Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Gallery - One Day In August- Plums and Duck Tape

You may remember my resourceful husband used his trusty roll of duck/duct tape on holiday to fix a myriad of things from splintered decking to repairing holes in the massive rubber rings for the water slides.

This weekend he put his tape to good use in an effort to save our heavily-laden Victoria plum tree. It's still quite a young tree and this year the amount of fruit was so great, the weary branches kept splitting. We are picking the fruit every day but I still have too much. I've seen some recipes on Nova's blog Cherished by Me and she's promised to send me one for plum vodka! Now this sounds like my sort of recipe. Hopefully it will turn out better than a disastrous plum crumble which was complete mush, possibly on account of plums being too ripe or the wrong kind of sugar or using self-raising flour - take your pick. Who can mess up a crumble - the easiest recipe in the world? The jam-making starts today: brace yourselves, women of the WI. "And was Jerusalem builded here....."

The photo below shows the tree also being supported by the clothes prop. It's an attractive look, isn't it, but hopefully it will do the trick until the fruit has been harvested.

These photos were taken on Sunday 29 August for Tara Cain's gallery. She has asked all the gallery-lovers to take a photo on the same day, to coincide with three great bloggers who were going to Bangladesh  on Sunday to support and highlight the work of Save the Children.(#Blogladesh)

Isn't it rather ironic that my photos on that day should show a tree providing a surfeit of fruit, far too much for me to cope with, and yet there are millions in the world who are suffering because of inadequate nutrition?

That's food for thought.


Friday, 27 August 2010

....The Loire Valley: magnums and monkeys.

After 10 mostly sunny days in the Dordogne we left our campsite in the pouring rain. This was a case of deja vu from our holiday in June when it was so wet on our last morning, Dougie packed the car dressed only in a towel. He kept his clothes on this time which was probably just as well as the poor man slipped on the steps of the decking (tsk, they did warn us in the Health and Safety booklet) and fell heavily on his, thankfully, trousered behind. I would have cried if it had been me, but a few choice words from the man and all was well.

The final leg of our trip consisted of three nights in another campsite in the Loire Valley, Parc des Alicourts. In hindsight I wish we'd had a week in each as I adored this place:  a huge lake, beautiful beach, a proper lounge and bar area with cocktails. In essence, I could pretend I was in the Mediterranean in a classy hotel.....until we had to toddle back to the hut. But I was getting used to caravan-living and even the distinct whiff of pee in the toilet couldn't spoil my enjoyment.

The highlights of our short stop here included evening entertainment on a proper stage. The usual kiddie disco, in which thankfully we no longer have to participate, was followed by a pitiful miming of The Lion King on one evening. However we were lucky to catch the travelling circus one night which had....wait for it....real animals. I know it's not the done thing any more in the UK to have them but everyone lapped up two performing chimps who drank beer and did handstands. They were followed by a selection of goats whose 'trick' was to walk up lots of winding staircases. The most sure-footed animals on the planet, used to perching on hanging rocks, but the happy campers cheered nonetheless.

A day on the beach was glorious. I had forgotten how much I love being on a beach: immediately I was taken back to my early years living in Whitley Bay. The boys messed about in the water on rubber rings while I slurped a big Magnum with more pleasure then usual as the day before we had been told off for eating ice-creams by the pool! Never heard of anything so stupid: two adults and a teen being chastised for eating the very items they advertised on a big board in the middle of the pool complex.

After a day at the beach we were more than ready for a meal out. Bugger the barbecue, we needed pampering. Wow this was some campsite restaurant. While most families chose to eat on the terrace we, being awkward, decided to eat inside in the very chic dining room. Dougie's scallop starter was quite stunning and though we laughed at the translation of Canard Parmentier as "Cottage Pie with Duck"  it was bloody lovely. One the first night I had 'Three-chocolate profiteroles' for pud and couldn't move afterwards so on the second night decided to stick to coffee. I plumped for a Cafe Gourmand not knowing what it was. It arrived: a glass of espresso coffee and a tray of yummy delights: a mini Magnum Moment (which Rory snaffled), a chocolate truffle, chocolate biscuit, tiny creme brulee and a little lime-coloured macaroon. Now why didn't I take a photo of that instead of the chip pizza.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Mum's Gone to Tenerife with Chef's Tales

Yoo Hoo! I'm not here today, I'm guest-posting at Chef's Tales.

