Friday, 30 December 2011

Rillettes to Ring in the New Year

Plans to spend the last few days of 2011 at our country cottage were thwarted by the forecast of high temperatures, hoovering around 40 0C, and hot northerly winds which carry allergens that have our eyes running, noses blocked and sinuses very painful despite taking antihistamines. Mr R is already suffering from hayfever, but it is always much worse north of the Great Dividing range where the cottage to situated. Our main purpose for visiting the cottage was to give it some much needed attention. After the recent wet Spring and summer rains, the grass and shrubbery around the house has gone berserk, hiding the house facade - so much so that our country neighbour contacted us to let us know about this uncharacteristic (for Summer) state of affairs. The weather forecast for next weekend suggests that the conditions will be far more conducive for working in the garden.


So here we sat, in Melbourne, on New Year's eve. It was only the day prior to this when I turned my mind to preparing and shopping for the event.  I had a desire to herald in 2012 eating rillettes and sipping champagne. There already was champagne in the fridge (rather a permanent fixture). However, I had to purchase the ingredients for the rillettes and cook it tout de suite so it had time to rest and infuse its delicate flavours throughout this piquant dish.


Scents and tastes can evoke strong memories. For many Francophiles, the perfume of summer lavender says "Provence" but not for me! This fragrance always reminds me of my grandparents and great aunts. Every time a  closet door was opened, a waft of lavender scent tickled my nose. So comforting.
Rillette on my tongue transposes me to lazy days in the Val de Loire, meandering down country roads, exploring chateaux, sitting in the garden shade, sipping wine, eating rillettes on delicious, fresh bread, whilst listening to the call of doves and watching the sun gradually fade, as if on its own giant  dimmer switch. Francophile heaven.
So to celebrate the promise of a new year - with a little bit France thrown in - here is my much used, pork rillettes  recipe.*  Easy to prepare and oh so miam, miam!          







Recipe: Pork Rillettes
Ingredients (metric measures)
  • 750 g pork belly or neck with the rind and bones removed
  • 150 g pork back fat (do not reduce the fat......time to forget the cholesterol and calories)
  • 100 ml dry white wine (I prefer riesling)
  • 3 lightly crushed juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
  • half teaspoon of  ground nutmeg
  • quarter teaspoon of allspice
  • a pinch of ground cloves
  • I large crushed garlic clove

This is best cooked in a heavy cast iron casserole dish such. I use  French enamelled one which is parfait.

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven at 140 0C = 275 0F                    
  • Cut the pork and the fat into short stripes and place them in the cast iron casserole dish.
  • Mix all of the other ingredients with the pork.
  • Seal the casserole dish with foil before placing the casserole lid on top of the foil.
  • Bake for 4 hours by which time the meat should be soft and surrounded by fat.
  • Place a sieve over a bowl, then tip the cooked contents of the casserole into the sieve.
  • Shred the pork. (This may be done using 2 forks.)
  • Season if necessary.
  • Place the meat into a 3 cup terrine or casserole dish and let cool.
  • Strain the hot fat through a very fine sieve or damp muslin.
  • Pour the pork fat over the cold meat. If the fat has solidified, it will needed to be melted first.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.
  • Serve at room temperature ............Bon appétit! 
I raise my champagne glass to you for a healthy and happy 2012 ............ Santé


*FromThe Food of France, a Journey for Food Lovers.            

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Joyeux Noël



Merry Christmas and best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and happy 2012.



                                                                   
 Joyeux Noël et une très bonne année 2012. 
Que cette année vous apporte, à vous et à votre famille, bonheur et prospérité.


Signing off until the New Year
Bisous.

Time for .....

Christmas is a time to focus on people, not on presents.

A time for giving thanks and for offering forgiveness
A time of love
A time to enjoy the sanctuary of old traditions and perhaps create some new ones.
A time  to celebrate a conglomeration of the ridiculous, bad taste, creativity and good design.
A time for laughter and joy. 
And for some, a time of fierce competition and one-upmanship ……….  so exhausting!

