Thursday doors #42

Today and the next couple of weeks will feature doors photographed on my latest visit to Alassio, in Italy, most of which were all from the same street! However I’m kicking off with church doors – always rich pickings.

Church front door
Church Facade
Sant’Ambrogio

The Sant’Ambrogio Parish Church was built in the second half of 15th century on a site previously occupied by a small 10th century church. The Romanesque style that characterised it was converted into Baroque in the early 18th century though the bell tower dates back earlier to 14th century. The Renaissance façade, with its sloping roofs, was superimposed in 1896.

Nave

The beautiful church interior of the church contains some significant works. The central vault is frescoed with scenes from the life of Sant’Ambrogio painted by Virgilio Grana from nearby Albenga. There are also works by other well-known artists, such as Bernardo Castello, Giovanni Andrea De Ferrari and Giulio Benso.

Next door to the church is a cinema!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

(Another) Postcard from Paris

After a few days in London visiting my hygienist and sister, we caught the Eurostar for a few days in Paris, exploring mainly parts of the 10th, 18th, 20th and 11th arrondissements. As you know we love nothing better than a spot of pavement pounding in Paris. Having extensively trained in Australia, we had no problem walking over 50km (31 miles) in three and a half days. Of course, all that walking just helped us work up a healthy appetite.

Given that I handle all the logistics of any trip and choose where we eat, I allow my beloved to decide what we’ll visit. This time he’d elected to visited Atelier des Lumières again but to see the Van Gogh exhibition. You may recall, we’d previously seen the Klimt one which we’d much enjoyed. Enlarging his works allowed us to more greatly appreciate the finer details. This time we admired Van Gogh’s finely executed brush-strokes.

As we were in 11th arrondissement, it was only right we dined at one of their institutions in rue Paul Bert which is dominated by restaurants owned by two well-known French chefs: Cyril Lignac and Bertrand Auboyneau. The latter has four addresses and we chose his eponymous Bistrot Paul Bert, a tried-and-true classic French bistro serving traditional French cuisine. It more than lived up to its reputation. I also booked Lignac’s nearby Le Chardenoux for Sunday lunch.

Replete, my beloved decided we should walk off lunch around the cemetary Père Lachaise which proved unexpectedly delightful and will be the subject of a further post, not to mention popping up in subsequent Thursday’s Door posts. We made our way back to our hotel for cocktails and nibbles, weary of foot and made plans for the following day.

On Saturday we headed to Montmatre, an area my beloved has never visited and where I first ventured aged 15 and then again probably around 10 years later. We combined it with a visit to the Fêtes des Vendages purely by coincidence since it was set out all around the Sacre Cœur. This annual five-day fête celebrates the grape harvest in Paris’s only remaining and working vineyard, Clos Montmartre. The event is like one big street party, featuring local and artisan producers offering a wide range of French alcoholic beverages and gastronomic treats – lunch sorted!

Having tarried longer than anticipated in Montmartre we slowly wend our way back to our hotel wandering through nearby Batignolles (17th) and Pigalle (9th) stopping only for a restorative cuppa before enjoying cocktails back at the hotel.

On Sunday we strolled in the warm sunshine back to Cyril Lignac’s recently re-opened restaurant Le Chardenoux close by where we’d lunched on Friday. This petite bistro and classified historic monument has a gorgeous hand-painted green foliage ceiling festooned with golden chandeliers. More importantly, the food is fantastic.

After lunch we popped across the road to Lignac’s La Chocolaterie where I treated my beloved to some sublime chocolate and he bought me another cookery book. Thereafter we’d wandered (finally) through the Marais – well-trodden territory – back to our hotel.

Monday morning we decided to investigate the area around the nearby Canal Saint Martin which still has a series of locks with bridges that rise or swing, bringing road traffic to a stand still as barges make their way up to the Canal de l’Ourcq or down to the Seine.

Once an industrial hub, the area is now trendy and dynamic, with creative restaurants, fun fashion, and bars bursting with boisterous crowds. A stroll along the canal from Stalingrad to Richard Lenoir metro stations is a promise of near picture-perfect Paris, complete with picnickers, swans, pétanque players, and even the occasional accordionist.

You might be wondering why we walked so far on our trip. It took Eliud Kipchoge under two hours to run 42.2km a distance which took us just three days to walk around Paris. To be fair though, we weren’t wearing souped up running shoes, nor did we have an army of pacers or had our optimal trajectory outlined by laser. Instead, we’d wandered around according to the dictates of my beloved’s google maps app the veracity of which is doubtful. I’m not calling out Mr Google you understand just the man holding the iPhone who often confuses his left from his right. This tends to matter much when you’re trying to navigate your way around town.