I am enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Michael Saxon, international chef, writer and blogger. Michael is the General Manager of the famous Eastern and Oriental hotel in Penang, Malaysia and his blog is a delicious mix of fabulous recipes and great stories about his extensive experience catering for celebrities and VIPs.

Inspired by this illustrious chef's amusing account of a day by the pool at a 5 star resort (you must read 'Just another day in Paradise'), I humbly offered my own ramblings on the subject. Michael kindly suggested, as his blog is a community for sharing experiences, opinions and recipes, that my post be published on his site. So to read about the colourful characters I found in a 5 star hotel in Tenerife, including lime-green speedo man and the breakfast buffet burglers, take a detour to Mum's Gone to Tenerife . Let me know what sights have amazed you on holiday and whether you're a people-watcher too.

Mike can also be found on Twitter so follow him at @chefstales for some mouth-watering inspiration.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Chips with everything.

Yes, the offending item in the photo is a half-eaten chip pizza. Oh the shame. There we were, in France, the home of gastronomy and my son was tucking into a monstrous affront to cuisine. To be fair, we had been struggling a little with translating the ingredients for each of the pizzas in this lovely bistro in the pretty town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. The Pizza Americaine seemed to have cheese, tomato and beef in the list of toppings. When I saw the word 'frites' in the list, I assumed the chips might be on the side until the waiter brought in the plate and ceremoniously placed the pizza, resplendent in cheese-covered chips, in front of our slack-jawed teenager.

Diners at neighbouring tables, hoiking out their snails and nibbling on slivers of foie gras, looked on in disdain at the obscene creation. What was worse, I took a photograph of it, so sealing our fate of being labelled common British oiks. I instructed Rory to hoover up his plate tout de suite (he had no trouble doing this), hid behind the shades of my Maui Jims and affected a nonchalant air. Pizza with mince and chips? Pah! Heston Blumenthal is considering it for his Autumn menu, don't you know.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

....Recycling Hell

Responsible tourism is the new thing. Well we were being responsible tourists by not flying to France but that was only because we wouldn't have been able to fit all our duvets and pillows in three cases. The campsite was very green, Keycamp is very green and, quite honestly, it didn't half get on my wick after a while. I recycle at home, very keen to split paper, glass, even have a compost heap in the garden. But on holiday it was a pain in the proverbial.

The mobile home had a black bin outside on the decking but no bin at all inside. So there was nowhere to chuck stuff when you were in the bathroom (cotton wool, tissues) or busy in the kitchen (food waste, packaging). They provided a big yellow bag for paper and plastic so we used to hang that up on door handles. I could just about manage that but it grated. We used Rory as our recycling boy: his daily job was to take our clattering wine bottles up to the campsite dump.

Where he put them when he got there was anybody's guess as it then became even more complicated.  A notice in the caravan kitchen indicated where we were to put our waste:

Yellow Bag (Yellow)
Black Bag (Black)
Compost (Green)
Dechetterie (??) (Red)
Paper bag or Yellow Bag (Blue)

I have no idea how a yellow bag can be yellow or blue and don't know what a dechetterie is but the list of possible rubbish they believed we would have in a static caravan was quite bizarre. Here are my favourites:

Envelope Paper (Yellow)
Fat Paper (Blue)
Telephone (Red)
Television (Red)
Coat Layer (Blue)
Car Battery (purple) ...purple, where did purple come from?
Radiography (Red)
Bike (Red)
Branch (Green)
Lawn (Green)
Pile (Red) ????
Rest of meal (Black)
Wallpaper (Red)
Shoes (Red)
Refrigerator (Red)

By the end of the 10 days I was feeling very anarchic so the whole bloody lot went in the black bag: I cackled like a mad loon as I wilfully threw discarded leaflets for numerous tourist attractions into the black abyss. The yellow bags were then recycled into receptacles for our dirty washing: how's that for being eco-conscious.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Mum's Gone to the Dordogne - Where's Willy?