So what do you do if the Christmas spirit doesn’t grab you …….  you’ve burnt the turkey ……. forgotten to heat  the plumb pudding …….  you’re seated next to a dreaded in-law  …….  or just think it’s all bah and humbug?
Just go with the flow.
Courtesy of Oslo Davis & The Age
Enjoy the spirit of Christmas and the pleasure of others who are in the festive mood. There should be no “have to” or guilt at this time of year. 

I love Christmas …... for many reasons.

May the peace and joy of Christmas be with you and your family in 2012.
 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Carols


Christmas carols are embraced with fervor in the Land Downunder, despite their occasional inappropriateness!
Courtesy of Andrew Weldon and The Age
Currently the temperature in Melbourne is hovering around 30 0 C
Joyeux Noël 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

That's Life


There has been a general malaise on my blog due to the editorial censorship of Mr R. Posts have been written but decreed too serious or too humdrum - a reflection of the current state of proceedings.
The Block Arcade, Melbourne





















Christmas preparations have been smooth and uneventful. All presents have been purchased, the family decorated the tree without debate and my contribution to the cooking of the Christmas feast is under control. 
The only adrenalin rushes I've had of late are when, white knuckled and teeth clenched, I've raced other cars for a rare, vacant parking space - with varying degrees of success. Respectable women and the lingering smell of burning rubber is not an association that one would usually make! ………But it is the silly season! 
For a bit of light relief from the pre Christmas preparations I suppose I could contemplate being naughty, which would please Mr. R and save Santa a trip……if only I had some energy left by the end of the day!
It seems that everyone is getting into tattoos......Not me!
Cartoon - courtesy of Oslo Davis & The Age








Saturday, 10 December 2011

Wand in Hand.....

We won't be sleeping in this
room for quite some time!
For the uninitiated to the Harry Potter world, seeing me  gesticulate madly with a wand in hand while chanting accio, accio accio will have little meaning. This incantation, which can be used over long distances,  is a summoning charm that supposedly sends any object (or hopefully, Mr M, my man on the ground in France) directly to the spell-caster.....Desperate times lead to desperate measures! 

Mr M has had the keys to my property for 12 months now, and also a contract to project manage its renovations. Nothing has happened. Not one nail removed, not one door rehung, not a floor repaired, not a spouting replaced, not  a tile inserted , no utilities connected not a ditch dug. Not even a single quote for works has been sent in my direction. 

My Man on the Ground has become increasingly invisible, and when (after months of effort) he is located, he is  progressively more creative with his excuses. 
His Houdini act has sorely tested my patience and the patience of others ........3 sets of keys have supposedly been sent to Switzerland and Australia on 3 different occasions but have never arrived, (until recently when one set  turned up in Switzerland), meeting times at My French Folly with my representative, (a girlfriend who was holidaying in France) were organized then cancelled, which definitely didn't add to her positive holiday experience or my confidence in Mr M, ........the list goes on.........and on........and on.

Just as a generous friend, who has renovated in France, starts to pen a terse letter with heavy legal overtones to the possessor of the keys to my house, he surfaces via email......His  olive branch! 
After 12 months of hopes being raised then dashed, I think that a whole dammed olive tree would have been more appropriate!
Apparently my house has " fallen through the cracks" due to the unforeseen, rapid expansion of his business, coupled with staffing problems!  Perhaps he should invest in a a few "how to " books......... Good Business Communication for Dummies or How to Efficiently Run a Business for Dummies. And concurrently, I should purchase How not to Lose Your Retirement Savings In a Global Recession for Dummies

I've started to think that my cup is half empty instead of being half full...... and it is all my own doing!

Pinocchio
Original art by Enrico Mazzanti

Keep climbing to the grenier
Post script: Just as Mr M started to dash my faith in others, 2 wonderful people with houses in France.....you know who you are.....have restored it, with offers of help. Now hopefully Mr M will help to maintain it, by keeping to his word and revised renovation schedule.