I prefer paper maps and I try to memorise the major roads bisecting the various arrondissements. For example on Sunday, after lunch, my beloved was taking me to the Marais but anyone with any sense (apart from him) knows that once you stray into the 19th or even 20th that you’re most definitely going in the wrong direction! Suffice to say I ended up walking around parts of Paris I’ve never before seen or, frankly, wish to see again.

As is our habitual want, we ate lunch at Le Train Bleu before catching the four o’clock train back home. As always, it was a fun trip and I’m looking forward to our next one.

Postcard from Milan

I recently joined my beloved on a business meeting in Milan thereby enabling me to reacquaint myself with some of the city’s many charms. I had first visited Milan in the early 1980s when working as an internal auditor for an American bank and fell in love with it. Most days, after work, I would spend hours walking around its labyrinth of streets, particularly those in the Old Quarter.

Over the years, my beloved and I have visited the city on a regular basis though infrequently in the past five years. I was about to remedy that oversight. As you know, I love nothing more than a spot of pavement pounding in clement weather.

Our hotel was in the newly redeveloped Porta Nuova business district, close to my beloved’s client. In the 1990s, the former heavy-industrial powerhouse of Milan had stacks of industrial wastelands and unused railroad tracks crying out for transformation. This area’s redevelopment project kicked off in 1997 on a large tract of central Milan affected by decades of urban decay and failed projects. The entire mixed development area and its marque towers are is now owned by one of the Gulf States’ wealth funds.

Fortunately, Porta Nuova is adjacent to one of my favourite areas, Brera, located within Milan’s historical core. To discover the neighbourhood’s most authentic atmosphere I find it best to wander along the cobbled pedestrian streets that branch off from the main thoroughfares. More or less in the centre of town, between the castle (Castello Sforzesco) and the cathedral (the Duomo – header photo), Brera is one of the most charming and relaxing neighbourhoods in the city. Within its magical enclave are little, shy streets lined with art galleries and elegant shops, quiet lanes housing cosy inns, and restaurants serving delicious homemade meals.

At Brera’s heart lies the gallery Pinacoteca di Brera and the art school which, since 1800, has attracted and formed generations of painters and other artists. All around, quaint streets are filled with craft shops and coffee bars, some of which have become legendary for the writers and intellectuals who hung out there in the ‘30s. The city’s better-known intellectuals and artists still have their studios here.

The history of this neighbourhood – which lies between Via dell’Orso and Largo Treves, and between Via Mercato and Via Borgonuovo – can be traced back to 13th century when some members of the Umiliati, a Lombard brotherhood, began to build cloisters on meadowlands and orchards (or braida , from which the name Brera is derived). Today three churches survive from medieval times on three squares not too distant from one another. They still stand silent and peaceful, their old, red Roman bricks glowing against the sun, while the city has grown up around them over the years.

Via Brera, the neighbourhood’s main street, is filled mostly with art galleries and interesting one-off shops. The residential buildings are in the typical style of the area, a mixture of austerity and elegance, with facades in faded yellow, ochre or brownish red, with grey shutters which house apartments with steep prices.

In truth, the real essence of Brera is hidden, off the main streets. It’s in the flavour of little yards, little craft shops and old restaurants, an ancient world full of memories and nostalgia. But one has to look in order to find the secret spots.

The more commercial, newer Brera lies along Via Solferino, on which some of the older shops still remain. Via San Marco, in the Brera district, is located at the intersection with Via Ancona and Via Montebello, exactly where once stood the San Marco dock, a small port of the Martesana canal just before the circle of Navigli, which were covered over in 1930 and where the San Marco market is held on Mondays and Thursdays. On the last Sunday of the month, there’s a famous Antiques Market in Ripa Ticinese, near the former Naviglio Grande – a lovely way to while away a Sunday.

You might be wandering about the afore-mentioned “Naviglio,” these were artificial canals constructed between 1179 (Naviglio Grande) and 16th century (Naviglio Martesana) to make Milan more accessible. The Navigli were not only to get merchandise in and out of Milan but were also used to transport Candoglia marble used in the construction of  Milan’s Cathedral and, in more recent times,  transporting the rolls of paper used by the typewriters of Corriere della Sera.

I mentioned they’ve been covered over but it’s still possible to admire the innovative system of dams conceived by Leonardo da Vinci at the end of 15th Century. As soon as he arrived in Milan, Ludovico il Moro asked him to devise a way to navigate from Lake Como to Milan. Leonardo, who’d already designed the system of the dams to solve the problem of height differences, made further sketches that are today preserved in the Navigli Museum. Competition from the railways saw the navigli fall out of favour and they were eventually covered over – such a shame!

