Windows on the world

When we first moved into the apartment, I briefly considered renovating the windows and putting in double glazing. My beloved said there was nothing wrong with the existing windows, so I didn’t change them. However, it’s something I’ve since regretted and had planned to replace them either this year or next. Recently, our building’s management committee proposed everyone have windows that meet a specific standard so that we can reduce the building’s carbon footprint, and its heating costs. The vote was passed by a massive majority.

This has occasioned lots of noise over the past year as most owners have had to replace their windows to meet the standard. I’ve been dragging my heels a bit as I’ve tried in vain to find a self-cleaning glass. Keeping 10 large, floor to ceiling windows clean is one of the banes of my existence. It’s supposedly one of my beloved’s chores but I’m lucky if I get him to do it more than twice a year. From time to time, I find someone prepared to clean the windows but they soon lose interest in such a tough job.

I have bought my beloved various tools with which to clean the windows. He’s got a steamer and one of those Karcher window cleaners but he makes such a mess cleaning them inside and out, it’s often quicker and easier to do it myself! Somehow I think that’s the point he’s trying to make.

As many of my neighbours have now replaced their windows with all-singing-all-dancing double glazed windows, I’ve been able to check out the results. My philosophy tends to be that if I’m replacing something, it has to be superior to the existing product. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything with self-cleaning glass, but I did want improved function and greater security.

The frames have to be aluminium with champagne (gold colour) exteriors but I can have any colour I fancy on the interior. Most of my neighbours have gone for white but that’s too bling, bling for my period interiors and off-white window frames. So I’m replacing like with like, champagne inside and out. It’s champagne coloured aluminium all the way through rather than being painted that colour.

We’ve gone with a firm nearby in Antibes who are the local partner for a German window manufacturer. We had their windows in both of our flats in Germany, and I loved them. Many of the neighbours opted for windows from Italian companies which generally prove to be a less expensive option but this firm is closer, has a superior product and excellent pre and post sales service. It’s a long-established family firm whose employees have been with it forever. Quite my favourite type of firm!

So I’ve signed the contract, paid a deposit and my windows are now being made with fitting planned for the week beginning 21 January – can’t wait. Meanwhile, I have no chance of getting my beloved to clean them.

 

The Musette: part two – what a pickle!

Now I’ve whetted your appetite for pickles, we can move onto kimchee. The backbone of most recipes is the white Chinese “napa” variety of cabbage with its wide stems and pale, crinkly leaves, large white radishes, ground chilli, garlic, chilli sauce and rice vinegar. Some versions, like this one, include fish sauce and ginger – a few neither. True Korean versions are masterpieces of the art but are often too stinky for me.

My own is far from authentic Korean. Of course I want heat. Not your actual teary-type heat, but at least enough to make your eyes sparkle. I don’t use the Korean gochujang chilli paste but ordinary red chilli paste, as I’ve yet to find the former in Nice. Plus, I shy away from leaving the salted cabbage several days to ferment at room temperature – the process that makes kimchee kimchee – partly out of impatience, and partly because I like the crackle of the crisp veg.

So mine is more a crunchy, hot, salty, sour condiment – and is none the worse for that. It is sensational with absolutely anything.

Here’s my recipe for Kimchee:-

Ingredients (makes one 2ltr jar)

  • 700g (25oz) finely sliced chinese cabbage
  • 200g (7oz) finely sliced red cabbage/fennel/celery/carrot
  • 150g (5oz) radishes
  • 3 tbsp sea salt
  • 100ml (3.4fl oz) rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli paste or flakes (preferably Korean)
  • 2 fat cloves garlic
  • 6 spring onions (scallions)
  • thumb-sized piece ginger

Method

1. Halve the cabbage, remove core and shred it roughly. Do the same with the red cabbage (if using) or fennel. then put both in a colander and rinse under cold running water.

2. Slice the radishes into quarters or thin slices, then mix with the cabbage and tip into a bowl. Scatter the salt over. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, put a heavy weight on top, and set aside in a cool place for 4 hours.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, fish sauce, chilli paste or chilli flakes into a soft, deep rust-coloured sauce. Peel and finely cut the garlic and ginger into paper-thin slices and add to the sauce. Slice the spring onions, stirring them also into the sauce.