Corridor to the bedrooms -first floor

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Thursday, 1 December 2011

La Bise......The Kiss


To the uninitiated, a greeting in Europe can be a high-anxiety moment, fraught with danger. And no more so than in France . 
When I first started to travel around this country of contradictions, I ignorantly thought that 2 kisses on the check – with no “lip to skin” contact - was "the norm", but I was sadly misguided! Consequently  on meeting friends and acquaintances  en France my head resembles that of a confused hen darting awkwardly to and fro, backwards and forwards while waiting for a cue, from those whom I’m greeting, to stop. And when do I kiss-kiss (or should it be kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss) on the cheek, give a firm handshake or just a verbal greeting, with no accompanying body contact? 
Even Britain is no longer a safe haven from la bise when meeting and greeting! As for Australia – that’s simple, as I live in an area renowned for kissing when saying hello to friends and family. And it is definitely a single, albeit prolonged, kiss in the vicinity of the right cheek.....with the accompanying sound effects!

So if you are as confused as I am about exchanging kisses in France, you may benefit from watching the following video, L'art de la bise, and adding the web address of Combien de bises? to your iPhone.....to  which you may discretely refer in order to meet and greet with finesse instead of confusion.





Addendum: this is my 100th blog! It may be the only century I ever reach! My hat is off to those of you who have been committed to maintaining a blog for years. I hope I have the energy to follow in your footsteps. Bon weekend. 
If you are the owner of the lips image, please contact me so I can acknowledge you. Thank you.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Progress Report on My House in France

______________________________________________
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______________________________________________
______________________________________________
______________________________________________
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That's it.....absolutely no progress has been made. The silence 
from Mr M (Man on the Ground in France) has been deafening!
And he has had the keys to My French Folly for over a year now.
................Tomorrow is another day!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Emerging.....

Courtsey of dk images
Just starting to emerge for my therapeutic rest in bed. Thank you for your well wishes. The aggressive little viruses are stubbornly refusing to vacate my body, but at least I am beginning to feel human again .....albeit a dizzy one with a giant headache!
I'm astounded by the prolific number of entries on your blogs since I have been out of action.....not sure if I will be able to read and comment on all of them!I hope those of you from the U.S.A. had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
A national holiday to give thanks and reflect on the positives in one's life, regardless of one's religion or cultural background, is to be applauded.                     
  
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die: so, let us all be thankful.
Buddha 563-483 B.C.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

All is quiet.......

Apologies - I'll be off line for a few days and won't be able to chat to you or leave comments on your wonderful blogs because I'm as sick as a .......
Courtesy of dogfoodchat.com

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Will Santa Deliver?


Change is inevitable: the rhythmic change of the seasons; cognitive change as we gain life-experience and mature; physical change; change forced upon us from external sources, and change due to our own bad habits – change, over which we tend to delude ourselves.

As I’ve matured I’ve found the following equation to always holds true.
Lack of exercise + lack of sleep + poor food choices = muddled-headed 
                                                                                                              syndrome
 It is said,  “a problem recognised is a problem solved”. If only it were that simple. Currently I’m suffering from muddled-headed syndrome and appear to lack the wherewithal to remedy my malaise. Quite frightening for a person who you used to thrive on order and self-discipline!
My appetite has blossomed, along with my waist -line and bust size, since I reached the state of hormonal mayhem. Obviously, an issue to be discuss with my gynaecologist - which I did.  His professional diagnosis?  “It’s not your hormones that are the problem, it’s the fact that you can’t stop putting food into your mouth!” What a blow– no quick fix by a miracle of modern medicine. Ball’s back in my court.

Time for reflection.

My exercise routine……. I used to walk a few kilometres daily to and from work: a habit I developed after a wonderful sojourn in Switzerland where walking is de rigueur. A bad fracture, torn ligaments and a couple of DVTs interrupted that routine. Now I’m now finding it extremely difficult to rejuvenate this practice.

