The Musette: Halloween treat

I generally don’t embrace with any real enthusiasm holidays I regard as being US imports and, in truth, we don’t get too many trick or treaters at Halloween but enough that I’ll be embarrassed if I don’t have anything to give to them. I’m unwilling to add to their caches of sugar laden treats, so I’ve made some that could be labelled “healthy” from a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients that, unbeknown to the kids, are loaded with fibre, healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

These homemade chocolate- coated caramel bars are made of three simple, delicious layers. The base is a coconut oil, syrup and ground almond layer that provides the perfect nutty flavour and texture.

Next is the divine, gooey, salted, date caramel layer. Medjool dates which are filled with fibre, calcium, potassium and zinc, are blended with water and sea salt to form a thick paste.

The bars are then topped with melted dark chocolate – the darker the better. Look for a small bar (70 % cacao or higher) filled with antioxidants and high quality fats to make these homemade bars even more tempting. Kids in France tend to prefer dark chocolate.

Ingredients (makes 12 small square bars)

  • 100g (1 cup) almond flour made from toasted, ground almonds
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown rice syrup (or date or maple syrup)
  • 300g (1 ½ cups) Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 13 tbsp (¾ cup) warm filtered water
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 100g (3 oz) small bar 70% min. dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Method

1. Line a small tin with greaseproof (parchment) paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together almond flour, coconut oil and syrup until well combined. Spread the mixture into the bottom of the lined tin and place in the freezer to set.

3. In a high-speed blender, or food processor, combine the pitted dates, filtered water and sea salt. Blend on high for 30-45 seconds, or until the dates are completely liquefied and the mixture is thick and creamy. If the date mixture is too runny, add in another date or two.

4. Pour the date liquid over the top of the set almond base in the tin. Return the tin to the freezer and let mixture set for one hour.

5. After an hour, remove the tin from freezer. Pour melted dark chocolate and coconut oil mix (melt in microwave or in bain marie) over the top, completely covering the date mixture.

6. Place the tin back in freezer and let it sit for 6 hours, or overnight. Can you wait that long?

7. After the bars are well chilled, remove from the freezer. Gently remove lining paper and bars out of the tin and place on a cutting board. Cut into small, medium or large bars with a warm, sharp knife. Whatever your heart desires!

8. Store the bars in an airtight container in the fridge where they’ll keep for two weeks  – not that they’ll last that long – or, alternatively, they’ll keep (well-hidden) in the freezer for two months.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Make extra salted date caramel to add to smoothies, pour over ice cream, drizzle on sweet potatoes and oh so much more……………..

2. Feel free to add a little pinch of flaky sea salt on top of the bars for an extra dose of salty sweet flavor.

3. Make the bars more like snickers bars with the addition of a few peanuts in the caramel layer.

4. Not that I had any complaints from my testers but, the next time I make these bars, I’m going to double up on base and chocolate layers, so that they’re a similar thickness to caramel layer.

Fridge of a thousand jars

A house guest once commented on the number of jars in my fridge calling it the “fridge of a thousand jars!” That was obviously an exaggeration but I’ve just given the fridge a tip to toe clean and frankly, once I saw all the jars lined up, I realised he did have a point.

Any jar once open naturally ends up in the fridge. I have the usual selection of mustards, home-made jams and marmalades, sauces, chutneys, mayo etc that you’d probably find in most people’s fridges, though I may have a few more condiments. For example, sweet German mustard for veal sausages, dill sauce for smoked salmon, two types of horseradish, German curry ketchup, Scandinavian remoulade sauce for cold roast beef, capers in brine and salt, anchovies in oil and salt……………I think you’re now beginning to get the picture!

I’m also keen on pickles, they add such a satisfying crunch to so many dishes. Of course, you’ll always find jars containing large dill pickled cucumbers and the smaller French cornichons along with a whole host of home-made pickles such as onion, red cabbage, cauliflower and even mixed vegetables. That reminds me, I must do a blog with some of my ridiculously easy pickle and fermented vegetable recipes. I find it’s an excellent way of not wasting a scrap.

I also have small jars of confit and roast garlic which I’ve prepared to pop into dishes where I don’t want the hit of raw garlic, along with confit tomatoes and maybe the odd confit duck leg sitting in its protective layer of unctuous goose fat. I’ll also often mince ginger and turmeric and pop the paste into little jars to use as and when, otherwise I find they tend to shrivel up in the fridge.

