Two-day trip to Paris

Yes, it’s finally time for my beloved to get back to work full-time. He has mastered the crutches and can even walk without them for about 20 metres, so it was time to venture forth and meet one of our long-term clients, based in Paris. We opted to travel by train, less stressful, and I agreed to accompany him. He’s not yet ready to fly solo.

The train journey passes along the coast before heading inland. It’s delightful scenery even though it rained for most of the trip. The countryside at this time of year is verdant and lush. New bright green leaves contrast with bursts of bright yellow, pale pink, dark pink and purple blossoms against a backdrop of dark green evergreens, and lush soil every shade of ombre and ochre. April’s mix of sunshine and showers has made everything grow in abundance, from foliage to crops to vines.

There still isn’t a fast route from the Niçois coast to Paris, Marseilles has already bagged it. We’ll get one eventually, most probably via Grenoble. The train slowly winds its way along the coast until it turns inland after Marseilles and heads to Avignon – a place I keep meaning to visit – where it really picks up velocity. In no time at all we’re in Paris, a place that is irredeemably romantic. Just saying the name conjours up the Seine winding its way past Haussmanian buildings under stone bridges with majestic wrought iron lighting catching glimpses of famous sights and monuments.

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There’s something very restful about train journeys in Europe. The trains are invariably on time, you know exactly where to wait on the platform for your carriage. Trains are not overbooked, all tickets get a reserved seat. That’s right, there’s NO standing. The cost is very reasonable, particularly if you book in advance. We generally travel first-class and enjoy a late lunch in le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon. I just love all than fin de siecle splendour and the food’s pretty good too.

This time we were arriving late afternoon, far too late for even a late lunch. We had decided to stay in a hotel close to the station, within walking distance of Le Marais, and a short taxi ride to my beloved’s client. It was a charming bijou hotel, ideal for an overnight stop after feasting on oysters, lobster and champagne, always our favourite Parisian treat. And fitting, given it was the evening before my beloved’s birthday.

The following morning, after breakfast in a nearby brasserie, my beloved set off for his appointment, which was bound to include lunch, leaving me with a few precious hours to wander around Paris on my own – sheer bliss.

It was cold and damp to start with and I needed to walk briskly just to keep warm. I was wearing a layer too few. At one point I thought it was going to start raining but the moment passed and, thankfully, the sun came out. I just love wandering around Paris, so many independent specialist shops, many dating back hundreds of years. Of course, I particularly love all the food shops.

As I wander the streets, there’s always something to look at be it a wrought iron balcony, a beautiful street lamp, colourful  window boxes crammed with flowering plants, secret alleyways leading who knows where and wrought iron gates protecting someone’s heritage.

I also spotted some recent graffiti!

I didn’t indulge in as much window shopping as I usually do, probably because I had a destination in mind. I wanted to check out the summer collection of a German brand that I generally have to buy over the internet because it has limited availability in France and no outlets closer to me than Lyon. While its website is excellent it’s sometimes difficult to exactly discern the colour. Is is grey, beige or greige? Of course, I love all three but there were a couple of trouser styles, jackets and tops I wanted to check out.

On my early stroll I had spotted that rare beast in France, a vegan restaurant, which I wanted to try for lunch. It was excellent and I’ve made a note of its location, along with a couple of other restaurants, for us to try on our September anniversary trip. Of course, we’ll also be revisiting the site of our oyster fest.

After my enjoyable few hours, I met up with my be loved in Le Train Bleu bar where we took full advantage of the free WiFi, facilities and excellent tea. In no time at all, it was all abord for the return trip and a gentle snooze as the train purred all the way to Antibes. I have that fortunate knack of being able to power-nap anywhere at anytime.

The sun shone brighter as the train reached the south, stopping in Marseille after three or so hours before resuming its snail’s pace progression along the Med. Christophe, our uberfriendly and uberreliable local taxi driver, picked us up and whisked us back home. It had been a lovely trip, now I had to get everything ready for our maiden trip to Sardinia and 100th

Happy Easter

As my beloved has become more mobile we’ve been out and about for short walks over the Easter long week-end, enjoying the warm sunny weather and wonderful scenery. April, with its heady mix of sunshine and showers, encourages the place to spring into vibrant colour. The trees are every shade of green, the bushes are blossoming, the birds are canoodling, summer can’t be too far away.