Food……. According to Fit and Firm for Women (L & D Hoy), I have a few issues with food.
  1. I eat when I am sad.
  2. I feel happier after eating.
  3. I regularly feel full.
  4. I am overweight.
  5. I nibble in front of the television. (Thank goodness T.V. watching is a rare event!)
  6. I eat when I’m not hungry.
  7. I eat as a diversion.
  8. I over-indulge.
  9. I choose the wrong foods when I’m under pressure.
What a list. …..I could have my own reality T.V. show!
One of my favourite Christmas foods, which always tastes nicer when we
pick them from the canes at Lily Pilly Farm.
So to sleep……. There are no crying babies to attend to….no other demands on my time other than that of work and home duties. So what has disrupted my sleep cycle? Technology. I’m seemingly forever on the computer – for work, leisure and for my blogging “fix”.
The blue spectrum of light stimulates specific receptors in our eyes, which in turn prime wakefulness.  So the solution for getting a good night’s sleep is simple -  press the Shut Down icon on the computer…….However, for me there is a growing chasm between knowing and doing. The older I get, the harder my bad habits are to break. A very unfortunate situation.

Another downside to being at the computer incessantly - prolonged sitting trims a few years of one’s life and leads to “writer’s bottom” …….flat !

All in all, I’m feeling very displeased with myself……. and I do like to be in control.
So number 1 on my Christmas list to Santa this year?  A packet – no, make that big stocking full of self-discipline. Will Santa deliver?

I had to stop and record this Christmas display in the middle of the Australian
sun. Each to their own!


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Root of the Problem.......

When I am passed a compliment it is accepted graciously. However, when it is from a person whom I admire, my spirits seem to overreact.  Helen is one of those people. Recently Helen returned from France stating that I looked very French.  "Ah…savoir-faire at last" I thought.....but not for long!  

My husband received his best hair cut here in Provence.
A fortnight ago, despite being on a 2 week break from work , I was unavailable to the world because I had a grey halo and Marc, my colourist, was fully booked out .….for 10 days! Only Marc is allowed to colour my hair. My suffering at the hands of  “professional colourists” in trying to achieve the “sun kissed” look is similar to that caused by bad cutters, but not as prolonged. There appears to be a problem with the porosity and proteins of my locks to which a number of colourists cannot adjust. I have been temporarily (very temporarily) orangutan orange, jet black, flamingo pink and white- blonde à la Marylyn Munro…… Hours of my life wasted in the hairdresser's chair with accompanying dangerously high, cortisol levels!
Then there was the episode of having litres of milk poured on my scalp. The colourist, Paul, forgot to set the timer, so he left me dozing with chemicals in my hair until I was woken by a fierce burning sensation. I had been brewing for an additional hour while he pranced around his salon gossiping with his celebrity clients.  When Paul sighted my burnt scalp the salon suddenly resembled an ants nest with all the worker ants focused on drenching my head with milk.  I was most unimpressed, as was my scalp. It took weeks for it to heal and, “to add insult to injury” the resulting colour was indescribable!  


So to grey or not to grey seems to be my perennial question.  Going au natural - what ever that may be – is very tempting. Grey and white hair can be so elegant and flattering if one has the appropriate skin tone and texture. But for the pale, and pasty brigade, of which I am one, grey hair can be aging.

The trouble with my grey hair is that its growth is erratic. As soon as a wisp of the grey sees some daylight, it sprouts forth at a frenetic pace, with profound social implications if my colourist is unavailable! 

After "fluffing about" at home and having to cancel some social engagements during my 2 weeks of holidays, I've decided that life is too short to be in self-imposed exile waiting for an appointment to have the “roots done”. And my hair is too unpredictable to make a booking chez le coiffeur, weeks ahead…So perhaps I’ve answered my own question…... But have I got the courage?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

To Blog or Not to Blog?

