12 Days of Christmas- day 5

This one’s from Manly Beach in Sydney. Not as well known as nearby Bondi Beach, but it’s much bigger and tends to be less crowded. I first visited Manly back in 2010 when we were in Australia for the UCI Road World Championships. My beloved had to cut short his vacation to head to a Dental Meeting in USA so I spent an enjoyable few days exploring Sydney on my own. I got the ferry across to Manly and then hired a bike to ride around the place.

Captain Arthur Phillip named Manly after the indigenous people living there, stating that “their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”.

xmas15
Surfer braving the current in Manly

My beloved took a number of pictures of the surfers but I chose this one because I liked the juxtaposition of the surfer and the danger sign. The sign warns of strong currents but, in my mind, it could equally be warning you about sharks – cue music from Jaws!

12 Days of Christmas – day 4

It was only as I was skimming through my beloved’s cycling photographs that I realised how many featured the lovely leggy podium girls who grace every event! This one is from the Giro d’Italia and features its “god-mother” holding the splendid winner’s trophy.

xmas9
God-mother of Giro d’Italia 2016, Georgia Palmas

Hailing from Sardinia, the start for next year’s centenary Giro,  Georgia Palmas, a former Miss Italy, runner-up in Miss World and star of a number of celebrity reality television shows, has graced the arms of a number of well-known Italian sporting stars, none of them cyclists. This photograph was taken in Palmanove, in northeastern Italy, where the old town was built in the shape of a star by the Venetians in the late 16th century.

12 Days of Christmas – day 3

I just had to have a photograph from the Basque country in my final dozen. We visit the Basque country at least twice a year, largely for two cycling events: the week-long Tour of the Basque country and the one-day Clasica San Sebastian. Some years, if we’re lucky like this year, we manage to fit in a third during the Vuelta a Espana. This was taken by my beloved in early August from the port of San Sebastian looking across the bay to the old pavillion.

xmas11
La Concha Beach, San Sebastian

Playa De La Concha (shell) is the best known and smallest of the three main beaches in San Sebastian, right in the centre of town and close to the Old Town. The beach is approximately 1,350 metres long and 40 metres wide, depending on the tide, and occupies approx. 54 sq metres, 5 metres below ground level. It’s one of the many jewels in San Sebastian’s crowns and is ranked among the top 15 European beaches.

 

12 Days of Christmas – day 2

Next out of the bag is a photograph of the Promenade des Anglais taken in early March on the last day of the  Paris-Nice race. I’ve chosen it in memory of all those who were injured or lost their lives there in a senseless act of violence on Bastille Day that surely wouldn’t have been countenanced by anyone’s god.

The Promenade des Anglais during Paris-Nice 2016
The Promenade des Anglais during Paris-Nice 2016

The Promenade stretches along the seafront of Nice between the beach and the road and is always bustling, not just with people strolling in the sunshine but also dog-walkers, joggers, cyclists, in-line skaters and sightseers, many of whom pause on bright blue chairs to enjoy the azure sea in the Baie des Anges. The road was financed by the English and the City of Nice in the late 18th century largely to provide work for the unemployed, hence the name.

12 Days of Christmas – day 1

I’ve searched through the thousands of photographs we’ve both taken this year for 12 which sum up our 2016. It hasn’t been an easy task. I could have easily picked 12 from those taken in Australia or from the many bike races we’ve seen. But I haven’t.

Shortly after this series starts, we’ll be jetting off to Dubai, en route to another winter in Australia. This year I have no excuse other than when friends asked me if I’d have done anything differently on last year’s trip, I replied “Stay longer!” So that’s what we’re doing and it’s only fitting that I start with a photograph from Australia.

 

Gippsland Lakes
Gippsland Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes are a network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering over 600 sq kilometres, separated from the ocean by coastal dunes known as Ninety Mile Beach. Bird and marine life thrive here, with lake dolphins and pelicans frequenting many locations. We passed through here when we drove along the coast from Melbourne to Sydney. The scenery along the way was stunning but the beautifully scenic Lakes were the piece de resistance!