On one of our walks, we were admiring the floating palaces in Antibes, the largest concentration of man caves in the Mediterranean. Most seemingly lie idle, the only sounds of activity are from workmen readying them for the start of the chartering season, the Cannes Film Festival.

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Today we strolled alongside  the beach in Cros de Cagnes, a former fishing village, where the boats are rather more utilitarian than the shiny beauties we saw yesterday. It was good to feel the sunshine on our faces.

I hope you’re having an enjoyable holiday week-end too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down but not out

Clearly, I had bitten off more than I could chew! I blew out on Sunday in the l’Antiboise. I had set off at 07:30am feeling in fine form with my beloved for company. The weather was ideal, I’d had a good breakfast and plenty of food in my back pockets (didn’t want a repeat of the Ste Agnes bonk). I rode well, and within myself, to the first feed zone. There it became evident I was the only female attempting the longer course. This should have rung warning bells but, no, I blithely carried on.

At the feed zone, I’d been looking forward to a coke sugar rush. Sadly, the club organising the randonnee was providing only a cheap, own brand coke – this should be outlawed by UFOLEP. I shall be making representations to the Chairman. 

After refuelling we set off  under heavy skies in the direction of Lac St Cassien. I must be honest, I really don’t like cycling around here. In theory, it should be the perfect spot but, in practice, the road’s too narrow and there’s too much traffic, none of whom are willing to crawl along behind a bunch of cyclists.

The climb up to Montauroux was an unpleasant surprise – far steeper than I’d anticipated. The legs were beginning to ache. A novel experience as it’s usually the lungs which give out first. I gratefully refilled my bidon at the fountain in the square, had a quick breather and we set off again. We were evidently the lanterne rouges of the longer parcours but we knew there were  a few riders just up ahead. There followed a long descent (never good news as I knew we’d just have to climb back up again) on rather gravelly, twisting roads which did little to boost my average speed or my mood. On the climb back up to St Cezaire sur Siagne, I promised myself a cold coke if I got to the top. This promise kept  me going but unbelievably we took a sharp left just before the village and set off up the Col de la Leque towards St Vallier. Only 9km uphill  but it was the straw which finally broke the camel’s back. My legs stopped functioning after 109km.

My beloved rode the final couple of kilometers to the next feed zone to alert the broom wagon which kindly returned to pick me up. At the feed zone I gratefully gulped down several glasses of the dreaded cheap coke – better than nothing. I was truly spent, a somewhat discouraging experience. I proceeded to the finish in the broom wagon while my beloved rode back. Once home, we showered, changed and drove to Alassio stopping en route for a much needed, belated lunch.

We decided not to take the bikes with us. A wise decision, as we both have leaden bodies, never mind leaden legs. After a good night’s sleep, I feel more sanguine and more determined that next year I’ll achieve my objective. The weather’s fantastic here and I’ve enjoyed pottering around Alassio which is emerging from hibernation. The beach is a hive of activity with hoteliers erecting their beach huts and levelling the sand outside their hotels ready for the invading hordes. As expected, at this time of year, the clientele is largely retired and wrinkly.

I’ve sent an email to my cycling coach, admitting that he was correct and I should have attempted to do a better time on the shorter course. As a consequence, I may well opt for the shorter parcours on the next two randonnees. Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

Postscript: It appears that we were the only two from the club to attempt the longer parcours.

Week end musings

My beloved returned from Germany suffering from a cold and feeling very sorry for himself. A ride on Saturday morning soon restored his good humour which was further boosted by our boys in claret and blue who struck two goals to win away from home at Fulham. The chase for the 4th spot in the Premiership is heating up with Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and AVFC all in hot and heavy pursuit.

Sadly, OGCN lost 3-2 away at Monaco. After a couple of contentious refereeing decisions, which arguably cost the Aiglons the match, their fans, despite a heavy police presence, angrily stormed onto the pitch. The penalty is likely to be either a heavy fine or a match played behind closed doors, just what a cash-strapped club needs. Nice haven’t won for two months and are slipping ominously into the relegation zone. While we await the return of most of the first team from the African Cup, rumours abound that our one good striker could be leaving before the transfer window closes.

This morning we set out for a ride with the club. It was very cold, the sky looked ominous all along the coast but back in the hills the sun was sparkling off the snowy hill tops. On the outskirts of Antibes, the sleet started to fall and two-thirds of the peloton turned tail and headed home into a fierce headwind. Why get wet when you can always ride tomorrow?

