Friday, December 13, 2013

Shopping Frenzy

I had a morning of meetings in the city yesterday and thought I would take the opportunity to do a bit of Christmas shopping over lunch.


Midday in Pitt Street mall.

It was a frenzy. It was hot and that crowd in the background looked scary.
I pushed my way through and headed home - sadly no gifts in hand.

Just under two weeks to go.
On-line shopping is looking good.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A memory of tomatoes and my Mum

I was thinking of tomatoes this morning as I walked.  We have two large ones sitting on our kitchen window sill and not much in the fridge after our weeks away.

Should I stuff them, make them into a sauce or just slice them in a salad tonight - just as we ate them at Bistrot du Paradou?

This summer on the farm I seem to have eaten a lot of tomatoes – the red and yellow cherry and grape tomatoes we have grown, romas roasted until tinged black on their edges, big red ones sliced onto a pretty plate with a drizzle of vinegar and oil then sprinkled with shredded basil, salt and pepper.  
That tomato tart - tartin I made twice because it was so good.

During the last two weeks in France I enjoyed daily the most delicious ox heart tomatoes I have ever eaten.

Yet the tomatoes I was thinking about this morning were the grilled tomatoes Mum used to make – halved and topped with a slice of cheese, popped under the oven grill until they were soft and gooey  – and suddenly I was sobbing.  It is over two years since she died and I can still be swamped with a memory that brings me to tears, out of nowhere.

I wiped my face with my t-shirt, blubbered a bit more and thought of the different lives Mum and I had led and yet cooking and eating had been a common and constant interest that flourished as we both grew older.

Widowed at 40, with three children under 8, Mum’s interest in food in our early years was making sure that we had enough to eat and that we ate it.  Meat and two veg (always a potato) most nights but by the early 70's spag bol was also on the menu.  Dessert,  a bowl of tinned fruit and ice-cream. It was good food – and cooked by Mum each night.  Friday nights we had take-away fish or battered sav and chips, and Sunday nights her home cooked hot chips in greaseproof paper or thin pancakes sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

For our birthdays – we got to choose our special meal.  That grilled tomato was a part of my favourite birthday dinner for most of my childhood – it sat alongside a crumbed lamb cutlet or crumbed pork mince, with peas, grilled pineapple (sometimes grilled banana too) and hot chips.  A Street's chocolate drumstick for dessert.

By the time I was in my mid twenties my interest in cooking had grown and coincided with Mum having more time to cook and entertain.  We talked a lot about food that we had eaten and planned to cook, we shared recipes and occasional meals. 

Later, when we were all together for a family weekend my brother–in-law once pointed out that we were planning our next meal while we were eating the current one.  
My mother, sister and I looked at each other. Well, of course.

By the time Mum was in her 60's and retired her repertoire was extending and always impressive. Family and friends were served many new dishes - smoky tagines, slow cooked casseroles, roast pork loin accompanied by the latest vegetable side dishes, cold peach and basil soup, trout with dill and sour cream, tomato and gruyere tart. Her pastry was always light.

When I cleaned out her kitchen cupboards after she died I found opened packages of harissa, sumac and tagine spices among her two shelves laden with the usual herbs and spices - all testament to her adventures with cooking and sharing food well into her 80’s. I kept them and enjoy knowing that as I use them a little bit of her is being sprinkled into my dinner.

I think perhaps that birthday memory was fresh because I have just celebrated mine – this year eating bouillabaisse on a beautiful sunny day in Bandol in the South of France. 

As I said, we had a different life, but this memory of food shared has endured for over 40 years. 

Miss you Mum. xx

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Frenchlife- Part Nine- Bandol

We spent our last three nights in Bandol at the home of some friends R & M in the hilltop town of Cadiere l'Azur.

They have a  wonderful view from their terrace on the third floor of their home in the village.
We were welcomed with champagne and lunch there before heading out to explore the town.

We had been to Cadiere about 12 years ago and noticed  some changes in the centre of the town but its character was still the same.

More shops for M and I to look into while M & R waited patiently outside.

Time for a photo

Our visit coincided with my birthday so the next day we headed to the nearby town of Bandol for lunch

A quintessential French mediterranean coastal town 

We all had the bouillabaisse and it was the best I have ever had.

This dish can not always be perfect- the stock can be too fishy or not rich enough, the fish must be very fresh and the rouille silky with a bit of heat.

I could spend a bit more time in this area

Very tempted to swim 

A tour of local wineries that afternoon - in particular our favourite Domaine Tempier

Sadly it was not open - but we think we saw the legendary owner Lulu sitting at the table under the pergola.  We left her in peace.

We found another winery to do some tasting "Gros Nore"

And then headed  to another favourite "Pibarnon"

 The next morning after dropping into the vide-grenier ( borcante/flea market) we headed to Castellat, 
 a neighbouring medieval hillside town

And came unexpectedly upon a medieval festival

Back to the magical terrace for  a late and long lunch into the evening

A magical holiday with a lot of great memories.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Frenchlife - Part Eight - Blauzac and Uzes

We loved the town where we were staying on our home exchange

Thought about buying this house for sale

And enjoyed our daily walks around the village and the stop to pick up croissants from the Epicerie.

We enjoyed the close proximity of the larger town of Uzes

admiring the shops there

Wandering around the old streets and feeling the age and history of the town around every corner 

and stopping for a drink or a light meal at one of the cafes around the square

Two weeks was definitely not long enough.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Frenchlife- Part Seven - Pont du Gard

We are staying very close to the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the 1st century AD.

We have been here before but it is so impressive and the day so brilliant we headed out to visit again

It originally extended from Nimes to Uzes  (50kms) most of which was built underground. 
This bridge was built to cross the river and the water ran over the third level.

It continues to amaze me how the Roman engineers built something like this so long ago and it is still standing looking so good.

C'est moi, looking mighty relaxed!

This olive tree was planted in 908 AD and is still surviving - something about the French terroir perhaps?

Frenchlife - Part Six - St Remy de Provence

It was a busy market day day in St Remy de Provence when we visited on Wednesday

We stocked up some cheese and olives (not too much as we leave Blauzac on Friday)

This porchetta and lapin caught our eye, but was not a purchase

Admired the pottery 

Wandered through the narrow passageways, admiring the pretty houses and ancient buildings

  Learnt that Nostradamus was born and grew up in St Remy

Bought some chocolate from our favourite chocolatier

and listened to some music