Even though I live a short stroll from the beach, I wouldn’t describe myself as a beach person. No, it’s the water I love, its ever changing moods and colours. However, I’m not adverse to a stroll along a sandy beach, digging my toes into the damp sand and walking along the receding waterline. While I was in Australia, I posted lots of beach photos and many of my friends were astonished at how empty they were. It’s true, there’s so many beaches that most have only a few folks on them. Often the empty ones are the more dangerous ones where swimming is forbidden and there are no lifeguards. I should clarify that, when I say dangerous, I’m referring to rip tides and rocks, not sharks.
Of course, when you use the words “beach” and “Australia” many think of Bondi beach. It might be the most well-known one outside of Australia but it’s surprisingly small. Now, I’m no surfer but the beach is much larger at Manley and the waves look pretty good to me! What do you think?
But my favourite beaches are those where the waves crash against the shoreline and sunbathing is the only permitted activity. Often these are havens for birdlife and are bordered by magnificent dunes with all manner of plants and shrubs.
Equally, I love family-style beaches where the sand’s soft, the water’s clear and shallow – ideal for a splash about. Often there’s a pier for strolling along or fishing from or for diving into the sea. Perfect for a spot of lotus eating.
I also enjoy the beaches at sunrise and sunset. I particularly love the play of light on the water.
However, some of the most magnificent seascapes are to be found along the Great Ocean Road.
Sunday, after a delicious vegetable chilli for lunch (recipe to follow shortly), my beloved and I settled down for a feast of sporting action. First up, the conclusion of a thrilling Volta a Catalunya dominated by the evergreen Movistarlet Alejandro Valverde. Next up was a spot of action from Belgium, with an exciting conclusion to Gent-Wevelgem where the victor was the in-form Olympic Champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). But there’s more!
After entreaties from my beloved, I have caved in and signed up for CanalPlus Sport giving us access to plenty of cycling and, more importantly, MotoGP live. Since, it moved from Eurosport to BTSport in the UK , I have had to be content with watching races the following day which tends to take the edge off of things. Now we have the luxury of watching all three classes live. I started watching MotoGP largely because of cycling, as typically the MotoGP races preceded those of cycling on Eurosport.
I started watching MotoGP stars Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales when they were both in MotoGP3 and I’ll be looking hard at this class to spot the stars of the future. Most of the MotoGP3 riders look too young to be out on their own on a bicycle let alone a 125cc moto bike. Their fresh faced enthusiasm is infectious and I couldn’t believe the winners were allowed to celebrate with champagne, surely lemonade would have been more appropriate? However, having checked them out, I discovered, quite incredibly, they were all over 18 and had come up either through their national series or that of Red Bull. The race was won by a 19 year old Spanish rider, JoanMir, sponsored by Leopard – yes, the same one that supported a WorldTour team – who was MotoGP3 rookie of the year in 2016. Runner-up was John McPhee a British racer a few years older who’s been knocking around the circuits for a while. He was in a Spanish sandwich as Jorge Martin, another 19 year old, who’s been in the same class since 2015, finished third.
Incredibly there were no Spaniards on the podium in the MotoGP2 class. The winner, Italian Franco Morbidella, moved up to this class in 2013 and finished fourth last year. Runner-up was the evergreen Swiss Thomas Luthi who’s been racing this class for ten years and the podium was rounded out by the Japanese rider TakaaniNakagami who was the youngest ever winner of the Japanese GP series in 2006. First Spaniard was Alex Marquez, brother of Marc, in fifth place.
This season with Jorge Lorenzo moving from Yamaha to Ducati, Maverick Vinales – surely the best name in the sport – replaces him and really moves into contention after winning a race last season for Suzuki. Unfortunately, the blue-riband event was plagued by rain, uncertainty and was finally reduced to 20 dramatic laps. Vinales, who had dominated pre-season testing, was on pole and had a battle royal in the desert with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati). Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) was third after coming back from way back on the grid.