After a warming coffee at our local watering hole, pouring over the Sunday newspapers, we headed back home. Perversely, by mid-day the sun was out in full-force and the weather was truly glorious. I was sorely tempted to get back on the bike and go out again however I was having the windows and terrace cleaned this afternoon. With friends coming for dinner on Monday evening, and guests arriving next week end, this was a task I couldn’t postpone.

Instead, I checked out what had happened overnight. Was Andy Murray going to be the first Brit for many a long year to lift a Grand Slam singles title? No, razor sharp Roger Federer disposed of him in 3 straight sets to win his 16th Grand Slam title. Later I checked on the results of French cycling season opener, GP La Marseillaise. This was won by Jonathon Hivert of newly-promoted Pro-Continental team Saur Sojasun, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil was 2nd and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis was 3rd. 

On a final note, I’d like to wish Christophe Le Mevel a speedy recovery. The other day he attempted to make running repairs to his TT bike while in the saddle but merely succeeded in almost severing his little finger. Christophe, if your bike needs fixing, please take it to your’s and my LBS: Stars’n’Bikes.

Postscript: Loic Remy is (thankfully) remaining at OGCN.

Thank heavens, I’m back

It feels like I’ve been away for weeks, not four days. I’ll never moan about the weather here ever again. Coming in to land at Gatwick, I found myself looking out on a bleak wintery landscape swirling with snow. I bought myself a salad lunch at M&S to eat on the Gatwick Express. It was the same price as a 2-course “menu” with coffee here. At Victoria I bought a Zone 1 tube ticket – £4 for 4 stops. It had only been £1.60 the last time I’d been in town – talk about rampant inflation. Or should that be daylight robbery?

En route to Birmingham New Street I kept thinking that I wanted to go home – now. I finally arrived at my parents late that afternoon ready to catch up with their news before settling down to watch the 2nd leg of that all-important League Cup semi-final, Villa v Bolton. It was a 10-goal thriller! Yes, when was the last time you saw 10 goals in a football match? It started with Villa going down two goals, putting Bolton in the lead on aggregate, fortunately only briefly. Villa levelled the score with a penalty and Bolton were reduced to 10  men. Thereafter, the goals came thick and fast. Finally, after a 10 year absence, Villa were on their way back to Wembley.

Thursday, I had offered to look after my Mum to give my Dad a break. It’s tough being a carer 24/7. I honestly don’t know how he does it. I decided that Mum and I should do something together. As she’s got a bit of a sweet tooth and enjoys a coffee and cake most days, I thought we would make a couple of cakes together.

Mum and I had never cooked together when I lived at home. I didn’t start cooking until I went to university. It’s always a bit of a nightmare cooking in someone else’s kitchen. They never have the same tools as you or use the same ingredients. My sister had kindly provided the baking tins, raisins, butter and baking powder. The rest was in the cupboards. My Mum had an old set of scales but it was in pounds and ounces so I reverted to an old tried and tested recipe: use the same weight in eggs, sugar, flour and butter. We made a Victoria sponge, sandwiched together with cream and apricot jam, and a raisin and apple loaf which we sliced and put in the freezer.

She seemed to enjoy the activity though it’s sometimes hard to tell. From time to time she says something that makes you wonder but most of the times it’s complete gibberish. I just try to look as if I understand, nod and say something affirmative.

Friday, we took a taxi into Birmingham to have lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant. It was intended to be a treat for my Dad but they both enjoyed the meal and the trip out. It rained all day Friday. I had forgotten just how damp it can be in the Midlands and I was soon coughing – break out the Benylin.

We left Saturday lunchtime. It had been lovely catching up with my parents but, after four days off the bike and having spent so much time indoors, watching tv, I was desperate to get home.  We got back late evening and headed straight to a local restaurant for dinner. Fortification for today’s pointage in Antibes, by way of Roquefort les Pins to pick up a ticket (more points).

Postscript: AVFC’s opponents in the League Cup final will be Manchester United who today (31 Jan) demolished Arsenal. The boys are going to have to pull out all the stops and more if they’re to defeat the red devils.

Pipped at the post

Another sunny day which I kicked off with a ride. I hadn’t gone far when I met up with two club mates and so I rode with them. I hadn’t seen either of them for a while. One was just recovering from a nasty dose of man flu while the other has been kept busy by his 12 grand-children.

