Turning tides

Usually in October I slip seamlessly into my 3/4 bib shorts and long-sleeved jersey but I’m still riding in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey and it’s almost November. Okay, I have on occasion worn arm warmers for the first part of my ride and on some descents I’ve worn a sleeveless gilet, but otherwise the weather’s been such that no further adornment has been necessary. I’m therefore blind to the blandishments of the virtues of winter cycling wear as extolled by the various manufacturers during our continuing Indian Summer.

Glorious views

To be fair, it never gets too cold on the Cote d’Azur and my 3/4 thermal bib-shorts with a zip-up bodice, rather than suspenders, see me through all but the coldest of winter days. Only if it’s absolutely necessary will I manfully struggle into my bib-tights, double layered jacket, thin full-fingered gloves and wool rather than cotton socks. My extremities rarely get cold. I always have hot hands – ruinous for pastry – and hot feet. Of course, I rarely venture out if it’s raining or if it’s below 10C.

Like me, this tandem has seen better days!

I’m still slogging around my regular routes and admiring the scenery. It’s sometimes an uphill (literally) struggle as I’ve yet to recover my former fitness. My doctor has suggested supplementing my cycle training with some Yoga. I’ve never tried this but my former personal assistant, now a highly regarded yoga teacher in LA, looks uber fabulous for her age so perhaps it’s time to give it a whirl. Classes in France are not expensive so I may opt for some private tuition, to avoid embarrassing myself, before joining a class. I want to regain some of my former suppleness which has been slip, slipping away this past year or so. Sadly, I can no longer do the splits!

Prayer and lighting candles might help

My beloved, who’s still to recover all his former hip flexibility following his broken leg, is keener to try Pilates rather than Yoga. However, I can’t but feel that a mixture of the two might be more beneficial, particularly during the winter months when we’re occasionally constrained from riding quite as much. Of course, some of this reduced flexibility may well be due to my advancing years but I’m not about to give in without a struggle.

Almost home

To mix up my training regimen, I occasionally go for a run (aka jog) along the sea front. Yesterday, loads of people jogged past me while I was sprinting between the lamp-posts. I was feeling a tad discouraged until I remembered that the Nice to Cannes marathon is this week-end and people would’ve been out training in earnest, wouldn’t they? I keep meaning to take part in another marathon, my one and only was London 1994. The passage of time has dimmed the pain and maybe, if I start training now, I’ll be in good enough shape in 2018 to tackle the one from Nice to Cannes? I briefly ponder this question most years but still haven’t gotten around to doing anything about it. The issue is how will I find time to ride, run and do Yoga? Answers in the comments section below, please!

 

The Musette: Cheesy spinach bake

My beloved has spent much more time at home this year which means I’ve radically reduced the amount of meat he eats and upped his veggies. That way I need only prepare one dish for us both, rather than two separate ones. The other day I picked up some robust spinach from the market which coincided with a delicious vegetarian recipe from Rachel Roddy in the Guardian who claims she was inspired by a Tuscan recipe from Lori de Mori’s book Beaneaters and Bread Soup.

I thought the recipe would work wonderfully as a main meal for my beloved and then again the following day as a side dish with a piece of steak. It’s a straight-forward recipe but like most good things it’s not instant but at least it’s not time-consuming nor difficult. It’s just a layer of well-seasoned spinach, covered with a thick, duvet-like layer of  egg-enriched cheese sauce enrobed in crisp breadcrumbs. The latter are important to provide a nice contrast to the tender baked spinach and cheese sauce.

Ingredients (serves 3 sides, or 1 main and 1 side)

  • 500g (5 cups) large handful spinach, washed in cold water
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 20g (7 oz) butter, plus more for lining the dish
  • 20g (7 oz) plain flour
  • 2 large organic eggs, 1 separated
  • 40g (14 oz) parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • handful of fine breadcrumbs for dusting dish and top
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

1. Set the oven to 180C/(fan 160C)/350F(fan 325F) /gas 4. While still wet from being washed, put the spinach in a large pan, cover and cook on a medium heat. After 3 minutes, give the leaves a prod and a stir, then continue cooking until the spinach has collapsed and it’s tender.

