting stripes of stuff across the plates. I dare say that Mein hosts thought this the height of fine dining, but they’re wrong, it is not.

Serviette Folding

Frau Host had a firm grip on the book “The Art of Folding Serviettes.”  Every evening they were arranged in a different fashion and the table decorated with what I can only describe as knickknacks – so NOT necessary! Plain white linen table cloths and neatly folded serviettes please. The Saturday before we left was St Valentines Day and they’d gone totally overboard.

As I waited to check out, Herr Host was having a long conversation with a couple of regulars taking their leave. I swear that he clicked his heels together smartly and inclined his head as he shook their hands and bade them farewell for another year. I was not accorded the same courtesy. I sensed he knew I would not be returning. I half expected the bill to be laminated much like my “yellow card.”

Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks

Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks

I had committed the cardinal sin of omitting to fill in the registration card which was hidden among the pile of brochures in the bedroom. In truth, he’d run pretty much amok with the laminating machine and I suspect his wife bought him it for Christmas . Probably, the same year he bought her the one on how to fold serviettes.

Postcards from Seefeld I

Posted in Favourites, Training with tags , on 20/02/2015 by Sheree
My beloved and I spent last week in one of our old stomping grounds, Seefeld in Austria, where we both first learned to cross-country ski. We’ve been visiting the resort regularly for many years, summer and winter, though not so much since we moved to France. Our last visits were back in 2009, when we went cross-country skiing in February and cycling in June.
Seefeld

Seefeld

The resort has changed very little over the years and it’s like slipping your feet into a well-worn and favourite pair of slippers. I should at this point add, I never wear slippers. Along with cardigans and reading glasses, I think they shreak “middle-aged.”
That track has got my name on it

That track has got my name on it

We’ve skied all the resorts 250km of cross-country tracks, several times, just not on the same day! The tracks are graded just like alpine slopes from easy (green) all the way up to most difficult (black). My beloved always makes a beeline for the black  ones whereas I like to get my snow legs back first and will religiously practise a number of exercises before hitting the trails.
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church

Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church

Cross-country skiing, particularly skating, is all about technique. Get that right and you can glide along using the minimum of effort. If I’m obsessed with technique, my beloved is all about power. Combine our talents and you’d have a formidable athlete!
It's even nice walking in the snow

It’s even nice walking in the snow

Aside from the cross-country trails and downhill slopes, there’s  around 250km of walks. There’s nothing I like better than working up a head of steam crunching through the woods on virgin snow. It’s so peaceful. Well, apart from the noise I’m making.
This has our names (and forks) on it!

This has our names (and forks) on it!

Then, having burned off copious calories walking and skiing, it’s time to refuel with an Austrian speciality: Apfelstrudel, Germknodel, Kaiserschmarr’n. I’ve tried them all in the name of scientific research.
Bliss!

Bliss!

Last week we were blessed with that nirvana combination of clear blue skies, plenty of new snow and tons of warm sunshine. Ahead of the half- term vacations and Carnival,  the resort was busy but not overly so. No fighting with the Germans to bag the best and sunniest seats!

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.

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