I need order in which to function - perhaps it is because I'm a Capricorn, or more likely due to my  INTJ personality. I love spontaneity, just not when deadlines have to be met and there are routine tasks that need completing.   Consequently I usually write my weekly blog in advance. This week my blog was focusing on the images of French photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand. However, when I went to comment on someone else's blog , I noticed that it too, contained the work of Arthus-Bertrand! Ahhh.... what now? 
...........Order dissipates. 
...........Schedule disrupted.
...........Solution (as you may have noticed) - upload the blog anyway!




Saturday, 29 October 2011

Paris and France....... a bird's eye view

Photograph by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Vicki Archer (French Essence, 2010) identified that elusive French character that annually draws millions of tourists  to the shores of France, when she stated that…...” in France there is a sixth sense - a French sense... French sense is simple - it is chemistry, a magical mix of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures... As a nation France has chemistry, as individuals the French have spark."
Renown French photographer and environmentalist, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, captures some of this intriguing French character in a series of superb images of Paris and France, which were taken from a helicopter. Click on the 2 links above to view Yann's breath-taking photographs. 
Photograph by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Friday, 21 October 2011

Tranquility in Times of Stress

Nature can still make me catch my breath. These images are of  some of the magical places in Switzerland that I revisit mentally in times of stress.....Yes, I'm slightly stressed, so instead of reaching for food, I'm using imagery to coax my brain into releasing more endorphins! 
I can vividly recall the fresh, damp scent that filled my nostrils, the crisp breeze against my skin and my feelings of absolute serenity and awe as I first stood at these locations to record their splendour on camera.






The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.  ~Author Unknown
I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.  ~Henry David Thoreau


Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.  ~John Muir


How do you relieve stress, or are you the laid-back type who always goes with the flow?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Hair Behaving Badly....thank you

Thank you for your kind offers to exchange hair and also for your wonderful comments about hair behaving badly (Bad Hair Days....Months....Years) Most reassuring.  Perhaps the grass always appears greener on the other side? 

Michael Leunig
Swapping my tangled mass for very straight locks is appealing…I would be able to jump out of bed and go for a jog or whiz to the shops for an ‘emergency litre of milk' without having to first douse my frizz in water and apply product…..a real challenge in the depths of winter!

Would I switch my voluminous mop with Annie’s  (Plum Siena) very fine, very straight hair?  Surely this option must be better than having a cranial duvet, especially in the hot summer months when I am too vain to be shorn in order to keep cool?

Courtsey Google Images*
The problems of humidity, greying, "texture", hairdressers who don’t listen and actually finding a hairdresser who can cut well, appear to be universal.

As Karin (La Pouyette) observed, "whatever country, Germany, London, France... hairdressers are the same all over! Nobody seems to be concerned about the days of depression after a coiffure visit".....For me it has been years of emotional "ups and downs"  at the hands of hairdressers.

For anyone thinking about a career move, there appears  to be a professional niche waiting to be filled by psychologists specializing in “hair trauma”.


Post script: 
Please visit the comments to last week's blog, Bad Hair Days....Months....Years - very entertaining and so true.....and sometimes a touch sad (to which I can relate.)


Courtsey Google Images* - if you are the owner of this image, please notify me so you can be acknowledged.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bad Hair Days...Months...Years


Courtsey Google Images*
I am cursed with the family’s rogue genes. My siblings are all tall and handsome, and still draw admiring comments, despite their years. I am shorter, pale (à la Cate Blanchett) with unruly curls that tended to frizz with the onset of puberty and became drier and less predictable on reaching middle age. A theatrical agent could easily cast me in the role of one of the witches in Macbeth without the need for a hairstylist.
In the era of “product”, one would think that this sort of hair could be easily tamed. But unfortunately there is a scarcity of effective frizz-reducing treatments, and then when I do locate one, I develop an allergy after 6 to 8 weeks of applying it to my unruly crown. The result: presentable hair and a bright pink face, similar in appearance to one that is sunburnt…...or to that of an alcoholic.

For years I’ve longed for hair through which my beau could sensually run his fingers and seductively toss aside as he kissed me. Instead, there is a tangled mass of protein springs bobbing about on my skull through which fingers can't penetrate.