Andrea Iannone (Suzuki Ecstar) got off to a great start but was soon overshadowed by French rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who zoomed into the lead in the early laps, putting daylight between himself and the rest, before dramatically sliding out. Iannone soon followed suit leaving defending champion MarcMarquez (Repsol Honda) chasing the leading three: Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi. The first two traded places before Vinales held off Dovi on the penultimate lap to record his second MotoGP win, his first in Yamaha colours. Marquez crossed the line in fourth and admitted post-race he’d made an ill-advised tyre change just before the race start. That said, looking at previous results, the circuit has favoured the Yamaha bikes. Next up is Argentina, a new location ,followed by Austin where the Hondas have reigned supreme. It looks as if the 2017 season is off to an exciting start and I’m hoping it’ll be a close run competition.
One of Australia’s greatest treasures is her flora – a staggering 24,000 species of native plants. Now this is where my late mother would have been in her element. She would have known the names of all the plants we ooohed and aaahed over. My beloved and I don’t have a green finger between us while my mother poured her heart and soul into her garden which was always a blaze of colour. She would have loved seeing one of her favourite flowers everywhere. Not so much a host of golden daffodils as clouds of gently swaying blue and white agapanthus plants in gardens, growing wild in the verges and decorating civic areas. She planted hers in large cobalt blue pots on the patio. The owner of the beautiful historic house we stayed in at Birregurra told me that they’re easy plants to grow. Maybe, I’ll give them a go on the terrace.
In addition, the vineyards we visited all had beautiful well-cared for gardens, some with potagers, others with sculptures and, of course, rows and rows of vines, orchards and olive trees.
But it’s not just the flowers, the trees and bushes are magnificent too and again there’s a huge variety from stubby to towering trees, monster killer ferns (just joking!) and all sorts of shrubs. I enjoyed looking at the variety of plants in the dunes, protecting those long lovely sandy beaches. I particularly loved the smell of the gum trees (eucalypts) on a warm afternoon – so evocative. They’re another omnipresent species and serve as shelter for many species of native Australian animals and birds. A few varieties of gum leaves are the only food koalas will eat. Not that I ever saw one up a tree despite craning my neck upwards for hours.
This brings me onto the fauna. This time around we didn’t see any living animals in the wild, only those at the Tour Down Under which the pro riders get to cuddle.
This is my better side
Don’t be shy, come on out!
Sadly we saw far too many dead on the roadside, roadkill. However, we saw and heard much of the bird life. The birds – a bit like the Aussies themselves – are noisy. I loved lying in bed in the early morning and hearing them sing, shout and shake it all about but the only ones I could name were the raucous white cockatoos.
Before we go to Australia again, I should take a leaf out of my mother’s book and do a spot of research so that I can identify more of the wonderful flora and fauna. Just don’t hold your breath………
Our days have quickly settled into a routine which totally revolves around my beloved and the treatments for his broken leg. It starts with a good breakfast before an hour long physio session at the nearby hospital during which I go food shopping. After all I have to cook him three square meals a day to aid his (hopefully swift) recovery. Back home we ready ourselves for the daily visit from the nurse for his anticoagulant injections and change of dressings. Lunch and then a short nap for my beloved which allows me to get on with some work work, rather than house work.
My beloved stirs in time for a cuppa and checks on his emails. I start to prepare dinner and tidy up. While I’ve not been able to get out for a ride, I’m getting plenty of exercise being at his beck and call 24/7. He’s moving around well on his crutches and the swelling in his leg is subsiding. He is supposed to give it plenty of rest, particularly after the punishing physio sessions. This means I am chief fetcher and carrier for someone who’s not renowned for being patient. Our evenings are generally spent catching up with work before an early night.
While everything appears to be progressing well, there have been side effects. The anticoagulant injections affect the kidneys which means he’s popping to the toilet more frequently. Consequently I’ve allowed him to use my en-suite. A huge concession on my part given cleaning his bathroom usually sees me donning a haz-chem suit. It’s also given him gout in the big toe of the broken leg. He’s suffered from this in the past but we’ve not had a flare up since 2012. All of which has meant much searching on the internet, quizzing of nursing staff and speculation as to whether I should run him to the GP for something for the gout. Fortunately, it’s starting to subside.