Debut Barnabus Award

I was very kindly nominated by Steve and his faithful feline companion Muffin from Steve’s Country for this award: a new one for me! Steve’s blog showcases the beautiful flora and fauna where he lives and regularly features walks, poems and even coffee mornings. Head over to his blog and join in. If you’re lucky you may get to try some of my baked goodies, but you’ll need to be quick!

The Barnabas Award is presented in recognition of the encouragement and inspiration a blogger brings to their readers.

Award Rules

Thank the person who nominated you, and share their blog. Think of five bloggers that encourage and inspire you and nominate them. List five things about yourself and answer the questions. Lastly, ask your nominees five questions. Why five? Because it is the number that signifies grace.

Five Things About Myself

1. I’m a very busy retiree who spends an inordinate amount of time clearing up after my husband of 42 years.

2. I love being outdoors either on foot or on my bike. I think this is because I spent so many years working long hours in offices.

3. Cooking is my main form of relaxation. I love cooking for others, the more the merrier.

4. My motto is “Never knowingly unprepared!

5. I enjoy my own company.

Questions From Steve (and Muffin)

1. What is your favorite day of the week and why?

I don’t really have a favourite but let’s say Monday, as it’s the start of a new week.

2. Is there some place in your own country that you have never seen that you would like to see?

My own country? Okay, I was born in UK and now live in France which I regard as home. I’m slowly working my way around it, but it’s a big, beautiful place and there’s still a lot to see.

3. Do you think you will still be blogging one year from now?

Absolutely! Unless there’s something you all know that I don’t?

4. Other than your own country, what other countries would you like to visit? (no more than 3)

I’ve visited all the countries I want to see but some of these are large countries and there are places I still want to see there. So I’d like to re-visit Australia, Japan and USA.

5. Do you like to encourage other people?

Yes, in my former role I was responsible for a very large team. People might say I managed them but I like to think I mentored them, encouraged them to give of their best. I firmly believe you should have people play to their strengths.

My Nominees

As usual, I’m going to encourage others to take part in the award and pose the same five questions to anyone who wants to join in – go for it!

The Musette: lamb casserole with beans

At the weekends, particularly during the colder months, one of my challenges is to find, amend or develop recipes that cook while we’re out riding and are ready to serve by the time my husband has finished his post-ride ablutions. My solution to this conundrum is what I like to refer to as ‘slow one-pot cooking’. Slow cooking turns less expensive cuts into a feast, tenderising the meat and giving the flavours time to develop and meld together. I cook this in the oven but equally it can be cooked in a crock-pot or on a gentle heat on the stove.

This is a favourite recipe which I’ve adapted from one by Australian cook and restauranter Bill Grainger. It requires only a few ingredients and can be served with a simple green salad and a crusty baguette or another green vegetable. For very hungry cyclists, you could also serve a baked potato to mop up the tomatoey juices.

 

Like so many things in life, planning and preparation is the key to a successful outcome

Ingredients (serves four cyclists)

  • Approx 1kg (2.2lbs) boned and rolled lamb shoulder, trimmed of all excess fat (ask your butcher to do this)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine (optional)
  • 1 fresh or dried bouquet garni
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini or haricot beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC /140ºC fan/gas mark 3 (320ºF/275ºF fan). Place a large, sturdy roasting dish, casserole (dutch oven) or frying pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the room-temperature lamb and brown well all over. This will take ten minutes or so.

Beautifully browned

2. Remove the shoulder and now gently cook the onions in the fat until they turn translucent – about ten minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt to help prevent the onions from browning. Add the garlic for 30 seconds at the end.

3. Remove the onions, drain off any excess fat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Let it bubble away for around five minutes. Season the lamb and put it, onions and winey reduction into a casserole dish.

Ready for the oven

4. Now add all the other ingredients and stir gently. To prevent the casserole from drying out, cover the contents with a circle of crushed, damp greaseproof (parchment) paper and pop on the casserole lid. Slide it into the oven and leave to cook while you’re out riding. This will cook happily for anywhere from 2-4 hours.

5. On your return, remove the casserole dish from the oven and leave to stand with the lid still on while you’re having your shower.

6. Take out the lamb and discard the bouquet garni.

Ready to serve

7. Remove the string, thickly slice the lamb  – it generally just falls apart – and serve with a portion of the sticky, tomato-flavoured beans. You’ll see from the photo I’ve sprinkled some chopped flat leaf parsley onto the beans, or you can use chopped fresh thyme leaves. Just add a green salad or another green vegetable on the side and, if you must, some crusty bread or a baked potato. It all depends on how much energy you’ve expended on your morning’s ride!