2.Drain the spinach. Once cool enough, squeeze it with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible.

3. Warm the milk and bay leaf together until almost boiling, then remove and let it sit for 5 minutes to infuse.

4. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan. As soon as it starts to foam, whisk in the flour. Keep whisking steadily for 2 minutes, then pull from the heat. Add a little of the infused milk and whisk to a smooth paste. Return the pan to the heat, then add the remaining milk, whisking continuously until it almost boils. Season with salt and black pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and whisking frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Allow to cool. Add 20g parmesan cheese, the egg and egg yolk and whisk into the sauce.

5. Chop the spinach. Beat the egg white until firm, then stir into the spinach. Add 2 tbsp of sauce, some salt and black pepper and a grating of nutmeg to taste.

6. Butter a baking dish and sprinkle over half the breadcrumbs. Add the spinach mixture and cover it with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle over the rest of the breadcrumbs and parmesan on top of the disk, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

 

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you serve this as a main course, then all it needs is a  salad  –  mixed red and green leaves with a sharp dressing.

2. It’s also good with roast chicken or a piece of grilled meat, such as steak.

3. If you make it in a cake tin, it could be cooled and taken on a picnic – just cover it with cling film and pack snugly – in an appropriately sized basket.

One lovely blog award

Blimey, two awards in one month, what have I done to deserve this? Frankly, I’m none too sure. This time my grateful thanks must go to Ben Aquibaa lawyer on the road to enlightenment who needs  – understandably – proof for everything.

I’m now getting the hang of these awards, as most follow a similar set of rules. However, I must say I rather like the idea of spreading a spot of joy, encouragement or whatever to those writers whose blogs I enjoy reading. So here we go………………………….

Rules:

  1. Each nominee must thank the person who nominated them and link their blog in their post.
  2. They must include the rules and add the blog award badge as an image.
  3. Must add 7 facts about themselves.
  4. Nominate more people to do the award.

Seven things about me:

This is tricky because if you regularly read my blog, I’m pretty much an open book.

1. I’m a bit of a rebel – always have been, always will be.

2. I enjoy spending time on my open. I enjoy the peace and quiet. I can quite happily spend days on my own  – alone but not lonely – without saying a word to anyone.

3. I’m a huge fan of chickpeas, they’re so versatile.

4. I love baking healthy cakes for my friends who are professional athletes.

5. I never want to live anywhere other than in France.

6. I don’t get on my mother-in-law whom I call “The Outlaw.”

7. I’m really struggling now.  I love Birkenstock sandals, so comfy.

My nominee(s) is anyone who reads this blog:

I’ve found when I’ve previously nominated people, only a few have responded. Now that’s probably because these awards tend to do the rounds. So please don’t feel obliged to take part, pick up the baton aka award only if you want to spread a little more joy around the place.

Should I have a bucket list?

An old family friend recently sought my advice about a couple of destinations on his bucket list. It gave me food for thought. He’s younger than me but already has a list of places he wants to visit before he checks out. I said jokingly that I was too young to have a bucket list but it got me thinking. Should I have one? And if so, what places should be on it?

I discussed it with my beloved and we decided to put together a list of places we’d like to visit which included a number we’d like to re-visit. It’s not a lengthy list, very doable and decidedly “vanilla,” no exotic locations. In no particular order:-

1. Vienna and Budapest

I last visited Vienna when I was 17. I spent six weeks there on a German language course at the university. It was such a magical trip that I resolved it would be a while before I returned. While I was there, I took a quick trip down the Danube to visit Budapest. This was in the early 70s when the two cities were in marked contrast to one another. I’ve since re-visited Budapest, on business, and found it much improved. My beloved has visited both places but only on business and has not done any sightseeing. We have a dear friend who’s Hungarian and are hoping that we can combine our new trip with an event such as her wedding or house-warming.

2. California

My beloved has visited LA and San Francisco on business. I had hoped to visit it on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary for which I had planned a magnificent trip touring around the state. Sadly, my beloved changed jobs and was unable to take time off in the early months of his new role. It’s been on the back-burner ever since though that hasn’t stopped me from planning a potential trip which would no doubt take place in May so we could catch the Amgen Tour of California.