Yesterday, after his stitches had been removed, I was given time off for good behaviour. Yes, just over two weeks since the accident, I’ve been allowed out to catch up with one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were eight years’ old and have kept in touch since being at grammar school for five years together. She lives in Austin, Texas but summers in the Luberon where she has a lovely honey stoned house in the pretty village of Gordes. She comes over in spring to ready the house for the summer season and was going to stay with us but, because of my beloved’s infirmity, we’ve opted for lunch in Aix. I’m taking my sister with me as she’s over here enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.
It would have been nice to spend the whole day in Aix particularly as there’s so much to see and do, including a fabulous market in the mornings. We arrived just in time for lunch at my chosen venue – you don’t honestly think I’d let anyone else pick the restaurant, do you? We dined in the beautiful enclosed, walled garden just a stone’s throw from Aix-en-Provence’s Cours Mirabeau.
My menu choice was somewhat limited, sea bass with mashed (with olive oil) potato and a green salad, but then I’d gone for a break not the food. My sister and my friend fared rather better. The other guests slowly departed and we went for a gentle stroll round the garden before enjoying a quick dash around Aix. It was my sister’s maiden visit and I wanted to show her the gorgeous town if only to encourage her to re-visit.
All too soon we were chugging back down the A8, remarkably free of traffic until we hit the toll in Antibes and the evening rush from whence we crawled home. I had had already prepared dinner – carrot and sweet potato soup with smoked paprika – so my sister dined with us before I dropped her back at her flat. My beloved claimed he was exhausted from looking after himself, so we opted for an early night. Today I was back to same old, same old……………
I had friends over for dinner on Friday to take my beloved’s mind off his broken leg. Not wanting to create too much extra work for myself, starters were pre-dinner nibbles of pizza, pissaladiere, fois gras and socca chips. The main course had to meet my and my friends’ dietary requirements yet still be a crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t enjoy lasagna? Exactly, so I dug out one of my newish cookery books “Crossroads” by Tal Ronnen, who is allegedly reinventing vegan cuisine.
My first beef with his recipe for Grilled Garden Vegetable Lasagna with Puttanesca Sauce was the number of bought ingredients in the dish such as Kite Hill almond ricotta, Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet mozzarella and Scoty’s marinara sauce – call yourself a chef? Undaunted, I decided for the first time ever to make vegan cheese and there was no way I was going to use store bought tomato sauce!
Ingredients (serves 12)
3 large red and 1 yellow bell pepper, approx. 350 g (12 oz)
4 large courgettes (zucchini), approx. 675 g (24 0z)
1 large aubergine (eggplant), approx. 450 g (1 lb)
1 large white onion, approx. 225 g (1/2 lb)
60 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
6 large basil leaves chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 finely chopped shallot
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups almond pesto ricotta (recipe below)
6 cups puttanesca sauce (recipe below)
18 gluten free lasagna sheets
285 g (10oz) cashew mozzarella (recipe below)
2 cups basil pesto (recipe below)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan), put peppers onto baking tray and cook until the skins start to blacken, around 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing skins, seeds and core. Chop into small squares.
2. Cut the other vegetables into similar sized pieces and marinade in the oil, garlic, shallot, basil, thyme, oregano, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper for about 20 minutes before tumbling onto two baking trays and baking in the oven for around 20 minutes. Remove from oven, mix with peppers and put into a glass bowl to cool. Check seasoning and, if necessary, add more salt and pepper to taste. Make the other elements of the dish from the recipes below.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan). Ladle about 1 cup of the sauce into a baking dish approx. 230cm x 330cm (9″ x 13″) to just cover the bottom. Now you’re ready to build the lasagna.
