Postal problems

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

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!

Monsoon

Only to be expected, I suppose, after our Indian summer! To be fair, rain was forecast for this week. It started early on Monday evening followed by an epic thunderstorm, or so my beloved claimed. That’s right, it didn’t wake me thus it couldn’t have been that epic. It only started to pour again mid-morning on Tuesday, after I’d dropped my beloved at the airport. His take-off was delayed a couple of hours as the weather closed in. When it rains heavily, my view of the sea is usually shrouded in mist. Visibility was so bad, I could barely see beyond the terrace.

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If you look at weather charts for the Cote d’Azur, it’ll show October as the wettest month of the year,  not this year. That title belongs belonged to January, thanks to three solid days of torrential rain mid-month, until this week. In the space of 36 hours, the coast had up to 300mm of rain or three months’ worth! Some areas fared worse than others but the damage wrought on the beaches and in the hills was truly terrible.

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The clean up operation swung into action on Wednesday, once the rain had stopped and Noah and his Ark had stood down. It continues apace. Today’s fine, the sunshine’s back but only until Sunday, when more of the wet stuff is forecast.  Of course, rain on the coast translates into snow in the Alps. So, it’s not all bad news.

The Domaine has not remained unscathed. The scaffolding at the far end of our block, recently erected for refurbishment and repainting of the façade, remained rock steady in the high winds but no doubt put back the schedule of works which is due to take almost two years to complete. I confess the thought of having workmen peering in my windows for the best part of a year while they paint the back, side and front of our block is rather unsettling. We’re not overlooked by anyone, don’t have so much as a net curtain to preserve our modesty and rarely use the shutters.

Storm1

High winds felled a number of trees in the Domaine. Fortunately none fell on parked cars and the gardeners, who love a bit of “Chainsaw Massacre” have been wildly sawing away for the past few days. The fallen trees will be replaced with new, younger ones to preserve the parkland and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. The trees, mostly pine, I suppose will end up on someone’s open fire.

Despite today’s sunshine, care will have to be taken on our rides. The road, particularly the cycle lanes, will be full of small stones and wet sand which often masks the broken glass. It’s a bit of a minefield for tyres. My beloved is absolutely bound to get a puncture. That man gets through more inner tubes in a month than I do in a year, and I cycle so much more than him.

Despite today’s strong sunshine, the mercury has dipped a bit and I’ll be wearing my Roubaix 3/4 bib tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Winter’s truly arrived. There’s not a cloud in the sky, so I won’t need any wet weather gear, at least, not today.

(all photographs courtesy of Nice-Matin newspaper)

 

Ride Postscript: Serious miscalculation on my part, a short-sleeved jersey would’ve sufficed!

 

Indian summer

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1