We passed a number of club mates, going in the opposite direction, who had been out on that morning’s earlier club ride. Like me these two see no reason to ride when it’s really cold, preferring to leave an hour or so later. They also like to stop for a coffee and a chat on the way back: much more companiable.

Mind you I’d no sooner gotten back home, showered, changed and had lunch than I was off down to the club for our monthly meeting on the forthcoming Brevet Kivilev. Who knew that there were so many small details that needed to be taken care of – not me. For example, as the routes criss-cross 16 communes that’s 16 letters that have to be written to 16 mayors advising them of our plans. We’re also short of around 20 volunteers and while we’ve not yet resorted to press-ganging members and their families, or even strong arming them, don’t put it past us.

Nor have we started to solicit donations for the all-important tombola, the key prize of which is usually a bike frame. I’m donating one of those string vests (wouldn’t be seen dead in it), a Mellow Johnny’s T-shirt and a couple of cycling books. We’re hoping to drum up a few pieces of kit from the locally resident pros and anything else we can lay our hands on. M le President has done an excellent job on the tombola for the last couple of years. After all, if you had a local business, you’d want to keep on the right side of the head honcho down at the fire station – wouldn’t you?

The meeting ran into the regular monthly club meeting for which there was a particularly good attendance. All the better to hear that we had retained our regional championship, 2nd division on account of the number of members. Not only that but we’d come 2nd overall, beating off two larger clubs from nearby Antibes. I think this gives M le President bragging rights at the next UFOLEP meeting.   

Got back home (again) just in time to watch the highlights of today’s first stage in Adelaide of the Tour down Under which was won by Andrei Greipel (HTC-Columbia) who narrowly beat Gert Steegmans (Radio Shack) whom we’ve not seen competitively on a bike for a while – welcome back Gert. I last saw him in the tribune watching the team presentation at last year’s Tour de France in Monaco, where he resides.

On the road again

The weather the last two days has been bright and sunny, albeit with a  wintery bite. I’ve started wearing  my winter jacket but haven’t yet had to don full-fingered gloves. But it’s only a matter of time before they, and my shoe covers, are required. The mountains behind Nice now have a thick covering of snow and most local ski resorts are opening this week end.

The past two days, I’ve ridden with my beloved around my winter circuit. Yesterday, as I reached Blvd Kennedy after the Garoupe climb, Christophe Le Mevel and Geoffroy Lequatre zoomed past with one of my former clubmates, and the current U23 regional champion, in their slipstream. I chased after them, they were only rolling along at around 30km, so I soon caught them up. It’s good to ride along with people who can maintain an even tempo and, as there were no climbs for a while, I could merrily wheelsuck, and chat to my friend who was on a training ride with them. 

I’m slowly clearing the decks workwise but haven’t yet found time to tackle the ironing mountain. However, my beloved is off on business for 10 days on Monday which will give me sufficient breathing space to get the flat in apple-pie order for Xmas. The Xmas cards arrived today and will be despatched this week end. I have yet to buy any presents, although I do have my list. All of them can be purchased over the internet and delivered to the recipient in time for Xmas – perfect. 

I have made the cake which needs to be fed with copious amounts of alcohol over the next week or so and then marzipanned and iced (both home made) just before Xmas. I’ve also made a second Xmas cake for my clubmates at the recreational afternoons down at the cycling club house. Though there’s going to be precious little recreation for me as the “boys” have decided they’d like to learn English and IT skills. So I have tomorrow’s lesson all prepared and I’ve made a couple of cakes to accompany the tea and coffee.

Saturday, is the Telethon: France’s fundraising for local children’s charities. We’ll be riding, en masse, from St Laurent du Var to Mandelieu La Napoule and back. It’s quite a sight to behold: imagine, if you will, two Tour de France pelotons on the right-hand side of the road. But, I guess it’s not terribly popular with car drivers. The weather forecast is promising. This is followed on Sunday by the departmental championship. My club has held this honour for the past ten years but, largely due to falling membership,  may be hard pressed to hold onto the coveted trophy. Naturally, M Le President has been exhorting everyone to turn out and fortunately, the pointage isn’t too far afield; it’s only at Antibes.

Postscript: Break out my favourite beverage, those boys in claret and blue are through to the semi-finals of the League Cup. Our opponents in the next round will be  Blackburn whom we will also be playing in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.

Parisian diary

I took the train from Antibes to Paris: just over 5 hours door-to-door and a bargain at Euros 80 for a first-class return. I passed the journey lost in the pages of Sir Chris Hoy’s biography a very readable adjunct to “Heroes, Villains and Velodromes.