A few days into our holiday and it was piddling outside. I wasn't expecting this and was most annoyed. Caravans are cold at night anyway and this weather wasn't helping the general misery we were feeling in Jabba the Hut that morning. SuperDad came to the rescue with his fabulous omelettes using the newly-repaired frying pan. We really should have attempted boiled eggs as the mobile home came equipped with eight egg cups. Eight? Who on earth would cook eight boiled eggs so they could be simultaneously eaten by eight happy campers? I'd love to be in charge of the inventory for a caravan: put some decent knives in for a start, steak knives preferably so you can actually cut the food you've cooked on the provided barbecue. Oh and bigger wine glasses please.

When it's raining in the Dordogne sightseeing is high on the agenda as this area is jam-packed full of caves, ideal for dodging the raindrops. We took advice from our trusty guide book and had an amazing tour of the Gouffre de Proumeyssac, otherwise known as the Crystal Cathedral. We've seen a few caves with stalactites and stalagmites in our travels but I think this one must count as one of the best. It's the biggest underground cavern in the area and is quite breathtaking inside with its calcite formations named The Medusa and The Waterfall. What was spectacularly kitsch was the presence of large tables underneath the dripping stalactites filled with little clay models. The figurines remain on the tables for 12 months until they have built up a deposit of calcium carbonate crystals. Once above ground they are polished up and put in the gift shop to sell to excitable people like me. I bought myself a little traditional Sarlat goose.

The Vezere valley is also the home of the earliest form of art, painted on cave walls by prehistoric man. There are two famous examples: Font-de-Gaume, which you have to pre-book a month in advance (we hadn't) and Lascaux. The original Lascaux caves, with their striking images of animals and mysterious symbols, is no longer open to visitors in order to preserve it. However in 1983 they opened Lascaux II, a replica of the original cave. It took artists 11 years to reproduce the paintings using the same pigments and methods. So do we drive over an hour to see a fake? I was tempted to go but Dougie wasn't budging, not keen to see the Blue Peter (here's one I made earlier, or should it be later?) version. I had a leaflet for the Grotte du Sorcier, famous for the drawing of a chap who is very well-endowed but both husband and son refused to travel any distance just to see a dodgy drawing of a big todger.

In the end we drove five minutes up the road to the Grotte de Bara Bahau, so named because of the noise made by the falling rocks which created the cave which was then inhabited by bears and, later, a neanderthal version of Rolf Harris. There was a small group of us waiting for our guided tour of the cave: we were mainly Dutch and British so the guide decided to speak in English. He had to concentrate very hard doing his spiel and looked like a very serious David Mitchell (without Robert Webb). Our group weren't his ideal students: a rag tag of families with naughty children, a crying baby and three pissed New Age traveller types. There we all were trying to follow David's laser pen as he traced it over seemingly random scratches on the walls:

"Here ees zuh hye of zuh hoss, zuh cheek, zuh hear....."

We all nodded and tried to behave which was difficult as the baby then burped and we started to snigger. The New Age travellers began to chat to each other at the back of the group and were immediately chastised by Monsieur Mitchell as he stage-coughed and barked the words:

"If you don't want to leesen then maybe you should leave. I theenk it would be zuh best."

They promptly shut up and we were then shown some aurochs and galloping bisons (apparently). Ten minutes later the travellers decided to sneak off and their departure was greeted by a very loud "Goodbye" from an increasingly tetchy guide.

The sniggering continued, the baby wailed and the toddlers became fractious. David gave up and directed us back to the exit where we all shuffled off like the inattentive children we obviously were.

Back in the car I looked at the leaflet and discovered there had been an engraving of a phallus in the cave after all! BossyBoots hadn't wiggled his laser pen over that bit of prehistoric rudery, more's the pity. 

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Mum's Gone to the Dordogne - Flirting with Frenchmen

I do love a good guide book. For this holiday I bought one of the Footprint travel guides
 for the Dordogne and Lot, written by Michael Pauls and Dana Facaros. Their style of writing really appealed, giving just the right amount of information to help make sightseeing that bit easier. On their recommendation we set off on our second morning to visit La Roque Gageac (see photo which looks better enlarged, so feel free to click on it.). They were right, it was a stunning village, with a line of classic Perigourdin buildings squeezed into a single row along the river. The setting was made all the more dreamy with warm sunshine and a slurpy ice-cream which was just the thing before our trip on the traditional gabarre riverboat.

