Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ode to Kevin

Ode to Kevin - why? Read further.
We went shopping this morning (we are talking Saturday here) to the Prahran market. Melbourne has been really wet in the mornings when I like to get out on the bike but not today. Probably not a bad thing considering we were out at a trivia night and home late last night.
The last time we went to the Prahran market I bought Sue the Jacques Reymond book at the Essential Ingredient Foodie shop. She said to me, "I'm just going to have a look around, why don't you just pop off to the cook book section". So devious that woman.

His Book.

The Recipe

How it should look (from the book). Go Sue.

Did I tell you - Sue speaks green........
Although he is a Frenchman and a French trained chef, his food frequently uses Asian ingredients. The reason he gives for moving to Australia are twofold. One, that he has access to fantastic Asian  ingredients and two, that Australia doesn't have set views on how dishes should be cooked. In other words, he feels free to mess with what are otherwise traditional recipes and of course make up new ones. I dislike the term fusion food, but it's probably correct for many of his recipes. Anyhow, his food is wonderful.
This dish maybe less so, or maybe it was my cooking of it.
I found 3 books I would have liked to buy for Sue at the shop but instead, I took photos with my phone and purchased them from the Book Depository from the UK at half price. Tell you more when they arrive but they are about the historic Paris bistros and restaurants.

Getting back to the shopping - Rabbit, duck, quail were all on the list but it was mainly the rabbit (Lapin for you Francophiles) Sue had in mind for a recipe from Jacques' book. It may be because a friend of ours whom we caught up with at the Trivia night was distressed because Kevin, her rabbit was missing. Now I don't know if she suspected Sue had snuck in earlier in the day BUT!
Anyway Kevin did turnup thye next morning snuggled up in their garage - cut little thing he is with those floppy little ears - I met him Sunday morning. He's very cute and sociable and at a guess he would be very tender.
The shoulder and forelegs of the rabbit are browned to make the slow cooked sauce

with veggies

The sauce has quite a lot of ginger, with a balsamic reduction and then hoisin sauce, Dijon mustard and a few other bits and pieces. I'll post the recipe if anyone wants...the sauce was quite nice, but not fabulous.

It reminds me of the joke about Watership Down. You've read the book, seen the movie, now try the stew.
Does anyone know who sang the soundtrack song "Bright Eyes" to the movie - no prizes???????

Reymond is a Frenchman who came to Melbourne in 1983 and became one of us. I remember Sue and I going to a Mornington restaurant (on the peninsula) where he was the head chef and I tried for the first time - Oeufs en Meurette or poached eggs in red wine sauce. I've never been big on eggs but I tried this again at Auxerre, France in 2009 and absolutely loved it.

I've posted on M Chapoutier wines before. He's from the Languadoc region in the south west of France. His labels have braille. Recently he has invested in winemaking here in Victoria and so we tried one of his Shiraz or Syrah varieties.

Ready to cook with the sauce and resting on a bed of sliced potatoes.
Ready to eat - Couldn't wait

All gone and for me (Leon that is) sooo enjoyable with the wine.
 Leon really enjoyed this dish, but I don't think I'd bother making it again. I wasn't overly thrilled with the sweetness of the hoisin as I think it masked the beautiful flavour of the rabbit. It was very tender, the potatoes had good flavour, but...nah, not a favourite. Especially when a farmed rabbit costs about $20. It's not too difficult to get wild bunnies which are cheaper, although they are still not generally carried in supermarkets or most butchers, and while their flavour is, in my opinion, superior, they can be tough and not suitable for  relatively quick cooking.

This afternoon I intend to make some gougeres also from a recipe in the book, so hopefully they turn out well. I bought a beautiful Gruyere type cheese made in Tasmania to go into them, and they should go nicely with a nice glass of bubbles this evening. Tasmania makes some very nice cheeses and has some lovely cool climate wines also. A beautiful part of Australia. Leon and I honeymooned there, many, many moons ago.With coffee we shared a very nice and smelly washed rind cheese and a soft blue cheese from Tasmania along with some quince paste and thin crackers. Mmmm, yummy.

As we post this, its Sunday night and we are ready to relax in front of the telly and have an early night. We'll catch up with you on "Wednesdays in France" when we discover a Brocante in Le Bugue.
Hope your weekend was enjoyable.

Maybe we'll cook pork next weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Satire Song

Axis of Awesome are an Aussie comedy singing trio - no further explanation required. Grab a cuppa, sit down and be amused for a few minutes.

OK - hope that put a whimsical smile on your face - We're off to the market now to buy some things to cook from a cook book that we bought recently - tell you more Monday.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

CAR BADGES - just a little trivia for you.

