Cheese #1 Brillat-Savarin

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A year or so ago, our French neighbours invited us to dinner. I don’t remember everything that we had to eat, but I do remember it being un repas simple entre amis (a simple meal among friends). However, I cannot forget the cheese that they served us, in French style of course, between the main course and the dessert. It was a cheese we had not tasted before, or in fact, even heard of. This cheese was Brillat-Savarin.

Suzanne, our neighbour, served the cheese quite simply with a crusty baguette, but she told us that it was also very good served with just fresh strawberries. This is because it is a very creamy cheese, (you’ve heard of double cream, well this cheese is made from triple cream!) almost sweet, but with a faintly sour, but not unpleasant, after taste. We have tried this back home in the U.K. and indeed it does work, the creamy sweet texture of the cheese compliments the fresh fruit beautifully.

Brillat-Savarin was first created at the end of the nineteenth century in Normandy, (and then later in Burgundy) and was initially called Excelsior and Délice des gourmets (Gourmets’ delight), but in the 1930s, the great French cheesemonger Henri Androuët, whose great role in life was to introduce Parisians to the rich variety of their native cheeses which he gathered from all over the country to sell in his Paris shop, renamed the cheese in honour of the eighteenth century gourmet and political figure, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

It is obviously quite easy to find this cheese in fromageries and supermarkets in France, but we wanted to to able to enjoy this cheese back in the U.K. too. Specialist cheese shops such as Paxton & Whitfield in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath stock it, but much to our delight we found it also in the food halls of M&S. I’m told that it is also available from Waitrose.

Last night we had friends here for dinner, and we served this cheese along with a hard cheese from the Basque region of France. The last word must go to our guest who, tasting the cheese for the first time, said that it was just like having double cream on bread! Try it for yourself, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Downpour to Heatwave!

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(This is the view of Canet that we normally see on our approach to the airport in Perpignan – but not on this occasion! Thick rain clouds meant we saw nothing at all)

To say it was raining is an understatement! As we came into land on our Ryanair flight from Birmingham, the skies over Perpignan were full of thick dark clouds. It wasn’t just raining, it was pelting down, you could hear it on the fuselage of the plane, you could see it pouring down the windows in rivulets. When the steward opened the front door of the plane to secure the steps he was absolutely soaked, despite wearing his raincoat, and the captain announced that no one was getting off in the next few minutes. Despite all that, thankfully the landing was pretty smooth, although there was one almighty flash of lightening as we touched down. What a welcome to the south of France!

We’ve been here a week now, and it has got a lot better, thankfully! In fact by the time we reached our house in Canet half an hour later, the sun was beginning to peep through the clouds, and the second downpour that we had experienced on the road from the airport had ceased. By the evening, when we went out to a local restaurant, everywhere was dry. Dinner on this first night was to be in a restaurant we have known well for the past twenty-four years. Back in 1993 when we first came to Canet, we stayed at a place called Malibu Village, a holiday resort made up of Timeshare apartments, rentals and owner-occupiers. The restaurant in those days was very good, but has gone through difficult times of late. We had heard that it is now very much on the up, and we were not disappointed. Carefully prepared and beautifully presented dishes were put in front of us by friendly and attentive staff. We both started with Escalivade, a Catalan dish of roasted vegetables, served here with asparagus and a Parmesan Crisp, which we followed with Gambas for my partner and Sea Bass for me.

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(Escalivade with a Parmesan Crisp served with Black Olive dressing on a glass plate)

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The dessert, one of my favourites, was Tartelette Citron Meringuée.  A good helping of really local red wine ensured that we passed a very pleasant evening.

Sunday was spent working in the garden, which during our absence over the previous two and a half weeks back in the U.K. had burst into colour. There was lots to do, cutting back the creepers, and thinning out the vine, to ensure a good crop of black Muscat eating-grapes in late August and early September. That done we made our way to Perpignan where we were going to attend the evening Mass of Pentecost at the Cathedral.