4. Slightly overlap 6 sheets of lasagna cross-wise so they completely cover the dish. Top the sheets with 1/3rd of the ricotta basil, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Pull apart 5 mozzarella balls and strew over the ricotta. Add a layer of the vegetables, approx. 1/3rd of the mix.
5. Repeat the process, twice more. Finally top with remaining 6 sheets and sauce.
6. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes. Remove the foil and strew remaining five mozzarella balls on top of the lasagne and bake for another five minutes, or so, until they have melted.
7. To serve, allow the lasagne to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into 12 portions. Divide the remaining 1 cup of basil pesto among the 12 plates, spreading it out with the back of a spoon. Set a portion of lasagne on top and enjoy!
Vegan almond ricotta: Ingredients (makes one cup)
250 g (2 cups) raw almonds, soaked for at least 2 hours in filtered water and then drained
2 fat garlic cloves
60 ml (1/4 cup) almond milk
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp maple syrup
11/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
1. Add all the ingredients to food processor and process until smooth, approx. 5 minutes. If the ricotta looks too dry, add a bit more milk.
2. Add one cup of basil pesto. Mix well and check seasoning.
250 g (2 cups) raw cashews, soaked overnight in filtered water
400 ml (1 2/3 cups) hot water
6 tbsp tapioca flour
4 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1. Put all the ingredients in food processor or blender and process until it has the consistency of milk.
2. Put a large saucepan over a medium heat and pour in the “milk.”
3. Start stirring continuously as after only a few minutes the cheesy sauce will start to thicken. Cook and stir continuously for at least 10-15 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly. Fill large bowl with ice cold water and add 1 tbsp of salt. Stir to dissolve.
5. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, scoop the mixture into mozzarella balls, dropping them into the salted water.
6. If you’re not using immediately, you can store them in the fridge for a couple of days.
Puttanesca sauce: Ingredients (makes 6 cups)
2 x 800 g (28 oz) tin of Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 shallots, finely chopped
60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine
2 tbsp of tomato puree
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. of capers, drained
1 cup of pitted small black olives, preferably niçois
8 large fresh basil leaves cut into chiffonade
1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Swirl around the olive oil to coat the pan and, when the oil is hot, add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly until the shallots are translucent, around 2-3 minutes.
2. Pour in wine and cook, again stirring for 1 to 2 minutes to evaporate some of the alcohol. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to simmer.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low, crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, stirring occasionally for a minimum of 60 minutes until the sauce thickens.
4. Add, olives, capers and basil, check seasoning and gently simmer for another 30 minutes.
5. If you’re not going to use it right away, it’ll sit happily in the fridge for a week, or the freezer for a month.
Basil Pesto (makes 2 cups)
4 cups fresh basil leaves, approx. 4 small bunches
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, approx. 1 bunch
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
150 g (1/2 cup) toasted pine nuts
8 garlic cloves
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
240 ml (1 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine, basil, parsley, nutritional yeast flakes, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Pulse until a paste is formed.
2. With the motor running, pour in the oil in a steady stream until it’s all incorporated.
3. Add one cup to the ricotta cheese and keep the other cup for serving with the lasagna.
Sheree’s Handy Hints
The lasagna was delicious, packed full of flavour. I’ll definitely make it again though with a few further tweaks. For example, you can see from my photograph that the mozzarella balls didn’t melt all over the top of the lasagna. Next time, I’ll make a cheesy, extra-sticky mozzarella sauce for the top using
125 g (1 cup) raw cashews, soaked overnight in filtered water
500 ml (2 cups) hot water
7 tbsp tapioca flour
4 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1. Put all the ingredients in food processor or blender and process until it has the consistency of milk.
2. Put a large saucepan over a medium heat and pour in the “milk.”
3. Stir continuously for 10-15 minutes until it has the consistency of a thick cheesy sauce.
Sheree’s Handy Hints continued:-
Now, I appreciate that there’s a lot of steps involved in this recipe but none of them take too long. I made everything the day before and assembled it before my guests arrived. I popped it into the oven when they arrived and it was ready to serve after our pre-dinner nibbles.