Over the years many car manufacturers become known, not only by their name but their badge or logo. On todays cars, look at Toyota, Mazda and Lexus and you'll see the badge but no name.

Have you ever wondered what the origin of Citroen's double chevron insignia is? Probably not, but this is my blog so I'll tell you.

Before Andre, Andre Citroen that is, started making cars - he produced gear wheels. Instead of a worm drive, he developed this herringbone style of gear mesh as the photo below illustrates.

Australia imported many Citroens in the years between the two world wars. They mainly came in chassis form with the bodies built by coachbuilders here. This avoided some sort of tax that was attached to imported fully built cars. Alfa Romeo, Fiat and many other European cars came to Australia like this and hence had unusual bodies compared to their Euro counterparts.

We've been Citroen owners and members of the Citroen Car Clubs in Melbourne over the years. We started with the Traction Avant in its four and six cylinder form and later the Xantia came along which is still in the family and has been for almost 10 years.

You might consider that this post is just a little piece of trivia and it is. I'm just getting into practice because Friday night Sue and I are off to a fundraising Trivia Night with friends. Our table is called "A boy called Sue" because we are dressing up in black and most of our wives are named Sue.
Except that my Sue wants to be called Johnny - maybe that's because she has all the CASH!!!!
And on that note, I'll say goodnight (it's Thursday night as I post this at 11.50pm)


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arriving at Le Bugue for a Week

It was time to turn Tommy back on and head to Le Bugue – we needed to be there before 4.00 pm to meet our hosts for the next week.
The drive from Rocamadour took us pass the outskirts of Sarlat entering Le Bugue from the east. We travelled down its narrow main street with hardly enough room for two oncoming large trucks to pass each other. Many of the shops were boarded up and the general impression was that Le Bugue had seen better days. This was not the case as we would later learn. Le Bugue had attractions of its own but also it was a great spot to circle out from as we would discover over the following week.

As you can see from the sign post, Le Bugue offered many outgoing roads to villages to explore.
On this particular day, there was a Brocante in town, but that will come in a later post.

Sue had reservations about being on the village outskirts rather than in the village proper. We were probably no more than maybe two kms out in what seemed like a newer development area but the cottage was old and beautifully renovated. It had a serene feeling once you entered the front gate. It had some land around giving a feeling of space and openess.

Although the old stone, high roofed building had two levels, we didn't have access to the upper level and no one lived there. We never discovered its purpose. Our hosts Sonia and Minko were from the Nederlands and had settled in Le Bugue several years back. They were the perfect hosts and we discovered how nice they were as Sue's birthday drew closer.
Just a quick word about our past hosts on previous trips - we have been fortunate to have met the most wonderful people along the way. In Italy and throughout France. Some are locals and others from other countries having settled in France. All seem so happy in their lifestyle.

Our home for the next full week.
And when Sue saw the kitchen, the fact that we were not actually in the village wasn’t an issue anymore. Sonia and Minko greeted us at the property to show us around and introduce us to the home we were to spend the next week. It had two generous bedrooms, a huge living area that flowed to the open kitchen which was once the cow shed. Just beyond the kitchen was a great al fresco area where we spent several sunny afternoons sipping on a glass of wine or three, well maybe even four but who is counting. We never did!!!
Occasionally during our stay we would purchase the local Foie Gras, the liver of force fed geese or duck. It is believed the technique originated as far back as 2500 bc with the Egyptians. The practice maybe contoversial but the produce itself is too die for, and you may if you eat too much.

Sue enjoys relaxing with a book before cooking up a storm in the kitchen - the great lump of rock under the kitchen bench was part of the old animal enclosure. Just out the back door is where we would enjoy the sunny afternoons drinking local wine with cheese, pate or foie gras which the area is well known for.
Another view of the kitchen where we would purchase the produce of the region
to enjoy in our comfortable cottage.

Many a bottle of wine was enjoyed here.

And just our luck - this early Citroen truck was parked outside the local Cave (wine cellar) where we bought most of our wine over the week in Le Bugue.
After being greeted by our hosts, it was time to drive into the village for provisions for the night's meal plus the ongoing provisions for the next few days. Sue made a beeline for the local Boucherie and made friends straight away with the local Butcher. She does that. He was quite a gregarious soul and happy to offer Sue much advise on his produce, even to hints on how to prepare and cook it.

The bridge at Le Bugue was under renovation with a widening process for pedestrian traffic. The existing walkway was so narrow that you could feel the air turbulence from cars passing closely by.

Over the next week we would discover the many Cafes
hidden away in the side streets and along the riverbank.