On my arrival in Paris, the skies cleared and the rain stopped so I decided to walk to our hotel on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Each time we go to Paris we endeavour to stay in a different quarter as I enjoy traversing the streets looking at the magnificent architecture and window shopping – by far the safest type of shopping! In addition, I love browsing the art galleries, antiques and book shops.

I also adore finding us great restaurants for lunch and/or dinner. Now, of course, I could just fish out a guide book and book one of their many suggestions, but where would be the fun in that? No, I like to walk around, sizing up the restaurants and their menus before making my choice.

Over the years I’ve had many pleasurable trips to Paris. My first came courtesy of my French pen-friend who, while she lived in Grenoble, had a large family living in Paris. I spent a week with her aunt in an impressive apartment just off Boulevard Haussmann and traipsed to my heart’s content around all the sights of Paris and Versailles. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to visit it on a regular basis.

When I told my Dad we were off to Paris, he reminded me of the trip we had taken with them some years ago, at about the same time of year, where we had eaten “our most expensive meal”. He still has a copy of the bill from the now-defunct “Lucas Carton” near Place de la Madeleine.

I have to say it was a truly memorable meal but, at the time, I had no idea how much it had cost as neither my Mum nor I had menus with prices. I started with polenta and truffles, while everyone else had scallop tartar. Dad and my beloved followed that with lamb while Mum and I had lobster, at my Dad’s urging, as it’s my Mum’s favourite. We elected to have the wines chosen by the chef to accompany the meal, but didn’t have room for a dessert or coffee, although we did manage to demolish all of the mouth-watering, petit fours.

My Dad picked up the bill, which was not what I had intended. It was some months later that he asked me what I thought it had cost. The tilt of his eyebrows indicated that my initial bid was way off the mark. But he did concede it had been well worth the money.

My first job in Paris was to interview 20 French dentists about their periodontology regimes. After speaking to a couple, it was clear that a 4-page questionnaire was several pages too many despite the inducement of a free gift. I decided an alternative strategy was required and based myself outside of the exhibition, close to one of the many lunch-time venues. Sure enough, by 11:30am, there was a long queue of people waiting to be served and what better way to while away the time answering my questionnaire. By the time lunch was over, I had filled my quota.

After a delicious meal in a small family-run restaurant on Wednesday evening, we invited a business colleague to share some champagne and oysters with us on Thursday evening at a restaurant close to the Palais des Congrès where we have previously enjoyed many similar evenings. Like me, he’s a recent convert to cycling and we are considering organising a cycling trip next year for his readership, to coincide with the club’s “ Brevet Kivilev”.

I used to view oysters with great suspicion. After all, they look like large blobs of snot. Well, they do don’t they? However, I decided that millions of French people can’t be wrong and took the plunge. Now, they’re one of my favourite foods and I regret all those wasted oyster eating opportunities. So, if you’ve never tried them, go-ahead, just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

I bought my beloved an oyster opening kit for last Xmas (among other things) so we can enjoy them at home. I like them best with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass (or two) of champagne. As I’m fond of saying “I’m a woman of simple tastes, all of them expensive”.

Friday morning I rose early for a run along the Seine. I can’t totally abandon my new regime. Although my husband had promised to keep Friday clear, I truly did not anticipate seeing him at all. However, we shared lunch at a delightful Corsican restaurant I found in the Marais before he returned to the exhibition for a further round of business meetings.

Bike friendly Paris!

We rose on Saturday to find leaden skies. It rained from time to time but fortunately, not heavily. My beloved decided he wanted to look around the Louvre. I knew once he saw the queue, he would decide otherwise, and was proved correct. He hates to wait for even 5 minutes: strange behaviour from a guy who generally keeps everyone else waiting!

However, we happily whiled away the morning wandering around the area and I found a fabulous restaurant for lunch a few doors down from Le Grand Verfour, which, sadly, was not open for Saturday lunch – maybe, next time.

While from time to time, I enjoy a few days away, equally I enjoy getting back home. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s ride, weather permitting, to Roquebrune Cap Martin. It’s a 90km round trip for us and I still recall how equally exhausted and elated I was the first time I did it, two years ago. How time has flown!