My search for a suitable hairdresser, shampoo and conditioner has been a life-long quest.
Before "zis hair cut"
In my very early teens, at an age of great sensitivity when straight hair and no bust was de rigour, the doyen of hairdressing in Melbourne loudly exclaimed that “ zis hair haz to come orf’ and gave me a number 2……decades before it was in vogue. I can still remember the warm tears streaming down my face and my throat tightening as my curls fell to the ground. I wanted to scream “stop” but I was too intimidated to utter the meekest whisper of protest.
After "zis hair cut"

A new hairdresser was sought and a new look obtained -  chemically straightened hair……..until the air was damp! Father, (who had never accepted the change in my hair  from the soft golden locks of childhood to a hormonally-driven frizzy mop), was happier with this new hairdo and consequently compared me with sheep less frequently. 
As I grew older and wiser I decided, despite the angst my hair had caused, I didn’t want potent, nasty chemicals regularly applied to my scalp.

Another hairdresser. A natural look. A success. Unfortunately for me, but more so for him, this talented and rather flamboyant hairdresser prematurely passed away.

Enter Anthony – a sensitive and colourful soul. On our first meeting, Anthony informed me that my hair was of a type that could never look sophisticated and the only acceptable alternative, in his professional opinion, would be funky. So funky I became with varying success. Anthony had relationship issues that used to affect his hands or eyesight, and on occasions, both.  His desperate solution to his growing  problems was to move interstate, which led me to Stephan in 4er Paris. For the first time my heart actually sang after a hair cut, but I was faced with a dilemma. I couldn’t wait 12 months for another cut in Paris.

Finally fate sent me Emma – an English hairdresser (in Australia) who followed Stephan’s cut…….and improved on it! Ce n’est pas possible? A good haircut has a transforming effect on one’s self esteem. It had taken decades, but I finally felt at ease with my appearance. I have accepted that my search for a suitable leave in hair conditioner will be life long…. as will my father’s occasional references to sheep …..….obviously funky ones which are bien dans leur peaux!

Post Script.
The husband has just read the above and wants a “right of reply”. He loves my pale skin, the doona that adorns my head and my height, and rather biasedly claims that I resembled Nicole Kidman in my younger years. Yes, my husband truly loves me ….. for me!
The Artist and His Wife          Andrew Sibley






















* If you are the owner of this Google Image, please contact me so you can be acknowledged. Thank you

Friday, 30 September 2011

Mon Printemps 


 The sky is monotonal grey, heralding the promise of Spring rain. Will it deliver?
Spring should be refreshing – a time of hope and renewal. The rhythm of this season is reassuring ……….the fleeting displays of blossom. ………festoons of light green confetti cling securely to the bare branches of winter……….the fresh green, (occasionally tinged with yellow or pink ) of the new growth on the evergreens ……….





















              And the scent-laden air carrying the perfumes and unwelcome allergens of Spring – reminders that life is never perfect.


During the last decade, the promise of Spring has given way to despair as the seasonal rains dwindled. There is a whole generation that is unaware that in Victoria, October is “the wettest month”. This is evident by the recent, uncharacteristic rise in the number of Spring brides. 











Although it has just commenced, this Spring has the hallmarks of the Springs of old. Wonderful …….except for my red nose and heavy dependence on antihistamines!

Le Printemps par Théophile Gautier
Regardez les branches

Comme elles sont blanches,

Il neige des fleurs.
Riant de la pluie

Le soleil essuie

les saules en pleurs.
Et le ciel reflète

Dans la violette

Ses pures couleurs...
La mouche ouvre l'aile

Et la demoiselle

Aux prunelles d'or,

Au corset de guêpe

Dépliant son crêpe,

A repris l'essor.
L'eau gaiement babille,

Le goujon frétille

Un printemps encore !
Spring is a time when I dust off my camera- I love capturing the images of Spring flowers. What do you love about Spring?