We found a local Café that had wifi so we could communicate with home and I could stay in touch with work plus I found the local Bike Shop across the road. The proprietor stood in the doorway with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He must have been well into his seventies. He had a smile for me. Unfortunately though, me with no French and he with no English, it was frustrating not to communicate with this gentleman. I fantasized that he must have had a rich racing history in his past. I imagined he must have ridden with the best and competed in many great classics and of course Le Tour.
In reality, he was probably just a local rider that decided on his retirement, to open the bike shop in his home town. I’ll never know the truth due to my lack of the language. He did however take an interest in my single speed bike that would take me to many wonderful rides in the local area.

My local Bike Shop. The owner watches the village go about its daily life.
I wish I had the opportunity to listen to some of his memories.

We were told that this was one of the oldest businesses in Le Bugue - the local Cobbler.
It was time to leave the village and relax back at the cottage for our first night at Le Bugue in the Dordogne. Like Cahors, Le Bugue sits on the bend or horseshoe of a river.

The Vezere river zig-zags it way through the region and we crossed it many times, in fact, we crossed every time on our way to and from the cottage to the village. The Vezere passed our cottage not more than 200 metres away. It was peaceful where we were and it was time to relax on this first night in Le Bugue.

Yep, that's me relaxing with a glass of wine after the drive from
Cahors to Rocamadour and finally to Le Bugue for a full week.
Next week we branch out to the surrounding district to some of the amazing sights of the Dordogne and along the Vezere River.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tom Roberts - Australian Impressionist

Not a great deal happened this weekend - well other than having an early Saturday morning ride with my fellow cyclist on the famous Beach Road on the edge of Port Phillip Bay, then meeting up with a client to do some weekend business negotiations. Oh, yes - then the girls had an exciting crochet night while us boys decided on a Thai dinner at the local restaurant and then back to watch a stage of the Giro Italia. Sunday morning was a late get-up to mow the lawns before a luncheon with our youngest son's girlfriend's mother (looking serious) before getting home to blog.

So you can see that we really were "light on" for blog stuff.
I decided that due to a fellow blogger saying he liked Impressionist artists, that I would extend on our Aussie Impressionist artists. Tom Roberts is one of my favorites.
As an art student in the 60s I was introduced to the paintings of Impressionist Tom Roberts. I studied art at Preston Tech before moving on to being a display assistant at Myer in the city. Some of his paintings hung on the walls of the Melbourne art gallery and our teachers took us there.

Shearing the Rams
Melbourne scene
Roberts was born in 1856 at Dorchester, England but after his father passed away, his mother and Tom migrated to Australia in 1869. They settled at the inner suburb of Collingwood where my ancestors lived.
It wasn't long after arrival he started to show promise with the brush and started studying art. Later in the 1870s he won an award for a landscape painting and in 1874 joined the National Gallery School.

From his paintings, I believe he saw the Australian landscape, particularly the bush with different eyes from past artists. His paintings took on a look of the French Impressionists and this influenced other local Melbourne artists. In particular, Fred McCubbin joined Roberts to paint at Studley Park, Kew. This was an area of preserved bushland across the river from working class Collingwood. He and McCubbin would walk along Johnston Street from where Roberts lived in Collingwood to paint in the parklands. Studley Park has memories for me also. My grandparents lived within the parklands a century later. My grandfather was a park caretaker and I would spend weekends in the biggest backyard ever.

Mentone Beach.
I know this area very well, its probably more Beaumaris and I suspect its the area where we would buy our mussels from.
Boat on the Beach - Queenscliff
Queenscliff is on the other side of the bay from Mentone. There's a ferry that runs from the tip of the Mornington Peninsula at Sorrento that goes past the heads to Queenscliff.
In 1883 Roberts took off to London and then to Spain to absorb further influences from other artists overseas. When in Spain some of these influences showed in his paintings while there. He returned back to Melbourne in 1885 to meet with Arthur Streeton (later Sir) and during 1887 they both would paint in our local area of Mentone and Beaumaris with other artist that would eventually join them two years later at Eaglemont and Heidelberg in the northern part of then rural Melbourne not far from where I grew up and spent hours riding my bike as a teenager.

Artist Camp
This is an area that I once lived close to. Over the years, Eaglemont had some of the most beautiful homes built within the Edwardian era and Art Nouveau style.

Darebin Creek
This was an area close by where I race on the indoor Velodrome on Thursday nights. Have you noticed that there's a theme happening here????

