Sunday, September 5, 2010

What I miss about London

It was with great sadness that we said farewell to London earlier this year, at least in so far as we no longer have our own 'spot' there - just very fond memories of several years living in this vibrant and exciting city. Some of my favourite London things are those which are not well known to visitors - these are mostly around West London.

The Thames and its various inhabitants......

The magnificent Chiswick House with the very impressive rejuvenation of the grounds still work in progress.....

Allotments - where flat dwelling gardeners can grow their own - fruit, flowers, and vegs. This was ours for a short while, and we are so happy to have left it in such good hands......

Richmond Park - an everchanging oasis in which one can spread out a bit!

What about two tiered bicycle parking at Liverpool Street station?

And food........ from farmers' markets.... to barrows..... to 'ready to eat' everything...... including 'proper' hamburgers with beetroot - or whatever else you choose.......

As ever doors are a favourite - here are some of the gems near the river at Strand on the Green...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zucchini Flowers - or how not to have to eat zucchini all summer!

Have you ever grown zucchini - or courgettes as they are known in this part of the world?

If so I am sure you would know that it is the most productive plant of them all....

You will have had the experience of watching tiny little fruit develop into gigantic great marrows in the time it takes to say jack robinson! And from initial excitement at the first signs of developing fruit - the realisation of your dream of tender sweet veggies - to the dawning that you now have an overwhelming surplus of giant marrows - and there is absolutely no way that it can be dealt with! And everyone you know is in the same boat.............

Every mode possible is brought to bear to try to maintain consumption to the maximum - zucchini is eaten cooked, raw,
given away, made into pickles and relishes, and so it goes on.

In our house zucchini bake was a popular way of diminishing the pile - it was a frittata style dish made with lots of eggs and cheese, and mountains of grated zucchini. Another was ratatouille - wonderful with the fresh tomatoes which are so tasty at the same time of year. Zucchini were steamed, boiled, baked, fried, included in stir fries, lightly steamed with onions, garlic and butter, piled in flans to become zucchini quiche, grated to make into cakes and tea cakes, and so the list went on.

There was no doubt that by the end of summer everyone was heartily sick to death of eating zucchini, regardless of how it was disguised!

Of course there is a solution to this glut, and the trick I have discovered is to eat the flowers before they produce the fruit - or at least keep them in balance!

We no longer have space to grow our own, but we are able to save others from the zucchini glut! The nearby Italian markets have great crates of zucchini flowers in summer - for about €1.50 one can buy a bunch of about 10 male flowers with long stalks. Or one can purchase very small fruit with the flowers still attached.

The flowers need to be brushed lightly or gently wiped with a damp cloth to remove any debris.

The petals and baby fruit can be torn/finely sliced and added to a salad. One of my favourites is to add the flowers to a very thin omelette which is allowed to 'set' rather than be folded. Gently press the flattened flower into the beaten egg preparation in the pan - it looks quite exotic and tastes yummy! This is also really good made with pumpkin flowers.

My very special favourite is to remove the stamen and stuff each flower with a mix of garlic, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, salt and pepper. Add to this mix whatever other seasonings you like - chives, dill, parsley, chervil, basil, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes, chopped green onions, a touch of chili - all are delish and the only limit is your imagination! Use a plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe the mix into the flower, twist the top of the flower to secure the filling and set the flowers aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them.

Prepare some light batter - my most successful recipe uses 3/4 cup flour (I use a mix of rice, plain and maize to minimise wheat content), a pinch of salt and 1 cup of cold soda water. Mix it together ( it froths a bit which is quite ok) - and let it rest until you are ready to use it.

Heat peanut or other vegetable oil until very hot, gently cover each flower with the batter and fry until crisp and delicious! The inside is rich and creamy while the thin batter coating is crisp and piping hot - eat immediately!

(For an excellent tutorial with stunning step by step photos have a look at taste buddies -

For a "no fry and less dairy" version of stuffed zucchini flowers, make a mix of finely chopped onion and garlic (lightly fried until soft), grated zucchini, salt, pepper, chopped basil, parsley, and tomato with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and some olive oil. Stuff the flowers after removing the stamen. Place the flowers on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, add a couple of tablespoons of water or white wine to the tray and bake in a moderate oven until soft - about 10 minutes. YUM....... and bon app├ętit!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

5th August - Roquebrune's Historic Commemoration

" Cabbe-Roquebrune is a medieval cluster of houses presided over by the ruined castles of the Lascaris," says a letter from Nice in the London Times, "and it gives a spot of human interest in that lovely prospect, swimming in light and colors, that the indolent look up to from the terraces of Monte Carlo or the promenades of Mentone, and the enterprising attain to.

It has every appearance of having slipped part way down the mountain, and the inhabitants say that it was marvellously stopped in its course by a sprig of genet, a rough mountain shrub which was plentiful enough in the pastures until they all came to be filled up with olive and lemon plantations. "

So wrote the unnamed author of an article published in The New York Times on August 30th 1891, (which goes some way to explain the “fete of the genet” described in a previous blog!). Cabbe-Roquebrune is now known as Roquebrune Cap Martin, and the area described refers to the “vieux village”.

The author goes on to describe the 5th of August celebrations which were held in the village that year - they were a far cry from
those we experienced this week, but the common theme dominates - the Procession Votive through the village from the Church of Saint Marguerite to the Chapel La Pausa (so named as Mary Magdalene is claimed to have rested here on her journey around the Mediterranean.).