3. Japan

This would be a revisit. I accompanied by beloved on a business trip to Japan in April 2007 when the cherry blossoms were at their finest. While he worked, the son and future daughter-in-law of a business contact kindly showed me around Tokyo, then we visited Kyoto and Nara. It was love at first sight. I had high expectations of the trip but was blown away by the people, the culture and the cuisine. I’ve been itching to return but this time I want to explore the islands from top to bottom. My preference is to visit in autumn to experience the fall colours. That way I might be able to fit in a trip to see the MotoGP at Montegi.

4. Sicily

Before I met my beloved, I had a very enjoyable holiday in Sicily. Holiday programmes and friends who live there have whetted my appetite for a return trip although it’ll be my beloved’s maiden visit. Of course, it’s always fun to tie a visit to Italy with the Giro d’Italia, like we did this year on our trip to Sardinia. According to the rumour mill, the Giro is visiting Sicily again next year. I imagine that May would be a perfect time to visit and tour around the island.

5. Amalfi Coast

We both love the fact that in 45 minutes we can be living La Dolce Vita in Italy. In recent years, we’ve had numerous trips and vacations to the north but haven’t ventured too far south. In truth, we’d like to travel around southern Italy, visiting Puglia in particular, as we have friends who hail from there. However, numero uno on our list is the magnificent Amalfi coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

6. The Hamptons

Back in 2015, we spent a few delightful days chilling in The Hamptons which has a real yesteryear, seaside vibe. I loved pottering around all the small towns making up The Hamptons and how nowhere was very far from the sea. And, don’t get me started on the magnificent property porn which is truly epic. I’m not sure I could spend two weeks here but I could certainly combine another visit with a trip to the Big Apple.

7. Austin

The origins of this blog are in Austin where I took part in the Ride of the Roses for Livestrong, riding and raising funds as part of Team Fatty. I have a girlfriend who lives in Austin who was only too happy to show me around her adopted home. I’d like to go back to see my friend, to show Austin to my beloved and also watch the MotoGP race, usually held in early April, at The Circuit of the Americas. A week in Austin would probably be sufficient so I’d have to combine it with a visit elsewhere in the States, maybe Colorado (see below).

8. New England

This is yet another re-visit for both of us. In the mid to late 90s my beloved and I enjoyed three vacations in New England, one with my parents. During the trips we travelled around Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts stayed in some beautiful inns, ate plenty of lobster and enjoyed the glorious scenery. Frankly, another visit is long overdue. At the same time, maybe we could pop into Canada to see the GPs of Montreal and Quebec. Late August, early September’s a great time to visit this part of the world.

9. Colorado

This is a part of the US which neither of us have ever visited. The closest was on a trip to Arizona one Christmas. However Colorado’s geographic diversity holds enormous appeal and any trip would naturally have Denver, Boulder and Aspen on its itinerary.  But that’s as far as I’ve gotten to thinking about a trip to Colorado.

10. Majorca

Strange as it may seen, neither my beloved nor I have visited any of the Balearic Islands. I remember my parents visiting the Easter I went to stay with my French penfriend when I was sweet 15. We, of course, would want to visit out of season and with our bikes. We’d want a luxurious sanctuary inland, far away from the typical tourist trail and we’d want to ride up Puig Major.

11. Australia

Last but not least, we’d love to visit Australia again. If you’re a follower if this blog, you’ll know we’ve spent the last two year ends enjoying Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. We’ve only scratched the surface and there’s plenty more on my “must see” list Down Under. Ideally, the trip would extend well beyond 5-6 weeks, maybe starting in late October so I could see the MotoGP on Philip Island, just the other side of the Mornington Peninsula. I’ve still to visit Kangaroo Island and Queensland, among many other places.

As you can see it’s quite a modest list and reflects that we’ve already travelled widely both for business and pleasure. At our time of life, we know what we like and, more importantly, what we don’t like. We probably need to get all our long-haul flying completed within the next 15 years thereafter it might be far too tiring, plus more difficult to get insurance cover. Thereafter, we’ll be more than happy to potter around Europe in our self-driving car, or by fast train.