I’ll generally have some home preserved soft fruits, typically white peaches or apricots, as a go to dessert if unexpected visitors drop by. Before the jar’s open, it stays in my stand alone preserves fridge but once open it migrates the main one.

There’s usually a small selection of open jars of home-made jams, chutneys and marmalades, along with home-made nut butters, home-made tahini and preserved lemons. There’s also usually a bottle of my home-made pesto. In summer it’ll be made with basil but at othertimes maybe rocket or carrot tops. Then there’s my home-made vanilla paste and extract, a few flavoured oils – though these don’t last too long – and let’s not get started on the small plastic containers full of dips such as hummous, guacamole, aubergine caviar and artichoke mousse which form the basis of many a pre-dinner nibble or a sandwich filling for me.

When I make up different curry pastes, I’ll make these in bulk and freeze what I don’t need in individual portions. Though, occasionally, I’ll just pop some in a small glass jar to use later in the month.

Every time I open a can of chickpeas, I drain off the aquafaba. If I’m going to use it within the next week, I’ll pop it into a jar in the fridge. If not, I’ll freeze it. I follow a similar procedure with egg whites.

I think you’re beginning to get my drift and it’s probably a good thing my guest didn’t glance into my freezer which is always full of little plastic bags filled with so many different treasures!

I’ve finally shaken off my cold

The past few weeks month I’ve been suffering from a chesty cough and cold. It started towards the end of last month when I had a fever. I took to my bed for a couple of days, felt very lethargic – so unlike me – and had no appetite. I felt so bad my beloved even had to forage in the fridge  for a few meals. I seemingly shook that off but a week or so later developed a cold which flew straight to my chest.

As a child I suffered terribly from catarrh and I remember my mother asking the doctor how to get rid of it. His response: “Move!” We lived in the Midlands in the UK which is famously damp in winter. It’s not been damp here, au contraire, we’ve been enjoying a truly magnificent Indian summer punctuated by a couple of squalls. Though the weather is forecast to turn autumnal this weekend. So I can’t blame it on the change in weather. Someone must’ve gifted me the germs.

Of course, there’s no cure for the common cold though my beloved did bring me some Benylin and Vicks Vapour Rub back from the UK. I’m not at all sure they hastened my cold’s departure but there’s something so reassuring about the familiar. Of course, I could’ve just popped into my local pharmacy, waited for 30 minutes – there’s always a queue – and purchased some cough mixture and lozenges.

The downside to my cold is the chesty cough which keeps me awake at night. I have to sit up in bed to sleep. Less than ideal but then I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. During the night, I inevitably end up prone, the phlegm collects on my chest, I start coughing and wake us both up. At this point I beat a hasty retreat to the sofa so my beloved can enjoy a few more hours of interrupted bliss.

Typically, I’ll wake at around 04:00am, having gone to bed at 10:00pm or possibly even earlier depending on how tired I feel. I really need eight hours a night otherwise i’m inclined to be snappy and irritable. Just ask my beloved.

I’m only allowed four swigs of Benylin per day so at this point I’ll have a hot toddy (no alcohol allowed) of lemon juice, honey and hot water. I find it very soothing. Sometimes I’ll manage to drop back to sleep on the sofa but if I don’t, I bake. The freezer is now groaning with all sorts of goodies.

I’ve naturally kept a low profile for the past few weeks, no one wants to spend time with someone who’s coughing and spluttering. Plus, I sound so much worse than I feel. There are however some benefits. It’s allowed me to get on with some much postponed chores and keep my beloved company. He’s also been grounded as he can’t walk very far and he has a mountain of work to complete before he takes time off for his hip-replacement op and recovery.

All this has played havoc with my cycling. The weather has been perfect for riding in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. Most Octobers I’m in my 3/4 bib shorts and a long-sleeved jersey by the middle of the month, if not earlier. In the meantime, I’m getting back into the swing on the home trainer. I’ll go out on the road once my beloved goes in for his operation. No point in rubbing his nose in it as he’s really missing not being able to ride.

