September 26, 2011

What to Serve for Apero Hour

What to Serve for Apero Hour

Nutmeg can hardly believe that she is actually going to put this in writing; she is almost ready for the summer silly season to be over. Totally out of character, right? For anyone who knows Nutmeg, there is no doubt that summer is her favourite season. Summer, in a Provencal village, translates into plenty of socializing. The town fills with owners who have their holiday homes in the area, and throngs of tourists enjoying the scenery. The cafés are filled at all hours of the day with clients enjoying a morning coffee, a light lunch, or a tempting beverage and bar snack in the early evening. That is exactly the problem. Apero Hour! (more…)

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September 19, 2011

Pisa Italy Not to be Missed

Pisa Italy Not to be Missed

Ginger does most of the driving when the duo is “on the road”. In an effort to break up a longer drive he decided that an overnight stay in Pisa would be a good idea, so he found a great little hotel in the historic centre.  Nutmeg had been to Pisa in the 1980’s involving a quick trip from Florence on the train for dinner.  The idea was to take the late afternoon train, allow some time for a few quick photos of the famous Leaning Tower or Campanile (bell tower for the Cathedral) and allow more time for dinner and beverages.  Nutmeg will admit that her memory may be the odd bit fuzzy but at that time the tower was interesting, the grounds were crowded and the rest of the site under-promoted. Things have changed in Pisa, since Nutmeg’s last visit. The Leaning Tower and the rest of the site were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  The tower remains today on the National Geographic “7 Wonders of the Middle Ages” list.  Visitor access to the tower had been stopped years ago to prevent further erosion; it is now open on a limited basis. The not-for-profit Opera Della Primaziale Pisana (OPA) manages the whole site today.  Visitors are able to walk around the buildings in “Miracle Square” however can only gain access to these beautiful structures with a ticket.  There two ticket variations, with or without the tower visit.  G&N chose without, as the wait to go up the tower was 3 1/2 hours – so go early if you are really keen to get a view from the top of the tower. (more…)

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September 12, 2011

Cinque Terre Italy Heaven on Earth

Cinque Terre Italy Heaven on Earth

The Cinque Terre, literally translated “The Five Lands”, is part of the Italian Riviera.  A visit to this part of Liguria has been a dream of Nutmeg’s for a long time.  The rugged coastline is noted for the beautiful vistas, and the walking trails that connect five fishing villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  The villages, the coastline and the surrounding hillsides are now classified as the Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The villages remain tiny and relatively undeveloped, compared to other resort towns on both the Italian and French coasts. To this day there is no road joining all five villages. The Cinque Terre National Park was established in 1999, with the aim to safeguard the marine area, walking trails, historical ruins and generally preserve the way of life that has existed for centuries.  This is not an easy mission for an area visited by 2 million tourists annually, in a few short months of the year.  The region has been inhabited for centuries.  There is documentation that the inhabitants began terracing the land as early as 1000 A.D., to prevent soil erosion and promote agriculture.  Today visitors can reach the villages by train, by boat (in season), via eco-friendly buses or of course by foot. Visitors must buy a park pass and train ticket to access the villages. There is local area information available on multiple websites, however Nutmeg found that unfortunately it is not always current.  The best bet is to go to a local tourist office when you arrive to get the most comprehensive information. (more…)

