Thursday doors #3

This challenge is giving me an opportunity to go through my many photos. It’s made me realise how many photos I have of doors! I took this one, probably the oldest door in my “collection,” in the walled town of Laguardia, in Rioja! I don’t know what was behind the door but it might have lead to the caves below the town which are used for storing Rioja wine. I can’t be sure but I suspect this might be one of the oldest doors I’ve photographed.

Visit to Goya Museum, Castres

Castres is a stop-over along the St. James’s Way (El Camino de Santiago) which developed from 9th century around the Saint-Benoît abbey (opposite the Bishop’s Palace). Its two claims to fame are as the birth place of Jean Jaurès, former leader of the French Socialist Party, and as the home of the largest French collection of Spanish artworks outside the Louvre.

Castres is a former textiles town which gained its first mechanised wool mill in 1815. Initially the town specialised in luxury cloths later turning toward those with considerably larger markets. Around 1860, there were 50 wool mills in town, employing 3,000 people. At the end of 19th century, mechanical engineering industries appeared alongside those of textiles, and Castres became a major arsenal for the French army during WWI, when it was by far the largest town in the Tarn.

Like many former textile towns in Europe, Castres’ economy has been hard hit by change. Plus, it’s located in a dead-end at the foot of the Massif Central, far from the nearest motorway. Fortunately, it’s only an hour’s drive from Toulouse. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the gilets jaunes have been very active here.

I first visited Castres when it was a start town for the 2013 Tour de France. The Village du Depart was situated in the gardens to the rear of the Bishop’s Palace, which also houses the Goya museum. By chance in 2015 my beloved acquired a business connection in Castres where, over a week-end, we more fully explored the town though not the museum.

I recently spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around as its sole visitor, and thereafter the gardens. As I mentioned above, it’s housed in the splendid Bishop’s Palace, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of Versailles many architects. It’s been a museum since 1840 but the Pierre Briguiboul legacy of 1894 (including works by Goya) determined its Hispanic vocation.

The collection has been enlarged over the years, notably from the Louvre itself, and now includes Spanish works dating from 14th century to the present day including some by  Vélasquez, Alonso Cano, Javier Bueno and Picasso. Though, on the day of my visit, the Picasso was out on loan.

The museum also has works of French artists who have copied or interpreted Spanish artists of the “Golden Age”, a Hispanic coin collection covering the Celtiberian period (100-200BC) until the reign of King Carlos IV (1788-1808), Iberian sculptures and a collection of arms. On my visit, there was also (fittingly) an exhibition of ecclesiastical robes.

It’s a perfectly charming museum although there’s not much here I’d willingly put on my walls, not even the Goyas. Afterwards, I took a turn around the garden (Le Jardin de I’Eveche) which  was designed around 1664 by Andre Le Notre, King Louis XIV’s gardener. The four quarter stylised flowerbeds consist of a Lys flower surmounted by a bishop’s hat, joined by an Occitan cross, invoking the association of Royal and Episcopal powers. The external box borders are heightened with trimmed yews of various shapes. This is a great example of 17th century French classicism inspired by the needle works of the women at court. The design is unchanged since the garden’s creation.

The Italianate Municipal Theatre also overlooks the gardens. Inaugurated in 1904, it was designed by the architect Joseph Galinier, a student of Garnier. The interior layout mirrors the “Opéra-Comique” theatre in Paris and its “trompe-l’oeil” dome dedicated to classic tragedy is quite eye-catching.

The houses on the other side of the Agout river from the gardens are nowhere near as attractive as those found further upstream in the handsome old town. These brightly-coloured houses, with corbelled façades and basements immersed in the river, have earned Castres the nickname of “Languedoc’s little Venice“.

The first houses along the river date back to the end of 12th century. For centuries they served as workshops for tanners, “chamoiseurs” and parchment-makers who used the water from the river to work the skins. The basements and sinks were found below, above the dryers or “soleliers,” between the two living floors. Faithfully restored, they are a photographer’s joy and provide a link to centuries gone by.