Yet another trip to Alassio

The rationale for our most recent trip was a few relaxing days away so my beloved could use the hotel’s Thalassotherapy facilities to sooth his hip which is becoming ever more painful.Of course, I too enjoy the jets in the salt-water therapy pool and found the warm herbal baths soothed my current chesty cold. We also attempted to be digital free for the trip. I succeeded but my beloved and his iPhone are rarely separated, only when he misplaces it.
I always enjoy the splendid views on the drive over to Italy particularly when the weather is still warm and sunny. So sunny in fact that after our arrival we sat out on the beach on the hotel’s loungers enjoying the warm sunshine. We’ve stayed at the hotel many times but sitting on the beach is a first for us. I did have a quick paddle in the sea but frankly preferred just listening to the waves lap the shore. I find that really relaxing.
Obviously at this time of year, the place is blissfully quiet. There’s a few holiday makers, but it’s mostly residents. All of which means it’s easy to get tables in our favourite restaurants. However, because my beloved can’t easily walk far, we confined ourselves to those closest to the hotel – no hardship.
We first saw this particular hotel back in 2009 during its renovation, while we were staying in Alassio on the cycling club’s annual trip. We stayed in a nondescript hotel at the far (noisy) end of Alassio which was favoured by OAP coach parties. Someone on the committee had organised the trip and I assumed had chosen this particular hotel so as to remain within our budget. However, I later found a number of much nicer hotels, with better facilities, including car parking, for the same price.
The presence of so many OAPs in the hotel meant that if we didn’t go in for breakfast and dinner promptly they’d picked the buffet clean, just like a bunch of locusts. Not that the food was anything to write home about. The hotel also made us unforgettable packed lunches to eat while we were out riding around the area. After three trips with the club where neither the accommodation nor the food lived up to its billing, we decided to call it a day. Instead, we decided we’d go on our own, staying and eating when and where we wanted.
We took my parents to Alassio the following October, my mother’s last trip abroad, to show them the hotel where we’d stayed when I was eight, in neighbouring Laigueglia. We ate however in the restaurant just down from this hotel which was still undergoing renovation. My father was much intrigued by the works and we promised to take him there once it had been completed. A promise we sadly never got to keep.
Lunch was an enjoyable affair as the restaurant has a conservatory over the sea which affords diners lovely views. We had one of the prized corner tables which I’d pre-booked. My mother had the fried fish which she insisted on eating with her fingers. My father was always concerned that her behaviour (she had Alzheimers) would attract undue attention but no one batted and eyelid and the staff were very solicitous. Eating at that restaurant always brings back warm memories of that luncheon.
We’ve spent time in the area most years either because of cycling events such as Trofeo Laigueglia and the Giro d’Italia, it’s a useful mid-way meeting point for clients from Milan and Turin or a lovely place to enjoy a few days of fare niente. It’s a change from where we live, even though it’s only just over the hour up the motorway and, because of its sandy beach, the place has a real seaside vibe.
When we were last there in April, we noted with some dismay that our favourite place for Aperol Spritz and nibbles had changed hands. We rapidly found somewhere else to enjoy our evening drink and nibbles. There’s not exactly a shortage of great bars. This time we needed to find one closer to the hotel and chanced upon one near the main station. This bar’s Aperol Spritzs were excellent, as good as my beloved’s, and the nibbles plentiful, all for a bargain Euros 5,00 per head! This has now superceded the excellent and longstanding Bar Roma, where Ernest Hemingway used to drink – that man drank everywhere!
During our brief trip, we took full advantage of the thalassotherapy facilities and I enjoyed a bracing walk around town on my own, ostensibly to get some food to take back with us though I did, of course, indulge in a spot of harmless window shopping. We may try to fit in another trip, post my beloved’s hip-replacement op, as you can never have too much of a good thing!
Please note that in order to maintain my digital detox, all the photographs were taken on previous trips

El número siete

I appreciate that the professional peloton has been racing in China and Japan last week, but my interest in cycling concludes with Il Lombardia. Coincidentally this is generally when the race for the blue-riband crown in MotoGP comes to the boil.

It was another early start yesterday morning to watch the race. The question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Marc Marquez would close out the championship in Japan in Honda’s backyard in front of its Head Honcho or would Andrea Dovizioso, lying second in the Championship, win from pole on board his Ducati and keep the championship race alive?

Fans of the sport will know that Marquez secured his fifth MotoGP world championship (seventh in all classes) with an eighth victory of the 2018 season in the Japanese Grand Prix as Dovi crashed with two laps to go.

How the race was won

Marquez started on the second row, in sixth place, at Motegi but quickly moved up to second on the opening lap, biding his time, before engaging in a nailbiting, seat of the pants duel with polesitter and last remaining realistic championship threat Dovizioso.