Hands off

I’m picking my husband up from the airport in an hour or so, around 23:15. He’s been in UK and Poland for the past 10 days. I’d like to be able to tell you that while he’s been away I’ve demolished the Vuelta and post-Vuelta ironing mountain, but I haven’t; maybe, next week.

No, while the weather’s fine, I’ve been out on my bike. Plus, let’s not forget, I’ve been baking biscuits for the dental students at Nice University where my beloved in lecturing tomorrow. I’ve made American-style squidgy raisin and oatmeal cookies (my fave), classic chocolate chip cookies and some elegant lemon thins.  In addition, I’ve been toiling with my translations and chasing up those members of the cycling club who have yet to pay their subs.

One of the (few) advantages of being club secretary is that I’m now on the mailing list for the details of each week’s pointage. So, no need to rely on the instructions on the club’s website or check the location on a map, I’ve got my own directions. The pointage is typically held in a car park. This week’s is in Stade Charpin in Les Semboules, which is behind Decathlon in Antibes.  

Lloris looms large

Of course, today’s big story has been Thierry Henry’s “hand of God” goal-assist which has prompted the Irish to ask FIFA for a replay (no chance). My estimate of six pages of commentary and two of adverts in today’s L’Equipe was a page shy of the mark. Man of the match, once again, was home-boy, Hugo Lloris. I can’t help thinking that he’ll be off to pastures new (and better paid) next season – Arsenal peut-etre? I do hope OGCN put a sell-on clause in the contract when they sold Hugo to Olympique Lyonnais. If so, they’ll be quids in. If not, they’ll be kicking themselves.

Rum soaked

My trainer, at my request, has ramped up the exercise regime. As a consequence, after our session yesterday, I have a few aches in areas best left unmentioned.

The weather the last two days has been glorious, just what I ordered. As I rode out of the Domaine this morning, my neighbours were picking the olives. Yes, we have our own olive oil from the 100 or so trees on the estate. The driver of the car in front of me stopped abruptly to encourage those picking, sadly without glancing in her mirror, so I nearly, but fortunately not quite, shot into the back of her car.

I decided that some interval training was in order and headed to the hill which goes up from Garoupe to boulevard Kennedy, in Antibes. The idea is to ride as hard as possible out of the saddle up the first incline, rest as it tails off and then pick it up again for the last bit. I did this six times much to the amusement of the builders working on the construction of what, I’m sure, is going to be an amazing (and totally wildly expensive) new property, “Villa Robert”. A couple of times round the Cap [d’Antibes] and then it was back home for lunch.

I spent the afternoon working on a translation before heading over to the cycling club. The offer of an English and/or IT course on Thursday afternoon seems to have been well received by my fellow, largely retired, members. I’d better get working on my first lesson plan. Loads of kisses, a couple of licence renewals and a new member later, I was back home in time to bake some cookies.

From time to time, my beloved speaks to the dental students at Nice University about aspects of dentistry in English, thereby satisfying some of their obligatory study of that language.The feedback from his first session suggested that he should have bought them something to eat. Remember, we’re talking about students. It was probably said tongue in cheek, more in hope than anticipation. So for his next visit, I sent him armed with cake: brownies, coconut macaroons and carrot cake. His ratings improved dramatically!

This time, I’ve decided on a selection of American style cookies.  I’ve made up large batches some of which can go into the freezer ready  for my first recreational afternoon at the club. We’ll need something to go with the tea and coffee.

I’ve also started on my Xmas cake. I like to soak the 2 kilos of dried fruit that I put into the cake for a couple of days in a mixture of rum, orange and lemon juice. Generally, I’m not a big fan of traditional UK Xmas food: disliking Xmas cake, Xmas pudding, turkey, sprouts, bread sauce, mince pies, brandy sauce and butter. You get the picture.

Our first Xmas in France, I decided to have one of my “once every eight years or so” family (mine) Xmas’s whereupon I needed to come up with a more acceptable (to me) Xmas cake. I decided to deconstruct the traditional recipe, eliminating the ingredients I don’t like and replacing them with ones I do. I came up with a recipe which makes a medium sized, square cake, choc full of lovely alcohol laden, dried fruit: prunes, dates, raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, apricots and figs. After it’s baked, I soak it weekly in rum for a further 6 weeks and then I cover it in home-made marzipan and soft royal icing. Now I’m not an aficionado of fruit cakes, but my sister Lynn is and she reckons it’s the world’s best Xmas cake. I’m prepared to accept her opinion and concede that it’s probably one of the world’s most expensive.