One from the vaults: Postcard from Piedmont

I’m still dipping into my archives for those posts which feature trips to the Giro d’Italia. This one’s from the more recent May 2017 edition.

This past week-end, we went back to Italy to watch a couple more stages of 100th Giro d’Italia and deliver some of my brownies and vegan banana bread to a few of the teams. Storms were forecast on Friday and my beloved was keen to finish off some work before we left for stage 13’s finish in Tortona. A place we’ve often seen sign-posted on the motorway but have never visited.

My beloved is a terrible passenger seat driver (there’s no back seat in the Smart) which is why I typically allow him to drive. However he currently finds driving my car too painful, so I’m in the driving seat. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from telling me how to drive, forever startling me with shouts of “watch out he’s braking” or “get over, he’s coming out”. I’m startled because I’ve been concentrating on the job in hand. Yes, I’d spotted the red brake lights and no the lorry’s not coming out, merely signalling his intention to do so once I’ve passed. Frankly, if he doesn’t shut up he’s going to suffer the same fate as his missing crutch!

Sadly we arrived too late to get into Tortona to watch the finish. However what we could see as we drove around it and onto our B&B for the night looked promising. We were staying in a small farming community not far from the finish of Friday’s stage and the start of Saturday’s. Our studio room was a beautiful hayloft conversion and our hostess had thought of everything. It was charming. Furthermore, the bed was comfortable, the towels were where they should be – in the bathroom rather than artfully piled on the bed, a pet peeve of mine. She’d even left us aperos and nibbles which we enjoyed while watching the end of the stage. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) picked up his fourth stage win, not bad for his maiden Grand Tour!

We decided to eat dinner in the only restaurant in town, a bustling family one which was serving an all you can eat special Giro menu. My beloved could only manage one pizza! Mind you before that he had some delicious stuffed farinata and finished with strawberries and ice cream. I blew the budget with a mixed salad and marinara pizza that I struggled to finish for Euros 7. This was an uncharacteristically cheap night!

Back at base, the WiFi was excellent but I soon drifted off to sleep. We were woken at 8 o’clock by the nearby church bells and enjoyed a copious breakfast before heading to Castellania, former home and final resting place of Italian cycling god Fausto Coppi. We were the wrong side of the village to get to the PPO without which we couldn’t get to the press parking. We ditched the car, grabbed some of the cakes and started walking the 3km to the village. This was to be my beloved’s longest walk for three months and he managed just fine.

According to the Giro road book, the buses were parking some 1500m from the start, which meant I was looking at walking another 3km. Once we reached the village, I couldn’t see any signs and asked one of the many Giro staff where the buses were parked. He told me 10km away in Tortona. I thought he was joking, he wasn’t. I was beginning to regret having lugged some of the cakes with me.

Luck was on my side. I bumped into Laura Meseguer, one of the hardest working journalists I know and certainly one of the nicest, and prettiest. She explained that the Eurosport crew were just about to head to the buses and she’d be happy to take my cakes and distribute them for me. She noted down the names of the lucky recipients, took the cakes and shot off.

The crowds were suitably large, I admired the various homages to the Coppi bros, while my beloved took photos and we lunched on delicious home-made focaccia before trekking 3km back to the car. With a stage of only 130km, we stood no chance of making the finish before the riders. We stopped en route to fill up the car, and us, and watched the last 45km on the television. The result was unexpected with the current race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) getting the better of race favourite Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on a summit finish.

We drove to our next B&B, not too far from the finish, in a leafy suburb. It was yet another house where empty nesters had turned their excess space into guest accommodation.  We settled in before heading back out in search of dinner. To be honest, it didn’t looking promising. There were loads of Bars and Gelaterias, but no restaurants. Finally we spotted a hotel restaurant advertising Tex-Mex Pizzas. Concerned that this might be a fusion step too far, we nevertheless ventured inside to discover a busy, bustling family restaurant thankfully serving Pizzas and Tex Mex.

Our dinner was interrupted twice by my car alarm going off. No reason why, but I’m even more convinced this was the cause of my recent flat battery. Replete with spicy Tex-Mex, we dove back to our overnight stay and a good night’s sleep. We breakfasted early and headed to the start in nearby Valdengo. Bizarrely, the stage started close by the town’s churchyard with a number of the buses parking up in its car park. I had the rest of my cakes to deliver and wanted to catch up with Trek-Segafredo’s youngster Mads Pedersen.