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(The Sanctuary of the Cathedral in Perpignan prepared for the Pentecost Sung Mass)

As the weather gradually got better during the week, much of our time was spent organising the outdoor furniture and getting the swimming pool (la piscine) back into operation. Our regular pisciniste arrived on Monday and did the major cleaning work after removing the winter cover, cleaned the filter, checked the ph levels, and reset the timers and the heater. All done within an hour, and all we had to do was wait until the temperature was at the level we like it. Within two days the water was crystal clear again, without the use of chemicals. In the pool house there is a UV lamp over which the water constantly passes, removing any impurities and thereby doing away with that awful smell of chlorine! Thanks to the summer cover, which is like thick bubble wrap, and the efficient heater, the water temperature is now 28° Celsius, or for those who work in Fahrenheit, a very pleasant 82°. With the aid of the sun, (and this weekend we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave down here) it will soon be over 30° or a mere 86°. A bit like a luke warm bath!

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Yesterday we marked a personal event, and took ourselves off to Saint-Cyprien, the next town south along the coast, to celebrate in style at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by friends. Saint-Cyprien is one of the largest pleasure boat ports along this coast and also has a fishing harbour, so the fish is always very fresh in the restaurants there. Before our meal we enjoyed a Mojito in a bar on the edge of the port called Le Bateau Ivre, (The Drunken Boat), and since I was driving, mine was non-alcoholic, I hasten to add. It’s known in French as a Mojito Virgin!

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At the restaurant, L’Hidalgo, once again we were not disappointed. Our starter was a rather large platter of Tapas. Being so close to the Spanish border, tapas is very common in these parts and is often found on menus. Ours consisted of a selection of cold meats, Manchego cheese, white anchovies, razor shells, squid, crispy chicken and a fried fishy doughnut, called acras de Morue. We were able to take our time over all this with a good bottle of red wine from Collioure, a beautiful fishing port and wine producing area two more town further south along the coast towards Spain.

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(Platter of tapas, with the inevitable, but delicious bowl of Aioli in the foreground)

Then came our main courses: my partner had chosen to have Parillade de Poissons, a mixed grill of fish and seafood which he very gallantly made his way through!  Mine was a  Cocotte d’Agneau façon tajine, a slow cooked North African Lamb Tagine, which was not too spicy, but very flavoursome. I did leave room for another of my favourite desserts which I have mentioned in a previous blog, Un Café Gourmand, a selection of four tiny desserts, including a Crème Catalan, and another tiny Tarte au Citron Meringuée, with an espresso coffee. Sitting facing the harbour, watching the moon rise, with not a breath of wind, was a lovely end to the evening.

We have really kind neighbours here. Four days ago, the neighbour on one side brought us a huge bag of cherries, which her cousin had picked up near Vinça, about twenty-five miles away. They were beautiful and we have enjoyed some every day since. Then two days ago, the neighbour on the other side brought us a bowl of apricots which she had just picked from the tree in her garden. They were delicious. Not many food miles involved there! Thank you Nicole and Suzanne!

And so our first week here in Canet-en-Roussillon has come to an end, but not without a little sadness. Just above the covered terrace outside the kitchen there is a decorative water spout, which serves no purpose, it’s just there to add symmetry to the look of the terrace,  but over the past few years it has become home to nesting birds who have successfully reared their chicks there, and we’ve watched them coming and going to bring food, and eventually see the young fly the nest. This year, sadly things have been different; first on Wednesday, then yesterday, and now this morning, we have found three chicks on the floor below. Did they fall, or were they pushed? We shall never know, and we cannot interfere, nature has to take its course. But it is still very sad to witness, and we are wondering if there are any chicks still in the nest?

What started with a downpour has ended with a heatwave, but better that way round as today the French are voting again. Just over a month ago they held Les Présidentielles when Emmanuel Macron was elected President, and today is the first round of Les Législatives, when members of parliament are elected. Personally, I’ve had enough of elections, but that is another story, and not one that I intend to get into here!

