Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas time is here


... and hopefully the eurostar is running.....

Just a quick message before the last minute rush.

We are supposed to be going to London for Christmas.  I say supposed to be, as the eurostar has been running a very limited service due to all the snow we have had in France and England.  Not only has it affected the airports, but the trains have been hard hit as well.

As of this evening the website was saying we will travel, but then we have had more snow since that update.

Who knows what will happen.

What I do know is that whether we are in London or Paris we will have a lovely Christmas.  There is a good chance it will be a white Christmas, and that is something special for these little Aussies.

The boys are going to the cat sitter tomorrow, I will miss them enormously.  It will be a huge change for Eric who thinks he is so big and brave and fearless.  A real character.  He is growing at a great rate of knots and is becoming more and more acrobatic with each day.  Learning new tricks - when he wants to (he is a cat after all - not a goggie), and being so cute it is hard to punish him when he is naughty.  His latest trick is to bring me his stuffed toys whilst I am sleeping.  I wake up in the morning with a collection in bed with me.  Adores his stuffed skunk and lamb, carries them around the appartement and keeps them near him, and thinks his bilby is the perfect toy to bash up.  The Loch Ness monster he just washes and fusses over.  Plays fetch when he is in the mood and there is nothing better to do.

Guy is getting a bit muscular now.  All the playing chase around the appartement is doing him good.  Still a gorgeous snuggly boy though. 

It will be good to have a big house for them to play in.  I can imagine the games of chase up and down all the staircases...... and they will learn all about basking in front of an open fire.  Something which I am sure they will excell at.

No pics of decorations.  Due to having a teenaged kitten/cat and being about to move house, I have not done any lighting or decorations at all.  Must say I do miss the smell of pine boughs in the house. 

The pic above was taken by Wayne in Beaver Creek USA last winter.  Kind of appropriate for here this winter.

I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas with family and friends.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christkindelmarik, Strasbourg 2010


Just a quick post with an update on the trip to Strasbourg.....

Yes it did go ahead.  The TGV was running, albeit at a much slower speed than usual.

We had a fabulous day wandering around the city and exploring the little markets scattered throughout it.

Lunch was sauerkraut (for C.) and Civet de Biche (venison casserole, for me).  

The whole city smelt like Christmas.  Spicy, warm and enticing.

Lights and decorations abounded, and the whole city felt very welcome and a bit like Santa's grotto....

 More pics in the album to the left.

The angel picture is specially for two lovely friends.  Firstly to Joan.  Her Christmas angels are glorious affairs.  Hope you like the ones at the top of the post Joan.

 
 These ones are for Barbara.  Well wishes and hope you are not having too rough a time with chemo.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....


What a whirlwind the past month has been.  We have had many things to do and I have not been able to update via posts.

First news, in february we are moving house.  We will still be in France, but are moving to a different part of France.  Our new home will be in the Poitou-Charentes.  More on that as it happens.

As part of the move we have been making visits to find a new home, looking at the logistics of the move, researching what is required to furnish the new home, and also researching what type of car to buy (something which will be essential in the new city).  

At this stage I have done all I can, and now have to sit back and let things run their course.

Meanwhile, life is busy here with the wind up to Christmas and the party season.  I must thank all of you who sent birthday greetings.  It was really appreciated and I was touched that so many thought of me on this milestone birthday.

My plans for this week included a trip to Strasbourg to visit the Christmas markets.... as with all the best laid plans, there has been a slight glitch.  As in over 15cm of glitch called snow. (I gave up measuring at 15cm and went inside, but it continued to snow for a while longer so possibly it reached 20cm here on the hill).  I am monitoring the train website and we shall see if the trip goes ahead or not.

A simple trip to exchange my library books today turned into a 3 hour saga to get home.  Living on top of Butte Montmartre may be charming and picturesque.... but it means you get cut off by transport and cannot walk up the hill in the snow.  All good fun in the end though.  

I have added a new photo album to the sidebar and you can see some pics I took this afternoon when I finally made it home.  The cute puppy is called Pauline, and she was so excited to see snow.  It was the most adorable thing to watch her playing.  Pouncing at snowdrifts, biting at the flakes as they fell, and sneezing when she bit a huge pile of snow and it went up her nose.  Hope you enjoy seeing our quartier as much as I enjoyed taking the photos.

Oh, and yes, I did go out and have a good old fashioned snowball fight with everyone in the neighbourhood whilst taking the pics........ of course.




Saturday, 16 October 2010

Busy busy

Apologies for not having posted sooner.  Life has been rather hectic around here lately.

I have started back at school (studying french) and have been working as well.  With it all I am finding that I do not have enough hours in the day for everything that I need to do - let alone the things I want to do.

All will calm down in a week when I finish work and am on school holidays.  Then I will head to Germany and the Czech Republic for some geology.

Wayne is busy as usual with work and travel for said work.

The boys are gorgeous as ever.  Eric is growing at a rapid rate and is developing a funny little personality.  He is full of testosterone and learning to use his voice.  We are regularly serenaded by him howling in the hallway - where he gets the best accoustics of course - for no apparent reason than his own enjoyment at using his voice.  Guy is his usual gentle self.  He really is the most beautiful natured cat I have ever had the privilege of being owned by.  A few mischievious tricks just gives him character.

Anyway, no pics sorry.  You will have to wait till I transfer photos to picassa.... one of the changes that has happened by the designers - not me.  A real pain and unnecessary in my opinion.  Just more junk to download on the laptop.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Vikingeskibshallen

On our recent trip to the Arctic Circle, we saw some amazing things.  

After riding through North Eastern France and Belgium, we arrived in Germany.  We stopped for the day with friends and had the most wonderful lunch and then wandered around in the town of Bruggen.  A truely delightful day.

The next day we found ourselves in Denmark where we were to spend 3 days in total.  One of those days we had earmarked for visiting the Viking Museum in Roskilde.

It was fabulous!  They have five Viking boats on display which have been found in the grounds of the museum.  One of which you can see here.

