French Holiday Part II

We have spent the weekend extending the patio in our garden. There is dust and cement everywhere, all over my poor flowers. I am escaping from the chaos for half an hour to write another blog post!

After our amazing but very tiring week on the side of Alp d’Huez watching the giant cycling spectacle that is Le Tour de France and all that goes with it pass through (see previous post https://lickingtheplateagain.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/im-back-french-holiday-part-i/) we headed to a gite in the Indre region of central France for a week of relaxation! (cue lots of eating, reading, eating, sunbathing and a bit more eating).

The gite, in a 200 year old longere in a rural hamlet surrounded by rolling fields, was the perfect spot to wind down following the madness of the alp. I was also rather glad to get out of the campervan, despite all my initial excitement about hiring one. We were both sporting numerous impressive bruises after a week in it! We didn’t venture out to eat too much during this week as we were mainly just too happy pottering around our lovely little gite and garden pleasing ourselves. We did have one special meal in a local restaurant (which I will tell you all about in my next post!) but mainly we enjoyed lots of barbecues, big hearty rustic salads and picnics!

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Warm potato salad with chives and piles of lettuce with liberal lashings of mustard salad dressing

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Delicious saucisson with a bit of a kick, juicy tomatoey marinaded chicken, charred courgette slivers

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Juicy barbecued prawn and cod skewers with a buttery basil sauce

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Tasty breakfasts (some healthier than others!)

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Perfect lunches

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Is there much in this life better than a wodge of gooey brie and couple of tomatoes shoved into a chunk of baguette? Biting into it and letting the juices from the tomatoes run down your chin? I think not.

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Peppy espresso served with little sweets

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Treats from the local boulangerie

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Lakeside picnics following a refreshing swim

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What do you do when you have a stale baguette to use up and a heap of very ripe tomatoes? Make a tomato sauce, slather it all over the bread, top with ham and generous amounts of camembert (perhaps I was a little too generous, this was pretty filthy! Sooooo good though!) and grill! Et voila! A French bread pizza!

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Moreishly plump pungent olives from the local market

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Late afternoon sunlounger snacks

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Barbecued burgers on toasted buns with grilled tomatoes and yes, more camembert (spotting a pattern here?)

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Rich and luxurious chocolate to accompany evening card games. This year’s favourite was Cote D’or’s dark chocolate with caramelised pistachios. Seriously good.

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Field upon field of sunny sunflowers. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to look at a field of sunflowers and not smile.

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Pink skies

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I’m back! / French Holiday Part I

Eeeeep! It’s been rather a while since I’ve written a post on here! In my defence, I’ve been rather busy finishing up at one job, spending two weeks in France watching boys on bikes and eating oodles of cheese and bread (more on that shortly), and then starting a new job! So the last month or so has been a bit of a whirlwind to say the least! But I’m back now! And ready to talk about France!

France has long held a special place in my heart, ever since our annual camping trips as kids to grown up holidays in rural gites and city breaks in Paris. The food, of course, plays a significant part in this, but so too do many other things. One of the other many things I love about France is Le Tour, La Grande Boucle, the greatest and most difficult sporting endurance event known to man. Boys on bikes. Brilliant scenery. And a whole country gripped with velo fever for three whole weeks, every year. What’s not to like?! (Some of said boys on bikes are rather pleasant on the eye too, it must be said 😉 ). This year, for the first time, the OH and I were going to be watching a stage of the tour in France at the side of the road as opposed to on the TV in our living room! We had been planning this for a whole year and were beyond excited by the time the trip came around.

We had hired a campervan in Lyon and a after a few days in an Alpine campsite, we headed further into the mountains in order to stake our place on the side of the infamous Alp d’Huez with its 21 hairpin bends and vast backstory of cycling history. And this year, to mark the 100th edition of Le Tour, the riders were to climb the mountain twice. In one day. This was definitely the stage to watch! As the stage was expected to draw several thousand fans, we ensured that we arrived a few days before to guarantee a spot – and we only just managed, bagging one of the very last spaces!

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The drive to the mountains!

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We were parked up between hairpin four and three (number one being nearest the top), around 4km from the summit. Each morning, before it got too hot, we would walk up to the top, to the little town. Here we were greeted with ever increasing spectacular views as well as some tasty patisserie and espresso for our efforts.

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On the morning of the actual stage, the owner of said boulangerie loaded up the boot of her car and drove slowly down the mountain selling freshly baked – still warm – pain and croissants to the (rather damp – the day started off rather wet!) campers. For next to nothing. At home here in the UK, vendors would take advantage of that situation no end and hike prices sky high. Another reason to love France. Freshly baked warm bread in the morning is a basic need not to be messed with! 🙂

After our morning walk in the days leading up to the stage, we would spend most of the rest of the day sitting outside our campervan watching the world go by. And there was so much to see! As well as the hordes of serious lycra-clad cyclists taking their own go at the legendary ascent, there were plenty of novelty acts to watch pass by, not to mention the increasing numbers of team cars and busses in the day before the stage – very exciting!

