Back on the trainer!

Yes, I’m (unexpectedly) back on the home trainer. We enjoy around 300+ days of sunshine every year leaving around 65 when it’s not so great. Some of those 65 have occurred in the last two weeks. It was lovely the week after we returned from Dubai, but it’s been downhill ever since, culminating in snow. That’s right, SNOW! A pretty rare occurrence on the Cote d’Azur.

It never lasts long but chaos ensues every time. The morning snow was forecast, I was up at the ungodly hour of 05:00 am to run my beloved to the airport to catch a flight to Prague, by way of Lyon. We had thought it might be a difficult drive but the temperature was 4ºC and I dropped him off before returning to my bed. When I awoke a couple of hours later it was a whole different ball game. Snow was falling, and sticking!

We try to get out most days but have become perhaps overly cautious when it’s wet or damp, which covered most of the last ten days or so. We’re already recognising that it’ll be a cold week-end in Siena for the Strade Bianche race and will be packing plenty of cashmere and wet weather gear. On the bright side, we’ll only be watching, not taking part! Cakes will no doubt be gratefully received by those riders I know who are taking part in what’ll no doubt be a long, hard and cold race.

That race coincides with the start of Paris-Nice which may not be a race to the sun this year! The outlook is not favourable, we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed as this year’s route means I’ll be watching it live from Wednesday onwards, not just at the week-end.


Lunchtime date: Sunday brunch

My beloved and I enjoy going out for Sunday brunch, particularly during the winter months. We’d spotted that the weather this past week-end was going to be wet and chilly, so had decided to go out for brunch in nearby Cannes. We’ve tried brunch at the Marriott and Martinez, but our favourite is the Carlton. It’s one of those over the top, fin de siècle, overblown wedding-type buildings and quite iconic on the Croisette.

In the summer, we like to dally in the Carlton’s terrace gardens over a pot of tea or a cocktail but in the hotel’s low season we can be found, from time to time, enjoying Sunday brunch or its Friday night lobster and champagne menu.

Of course, while my beloved can and will eat anything and everything on offer, I have to be more cautious. There’s lots that I can’t eat, but equally there’s plenty that I can. Of course, tackling any buffet requires pacing. We’ve found the trick is to book a table, arrive early at 12:30 and tarry for at least three hours.

I like to start with the oysters and a selection of other seafood, typically smoked salmon, octopus salad, sushi, marinated salmon and prawns. Then I’ll eat some of the various salads which don’t contain meat before tackling a bowl of vegetable soup. I like to take a bit of a rest between each course and I find elasticated or loose-waisted attire essential.

For my main course, I’ll have a plate of cooked mixed vegetables with some potatoes, or maybe the pasta. There’s always a large selection of hot dishes, most of which I have to ignore. I’ll naturally skip the cheese course before moving swiftly to a conclusion with a fresh fruit salad. The dessert buffet is a refined form of torture, groaning with small servings of delicious hot and cold desserts – the French like to have a bit of everything.

We’ve found the brunch clientele to be largely French. Lots of tiny French people with huge appetites and hollow legs. We’ve always done the buffet justice but we never manage to eat as much as the French who eat loads of small plates of food. I’m tempted to ask whether they’ve starved themselves all week? But I know the answer will be a surprised no!

Aside from the Carlton in Cannes we can highly recommend Terre Blanche (in Tourrettes, Cannois hinterland) and Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap, Cap Ferrat. The latter is a favoured spot once the weather improves allowing us to dine out on the terrace.

Indulgence necessitates a long leisurely walk, despite the weather, before returning home for a relaxing evening, no dinner!

Images of the Carlton Hotel courtesy of their website


The Musette: oven baked falafel

Ever since we enjoyed falafel at l’As du Fallafel on rue des Rosiers on our trip to Le Marais last year, I’ve had a bit of a thing for them. I typically buy them from my local Bio Marché but they’re quite pricey, so I decided to have a go at making my own though a baked in the oven (rather than fried) version.

Who knew it was so easy? I soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, then tipped them into my food processor with my choice of herbs and spices, rested the mixture in the fridge, shaped it into balls (with my handy dandy, super small, ice-cream scoop), baked them in the oven and voilà.