All photos except The Hamptons and Australia courtesy of Wikipedia

 

The Musette: Spicy potato cakes

This is another recipe from my favourite vegetarian cook, Anna Jones. Of course, I have once again taken a few liberties with her original recipe and tweaked it to make it more to my taste. Now Anna suggests eating these for breakfast but I would find it far too hearty for first thing in the morning though it made a very tasty lunch for a few hungry cyclists. The potato cakes are not particularly spicy as they embrace the deep, fragrant flavours of southern India. But feel free to make it spicier if that’s your bag!

It’s a great way of using up some left overs and, though I’ve yet to try it, I think you could happily substitute other root vegetables for the mashed potato. I didn’t have any left-overs, instead I baked four large potatoes and opened a small jar of pre-cooked lentils. I love that the potato cakes are topped with mashed, spiced avocado  – I eat this on toast for breakfast/lunch/dinner several times a week. Don’t omit the cucumber pickle. It’s so easy to make and really makes the dish.

Ingredients (serves 4)

FOR THE POTATO CAKES

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 10 dried curry leaves
  • 4 large potatoes, baked, potato removed and coarsely mashed, or 4 big spoons of leftover mash
  • 4 tbsp cooked puy lentils
  • handful fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

FOR THE SMASHED AVOCADO

  • 1 large ripe avocados, halved
  •  juice of 1⁄2  unwaxed lemon
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • sea salt to taste

FOR THE QUICK CUCUMBER PICKLE

  • 1⁄2 hot house cucumber, halved and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, bashed in a pestle and mortar
  • a pinch of sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 1⁄2 an unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Method

1. Heat tsp of coconut oil on a medium heat and fry the onion until soft,  about 10 minutes.  Add the mustard seeds and stand back while they merrily pop.

2. With the pan still on the heat, add the turmeric and curry leaves and fry for another minute or so, then put the whole lot into a bowl to cool slightly.

3. Add the mashed potato and lentils to the cooled onions, then season and mix well. Wash the spinach, then wilt it in a hot pan before adding this to the potato mixture. Divide the mixture into 4 portions, shape them into 4 fat potato cakes and put them into the fridge to chill.

4. In another bowl, mash the avocados with the lemon juice and spices, then season well.

5. To make your pickle, put the sliced cucumber into a bowl and add all the other pickle ingredients. Using your hands, scrunch the cucumber slices to get the flavours going.

6. Put the frying pan back on the heat. Take the potato cakes out of the fridge, flatten them slightly and fry them gently in rest of the coconut oil for about 2–3 minutes on each side, until warmed through and crispy brown.

7. Serve each potato cake topped with a spoonful of smashed avocado and a spoonful of pickle. Yummy!

 

 

 

Falling leaves

We were recently in Como to watch what I regard as the last race of the cycling season, Il Lombardia, also known as the race of falling leaves. The weather was glorious and while there were fallen leaves most of these were dead from a lack of water and not the changing of the seasons. This was our third consecutive trip to the race but most definitely the best in terms of the weather. Northern Italy, in common with the South of France, has enjoyed an Indian Summer.

We drove over on Friday and spent the afternoon wandering around Como which, as usual, was busy with tourists from all over the world. After our less than convivial experience with a B&B in the town last year, we had chosen one up the hill behind Como with magnificent views of the lake but, more importantly, good sound-proofing. After a lengthy stroll around town we were ready for a bit of la dolce vita with an apero. It was still clement enough to sit outside in the late afternoon sun and people watch over an Aperol Spritz and nibbles. To be honest, we weren’t particularly hungry having stopped for lunch in Nove Liguri. I had eaten a delicious spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) which rather lingered on the taste buds and, as my beloved was quick to advise, the breathe.

The Cathedral
Lake Como

We had planned to get up early the next morning and drive over to Bergamo for the start of the race but, instead, opted for a lie in. Well, it was a very comfortable bed! After a plentiful breakfast, we strolled into town. Como was buzzing, particularly around the market where stalls were laden with glossy, plump seasonal fruit and vegetables. The sky was a deep blue and while it was warm in the sunshine, it was still chilly in the shade. We opted for a walk along the shoreline before finding a restaurant for lunch. To be honest, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bars and restaurants.