With the lasagna, I served a green salad with a zesty fresh lemon vinaigrette.
Dessert, to make it easier for me, was a selection of chocolate goodies, some of which I’d made and some of which I’d bought, plus fresh fruit.
We drove along the Autostrade dei Fiori enjoying the sunshine and glorious sea views until we turned off at Genoa and headed for Tuscany and Siena. It’s a six-hour drive from home and we stopped just the once to refuel the car and my beloved. We made good time and only had a small but heavy rain shower en route and not much wind. The Smart doesn’t like wind, a bit like me on the bike, unless it’s a tailwind.
We’d much enjoyed watching the racing in Strade Bianche last year and it’s now a fixture on our sporting calendar. I particular like that there’s a women’s and men’s race – both providing a cracking spectacle. We dropped the car and luggage at the hotel, on the edge of the old town and close by the race start, and walked to pick up our accreditations before reacquainting ourselves with the town. Specifically, I was looking for a restaurant for dinner. Once I’d found a couple of likely candidates I treated my beloved to a coffee and crostata (delicious Italian jam tart). While I had fruit tea with a local biscuit, a cavaillucci, made without eggs or fat, studded with fennel seeds, walnuts and citrus peel. The town was buzzing in anticipation of tomorrow’s race, the local population significantly swelled by the thousands of amateur riders taking part in Sunday’s Gran Fondo. We even spotted a few of the pros drinking coffee after a leisurely reconnaissance.
My choice of restaurant was spot on. A family-run affair for several generations with the almost obligatory white linen tablecloths and napkins. We were the first couple to be seated but the restaurant subsequently filled up rapidly. We were greeted with a glass of Prosecco and a small serving of soup, one of the house specialities. I love a good home-made soup, just what you need to keep the cold and damp at bay. I ordered a vegetable soup to start and could happily have eaten the whole tureen but then I’d have had no room for my lobster spaghetti. Sated we happily strolled around the old town taking in the sites, marveling at the splendid architecture and trying to burn-off the calories consumed at dinner.
The forecast for Saturday was rain and riders in both races left warmly dressed with their rain jackets in their pockets. They knew the conditions were going to be difficult for them. It was going to be epic! While my beloved took photos, I popped to the buses to drop of some of my race-winning brownies for two lucky teams to enjoy post-race and chatted with a few acquaintances.
After the men’s race had departed, I headed to the food shops to stock up on some Italian goodies. Laden down with artisan cold meats, cheeses, tomatoes, artichokes, olive oil, pici (local pasta, a sort of thicker and rougher spaghetti) cavaillucci (see above), and ricciarelli (soft almond biscuits) we staggered back to the hotel and left it in the chilly car.
By now it was time for an early lunch in a small bar overlooking the main Piazza, more soup, this time ribollita, before heading to the finish line to cheer on the ladies. Elisa Longo Borghini(Wiggle High5) won with an audacious attack to cross the finish line arms aloft. The girls all looked exhausted and were covered from head to foot in wet mud. They looked more like they’d taken part in a cyclo-cross rather than road race. Sadly, my photographer had left his camera in the hotel. Honestly, I sometimes wonder why I take him to races!
We then retired to a bar near the final climb to watch the television coverage of the men’s race before taking our positions to see the finish.The light was such it was hard to see the riders as they emerged from the gloom on that final climb. It was evident that Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski had victory in the bag from the sizeable time gap between himself and his pursuers, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens.
The riders streamed up the hill in ones and twos to raucous applause and cries of encouragement, they were grimed with dirt though not quite as much as on that famous 2010 Giro d’Italia stage. They all looked chilled to the bone and in need of some hot chocolate and my brownies. It’s the first time my race-winning brownies have occupied the top two spots on the podium even before being consumed. Obviously, they’re powerful incentives.