Mission accomplished, the peloton headed in one direction  – and a mad dash stage won by Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) – and we pointed the car in the direction of home. As we drove towards the motorway junction, my beloved suggested we stopped for lunch. We spotted a sign-post for a restaurant off the main road. It looked fairly unprepossessing but there were a number of large expensive cars parked outside. Inside we found my default white linen tablecloths and napkins and luckily a vacant table for two. We enjoyed a magnificent seafood lunch and set off with smiles on our faces as we sped back to our home in France. We’d had an excellent week-end in Piedmont, a place we should visit more often. The countryside is charming, quieter but no less picturesque than Tuscany, plus its hotels and restaurants represent great value.

Thursday doors #69

Today we’re featuring my last batch of handsome doors from our January trip to Saint-Paul de Vence, yet another historic Old Town.

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 Tourrettes sur Loup

We’ve previously visited, La Colle sur Loup, Saint-Paul de Vence, Vence and our next stop is Tourrettes sur Loup, a village we regularly ride through. It has a large natural spring where we can fill our bidons (drinks bottles). Typically, in summer we’ll ride up there by taking the cooler and shadier Vallon Rouge via Pont sur Loup. In spring and autumn we’re more likely to take the longer route via Vence.

This pretty medieval perched village, about 14 km (9 miles) from the coast, situated between Nice and Cannes, is very popular with many Europeans, including the British. Like many along the coast, it has grown up on a rocky outcrop surrounded by superb lush landscapes, where prickly pears grow naturally. With its tall houses built into its ramparts, Tourrettes sur Loup seems to conquer all beneath it.

The best way to discover the village is by wandering around its pretty, narrow streets and its vaulted passage-ways, taking in the tastefully restored stone facades, and climbing some of the stepped passages, bordered with pretty flower baskets. In the “Grand’ Rue”, the heart of the historic centre of the village, there are more than 30 artists’ workshops, galleries and crafts workshops galleries, overlooked by the Chateau de Villeneuve (15th cent) and its superb small square.

Unsurprisingly, Tourrettes sur Loup has been a popular hangout for many years, it’s rich in prehistoric sites from the Middle Palaeolithic and has even yielded some Neanderthal remains. Traces of the last nomadic hunters (Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic, between 11,000 and 6,000 BC) have also been identified at nearby Courmettes – famous for its goats’ cheeses.

Like many of the villages perchés, Tourrettes has experienced turbulent times. A tribe of Celtic Ligurians settled here at the beginning of 9th century B.C.. Later in 262 B.C. the Romans came to occupy turres altea (the observation point) and stayed until 476 A.D., the start of 500 years of invasions. The village was invaded by all the barbarian tribes: Visigoths, Huns, Franks and Lombards until the Saracens fortified the place and occupied it until 972. It was only after a conflict with the House of Duras and the Count of Provence that Marie of Brittany, mother of Louis II of Provence, gave Tourrettes-lès-Vence (previously in the hands of the Grimaldis) to Guichard de Villeneuve in 1387 and thus it remained in that family until the French Revolution.

Antoine Villeneuve had the present chateau built in 1437 which encompassed the old 11th century belfry. The church of the same period (12th c.) was rebuilt in 16th century, renovated in the 19th and currently undergoing further repairs. From 1463 onwards Tourrettes suffered innumerable misfortunes: the black plague wreaked havoc for 70 years, followed by the Wars of Religion, the War between Austria and England (1744-1748), the War of the Spanish Sucession and the French Revolution during which the last of the Villeneuves fled the chateau through an underground passage only to be recognised and put to death outside Ventimiglia.

The village was called Tourrettes-lès-Vence until the French Revolution. In 1894 it was renamed Tourrettes-sur-Loup because the Loup river delineates the commune and in order for it not to be confused with Tourrettes-Levens. The derivation of the name Loup comes from the fact that this valley was previously inhabited by wolves. This also lies behind the name of the village Villeneuve-Loubet since loubet is wolf cub in provençal.

On the hills surrounding Tourrettes there are terraces where the cultivation of vines, wheat and beans used to take place as well as that of the orange trees used for the manufacture of perfumes. Now these have been replaced by aloe vera cacti, fig and pine trees. However there are still olive groves, a very important industry during 19th century, and violets – which have given Tourrettes the name of  Village of Violets.

Today Tourrettes remains a place where artists of all persuasions congregate, particularly those from the world of French film.

