Kaled it…

Kale chips

Thought I’d better find out what all the fuss was about kale chips (crisps). So now I know – delicious!

Here’s what I did:

  • Washed and dried the kale leaves in a spinner.
  • Tore the leaves into small, bitesize pieces (removing the tough spine).
  • Drizzled with olive oil, then rubbed the oil over all the leaves to ensure they were well covered.
  • Spread out in a single layer on a lined baking tray, seasoned with salt & pepper.
  • Baked at 180C for 5 – 10min. (Sorry about that wide range – I didn’t actually time it, just kept checking on them. When they started getting the slightest tinge of brown, I whipped them out).

They are very very thin and crispy when cooked. Be prepared to find them as addictive as potato chips! You’ve been warned.

Against the grain…

Muesli bars without oats.

Also without sugar, dairy, eggs or flour.

No, this is not a “paleo” recipe or a post about how bad grains are. I like grains. They are tasty and nutritious, full of fibre… but I am allergic to oats so normally for me, muesli bars are out of the question.  I am also interested in healthy foods, low sugar, high fibre and anything made from scratch with basic ingredients.

So what do my muesli bars contain?

Apples, bananas, rolled rye, soy milk, chia seeds, sultanas, vanilla and cinnamon, dried cherries and coconut.

These are my “cherry coconut muesli bars” but you can use any flavour variations you would like. How about apricot & pepitas? Date and almond? Fig and walnut? The possibilities are endless.

Let’s talk about those grains, though. So what I’ve been doing lately is experimenting with other grains in place of rolled oats. This started as a way to make porridge, which I absolutely love, but cannot eat. I’ve been specifically trying other grains that come rolled. Yes, like rolled oates, just not oats. So they look like rolled oats, behave (in recipes) quite like rolled oats… but without giving me a violent reaction – hooray!

I have tried this particular recipe before with the traditional oats for TC and other family members, who reported back very favourably on the results.

This time I was going to try it with rolled spelt, as this is usually in my pantry (great for non-oatmeal porridge!), but today I have used rolled rye. When I went to my container of spelt the other morning to make porridge, I found moths had taken up camp… so that batch went into the bin. Besides that, when I went to buy more, I decided they are a little too expensive right now. I don’t know what it is – are they “on trend”, making them a higher demand product, thereby allowing retailers to make extra profits? Browsing my regular supplier’s website, I decided there were other cheaper options to try, so here I am with rolled rye.

Did you know you can get all kinds of rolled grains? Spelt, rye, barley, triticale and rolled brown rice for starters, and that’s just the ones I know about! I’ve also recently bought whole hulled millet, which I plan to try in a variety of ways, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 2 cups rolled rye
  • 1/3 cup soy milk (or use any other type of milk)
  • 1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
  • 1tspn vanilla
  • 1tspn ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds.

Preheat oven to 170C. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Press into an oiled & lined baking tray. Bake for 20-25min. Allow to cool slightly before removing from tray. Complete cooling on a cooling rack. Cut into bars.

Notes: Rye seems to be a bit more bland than oats, so I would recommend possibly sweetening with some honey.   I made my own apple sauce for this too – apples & water only. It was enough as a sweetener for the oatmeal bars, but not this time.

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We’re havin’ a heatwave…

For all readers and fellow bloggers in the northern hemisphere, I bring you a little light relief. Just something to remind you that your snow and ice storms will come to an end… summer will return, I guarantee it!

Some thoughts and images to warm you up today…

Here in Perth, Western Australia, we are having a heatwave. Just a short one, 3 days. Yesterday was pretty warm, today’s temp is forecast to be 44. Slightly cooler tomorrow.  weather forecast

I probably don’t need to explain that’s C, not F.

Morning coffee on the balcony is pleasant; I still have shade. The heat is dry, much more comfortable than humidity… My favourite spot for breakfast, morning coffee, an evening wine… and writing. 2014-01-11 10.14.34

I can hear the neighbours  already cooling off…

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Meanwhile, Saturday morning skydiving is popular, tourists enjoy an air-conditioned cruise up the river towards the Swan Valley wineries… and jetskis race each other on the water…    Skydivers1   2014-01-11 14.35.24  IMG_6177  IMG_6180

Meanwhile… the heat usually brings out some of the worst people. One minute Perth is lazing under a hot sun…  2014-01-11 10.49.12

and the next minute King Park is on fire.