There are also a lot of interactive exhibits in the grounds near the museum that encourage people to discover for themselves how the boats were built and many other things.

We minted our own Viking coins.  A unique experience, but a bit of fun, and we gained a nice souvenir each.  You could also paint your own shield and other activities.

One of the displays which had me fascinated was the armourer.  He was fashioning weapons and chainmail.  I could have watched it all day. 

There were a lot of reproductions of Viking equipment and accoutrements in the museum, which normally I do not like so much.  However, in this case it was very well done and "real" things made the replicas.  Real furs, wool, wood etc were used instead of faux fur, synthetics and laminated or particle woods.  


Housed alongside the museum was the marine archaeology unit.  Huge tanks of water held pieces recovered from underwater discoveries in the region, and there was an enormous tank filled with an acid solution holding a beautiful anchor.  I was very impressed at the interpretive displays and method of educating the public in this part of the museum.  An archaeologist was on duty to answer questions and talk visitors through what was happening with the pieces.  Too often important work like this is done behind closed doors and so a false impression is gained by people who view the restored artifacts in the museum proper.


In the grounds of the museum were planted trees and plants that the Vikings would have used in everyday life.  Everything was clearly labelled and you could easily see what each tree was used for and why.  Pretty and informative!  Of course I took many photos of the trees and plants and other "interesting to me" things.  Watch the letter box for examples on this years Christmas card.....

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Ooops

A short update.

I am home from holidays, and it was wonderful.

Swam, ate, relaxed, read, slept. The perfect break. Eating dinner on the terrace every night whilst enjoying a glass of local wine, and listening to the insects as dusk fell. Bliss

Unfortunately I have had a little oops and am not getting around very easily. Nothing broken, but I do have a cast on my ankle for the next few weeks, and have to rest and keep my foot up.... which makes sitting at the computer a little difficult.

Need to take lessons in relaxation from Picsous the cat who lives in l'Amiraute.
Will be back to dazzle you with photos as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Les Vacances

A quick post to say that I will be out of touch for the next week or so.

My summer holidays have not yet finished.

Tomorrow I head down south for a week (maybe more - depending on if my ticket can be changed) of sun and swimming with good friends.

There is no internet or mobile phone reception where I am going. Just miles and miles of forest and vineyards.

We will be swimming either in the pool or at the beach every day and barbequeing every night. Bliss!

I will miss my boys, but there are lots of furbabies in the hamlet to keep me occupied.... that is when I am not swimming of course.

A bit of sightseeing may take place, but it is not the priority. The priority is to relax and enjoy some time in the sun with my friends.
There will also be jam making from the grapes growing in the garden. Late at night if the temperature drops enough to turn on the stove.

See you when I return.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Summer sun versus summer rain


Thought I would share a few highlights from our trip.

The first week the weather was spectacular. Really hot and brilliant sunshine. It was perfect riding weather.

Each stop involved cold rehydration drinks and a shady spot. It was so nice to sit on lush green grass, under a tree, in the shade and enjoy a break.

Every living thing was rejoicing in the sun and warmth. Bees buzzed through the flowers, horses munched grass contentedly in the paddocks, birds sang in the trees.

In Denmark we ate dinner outside, and then returned to the same spot for breakfast the next day. It was impossible to miss a moment of the glorious warmth and sunshine.

Then came day 2 in Sweden......
It rained.

Not just gentle summer rain.

This was gale force freezing cold winds, rain that stung and felt icy cold, and temperatures that made us wish we had every item of clothing we owned on all at once.

This weather continued on and off for the rest of our trip....... thank goodness not all at once like the first day though.

We still made the pilgrimage to Ales Stenar. Walking along the path from the car park to the hill I was astounded at the number of people who were also making the visit. This site is so spectacular and so significant that no amount of bad weather was going to stop the visitors!

A picnic had been packed with the intention of eating somewhere along the cliff tops enjoying a sea view. It was so cold and rainy that we opted instead for a hot meal in the tiny restaurant at the bottom of the cliffs.

I personally am glad we had the change in meal. The fried mackerel that I ate with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce was superb! They had bar be qued the fish on a huge grill plate and it was cooked to perfection. I had never eaten lingonberry with fish, but am now a convert.

The Swedes have a saying "There is no such thing as bad weather.... only bad clothing and equipment". We came to appreciate this saying over the next 2 weeks...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

We made it!


It is with a great sense of accomplishment that I say we made it.

Six thousand odd kilometres on the bike in three weeks is nothing to sneeze at.

But we did it and had a ball while we did.

I must say a huge thank you to our friends along the way who gave us meals, and/or accommodation. It was lovely to see you in your homes and to spend time enjoying your part of the north.

Special thanks to one friend who crossed a border to come and have dinner with us. A hilarious night of fun and frivolity learning to play Viking games and drinking red wine. I still stick to the point that the boys were cheating though!!

We really needed 3 months to see and do everything along our way. I think we had a good "taste" though and it has left us wanting to go back and visit certain places.

Over the next few weeks I will post highlights from the trip with photos. This week I am catching up on correspondence, washing/shopping/cleaning gear and daily life.

Most of my time however will be dedicated to the boys. Eric is growing at an enormous rate and has changed from a kitten to a young cat in our absence. Guy is just his usual gorgeous self. I missed them terribly while away and was extremely grateful to the updates from our friends who babysat for us. Cannot thank them enough for moving in and looking after my furbabies for 3 weeks.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Day 16 - Last Day in Sweden

Here we are, still going strong and on the homeward stretch.

We reached the Arctic and had a great time.

Have seen, done, and eaten so much it is hard to comprehend.

Tomorrow morning we are on the ferry from Swedne to Denmark, then back through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and into France.

All is well and we look forward to being home with the furbabies by sunday night.

Will post - with photos - when home

Monday, 26 July 2010

Timmernabben Sweden - Day 7

Yet another quick update.

The Viking Museum in Roskilde was incredible! Well worth a visit.