Roberts - taken as he was in the process of painting the above masterpiece
The finished painting

A Summer Morning
 I can't help feeling that Tom Roberts and I had something in common in some sort of strange way. He settled in Collingwood where my ancestors lived. He painted initially in the parklands where I played as a child with my grandparents. Later he painted in the suburb where I now live and again later with the Heidelberg school of impressionists, he painted around the hills where I used to train.

It was more than a decade ago when writing my book on Rob Roy Hill Climb, I met a man by the same name. This Tom Roberts that I interviewed talked about his motor racing career and the famous cars he owned. I touched on the subject of his name being the same as the famous artist and he told me that Roberts was actually his great Uncle.
Tom has a Gallery in Kew which is just across the Yarra river where his Great Uncle established the Heidelberg School of Artists.
Tom Roberts Gallery website

I'm sorry that not much happened this weekend to report, maybe next weekend will be more exciting.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Saturday Satire & the Euro Economy

These two guys Clarke and Dawe are very popular in Australia - If you like their humour, you'll find more on You Tube. Clarke started his career as Fred Dagg in NZ.

Clarke, a Kiwi and proud of it, crossed the ditch - the Tasman that is and made a career in Australia, so he's ours now but here's a bit of his early stuff which philosophically is just as true for the great southern land down under.

Funky Feline Foto

The Princess sleeps while I'm off to work - It's true Dogs have masters, cats have staff.
And as usual on a Friday  "AVAGOODWEEKEND"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Week in Le Bugue and the Dordogne

Leaving Vers and Cahor, we felt that we had not experienced all the delights that the area had to offer but surely that's the case, wherever you travel. You just suck in a bit to cherish for your memory. Something to talk about to your friends or to reminince with your travelling partner.

Not wanting to take the motorways, we turned on Tommy and typed Rocamadour into our GPS. Surely with no more than 70 kms, Tommy couldn’t do much damage to our driving confidence. How wrong we were. This GPS has one wicked sense of humour. I’m sure he took us the long way with more goat tracks to be negotiated. Maybe goat tracks were appropriate as Rocamadour gives its name to the cheese produced from the milk of the small goats of the region.
As we came closer to our destination, the roads became smaller and the campervans became larger, or so it seemed. Tommy took us through forests, into valleys and over cliff tops. On entering the small village of L’Hospitalet, we were both in need of a good strong coffee before venturing into the famous destination of religious pilgrimage to kings and noblemen over the centuries. As we sat in the morning sun sipping on our coffee, the view across the Alzou valley from our café was breathtaking. There was Rocamadour clinging to the cliffside for centuries past.

Rocamour sits on the cliff face of the Alzou Valley as it has since the 1100s.

As Sue took a visit to back room of the café, I walked across the road for a better view of this village perched on the steep rocky cliff. Two cyclists just happened by, so I made an approach and struck up a conversation, that’s what I do. They were doing a cycling tour through the Dordogne with their whole world in the pannier bags of their bikes. We actually saw them earlier as we drove through the valley and saw them climbing up to the plateau we now stood on. How brave they were and fit as well.

Looking up towards the Chateau that once was the place of a fort to protect Rocamadour.
We decided it was time to explore Rocamadour, so we drove across the plateau to the car park at the Chateau where once there was a fort that protected the village below. Rocamadour sits perched on the cliffs rising 100 metres above the valley floor. The village sits in the valley and slightly rises up the cliff face to the “Grand Stairway” which then leads to a group of chapels. We decided it would be easier to use the Funicular rather than trudge the many very steep steps upwards, so we took in the many chapels and the Basilica.

Legend claims that Saint Amadour, a hermit Christian lived here. His undecayed body was supposedly found in a grave site during 1166. Nearby the statue of the Black Virgin was discovered in a grotto under the cliff ledge. Today the Chapel of Notre Dame houses the statue of the Black Virgin which is carved from the trunk of Walnut tree and stands 68cm tall. The guide book we bought claims that of the 300 ancient black virgin statues known in the West, 150 are in France.

We wandered through chapels, up and down steps taking in the amazing buildings and sculptured arches and doorways, not really understanding the meaning or significance of each building. Yet, we were in awe of how these buildings clung to the rock face over the many centuries.

Descending down the very steep stairway to the village below, we were faced with the crassness of “souvenir world”. We tried to close our eyes to the many souvenir shops and imagine the buildings as they might once had been, homes to the villagers going about their daily life. I guess the residents still do, but their life today is tourism. I did buy some great postcards and a great little personal souvenir totally out of context of where we were. I have this little toy cyclist sitting on my desk while I write this which came from Rocamadour. (I can hear you say - how is he going to get cycling into this post).......

We walked the full length of the main road of the village (maybe there was just the one road) and back again before returning to the Furnicular that took us to the very top of the cliff face and back to our car.