Both races had provided spectacle and, despite the conditions, it was clear from the riders’ comments, it’s a race they enjoy. In the post race press conference, you could sense Kwiatkowski’s pleasure at once more ascending to the top step of the podium. The Sky boys assured me they’d saved him a large brownie, surely a fitting reward for his efforts.
All this race watching is pretty exhausting and our minds soon turned to dinner. We opted for lighter fare – tagliolini with truffles and a mixed salad – in one of our favourite restaurants before heading back to the hotel for an early night. We woke the next day to heavy skies and much more rain.
We watched the brave 5,000 amateurs stream out of Siena on the heels of some notable former pros including Fabian Cancellara, Ivan Basso and Paolo Bettini. Rather them than us, many were already cold and wet through from waiting in line for the depart. It was going to be a very long day in the saddle.
As we drove home, the sky brightened and the sun shone, particularly once we were back on the coast. It’s lovely to travel but sometimes even nicer to return home.
Today’s post was going to be all about our week-end in Siena watching Strade Bianche. The post’s written but I’m still awaiting the photographs. My beloved has downloaded them from his camera to his laptop but has yet to upload them to DropBox. We tend to do this overnight as it uses up most of our broadband width. He was going to do it on Monday night.
Monday dawned grey and overcast. My beloved was desperate to go for a ride having not ridden for a week because of a business trip to UK and our weekend in Siena. We set off in separate directions. I took one look at the menacing clouds and headed along the coast, he rode inland. Having returned from my ride, I was in the shower when I thought I heard my mobile phone. I ignored it and finished my shower. My beloved had rung me twice but not left a message.
I rather assumed he’d had a puncture/mechanical and was ringing me to go and pick him up. When I rang, his voice sounded thready and he explained he was en route to hospital having fallen off his bike. He feared he’d broken his hip! My beloved is a total hypochondriac and prone to exaggeration where his health’s concerned. A trait he has sadly inherited from the outlaw. I grabbed his carte vitale and mutuelle certificate (documents of entitlement to French healthcare) and headed to the local hospital.
My parking karma was working as I managed to find a parking place and found him looking both sheepish and sorry for himself on a bed in ER, about to be taken for an x-ray. He explained what happened in elaborate detail. He’d descended to a small roundabout, but wasn’t going fast, his front wheel had slipped and he’d landed heavily on his ride hip and elbow. Another two riders had kindly called the emergency services, who’d arrived within five minutes, and taken charge of his bike. His cycling kit wasn’t too torn, repairable. He’d got abrasions on his elbow and bum, could wiggle his right foot but couldn’t put any weight on the leg.
After a quick trip to x-ray, the diagnosis was in. Fracture of the radial head of the femur. He’d be admitted to the surgery ward where the orthopedic surgeon would talk him through the procedure. It was less than an hour since his accident. I took all his stuff and promised to return with his jimjams, toiletries, bathrobe, laptop etc He rattled off a list of people to contact and I left.
I returned two hours later after having dealt with all his most pressing matters. This time my parking karma wasn’t functioning so well. I parked in the nearby supermarket car park. He’d been moved to a lovely bright, spotlessly clean, modern room with en-suite and was looking chipper – that would be on account of the painkillers. He’s a total wuss. I didn’t tarry long. I hate hospitals and tend to go as green as their walls but this hospital didn’t have green walls, nor did it have that hospital smell.
I popped in again the following morning, he’d slept well and had an enjoyable breakfast. Thumbs up for the cuisine. His operation was scheduled for later that afternoon. He’d met the surgeon and anaesthetist and they’d thoroughly explained the procedure and answered all his questions. The surgeon had said that if Richard were 70, he’d have recommended a hip replacement as well – still one of the possible outcomes. My heart sank. How many months was he going to be home underfoot and barking orders at me?
He rang me at 20:00 that evening, once he was out of recovery and back in his room. He sounded fine. The operation had gone well. He’d had an epidural rather than general – good news. He’d been conscious the whole time and the surgeon had explained to him the whole procedure as it was taking place – too much info. He’d had three screws inserted in his leg – a lifetime of setting off airport scanners – and would be walking tomorrow with the aid of a Zimmer frame. This I had to see.