Making sense of stuff

Long-time readers know that I don’t subscribe to any religion; I’m agnostic, a sceptic. There are lots of religions, lots of different beliefs and I greatly respect anyone’s religion and beliefs. Do I believe that only one of them is right, and the rest wrong. Hell no! I think they’re just different ways of articulating the same thing “the meaning of life.” So you might find it kind of amusing that I fondly imagine my late parents have been reunited in some Elysian spot and are still watching over me. Do I really believe that? No, but I do derive comfort from it and, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

This is a rather odd way of introducing the subject of gardening. I love a beautiful garden, doesn’t everyone? What I don’t like is the back breaking work (and cost) that goes into developing and maintaining said garden. I have on numerous occasions talked about my lack of “green fingers” calling them digits of doom. In that respect I don’t take after my late mother who lavished endless amounts of time (and money) on her beautiful garden. It was always a blaze of colour and a welcome habitat for wildlife.

I used to pay for her RHS subscription and tickets to the annual Chelsea Flower Show as a small token of my appreciation of everything she did for me. She was enormously knowledgeable about flora and fauna and there are times, when I see something I don’t know the name of, I wish she was still around to ask. Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently.

My father wasn’t as in to gardening as my mother but he did like a beautiful garden and was very particular about his velvety green, weed-free lawn. He had one of those mowers which leaves perpendicular stripes on the lawn and carefully used to trim the lawn’s borders. He would have no truck with a hover mower. Once he’d retired, he did take more of an interest in gardening and Mum gave him a small project, the creation of an alpine garden in one of the rockeries, which he enthusiastically embraced.

As my mother’s Alzheimers progressed, she stopped gardening even while she still claimed to b doing it. One of the first things my father did after her death was to restore her beloved garden to its former glory. He died not long after my mother and the house and garden were remodelled by my sister and brother-in-law. They’ve done their best but neither possess my mother’s passion for gardening. It looks nice but it wouldn’t win any prizes whereas my mother’s garden always elicited gasps of delight from everyone who saw it.

She would however be amazed to know that I’ve recently started watching documentaries about gardens and, in recent years, have much enjoyed visiting them. Our recent confinement has led me to taking more care of our much maligned terrace garden which only contains succulents. We’ve trialled lots of plants and bushes and even citrus fruits but none could withstand our indifference.

Our succulents come from the garden of a friend of my sister, who lives in nearby La Napoule. My younger sister, who bought our holiday home, discarded the fake topiary balls which I had put in the wide balcony trough, replacing them with cuttings of succulents from her friend’s French garden. Said cuttings have flourished as the trough is sheltered from the wind but benefits from both rain and sunshine. In fact they’ve flourished so much, she has to keep cutting them back. I get the cuttings. I just stuffed (literally) these into some pots on the terrace and did absolutely nothing to them.

Some of the more hardy species have taken root, others have withered and died. My weekend project during lockdown has been to nurse those on life support back to life and even add to my collection from plants I found on my daily rambles around the Domaine. This has been an unqualified success. Thanks to a spot of TLC, the garden is in bloom, literally.

My late parents, if they are indeed watching over me, would be much amused by my belated endeavours.

Sunshine’s Macro Monday #42

Yes. I’m still dipping into those photos of spring flora captured on my iPad mini while wandering around our private Domaine!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your helpful feedback and kind comments on these posts – most encouraging.

Sunshine’s Macro Monday is a challenge hosted by Irene encouraging us to scrutinise the smallest of details by getting up close and personal and bringing someone or something to life in a photograph. It’s a one day challenge without prompts.  Irene posts a Sunshine’s Macro Monday post each Monday, just after midnight Central Time (US) so don’t forget to use the tag SMM and mention Sunshine’s Macro Monday somewhere on your post, create a pingback or add a link in the comment’s section of her post.

Vincent Ehindero Blogger Award I – IV

Well, this award is new one for me! I was kindly invited by by a number of great bloggers to take part. Firstly, Mrs Holliman over at Gods Love. If you don’t already follow Mrs H, please head over to her blog and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Also, don’t forget to visit Mr H’s blog, he hands out some great advice on nutrition.

I was also nominated by Wild at Heart over at  Wild Scared Crazy who’s in her early 20s but scared to let it out and wants you to share your fears and doubts with her.

Then I was nominated by James A Best, an author who spins a mean short story over on his blog. If you don’t already follow him, head on over and give his stories some love.

Finally, I was nominated by young Dragon Warrior (Sophie) over at Den of Dreams who’s a very talented weaver of beautifully illustrated short stories.

These are all great blogs, please check them out and give them some support.

Now, you may be wondering who the hell is Vincent Ehindro? He’s just a guy with the zeal to make people smile. A man after my own heart, particularly in these trying times so please head on over and give him a follow here: https://vincentehindero.wordpress.com.