Rode on from Denmark across the bridge into Sweden and spent 2 nights at Malmö with friends. Saw my first Viking Ship Grave, as well as other local sights in southern Sweden.

We spent last night (and will spend tonight as well) in Timmernabben in Sweden with friends. Visited Kalmar and also the island of Öland. Amazing things to tell you all at a later date. Fabulous food as well......

Tomorrow we head to Stockholm where we will visit the Vasa Museum.

All is going well. I saw my first moose - well the rear end of a moose anyway - in the pouring rain yesterday as we rode along the highway. There are so many moose in this area that they are a bit of a nuisance on the roads. So the solution was to put up high fencing along the road with crossing points for the moose.

Felt a reindeer pelt yesterday. It was the most plush and pretty pelt I have ever seen or felt. Wish we had room to bring one back with us. I imagine the furbabies would love a reindeer pelt to curl up on.

I highly recommend you look up this village on the internet. It is so charming and we have felt so relaxed and comfortable here. Reminds us a bit of some parts of Port Stephens.

That is all for now. Will update again in a few days depending on internet access.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Denmark.... day 4

Just a quick update to say we have reached Denmark.

Arrived last night to a lovely B&B in Majbølle. Definately wish we had a few days here as it is so beautiful and there are so many interesting things to see.

We had a lovely day in Germany also. Lunching with friends and spending time chatting.

On to Roskild today and will be visiting the Viking ship museum.

Then to Sweden......

Stay tuned for more updates

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Le Cercle de l'Arctique

St Tropez - where the hoards descend to each summer

So, it is *that* time of year again.

That time when most of Paris is empty, and the southern coastal regions are full.

That time when accomodation prices increase 100 fold, and the roads become a gigantic parking lot with no one going anywhere fast - or at all.

That time of sunny days (if you are lucky), almost blue skies and warm weather.

Yes, it's holiday time, or les vacances.

And what do we do....

We head north.

To the Arctic Circle.

You read correctly. The Arctic Circle. Home of the Sami, reindeer and mosquitoes. The place where the average temperature will be 10-20 degrees celcius, but sunny.

Side cases are packed, bike and riding gear checked and double checked. Cats in the care of good friends.

We leave in the morning and head to Liege, Belgium for the first night. Then on to Hannover (after lunch with friends in Germany). Night three is Guldborg in Denmark, followed by Roskild. The next night we are in Malmo, Sweden where we spend a few nights with friends, then Hultsfred, for a few nights with friends, and on to Stockholm.

After Stockholm we venture into the wilds of northern Sweden via the east coast, ending our trek at Jokkmokk which is inside the Arctic Circle. Officially part of Lappland.

The return trip follows a different route through the centre of Sweden, ferry to Denmark and then a slightly different route back through Germany and finally into France.

I will attempt to update the blog as we go, but it all depends if I can get internet access while away.

Photos will follow when we return in three weeks, so stay tuned for updates.

Bonnes vacances!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Eric le Roux


There is something I have been meaning to tell you. I have wanted to share this news for a month now, but have not been able to for various reasons.

We became furparents for the second time, and have welcomed into our lives a new little furbaby.

His name is Eric le Roux and he is simply the funniest, cutest, naughtiest, most gorgeous little chat rouge in the world. Not that I am biased or anything.....

I absolutely love ginger cats. Have wanted one all my life. Sac a puce was a good substitute when we lived in rue Lepic, but he was not ours.

We had been discussing adopting a brother for Guy la Griffe. He pines when I am not with him, and it had reached the point where he was losing huge amounts of weight each time I went away as he would just pine and mope and miss me too much. The theory was that maybe with a little brother he would have company and would not pine for me so badly.

Friends in the quartier told me that their brothers cat had kittens and was I interested in adopting one. When I found out it was a ginger there was no question.

We met the baby boy and he took to us straight away. A few weeks had to pass before he was ready to leave his mother, but when that time came I brought him home with great delight.

Guy loved him from the first minute and they have been inseparable ever since.

So our home has been filled with the sounds of cats rumbling and wrestling, the pitter patter of tiny (and not so tiny) feet across the parquet, and plenty of purring. There is even less room in the bed for me as Eric loves to snuggle too.

The past few weeks has been an absolute delight watching the two boys interact, Eric growing at a rapid rate, and learning new things day by day. He can now jump to any height and climbs fearlessly to the top of the wardrobe. If Guy is eating, Eric is right beside him eating as well. When Guy naps, Eric naps. If Guy uses the litter tray.... well, you get the message.

I am looking forward to many happy years with my two furbabies and to many lovely photos as well.

Before I forget... Eric le Roux means Eric the Red. He is named after a King of the Vikings. It is also a play on words as it sounds like Eric the rascal.... kind of appropriate really.
Daddy bought us a very flash climbing castle. We love it soooo much!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Food Glorious Food

Finally, the long awaited and eagerly anticipated post on my food experiences in Southport.

I would like to start with the cream of the crop. The Dining Rooms on West Street, part of the Alexandra and Victoria Hotel.

What a treat this meal was!

Perfect in every way.

They offer a selection of menus and formules and I chose the one that appealed most to my tastebuds. I (and they) were not disappointed.

I was really impressed by the fact that they serve tap water in the restaurant, and not bottles of outrageously priced and un-necessary commercially bottled water. An onsite water filter ensures that the water tastes and smells good and it does not add to the cost for the restaurant or the customer. Pity more places do not follow this idea.

Firstly, an amuse bouche of vegetable soup was offered in an espresso cup. Delicious and well balanced, it made you wish all vegetable soups could be exactly like it.

I had chosen a glass of J. Moreau & fils select blanc to drink with my meal and was very happy to find that it stood up to everything I chose without competing.



The entree was a roll of delicious fresh ingredients, lightly fried
and served with a tasty and mildly piquant salsa and crisp salad.








A risotto was the dish I had chosen for my plat. It was incredible. Bursting with full flavoured pumpkin, zesty and herby, and with a creamy cheesy finish. The balsamic reduction on the side was perfect for dipping the occasional mouthful into for a change of pace.