Thursday Thanks #6

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At the end of this week I shall be going back to France, a country whose language, culture, food, wine and climate I love. As a welcoming liberal modern democracy, it is a far cry from the country it was when my father made that journey seventy-seven years ago. He went along with hundreds of thousands of others as part of the British Expeditionary Force to help defend France. At that time Nazi Germany had invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and Panzer divisions were attacking France through the Ardennes, driving the British troops back towards the northern coast around Dunkirk. There they were trapped with no means of escape until Churchill and his war cabinet drew up a plan, which was codenamed Operation Dynamo, to evacuate all the allied soldiers  from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk at the end of May 1940. Churchill, in a speech to the British Parliament had described the events in France as “a colossal military disaster” and that “the whole root and core and brain of the British army had been stranded in Dunkirk” and were about to perish there. What happened there seventy-seven years ago, he also later described as “a miracle of deliverance”.

Because between 26th May and 4th June 1940, thousands of soldiers were rescued by a hastily assembled  flotilla of over eight hundred boats of varying shapes and sizes, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats, and merchant marine sent from the south coast of England. On the first day of the evacuation only seven and a half thousand were rescued; but by the end of the evacuation three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twenty-six soldiers had been saved from certain death or capture. As it was, over sixty-eight thousand soldiers lost their lives, and almost all of the tanks, vehicles and other equipment were abandoned  in northern France.

I am proud to say my father was there and certainly saved in that evacuation. He never spoke to me of those events in Dunkirk or of eventually being rescued; I am sure that something like that left deep scars on the psyche of a twenty-two year old. And so in this Thursday Thanks, I want to thank my father (who died sixteen years ago in 2001) and pay tribute to all those others who have allowed my generation to have the freedom that we enjoy today, and in particular for me, being able to make those regular journeys to France which I so enjoy.

Photo on 28 May 2017, 16_16_18

My father is pictured just to the left of the striped post in the centre of the photograph, on his return to England after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

A little bit of history!

It’s hard to believe, but we have lived in this house for nearly twenty years! Situated on the east side of the city centre, it’s not like  the districts to the west of the city, which have some lovely old houses, many of them quite grand. But it does have its good points. A friend once described this house and others in this road as faded Edwardian splendour. The Edwardian is not quite true as the house was built in 1913, making it just over one hundred years old, and strictly speaking it was built in the reign of King George V. As for the faded splendour, well that makes it sound a bit like Satis House, the home of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, and I assure you it is not!

But it is a good place to live. The local Residents’ Association works hard to improve the quality of life for all of us in this corner of the city which includes Gosford Park, Stoke Green and Stoke Park.

It’s a place full of history too. Just a couple of hundred metres from this house is Gosford Green! And it was there in the fourteenth century that a famous incident took place which involved single combat between the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Hereford. I quote from the website of our Residents’ Association: The dispute arose after one of the dukes was said to have uttered treasonable remarks against King Richard ll. Large numbers, including up to 10,000 soldiers, gathered to witness the event on Gosford Green, but at the last moment the king halted the duel and both dukes were banished.

The Duke of Hereford, otherwise known as Henry Bolingbroke, (remembered in a local road name) returned, took Richard prisoner and forced him to abdicate. The king was subsequently killed and Bolingbroke took over the monarchy as King Henry lV. This treacherous act led to the Wars of the Roses and during this period Parliament sat in Coventry.

Henry lV‘s son, Henry V, in later years won the Battle of Agincourt. So the duel that nearly happened at Gosford Green in Coventry proved to have a significant part to play in English history.

We can see Gosford Green from our house, and it is fascinating to imagine those thousands of soldiers gathered where this house now stands, and the importance to the history of the Succession of the English Monarchy and British history in general that this little corner of Coventry has played.

The photographs shared from the website of Gosford Park Residents’ Association show something of the very attractive nature of the place that I am pleased to call home, and are reproduced here with permission. Just click on “Pictures” below, and you will be taken to the GPRA website.

Source: Pictures

Pray for Manchester

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London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul, Nice, New York, Saint Petersburg, to name just a few.