Waiting until 10 laps to go to make his first move, Marquez passed Dovi at Turn 9, but one corner later he ran wide on the dirt and lost momentum – with his rival almost piling into the back of him, and repassing for the lead.

Four laps later, Dovi recorded a new fastest lap, but Marquez went even quicker the following one and it became clear he was in no mood to settle for a safe second. Indeed, both riders needed to throw caution to the wind to achieve their objectives.

Marquez seized the lead on the 21st lap of 24 with a bold pass at the tight Turn 9 left-hander – he much prefers left to right-hand turns – but Dovi was going nowhere, stuck to his rival’s tail and looked poised to fight back until he lost the front end of his Ducati into the Turn 10 hairpin on the penultimate lap. Game over. Marquez reaches level 7!

More records fall

Titles:

– Marquez becomes the youngest rider to win five titles in the premier class at the age of 25 years and 246 days, taking the record from Valentino Rossi (26 years, 221 days).

– He becomes the youngest rider of all time to reach the milestone of seven World Championships across all classes, beating Mike Hailwood’s record, who was 26 years and 140 days old when he won his seventh title back in 1966.

– Marquez joins Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini as one of four riders who has won five or more premier class World Championships.

– He becomes one of only eight riders who have more than seven titles across all classes: John Surtees (7), Phil Read (7), Carlo Ubbiali (9), Mike Hailwood (9), Valentino Rossi (9), Angel Nieto (13) and Giacomo Agostini (15).

Victories:

– Marquez has won at least five GPs per season in the last nine years across all three classes: 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP. He’s the first rider in MotoGP’s 70 year history to achieve this.

Poles:

– With five pole positions this season, Marquez increases his overall pole position tally to 78 across all classes.

– In Thailand, the previous MotoGP, Marquez (25 years, 231 days) became the youngest rider to reach the milestone of 50 pole positions in the premier class, taking the record off Mick Doohan, who was 32 years and 122 days old when he took his 50th pole position at Philip Island in 1997.

What did Twitter have to say about it all?

Here’s where the race and championship were decided on Sunday.

Over enthusiastic celebrations resulting in a dislocated shoulder which was just popped back in. These MotoGP boys are TOUGH!

Congratulations poured in for for Marquez from other Spanish sporting legends.

I hope you carry on living the dream Marc for many years to come.

The Final Word

MotoGP is lucky to have Marquez, and Marquez is lucky to have landed in MotoGP at a time when such intense rivalries are made possible by the emergence of a generation of extremely talented riders with strong and divergent personalities – a bit like the big four in men’s tennis over the past decade. He is the kind of figure all sports dream of unearthing: a Tiger Woods, a Katarina Witt, a Usain Bolt, a unique individual whose combination of charisma and technical brilliance bursts through the limits and disciplines of their sport and engages multitudes.

Richard Williams, The Guardian

The Musette: vegan cauliflower korma

This is a creamy, comforting take on the curry-house staple from a Meera Sodha recipe which I’ve adapted – as I’m wont  to do – to my own taste and dietary requirements. Like Meera I had always thought of korma as the curry for people who didn’t like heat or spice but this is a quite different take: less sweet, with warm subtle backnotes.

I made this for supper for some French friends because, even though they might claim to like spicy food, the French don’t do hot and spicy. My friends, like me, don’t eat dairy so this was the ideal recipe for a quick Friday evening supper.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 200g cashew nuts
  • 1kg (2lbs) approx. whole cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • thumb sized pieces fresh ginger and fresh turmeric, peeled and grated
  • 6 cardamom pods, seeds extracted
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 250ml (1 cup) filtered water
  • 1 tbsp brown rice syrup
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 handful each toasted flaked almonds and freshly chopped coriander, to serve

Method

1. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas 4. Put the cashews in a heatproof bowl, add freshly boiled water to cover and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain, add 250ml (1 cup) filtered water and blend until smooth.

2. Steam the cauliflower whole until you can easily pierce the stem with a sharp knife though it should still be firm, not mushy.

3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame, then fry the onions for 12-15 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the garlic, turmeric and ginger, fry for three to four minutes, then stir in the cardamom seeds, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper, garam masala and rose water.

4. Next add the brown rice syrup, a tsp sea salt and the cashew cream, then cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce turns a rich golden colour. It should be the same thickness as a cheese sauce, if it’s not, add a little more filtered water. Season to taste and turn off the heat.