And, just out of interest, I made approx. 70 (organic) balls for a cost of € 5,00 – way cheaper than those from the shop.

Ingredients (more than enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 800 g (4 cups) soaked (not cooked) dried organic chickpeas (garbanzo)
  • 3 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 fat cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp chick pea (gram) flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tsps ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 fat bunch coriander, leaves and stems, finely chopped


1. The day before you want to eat the falafel, put the dried chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them with filtered water by an extra 5 cm (2″).

2. The following day, rinse, drain and put 4 cups of the chickpeas into the bowl of a food processor with all the other ingredients.

3. Pulse to process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed,  and continue pulsing until the mixture comes together. I almost puree the mixture but, if you prefer, leave it relatively chunky.

4. Put the mixture into another bowl or container, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Refrigerating also helps the mixture firm up and become less crumbly when baked. You can then bake the falafel right away or refrigerate the mixture for up to five days.

5. Preheat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

6. Use a small scoop or teaspoon to shape the falafel mixture into balls, and place them on the sheet. Don’t smooth out the rough edges as these crisp up when baking.

7. Put in the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes until they have a golden and crispy exterior, feel dry to the touch but still give a little when you press them.

8. Eat warm or at room temperature, or store for up to five days in the fridge. Reheat cooked falafel for 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Because the chick peas are only soaked not cooked, ensure that they’re reasonably fresh. This is not the time to use ones past their “use before” date! Also, don’t use tinned chick peas!

2. Experiment with the mix of herbs and spicing. For example, if you don’t like coriander, use flat leaf parsley instead.

3. Once baked and cooled, the falafel can be frozen and kept for at least a month. Once defrosted, you can quickly reheat them again.

4. The L’As du Fallafel serves them in pitta pockets, which are huge. Hard to get your mitts around, let alone your mouth. They also serve them as part of a falafel plate.

I prefer to serve them warm in a wrap with coleslaw, pickled vegetables, hummus and/or a tahini sauce or serve them at room temperature as part of a salad.

Equally, they’re delicious piled into a baguette with plenty of trimmings.


40 Years of Memorable Moments: Chiswick

It’s the same every year. Our first Christmas card comes from a couple who almost bought our house in Chiswick in 1993, and we’ve been exchanging cards ever since. They did eventually buy a similar property, in need of total renovation, around the corner which they’ve turned into a lovely home. In the past few years, they’ve also been lavishing similar love and attention on a large property in Limoges.

My beloved hails from west London and we’d pinpointed Chiswick as the place we wanted to live and had even identified the streets in which we wanted to live. Our modest budget restricted us to a terraced property and we were keen to buy one which needed a total refurbishment. That way, we could have pretty much what we wanted.

We purchased the house in Chiswick in the mid-80s. It had started life as a semi-commercial property, a house and laundry, so was wider than the average terrace. We bought it from a divorced couple who’d split the property none-too-expertly in two. We couldn’t move in straight away because it needed cleaning, nay fumigation, from top to bottom. The day we completed, my beloved and I stood in the house and wondered what on earth we’d done. Inside it looked as if the previous owner had just left his half-eaten breakfast and walked out.

Friends kindly lent us a hand while we all donned haz-chem suits to clear and clean the property. The garden, which contained two large sheds stuffed full of rubbish, looked more like Steptoe & Son’s yard. It took ten skips and endless bottles of bleach and elbow grease before we could finally move in. Even then we only settled in the back of the property, as the wiring in the front was a bit dodgy (typical British understatement).

We then contacted a local architect for ideas. The property was part of a Victorian terrace and had been totally denuded of its original features. The kitchen was tiny and the bedrooms upstairs all led off one another. Aside from taking the property back to its bare bones and replacing all the plumbing, plaster and electrics, the architect proposed removing the two rickety staircases and replacing them with a stone spiral staircase – a stroke of genius – as the property’s focal point.

We retained the large barn like front doors which opened onto a small porch and a glass fronted door which enabled anyone to see into the paved walled garden beyond, ideal for al fresco get-togethers. The former kitchen became the laundry and the second reception room was turned into a spacious kitchen cum breakfast room. The dividing wall between the front lounge and dining room was demolished. We had corridors and additional bathrooms  installed upstairs giving us a four bedroomed, two bath-roomed place – ideal for visitors!