The Musette: Dippity Do Dah

Open my fridge door and you’ll find a dip or maybe two, particularly since I started my new regime. Aside from being delicious, dips have a multitude of uses. Served with crudités they make a quick lunch after my morning ride, they add oomph to a salad baguette, a baked potato……..you get the general idea.

Hummus

Hummus hit the headlines a few years ago when  Les Miserables star Anne Hathaway claimed to have lost weight by eating it with radishes. Anne, honestly, I eat hummus all the time with radishes and I’ve not lost any weight. Anne, level with me – you just ate the radishes, didn’t you?

So here are my recipes for a duo of dips:

Ingredients (serves four cyclists as a starter)

  • 350g (140z) tinned or cooked (see below) chickpeas, drained
  • 3 tbsp tahini paste
  • 3 fat confit garlic cloves
  • 6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tbsp warm water
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly ground sea salt
  • Drizzle of virgin olive oil

Method

1. Reserve a few whole chickpeas for garnish. Blitz the rest in a food processor or blender with the crushed confit garlic, tahini paste, lemon juice and water until you have a smooth, soft mixture, not dissimilar to cake batter.

2. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. I typically use 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp of pepper but it’s all down to individual taste.

3. Using a rubber spatula, scrape all the hummus from the mixer bowl into a serving dish.

4. Decorate with the whole chick peas, a dusting of paprika and a drizzle of virgin olive oil.

5. Serve with warmed pitta bread, bread sticks and/or crudités – including radishes – a la Anne Hathaway.

image

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Now if you’re going to be following the Hathaway diet you might as well cook the chickpeas from dried in bulk:

image

Soak 500g (1lb) of dried chickpeas overnight in twice their volume of cold water to which you add 1 tbsp of bicarbonate of soda. The following day drain and rinse the chickpeas, add ½ tbsp of bicarbonate of soda to twice the volume of water as the chick peas. Bring to the boil, add a piece of dried Kombu (optional), partly cover, turn down to a gentle simmer, skim, and cook for 2-3 hours until soft. Add more hot water, if necessary, during the cooking process to ensure the chickpeas remain immersed in water. Remove the piece of Kombu, drain the chick peas, retaining some of the cooking liquid to use instead of water in the recipe above.

2. If you’re wondering what to do with the remaining chickpeas why not make Spiced Chickpeas to serve either as a side dish with grilled fish or meat or as tasty pre-dinner nibbles. This recipe is courtesy of my local Moroccan restaurant:

Drain 350g (14 oz) of cooked or tinned chickpeas and dry them on kitchen paper. Mix together 2 tbsp of olive oil with two crushed fat cloves of garlic and pour over the beans, ensuring they’re all well covered. Roast them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a pre-heated hot oven 230°C/210°C fan/gas mark 8 (450°F/410°F fan) for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, drain on kitchen paper then roll them in a mixture of 1 tsp of freshly ground cumin, ¼-½ tsp of chilli (to taste), 1 tsp of sea salt and ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper.

3. To get a really smooth hummus you’ll need to take the skin off each and every chick pea! Only do this if you want to impress the hell out of someone.

4. To confit the garlic cloves, just cook gently in olive oil until they’re soft and squidgy. Save and re-use the garlic tasting olive oil. Alternatively, bake a whole bulb of garlic in the oven wrapped in aluminium foil and squeeze out three cooked cloves. I find raw garlic often gives an acrid flavour to the hummus while roasting or confiting makes it much mellower and sweeter.

Moutabal

This is another perennial favourite which I often turn into a side dish with the addition of chopped, skinned and deseeded cucumber and a large handful of halved cherry tomatoes.

Ingredients (serves four cyclists as a starter, three if you turn it into a side salad)

  • 2 large aubergines (eggplant)
  • 4 tbsp tahini paste
  • 2 tsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
  • 4 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Drizzle virgin olive oil
  • Handful fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)

Method

1. Dry roast the aubergines in a preheated oven on 185°C /165°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/330°F fan) for 30 minutes until the skins blacken. This is vital otherwise the finished dish won’t have that all-important smoky flavour.