5. Put the steamed cauliflower into an oven proof dish and pour over the sauce which should easily cover the head of cauliflower. Pop into the oven until it’s golden and bubbling, 30-40 minutes should suffice. To serve, portion into quarters.

6. Toast the almonds for 5 minutes in the oven, finely chop the coriander and scatter over each serving.

7. Serve with a spicy chutney on the side and naan or, if you’re feeling really hungry, basmati rice.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I made this firstly faithfully following the recipe but didn’t really enjoy the taste of the oven roasted cauliflower and I wanted it to be more like a mildly spiced cauliflower cheese and also use less fat in the cooking process.

2. I added the rose water and rice syrup because I had them in my pantry but I suspect that while they lend sweet backnotes to the sauce, they’re really optional extras.

3. I thinned the cashew cream with a bit more filtered water rather than non-dairy milk – fewer calories and no loss of flavour.

4. I skipped the toasted raisins in my version because I didn’t like them.

5. The dish isn’t a looker but it’s really tasty. Try it and see for yourself or indeed revert to the original recipe, link above.

Things about France that surprised me: the French don’t do cards

In my 13 years living in France, I have not once received a greetings card of any kind from my wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Should I be concerned? No, because the French don’t do greetings cards, not like the Brits.

UK consumers lead the rest of the world in sending greetings cards. In a recent survey, over a third (37%) of UK adults said they had sent a greetings card, invitation or postcard in the post in the last month – the highest in the world and beating Australia into second spot (34%).

I cannot say I was surprised to learn that consumers in France were the least likely to send greetings cards, with only 17% saying they had done so – half the amount in the UK. If anything, I was astonished it was so high. Must be all those British immigrants skewing the statistics.

It’s not just physical greetings cards, I’ve never even received an e-card from any of my French friends, generally just an email thanking us for our Xmas card and wishing us all the best for the following year. Likewise, in response to our Xmas cards, some of our neighbours have sent us handwritten thank you notes.

So why is this?

The sending of cards isn’t as common in France as in some other countries. It isn’t, for example, usual to send someone a card following a bereavement or after passing an exam. Instead of Christmas cards, the French send New Year cards, but only to people they don’t normally see during the year, which is what we now do.

Card to please

Sending Christmas cards is popular in many Anglo countries but it’s not a common custom in France. While it’s nice to get a hand-written card in the mail, I think many people just send them out because it’s considered a social faux-pas if you don’t. In the days of texting, Facebook, carrier pigeons, there’s clearly no need to send Christmas cards.

Because the French don’t send Holiday or Season’s greeting cards, sending Happy New Year cards is pretty stress free. You have the whole month of January to write a non-personal very brief card that will warm the heart the person who receives it. Typically, the card is written on a mignonette, on a greeting card or even sometimes on an old fashion ‘carte de visite’ – calling card.

Also, I think I read somewhere that since 1962, France has had a law that stipulates any letter to Santa must be responded to in the form of a postcard. This is a much better way for postmen to spend their time rather than delivering soulless Christmas cards!

Trip to Port of Nice

We’re currently rather limited as to how we spend our free time thanks to my husband’s ailing hip. He really can’t walk any distance. Typically if the weather’s as great as it was last week-end, we’d have been out for a long cycle. However, as that’s not possible, we decided to go into Nice for lunch.

Being creatures of habit, we’ve tended to eat at the same handful of restaurants but we’ve recently decided to branch out. Two of my crack team of cake tasters have an apartment overlooking the Port of Nice. This was a shrewd choice of location as the area will soon have its own tram connection into central Nice and, more importantly, the airport. We were there recently and it reminded us that there’s a couple of great restaurants, plus Cafe du Cycliste nearby.

My beloved dropped me off in Nice to run a few errands while he parked in the Port and bagged a table with a great view and an Aperol Spritz. I pitched  up later, chores done in a bit of a sweat glowing gently from the heat. I’d probably walked around 4km. As I walked around the Port I couldn’t fail to notice this massive boat parked – or should that be moored? – to one side. Unlike say Antibes, the Port of Nice, aside from the ferries, tends to be full of smaller boats and only a handful of million pounders.

This one seriously tipped the scales and, while I’m no expert, would probably set you back around two hundred million dollars. It probably belongs to one of the many Russian billionaires. Neither my beloved or I are boat people though we did once go round the Monaco Boat Show with one of his ex-bosses who had a yacht so I have a healthy appreciation of purchase prices, running costs and weekly chartering fees – way outa my league.