Most of our summer fires are deliberately lit. People have lost their homes and died through the actions of lunatics such as this. I hope they are caught quickly. Thankfully this fire was all extinguished 2 hours later.

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The news helicopters get in close… IMG_6171

By now the beaches will be filling up. The afternoon sea breeze is not even in yet… the afternoon is getting hotter.

Au revoir mes amis, time for a swim myself! :)

Old Swan Brewery building. Perth, Western Australia
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Cycle Tour #1: The Loire Valley, France (or the start of my French love affair)

For the month of January, I have joined the “Zero to Hero” blogging challenge with an assignment to complete each day. Today’s task is to write what was on my mind when I first started blogging.

The thing that I first wanted to write about was all the fun I was having cycling in France. The thing that got me cycling in France in the first place was the very first cycle tour that TC and I took, so that is what my post today is about.

Cycle Tour #1: The Loire Valley, France (or the start of my French love affair)

The whole idea of a cycle tour came completely out of the blue for me. TC and I had been increasing our cycling to the point that we felt confident on road bikes and were riding longer and longer distances each week. We enjoyed the challenges, the satisfaction and the feeling of exploring new areas of our own city.

Then one day, I was enjoying morning tea with a group of women at my friend’s house. One of the women I met that day was older than me, just embarking on retirement, but had been a keen cyclist for quite a while. I listened with a feeling of “wow!” as she explained to my friend how she and her husband were thinking about doing a cycle tour in the UK but were undecided about taking their own bikes from Australia or to use hired bikes. To be honest, the rest of that conversation was a blur as my mind went into overdrive thinking about the possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get home to TC with this new idea: holidaying in Europe AND cycling combined!

That night, we researched tours in Europe and were well on our way to planning our first cycle touring holiday.

We decided to make our debut cycle tour a truly memorable one, in a style that we knew we would not repeat. In other words, we decided to go for the ultimate: a  top-of-the-range gourmand cycle tour of the Loire Valley! Yes, it would be expensive, but being novices to this whole idea (and it was to be my first trip to France), we wanted to make sure we enjoyed it to the full. And that we did.

A tour was booked which included staying in a chain of small, exclusive boutique hotels with breakfast each day and a gourmet dinner included on most nights. In short, it was magnificent. Yes, this was when I fell in love with France.

We flew into Paris and caught a midday train to Amboise where we found our first hotel on the bank of the river, in the shadow of the beautiful Château d’Amboise. Our room and the hotel were absolutely stunning, as were all of the hotels that followed. Our cycle guide met us that evening to go over all the details – daily route instructions and maps, the GPS, our free water bottles, and the number to call him on at any time if we needed help. In the morning, he met us at the hotel’s bike shed (a cave dug out of the base of the cliff) to ensure we were correctly fitted, and off we set.

Over the course of the week (6 days, 7 nights) we explored historic towns and villages along the Cher and Loire rivers, examined chateaux in awe, tasted wines, picnicked on grassy banks for lunch, slept like VIPs in beautiful rooms, and dined like a king and queen on amazing French gastronomy. Some days involved an exploratory loop ride, remaining in the same hotel that night, other days involved leaving our packed luggage in the foyer by 9am and cycling to the next hotel, where it would be waiting for us. We averaged about 55-60km per day. It was July and there was a heatwave across the UK and Europe, meaning hot days and beautiful balmy evenings. When I say hot, it was between 33 and 39C every day. For me, coming from Australia and expecting much cooler weather, I was in heaven. I actually had to go out and buy more shorts and sleeveless tops as I hadn’t prepared for those temperatures.

We also met other people doing the same thing – meeting up with them along the routes (getting lost at the same points?) and chatting with them over drinks in the hotels in the evenings, or by the pool after a hot day’s riding. You could socialise as much or as little as you felt like, as all the groups were self-guiding on the same route.

Our tour finished on the outskirts of Saumur and left us feeling that we had just had one of the most incredible holidays we’d ever be likely to have. We were hooked.

Of course, this meant further cycling holidays would surely follow (and they have), but as we already knew, we would not repeat the grandeur and glamour of this one. But boy, it was worth it.