These houses are in complete contrast to the handsome stone properties which line the town’s main streets and border its main square, testament to the town’s former prosperity, overseen by none other than its most famous son, Jean Jaurès.

The Musette: sourdough pancakes

Sourdough starter is easily made — all you need to do is whisk together some flour and water — and its benefits are many. Not only does it give baked goods, from breads to pancakes to waffles to muffins and everything in between, great flavour and texture, it’s also really good for you because of its amazing probiotic benefits.

So, I have my sourdough starter from which I’ve made bread, pizza and focaccia, now what? Breakfast pancakes! These are US style rather than French crepes and are fluffy and melt-in-the-mouth awesome. My beloved and I have become instant converts. This recipe is perfect for a big crowd — you can just pop one or two large pancakes into the oven to feed everyone together, rather than slaving over a hot stove making them one by one.

I like to serve them at week-ends so these vegan, sourdough, pancakes with fresh seasonal fruit get your Saturday or Sunday off to a perfect start.

Ingredients (serves 8 hungry cyclists)

Sponge

  • 265g (1 cup) sourdough starter
  • 250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour (you can use plain, whole wheat or a mixture of half and half)
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 500ml (2 cups) almond or any non-dairy milk
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Pancakes

  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 95g (1/4 cup) apple sauce
  • 3 chia or flax eggs (3 tbsp chia/flaxmeal whisked with 9 tbsp water)
  • 4 ripe eating apples (or equivalent in pears, plums, nectarines, peaches) sliced
  • 1 tbsp coconut nectar
  • 1 tbsp calvados or white wine
  • I vanilla pod

Method

1. Make the sourdough sponge the previous evening by mixing in a large bowl the sourdough starter with the flour, sugar, almond milk and apple cider vinegar.

2. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and allow the batter to stand overnight in a warm spot. In the morning, it should be puffy and visibly bubbly.

4. Before making the pancake(s), preheat the oven to 230 ̊C/210 ̊C fan/450 ̊F/gas Mark 8.

5. Add the bicarb (baking soda), applesauce and chia/flax eggs to the sourdough sponge and mix thoroughly but gently.

6. Heat an oven-safe frying pan on the hob (stovetop) add sliced fruit, coconut nectar, seeds from vanilla pod and alcohol. Cook gently until fruit softens, and all the liquid is gone. Turn off the heat and remove half of the fruit (for the second pancake) and arrange the remainder to cover bottom of the pan.

7. Pour half the pancake batter over the fruit. Immediately place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the pancake appears golden-brown and the sides are pulling away from the pan.

8. Flip the pancake upside down onto a plate and cover with aluminium foil to keep warm. Repeat the process one more time to make the second pancake.

9. Serve the pancakes warm with maple syrup or anything else your heart desires!

10. Any uneaten pancake – as if! – can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days. You can either reheat or eat cold.

Thursday doors #2

Whenever I wander around a new place, I’ll inevitably take photos of the buildings, fountains, civic art and such, but I’ll also take pictures of interesting wrought iron street lights and old doors. I always imagine that these doors have such interesting tales to tell about the people who have lived or worked behind them.

Last week’s door was from Alassio, one of our regular haunts. This week’s is from our trip to UK in early September 2018 for a family wedding. I spotted this bright blue Georgian beauty while walking around Farnham. I took the photo through the garden gate’s iron railings.

Visit to Musée d’Orsay

This is one of our favourite museums in Paris. Largely I suspect because it’s conveniently situated, you can see all the exhibits in a morning or afternoon, we adore the period its works typically cover (1848 – 1914) and the queues are never too long. We first visited it not long after it opened, thereafter at least annually and again on our most recent trip before Christmas where, despite overcast skies, we walked there.

The Building’s History

The building, the former Orsay railway station, is in the centre of Paris on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens. The station was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 though the construction of the Quai d’Orsay began back in 1708 near the Pont Royal, and was completed a century later in Napoleon I’s Empire.

During the 19th century, two buildings stood upon its site: the barracks for the cavalry and the Palais d’Orsay. Although the latter had originally been planned for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it eventually housed the Cour des Comptes (Court of Accounts) and the Conseil d’Etat (State Council). During the violent upheaval known as the Paris Commune in 1871, the entire neighbourhood was burnt down. For thirty years, the ruins of the Palais d’Orsay served as a reminder of the horrors of civil war.