I could have had another serving of this quite easily.... except then I would not have been able to eat my cheeseplate. Sigh, decisions, decisions.


The cheeseplate was very good. I had requested that it not have the fruit which the menu stated it came with. Call me picky, but I prefer my cheese unadulterated. A nice bit of salad and some good crusty bread or crackers is all you need.

The blue stilton was delicious - as ever. The smoked cheddar so good it disappeared before the photo was taken. Unfortunately the double glouster was ruined in my opinion by the fact that it had chives through it..... but that is just my opinion. The taste and texture of the cheese was great otherwise.

I can hear a few of you giggling and pointing to the whiskey glass..... yes, I did enjoy a glass of the amber nectar with my cheese. My one weakness is a dram of really really good whiskey (I will go Irish or Scottish depending on the mood). I don't drink it often, but when I do I go for the best I can find and savour every drop.

No dessert. I prefer savoury to sweet so am quite often not interested in the dessert menu.

I must say that if you do find yourself in Southport you must make time to check out this place. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable about their products, the prices were very good and the quality exceptional.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Apologies for being out of touch. The past few weeks have been a nightmare.

Back on board now and ready to tell you more of our adventures. There will also be the long awaited post on the restaurants in Southport. It is worth the wait - trust me.

On a lighter note..... you know you have a cheeky podiatrist when he does some work on your toe, puts a very neat dressing on it........ then draws on a smiley face....lol

He thought he was very clever, but I get the last laugh as I warned him I would post the picture and tell everyone the drawing was his handywork! At least it was someone else graffiti-ing me instead of Wayne.... that is his usual trick, as most of you are aware.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Printemps


Spring has well and truely sprung around here.

We have so many trees and plants blossoming that it has become a hayfever sufferer's nightmare.

It looks so beautiful though. The new growth is fresh and tender and green, and full of the promise of a cool shady resting place for the following summer.

I say break out the antihistamines and enjoy it while it lasts!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fun in the Sun

What more could you want?

Sun, sea and archaeology. A perfect mix.

The IfA conference was held in Southport this year. A place I had never visited before, but was curious to see.

It did not disappoint. A melange of tacky seaside carnival, a high street to rival any other, majestic Victorian architecture, and excellent restaurants. With an enormous statue of good old Vicky presiding over all.

She is always portrayed as old and grumpy, but her young married life was full of sex, lust and joie de vivre. Never fails to amuse me that this most prudish era was named after a girl who was "hot to trot" - although it must be added that this was only within the confines of marriage and she was totally faithful to her Albert.

Enough of that.

I will write a separate post on the food and restaurants, but let me say now that it was a good food trip. A brief teaser..... I did eat fish and chips and mushy peas. Obligatory really, but that will not be the highlight.

The weather was glorious and it was a joy to walk around exploring in brilliant sunshine.

Of course I shopped a little..... ok, a lot.

I went over with an A4 list of things I needed to buy for both of us. Managed to get all of the list barr one item. Pretty good going I thought. I was especially pleased with my cashmere cardigan reduced from 175pounds to 20 pounds. My Mum taught me well.

To business.

The speakers at the conference were great. The problem was deciding which ones to attend! I was disappointed that one of my favourite speakers was only given 20 minutes to talk. She is so entertaining and interesting that you go away wanting more. I did make a point of requesting a longer session next time though.

We attended a formal dinner on the first night. Met some really interesting people and had a delicious meal (warmed goat cheese with salad for entree, herb crusted rack of lamb with veg for plat and pavlova with strawberries for dessert). One of the best formal dinners I have attended.

The informal dinner and party the next night was not so good unfortunately. The meal was a bit disappointing and everyone seemed to disappear to the pub immediately after eating. So no dancing or mingling. Luckily I was at a table with good company and we sat and chatted for a while till the (really!) bad disco music drove us away.

Friday we had an excursion to the beach...... but you will have to watch this space for more on that!

Lastly, you would not believe the fabulous little shop I discovered just off Lord Street. It was a magical place of rocks, fossils and books. More and varied collections you have never seen before. I could quite happily have moved in and never left.

I spent probably about the better part of an hour chatting with the owner and admiring the wonderful selection on his shelves.

No, I did not buy any books. By this stage my suitcase was nearing dangerously overloaded.... sigh. Of course this just means that I have to visit another time to explore the titles on the 3 floors (yes 3 whole floors!!!!) of books.

Simply heaven.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Spectacular!


This is one of the most fabulous photos of a volcano erupting that you will ever see.

It comes from the site Astronomy Picture of The Day.

The cause of all the flight disruptions in its full glory. I really can't be angry or annoyed at being inconvenienced. This is so spectacular, and scientists are learning so much from this eruption, that you can only be in awe of the power and force behind this image.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Back on board


I know, it has been longer than anticipated since I last posted..... apologies.

After having to stay in the UK due to the airline closures I have finally arrived back home via eurostar.

I am exhausted and trying to catch up on everything, so remain patient and I will post in a few days time.

The pic above is from the beach near Southport where we went looking at prehistoric footprints at the lowtide mark. Fascinating!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fly away with me.....


Well, just a quick post to say that I am off to an archaeology conference for the next week in England.

Not sure if I will be able to post on the run, so will leave you with this lovely picture of a magnolia tree that I spotted near Parc Monceau. Not only was the tree beautiful, but it was in front of a lovely brick and stone building. Just looked perfect together.

Have a good week.
A bit blurry, and too bright... but not bad for an iphone camera.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sac a Puce


Isn't he gorgeous!

This fiery ginger puss used to live next door to us in our other appartement. It was on the ground floor and so the cat would just invite itself in through the windows and make itself at home.

Well, it is a cat, so of course it does what it wants.

We didn't know its name, so we named it Sac a Puce, which means fleabag. The first few times it came to see us it was smothered in fleas and starving hungry. Its owners had gone away for the summer and pushed the cat out the window to fend for itself whilst they were away.