We moved out for nine months while the work took place, most of which was spent at the outlaw’s. Fortunately, we both worked long hours and could escape to the tennis club, our sanctuary at week-ends. Finally, it was such a relief to move back into the light filled, quirky yet modern property. There was however one fly in the ointment. The outlaw moved in with us while she was waiting for her new flat to be completed. She’d decided to downsize. Finally, we had the place to ourselves.

We loved living in Chiswick and never wanted to leave. But, by the time we had the place looking exactly how we wanted, my beloved was working in Germany. I used to fly over to see him each week-end and we had rented a lovely, brand-new apartment overlooking Lake Constance. The grand plan was that we would sell the house in Chiswick, I would move in with my sister – pay back time – and look for a new job in nearby Zurich.

The house sold quickly to a young couple expecting a baby. The other couple were waiting in the wings just in case something went awry. It’s always good to have a plan B. I found a job in Zurich. I intended to resign, spend the winter cross-country skiing and then start my new role in April. Just before I handed in my notice, my beloved was head-hunted for a CEO role back in the UK which he wanted to pursue. And, just like that, bang went my plans to improve my cross-country skiing! More importantly, I now had to find us a new home in London, but where?

Property Postscript: The house has only changed hands a couple of times since we sold it in 1993. It now has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms thanks to a loft extension. This was the only photo I could find of it on the internet, courtesy of It’s the house on the left which used to be a painted a classy black and cream with a much smarter outside light, number and door handle! Otherwise, it looks pretty much the same.

My European cycling season starts now!


The previous week I was enjoying balmy temperatures among the sea, sand and skyscrapers of the Tour of Dubai, a six-day long sprint fest where those likely lads in lycra got to enjoy some of the trappings other sportsmen take for granted – club class airline travel and 5* hotels. This week-end the riders were back to earth with a bump and “enjoying” overcooked pasta and chicken at Ibis and Kyriad hotels, and riding in the pouring rain.

You might be wondering whether Arthur Vichot, back to back winner of the last two editions of Tour du Hau Var Matin, was going for a consecutive three-peat? He wasn’t, he didn’t take part. Instead it was the season opener for his FDJ team-mate and team leader Thibaut Pinot, last seen competing in the Transjurassienne, a cross-country ski race in which he finished a very creditable 50th.

It was the race’s 50th anniversary, as good an excuse as any for rolling out plenty of past winners and having Daniel Mageas – the voice of cycling – as MC. The winner of the first edition and the event’s god-father, Raymond Poulidor was in sparkling form. Three former winners were still racing: Sylvain Chavanel, Pippo Pozzato and Davide Revellin, the latter celebrating his 27th year in the professional peloton!

The race started, as is the custom for the past few years, in Le Cannet des Maures, a pretty village in the Var but, having gotten soaked at the start, unlike the peloton, we skipped the finish in Fayence and headed for home and watched the race on France 3.

Day two kicked off in Vidauban’s recently opened leisure park. As we entered the village du depart, we noted an unseemly scrum in the far corner. Was it one of the teams, no it was freebies! Wine, coffee, crepes, sandwiches and oysters – far too much to stomach at 10:00 in the morning but, as you can see from the crowds, I was in a minority of one.

After the race start, we headed for lunch and the finish in Flayosc, just 17 kilometres away. While the peloton went round in ever decreasing circles before thrice coming across the line ahead of the race finish. The result was an all French podium, guaranteed to delight the crowd. The race winner was double stage winner Jonathan Hivert. His small son was almost in tears standing in front of the podium. It’s so lovely for riders’ kids to share in the (all too infrequent) joy of victory.


Races such as these are often great for spotting emerging talent. The best young rider and fourth overall was 21 year old FDJ neo-pro Valentin Madouas who has had a great start to the season. Let’s see how he fares at his next race, Strade Bianche. Euskadi’s 22 year old neo pro Fernando Barcelo waltzed off with the mountains’ jersey while 21 year 0ld Miguel Angel Ballesteros from Alberto Contador’s Conti squad finished 17th overall. I wonder if he’s any good at golf?