Just being Tourists - why not on this perfect spring day in a wonderful part of France.
It was time to find Le Bugue and our villa for the next week. It would be relaxing to kick back and call someplace home for a while.

My little toy cyclist wears the French National colours as he rides through the Dordogne.
He sits on my desk as I write this and we share some memories together on thos past rides.
Tell you more over the next few weeks. Not quite sure if he should be Poulidor or Anquitel.
I think the French might have had a special connection to Pou Pou.

Next week - Our home in Le Bugue.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

As Weekends Go!!!!

This Saturday night was our first open fire for the coming winter season - we love winter in Melbourne. Open fires, scarves and overcoats. All the seasons have their special moments to enjoy. Coming home from work Friday arvo, the traffic was chaotic. The freeway was bumper to bumper on the Bolte bridge that spans the Docklands waterways BUT, there was a "special moment".

Storms approaching

I detest Friday late afternoon on Melbourne's freeways. One consolation is that Friday Champagne waiting for me when I get home.
Normally you are travelling at 80 kph and you don't have an opportunity to view the skyline of Melbourne. On this occasion with the stop-start traffic, high above the waterways, I could see the impending storm rushing towards the CBD. Blue turned to grey as the skies darkened. Like the Crowded House song, "Four Seasons in One Day", the storm had passed over and glimpses of blue poked through the clouds.
Friday night for us is Champagne to celebrate the start of the weekend and we had plans - firstly a very special friend with his lady were coming for dinner on Saturday night. Sunday was a cycling day where I was to introduce a group of my cycling friends to the excitement of riding on a steeply banked indoor velodrome - but more about Sunday later.

Sue being the obsessive foodie that she is, is preparing the meal as I write this. Now how obsessive is she did I hear you ask!
Well she's even instructed me on how to place these new plates on the table. I'm told to place the higher outer lip to the outer side - my God!!!!!
Oh yes, the other instructions included vaccuming, tidying, preparing the open fire, buying the wine for the meal - it's a tough life.

The wine:
A Hunter Valley Verdelho white for the entree.
For the main course, our favorite Cotes-du-Rhone from M.Chapoutier (2007).
We discovered a lovely sticky last year in France from Monbazillac through a friend who lives in Paris.
I found two bottles falling into my basket as I left Uncle Dan's cellar.
One for the desert and one for us at a later date.

The Menu:
Entree - Arancini Balls with a Capsicum Sauce. (What are these Sue? BTW, she talks in green)
Little balls of risotto stuffed with peas and mozzarella. Bought from a lovely deli. The sauce I made of roasted red capsicum, roasted garlic, blitzed with a little chicken stock, salt, pepper and a spoonful of cream added at the end. Shaved pecorino to finish.
Main Course - This is a Cous Cous chicken thing with roasted veggies of pumpkin, carrots, red onion, sweet potato, fennel, and that's about all I know - Hey Sue, can you explain this for our readers please?
Sure Leon..a bed of cous cous with raisins, perserved lemon and pomegranate. Then chicken marinated in a chermoula sauce then roasted and placed on top of the cous cous with a garlicy sauce on top. A little bed of rocket in the middle. Served with the cumin roasted veggies Leon mentioned, except for the fennel, which was sliced finely and added to spinach and fresh orange in a salad.

The dining table set ready for the guests. Sue's cook books and my CDs in the background.
And she says I have too many CDs - Ha!
Desert - Vanilla Panna Cotta with this really yummy raspberry coulis (which I got to try earlier) and almond bread. Sue how did you make that raspberry thing?
It was a vanilla and orange panna cotta, as I infused the cream with orange rind and a vanilla pod. Cheez Leon. The raspberry "thing" coulis was just blitzed raspberries with a little icing sugar and a little lemon juice.
It was a relaxing and pleasant Saturday night spent with friends.

My job is to be entertaining while clearing the table, bringing the kitchen back  from a middle eastern war zone and washing the dishes, etc. that's what he does. Sometimes my kitchen still has a middle eastern accent in the morning!

Hope I can get up in the morning for a 7.30 am start.

Yes, I did and we are at the track. It's Sunday morning and I have a gaggle of newbies for their first ride on a steeply banked board track. They enjoyed themselves taking a little while to get used to the 45 degree banked bends but by the end of the day, most were skooting around the top near the fence - I was very proud of their courage.

The smiles of anticipation (or Fear) Behind is that wall of fear to ride on.
 Its now 9.30 pm Sunday Night and time to retire - hope your weekend was rewarding. I think I may have spent all my brownie points today and will have some house repair jobs next weekend.