Soon to be demolished

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Don’t forget to taste and season as you cook. Unseasoned food is bland and you use less salt and pepper if you season at the start and during the cooking process, rather than at the end.

2. Shoulder of lamb is quite a fatty cut so it’s important to eliminate as much of that fat as possible by cutting it out and then browning the lamb. If, when the dish has finished cooking, it still looks too fatty, blot the surface gently with a paper kitchen towel to absorb any excess.

3. This dish can be cooked the day before, left overnight in the fridge and then reheated the following day. This also makes it easier to eliminate any excess fat which will harden on the surface.

4. The recipe works equally well made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Again, you can used tinned or cook from dried the day before.

5. As this is cooking rather than baking, feel free to play around with the herbs and spices. I have made a similar dish with tinned flageolet beans, a finely diced confit lemon, a handful of artichoke hearts and 500ml (2 cups) of white wine.

6. If you are going to use wine, only cook with wine you’d be happy to drink.

7. Go easy on the rosemary in the bouquet garni as an excess tends to give the beans a soapy flavour. I use a mixture of bay leaves, thyme and a little rosemary.

8. I often fold young baby spinach into the hot bean mixture, instead of serving it with a salad.

9. You can cook the lamb separately from the beans. Once browned, pop it into a roasting tray on a trivet, add an inch or so of water and cover the tin with baking foil. The water will prevent the lamb from drying out. Just cook the beans as instructed, albeit without the lamb.

Thursday doors #41

Here’s my last few doors from Australia. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I didn’t have a particularly large selection to choose from.

Brisbane beauty
Gold Coast shiner
Bangalow door, and no that’s not mispelt!

Four doors from Sydney’s CBD

A trio of doors from Townsville CBD

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Trip to Le Haut de Cagnes

I’ve by no means finished with my posts on Australia but I thought you might appreciate a bit of a change. So I’m heading much closer to home for this post.

It’s right on our doorstep but we’ve not visited Cagnes’ medieval old town, Le Haut-de-Cagnes, for several years. We’d previously dined its main hotel and restaurant Le Cagnard on a number of occasions, sitting out on its restaurant terrace with a painted retractable wooden roof and admiring the splendid views back down to the coast.

The name Cagnes is of Ligurian origin and means inhabited place on a rounded hill. Haut de Cagnes is a rocky outcrop, 91m above sea level, which offered our ancestors a lookout, somewhere easy to defend, near to good agricultural land and water. First occupied by the Celto-Liguries and then by the Gallo-Romans, in 1388 the river Var became the natural border between Provence and Nice, of which the latter was under the control of the Counts of Savoy.

Cagnes, which had about 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants, became a border town on the Var river. When Provence became part of France in 1483, Cagnes was on the only road leading to France from the Savoy States. From the 16th century, this border zone featured in the cycle of great European wars and was often looted and sacked.

Cagnes enjoyed a glorious period in the reign of Louis XIII, when its castle was transformed by Jean-Henri Grimaldi in 1620 into a sumptuous seigneuriale residence and one of the busiest of the region, whose descendants today reign over the Principality of Monaco. Consequently, there’s a special link between the “Rock” and the town of Cagnes. HRH Prince Albert II of Monaco regularly honours Cagnes-sur-Mer with his presence at major events.

Sadly, the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV saw even more wars and more multiple invasions in the area  – and I don’t mean tourists! At the time of the French Revolution, in 1790, Cagnes still had only 1,388 inhabitants, mostly peasants who cultivated olives, hemp, citrus fruits and vegetables.

Thanks to an influx of artists, at the beginning of 20th century, Cagnes was known as “The Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur”! By that time, Cagnes had grown to around 3,000 inhabitants and, following in Renoir’s footsteps, many other painters and entertainers fell in love with the Mediterranean light and settled in this picturesque village which offers great views and a magnificent panorama of both the sea and the surrounding hills.

Today only around 650 live in this ancient hilltop town which was classified a historical site in 1948 and provides a delightful setting for several museums and and a church (St Pierre) with a beautiful Baroque ceiling. In 1960, the famous cabaret singer, Suzy Solidor (1900-1985) set up her cabaret-restaurant and café (now an antique shop), in one of the houses at the corner of the chateau square. The cabaret is now L’Espace Solidor which houses contemporary jewellery exhibitions. As a consequence, Cagnes sur Mer was awarded the label of “Villes et Metiers d’Art” (town of arts and crafts).

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.