The cherry on the icing of two days’ of exciting racing was Rudy Molard’s third place on the podium, replicating his recent result from the Tour of Provence. It’s always lovely seeing friends do well in races. Chapeau to another friend who’d been ill all last week but still managed to finish – Amael Moinard. These boys are tough.



Postcard from Dubai: 5 places I visited

I’ve visited Dubai plenty of times, largely for business with a few days of pleasure tacked on. This time my beloved’s Dental Exhibition coincided with the Tour of Dubai – how great is that? – giving me my first taste of live racing this season. We stayed in the same hotel as at this time last year. It’s in a great location, reasonably priced, with truly helpful staff, all the amenities you could need, large clean airy rooms and, even better, I scored an upgrade.

I did help my beloved assemble his stand, it’s not something you can do on your lonesome but thereafter headed off to watch the cycling where he joined me for its last two stages.

1. Sky Dive Dubai

The six days of racing started each day from Sky Dive Dubai which is near to the Dubai Marina, a 30-45 minute trip by Metro, tram and shank’s pony from where I was staying. However, I didn’t mind as I had a great view of the ongoing developments en route. I’d not previously visited Sky Dive Dubai which, as its name suggests, is for sky diving – not something I’ve ever fancied trying. We witnessed an aerial diving show on the Saturday with some divers gently floating to earth while others plummeted out of the sky. The latter have discouraged me from even contemplating having a go.

Each day’s stage start was held here. It’s a dead-end road beside the Marina, with large grassy areas and an outdoor gym which is popular with joggers, dog walkers and gym bunnies. None of whom seemed much interested in their space being colonised by loads of fit guys in lycra. The teams were all staying in the nearby 5* Westin Hotel having been flown in Club Class on Emirates. A nice treat for guys more used to Ibis, Kyriad  – and that misnomer  – Premiere Classe hotels and EasyJet steerage.

The area also provided a fitting backdrop for the racing particularly with the skyscrapers looming out of the early morning mist. The facilities in the start zone were excellent and aimed at encouraging families to spend the day watching the action on the big screen while the kids amused themselves on a variety of attractions. There were also plenty of food and sponsors’ stands. In truth you could count the spectators on the fingers of one hand in the days leading up to the week-end but the locals came out in their hordes on Friday and Saturday (Arab week-end).

2. Kinokuniya Bookshop – Dubai Mall

Easily one of my favourite shops in Dubai and one of my favourite bookshops worldwide. That’s praise indeed as my first port of call anywhere is generally a book store. My two younger sisters would be horrified to learn this was the only shop I visited in Dubai.

Kinokuniya is a Japanese owned group with shops in Japan, USA, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Taiwan and Dubai. The shop in the Dubai Mall is a whopping 6,500 square metres and it stocks more than half a million books and over a thousand magazines in English, Arabic, Japanese, French, German and Chinese. It also has a wonderful selection of stationery – another of my weaknesses. It has the largest selection of cookery books I have ever seen and I can happily spend  – and did – hours browsing through the various sections. I had deliberately left plenty of room in my luggage to bring back a few books which naturally enough included two cookery books – a girl can never have enough!

3. The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

This hotel is just a block from where we were staying. We ate in one of its many restaurants last time and this time had two very enjoyable meals in its Bar Belge. Now, if I like it so much why didn’t I stay in it? Experience has taught me that when I’m watching live racing, and my beloved is working at an exhibition, we spend very little time in the hotel and are unable to enjoy its many benefits. So why pay for them?

Both times we ate early to benefit from Bar Belge’s Happy Hour prices and much enjoyed our seafood dinners which were no more expensive than at our own hotel. On our second meal there we struck up a conversation with our waiter who came from Bangalore, a city my beloved knows well, about cricket and his mother’s search for a suitable bride for him. He very kindly gave Richard a freebie dessert of Belgian waffles, speculoos ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.