We had paid for our tickets at the booth and they were marked with the word Anglais so the chap on the boat would know to give us some headphones for the English commentary. Now there's one thing I'm bloody good at and that's a decent French-sounding Bonjour. I have no idea why it sounds so authentic but it's definitely not a British "Bon-joo-er", more a gutterel, speedy Gallic "Bon-jur". It gets me into all kinds of trouble in restaurants and hotels when French people assume I'm "Le Real Thing" and bombard me with a whole load of French I have no hope of understanding. Getting on the boat that morning was no exception. A rather attractive, rugged, tanned monsieur helped me embark; as I said Bonjour and handed over our tickets, he was stopped in his tracks.
"Mais, you are not French?"
"But your accent, Madame, eet eez so good".
"Oh, Monsieur, eet ees nothing. I know a leetle French, un peu..."

At this point, as we were both shrugging and flirting, I felt a definite propulsion from behind as my spoilsport husband felt it was his duty to move the queue along.

"He thought I was French", I giggled, as I drifted towards our seats.
"You mean you fell for all that flannel?", countered a smirking husband.
"Was not flannel!"

The rest of the boat trip was quite delightful, plenty of people in canoes and kayaks to wave to and scare into paddling madly into the bank and lots of gorgeous chateaux to look at, including Chateau Castelnaud and Chateau de Lacoste which unfortunately didn't have a gift shop selling designer polo shirts. Dougie missed most of it as he fell asleep because of the soporific voice through the headphones. I showed him the photos later. As I got off the boat I smiled at Monsieur Le Boatman and whispered, "Au revoir et merci" in my best Vanessa Paradis accent. Husband might have swooned at the French SatNav woman but I think I was one up.

The afternoon was spent at the fabulous Jardins de Marqueyssac, a spectacular place set on a spur overlooking the whole Dordogne Valley. Even Rory, allergic to exercise, thoroughly enjoyed walking along the three different routes, finding weird sculptures and getting lost in the bizarre boxwood maze.

Tired but content following our day exploring the Dordogne Valley, we headed home by the scenic route and I spotted an orchard.

"I wonder what they are growing there?, I said as I pointed the trees out to Dougie.
"Oh they are apples, or maybe pears, or plums.....peaches?"
"You don't know, do you?
"Well thank you for that, Mr Del Monte...."

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mum's Gone to the Dordogne - 101 uses for Duck Tape

When my husband comes home from work of an evening his first thought isn't to get the hoover out or dust the skirting boards. On holiday, however, he becomes a bit fanatical about cleanliness, probably because it's someone else's muck. Our mobile home looked lovely; great position on the edge of the campsite overlooking the fields, the archery area and the kids club tents in the distance. It looked clean enough for me, but not for old Dr Mop, who started pulling out the sofabed and giving the place a once-over before we'd unpacked.

The next hour was very quiet. Our teenage son, Rory, plonked his belongings in his room, shut the door and lay on the bed, not to be woken until the next morning (bless him, he'd had a long journey). Meanwhile Dougie and I unpacked our duvets, pillows (yes, not just the pillowcases), mattress protectors (!) and far too many clothes then proceeded to unpack without getting in each other's way: we were both hungry, hot and tired so the least bit thing would have sparked an argument.

The mood lightened however when I opened a cupboard to see half a dozen books neatly arranged on the shelf:
Me: "Ooh, that's a nice idea, a mini-library! How funny, some of the books are the same as the ones we've brought."
Him: "That's because they ARE the ones we've brought. I've just unpacked them."

After a visit to the supermarket things improved: crisps, lager and chocolate are excellent hors d'oeuvres and mood-lifters. Ray Mears sat himself down at the barbecue, in his barbecue shorts and barbecue T-shirt, and turned the gas on. I thought it rather odd that the gas was coming out of the side of the barbecue and the subsequent flames were melting the plastic instruction label. Thankfully, before the flames reached the gas bottle, Dougie was able to turn everything off, including the torrent of curses which had been floating in the breeze through the campsite.

It transpired that all the screws in the main grill were loose or absent. Despite there being a mammoth Health and Safety tome inside the cabin with excellent advice regarding being careful on wet decking, we didn't quite anticipate having to re-build a killer barbecue. Sensible people would probably have written a note in the maintenance book then had dinner in the restaurant. Dougie decided to fix it. With his trusty Swiss Army knife, some thick gardening gloves (where the hell did they appear from?) and a huge roll of Duck/duct tape, he reassembled the barbecue, cleaned it properly and slammed the steaks on. On a roll, he then proceeded to repair a bit of snagged wood on the decking, tighten up the handle of the frying pan and descale the shower head. Throughout the holiday his trusty gaffer tape was used daily to repair holes in rubber rings which were essential for the lazy/crazy river in the pool area.