Now I’ve not spent too much time in the hospital largely because I’ve had to cope with the fall-out of his misfortune. Friends arrive today to watch Paris-Nice and take part in the Paris-Nice Challenge. While all the work has taken place, the guest bedroom has been functioning as alternative storage. Last week the additional storage cupboards for the terrace and caves had been delivered. My beloved was supposed to put them together, and help me with the heavier stuff, taking it to the dump, or putting it into the new storage in the caves and terrace, and clean the windows. Yep, I’ve had to do most of that on my own as well as dealing with his “urgent” list. Of course, this has left me no time to ride!
I nipped in this morning to discover I needed to bring him a towel and some soap. He’d been offered convalescence – great – but had declined! We might have to revisit that decision. Of course, it’s still too early to tell how this is going to progress. However, at risk are his attendance at the world’s largest and most important dental exhibition and our trip to Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Of course, I could go to the Basque country on my own, but not even I am that mean!
Hands up who doesn’t love brownies? Thought so! This is a recipe from Hannah Grant’s The Grand Tour Cook Book that I’ve tweaked and have cooked for numerous professional cyclists. It’s universally popular and, according to my beloved, is my best brownie recipe ever. I should warn you, he’s not lightly given to exaggeration.
At this time of year, many of the pros, including my crack team of taste testers, are trying to lose that last stubborn kilogram so cakes are only permitted post-race. Strade Bianche’s a tough race, riding over the white gravel sections requires total concentration and don’t get me started on that final climb up into the Piazza. I checked the start list, saw two of my friends were riding, and cooked up a few batches of brownies to take with me.
These are deliciously rich and gooey, so just a small finger does the trick. One tray’s enough for eight riders, even after that gargantuan effort.
Ingredients (makes enough for 16 cyclists)
375g (3 sticks and 3tbsp) unsalted butter
375g (14oz) 70% dark chocolate, chopped
375g (14oz) unrefined cane sugar
6 large organic eggs, weighing approx 45g (1⅔oz) without shell
225g (8oz) almond flour
1 tsp instant espresso coffee powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp fine sea salt
150g chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/gas mark 3 (325°F/300°F fan).
2. Grease the base and sides of two baking tins. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x 5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the brownies in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove them. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving.
3. Melt together the chocolate and butter either in the microwave on a medium setting or in a glass bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (bain-marie), whisk to combine and allow to cool. Add the coffee powder, vanilla essence, salt and whisk to combine.
4. Beat the eggs and sugar together to dissolve the sugar.
5. Now lightly fold in the melted chocolate mix, the almond flour and walnuts with a spatula.
6. Pour the mixture into the two baking tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. The top of the cake at the edges should be crinkly and a skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre should still have some mixture clinging to it.
7. Let the brownies cool in the tins and then refrigerate to firm up before cutting. Because of the fat content, I store the brownies in the fridge. They’ll keep for a week – providing they’re well hidden – equally, they’ll happily sit in the freezer for a month.
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 brownies in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.
3. If you don’t like your brownies to be this dark, substitute a chocolate with a lower percentage of chocolate.
4. I have made them with and without walnuts – your choice. Or substitute the walnuts with chopped pecans or hazelnuts.
5. These are so rich, they need no further adornment. However, my beloved enjoys them with a dollop of crème fraiche.
I’m a “townie” so while I much enjoy the varied and beautiful Australian countryside and seaside, it’s the towns where I feel more at home. I loved just walking out of our rental apartments and having plenty of shops and restaurants on our doorstep. It reminded me of when we lived in Bayswater and Chiswick. I love exploring urban environments. I’m never happier than when I’m pounding the pavements, window shopping, enjoying the local architecture or dropping into a local restaurant.