The history of this celebration goes back to 1467, when the village people prayed to be spared from the ravages of the plague, which was threatening nearby towns – including Nice and Monaco.

They promised to commemorate their grace and give thanks every year should they be saved, and so this remarkable event, likened by some to an amateurish Ober-Ammergau, was born. The village was spared, and it has celebrated every year since, through wars and revolutions, and through the many changes in political administration that form its history. Originally an event of several days’ festivities, by 1891 it was confined to a one day fete, with stalls and activities for participants. Particularly interesting was the note that authorities “had withdrawn … their prohibition against gambling” and that roulette tables promised to benefit the "strolling dealers" more than the villagers! Perhaps not a lot has changed!

Today the procession is the centre of the festivities, playing out a series of tableaux, reflecting the Stations of the Cross. The route still travels through the village from the Church of Saint Marguerite to the Chapel La Pausa (including part of the ancient Roman road, the Aurelian Way).

The nature of the presentation demands the duplication of many of the various roles, including at least 4 Christs! These are all played by local people, with significant roles being passed from father to son. Quite a demanding ask for a small village!

After the procession, participants and witnesses alike conclude the day with ‘soupe et pistou’ and a bal (dance) in the village car park. This year a severe thunderstorm threatened the festivities but despite an enormous deluge at midday, by mid afternoon it was clear and sunny, the procession proceeded without incident and the festivities continued in full swing until the early hours of the morning.

What a wonderful historical tradition for this village, and a fabulous event for the many visitors to the area at this time of year. We took the photos shown here in previous years – this year we focused on himself's birthday which just happens to fall on the same day!

For anyone interested in some fabulous photos of this event, take a look at Menton Daily Photo Blog September 6, 2009 and following – They are stunning!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fete de Genet

Our village recently celebrated the 'Fete de Genet' - the fete of broom for English speakers.

There are many traditions associated with broom across Europe, and a little research has led me to some interesting history and folk tales, although I cannot vouch for their integrity!

Broom is a plant with stiff branches and bright yellow flowers. I'm wondering whether our word for "broom" is based on the notion that in medieval Europe, the typical housewife used the twigs and branches of the broom as domestic tool for sweeping the floors? I suspect it is still in use in some places today - with perhaps greater application in the garden than in the house, but used nonetheless.

According to several sources, it was also a common belief in the Middle Ages that the herb repelled witches.

Broom is additionally linked to a long heraldic history. One tradition states that Count Geoffrey, who was the count of Anjou from 1129 to 1149, adopted the broom as a symbolic badge and fixed it to his helmet - he may have done this to help his troops could follow him into battle with ease of identification! Broom was again selected as a symbol a century later, when a new order of knighthood was founded by Louis IX of France - he chose the broom as an emblem of humility.

Herbalists also prepared medications using the broom and the herb was believed to be of great value as a medicine. For example, in the 16th century broom was often given as a diuretic and as a purgative herb to patients. The liquor of flowers was reportedly drunk as a remedy for illness. The beneficial properties attributed to the broom plant are not supported by modern research, and though some herbalists still use it, it has gone out of favour as the tops of the plant contain toxins which may be harmful.

The fete in our village is based on an ancient folkloric festival but very significantly it marks the beginning of summer, and the tourist season.

Broom grows wild all over the hills and mountains of this area, and it colours the countryside bright yellow at this time of year. Swathes of it in full flower are cut and used to decorate the Place de la Republic, normally our village car park, for the festivities of the weekend - a ball (dance) on Saturday night and celebrations throughout the day on Sunday.

(This fete also marks the first of many closures of our car park for dances and festivities over the summer - its a great space to party but its use is a pain the neck for both residents and visitors who have cars and have to find somewhere else to park! We become very strategic about when we travel and it certainly goes some way to explain why scooters and motor bikes are so popular!)

The Ball was both well patronised and well enjoyed (if the noise of the revellers is any indication!!) and the celebrations the next day were especially colourful - here we have our local Mayor giving a speech, attended by dancers in traditional costume. Later children participated in a competition exhibiting many creative and decorative uses of broom flowers.

Great fun - and wonderful to look forward to more bright and warm days after what has been a long and very cold winter!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some of the things I love about Italy........

Merely some impressions after our trip to Torino, Italy - not definitive or exclusive and I know I will rave one day about similar things in other countries!

Cappuccinos - the French just can't do it, well at least not that I've found..... but Italians (and Aussies, especially some in my family) can! Was it really my first cappuccino since last December in Oz - how good is that?

Frescos - everywhere, where you expect them........
and where you don't........

Doors - absolutely huge and magnificent and stunning and beautiful and how I wish they could talk - what stories they would tell......... an extremely small selection here.

What's behind the doors - amazing surprises - works of art, parking, courtyards, shops, homes, workshops -
you name it. A couple really took my fancy....

Churches - on almost every corner - beautiful, ornate and well maintained! How does a small population/congregation maintain them?

Gelato - imagine standing in a queue for 15 minutes for the best gelato ..... dreams are made of this!

Markets - selling everything!

Piazzas - everwhere spaces small and large where people can meet, sit, eat, chat, relax, be part of their community.......

The self service tabacchi - cigarette dispenser - looking like an ATM! Not PC I know, but the addict in me still hankers for a fag occasionally, and this really took my fancy. Wouldn't be found in Sydney, I'll wager!

Alice's apartment behind one of those magnificent doors - and its amazing view!