As we sat at the table on our first night, finishing the wine and eating After Eights (who'd have known they'd have them in France, Apres Huit?), Dougie pondered why he had decided to become a GP and not a surgeon, being so keen on fixing and taping things. I reminded him of all the curtain poles in our house which he has, without fail, always cut too short.
"Ah", he mused, "fair point".

Monday, 9 August 2010

Mum's Gone to the Dordogne - Peripherique ou non?

In order to get to this hut on the left, we had to drive about three hours in England, half an hour on Eurotunnel and an eternity in France, stopping off for a night in Orleans, South of Paris. It did occur to me....often...that a similar hut could be found in a holiday park in Norfolk just up the road but hey ho, the journey is all part of the holiday, is it not? Jury's out on that one.

I pored over the maps before we left and sat forlornly in the car, prodding GPS co-ordinates into the SatNav which we only recently discovered went all the way to Europe. I was hoping to avoid the infamous Paris ring-road, the Peripherique, yet the annoying SatNav woman chose three routes, all going via Paris. Bum. I tried pressing buttons to see if I could force her to take the capital out of the equation, but to no avail.

I googled "routes to Orleans" and a suggestion was made to go via Rouen and Chartres. We were familiar with much of the route so plumped for this slightly longer but divorce-avoiding option. However SatNav woman was having none of it and, once we reached the continent, despite us heading happily towards Rouen, kept urging us to head to gay Paree. We turned her off and relied on my excellent map-reading....

Dougie was quite upset when SatNav Sally was given the heave ho, but only because he had fallen in love with her French counterpart who chirped in the names of French towns in such a sexy whisper you'd think she was sitting with her skirt hitched up, smoking a Gauloise. I could never have imagined the town names of Evreux, Elbeuf and Louviers would cause such a stirring in the old Scottish loins sitting next to me. Concentrate on the road, man.

We made sure we only stopped at big service stations which were more likely to have proper toilets instead of holes in the ground. We avoided the picnic-stops which looked attractive but were likely to end in tears and wet shoes. It does annoy me, this inability of the French to get their act together and bring their lavatorial facilities into the 21st century. The big UK service stations, now with spotless, plentiful loos together with M&S and Waitrose concessions, are a joy in comparision. The loos in the town centres are even worse. Dougie visited one later in the holiday where the urinal wasn't plumbed in at all so poured onto the floor. As he got back in the car, the stench of pee was so bad he was sent back out in the rain to dance in a few puddles, much to the bemusement of the locals.

On the plus side, the French roads are a dream and we reached Orleans without a hitch and marriage intact. I was given a gold star for choosing the Novotel Orleans La Source, a little oasis just off the motorway in a leafy suburb of the city. Clean, smart, little outdoor pool, great family-friendly restaurant and everything extremely efficient: ideal for a one-night stopover.

The next day, a long drive to the Dordogne, but again very easy. Slightly disconcerting when cars overtake and it looks like the driver is asleep, slumped over the dashboard. Of course they are the passengers but even so they are far more laid back than I am. When I'm the passenger I'm bolt upright, looking at road signs and maps. The thought of pushing my seat back and putting my feet up on the window makes me shudder. My husband couldn't possibly manage to drive without my foot hovering over the imaginary brake.

We survived the journey with frequent stops to fill up with petrol as Hubby feels happier with a full tank because "you just never know".  Lunch was a selection of strange baguettes with unknown fillings. You'd think the French would at least get the food right at service stations but no, fast food burgers and sad pre-packed sarnies. We really should have come off the motorway and found some little bistro in a local village but that always sounds better in theory. In practice, when hunger strikes, you just need to pull over there and then to stuff some calories in. The "smoothies" which turned out to be sachets of baby food weren't such a good choice, I must admit.

Check-in was 3pm at our Keycamp reception at the St Avit Loisirs campsite near Le Bugue. We arrived at precisely 3pm which pleased Dougie immensely.

(More of our adventures to follow. Back home now wading through the laundry but it's such a good drying day: easily pleased)