Real Neat Blog Award VI, VII and VIII

I’ve once again been nominated for The Real Neat Blog Award by some pretty terrific bloggers. Please check out their sites and give them your support:-

Firstly, the gracious and lovely Mrs Holliman who so eloquently expresses her love of Christianity over at God’s Love.

Next, youthful, bubbly Lydia, who’s recently graduated, and who writes about all manner of things on In His Service and Loving It. Lydia and I have bonded over our love of cooking.

Last but not least, recent bloggers and architectural practice Mohsin Sheikh. If buildings are your thing…………and they’re most definitely mine. You now know where to find them.

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My Nominees

Are you a relatively new blogger? Do you think your blog is coolish? If you answered “yes” to either one of these questions, guess what? You’ve been nominated. Answer any 7 (your choice) of the questions below.

Mrs H’s Questions

1. What is your favourite late-night snack?

I try very hard not to eat after 19h but, if I do, it’s probably a bit of dark chocolate.

2. What is your favourite travel spot?

I guess it would be the Basque Country or Australia. Posts about trips to both of these are numerous on my blog.

3. What are 2 of your favourite hobbies?

Cooking and cycling

4. If you were being chased by a lion would you jump in a tree or try to get to your car?

First of all, if I were being chased by a lion, I would be in serious trouble as I’m not the fastest runner. I’d probably opt for whichever was closer. I’m still a dab hand at climbing trees. Just to be on the safe side, I’m not planning on visiting any countries where lions roam wild and free.

5. What’s your favorite Christmas song?

Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in the original German.

6. Have you ever wished you could fly? Why?

Mrs H if God had meant us to fly, no one would’ve bothered to invent the flying machine.

7. What is your funniest holiday moment?

As a child, I was rather lively (British understatement). I used to run everyone ragged. While on holiday in the Isle of Wight when I was 18 months old, as a joke my parents put me in an empty waste-paper bin on the wall and turned their backs on me. When they looked around again, I was gone. I had been rescued by another couple staying at the same hotel. My parents (wisely) never did that again!

Lydia’s Questions

1. What was/is your favorite school subject?

It was history.

2. How often do you do something really weird that you regret?

Hardly ever! You tend you regret what you’ve not done, rather that what you’ve done.

3. In your opinion, what’s something you do that passes time really well?

Cooking

4. Meat or veggie pizza?

Vegan pizza

5. Do you like lizards?

I don’t mind them just so longer as I’m bigger than them.

6. Blue tooth, headphones, or earbuds?

Headphones – I’m old school.

7. What did you do for Easter this year?

Not a lot, we were in lockdown!

Mohsin Sheikh’s Questions

1. Name any 3-5 lines or dialogues from books/movies that you found fascinating.

Here’s one from one of my favourite authors, Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose legendary opening sentence to 100 Years of Solitude (1967) is:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

2. What type of movies do you watch? any specific director or actor preferences?

I’m rather fond of children’s animation.

3. What is your take about politics?

I rarely discuss politics or religion though I do firmly believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

4. Name three habits you want to share with us.

I am very tidy, I have almost perfect recall, I enjoy solitude.

5. Which will be your go-to place for dinner, once this lockdown ends?

There are loads of local restaurants which I shall visit once they’re (hopefully) open again.

6. Describe your favourite book.

It’s about a Jewish Mancunian who supports Manchester City Football Club during Manchester United’s glory days. Of course, he’d be having the last laugh nowadays.

7. When you joined the WordPress community, what were your thoughts? Did you have any expectations? Was there any specific reason why you chose blogging? (Apart from being passionate about writing).

I wouldn’t call myself passionate about writing. Plus, I had no real thoughts or expectations upon joining WP. I just liked that I could write what I wanted, when I wanted. I still do.

Award Rules

1. Display the blog award logo in your blog.
2. Thank the bloggers who nominated you. Do not forget to link to their blogging website.
3. Answer all the questions they have given you.
4. Nominate 7 to 10 bloggers of your choice.
5. Ask them 7 questions.