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The atmosphere was brilliant and incredibly international, it was like being at one giant party all week. I even grew to embrace the Europop being blasted out of neighbouring campervans. It was great to see people from all over the world united by their love for cycling. On the day of the stage itself, everyone cheered on every single person that cycled past them, regardless of nationality or team. These guys are all heroes and it felt like an honour to watch them pass so close by!

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One of my favourite moments was when the little girl who had been camped opposite us with her grandparents went running inside to grab her dolly so that she could watch it too!

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I will refrain from posting too many cycling photos, but here’s just a handful!

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Tejay van Garderen leading the way!

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Thomas Voeckler (one of my all-times faves!) and Pierre Rolland

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Richie Porte, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana

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Jens Voigt (possibly the tour’s most popular cyclist?!)

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Sylvain Chavanel

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All in all, it was a spectacular and incredibly memorable experience – I really hope we can do it again!


Shugborough Food Festival

Last weekend I went to visit my good friend in Stafford. Knowing me well, she had organised for us to go to a food festival at Shugborough Hall, a historic country estate spread over 900 acres of parkland.  While the day started out very overcast and grey, it was at least dry, and, having strategically just had a fruit smoothie for breakfast, I was ready for a day of eating! We decided to share everything that we ate, therefore allowing for more tastes of more things (again with the strategic eating!)

There were so many food vans and stalls, it was hard to know where to begin! After working our way round one of the large marquees and enjoying a few free samples (including some rhubarb crumble fudge!) we decided to give Rita’s Mexican a whirl.

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We enjoyed a tasty shredded chicken and black bean taco with red cabbage colesaw, cheese, chili sauce and sour cream, mmm!

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Washed down with homemade lemonade.

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We kept spotting people walking around with impressive looking sticks with some sort of sliced potato snack on. Having  consulted the festival programme map we hunted down the relevant food stall!

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These fried “twisted potatoes” could be topped with a number of different flavous, we opted for beef steak!

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After a break to peruse some more stalls (from one of which I bought the Hairy Dieter’s cook book after hearing such good things about it, looking forward to trying out some new recipes soon!) I passed one of my true weaknesses – sweet honey covered nuts. I can not resit them!

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Later on in the afternoon we watched a Man vs Food eating challenge. The contestants had to eat a chilli vodka shot, an extra hot spicy sausage with mashed potato and gravy and a chilli and mango sorbet as fast at they could. The victory time was, I think, under 3 minutes – crazy! While we weren’t tempted to join in, it did make us fancy a sausage! There were so many different vendors to choose from, in the end we plumped for a really tasty classic British pork sausage to share, which made a change from a lot of the (equally delicious!) continental sausages that are increasingly popular at these sort of things these days.

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Towards the end of the afternoon, the sun made a sudden, and strong appearance! After enjoying soaking up some rays in the grass for a while, we grudgingly shunned our planned churros dessert for a more temperature-appropriate ice cream. I was delighted to spot Ginger’s Comfort Emporium on the festival listing, a local “ice cream van for grown ups” that frequents the regular markets in Chorlton and elsewhere in South Manchester.

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Previous favourites of mine from Ginger are marmalade on toast, plum crumble and dark chocolate sorbet. This time I opted for the lemon and orange blossom sorbet while my friend went for so-called Chorlton Crack – the ludicrously luscious peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream. While this is truly and utterly delicious, it is rather rich and heavy, and alas I had to help her finish it!

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All in all, it was a great day out. I’ll leave you with snaps of two of the other exceptionally cute food  stands that I came across

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Broad-side Barbecuing

A few weekends ago we headed down to Norfolk for a couple of days aboard the Broads. We were both excited to get away for a few days, especially as it is part of the UK that we’ve not been to before. People complain that Norfolk is a pain to get to as there are no motorways but I think that’s nice, it lends the county a lovely relaxing rural away-from-it-all feel, a slower pace of life. Or certainly so it seemed for those of us on holiday cruising along the peaceful reed-lined waterways!

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Being on a river boat is rather like camping on water, and therefore the perfect excuse for a barbecue or two! I loved being able to pick a pleasant looking spot on the side of the bank, moor the boat up, jump onto the bank and light some charcoals. A sausage sandwich was of course a must, hot and juicy pork sausages, crammed into a toasted bun oozing with melted butter…. mmmm…. sometimes it is the simplest things! We also barbecued tomato and spice marinaded chicken breasts, charred and sticky, and buttery freshly in season asparagus served with crunchy salad and fluffy couscous. All enjoyed sat aside the rippling waters with passing swans, ducks and geese, sail boats and wherrys.

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Unfortunately we were not always so blessed with dry weather, let alone sunshine, as the heavy grey skies of these pictures show! When the rain turned on us we had no choice but to take shelter in a number of cosy countryside pubs and restore ourselves with hearty local ales and pub grub. This steak and ale pie with intensely smooth creamy mash and deliciously minty mushy peas was probably the tastiest pie I have ever eaten!

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Despite the rather inclement weather, we of course had to buy some ice creams from the passing ice cream boat! Jazzed up with sweet juicy strawberries, delicious!

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It’s official; summer has arrived!