After the 1900 Exhibition, the Gare d’Orsay then successively served different purposes. Most notably, it was used as a mailing centre for sending packages to prisoners of war during WWII. Then, after the Liberation, those prisoners were welcomed back there.

The station was saved from destruction and replacement following a revival of interest in nineteenth-century architecture when it was listed as a Historical Monument in 1973. Subsequently, the Direction des Musées de France decided to install a new museum in the train station to house art from the second half of the 19th century. In 1978 a commission was created to oversee the construction and organisation of the museum which was finally opened in December 1986.

The transformation of the station into a museum was accomplished by the ACT architecture group, whose proposal beat off competition from five others, largely because it was more respectful of the original architecture. The project highlighted the great hall, using it as the main artery of the visit, and transformed the magnificent glass awning into the museum’s entrance.

The museum is organised on three levels. On the ground floor, there are galleries either side of the central nave, which is overlooked by terraces from the next level which in turn open into additional exhibition galleries. The top floor is installed above the lobby, which covers the length of the Quai.

Exhibition: Picasso Blue et Rose

On our latest visit, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée National Picasso-Paris were exhibiting works from Picasso’s Blue and Pink periods. It was the first major collaboration between the two museums, bringing together masterpieces while offering a reinterpretation of Picasso’s early years (1900-1906), a formative period in the artist’s career.

Although we’d recently visited the Musée Picasso, we’d not previously seen any of these works, which cast an interesting perspective on the artist, his earlier works and the other major artists who influenced him, such as Van Gogh.

We also reacquainted ourselves with the museum’s other works and, after a long morning gazing at masterpieces, headed outdoors for lunch. As a general rule, I avoid restaurants in the immediate vicinity – tourist traps – and head for a bistro bustling with locals. Suitably sated, my beloved headed back on the Metro while I decided to re-acquaint myself with the shops and galleries in St- Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter.


Fibre Frustration

In our town we live just about as far as you can get from the Orange internet connection consequently our unlimited broadband service has its limitations. For example, when we watch television over the internet it uses most of our available capacity so the laptops and iPads grind exceedingly slow, if at all.

In addition, I believe I may have mentioned that our WiFi service, thanks to our reinforced concrete walls, barely extends beyond the office. Two, recently fitted, very expensive, top-of-the-range, all singing all dancing extenders mean we now have greater coverage but not, of course, if we’re also watching the television.

We have patiently been waiting the arrival of the panacea for all our internet woes – FIBRE. Again, we seem to be the last people scheduled to get it in our town. Everyone else we know has got it. There was a brief flurry of excitement before Christmas, when a notice from Orange on the front door of the building announced the arrival of FIBRE and advising the work would be completed in a few days. Hallelujah!

Quicker than a rat up a drainpipe, I’d booked us an appointment with the Orange Pro advisor at the Cap 3000 shopping centre. We could barely contain our excitement – I know we need to get out more!

Our hopes were cruelly dashed. Yes, there is now a FIBRE connection to our building but it’ll be another six months until we can finally access the service. It appears that they first have to negotiate with the other internet providers to the building and connect them.

What’s the point in being Orange throughout, if everyone else then gets preference? No one could provide a satisfactory response to my question. Maybe they thought I was being rhetorical?

To make matters worse, Orange keep rubbing salt into the wound by emailing us weekly telling us FIBRE will soon be with us. Sadly, just not soon enough!

The Musette: sourdough focaccia

I have an Italian girlfriend who makes the most divine focaccia. Whenever I buy some my beloved and I taste and compare it to her’s. “As good as” is as good as it has gotten.

As I’m plumbing all things sourdough, I thought I’d give sourdough focaccia a go and the results were quite surprising. It’s actually one of the easier things to make because there is no folding and no shaping. In short, it looks like: stir, long rest and rise, a short rest and rise, dimple, then bake. Then  – importantly – devour.