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September 5, 2011

Tuned Out in Provence Summer Music

Tuned Out in Provence Summer Music

SUMMER! Summer is festival time, and France is no exception. The only problem is making a decision, with the overwhelming variety of events. Famous events like Jazz a Juan in Antibes (started in 1960) or Le Festival d’Avignon (started in 1947), which attract large crowds and well-known performers. All the principal cities and many small towns host at least one noteworthy event during the warmer months. Ginger and Nutmeg both love music, although, neither of them can sing nor play an instrument with any level of competency. With the balmy Provencal evenings, they decided to take advantage of some of the local events and listen to the experts. The following is a musical summary for your listening pleasure: The Festival de Musique d’Eygalières, this event is only four years old, in 2011 they hosted four nights of mostly classical music – alfresco. This is an extremely well organized event, held at the beautiful private residence Mas de la Brune. The evening starts with a seminar or group discussion related to the music that night.Then there is an opportunity for dinner or as they called it a “Picnic Chic”, followed by the concert.  Check it out (very yummy): The “Viva Argentina” evening was excellent, a tribute to the music of this South American country.  The trio of artists included a pianist, clarinet and soprano. Listen to the soprano Magali Leger here. The Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, has been held every July, since 1948. The focus of this festival is oriented towards opera; however, there are also recitals of chamber music, vocal concerts and orchestral sessions. This event is a large tourist attraction for the city of Aix and the surrounding area.  Ginger and Nutmeg enjoyed an evening with the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra click here. Festival les Eclats à Salon, was held for the eighth year in 2011 at the Château de l’Emperi.  The courtyard of this 9th century medieval fortress may not have originally built for the acoustic qualities, but certainly is an excellent venue for a range of theatre, choral music and other musical evenings. This particular concert was a group of four brothers and sisters who have been playing together since 1994, the group is called Les Ogres de Barback.  The evening was lively and engaging, as they play over thirty instruments. Click here to watch and listen to Les Ogres de Barback. The tiny village of Eygalieres is home to only about 1500 people. However, the town’s small size is deceiving. This is a place filled with artists, writers, musicians and many aficionados. The season started with the music festival (see above). However, that was just the beginning.  Ginger and Nutmeg were treated to a free concert in the church. Over 200 people were listened to a duo of flute and piano. The lovely and talented Julie Scolink organized this concert. You can find her at Mistral Music. You can watch part of her concert here. Provence has been an inspirational backdrop for artists, writers and musicians for centuries.  The famous names are far too numerous to mention. In Eygalieres, there is a unique four night series named Calan d’art, which marries, the artistic mediums of visual art (sculpture, painting) and music. This series is held in private gardens, creating an intimate setting with the musicians, called Les Nuits des Patios. The musical theme was different each night.  Nutmeg’s favourite was “La Dolce Vita” with Jean-Pierre Como on piano listen here. The 31st International Piano Festival was held outdoors in the village of La Roque d’Anthéron. This is a popular musical series that attracts over 85,000 people annually. Ginger and Nutmeg decide to take in the evening of piano duos. Twin sisters, Michelle and Christina Naughton, played the first section. A pair of sisters also performed the second section of the evening. The talent and timing was incredible. Here, is a video of the Naughton twins in action. To wrap up the musical tour the evening of Nutmeg’s birthday there was the inaugural “Diner Blanc à Eygalières” with the musically talented Sanders Band. Ginger and Nutmeg are now sitting in silence – Tuned Out! Follow @twitter

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August 29, 2011

A Tuscan Sampler

A Tuscan Sampler

A couple years ago Nutmeg had the pleasure of biking through Tuscany with a group of friends. Ginger was at school so he was not able to participate.  The moment Nutmeg arrived at their beautiful bed and breakfast accommodation, in the middle of a vineyard; she knew that Ginger must visit Tuscany.  Anyone who loves wine, history and beautiful countryside should visit, and fall in love with Tuscany in their lifetime.  Ginger and Nutmeg set-off on an early season (April) visit to explore Tuscany.  At this time of year the fields are only just starting to turn green and the gnarled grapevines are showing their first shoots. So what is Tuscany all about? Wine, History and Countryside (more…)