4. City Walk

The final day’s stage of the Dubai Tour finished in City Walk, an area we’d not previously visited, just a short stroll from our hotel and the Dubai Mall. Walking anywhere in Dubai tends to be tricky, most people drive or take a cab, but I like to walk and am undeterred by the pavements that end abruptly the wire fencing down the middle of many roads.

City Walk has a distinctly European vibe probably catering for Dubai’s large expatriate community and I felt quite at home with many familiar names such as Galleries Lafayette, BHV Marais and so on…….Again, it’s a family friendly area with plenty of attractions for all ages.

5. Al Hallab

My beloved’s clients in Dubai originally hailed from Syria and, last time, they introduced us to a fabulous Syrian restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel but, sadly, it has moved and neither they or we know where it has moved to. Their default restaurant is a Lebanese one with four locations in Dubai that serves equally fabulous food.

Arabs love groaning tables, do not expect or even try to finish everything. You need to leave something to demonstrate their generosity. Because I don’t eat meat, they order me a load of separate dishes which I couldn’t hope to finish even if my beloved decided to help me out. Fortunately, my regime excuses me from dessert. We’ve now eaten at three of the four branches and they’re all equally excellent.

Of course, there’s loads more to see and do in Dubai aside from the short list above.

Things my beloved does: apes the outlaw

They tell men to take a long hard look at their mothers-in-law before marrying their daughters. It’s true, I am morphing into my mother. Not that my beloved minds, he worshipped my mother and she reciprocated. He might only have been one of her three son-in-laws but he was most definitely her favourite and, in her eyes, could do no wrong.
However, there are a few clear differences between me and my late mother. I’m much tidier and better organised, I get that from my Dad. If there was something my mother wanted or wanted to do, she would organise it, or get me to arrange it, otherwise she was happy to let Dad deal with everything else, while she occupied herself with the house and garden. I’m far too much of a control freak to allow that to ever happen. Plus, my beloved is nowhere near as reliable as my late father.
By the same token, you might imagine that my beloved would be turning into my late father-in-law. But, no it’s my brother-in-law, his younger brother, who’s the dead ringer. Instead, and much more worryingly, my beloved is turning into the outlaw, a women I haven’t seen for eight years and haven’t spoken to in around five. That’s not a complaint you understand, merely a statement of fact.
Horrifyingly, from time to time, I observe my beloved emulating odd habits or behaviours of hers. For example, my mother-in-law  is a total hypochondriac. Most of my beloved’s weekly conversations with her are given over to her airing her various ailments in graphic detail. I know when she’s doing this from the look on my beloved’s face. She sees her weekly (minimum) trip to the doctor’s surgery as a social outing and she’s up for anything she can get out of him. To say that she’s a drain on the NHS is putting it mildly.
I still recall the last time we had dinner together, many years ago, to celebrate her 80th birthday – she’s now 92. She’d just had a colonoscopy and was intent on telling us all about it during dinner. I put my hand up and said; “Val, we really don’t need to know all the gory details, particularly not during dinner. The important thing is that the examination provided you with reassurance that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you”.
My beloved betrays worryingly similar issues. He’s regaled anyone who was foolish enough to ask chapter and verse about his broken leg and subsequent recovery. I keep telling him that people are merely being polite and all he needs to say is that everything is progressing nicely and he’s now fine.
In addition, and I suppose it’s inevitable as we age, I get daily updates on his health niggles. For example, he’s always imagining he’s got a pulled muscle which requires the application of some unguent or other. He has a large cupboard in his bathroom chock full of medicaments and implements such as infra-red heat lamps for self-medicating. I’m the complete opposite. I have a couple of plasters, some cream for insect bites and that’s it – not so much as an aspirin.
If challenged about his hypochondria, he’ll hotly deny it but……….. he recently went to the doctor to get a medical certificate to join a new cycling club and, to his delight, she said it was time for another blood test. The French are (quite rightly) keen on these and most people have them every six months, early detection and all that…..he’s off to the medical centre tomorrow. When he gets the results, he’ll pull out the one from last time, make comparisons and then check out on the internet whether he’s showing signs of anything. I keep telling him that’s the doc’s job!
Although, I joke about his similarities to his mother, given her current longevity, I can safely assume he’ll be keeping me company for many a year to come.