My Nominees

I usually throw out a blanket invitation, but not this time. Oh no! To qualify for this award you have to spread some sunshine. Make us all smile. Fair dos?

Mrs H’s Questions

1. What is your favourite vacation spot?

I love cities beside the sea. If I could never travel anywhere ever again, I’d be more than happy to stay where I am, one of the most glorious places on God’s earth (French Riviera). But I also love places such as San Sebastian, Sydney, Biarritz, Barcelona, Melbourne………..which are also beside the sea.

2. What does life mean to you?

How long have you got Mrs H, this is a rather BIG and MEANINGFUL question.

3. Do you like to eat your fries on your burger?

As someone who’s not supposed to eat either fried food or meat, this is rather a moot question. Of course, I love fries, who doesn’t? But I love those thick, triple fried ones that have crispy interiors and fluffy interiors. If I’m going to be naughty, it’s gotta be worth it. Don’t you all just hate flabby, greasy fries?

4. Have you ever been out the country? If so where

I’ve been very fortunate to travel extensively from an early age and have visited many countries: Australia, US, Japan, Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Canada, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Greece, Malta, Andora, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, San Marino, Vatican City, Monaco, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Kitts & Nevis, Antigua, Barbados……….

5. When do you like to take your walks?

I like walking a lot and try to walk most afternoons.

6. Do you like to look at the stars at night?

Sadly, pollution and so much ambient light means it’s difficult to see the stars here in the south of France. However, the air is clearer and there’s much less light in more remote areas, particularly in the mountains, which affords one a spectacular view.

7. Do you have any pets?

No, I have my husband who takes up all my time and attention. He would love a dog, a big dog, but I know who’d end up looking after him or her.

8. Beside blogging what is one of your other hobbies?

Cycling

9. What has Jesus Christ done for you?

This is a bit of a tricky question. I’m not aware that he’s done anything specifically for me.

10. What inspires you the most?

Life.

Wild’s Questions

1. What is your favourite aspect of blogging?

I can write what I want, when I want.

2. What is your favourite social media platform, and why?

I don’t have a favourite. I dabble a little in quite a few.

3. Are you more of an indoors or outdoors person?

Outdoors, but only so long as the sun is shining.

4. Tell me a weird fact about yourself!

I’ve shared so much about myself already on this blog that it’s difficult to think of anything else, weird or otherwise.

5. What is your favourite season?

Any season where the sun shines.

6. What is your favourite memory?

When you get to my age you have so many that it’s well nigh impossible to pick just one.

7. Cats or dogs?

Dogs but I have no intention of ever getting a pet.

8. If you were an only child, would you wish to have siblings?

Of course, I love my two sisters but my younger sister (right) was so annoying as a child that I often wished I’d been an only one.

9. What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?

Anything vegan, particularly coffee.

10. What three wishes would you ask from a genie?

The end of inequality and poverty, good health for all.

James’ Questions

1. How do you juggle your blogging time with time at work and family time?

It’s easy when there’s just my beloved husband and me. I blog while he works.

2. What are some of the hobbies you have besides writing?

Cooking, cycling, reading, cross-country skiing, walking

3. Have you or will you publish a book (s)?

No, though I have edited two books and would be happy to edit more.

4. What do you enjoy doing for recreation?

See 2. above

5. What is your favorite genre of music and who are your favorite musicians?

I don’t really have a favourite genre or indeed favourite musicians. I like lots of both. I like to keep an open mind though I do know what I don’t like.

6. Name your favourite authors and why?

I like authors who spin an engrossing story. My favourites are Margaret Attwood, Evelyn Waugh, GabrielGarcía Márquez and Kazuo Ishiguro.

7. What are your favourite sports to watch or play?

MotoGP, tennis, football (soccer), cycling, athletics, skiing, cricket

8. What is your number one time of the year and why?

Summer because the sun shines and I get to spend even more time outdoors.

9. Do you like to grow your own garden?

Since lockdown I have discovered that I don’t have digits of doom, I just need to select the right plants and give them some TLC.

Dragon Warrior’s Questions

1. Would you consider a creative person? If so, how?

No, not really, I’m more practical than creative.

2. What type of characters do you like to read about?

It’s not really the characters which attract me to a book, its more the storyline or author, unless it’s non-fiction. I like reading about the lives of sporting heroes and those who’ve lead interesting (IMHO) lives.

3. How would you describe the quarantine in a few words?

An unavoidable necessity

4. How would you describe your aesthetics?

Well, we all like to think we have good taste but it’s very subjective. I’m conservative with a bit of a wacky side.