I still have the shorts I bought on that trip and can’t help but think of that holiday when I wear them.

Here is a selection of our photographs from that amazing week in the Loire, including many of the hotels we stayed in, some of the beautiful dishes on our tables and the most memorable scenery.  Enjoy!

I would like to add that we booked our tour through Discover France Bike Tours. As I mentioned above, it was not the cheapest option, but for us it was money well spent. The tour operators were all helpful, especially the local tour guides and drivers. For those unsure about taking such a tour, I would like to say that booking with these guys should put you at ease. All the best for those who want to try it!

A rest in the park

Who am I and why am I here?

A rest in the park

Who?

I am an Australian woman who, along with my husband, took advantage of a window of opportunity to leave our working life for a year and go to stay in France.

Why?

Why France? We had been on holiday in France before and simply fell in love with the country so we wanted to see more.  A lot more.  The solution was to apply for a long-stay visa, organise some rental accommodation, rent out our place in Perth, start learning French… and go.That was two years ago now.

What?

We rented in 3 different locations around France, but travelled to many more, both by car and by bicycle. Our year soon turned into two as we realised we weren’t going to explore even half of what we wanted to, let alone speaking the language in one year alone. So we went into the local sous-prefecture and extended our visas.

This blog started as a way for me to document our adventures in cycling, exploring France, wine and cooking (which was a great side effect of not working and living frugally!).  I guessed that the things we loved doing, the places we loved exploring and the foods we loved cooking (and eating) would also appeal to others around the world, especially the Francophiles out there, so here I am.

Next?

We are currently back in Australia and returning to work, but planning frequent visits back to France with a scheme to have another year off before too long. There are still a lot more parts of France and Europe that we want to discover.

To celebrate my return to Australia and a fresh year blogging, I have decided to update my theme with a new look. There are many things we’ve celebrated recently with our family, including 21st birthdays, a wedding, Christmas and the new year and a 50th birthday. All of this has kept me away from blogging recently, but I am back for 2014.

 I hope you enjoy both my French and my Australian posts, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!

perth sunset

Happy new year from the land of black swans

Black Swans

Happy New Year!  I hope 2014 brings much joy and happiness to all.

At the moment, TC and I are enjoying summer life in Perth, Western Australia, where the native swans are indeed black. It occurred to me that readers who have never visited Australia may not know this, so I thought I’d share with you this information about black swans.

We have a little apartment overlooking the Swan River, so this features a lot in our daily lives. We also like to cycle along the banks of the river where we often see the lovely swans. The Swan River is also home to some other lovely creatures – dolphins. On the weekend we were treated to a great day out on the water thanks to our friends who had just taken delivery of their new boat (don’t you love friends like that!) when we saw some of them up close. Sometimes we can even spot them in the water from our balcony.

My friend Angela is a keen photographer and she has kindly agreed to share the pictures she snapped on that day. There is just something about dolphins that makes you smile and it’s always so exciting to see them up close in the water!

This year I plan to post a mix of our adventures in Australia and France, along with my attempts in the kitchen of course, so I hope you enjoy them… à bientôt!

perth sunset

My first birthday – thank you!

Today I received a “happy anniversary” message from WordPress.

What started as a spur of the moment decision to start documenting our adventures on our “escape” to France has turned into something I really enjoy doing. 80 posts later and I am amazed that 5000 people have viewed and read my little blog and over 400 have left me with lovely comments.

Thank you to all of you that have read and followed, I really do appreciate it -vous êtes tous très gentils!

I also have lots more to post, so even though things have been quiet for a little while – they haven’t for me in real life and I will be back :)

Herbal Tea

A little green tea

Herbal TeaI was reading about recipes using fresh, home grown herbs when I decided to try my own herbal tea. I’m having a lazy, restful Sunday and after the past two month of hectic life, I’m determined to enjoy it.

First step was to google ideas for combinations of herbs to try. My little balcony herb garden has the basics: mint, thyme, basil, parsley and a chilli plant. After reading about others’ experiences with fresh herbs, I decided to try a mixture of fresh mint and basil with fennel seeds.

Step one was to cut the mint & basil, break down the fennel seeds a little with a mortar and pestle, rip up the leaves to release the flavours, then steep in boiling water for around 5-10 minutes.