The winner, Vincenzo Nibali
The podium l to r, Julian Alaphilippe, Nibali, Gianni Moscon

After lunch, we settled down to watch the race unfold on one of the many big screens in town. We opted for the one closest to the finish line and hence had a grandstand view of the finish to an exciting race. I’d already dropped off my baked goodies at the various buses so some of the riders were in for a pleasant post-race surprise.  An Italian winner naturally proved popular with the spectators. The victor, Vicenzo Nibali, lives close by in Lugano, so these are his local roads and that knowledge was a deciding factor in his victory. In fact, it’s a lovely area to ride around. The roads are surprisingly quiet around the various lakes (Lugano, Como Varese) and while the roads are largely undulating there are some testing climbs. If you overdo it, you can just get one of the many ferry boats back to your starting point.

What a view!

After a hearty lunch, we opted once more for an apero and nibbles before heading  back to our B&B and another good night’s rest. Sunday morning, I raided the shops for a few goodies to take back with us. It’s all too easy to go overboard but I always like to buy a few local products for us and friends. Again, the weather was fabulous so we decided to drive around the lake and enjoy lunch in the open air before driving back to France. It had been a very enjoyable week-end and we resolved that, next time, we’d bring our road bikes with us.

 

The Sunshine Blogger Award

I have to thank Yvonne (link to her blog: Nothing but a backpack) for brightening up my day and week with this award. If like me you’re a cycling fan, this picture of a field of sunflowers brings back fond memories of bike racing in France and Spain during the summer where there’s always a scenic shot of the riders whizzing past a field of sunflowers in bloom. If you’re not a cycling fan, then who knows……………….

The Rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions.
  • Nominate up to 11 other blogs and ask them 11 new questions.
  • Finally, list the rules and include the Sunshine Blogger Award logo somewhere in the post.

Here we go….

1. What’s the biggest achievement you have had so far this year?

I had a bit of a health scare that I could have resolved with surgery but I opted for a change in lifestyle which has been transformative.

2. If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be?

I want to see more of Japan. I was blown away on my first visit in 2007 during cherry blossom time but now want to see it from tip to toe.

3. If social media was non existent tomorrow, could you survive?

I did so before it came along but it is very handy for keeping in touch with everyone.

4. Chocolate or lollies?

Neither, I prefer gummi bears!

5. What’s one moment in your life where you felt everything was perfect?

I’m very fortunate to have had plenty of those moments. In fact, I’m living them right now.

6. What are some of your 2018 goals?

– Spend more time on my bike
– Take up yoga to maintain my flexibility
– Continue to cook and bake more

7. What’s one thing you want to achieve by the end of the year?

Next year I’m making and decorating my first wedding cake. I have no concerns about the cake but I want to have cracked the decoration by year end. I’ll be practicing on all the Xmas cakes I make.

8. What is one thing you can’t live without?

My husband and my bike – yes, I know that’s two!

9. If you had to pick one cuisine to live off for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Vegan

10. Any plans for the end of year celebrations (Christmas/New Year)?

We’re going cross-country skiing in Austria and I’m looking forward to a typical wintery Festive Season after spending the last two in Australia.

11. Any books you would recommend?

Not really because I don’t know what you like. However, I would urge you to pick something you might not necessarily choose to read and surprise yourself.

Nominees:

Here’s just a very small selection of the blogs I enjoy reading:-

So What Now

Voyages of Mine

Dimple’s Cookbook

Our French Oasis

The Wandering Broski

Wish to Dish

My One Beautiful Thing

Questions for Nominees:

  1. Describe yourself using just three adjectives?
  2. Favourite place to travel to and why?
  3. Facebook or Twitter?
  4. What would you eat for your last supper?
  5. What’s on your agenda for 2018?
  6. Best moments of 2017?
  7. Favourite sport and why?
  8. Cats or dogs?
  9. If you had Aladdin’s lamp what would be your three wishes?
  10. How will you spend the Festive Season?
  11. What are you looking forward to in 2018?