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August 22, 2011

Lavender Fuseaux A Dying Art in Provence

Lavender Fuseaux A Dying Art in Provence

One of the things on Nutmeg’s “Top-10″ list for their trip to France was to behold the lavender in bloom. Arriving in October after the lavender season, with only the winter months ahead, it would be a long wait. The happy news is that even in January, the fields are beautiful (see below). The wait was well worth it, in the last few weeks of June when the weather is Provencal “perfect” the countryside comes alive, awash in shades of purple. The fields flower at slightly different times depending on the plant variety, the altitude, specific geographic area and of course mother nature herself. In other words, one “field” trip will not suffice. With their cameras prepared, Ginger and Nutmeg were fortunate on several occasions to witness the fields in full colour and take some of their own pictures. (Click here) To see the whole gallery. So what happens to all that lavender? Much of the lavender is distilled to create essential oil and fragrant water. The plants are also dried and used to create scented objects for personal use. Stores in Provence are overrun with all things lavender; soap, perfume, honey, tea, ice cream and scented packages. A majority of the product sold in stores is mass-produced outside of France and hardly artisanal. However, there are a dedicated few who are still focused on quality and are attempting to keep the traditions alive. Several cultivators are growing their lavender plants in a totally organic fashion, despite the burdensome paperwork requirements imposed on “Bio” operations. (more…)

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August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Ginger and Nutmeg

Happy Birthday Ginger and Nutmeg

Happy Birthday! Joyeux Anniversaire! Buon Compleanno! Feliz Cumpleaños! Nutmeg would like to wish two friends a very happy birthday. One friend is Canadian and the other native French,  they are both much older. However, her French friend promised that he would share his birthday cake tonight. Ginger and Nutmeg is officially TWO years old today. The idea for this blog germinated over a nice dinner and several drinks. After which, Nutmeg felt a bit of peer pressure to do a wee bit of writing. The blog has grown from three faithful readers, on day one to thirty a year ago. Today our little “lark” of a project has over 350 regular readers, 330 Facebook fans and even a growing number of Twitter followers (43). Both Nutmeg and Ginger would like to thank every single one of our readers! Without your continued support and encouraging feedback this idea would have ended quite sometime ago. If you like what we are publishing please let us know! We would like your help to grow the readership by another ten times. If you see something you like, please pass along to friends, family, co-workers, mistresses, lovers, school friends, ski buddies, poker pals… we are not too picky  BUT most of all keep reading there is lots more good stuff coming. Follow @twitter

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August 8, 2011

Provencal Cooking in the Var

Provencal Cooking in the Var

Nutmeg is a bit embarrassed to admit that after many months in France, they have barely explored all of Provence.  The departments within Provence are all beautiful and vastly different. The departments include Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhone, Var and Vaucluse. So much to visit! Clearly a break from their holiday was in order!!  Nutmeg booked two nights in a lovely chambre d’hotes (B&B) called Les Quatre Saisons near the village of le Castellet, in the Var.  Le Castellet is a medieval village dating from 1153. It is a fairly well preserved town on a hill, so there are magnificent views from the top.  The town buildings are highly picturesque. Les Quatre Saisons is easily accessible from the major regional centres, and it is a true oasis. The weather was smoking-hot, reaching 32C under cloudless skies. Patrice cool, calm and well practised in the kitchen. He and his partner Didier ran a small Parisian bistro for nine years and then a restaurant on the coast for a few more. The twosome are both originally from northern France, they are now fully integrated southerners.  They embrace the use of local, seasonal ingredients and where practical focus on organic (bio) products.  When Ginger and Nutmeg arrived peaches, apricots and lavender were all in season.  After a delicious breakfast with homemade jams, seasonal fruit compotes, fresh bread and hot coffee, they were ready for a cooking lesson. Patrice and Didier have created a delightful home and a welcoming resort for guests.  This pair has it figured out, each one plays their preferred role in the “ballet” of running a successful chambre d’hotes.  Didier takes care of the rooms, his attention to detail shows in the heavenly bed linens, private balconies, discrete breakfast tables and tasteful decor.  Patrice’s domain is la cuisine. The cooking lesson involved preparing all the courses for that night’s dinner. Following the cooking class, Nutmeg suggested it might be a marvellous idea to visit the beach and attempt to cool down a bit.  The coast is beautiful and not yet too crowded in June. The evening meal was excellent from start to finish. There is no way to choose a favourite dish but given the fact that peaches were in season Nutmeg would like to share this remarkably easy recipe for Tiramisu aux Peches. Print Tiramisu aux Peches Recipe type: Dessert Cuisine: French Prep time:  10 mins Cook time:  15 mins Total time:  25 mins Serves: 8   This desert is super easy, you can use what ever fruit is in season. Enjoy! Ingredients 12 Ripe Peaches, washed, pitted and cut in quarters 3 Large Eggs ¾ Cup White Sugar 1 Container (500ml) = 2 Cups Mascarpone 8 Large Lady Finger Biscuits, or equivalent 2 cups Mixed juice of peach, orange and a bit of thyme liqueur 1 Cup Honey Instructions In a heavy sauce pan cook the peaches and honey on the stove top Once the peaches start to ooze liquid, cover and lower the heat In total, cook for about 15 minutes until the peaches are soft and the skin can be easily removed Prepare the topping by separating the egg yolks from the whites With a mixed blend the whites until firm By hand in a separate bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone together until well blended Gently fold the egg whites into the above mixture In a bowl soak the biscuits in the juice and liqueur blend for 2-3 minutes Place the biscuits in the serving dishes (drain the juice) Top with the cooked peaches Finally the mascarpone egg mixture on the top Place in the fridge until ready to serve 3.2.2499   Ginger and Nutmeg had a lovely time exploring the Var.  The beaches, the hilltop towns, beautiful vineyards and most of all Patrice’s cooking!