4. Rinse the cabbage in a colander, removing much of the salt. The cabbage will have relaxed. Transfer to a large bowl then tip in the chilli dressing and toss thoroughly to coat the leaves. Pile into the clean storage jars, pushing down  – I use a rolling pin – to eliminate spaces, seal and set aside in the fridge for 4 days.

5. Turn the jars upside down each day to encourage the dressing to trickle over the vegetables, keeping them coated.

6. Four days later, dive in! I love it on sandwiches, with felafel and even straight from the jar!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Sterilise your preserving jars with boiling water and let them drain, or bake them at a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes. This batch will fill two 1-litre Kilner jars or one 2-litre one. It will keep, for a couple of weeks, in the fridge. Turn the jars over every few days.

2. Once ready to eat, it’s amazing how many things you can eat it with.

3. Feel free to change the ingredients but maintain proportions.

Things I loved most about Japan

Having recently written about our trip to Japan in 2007, I thought I’d try and sum up the things I loved about the country and its people.

1. The Japanese people I met were extremely welcoming and quite understanding of my constant flurry of questions. One reason for this is the concept of omotenashi, a word that is often translated into hospitality, although that word falls woefully short of an appreciation of its true meaning. It’s more than genuine kindness towards visitors or guests. It’s also about having a sharp eye for detail, awareness for individual needs and striving to always go the extra mile.

I still remember the delight of the volunteer in the museum in Tokyo when I told her I had three hours to spend, not the usual 30 minutes. She was a treasure trove of information and I’m now pretty clued up about Japanese history.

I was also amazed at the level of English comprehension particularly among those in customer facing roles. I do speak some very basic and rudimentary Japanese, and it did help us out a bit at times, but for the most part, it was unnecessary. Almost all of the employees at popular tourist destinations knew at least enough English to do their jobs.  Also, I’ve never seen people who appear to love their jobs as much as the Japanese. Either that or they’re all excellent actors.

2. Japanese culture is truly fascinating and, harking back to 1. above, the Japanese are recognised world-wide for their courtesy and love of etiquette. I went to the country expecting this, though there were a few things that amazed me and in particular how homogenised it all was. Foreigners (like me) stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, but that might be because I steered away from typical tourist areas. In particular, I loved all their overt displays of old-fashioned courtesy. For example:-

  • Train conductors walking through from car to car, bowing to the passengers, tipping their hat and saying quietly, “Pardon the intrusion” (or something similar).
  • Commuters quietly queuing up in lines to either side of the train doors, to avoid cutting in line.
  • Even while packed sardine-like in the train, people were very self-contained with minimal eye contact.
  • Anyone who served me would hand stuff to me with both hands or count out my change with a flourish, always in a way that made you feel important.

This respectfulness is most elegantly expressed in a simple hand-gesture. The Japanese don’t point; they direct you to whatever it is you want to see or where you need to go, whether to your seat in a restaurant, the way to the exit or the invitation to step first into an elevator, with a graceful extension of the hand with palm facing up and fingers closed. It is a charming thing to see performed.

Bowing is a common practice, too, but it is not a cultural cliché, cynically performed, but rather a universal gesture of respect. One of my most memorable experiences was walking into one of Tokyo’s biggest department stores when it had just opened to find a row of people lined up outside each of the departments.

As I walked into the store, each person gently bowed. I was intensely aware that while each person was bowing respectfully, with composure. You receive this kind of treatment in restaurants, bars and hotels and the bow sometimes comes across like a charming old-world dance move.

Another form of politeness I thought might have been a thing of the past, but is still rigorously and passionately adhered to, is the custom of removing shoes before stepping into a home or living area or traditional-style restaurants.

Then there was the culture of appreciation. This has left a more lasting impression. Any time I stepped into a temple, I could feel an overwhelming aura of peace. It made me want to walk slowly, look at the sky, sit, drink it all in and just appreciate nature.

Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples happily co-exist. At the famous Meiji Shrine, I learnt about the act of spiritual cleansing. This involves taking a wooden cup attached to a long handle to scoop water with which you first wash your left hand, then your right hand before touching your lips with water to conclude the ritual.