I know. Don't even get me started! Deep breathing, calm counting..... and continue

I deflea-ed the cat and fed it, and of course, it decided to move in with us whilst we lived on rue Lepic. No objection from us as it was such a funny little character and very vocal. It used to follow me around the corner when I went out, howling that I was leaving it. When I came home it would be sitting at the corner building and would follow me back home.... once again howling all the way. He learnt to put his front paws on the front door and help me push it open, to curl up on my feet and purr (a good way of guaranteeing that I would not move and he could cuddle for a while), and to be as cute as possible at every opportunity ensuring that everyone thought he was wonderful. His conversational skills were always at the ready and the slightest noise or movement would have him sitting up and ready for a meowing chat.

He kept me company during the day and developed a rather refined palate. His favourites were jambon blanc from Madame Langlois, and Scottish smoked salmon. An egg whipped up with a dash of creme fraisch was also a nice meal, alongside croquettes and the occasional morsel of steak or chicken.

One night in winter it was snowing rather heavily and all our windows and shutters were closed. The cat had gone out earlier and I thought maybe gone to visit it's owners. Wrong. At 3am we awoke to the most horrendous howling noises coming from our buildings foyer (alongside our bedroom wall) and when Wayne put his head out to investigate, there was sac a puce all wet and bedraggled.

You see he knew how to get into our appartement through the front door as well as the windows. Someone had obviously come home in the early hours and he had slipped in the front door with them - but was not quick enough to get through the second glass door into the building proper. Hence the howls for us to save him.

Once rescued and brought inside he proceeded to wiggle in between Wayne and I in bed and stick his frozen paws on us to warm them. Horrible. We felt so sorry for him that we didn't kick him out, and from that night onwards he would try to sleep with us. Needless to say I kept up the flea treatments and worm treatments because of this.

For the first year after we moved to our new place, every time I walked past the old one he would see me and meow out this pathetic story about how I had abandoned him and would I please take him inside and feed him now. All the while trying to get me to open the door of the building.

Even now I still get told an extraordinary tale of woe every time I see him, and am nearly smooged to within an inch of my life. The affection is mutual.

I felt so guilty when we moved..

We had talked ourselves hoarse trying to decide whether to take him with us when we went. The only reason we didn't is that he really didn't belong to us and it wouldn't have been morally right to steal him. I felt terrible and worried about sac a puce constantly.

Now we have our own furbaby and I wouldn't be without him..... but it would be nice to have a fur brother or sister for Guy one day.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Delectable Delights

There is a new cake shop on rue Lepic..... and it is a feast for the eyes - let alone the tastebuds!

They specialise in cheesecakes (unbaked) and cupcakes, as well as custom made decorated cakes.

The cheesecakes all sound delicious. Flavours like key lime, raspberry and white choc, speculoos (my weakness - dammit), salted butter caramel. The list goes on and on. Each more mouthwatering than the last.

The cupcakes come in similar types of flavours and they are all so beautiful it seems almost a shame to eat them..... almost.

What I love is their window display. They have this huge multi layer chocolate cake decorated with outsize sugar paste flowers in vibrant colours. Incredible. I only had my iphone with me, so the photo quality is not the best. Will go back and take proper photos at a later date.

The handbag cake is gorgeous. Wayne thought it was a real handbag. It actually has a pearlescent effect painted all over the surface which did not come out in the photos. What looks like the chocolate blooming is actually the edible paint. Every bit of it is edible, but it is such a work of art that you would have to force yourself to cut it up.

Confession time.......... I actually had a slice of their key lime cheesecake. Divine!

I am too scared to try their speculoos or salted butter caramel delicacies as, if they are good, I know I will be unable to stay away from them.

The staff are so nice and are very willing to let you ask questions and take ages to decide on what you will eventually take away with you. Apparently they do a lunch menu with quiche or salad and a cake (cheese or cupcake) and a drink...... but lets be honest here, this is one place where I think you can safely skip the healthy part of the meal and go straight for dessert. I know I did!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Le Metro

The Paris metro is generally quick, convenient and easy to use. The downside is that frequently it stinks and is dirty, and seems to be full of beggars.

I hate being hit up for money etc on the metro. The beggars really make me angry. Especially considering we live in a socialist country and they have access to anything they want when they want it. I really hate that they are begging, but manage to wear better brands of clothing than I can ever afford.

When you get them busking on the metro generally they are not so good. Too loud, and they all seem to play the same tunes. I get angry also that they have their children with them in the hope of squeezing that extra few centimes out of people.

I have nothing against charity. As all of you know I have always actively supported charities and perform charity work whenever I can. I just prefer for the people to be in actual need and to not be begging wearing nike trainers, or levi jeans, etc etc and to reek of cigarette smoke.

Rant over.

However, occasionally you see some really hot buskers (or should that be cool?) in the metro. This was the case on friday when a group of students from the music conservatory were practising in the passageways of the metro at Charles de Gaulle Etoile.

They were not asking for money, they were simply playing to gain audience experience and to have fun.

The atmosphere was electric, and the usual annoyance at an obstacle that the commuters would normally show did not exist. In fact people actually slowed down and stopped to listen and watch for a minute or two before walking off with smiles on their faces.

A fabulous diversion after a hectic and stressful week.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ets Lion

This would have to be one of my favourite shops in Paris. Right near the metro Abbesses on rue des Abbesses.

It is a small and cute place which sells all sorts of sweet and savoury treats, plants, candles.... the list goes on and on.

A lot of the little gifts I send away, or take with me when visiting, come from this shop.

The staff are lovely and the atmosphere is magical.

It is like being a child again and finding an Aladin's cave of delectable delights.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Homemade Part 3

OK, so we have been making yoghurt and learning how to turn it into thick yoghurt.
The final steps involve simply emptying the whey that collects at the bottom of the bowl.

Emptying more whey, wait a few hours and empty more whey. Continue till yoghurt is as thick as you like it.

Eventually you will see a "crust" forming around the sides of the strainer. You can move some of that into the centre of the strainer to allow it all to drain more quickly.... or just leave it alone and let it do its thing.