Things I’ve done: almost crashed into a cactus

One Christmas we decided to vacation in Arizona. I can’t recall exactly why we chose that particular location but I think it had a lot to do with warm weather, somewhere to play golf and the millennium. I tried to put the holiday together myself but couldn’t do it cheaper, largely on account of the flights, than the travel agent. BA had just started direct flights to Phoenix, Arizona and the travel agent was able to get killer rates for two club class return tickets.

This could have been one of our “40 Memorable Moments” but it didn’t make the list despite being a fabulous vacation, with breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, astounding scenery and where I was introduced to South Western and Texan cuisine.

There are lots of great resort hotels in Arizona but we plumped for The Boulders because it sat so beautifully in the landscape, and it had two great golf courses. The plan was my beloved would work on his handicap while I chilled out in the spa and we’d also tour around the area. For me the highlight of the vacation was the beauty of the desert landscapes. I had just thought it would be miles and miles of sand, but it wasn’t. It was surprisingly green and achingly beautiful.

I even controlled my fear of heights to see the landscape from a hot air balloon which was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared. We set off at first light and I was amazed at just how much you could see from the balloon and I didn’t really (fortunately) feel I was up high. Maybe all that sand masked the sensation of height?

We also took a flight to see the Grand Canyon which was truly spectacular. I was surprised at just how large it was, but then that’s so often the case in the States: meals, buildings, distances – everything is larger than life. There’s this huge crevice, carved out of the landscape with a beautiful turquoise ribbon (Colorado river) at its base. When my two sisters went to Las Vegas, I said they had to go see the Grand Canyon. On their return I learned it had been sunny on the day they’d decided to visit, so they sun-bathed instead of visiting one of the world’s great sights!

We also drove around the area, admiring the rich palette of colours of the landscape, particularly the reds and ochres of the rock formations. One fine sunny day I offered to drive the golf buggy for my beloved and we set off from the club house with me driving carefully along the track. After a while, I started mucking about, particularly as the track became quite windy.

There were loads of cacti on the golf course largely chollas, prickly pears and saguaros. The flower of the saguaro is the emblem of Arizona. Harming one of these in any manner is illegal under Arizona state law. Obviously, there are exceptions but, in general, you must obtain special permits to move or destroy any saguaro unless  it has fallen over in a storm or it has become a potential hazard.

While driving along in the golf buggy, turning the wheel from left to right and back again, I slipped sideways out of the seat and onto the ground. I found myself running alongside a runaway golf cart heading straight for a massive saguaro. My beloved wasn’t helping as he was doubled over laughing. At almost the last moment, I managed to leap back into my seat and steer the cart away from the cactus which had really long, deadly looking spikes. Naturally enough, plenty of golfers witnessed my loss of control and I’m sure I provided a few tall tales in the 19th hole, along the lines of….”you’ll never guess what I saw on the golf course today!”

That was my one and only time at the helm of a golf cart. The rest of the vacation passed without incident.

However, what stuck in my mind from this holiday wasn’t the incident with the golf-cart, although it’s one of the few things my beloved teases me about. No, it was a sign found along many of the roads in Arizona – you know how I love signs? It’s sign RS-107 from the Arizona Manual of Approved Signs  – yes, I looked it up and here it is (just click on the link!)

road sign

I love the suggestion that off-road driving or collecting fall into the same category as off-road shooting! But then, of course, we are talking about the States. Fire away, just don’t run over any cacti!

(Images courtesy of The Boulders and Arizona Tourist Office)


The Musette: delicious dhal

This is a killer dhal recipe. The roasted vegetables and rose-coloured coconut chutney turn it into something stellar and all from the humble little lentil.

You can use a variety of roasted vegetables but I prefer to use either sweet potatoes, carrots or butternut squash. But let’s not get too precious, any roasted vegetables will be just fine.

For the chutney, fresh grated coconut is best but I don’t often have time to source it, so feel free to use unsweetened desiccated coconut. Equally, if you’re short of time, this chutney can be swapped for a good spoonful of mango chutney. Though, to be honest, I like to serve it with both!