On a trip to Thailand a few years ago, I was taken by this lovely tea infuser-cup-and-lid set which is perfect for trying my own teas. I do love pretty things, so what is more perfect than a pretty, hand-painted tea cup just for me?

The tea verdict? Surprisingly pleasant and very refreshing.

I have not been a big fan of either green tea or herbal tea bags, so I’m very pleased that I enjoyed this combination. Whilst reading up about home made herbal teas, I found that apparently the best teas are made from three types of ingredients – something green, some herb and something floral. One of my basil plants is going to flower soon so I think I should try harvesting those flowers and drying them, ready for another herbal tea experiment.

The last step in this process was, of course, to put my feet up and enjoy my fragrant brew.

And I did need to put my feet up on this cushion… last night I attended a  “hen’s night”  – for the uninitiated, that is the last wild “girls’ night out” before a bride’s impending nuptials –  so this little cupcake was suffering from a little fatigue and very sore feet after a night of laughter and dancing with a great group of girls.

Here’s to lazy Sundays and home made herbal teas (and girls’ nights)! Home made herbal tea

The Port

A sentimental journey…

Sete, from Mont Saint Clair

Well it finally happened. Our time in France came to an end after 21 wonderful months and sadly, we packed up and made the journey back to Australia.

I put off my packing as long as I could, but with only a week until departure day, I could not delay any longer. I must be the queen of procrastination, as it has taken me just as long to write about our departure as it took me to face up to the packing! Thankfully, TC and I devised a future plan to have us back in our region, the Languedoc-Roussillon,  before too long so we do have great things to look forward to. We have some very kind friends who offered to store belongings for us so that when we do return, we have some household items and clothes to begin with, so that certainly made our sorting and packing easier.

Saying “au revoir” to our village friends was very sad and I admit to shedding a few tears… but at the other end of the journey was to be the reunion with all our family members and the friends we left behind two years ago, so it was a time of very mixed emotions.

When the day came, more wonderful friends drove us to Agde for our early train bound for Paris. The weather fitted our mood as the morning was cool and grey with a few drops of rain – the first we had seen for weeks after a lovely Mediterranean summer. Loaded up with all our baggage and some last bottles of wine from friends, our instructions were to enjoy a glass or two on the train and a picnic on the banks of the Seine before leaving France. After a teary farewell on the platform, we were off, taking long last looks at the countryside we will miss so much.

We arrived to a balmy Paris, left everything at the hotel and set off to enjoy the beautiful City of Lights one more time. This time, we discovered the area along the Canal Saint-Martin in the 4th and enjoyed looking at all the boats moored there, before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping, then heading off to the Seine for our little picnic of wine and nibbles. As usual, I waved madly at all the tourists on the boats – one simply MUST when one is picnicking on the banks of the Seine!  After sunset  we strolled through St Germaine des Pris and went for dinner at the very popular La Jacobine in the 6th.

Then it was back to the hotel for a decent night’s sleep before the long trip. For those who have never travelled between Europe and Australia, you’ve probably heard that it is a long journey. If so, you’ve heard correctly – it’s very long!

The trip began with a private car transfer to Charles de Gaulle that I had pre-booked for 8am Friday (fantastic value and highly recommended), a nice quick check-in followed by breakfast in an airport lounge then boarding the flight for Singapore (around 12 hours in total). We had a quick transit through Changi airport in Singapore with enough time for a refreshing shower, some cold drinks and a quick internet check, then boarded our second flight, to Perth (around 5 hours in total), finally arriving at 1.30pm Saturday afternoon.

I wore two things that were important to me on my journey. One was my new Croix du Languedoc pendant to remind me of our little corner of France. This cross is one of the emblems of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which is where we have lived for 16 months. I am not a big buyer of souvenirs, so this beautiful silver pendant is one of the only true souvenirs of our time in France that I have taken back with me. Another of course being a bottle of perfume from the Fragonard range that I love, a memento of a day in Grasse and a scent that will always take me back.

The other thing I wore for the journey was my football scarf. By this I mean Aussie Rules football, or AFL to us.