3. The environment was particularly fascinating. On the one hand there’s the bright, bustling cities full of neon signs and spider-webs of power lines which is a complete contrast to the wide-open, lush natural wonderland. It surprised me over and over again how Japan is able to mesh these two together. I was also amazed at how every square inch of land is put to work.

Much of Japan is a bit messy, with too-old-to-be-nice and too-new-to-be-charming houses, but the areas that get it right are downright amazing. Tokyo was spotless, modern and sleek, but there are still hidden gems like the old, peaceful Toshogu Shrine. Osaka was a bit grungier and more quirky while Kyoto and Nara were charming and quaint, with shrines and temples almost everywhere you looked. Japan just oozed ordered charm and richness.

Japan’s a safe place. If you leave something behind, it’ll still be there when you go back for it. Walking the streets of Tokyo, night or day, even in the more bustling areas was a pleasure. I always felt safe and soon realised I was surrounded by people who would willingly help me at the drop of a hat. It was a reassuring feeling, especially not to have people coming up to beg or pressure me to buy this or that or looking to gain some advantage

In addition, despite its large population, particularly in Tokyo, the air quality is surprisingly clean. In fact the whole country appears to be very clean and orderly despite an obvious lack of waste bins. The streets of Japan are the cleanest I have ever seen. It all comes down to culture and etiquette (see 2 above). In addition to being clean, the streets are also quiet despite being crowded. People seem to be talking but so softly that you can’t really hear them.

4. Japanese cuisine is much richer and broader than I anticipated. While I loved eating at the Michelin starred restaurants – who wouldn’t? – eating with both eyes and stomach, I also loved the simple inns, street food and markets. I loved tasting all the morsels offered by stall-holders and was fascinated by the amount of freeze-dried goods. I got the impression that if I stood anywhere too long, I’d be freeze-dried and packaged for future consumption.

Tokyo in particular has more high-end patisseries than France, a country whose cuisine the Japanese quite rightly greatly admire. If you buy a cake from one of these patisseries, it’s beautifully packaged and comes with a small ice block to keep it cool. I also loved watching the chefs prepare food – such focus, skill and precision.

The Japanese like to eat a diverse range of small portions, of as many things as possible: variety is the spice of life when it comes to their dietary choices. In particular, they eat every kind of seafood, including jellyfish, octopus, you name it, the lot. I found it best just to try stuff and then enquire about its provenance.

5. Japanese multi-functional, push-button, warm seat toilets are the crème de la crème when it comes to taking care of one’s needs. At first, I thought it was an over-mechanised hospital toilet with the far too many buttons. But no, each button performed a specific and practical function, including one that initiated a polite flushing sound (new models play music) and others to launch various washing functions with adjustable pressure control. Needless to say I had to try all the features, some of which were a bit surprising.

Overall

This is harder to articulate and demonstrate with concrete examples. But everything in Japan just works. Things are where they should be. Signs are right there when you begin to feel lost. You can reach the towel rack from the bath. The light switches make sense. There are hooks to put your umbrellas and bags. It’s the little things. A lot of places in the world look glitzy and nice, but once you start living there, you realise that things are poorly designed. That’s not the case with Japan. Everything has a lot of thought put into it.

Who doesn’t love lists?

I’m not talking “To Do” lists or shopping lists  – though I always use them – but rather Bucket Lists, “10 Best….” lists, those types of lists which are incredibly popular blog posts. I’ve even indulged in a few myself but they’re often surprisingly difficult to write. I think this is largely because you have to whittle stuff down and sometimes it’s hard to make choices.

I have an annual struggle to choose just 12 photographs from the thousands I take each year for my “12 Days of Christmas Post”  – coming soon – which are supposed to sum up my year. An even smaller selection make it onto my annual New Year card.

After trips to special places, I’ll often try to sum up some of my favourite things about the place. I try to reduce it to five things – easier said than done. I’m currently trying to do this with my trip to Japan.

Of course, it goes without saying, that I’m a sucker for other bloggers’ posts on the “5 Best Things About……..” If they’re about a place I know well, such as any of the towns on the Cote d’Azur, I’m always keen to see what they enjoyed the most. Always useful for when people ask me for recommendations.

