October 31, 2011

One Very Scary Post for Halloween

One Very Scary Post for Halloween

For Nutmeg this is a terrifying blog post, so it is fitting that it arrives just in time for Halloween. Ginger and Nutmeg left Calgary on September 30, 2010. Nutmeg has quite happily not set foot on Canadian soil for 13 months. What is so scary?  They are headed back to Calgary in the darkest, coldest month of the year! Here are some fun statistics from their time abroad: 35,000 Kilometers driven in the trusty car by Ginger 15,000 Roundabouts 8,000 Photos documenting the year 5,000 Toll booths 395  Number of days since Nutmeg has been in Canada 395 Wine bottles consumed more or less 150 Number of times Nutmeg went to a market 150+ Bike rides 50+ Churches visited 35+ Hikes 18 Ski days at new resorts 15 Gap T-shirts 13 Provencal deserts at Christmas time 8+ Concerts 4 Ferry rides: to Corsica and Sardinia 4 Pairs of runners 3 Masks from the Venice Carnival 5 Cooking lessons 5 Countries Visited:France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, UK 2 Jars Cherry Jam by Ginger 4 New pieces of art 2 Gym memberships 1 Mountain bikes 2 Pairs of Hiking boots 1 Wedding 1 Opera – Aida 1 Kayak trip 1 Trip to the Grand Prix in Monaco 1 Trip to Paris 1 Market bag 0 Number of sessions with a personal trainer     TOTAL PRICELESS It has been a fantastic time, hardly captured in the numbers above.  Ginger and Nutmeg have made some new friends and improved their French a bit. So as a send off before they leave G&N will share a pot-luck (“Buffet Canadien”) with the neighbours. Nutmeg can hardly wait to get back to Calgary to dig out her woolly sweaters and visit her dentist! Do not despair; Nutmeg has prepared another 12 months of posts, yet to come on their trip. That way she can continue to feel like she is living abroad. When the grim, endless days of Canadian winter show up there are always the photos in the galleries to keep Nutmeg going (a few specific galleries are below). Market Images Fabulous Firenze Eygalières Views Corisca As Ginger and Nutmeg fly across the Atlantic eating questionable airline food, they would like to leave you with this warming recipe. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! Print Squash (Pumpkin) Soup Recipe type: Soup Prep time:  10 mins Cook time:  35 mins Total time:  45 mins Serves: 4   This soup is very easy to make. Their friend Sassafras made it for dinner after a big ski day in Chamonix. Roasting the squash takes a bit more time but adds a more flavour. Ingredients 4 Cups Butternut Squash (in France you can use Courge), peeled and diced 3 Cups Chicken Stock 1 Cup Onion, chopped 3 Tablespoon Olive Oil 1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin 1 Teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds ½ Teaspoon Chili Flakes ¼ Cup Sour Cream ¼ Cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped Salt and Pepper, to taste Instructions Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) Toss the diced squash in olive oil, put on a baking sheet and top with a little salt and pepper Bake for about 20 minutes until the squash softens, check occasionally While the squash is cooking, heat some olive oil in a heavy stock pan on the stove top Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent (about 3 minutes) Add the coriander, cumin, fennel and chili flakes and cook for about a minute to sweat the spices Add the chicken stock and cooked squash Allow the pot to simmer for 10-15 minutes Put the soup in a blender, until smooth Share the soup evenly in bowls, garnish with sour cream and cilantro 3.2.2499   [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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October 10, 2011