Making this focaccia is a two step process. First, you must prepare the sponge which helps to enrich the flavor, generate larger holes in the bread and keeps the bread light, crisp and airy. It is an incredible easy process and will significantly enhance the aroma and flavor of the bread.

While the actual time spent making the dough really isn’t much time at all, the entire process takes over 24 hours. It is absolutely necessary to prepare the sponge and let the dough rise for the recommended amount of time. Fortunately, no kneading is involved and all you need is a large bowl and spatula to prepare the dough.

Ingredients

Sponge

  • 530g (2 cups) sourdough starter
  • 125g (1 cup) whole-wheat flour
  • 250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water

Focaccia dough

  • 250g (2 cups) plain all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Method

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1. If necessary, two days (or more) before you want to start the process, feed your starter each day, 60g (2 1/2 oz) each of flour and water, to build it up. You’ll need 530g (2 cups) for baking.

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a693c1db-41a9-4d0a-af8a-b54457fb50bc2. Make the overnight sponge by mixing together the sourdough, water whole wheat flour and 250g (2 cups) plain (all purpose) flour. Mix well and let it stand overnight or for eight hours, covered, in a warm place. The surface should be covered in bubbles.

3. Add the salt and olive oil and mix in the remaining flour, 50g (half a cup) at a time, until you have a fairly loose batter that just comes off the sides of the bowl but does not gather into a ball.

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4. Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and let the dough rise for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

5. Using a spatula, gently turn the dough over on itself in the bowl about 9 or 10 times, trying not to deflate too many of the lovely bubbles that have formed.

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6. Oil a large, approx. 38-40cm (15”) baking pan and pour the batter into the centre of the sheet and, using a spatula, help it along so it fills or nearly fills the pan. Brush on some olive oil to keep the batter from drying, but don’t cover it up with a towel or cling film (plastic wrap) – both will stick to the dough.

7. Leave the baking pan in a warm place for an hour or so until the dough has risen to fill the entire pan.

8. About half an hour before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/400F/gas mark 6.

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9. Now’s the time to add any toppings and, if you feel so inclined, make the trademark dimples in the dough. Just try not to deflate it.

10. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the top is lightly golden and the bread has started to pull from the sides. One way to tell your bread is done is to press it slightly, and if it springs back, you know it’s ready.

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11. Here’s the tricky bit. Let the bread cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Now would be a good time to add further olive oil and salt to taste.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.I prefer plain focaccia but you can add all sorts of topping: cherry tomatoes, garlic, herbs, olives, grapes, onion, cheese………..let your imagination run wild!

2. I replenish my starter with an equal weight of flour and water. For example, when I used a cup of starter for this recipe, I replaced it with an equal amount (in terms of weight) of flour and water. Thus may starter has 100% hydration. If you use the equal volume replacement method your starter will have a 166% hydration. Why does this matter? Well, if your starter has a 100% hydration you might need to use a little less flour than is listed in the recipe. Just keep that in mind when mixing the dough.

3. It’s best eaten on the day it’s baked otherwise slice it into portions and pop it into the freezer for later.

Thursday doors

I’ve just found out about Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers – that includes me – to come together and share their favourite door photos from around the world each week between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) – phew, just in time!

Above is one of my all time favourites from Alassio on the Italian Riviera. It’s a handsome door in between a parade of upmarket shops and I bet it has some interesting tales to tell, if only it could talk!

Friday Photo Fun – events

As soon as I saw the words “Events” I thought of sporting events. Regular readers will know that I’m a sports fan. I love doing sport but I also love watching it.

I take photos of inanimate objects while my beloved takes the action shots with his all-singing, all-dancing Cannon.

He took this picture in March 2017 of the final climb of a race in Tuscany called Strade Bianche which is partly raced over white gravel roads. If it’s wet, as it was here, the riders get splattered with mud. The shot features Olympic champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who finished runner up, on the final haul back into the old town of Siena where the race finishes in the Piazzo del Campo. This is a popular viewing spot for the fans as the gradient forces a slower pace, some riders even weave all over the road. You can see the intensity of their efforts etched on their races.