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August 1, 2011

Monaco Grand Prix Amber Is The Lounge

Monaco Grand Prix Amber Is The Lounge

Twenty-three Formula One (F1) cars, 800 horsepower V-8 engines spooling, it’s the start of the Monaco Grand Prix (GP). Deafening! Full ear protection is essential. Within the confines of the city of Monte Carlo, the towering hills a natural amphitheatre, magnify the sound of the race circuit. The idiosyncrasies of the Monaco GP circuit truly test drivers’ skills. Cars come to a virtual standstill on some hairpin corners, head through a tunnel and then accelerate to breakneck speeds on the straightaways. If a F1 race were to be proposed in Monaco today, it would be considered unsafe. Former world champion driver Nelson Piquet described driving in Monaco as, “like trying to cycle round your living room.” Click here to watch Ginger’s video. In Monaco, track corners have their own names, such as Tabac, Louis Chiron, and Piscine. Many car aficionados only know the course by the names of the corners. Torrid action usually takes place at Sainte Devote, the turn located before the long uphill straightaway towards the Casino. This corner is named after the small church dedicated to a Christian martyr from the 4th century, whose treasured bones and thought to have protected the Monegasque locals from invasion for centuries. Not surprising given Ginger’s passion for speed that his “ European Top 10” list included a F1 race. He has had the thrill of flying above Mach 1 and has surpassed the speed limit in one sporty German automobile. Like most boys, he once envisioned driving a race car and reveling in the thrill of victory. Race car driving was not Ginger’s destiny. The next best thing was to witness a classic F1 car race, like Monaco.  Nutmeg felt auto racing was best included in the category of male bonding. Ginger needed a suitably minded playmate for this event. Who better than his brother-in-law Truffle? (more…)

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July 25, 2011

The Real Bouillabaisse of Marseille

The Real Bouillabaisse of Marseille

Ginger and Nutmeg had been on the road for 12 days travelling to Italian cities and ski resorts. They arrived back in Aix en Provence after a 9+ hour drive, and it took a full day to get through the laundry, pick up Jade from the “doggie spa” and buy some groceries.  It was at some point that day, that they noticed a text message from Truffle – he was just a few kilometers away. His planned high-mountain ski randonnée in Corsica had been cancelled due to awful conditions.  The great news is Truffle was in town and could come for dinner, the bad news: what do you serve a guy who makes foie gras and magret de canard for regular pre-dinner snacks? Dinner was fine, the wine and company much better. Nutmeg decided to make that up the next day by suggesting a little lunchtime trip to Marseille to sample “charter” Bouillabaisse, at a restaurant at the Vieux-Port in Marseille. Bouillabaisse is essentially a seafood soup, with origins as a typical fisherman’s meal.  The humble soup has evolved, and the dish now should include choice pieces of fish and sometimes crustaceans. With a pride of “ownership” and desire to standardize the ingredients, the preparation, and the service eleven (11) of the top chefs in Marseille created the Bouillabaisse Charter in 1980. (more…)

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