Provence Kitchen Essentials

Provence Kitchen Essentials

Ginger and Nutmeg have discovered that within France, Provence is the land of abundance.  There is lots of sunshine, almost never ending wind, at times constant rain, olive groves, vineyards, orchards and endless markets.  One could be overwhelmed by the array of choices and local flavours. Nutmeg’s very practical side has decided that given the array of local choices it is best to narrow the selection and the following are her thoughts on the essentials in a Provençal kitchen: Fleur de Sel Literally translated as “Flower of salt”.  Fleur de Sel is the top layer of sea salt, it is hand-harvested before it sinks to the bottom of the salt pans. Traditional Fleur de sel in France is collected off the coast of Brittany, Ginger and Nutmeg are many hours from there, but the good news is there is lots also produced in Camargue (part of Provence). The salt appears to be slightly pinkish grey as some sand is collected in the process of harvesting.  The salt is flaky in texture, and has natural potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper and iodine that occur within it. Each container is carefully packaged with a cork top and is signed by the salt-raker who harvested it. Fleur de Sel  is named largely from the aroma of violet that develops as the salt dries. Herbs de Provence and Olive Oil Herbes de Provence is a traditional blend of highly aromatic herbs that grow mostly wild in the hills of southern France in the summer months. The herbs are used both fresh and dried.  Typical herbs include (quantities may vary);  Bay leaf, chervil, oregano, thyme, fennel, rosemary, savory, tarragon, mint, and marjoram. Sometimes for the tourist crowd orange zest or lavender are included.  As a practice the herbs are used to infuse the flavour in grilled foods such as fish or meat.  Often the herbs can be found in stews and or mixed with olive oil to infuse the flavors.  On a recent hikes we literally felt like we were walking in a jar of “Herbes de Provence” as they grow wild through-out the region. Jams and Jellies The French are not big breakfast eaters, they love a cafe (usually just a shot of expresso) and a little bit of fresh baguette or maybe des viennoiseries (pastries…croissants, pain au chocolate, strudels etc) with some jam/jelly.  In general, French bread is fantastic it is baked several times a day, and literally can go stale in between. In the morning, there is nothing better than a bit of jam on your pain. The jam is often homemade, full of sugar and outrageously delicious. Ginger and Nutmeg have been treated to plum, peach, fig, cherry, peach-melon, pear and apricot all fait à la maison – delicious on bread and even better with chèvre. There are of course many other things required for a true French kitchen but these are just some of the basics.  It helps to have one of these in your back yard. A bientot!

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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 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.  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!

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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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July 11, 2011

Are You Ready For The Bulls in Provence

Are You Ready For The Bulls in Provence

Ginger LOVES the Calgary Stampede.  He is a faithful rodeo attendee and never misses a single chuckwagon race. Every year, Ginger dons his cowboy duds for the full 10 days of the Stampede, and a few more events on either end.  He is a dedicated volunteer, who donates his time selflessly every year.  OK, not exactly selflessly, there is an official access badge and lots of beer involved.  This year he will seriously miss his favourite event of the year. The good news for Ginger, is there is no shortage of cowboy culture, horses and bulls in Provence. (more…)

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June 6, 2011

Golfing in Chamonix France

Golfing in Chamonix France

Spring 2011 came early to the French mountain resorts, mostly due to a lack of snow during the ski season.  Ginger and Nutmeg needed to change the tires on the car to the “summer wheels”, as we had been rolling along on dry roads for several months in the South.  The “stars aligned” and Ginger found a few consecutive days with no commitments, a good weather forecast and a chance to visit Saffron and Truffle while they were on holidays in Chamonix.  The three of us piled in the car with almost no luggage and headed NE.  The drive was easy and Nutmeg’s only disappointment was that the walnut trees near Grenoble were not in bloom. We arrived in Chamonix and I headed straight for the river, Ginger went directly to the car garage and Nutmeg settled in for a massage – anybody wondering who is the smartest in the crew?  The next morning dawned and it promised to be a beautiful day.  The team was headed to the golf course and I was destined for a very big nap, or so I thought, until Saffron said that she was sure I could join them on the 18-hole walk. (more…)

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May 23, 2011

Following Provence’s Mimosa Trail

Following Provence’s Mimosa Trail

According to Nutmeg, the Mimosa in cocktail form, does not do justice to either of it’s ingredients; champagne or orange juice.  It is often served for brunch and that is a whole other story (see previous blog post). This post is about the first flower of the season in Provence. The mimosa is a beautiful flowering bush that is often found in gardens, green-spaces, and forests all over the south of France. There are over 1200 varieties world-wide, the shrub is native to Australia, Central and South America and parts of Asia, not France. It is believed that the mimosa plant travelled to Europe on one of Captain Cook’s voyages. This flowering beauty was introduced to southern France around 1850, by wealthy English, who planted them to in order to brighten-up their gardens during the winter months on the Cote D’Azur. (more…)