Charles Emmanuel III, Duke of Savoy, ordered the construction of the port back in 1749 for commercial purposes. Nowadays pleasure rather supercedes those interests. The harbour is surrounded by colourful facades, dominated on the west side by the Colline du Chateau which overlooks the port and Old Town. At the end of the port is the Notre-Dame du Port church. The west wharf of the port of Nice consists of Quai Lunel (which extends the Rauba Capeu wharf), the Quai des Douanes and Quai Papacino. The Rauba Capeu wharf is located at the eastern end of the Quai des Etats-Unis, itself an extension of the Promenade des Anglais. Rauba Capeu is a reference in Nissart to the wind which blows across the port and is strong enough to blow off your hat.

Boats aside, I love the colours of the buildings around the Port, they’re typical Niçois though it’s currently difficult to fully appreciate its beauty while it’s still largely a building site for the tramway.  I gratefully joined my beloved and slaked my thirst  with water before enjoying an Aperol Spritz.

Les Pecheurs is a longstanding, family run fish restaurant which has plenty of menu options for me. My beloved opted for a spin on a traditional Salade Niçoise and a side order of chips! I usually pinch one or two but they disappeared before I had a chance. I was torn between pointing the digit of doom at a lobster in the tank, the octopus or the dish of the day. I chose the last one, a seafood linguine where the pasta was perfectly cooked as was the seafood. There’s nothing worse than overcooked shellfish.

To finish, my beloved enjoyed a successfully deconstructed tarte tatin and I had some sorbet. It had been a delightfully relaxed lunch, in soothing surroundings, where I’d had a clear view of the open kitchen. I love watching the chefs work.

After a potter around Cafe du Cycliste admiring their extensive range of cycling wear, we headed back to the car and home to watch the final exciting kilometres of Il Lombardia. We really should do this more often maybe at least once a month, particularly once we’ve resumed cycling.

 

Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

 

Our view

I’ll never tire of the view from my apartment. On a clear day – and there are plenty of those – I can see from Cap d’Antibes to Cap Ferrat. It’s the reason we bought the place and the reason why it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever move again. Indeed, we’ve now lived here longer than at any of our five previous properties. Of course, the place has other advantages but there’s no beating the view.

Our apartment is on the end of the block and we have a wrap around terrace which gives us access to the sunshine all day long.The sun rises in the furthermost corner and bathes the terrace running along the lounge, dining room and master bedroom with heat and light for most of the morning. Early afternoon it glows on the side terrace (and office). It’s the perfect spot for a bit of sunbathing. Late afternoon it moves around to the rear of the property, gently warming the guest bedroom, bike room and kitchen.

 

Most of the year we follow the sun around the property. In high summer we eat breakfast and lunch on the rear terrace, enjoying cocktails and dinner on the front. When it’s milder, though still sunny and warm enough to eat out, we do the reverse. Sometimes, it’s too cold and or too wet to eat outside though we’ll vary whether we eat in the breakfast room, attached to the kitchen, or the dining room, depending on the weather. Sometimes the weather is so bad, we can barely see beyond the terrace.

I don’t have a favourite time of year for the view. I adore it all year round though I am partial to a good sunrise and sunset. I love watching the sun rise, spreading its rays along the horizon. Sometimes it looks like molten lava, other times it’s just a gentle peach glow, in between there’s every shade of orange. As the sun sets, the horizon between the sea and the sky is imperceptible and the colours range from azur blue through to midnight then mauve, blush and pale gold. It makes me wish I could commit the vivid colours to canvas and, who knows, maybe one day I will.

I’m a sucker for property porn and love flicking through the glossy real-estate magazines though I’ve yet to find a property I like better with a similar view. Yes, I’d love a basement, a library, a vegetable garden and a wood-fired oven but not at the expense of my view.

It’s not just the view. Floor to ceiling windows allow light to flood the flat, the gentle flow of air through those windows keeps it cool, even in summer. No need to resort to air conditioning. Likewise, in winter, a spot of thermal gain through those windows keeps us toasty though we do have central heating.

The view from the back of the apartment is quite different, it’s of the forest. Throughout the year we’re much amused by the antics of the birds, our lone squirrel – what has happened to him? – neighbours walking their dogs, the kids playing and sunsets. There’s never a dull moment.