It’s at times like these that I wonder whether less really is more? However, if you only have a limited amount of time to spend in a place you’ve never visited before, insights from others can be most helpful.

I’m currently planning – surely the best bit – another trip to Australia, this time to Queensland. I’ve found it really useful reading all those “10 things to do and 5 things to see in”…posts. These serve two useful purposes: unearthing places I want to see and things I want to do and vice versa. I hope some of my posts fulfill a similar role for other travellers.

While I’m generally not a fan of bucket lists, particularly those entitled “to do before you die” ie kick the bucket. Seems so final. However, I love the ones written by far younger bloggers entitled “x no. things I want to do before I’m 30.” It’s great to have goals in life.

Of course, if it’s hard to distill stuff into 10 or 5 favourites, it’s even worse limiting yourself to just one. People will ask me for my favourite restaurant. To be honest, I don’t have one. I have ones for various occasions: breakfast, brunch, casual lunch, Sunday lunch, celebratory dinner, seafood dinner, pizza and so on……and, of course, these change over time. I recently gave my long list of recommended restaurants in the area a bit of an overhaul. I hadn’t updated it during the last six months and needed to make a surprising number of changes.

 

 

 

 

 

Blogger Recognition Award

It was so kind of Nritya Ramani of Musaafir the Bedoin to nominate me for this The Blogger Recognition Award, particularly given how many great blogs and bloggers there are in the blogosphere – is that even a word? As the name of her blog suggests, Nritya is a worldly-wise traveller having lived in a number of different countries and visited many more. Head on over to her blog and check it out. Discover new destinations, wonderful vegetarian food, and up-to-date travel advice. You won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget to give her a “follow” too.

What is the Blogger Recognition Award?

The Blogger Recognition Award is an award by bloggers for bloggers. It is a collaborative and creative effort by the blogging community to encourage one another. The award is a way of acknowledging the sheer effort that goes into running a blog and generating quality material on a regular basis. Blogging’s no mean feat. It’s time-consuming so it’s nice, from time to time, to receive some recognition. Here’s to all my fellow bloggers out there, who work their butts off to post great content for their readers. You’re amazing and I salute you all.

The Story behind View from the Back

The blog started way back in 2009 as a means of keeping my many sponsors up-to-date with my progress training for and taking part in a charity bike ride in USA. My beloved came up with the title because, at that stage, I hadn’t been cycling for long and was always being dropped on rides by the rest of our cycle club. Meaning my view was always from the back of the peloton (bunch). In truth it should have been called “view from off the back and down the hill” but that’s a wee bit too long!

After taking part in the charity event, friends and family told me not to stop as they found the blog a handy way of keeping up with us and our new life in France. So now I write about my passions – sport, cooking, travel, my husband – and anything else that takes my fancy, because I can.

My Advice to New Bloggers

Nritya had some great advice for bloggers which I wholly endorse. My words of wisdom, if they can be called that, urge you to write about what you love. Writing’s a bit like cooking. The more passion you put into it, the better it tastes ie reads. Write for yourself, not for anyone else.

My Nominees for the Blogger Recognition Award

I follow loads of great blogs and while it’s tempting to nominate you all, I’ve chosen to home in on a number which reflect my own interests. Please go and give them some additonal encouragement. If you’re not already a follower……………….you know what to do!

Pedmar’s travel anecdotes  Paris 1972 – Versailles 2003

Cathryn’s plant-powered, gluten free recipes Cathryn’s Kitchen

Lindsay’s restaurant reviews and recipes The Love Bungalow

Mel and Suan’s musings Travelling Matters to Us

Fabulous recipes for Indian food Best Indian Food Blog

Dogs, food, sailing and things the writer likes Morning Pawfee

Chelsea shares what she loves Her Healthy Kitchen

Anthony uses perfection to brighten everyone’s mood Today’s Perfect Moment

Niamh writes about all sorts of things Freckles & Thoughts

Michele’s vegan recipes The Charming Chickpea

Passions of the drunken cyclist

Travel, gardening and recipes from Tabula Rasa

Tom and Kerry’s words of wisdom to stay fit and healthy Your Level Best

Rosemarie’s home cooked food Rosemarie’s Kitchen

Marina explores herself and the world Me Exploring

Thanks guys for giving me many hours of pleasure!