In Prahran, our modern flat was part of the earliest developed block. While much of the town was built from 1890 onwards, the church (1854) next door was swiftly followed by the town hall and fire station (round the corner). Though many of the buildings have little architectural merit, other than age, the Australians have taken care to keep much of the frontage of key streets even if large apartment blocks tower behind. A number of former department stores and industrial buildings have been converted into domestic dwellings, again helping to preserve the area’s character and feel.
Many of the early homes have wrap around porches and balconies decorated with wrought iron gingerbread trims, many of which are single level dwellings aka bungalows. All have a narrow road frontage but are very deep with the rooms running off a single hallway. I suppose this was to limit thermal gain well before the invention of air conditioning. They tend to have been built cheek by jowl with the neighbouring property and on quite small plots. It’s this lively mix of architectural styles you’ll find all over Melbourne.
Despite the plethora of choice, I found myself returning time and time again to the excellent stalls in Prahran market, purveyors of wonderful local, largely organic produce. The Essential Ingredient, a shop within the market, was a cook’s delight, selling a wide range of fantastic produce and products. If only I had such a store on my doorstep in France. I suppose that’s one of the many advantages of having a melting pot population who’ve introduced all sorts of culinary delights into the everyday. Of course, I can buy all of these ingredients at home, mainly via the internet, but not from such a magnificent one stop shop. I also loved the eclectic mix of mainly one-off shops along Chapel Street.
Where we stayed in Walkersville, Adelaide, was a similar but much smaller neighbourhood and we tended to wander over to nearby Melbourne Street to eat. Walkerville is within walking distance of CBD and the marvellous Central Market, a positive treasure trove of edible goodies, though we also enjoyed food shopping in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, buying from local and artisan producers wherever we could.
Reducing an entire year to just three words is going to be tricky, but here goes:-
I try to pack as much as I can into each year, time is a finite commodity. I maintain the key is plenty of planning and preparation which is something I love doing. So you’ll be unsurprised to learn that much of 2017 is already planned out and it’s going to be another amazing year.
Two people who made 2016 what it was
Life is what YOU make it. So that would be my beloved and I.
The most beautiful place you visited in 2016 and why you chose it
We stayed in so many lovely places. Some for the first time, while others were revisits. However, given that we spent the start and finish of 2016 in Australia, I guess it gets my vote. Now Australia’s a big place, and I’ve only visited a very small part of it, nonetheless, I put together a mosaic of some of my favourite spots.
That’s what I call a sunset!
The most delicious dish you have tasted in 2016
Funnily enough that was probably something I cooked for friends for dinner, a lobster curry from Adam Handling’s Smile or Get Out of the Kitchen. Mine didn’t look quite as beautiful as his but it tasted spectacular. I had a bit of a wobble while cooking it and his restaurant, The Frog in London E1, kindly responded to my queries – how’s that for service?
An event which left its mark upon you in 2016 (even a global event counts)
Brexit – nuff said.
The finest purchase you made in 2016 (and if you want you can link up a photo of it)
I’m always on the hunt for the perfect (for me) pair of trousers and I found them in a shop in Chicago. It’s a German company, has been around for a while but had slipped under my radar. Since buying my first pair in February 2016, I have acquired many more, along with some tops and dresses. I’m what might be called a serial purchaser, when I find something I like, I buy in bulk. Probably won’t need to worry about buying another pair of trousers ever again!
Three good intentions for 2017
Work less, ride more
Spend more time in the kitchen
Make the most of every day
One place you want to visit in 2017
I’ve promised myself that we’ll go and watch another MotoGP race this year, either at Catalunya or Mugello
One dish you want to eat in 2017
There’s lots of dishes I’d like to be able to eat but I’ve kinda accepted I’m going to have to stick with the fish eating vegan regime from now on if I want to remain healthy. So my dish would be a great plate of seafood – lobster, octopus, oysters, prawns, clams, mussels.
I would like to Tag………
I’m going to follow the example set by my tagger. I tag whoever reads this and wants to do this tag. Your choice but looking back on 2016 might just bring a smile to your face as you recall recent fond memories.