Rejoice rejoice! Summer has arrived! And living where we do, one must enjoy it while it lasts! I don’t know about you, but I literally feel like a different person in the sunshine. It just makes me feel so HAPPY and full of energy and like the little stressy things just don’t matter! Ahhh. And I just love summer eating too! 😉

The weekend before last we were up in sunny Scotland for a long weekend visiting friends and family and enjoyed some really stunning weather.

A beach walk with friends on the North Berwick coast was, of course, enjoyed with steaming hot fish & chips (plenty of salt & vinegar), eaten with fingers not forks (then you get to lick all the vingeray salty vinegary deliciousness off your fingers at then end!)

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While walks round the loch were topped off with creamy ice cream

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And after a hot hike up the hill we enjoyed barbecued salmon with lovely crispy skin, juicy sizzled sausages and homemade potato salad with freshly dug tatties and chives from the garden – perfection!

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Even the lovely Scottish gorse was out in force, a riot of yellow against a clear blue sky, the heady coconut scent shouting Summer is Here!

The blissfully gorgeous weather has continued this week in Manchester while we’ve been back which has meant more al fresco eating opportunities!

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Toasted marshmallows at a friend’s barbecue. I love when the outside goes all charred and crispy and the inside is gooey, sweet and melting!

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And an impromptu picnic in the park after a sunny post-work walk along the river last night! (That’s a rounded meal there!)

I hope that you all have lovely weather where you are too (especially my long-suffering fellow UK bloggers!) and are enjoying some fun times and good food in the sun!


Let’s break out of this city…

I woke early this morning (a fairly rare occurrence for me on a Saturday!) and was suddenly overcome with an urge to get out of the city. I promptly woke the other half (he wasn’t best pleased at first…) and suggested we ditch our previous plans for the day and head out of Manchester for some proper fresh air, peace and quiet and a chance to have a proper stretch of our legs! We packed a quick picnic and set off for Formby, on the Merseyside coast, around an hour or so away.

I don’t know what it was that grabbed me this morning, but have a feeling that it may have had something to do with the fact that it was the first weekend that I can remember where it’s been dry, had a small hint of blue sky, and has not been absolutely freezing!! I don’t want to lull either myself or any of you readers into a false sense of security, but for the first time it feels like the end of winter is almost in sight…

The grey clouds rolled in fairly quickly, but luckily for us it stayed dry! We had some fun attempting to run up big sand dunes (made me think of the ‘travelator’ at the end of Gladiators! Anyone else know what I’m on about!?) and running down the other side squealing with arms wheeling in the air in that pure childhood delight of not being in any way in control and not quite knowing whether or not you were going to stay on your feet. (I only landed on my bum once, but fairly spectacularly!). It made me think, how often as grown ups do we ever really let ourselves lose control, even just for a minute? Hardly ever for most people, I bet. I think it is good for the soul to do so now and then!

We then had a good long march up the beach for a few miles and back, breathing in that lovely salty fresh sea air. There is something about being at the seaside that I just love. It’s so invigorating but also I think grounding. I like to see the sea, to contemplate our smallness in comparison to everything else ‘out there’. I like to see and contemplate the boundaries of this little island we call home. I can’t imagine living in a land locked country. I used to live a 10 minute walk from the beach when I lived in Aberdeen while at university. I loved being able to go for a walk or run along the beach whenever I felt the need. To be able to just go and stand and look at the sea. I could see the sea and a lighthouse from my bedroom window if I craned my neck to the right angle. It gave me a lot of comfort at night to see the beam from that lighthoue flashing out, a reminder that there is other stuff out there beyond what is currently pre-occupying us in our day to day lives. I wish we lived closer to the sea now.

Soon it was time to perch a-top a sand dune with a lovely view of the sea and offshore wind farm, and enjoy a cup of tea from my new Orla Kiely flask (I am so in love with it!) and a toasted bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and a little squeeze of lemon juice, yum! A perfect weekend lunch if you ask me 🙂

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Craving a little winter wonderland

So 2012 saw the wettest summer in the UK since records began and was the second wettest year in total. Nice. As if that wasn’t bad enough, research is now showing that this pattern of weather is expected to continue in the foreseeable future as a result of global warming. While I’m not going to get into the climate debate here, this is clearly something that is scary and regrettable. One side effect of all this recent wet weather has meant we had a wholly unfestive year in terms of Christmas weather – mild winter temperatures, heavy grey skies and persistent drizzle! Now I know that a lot of our preconceived romantic ideas about Christmases being white and icy come from Charles Dickens, who lived during a mini ice age, but being from Scotland, I’m afraid I have become rather used to a least a dusting of the white stuff in recent years and weather that’s at least cold enough for a snuggly hat. We managed a flew fleeting flurries that soon turned to sleet then back into heavy rain up north of the border this Christmas but sadly that was about it. So this has got me craving some ‘proper wintry festive weather’ prompting me to dig out some photos taken around my parent’s village from the last few Christmases. Hope this gives you your white Christmas fix too if you’ve also been craving some bracing cold! I’ve also thrown in a few winter sunsets for good measure!

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