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Until next time .. have fun.

The Food in Spain

As I live in the south of France you might assume I’m surrounded by lots of wonderful restaurants. In that respect, we’re very fortunate but we’ve sadly also had plenty of indifferent or badly cooked meals where, for example, I’ve offered to go into the kitchen to show their so-called chef how to cook an omelette!

My favourite type of restaurant is what I’d call a neighbourhood restaurant. One where you can be assured of a reasonably priced, well cooked meal, using fresh, seasonal local produce. I’m not expecting michelin stars just great crowd pleasers – the perfect omelette, steak and chips, grilled fish, mussels you get the gist.

We’re lucky to have a number of these types of establishment where we live equally are a number of places that give French cuisine a bad name – overpriced, poorly cooked from frozen ingredients. Fortunately, even though these establishments tend to prey on tourists rather than locals, there’s not enough tourist traffic and they eventually (thankfully) go out of business. As a consequence, I cannot confirm you’ll never have a bad meal in France.

However, I have never had a bad meal in Spain where I’ve eaten in everything from local, workmen’s cafes – the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon – to michelin starred temples of gastronomy. Lunchtime menus starting at 9 Euros a head for three courses, water, wine, coffee and bread are not uncommon outside of major towns where they typically rise to 13-15 Euros per head. Where we live in France – admittedly not the cheapest place – we can’t get a main course for much less than 11 Euros, let alone three courses with all the frills. Even in deepest France, I’ve never seen anything to match it in terms of prices.

Sea bass on a bed of spiced noodles with parsnip puree and crisps
Chocolate fondant with orange egg

Here’s the main course and dessert from a three-course meal including coffee and bread, though not drinks, from a very unassuming restaurant in a small rural town 30 minutes out of Valencia. We’d woofed down the delicious starters before I even thought to whip out my iPhone. The set menu was Euros 12.50 a head! It not only looked wonderful but tasted it too. I’d have happily paid more for food of that quality. And, to be honest, it’s not untypical of the fare (see below) we’ve enjoyed all over Spain at very modest prices. And don’t get me started on breakfast, you’ve got to love a place that serves crème caramel and cheesecake for breakfast, haven’t you?

Where and how do I find these restaurants? Generally, we either drive past and I demand my beloved halt the car so I can check out the menu and the restaurant, or I wander past. Often it’s just my finely honed sixth sense. My beloved claims I’m like a truffle hound. I like to think it’s years of developing my craft at my father’s knee.

 

The Musette: Aloo Gobi

One of my favourite vegetables is the humble cauliflower. I’ve found so many ways to cook with it and use it as a substitute for rice, couscous, pizza bases and mashed potato. My preferred way to eat it is spiced and as the star of the meal. I love Indian food but because restaurants cook everything in ghee, if I want Indian food I now have to cook it myself. To be honest, in France, that’s no bad thing. The French generally don’t like too spicy food so most of the curries served in restaurants are mild, but I love a bit of spice.

This recipe is one adapted from the incomparable Anna Jones. It’s cooked in coconut milk, given a punch with garlic, ginger and green chilli, and an earthiness from mustard seeds and  turmeric. It can be served as a vegan main, or side.

Ingredients (serves four as a main course or eight as a side)

  • 1 large cauliflower or 2 small ones
  • 500g (1 lb) potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 4 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 500ml (2 cups) coconut milk
  • 1 organic, unwaxed lemon, cut in half
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • small bunch coriander leaves
  • handful flaked almonds, toasted

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 7 (400F/350F).

2. Cut off the large leaves and stalks from the cauliflower, leaving the smaller leaves close to the florets. Using a large knife, slice it into large 2cm (2/4i n) steaks. Meanwhile cut the potatoes into 2cm (3/4 ins) chunks.

2. Take a frying pan (skillet) large enough to take the potatoes. Spoon in the coconut oil. Grate the ginger and garlic into the oil, add the chillies into the pan, then put over a medium heat. Let the spices and aromatics cook for a few minutes, until fragrant. Stir in the mustard seeds and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, then add the turmeric powder and a big pinch of salt.