Hope you’ve all had a great weekend. Sx

Silent Sunday #20

I’ve been plundering my photo archives and try to find some of my better ones (no easy task!). I’m picking a few from Australia for the next few months.

Bordered by the Brisbane river, the heritage-listed Brisbane City Botanic Gardens are located on Gardens Point in the CBD. The mature gardens have many rare and unusual botanic species, in particular, a special collection of cycads, palms, figs and bamboo.

The Musette: cherry clafoutis

In full bloom

As we head big time into cherry season here, it seems only right and proper that I’ve prepared a French Classic using these fresh, succulent, juicy red cherries. However, bottled ones or frozen will do just as well. This is yet another recipe where every French woman declares that her grandmother’s recipe is simply the best.

Lots of plump juicy griottines

Traditionally this dessert is made with whole cherries but I prefer to remove the stones. Safer for everyone’s teeth!

Ingredients (serves six)

  • 350g (approx 12oz) sweet cherries, washed, stems removed and pitted
  • 150g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 medium organic eggs, approx 40g (1½oz) in weight without the shell
  • 2 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50g (¾ cup) freshly ground almonds
  • 100g (1 cup) crème fraîche
  • 100ml (⅓ cup + 2 tbsp) milk, buttermilk or cream
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • Icing (powdered) sugar for dusting

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Butter the base and sides of a 20cm (8″) square baking dish or similar.

3. Place the cherries into the bottom of the dish. A lot of recipes call for the fruit to be added after the batter, but I prefer to keep the contents a surprise and not have them poking through the batter where they might catch and char. In addition, cherries often bleed their juices into the batter which I personally think makes the dish look less attractive.

4. Whisk the eggs, salt, lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy.

5. Sift in the flour and gently fold into the egg mixture with the ground almonds.

6. Then gently stir in the milk and crème fraîche.

7. Pour the batter over the cherries, place the baking dish into a bain marie (water bath)  – I find this helps the dish cook more evenly – put it in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and set. The batter will rise up and then sink back down again.

8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so – it tastes better warm – before dusting with icing (powdered) sugar and serving with a big dollop of crème fraîche!

I like it best just warm

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 clafoutis in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can make clafoutis using pretty much any soft fruit or berries. I’ve made them with raspberries, pears, plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines. I tend to change around the flavourings to suit the fruit. For example if I use plums, I’ll infuse the milk with cinnamon and star anise and omit the lemon zest. It’s yet another recipe where you can let your imagination take over.

4. I’ve also make clafoutis with ground pistachios – they turn the batter a delicate jade green – and cherries but have found that when using hazelnuts or walnuts, the remaining bits of skin adhering to the nuts gives the batter an unfortunate muddy colour.

5. The dish can also be turned into a savoury one. Omit the sugar, fruit and lemon zest, substituting approx 100g (3½oz) cubes of feta cheese and a similar amount of cherry tomatoes and half that amount of pitted black olives. Or add 250g (9oz) of chopped roasted vegetables to the batter. A handful of complimentary chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, dill or a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme wouldn’t go amiss.

Sculpture Saturday

I’m staying with the seafront in Cagnes sur Mer but heading towards Villeneuve Loubet to the Banc de Poisson (School of Fish), another of my favourite civic installations. This giant 2007 wrought-iron sculpture is by Sylvain Subervie. It’s been a fixture on the seafront since 2008 when it was acquired by the town hall for 200,000 euros. However, it’s not the only example of the French sculptor’s work as I spotted a similar installation on the roof of the l’Hôtel de Paris in St Tropez.

In case you’re wondering, the statue in the foreground is Brigit Bardot by Milo Manara.

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!

Friday Photo Challenge – comfort food

Today’s challenge is comfort food. That’s an apt description for most of the recipes in my The Musette series generally posted on Saturdays, so I have plenty of ammunition! Here goes:-

 

I’m much enjoying these weekly challenges hosted on alternate weeks by either Amanda or Sandy because they force me to think about what’s in my photo archives and how I might re-use them.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not join in the fun?

Friendly Friday

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.