Our flight landed at a time that was right in the middle of the AFL grand final match, which my team was playing in for the first time in history, so of course I wore my team scarf on the journey all the way from Paris. We arrived home just in time to watch the final quarter on TV, but my team lost, so there is nothing more to be said about that.

Except that on arrival at Perth airport, we rushed into the immigration queue to have our passports checked then went off to the baggage claim area – and a number of airport officials, one after the other, kept coming up to me with very serious looking faces… I was quite startled thinking “What do they want me for, what have I done??”  until I realised I was still sporting the scarf – and they were just checking whether I was aware of the (dismal) score! And unfortunately I was, thanks to other passengers checking news on their phones as soon as our flight landed.

On to the next stage –  a hectic schedule of reunions with family and friends…  but for now it’s au revoir to the countryside we have grown to love.

Here are a selection of our last photographs around the area, and before I fill you in on our activities in Australia, I have quite a few more French posts to catch up on, so you haven’t seen the last of my travel pics yet! Enjoy…

The Port

Au revoir mon village… à bientôt!

Where there’s wine, there’s bound to be an Australian…

It’s not very often that TC and I call in on perfect strangers and introduce ourselves, but perhaps we should do this more often. Today’s adventure starts with a recommendation from our friend Thierry back in Perth.  Thierry owns and runs the fabulous Whisper Wine Bar in Fremantle’s Essex Street,  a place close to our hearts as we spent many hours over a chilled glass of white, plotting and planning our “escape to France” before we came here.

What has that got to do with wineries here in the Languedoc? Well, Thierry told us that a young man who had worked for him a while back, was now back in France and working in a winery not far away from us and what’s more, the winemaker at this winery is also Australian. Not needing any further  excuse than to say “hi” to a friend of a friend from Australia (and the chance to meet another Aussie living and working here), we set off as soon as we could.

Which of course was the very next day, why delay?  On the bikes and off to Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian!

The ride through local wine country was lovely. Sunny and warm, we arrived having worked up a decent sweat.  Just outside the winery is the 12th century prieuré – gorgeous!

Priure de Saint-Jean de Bébian Bike against wall Courtyard

Coming through the gates into such a pretty courtyard that I could have just sat and soaked it up all day. We were met in the cellar by a lovely lady who, on being told that we must say hello to Benoit, rushed off immediately to fetch him. After passing on the greetings from our mutual friend, we had a look around the cave (that’s just the name of the cellar door in France) and then started tasting some of the wines.

Well the wines were great (we managed to squeeze four bottles into our backpacks, despite also having our water bottles taking up space!) and had a wonderful chat with the winemaker, Karen Turner, who was so lovely and friendly that, despite these two strange Aussies turning up out of the blue (and in the middle of the harvesting season!) was kind enough to show us around a little and explain some of their wines and processes.

I LOVED the barrel cellar with its thick covering of cobwebs on the windows – deliberately left there to help keep flies at bay – and we were shown the nifty rack system they use for the barrels. Each one is on individual rollers in its rack, allowing the barrels to be rotated to stir the wine and also allowing single barrels to be removed easily  – something quite impossible if barrels are all stacked against each other!

 

 

 

Unfortunatley, there was no vendage happening while we were there. Karen explained that they only harvest in the mornings so that the grapes are fresh and while they had been harvesting some of the white grapes, the reds simply weren’t ready yet so there was to be a break for a few days.  A pity for us, as we would have loved to see the grapes being brought in, but this day it was not to be.  We did get to see the original stone tanks still used by the winery for the resting and maceration of the red wine grapes.

Chatting with Karen, we discovered that she and her husband also have their own winery, Domain Turner Pageot, specialising in biodynamically produced wines in the Languedoc region. A little more snooping on my part revealed they are part of a group of wine producers called “The Outsiders”, describing themselves as:

“…a group of Languedoc-Roussillon wine producers. Working in the south of France, they are creating exciting wines which make full use of the region’s highly diverse soil types, climatic conditions and grape varieties.”

If you get the chance to try some of these wines, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed and, even better, if you get the chance to call into the winery here just outside the beautiful town of Pezenas, you definitely won’t be disappointed!

Cheers and santé!

Winery sign

ps Yes, West Australians can taste some of these wines in Whisper’s… but shhhh…. I’ll be back there soon, leave some for me!!