2. Remove from oven, split the skin and scoop out the flesh into a sieve over a bowl. Allow the aubergine to cool slightly and disgorge any liquid.

3. Roughly chop the aubergine flesh and add the tahini paste, molasses, lemon juice, garlic and 3 tbsp of chopped parsley. If you’re not using the pomegranate molasses substitute with 1 tbsp of lemon juice.

4. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.

5. Pile into a serving dish, drizzle with a little oil and scatter the remaining parsley and pomegranate seeds (optional) on top.

6. Serve with whatever you fancy to scoop up the delicious charred flesh. Alternatively add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and half a skinned, deseeded and chopped cucumber and eat with grilled meat. I eat mine with a grilled veal chop.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If I’m using it as a dip rather than a side dish, I might add some toasted crushed cumin seeds and some more crushed garlic.

2. If I’m having the dish with some roast or grilled lamb, I might substitute 2 tbsp of mint for two of parsley.

Guacamole

Ideally you should prepare the guacamole just before you’re planning to eat it though I often make it in advance and pop it into the fridge for later.  The addition of fresh lime juice means its zingy, fresh taste cuts through the richness of the ripe avocado. There are almost as many recipes for this dish as there are Mexicans, but here’s my take on it.

Ingredients (serves four cyclists as a starter)

  • 3 ripe Hass avocados
  • Juice from two fresh limes
  • 3 spring onions (scallions)
  • Large bunch of coriander (cilantro)
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 fat fresh green serano chilli
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Blitz the coriander stalks, tomato, onions, garlic, chilli, salt and pepper in a blender. If you prefer your guacamole a bit milder, remove the seeds from the chilli first.

2. Halve the avocados, discard the stone and remove the flesh from the skin with a teaspoon handle and swirl in the freshly squeezed lime juice, to prevent the flesh from turning black. Yes, I know we’ve all seen the domestic goddess that is Nigella Lawson brandishing one of those lime squeezy plastic bottles but DON’T do it. You’ll thank me later, as only fresh lime juice imparts that oh-so-necessary zingy taste. Gently mash the avocados with a fork. You want them broken up, not smashed to a pulp.

3. Pour the contents of the blender into the avocados and gently mix. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasonings.

4. Chop the coriander leaves and mix most into the guacamole, pile it into a serving dish and scatter the remaining leaves as a garnish on top.

5. It’s ready to serve with whatever you have to hand but I do concede plain corn chips are probably the best. Now, where did I put the rest of those radishes?

image

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Guacamole is another one of those dishes that you can play around with. The only golden rule is to use ripe avocados and fresh limes!

2. If you can’t find any fresh chillis, and I often can’t,  use 1/2 tsp of Thai bottled red chilli paste.

3. In the highly unlikely event that you have any left over, cover the surface of the guacamole with cling film (plastic wrap) and pop it into the fridge. It’ll happily stay fresh and green for a few days more.

image

4. The hummus will also rest happily in the fridge for a few days in a sealed container. As you can see, I also like it atop a baked potato!

5. Keep all the squeezed lemon and lime halves in the fridge and pop them one by one into the dishwasher to impart a nice fresh scent.

The Musette: Christmas cake

We’re rushing headlong into the Festive season and it’s time to get stirring dried fruit for all manner of festive foods. In the past I’ve made Christmas cakes, puddings and even mince pies as gifts but in recent years have restricted myself to just the cakes. Now I’m not overly fond of fruit cake, specifically Christmas cake. I find all too often that it’s dry with a burnt, bitter after-taste – even the most expensive versions. However my family and husband all love it so, a few years ago, with the prospect of them spending the festive season with us in France, I decided to try to come up with a cake we’d all enjoy.

Firstly I eliminated a number of ingredients found in the more traditional recipes, such as candied peel, glace cherries, treacle, grated apple, currants, spices and nuts. Mine was only going to be made with dried fruit which I had macerated for two weeks in dark rum and honey to make it really plumptious. I cooked the cake in a shallow baking tray so that it didn’t need to bake for days hours in the oven. I then topped it with home-made marzipan and soft royal icing. It was a triumph and now my family claim Christmas isn’t complete without a couple of my cakes.