Then decant into jars when happy with texture.

Very simple, just a little time consuming.

Oh, and by the way.... don't put anything stinky into the fridge while doing this (ie cheese, olives, fish, garlic etc etc) as the yoghurt will just slurp up all the smell and you will have a very interesting end product!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Homemade Part 2

I have had a few enquiries about the yoghurt I have been making. The general gist has been that people find it too thin.

You have my total agreement with that.

The way to turn it into thick yoghurt is so simple it is almost wrong.

When you have made the yoghurt and it has rested at least overnight in the fridge......
You take a clean strainer and line it with a sheet of thick paper towel (you could use muslin or proper cheesecloth if you like).

Place the lined strainer over a deep bowl and pour the yoghurt slowly into the lined strainer.



Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in a cool spot, or in the fridge.

Every hour drain the whey. You can drink this, or tip it down the sink. Personally it resembles egg whites too much for me to drink..... slimey and gooey.... yuck!

After a few hours you will see that the sides are set and the middle liquid. At this stage you can scrape the set yoghurt from the side and allow the more liquid yoghurt to flow to the sides - or you can just leave it alone and let it do its thing.

When you think it has reached the right consistency for your taste, you can decant into small jars, or back into the large jar.

This method leaves you with about half to a third of the volume of the original jar of yoghurt.

I will update with pics as the stages progress. Keep checking in for each stage.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Sad Post


I have some sad news to report.

Our good friends in Sydney lost a member of the family.

I have been too "teary" to write about it before now. Every time I started writing I had to stop. It seems like yesterday that I was there and she seemed so much more calm and placid and healthy. Unfortunately, this was far from the truth.

These friends have hearts bigger than all of Australia. Ripley was a lovely puppy, but she had major health problems. They didn't care, they just loved her and cared for her better than anyone else could have ever done.

Unfortunately Rips life was cut short a week ago. After a horrible episode she had to put to sleep. A terrible shame, but a necessity.

I just know that if there is a doggy heaven, that Ripley is up there running free with Smeagol and is a happy care free puppy for ever.

Our animals really do become family members and it is heartbreaking when they go.

Monday, 8 March 2010

On the go


This week is going to be busy busy busy.

It is amazing when you step back and look at what you have planned in a specific time frame. Somehow it does not seem like there are that many hours in a week. I need to make time for homework in there somewhere and a bit of revision.

The cat is not going to be happy that I am out most of this week. He thinks that the world revolves around him and that I should be at home worshipping him.

I am looking forward to the weekend. Hopefully it will be as relaxing and nice as last weekend was. Dinner out, a visit to the movies, a wander in the sunshine with my love (the two legged one - not the four legged and furry one). Time spent together, which is a luxury for us.

One thing I will be doing this week is taking time to smell the roses.... or any flower that presents itself. Like this lovely hellebore that was growing in a friend's garden. So cool and elegant. Nodding its head in the wind with carefree nonchalance, as if to say "you can batter me with your power, but I will survive".

I took the photo with my iphone, but wish I had my proper camera with me as it would have been lovely to capture its translucent petals and vibrant yellow stamen with better equipment.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Sunshine


Well, spring has arrived. And with it the last of the cold weather.

Just when the bulbs are making a brave effort to show their faces and dazzle us with colour in our monochrome winter existance.

The sun is very welcome, even though it has meant very cold nights and cold days. Everyone complains about Paris being grey and cloudy all the time, but at least the clouds do keep a bit of the heat down near the ground.

Time has been flying by as if it had wings. In the past week I have a new mobile phone (and new number) and have been learning all about "apps" that I can put on it. Just because I could, the photo of the crocus was taken on my iphone. Not the best photo in existance, but it was so pretty and just begged to be photographed. Now of course, I have discovered the photo apps and things are going to get a lot more interesting...... stay tuned.

Speaking of flowers and growing things. I had a great day of gardening with a friend last wednesday. We hacked into an overgrown and tangled mess of dead honeysuckle, ivy and climbing rose. Now there is air and light and the possibility of flowers from the rose. Flowers which have not been seen for a long time as it was gradually choking to death amongst the mess.

Whilst we worked - and sweated - my friends cat sunbaked and supervised from a sheltered spot.

Oh to be a cat......

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Spring has (almost) Sprung!

What a week. It has flown by as if it had wings.

Much like the birds which are starting to make themselves known around the quartier.

The jasmine plant on our bedroom windowsill has put forth new shoots and is looking vibrant and vigorous.

The crocus bulbs which are pushing through the grass in the house opposite, and the earth of our window boxes, all tell me that spring is almost here.

No budlets for leaves on the trees yet, but you can just feel that they are not too far away.

We have averaged 10C each day this week. Almost a heatwave! The only worry is that we will have a late snowfall or the temp will drop very low, very quickly, and all the signs of spring will be killed by frost.

Even if we do get a killer frost, I will still have spring inside. I have two hyacinth bulbs being forced on (hopefully a pink and a purple) and they both have lovely strong flower stalks with tightly furled buds at present. Another few days and it will look and smell divine and springlike chez Pitt.

Stay tuned for pictures as spring shows its face more clearly.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Lapin, not so agile

A bit of an in joke for les Montmartoise. There is a cabaret called Le Lapin Agile (the agile rabbit). We nicknamed this dish the rabbit not so agile.

We are still experiencing winter weather. The sky has been valiantly trying to be blue and rays of pale wintery sunshine have been forcing their way between the clouds. But it is still coat and scarf and hat and gloves weather.

This morning we felt like having a casserole for dinner. The choices were beef and carrots or rabbit in red wine. We called our neighbours (and good friends) and asked if they felt like joining us for an early dinner. They jumped at the opportunity and given the options they selected rabbit.

So rabbit it was.

A few hours later the appartment smelt divine and our mouths were watering.

Such a simple dish, but so delicious. Exactly what we all needed on a cold winters day.