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

For the vegetables:

  • 500g (1lb) approx. 2 med-sized sweet potatoes, carrots etc peeled and chopped into 1.5cm (1”) cubes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1⁄2 tsp fennel seeds
  • coconut oil (melted)

For the dhal:

  • 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g (7 oz) red lentils, washed
  • 400ml (1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tbsp) coconut milk
  • 400ml (1 1/2 cups, plus 2tbsp) vegetable stock
  • 2 large handfuls fresh spinach
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped, stalks and all
  • 1 organic lemon, zest and juice

For the coconut chutney:

  •  50g (2 oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut or grated fresh coconut
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped


1. Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 200°C(425°F/fan 400°F)/gas 7. If using desiccated coconut, pour 150ml of boiling water over it and leave to soak.

2. Put the sweet potatoes/carrots etc on a roasting tray and add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the cumin and fennel seeds and a drizzle of coconut oil. Roast in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until soft and sweet in the middle and crispy brown on the outside.

3. In a large pan, fry the garlic, ginger, chilli and onion in a little oil for about 10 minutes over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.

4. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add to the pan with the other spices and cook for a couple of minutes to toast and release the oils.

Add the lentils, coconut milk and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and allow to bubble away for 25–30 minutes.

5. While that’s cooking, make the chutney. Drain the coconut and put it or freshly grated coconut into a bowl. Fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a little oil until they begin to crackle, then pour the mixture over the coconut. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the ginger and chilli and give it a good stir.

6. To finish the dhal, take it off the heat, stir in the spinach and allow it to wilt a little, then add half the chopped coriander, all the lemon zest and juice.

7. Pile the dhal into bowls and top with the vegetables, the coconut chutney, the mango chutney and the remaining coriander.

8. Serve this with an Indian bread such as naan, chapattis or roti and, if you’re really really hungry, some fluffy brown basmati rice.


Date nights: PT Barnum, Pentagon Papers and pizzas

Dates on two consecutive week-ends, my beloved is spoiling me, isn’t he?

Films are like buses. You wait for one that you want to watch to come along and several arrive at the same time. At our local cinema last week-end we had the choice of Paddington 2, Pentagon Papers or The Greatest Showman. The last one is a musical and regular readers will know how I feel about those!

My beloved adores musicals and so I decided  – don’t I always? – to indulge him. I was prepared to be generous only because the man playing PT Barnum was the utterly lovely Hugh Jackman. I’ve met Hugh, on a number of occasions, and can confirm that he’s a lovely (and fit) chap. Our paths crossed in the gym, early morning, while he was getting in shape for one of the many Wolverine movies. A number of well-known figures used to frequent the gym, many of whom would make their presence known, but not Hugh. He was intent on working out and minding his own business.

I never used to wear my glasses in the gym so initially he was just a blur in the distance but, in the free weights area, I was left wondering why he looked so familiar, until the penny dropped. I refrained from stalking him around the gym – it would have been so easy – instead, just allowed our paths to cross as we moved around the equipment and weights, with our respective personal trainers.

Back to the film which I note didn’t garner particularly positive reviews, but so what? It was better than anticipated, a bit light on accuracy though pleasantly diverting. My beloved loved it and that’s all that mattered.

This week-end, before flying off to Dubai, we went to watch The Pentagon Papers, a rather weightier film but which, like The Greatest Showman, also has disturbing parallels to current events. I’ve not met either Meryl or Tom though once had dinner in a London restaurant on the table next to Tom and his wife. I’ve lost count of the number of celebrities I’ve spotted in London in shops, bars and restaurants. Of course, you ignore them. It’s very uncool to even acknowledge them which is why I suspect they enjoy visiting London.

It’s different on the Cote d’Azur, where most celebrities stay well behind the high walls of their villas or out at sea, and out of sight, on their yachts. If celebrity spotting’s your thing, you need to hang out in Monte Carlo, Saint Tropez or in Cannes, during the Film Festival.

I’m kinda hoping I’ll be able to watch Paddington 2 on my up-coming long-haul flight!

Both week-ends, as we walked out of the cinema, our favourite restaurant on the Polygon Riviera site is dead ahead – pizza anyone? That’ll do nicely!

(All images courtesy of Wikipedia)