I also make them all year-round, without the marzipan and icing, as the high dried fruit content makes it an ideal snack during or after a ride. The cakes have found favour with many in the pro peloton.

Ingredients

  • 2kg (4lb) dried fruit, mix according to taste but should include prunes, dates, figs, apricots, cranberries, sour cherries and raisins (see Sheree’s handy hints for my particular mix)
  • 500ml (2 cups) dark rum
  • 200ml (¾ cup) runny honey
  • 340g (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 large organic eggs, approx. 45g (1⅔oz), without shell
  • 150g (1 cup) golden caster (super-fine) sugar
  • 320g (2⅔ cups) strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Chop all the dried fruit into small pieces and place in a large glass mixing bowl. Add the honey and half of the rum. Fold to combine and evenly distribute. Cover with cling-film (plastic wrap) and allow to macerate for at least two weeks at room temperature. Stir on a daily basis and add the rest of the rum as and when necessary.

Glistening fruit macerated in rum
Glistening fruit macerated in rum

2. Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 (275°F/260°F fan). Generously butter and flour the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use two disposable tin-foil ones measuring 18cm x 23cm x 5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes – which I line with a greaseproof paper.

3. In another large bowl, beat the soft butter and sugar together with (preferably) an electric mixer until pale and fluffy – at least five minutes.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. To prevent the batter curdling, add a tablespoon of flour to the batter with each egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as often as necessary. Add the rest of the sifted flour and mix gently with a spatula until everything is combined.

Ready for the fruit
Ready for the fruit

5. Now gently add the dried fruit in batches and mix to ensure an even distribution of fruit.

Ready for the cake tins
Ready for the cake tins

6. Divide the cake batter between the tins and level the tops with an offset spatula. Put the tins into the oven on a baking tray and cook for approximately two hours. Times will vary depending on the dimensions of your baking tins and your oven, so check regularly. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the tin on a wire rack. The cakes can be stored in their tins, in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to two months.

Sheree’s handy hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 20 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If the cakes start to colour too much, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4. Typically my dried fruit mix is as follows:

  • 500g big juicy golden raisins
  • 500g pitted Agen prunes
  • 125g dried apricots
  • 250g dried cranberries
  • 125g dried sour cherries
  • 250g dried figs
  • 250g pitted medjool dates

But feel free to experiment, replace some of the fruit with others which are more to your taste or even substitute some with chopped nuts.

5. If you don’t want to use dark rum, brandy works equally well or, if you prefer to leave out the alcohol, then soak the fruit overnight in warm tea, orange or apple juice. However, without the preservative effect of alcohol, the cake will not keep for as long.

6. I usually leave the cakes for at least a week before I cover them with home-made marzipan and then another day before decorating with soft home-made royal icing. I often only cover the tops of the cakes, leaving the sides bare – you can have too much of a good thing!

Here are my recipes for marzipan and royal icing:

Ingredients

  • 250g (2½ cups) sifted icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 250g (2½ cups) blanched almonds
  • 2 egg whites (approx 30g/1oz)
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Using a blender or food processor finely chop the almonds.  Then add the sifted icing sugar, egg whites and salt and blend to incorporate. It should be the consistency of sticky pastry dough. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave overnight in the fridge to firm up.

2. Gently heat 2 tbsp of apricot jam in a saucepan with 1 tbsp of water. Sieve and leave to cool before painting the top  and sides with the jam. This will help the marzipan to adhere to the cake.

3. Take two-thirds of the marzipan and roll out between two sheets of greaseproof paper (parchment wrap) so that it’s large enough to cover the top of the cake and is about 5 cm thick. You can use the base of the cake tin to cut out the correct shape.

4. Then use the remaining third to roll out a strip of marzipan that is the same height as the cake. Lay the circular/square/rectangular piece of marzipan on top of the cake, and then take the long strip and wrap it round the sides. Pinch the seams together and then, before icing, allow the marzipan to dry by letting the cake sit in a cool spot for 24 hours wrapped in a clean tea towel.