I did not make an entree, nor did I serve a cheese course. We simply gorged ourselves on rabbit casserole with green veg and then finished with a peach tart. Simple, honest, hearty faire. A bottle of a very unusual rose was drunk with the meal. It is called Fat Bastard, and is a collaberation between a French winemaker and a British wine industry rebel. Produced in France by the Fat Bastard Wine Company. We all agreed it was a perfect winter rose. Rich, round and so flavourful. One to watch out for in future.

Lapin "not so" Agile
1 rabbit cut into pieces (the majority of the pieces deboned)
250g lardons or streaky bacon cut into small strips
1 small onion diced very finely
1 clove garlic minced
good splash of red wine (I used half a bottle of a haut medoc)
parsley
thyme
500g carrots peeled and diced (or sliced, depending on your mood)
500g small potatoes (I used pommes de terre grenaille)
500g peas
water
500mls heavy stock (ie a robust flavour like veal, beef etc - not chicken or vegetable)

Place onion and garlic in base of heavy casserole (I use a vintage le creuset)
Arrange rabbit pieces in one layer on top of aromatics. Top with lardons or bacon.
Pour in as much red wine as you like - up to half a bottle.

Let sit for a few minutes so the rabbit can slowly drink in the wine and relax. Have a glass yourself. After all you should only cook with good quality wines that you would like to drink.

Add as much water and stock as you need to cover the rabbit completely.
Cover and place in oven for an hour or so at 165C.
After hour or so, remove from oven and turn meat. Make sure if it has stuck a little on the bottom that you scrape up all the goodies so they melt into the sauce.
Add vegetables.
Add rest of stock and water to cover vegetables completely.
Place back in oven for at least 2 hours. The meat should be falling apart and looking like shreds of rabbit.

The longer you leave it the better. Check occasionally that there is still plenty of liquid in dish.

Nutty Greens
4 (or so) zucchini sliced into rondelles
10 (or so) asparagus spears cut into 2cm lengths
olive oil
roughly crushed hazelnuts
1 clove garlic minced

Cook veg and garlic till soft but not mushy.
Add nuts and olive oil and mix till a sort of lumpy puree.

Serve piping hot as side dish.

Can also be pureed and served on crostini or toasted bread or as a sauce for pasta.

Tarte au Peche
1 sheet of puff pastry (pate brisee)
1 huge tin of peach halves, drained
1 tin coconut milk
3 tablespoons custard powder (yes, I know - cheating)
2 tablespoons sugar

Make custard using coconut milk, powder and sugar. Cool slightly.
Place pastry in tart or pie plate and mould into edges. Trim if necessary.
Arrange peaches on base of pastry lined dish.
Pour custard mix over peaches till amost at top of pastry edge.
Bake at 180C till custard is set at edges and pastry is golden.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of brown sugar.

Return to oven and cook further 5 mins at 210C till sugar caramelises.

Allow to cool to room temperature and then serve with fresh cream and sprinkled with raw (unsalted) pistachios.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Angleterre enfin!

I am a bit late with this post. Had intended on posting first thing monday morning.... but life the universe and everything conspired against me getting any computer work done.

We had a fabulous time in England, although it was a bit dubious whether we would make it or not. The Eurostar basically fails when it snows or there is ice. You would think that in a cold climate they would know that the train would come in contact with these things and manufacture equipment that stands up to the weather. Sensible non? Well, it seems that sense and public transport are polar opposites.

Prepare for start of rant.....

I was supposed to be on the first Eurostar of the day leaving Paris. When I woke at 5am there was a thick coating of snow outside. Pas de problem. I called a taxi. "Sorry we cannot access your area this morning due to the snow". Ok, mild anxiety. Try another company. And try again and again for 40 minutes, until finally a taxi agrees to drive almost to our street to pick me up. Try to take suitcase downstairs and up (yes - uphill) to the nearest cross street quietly.... whilst trying to remain upright and not end up with a bruise imprint of the cobblestones on my backside. Sigh.

Anyway, taxi finally arrives, get to the train terminal a few minutes before departure and race through security etc. Jump on the train and before I can find my seat the doors close. A very close call.

Then the train sat there for 30 minutes without moving whilst they removed snow from the engine carriage.......

A very very slow trip to Calais where we once again sat whilst they de-snowed and iced the engine carriages. Then a slow trip through the tunnel and a slow trip to London. A 2 and a half hour trip turned into 5 and a half hours. One ray of sunshine is that we were all offered free Eurostar tickets to be used anytime within the next year. You know I will be taking them up on that offer!

End of rant, back to lovely trip.

I had 2 glorious though very short days with a girlfriend who I haven't seen since last september. If only I could have slowed time down so we could have fitted more in. At least I know that with my free ticket I can go and visit again soon without breaking the budget.

After 2 days in Surrey I went back to London to visit with the outlaws - oops I mean inlaws. Wayne joined me there and we had 2 days of eating, drinking and general merriment. One of the highlights was dinner on saturday night (which was our wedding anniversary coincidentally).

My SIL cooked a fabulous meal, followed by delicious British cheeses with water biscuits. Then the piece de resistance - dessert made by the youngest niece. A truely scrumptious confection of puff pastry, caramel and apples, served with vanilla ice cream and real english cream. Delicious! As you can see, plates were scraped clean and quite quickly too!








As always, we came home with suitcases filled with goodies. A shopping trip to Boots, Primark, Holland and Barrett and M&S is compulsary. All sorts of goodies found their way into our bags till they were full to bursting point.

Tonight it is cumberland sausages and mashed potatoes with gravy and peas. There are Scottish fishcakes tucked away for later in the week, and all sorts of other tasty treats just waiting to tempt our tastebuds. You just know that regimes and sensible eating are out the window whilst we have these goodies in the house!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Midweek Musings

Here it is, wednesday again.

We have had so much snow today and yesterday. No photos of the snow as I have not perfected the art of photographing it yet. But I have certainly had a lot of practice today!

I love it when it snows. The whole world goes quiet and seems to hold its breath, as if waiting for something. Everything looks beautiful, gilded with a lacy trim of fresh snow, like icing sugar dusted over a cake. It blurs the edges and brings a new perspective to the world.