5. When the quarantine ends, what would you do first?

Beloved BMC
Lockdown has merely eased in France. I don’t think it’ll truly “end” for some time. But the first thing I wanted to do was go for a ride but it poured all day Monday, so I had to wait until Tuesday.

No award would exist without those (pesky) RULES

1. Thank the person that nominated you with a link to their blog

2. Post the award photo

3. Post the rules

4. Ask 5-10 questions

5. Nominate 20-30 other bloggers (or more) and notify them.

6. Follow Vincent Ehindero @ vincentehindero.wordpress.com (to qualify for a free blog promotion and shoutout)

 

I hope you’ve all had a great weekend and many congratulations for reaching the end of this post!

Silent Sunday #19

I’ve decided to try and showcase some of my better photos and I’m going to pick a some from Australia for the next few months.

In Byron Bay we stayed at a hotel where the accommodation was in the sub-tropical rain forest and which backed onto Tallow Beach, a six and half kilometre stretch of beach between the Cape Byron Conservation Area and Broken Head Nature Reserve, part of the Arakwal National Park. 

The Musette: tangerine and almond cake (gluten-free)

This gluten-free tangerine and almond cake is simply sensational! Moist, nutty and with a strong tangerine flavour this cake is also flourless, dairy and oil free. Serve simply with coffee or with whipped cream for an indulgent dessert.

I’ve come across various iterations of this recipe on numerous occasions. This particular cake is generally known as Passover dessert across the Mediterranean.

One very popular thing about this cake is its use of entire citrus fruits (skin and all) which are boiled until soft and then pureed in their entirety. Most of the recipes I’ve come across don’t use any regular flour or fat (oil, butter) at all which makes this lovely cake naturally gluten and dairy free and with no added fat – a bonus for my cycling friends.

This cake (or my take on it) has been very popular with a number of celebrity chefs including Nigella whose recipe for Clementine Cake can be found in her book How to Eat. My recipe more closely resembles that of Claudia Roden’s in The Essential Guide to Middle Eastern Cooking.

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 450g/3 large organic tangerines, (choose ones with unblemished skins as the whole fruit is used in this recipe)
  • 250g (approx. 5 large) organic eggs
  • 250g (1 1/4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 250g (2 1/2 cup) ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau or other orange flavoured liquer (optional)
  • icing (confectioner’s) sugar to serve

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan). Grease and line the base of a 2-ltr (1 lb) loaf tin.

2. Place the tangerines in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for about an hour, ensuring that they remain covered with water. Drain and cool.

3. Cut the tangerines into quarters, discard any seeds, then place the chunks into a blender and puree until smooth.

4. Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick, the whisk should leave ribbons. then add the orange puree, ground almonds, liquer and baking powder and mix well.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour. Leave the cake to firm up in the pan for 20 minutes then turn out, remove the baking paper and turn over to finish cooling right way up.

This cake definitely mellows with a little time and can be prepared well in advance.

6. To serve, sift icing sugar on top and add a dllop of whatever your heart desires: chantilly cream, Greek yoghurt, creme fraiche, orange flavoured whipped cream.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can use any citrus fruit, blood orange would be terrific, but something like grapefruit will require much longer cooking in water to sufficiently soften.

4. You can make these as cupcakes in which case they’d need around 40-45 minutes cooking time.

5. While this cake is perfect as is you could sprinkle on some toasted almond flakes.

6. The cake can be also prepared in advance as it keeps really well when chilled in the fridge, for up to 3 days.

7. Rather than boiling the citrus fruits, you could  do this quicker by using a microwave. Simply pierce your fruit a  few times with a fork (to prevent them from bursting) and put them in a large microwavable bowl with a little bit of water. Microwave on high for approx 10 minutes et voila!

8. To freeze, make sure your cake is completely cool before wrapping in clingfilm and then aluminium foil. Make sure to label it too if you don’t want to play “Freezer Roulette” later! Pop it in the freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost simply leave out on the kitchen worktop (counter) and once defrosted decorate as you wish.

Sculpture Saturday #9

This week I’ve picked one of my favourite statues from along the seafront in Cros-de-Cagnes. It’s one of three works by the artists Lena Dettervik and Gudmar Olovson (https://www.gudmar.net/) intended to symbolise the strong relationship between the Swedes and Cagnes sur Mer. The trio evoke a feeling of freedom and the great outdoors, and are now a firm part of the Cros-de-Cagnes landscape.

If you want to join in this challenge hosted by the Mind over Memory blogger:-

  • Share a photo of a sculpture
  • Link to the Mind over Memory’s post for Saturday Sculpture

Go on, give it a go, you know you want to!