The Blogger Recognition Award Rules

Follow the steps below to spread the positivity to other bloggers in the blogosphere.

— Thank the blogger that nominated you.

— Write a post on your award.

— Give a brief overview of how your blog started.

— Share some advice for new bloggers.

— Nominate 15 other bloggers who you think deserve this award.

— Let them know you’ve nominated them and share a link to your post.

The Musette: part one – what a pickle!

As a child I loathed most pickles, including Branston, though bizarrely I loved my grandmother’s home-made pickled shallots, picallili  and pickled red cabbage. It’s only as I’ve matured that I’ve come to appreciate chutnies and all manner of other pickles – preferably home-made.

Now the top two shelves of my fridge are a shrine to them. There are glistening rows of ruby, purple and emerald vinegars, chutneys and relishes to go with cheese, cold cuts, frittatas, quiches, savoury pies and so on………

Danya Kukafka says it best:

There is a reason we have pickles, and it is the same reason we crave good art: we are in it for the pleasure … we are in it for the rush of salt, the crunch and satisfaction, that perfect bite.

While I’ll happily buy my jars of perfect bites, I enjoy making them, too – although, as much as I like the idea of a fridge filled with rows of jars, I typically only make small batches of preserves. It feels manageable, both in the making and the storing, because if something does go awry then it doesn’t really matter.

As a rough guide, 1kg (2lb) vegetables, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces, needs 750ml (3 cups) pickling liquid made by mixing 550ml (2 cups) vinegar (sometimes my home-made vinegar) with 200ml (3/4 – 1 cup) water in a pan, then adding a heaped tablespoon each of fine salt and sugar, and whatever you fancy of the following: a crushed red chilli, peeled or crushed garlic, bay, dill, peppercorns, juniper berries or coriander seeds etc etc Try to pick flavours that will complement the vegetable. Then heat it slowly. Once at boiling point, add all the vegetables, stir, cover the pan and leave on the heat for a minute or two before bottling in sterlised jars.

Here’s a couple of easy recipes:-

Quick Pickled Red Cabbage (makes one jar)

  • 1/2 small/medium head red cabbage
  • 250ml (1 cup) filtered  water
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) apple cider vinegar
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons muscovado sugar (or coconut sugar, brown sugar, pure cane sugar)
  • a piece of licorice stick (optional)
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Slice cabbage in half. Slice one half in half again. Remove the core. Shred cabbage finely with a mandolin slicer or very sharp knife. Place in a large glass bowl or jar.

2. Place water, vinegars, salt and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and salt has dissolved. Stir in the spices and then pour over the cabbage.

3. Seal or tightly cover the jar/bowl and let sit on the counter for 3-4 hours. Stir then seal and place in the fridge until chilled (at least 1 hour).

4. At first the liquid will not cover all of the cabbage but as it starts to soften it will be fully covered after just a few hours. Best served at least a day after making. Keeps for about 2 weeks in the fridge – rarely lasts that long!

Now for pickled cucumbers:-

Ingredients (makes one jar)

  • 6 pickling cucumbers , or 2 regular-sized cucumbers
  • 2 banana shallots
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 star anise
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
  • 150 ml vinegar

Method

1. Cut the pickling cucumbers in half lengthways, and slice regular ones through the middle, then into fingers. Peel and finely slice the shallots.

2. Put the cucumbers and shallots in a colander. Sprinkle over 2 teaspoons of sea salt. After 45 minutes, rinse well.

3. Combine all the other ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

4. Fit the cucumbers snugly into a Kilner jar, then pour over the liquid. Seal and leave for at least 24 hours. And that’s pretty much it!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Sterilise your preserving jars with boiling water and let them drain, or bake them at a low temperature in the oven for at least 10 minutes.

2. The pickles can be eaten the following day, but they’ll be even better if you wait. I keep my pickles in my preserves fridge. They taste better when cold anyway: brighter somehow, the sweet and sour and taste even more pronounced.