It was snowing so heavily this morning that I could not see the park across the road. Guy was fascinated. He sat on the dining table (yes, I know - cat bum on dining table - but let's not get into his bad habits today. sigh) and gazed at the flakes drifting past the window. Some of them were as big as a 2 euro piece!!

I waited till after lunch to head out to the shops thinking the snow may ease up or stop. Which it did.... till I set foot outside the door when it came down heavily again.....

Even though being hit in the eyeballs by snowflakes is right down near the bottom of my "list of things I enjoy", it was magical to walk through the snow and watch my jacket turn from black to white.

A father and teenage son started an impromptu snowball fight, which soon had everybody taking sides and commenting. A lot of fun. Amazing how that white stuff turns even grown ups into giggling children. Everyone walked off with smiles on their faces, something you don't see often in Paris.

Arriving home very chilled, with numb fingers and toes I craved something hearty and hot for dinner tonight. So we are having boeuf au carrottes with pomme de terre ratte. (beef and carrots with "ratte" variety potatoes). Being me, it is not the authentic version that takes all day to make. I always "adjust" recipes. There is no salt in this recipe. This is deliberate. If you add salt it will make the meat tough. There is also so much flavour that you will not miss the salt. If you must have it, add a sprinkle of fleur de sel when serving.

Enjoy your casserole and I will be back on monday. I am now off to England for a few days of fun with friends and family. Can't wait!

Boeuf au Carrottes a la Debbie
1kg good stewing steak, trimmed and cut into chunks
approx half bottle nice red wine (I am using a bourdeaux tonight)
good sprinkle of parsley, pepper, any other herbs you feel like 1bunch of thyme chopped
1 small onion chopped very fine
1 clove garlic chopped very fine
2 stalks of celery chopped finely
1 teaspoon of grainy mustard
1 tablespoon of redcurrant jelly
1/2 teaspoon vegemite

Put everything in a large casserole dish and stir to combine. Cover and place in slow oven.

After 30 mins add 1kg carrots chopped into rough chunks. Stir and cover again.

Now and then check that it is cooking well and stir. You may like to add stock or gravy granules for a richer or thicker gravy, or to leave the lid off for half an hour to reduce the gravy. Each batch is different and may need "tweaking" in a different way.

Cook in a slow oven for as many hours as you can leave it before being driven insane by the aroma

Steam/boil/microwave the potatoes till cooked. Drain any liquid and add fresh butter and fresh parsley.

Serve generous portions of the casserole in a shallow bowl. Don't forget to add potatoes to the bowl! Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley and/or thyme over everything. Dunk pieces of crusty bread into the juices and enjoy it all with a glass of whatever wine you used in the dish.... or a lovely bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape..... even better!

NOTES:
I do not use measurements very often... sorry. After checking my oven temp it is on 180C and I will turn it down to about 165C after the carrots go in.
I think dumplings would go fabulously in this. You may need to add some stock or water to the casserole though so it isn't too dry after the dumplings cook.
If you can't get fresh herbs, dried is ok. I tend to beg or buy fresh herbs when in season and freeze them for later use when they are not available.
The vegemite can be replaced with any flavourful stock cube/powder/liquid. It really just gives it a lovely colour and boosts the flavour.

Monday, 8 February 2010

M for Mechant

I know. No need to write in and tell me.

I am going to be one of those crazy cat ladies in my twilight years.

You know the ones that talk to their cat as if it is real, generally have more than one cat, feed them on delicacies yet don't have the money to pay the utilities, groom them and ensure they are magnificant looking but don't brush their own hair very often, look a bit like a cross between Brigitte Bardot in her current faze and my Great Aunt Noela (ie very curvacaous, but with the "witchy poo" hair and make up that BB seems to have adopted. What is it with that?!?). I just hope I don't suffocate them in my bosom like Aunty Noela used to do to animals..... and children. The nightmares I think we all suffered as a result of that!

Now that we have that out in the open, allow me to share another photo of my furbaby.

Yes I am besotted with him. Yes I do carry photos of him around in my handbag.

I must add that I also carry photos of the nieces, nephews, great niece and great nephew, godchildren etc. Just getting that on record before condemned to early crazy cat lady status.

OK, I do have adoption papers and am known as the "Maman de Guy la Griffe" at the vets... but that is just coincidental. I promise.

He is so adorable, but so so naughty. Like most cats that are Bengal origin he has an M in dark fur on his forehead ( a lot of tabbies have this also, which is where I think the Bengal gets it from). In french, the word "mechant" means naughty (it can also mean spiteful or vicious - but he is neither of those).

We joke that he was branded from birth and is just following the dictates laid down on his fur. Which is a bit worrying as he has a cobra pattern above the M......

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Midweek Musings


Well, here I am on another grey winters day. The sun is trying desperately to show its face, but without a great deal of success.

It has been a tough week.

A contre temps with certain members of the club saw me begin the week in a less than optimal mood. Then another run in on wednesday almost finished my connection with the club forever. I do not know why people have to be so sneaky, nasty and underhand. Or why they have to take out their insecurities and negativity on others.

Wayne has been away for most of January and I am feeling a little jaded with dinners alone every night and not being able to talk and to generally living separate lives. It seems I only see him for long enough to repack a suitcase and then spend the next week catching up on washing whilst he travels.

After a good long chat with a friend and her cat over many cups of tea and biscuits (who needs a regime at a time like this? Emotional crisis demand comfort food!) I feel a lot better. Going to the movies with another good friend helped also. Nothing like a good laugh to make you feel better.

....ok, maybe a good laugh and lots of cups of tea.....

I am very grateful to have such good friends this week.

p.s. the photo was taken at an archaeological conference last february. We were served afternoon tea in the tiny local church of a lovely village called Caerwent in Wales before visiting the fabulous Roman ruins that lie under and around the present village. The women of the village brought their own tea sets so they had enough cups and saucers to cater for our group.