Then there are cities and towns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the list goes on.

Now the city of Manchester is added to that list.

I have no words to add to the thousands already spoken.

Just thoughts and prayers for those who have died.

For those who have suffered bereavement or injury.

For those who are confused or traumatised.

When will it end?

I simply share the words of this prayer that I saw on Facebook this morning.

Lord have mercy,

Lord have mercy on the people of Manchester,

Lord have mercy on all caught up in the bombing,

Lord have mercy on all who are injured and traumatised,

Lord have mercy on all who are bereaved and bereft,

Lord have mercy on all who are providing care and solace,

Lord have mercy on those who must investigate what has happened,

Lord have mercy on us all as we struggle to understand why this can happen,

Lord have mercy. Amen.

Listening to the news reports today, we should also be grateful and proud for that spirit of coming together that the people of Manchester have shown, as well as the spirit of defiance in the face of evil and terrorism. It is the same attitude that has been shown in cities around the world, and is the only thing we can do. We have to continue with our daily lives because we cannot allow evil to win.

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Photo Album from Canet #1

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Before I go back home on Tuesday, I’m going to share some of the photographs that I took yesterday in the historic quarter of Canet-en-Roussillon. There will be more to follow when I come back in a few weeks time. For those who might be interested, all the photos were taken with the camera on my iPhone SE.

(Photo above: Plant pots outside a house on the Rue du Presbytère)

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(Left: Coloured shutters on houses in the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Right: The sun shines through the arch on La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: A classic Peugeot outside the Restaurant Vigatane on the Rue des Remparts)

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(Left: An old town house on the Rue du Château. Right: The sun shines on the tower of the Parish Church of Saint Jacques, built between the 14th and 16th centuries)

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(Above: Dappled sunlight shining through a palm tree leaving shadows on the old brick wall in La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: The fountain by the Church in La Place Saint Jacques)

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(Above: Le Château Vicomtal, originally built in the 11th century, is gradually being restored to its original splendour by local stonemasons)

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(Left: An ivy clad house in the Rue de la Bascule. Right: View through an opening in the northern medieval town wall)

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(Above: The local bar, Le Castell, advertises Brochettes, which are served on the terrace in summer, in the shade of the plane trees, yet to come into full leaf)

Thursday Thanks #5

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There are a few more days left of this holiday, staying at our house in Canet-en-Roussillon. Just a few hundred metres away, the town’s new Medical Centre is nearing completion. Health-wise we are well served in this area, with a world renowned clinic just a few miles away, a large brand new hospital in Perpignan and two private clinics in the city. The new centre, due to open later this summer will be an important addition to the town’s health facilities for both locals and tourists.

I often pass the building site (photo above) where the centre is taking shape, and that has led me to think about healthcare this week, and for it to be the subject of my Thursday Thanks blog post. It’s not just the new building  which has prompted this, but also a number of friends who have recently undergone medical treatment. Healthcare here in France is supposedly amongst the best in the world, and one of my friends, an eighty six year old ex-pat is recovering well from recent major surgery, and what she describes as excellent treatment, to replace a ball and socket joint in the shoulder.

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom comes in for a lot of criticism, but it is also something that the British are usually very proud of. I certainly am, and with respect to any American friends reading this, I don’t really understand your country’s opposition to a National Health Care system like ours in the U.K. As I get older, like most people, I find I’m needing healthcare more and more, and I know it will always be there when I need it, and it will be free of charge. Another friend has recently had day surgery, and if she is reading this we wish her well.

Most doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare system do a wonderful job, and we can all be grateful for their expertise and care, but many of them on the front line suffer abuse, and of course, we know that there is severe understaffing in the British system. Today, in my Thursday Thanks, I am expressing my gratitude for healthcare in general and for the healthcare that I have received over the years, and those dedicated people who have cared for me and enabled me to be as healthy as I am today! I look forward to the new Medical Centre here, Medi-Canet, being opened and improving the health of the people of this town for many years to come.