5. Once the marzipan has dried, ice either with home-made royal icing or ready to roll icing. If you’re short of time and you’re going to eat the cake within a couple of days, you can simply decorate the cake with an abundance of glace fruits and/or nuts.

Almost ready!
Almost ready!

 

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites (30g/1oz total)
  • 500g (5 cups) sifted icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Method

1. Beat the egg whites lightly and add enough icing sugar to make icing that will hold its shape. Add sufficient lemon juice to get desired consistency. I prefer a soft icing rather than a teeth-jarringly stiff one.

2.Brush the marzipan with a bit of water and spread on the royal icing. I tend to go for a lazy snow peak effect with a palette knife and then decorate with small Christmas baubles or figurines.

Now where did I put Santa and Rudolph?
Now where shall  I put Santa and Rudolph?

3. I usually finish the cake off with a wide ribbon and place it in a decorative tin ready for the big day.

Postcard from New York

One year on and we’re back in Manhattan though my trip was almost cut short by my beloved. On leaving the plane he swung his pull-along briefcase and swept my feet from under me. I fell on my right side, banging my head and shoulder. I saw stars, was momentarily winded and had to be helped up by the airline staff. Did I fall or did I have a fall? I like to think it was the former and not the latter.

We passed relatively quickly through US Customs, never the most pleasant of experiences, grabbed our luggage and headed for the train to Penn station. We got on the wrong train. We’d bought a ticket for the New Jersey Line but had gotten on the quicker (and vastly more expensive) Amtrak service. The guard kindly let us off the extra fare. Those UK accents occasionally come in handy. We took a cab to our serviced apartment on E39th which I had booked, as usual, through http://www.booking.com.

My beloved allegedly had only organised a few meetings and a couple of dinners beforehand and said we would spend all of Tuesday and Wednesday together. In the end, we had breakfast together on Sunday morning and dinner on Tuesday evening. The rest of the time he was busy, busy, busy. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m used to fending for myself and it did mean I could do and see pretty much what I wanted.

new-york-5new-york-4new-york-3new-york-2

I’ve already toured all of New York’s many tourist attractions and now I take pleasure in exploring different areas of Manhattan. As we were staying on the Eastside, most of my walks took place between E10th and E60th streets and I only occasionally strayed west. I’m not sure how far I walked but with my eczema dying down, I had a definite spring back in my step.

My two sisters, who regard trips to New York as an opportunity to shop until they drop, exhorted me to have a spend up. They’d have been sorely disappointed with my efforts. As usual, I spent most of Sunday and Monday, when the weather was fine, happily exploring on foot. I particularly love walking around early on Sundays, before the shops open, as there are so few people around and I have the streets to myself.

Of course, no trip to New York would be complete without a trip to Barnes & Noble to check out the latest cookery books. Luckily there was plenty of room in my luggage for my book haul. I also popped into Lululemon to feed my beloved’s growing habit.

My younger sister had tasked me with checking whether I could find her recent Ugg purchases cheaper in NY. No, I couldn’t, which has increased her pleasure in her latest acquisitions. Sadly, I couldn’t find her the Gant poncho she wanted. I don’t normally agree to buy things for my sisters otherwise I’d be spending all my trip shopping.

I confess in years past I have spent considerable time shopping particularly at Takashimya and, even though it’s long gone, I always go and pay homage at its former site on 5th. Of course, globalisation has taken the fun out of shopping. There’s little in NY that I can’t buy at home which is why I prefer the one-off shops on the fringes and down side streets.

MoMa
MoMa

It poured on Tuesday so I retired to MoMa, always a pleasure. I had planned on a trip to the Witney on Wednesday but, with the rain again coming down in sheets; instead I opted for an organic Thai spa pedicure which involved lots of lovely smelling unguents, hot towels and acres of cling film! Just what my weary feet needed before heading home.

All photographs courtesy of Getty Images