3. Pour the coconut milk into the spice mixture, stir well and season with a little black pepper. When the milk starts to bubble gently, turn off the heat. Put the drained potatoes into an ovenproof dish along with the cauliflower steaks, add the lemon halves into the side of the dish, then pour over the sauce.

4. Bake the dish for 40–45 minutes, basting it occasionally with the spiced sauce in the dish. It may catch a little on top. Test that the cauliflower is cooked by inserting a knife into the middle – it should be tender and the potatoes and cauliflower should have soaked up most of the sauce. Once it’s perfect, take it out of the oven. Transfer to a serving dish, then squeeze over the juice from the roasted lemons, scatter over the toasted almonds and coriander, and dig in!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.  The original recipe par-boils the cauliflower and leaves it whole but I found that the sauce and spices didn’t fully penetrate, instead they were largely absorbed by the potatoes.

2. Non vegans could also spoon over some yoghurt to serve.

3. You could substitute the toasted almonds with toasted coconut flakes.

4. To increase the health benefits, add a tablespoon of freshly grated turmeric in stage 2.

4. I served it with some wholemeal flat bread.

 

Things my beloved has lost: a dinner jacket

How can you lose a dinner jacket? Well, we’re not sure exactly how the loss took place. My beloved went to a black tie do with his dinner suit and only came back with the trousers. However, I can probably hazard a guess. This was his first major loss. Until this it had just been the usual towels, swimming trunks and swimming goggles carelessly left behind at one of the UK’s many swimming baths after a training session or water-polo match.

Many moons ago, all-male black tie dinners were quite popular. When we first got married, my beloved couldn’t afford to buy a dinner suit and had his late father’s one altered to fit. It was a lovely double-breasted jacket and, in my opinion, he did look rather handsome in it. Generally at functions where he was obliged to wear it, I was with him. But (sadly) not on this particular occasion.

He left for the black tie event with the suit in one of those heavy plastic suit carriers which he hung up in the back of the car to make sure that the freshly pressed (by me) suit remained in pristine condition. He returned from the event and rehung the carrier in the wardrobe without saying a word! Several months later we were due to attend another black tie event, this time with my parents. The week beforehand, I checked the suit carrier to find out whether the suit would need pressing, spot cleaning or dry cleaning. There was no jacket, just the trousers. I checked the other hangers in the wardrobe but there was no sign of his dinner jacket.

When he returned, I questioned him about the jacket and he immediately began to look uncomfortable. My beloved cannot lie. It was clear he was aware he’d “lost” the jacket when he’d repacked the morning after the event and couldn’t find the jacket anywhere in his hotel bedroom. Of course, he didn’t think to enquire of his dinner companions if they could remember what he’d done with it or even ask the hotel staff if they’d found a lone jacket! Too late to enquire now of the hotel staff, even if he could remember the name of the hotel where he’d stayed. It must have been some event!

In our early days of married life, we didn’t have much money and, consequently, I didn’t feel like busting the budget to replace the suit. Instead I opted for pairing the black trousers with a white dinner jacket, as none of the black ones in Marks & Spencer were of the same weight and colour as his trousers. To be honest this made him look more like one of the waiting staff – white gloves anyone? – than a guest but he just had to grin and bear it. It was quite some time before I bought him a new dinner suit which I’m delighted to say he still has in his possession, not that there’s much call to wear tuxedos these days, except at French weddings.

So, how did he lose it? The jacket was made from a heavy wool and was rather warm. I suspect that as soon as he was able to do so, probably after the port had been served, my beloved divested himself of his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair. Thereafter I’m sure the table probably headed for the bar and my beloved left his jacket behind. No doubt it was found by the hotel’s waiting staff who put it into lost property, fully expecting its owner to reclaim it the following day. Why my beloved didn’t bother to enquire of the hotel whether they’d found his jacket, only he knows. On the bright side, as far as I was aware there was nothing of import in any of the jacket pockets.

I was rightly annoyed with him because he’d made no attempt to find the jacket and, if he’d owned up about the loss sooner, I would’ve rung the hotel to reclaim it or at least tried to track it down. At worst I would’ve made a small claim on our household insurance for a replacement. As it was, three months down the line, none of these was now an option.