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May 16, 2011

A Magical Provence Day in a 2CV

A Magical Provence Day in a 2CV

Don’t tell Ginger. Several years ago Nutmeg had a boyfriend who was fanatical about 2CVs; that is the Citroën 2CV or “deux chevaux”.  On a six-week backpacking trip through Europe he took 90 Kodachrome photos of 2CVs (2 of Nutmeg and 8 of buxom blondes).  On top of that he insisted on eating at MacDonald’s throughout Europe. For those of you who know Nutmeg, it was a good thing the relationship “fizzled”. History (above) aside Nutmeg thought that Ginger would have lots of fun driving a 2CV around Provence for a day.  The answer was simple, there is a Dutch/French company called 2CV Experience that rents lovingly restored 2CVs or “two horsepower” cars for the day.  It could not have been easier, as they are based minutes outside of Aix-en Provence.  They currently have 12 cars and are building their inventory to 15 shortly.  These pristine cars have been fully restored by hand, painted meticulously and are ready to go when you arrive.  All of the cars are named: Tournesol, Olivier, St-Tropez, Menthe, Sahara…Ginger and Nutmeg were handed the keys to Lavende for the day.  Have some fun watching the video: Fun in a “Deux Chevaux” The Citroën 2CV was produced from 1948 to 1990.  Technically well built and engineered the 2CV, was affordable and literally designed to move the French rural population from a dependence on animals (horses and carts) to the automobile. The car continues to be iconic.  It is minimalist by design, lightweight, offers easy serviceability and consistent reliability.  In 42 years of production over 3.8 million cars were produced. Nutmeg could not have dreamed of a more perfect day in the middle of March.  It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless, warm day.  At 10am Ginger was instructed on how to “roll-back” the canvas convertible top, from then on it was a “topless-day” until 19:00. Ginger and Nutmeg had a vague idea of their day-trip.  It looked something like; head to the coast and then “discuss” whether to head left or right. This would be followed by a more hearty talk about where to eat lunch and then finally a more silent trip back to home base.  Thankfully, 2CV Experience saved the day by providing a detailed map, route instructions and tourist notes for a 145km tour of l’Étang de Berre. There are actually seven lakes but Étang de Berre is the largest.  The area was formed during the last ice age.  This inland water body is fed by fresh water sources.  The whole area is over 20km long and 16km wide.  There are numerous tiny villages and towns to be visited along the way. The first stop was Chateau La Barben, just outside La Barben.  There has been a structure in place since 1064.  The castle has been restored and now accommodates several needs; day tourists, overnight B&B guests and special function receptions.  Unfortunately for G&N they arrived early season, and too early in the day so could not view the interior.  Certainly the exterior is well restored and the location is a beautiful cool oasis, surrounded by water sources. The next towns were Pelissanne, Salon de Provence, Grans, and Saint Chamas.  Each town has some unique sites and photo opportunities.  Hands-down the village of Grans was a favored stop.  The village is small and maintains a real Provencal feel with a mix of residences, restaurants and cafes.  This tiny village has a permanent population of about 3800 residents. The other towns were not highly remarkable although each one has some unique characteristics and offers some photo opportunities at the most unexpected moments.  Although 2CV Experience provides all the tools for a picnic, you still need to spend a few moments purchasing the ingredients (Ginger and Nutmeg were not that organized or motivated), so they ended up in Istres for lunch.  This is an ancient town has a few remaining Roman sites surrounded by a bustling town.  A quick drive through the area and it is clear you should not venture too far from your car and keep your valuables close at hand.  That being said G&N stumbled across Pinçée de Sel for lunch on the main street and it was excellent. The post lunch stops included the village of Saint Mitre les Remparts, this village should NOT be missed.  The ancient town was surrounded by high defensive walls, which date to back to the 14th century.  There are two main entrances into the old village, the North and South gates.  Do not miss the residences built into the old walls of the village.  This small village is a lovely, relatively quiet stop on the tourist circuit. Unfortunately, time was ticking and the sun was headed the wrong direction so the next towns were literally “drive-bys” for another time.  Here is a picture of the seaside harbour of Carro, where the duo made a brief pit stop before heading back to the starting point. Ginger was warned about some of the idiosyncrasies of the 2CV. First up was where the hazard lights were just in case of any unforeseen events. Important details included the fact that there is NO power steering, NO power brakes, and the transmission is un-synchronized. Translated that all means that one needs to use a little muscle to drive the car and must think ahead. With an un-synchronized clutch if you need to downshift into first gear, the car must come to a complete stop before engaging the gear.  The gearshift is interesting as it is on the dashboard, with a unique shift pattern. Lavende was fun to drive, cornering took a little effort to manhandle the steering, and a rolling stop in second gear was the name of the game, avoid full stops if possible. The car accelerated well. The car seems to perform best at 90km/hr and below; much better to enjoy the sights and sounds of the little towns, natural vistas, and historic monuments along the route. At the end of the day it was really a “magical” experience in a 2CV.  The small team at 2CV Experience is well organized, professional, accommodating and they provide excellent route notes!  Otherwise Ginger and Nutmeg might still be “discussing” the directions!

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April 18, 2011

Alberta’s Spring Tease

Alberta’s Spring Tease

This will be a short one on Alberta’s spring.  Nutmeg moved to Calgary 17 years ago, Ginger had arranged with Mother Nature for a fantastic spring and even better summer that year.  Since that time, Calgary and Mother Nature have ignored Ginger and completely tormented Nutmeg.  Practically every year there is a deficit of snow for skiing in January and February, or it is too darn cold.   (more…)

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