Sunday, November 30, 2008

The circus was in town

Last week the Zavatta circus was in town. I don't keep track but I guess we have about 2-3 travelling circuses come by throughout the year. Now that our children are bigger & can probably appreciate the show, Gaby & I thought it would be a good idea to bring them to one.

I had no idea how much tickets would cost but I thought prices were a little steep - 20 euros for a child considering this was certainly no Cirque du Soleil (which I know cost much more) nor Ringling Brothers. Ah well since we won't be doing this very often.

We had gotten there a little earlier just to walk around to see the animals. Photos were forbidden as is during the performance which is why you only see 2 miserly pictures that I took inside the big tent just before the show started.

The show wasn't too bad although there were many occasions they had to repeat their performances cos they dropped the batons or missed a jump or lost balance (perhaps that's why the show ended up to be 2 hours instead of the stated 1 hour 45 mins). The children were thrilled to see the animals - tigers, camels, zebras (which I thought was rather odd), horses, elephant. Joshua wanted to see more of the tigers & The Girl wanted to see more of the clown (one & only & even then I didn't think he was very funny).

All in all, it was a fun night out but I doubt we would be going again to the circus anytime soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

RIP Mr Andreas Liveras

In spring 2006, we toyed with the idea of moving to Monte Carlo to be closer to X when he was working & so possibly for me to return to work. By sheer coincidence or fate, my CV ended up on the desk of X's former boss.

Even though I have absolutely no experience in yachting apart from living with one who works on a yacht, he had called me in for an interview. We drove down south, had a meeting & after that, were invited to join him for lunch at his favorite restaurant. That was the first time I met Mr Andreas Liveras.

That summer, X was re-hired by him to work on the super luxurious Alysia. One of the weekend, in between charters, Mr Liveras invited The Girl & I to go on board as guests. I was over the moon. Little old me, a guest on board the motor yacht featured on Robin Leech's Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. We were given guest cabins, had full access to all facilities (The Girl had a babysitter while I had mani, pedi & massages) & dined with Mr Liveras every night - dinner conversations were always interesting & lively. It was like a dream & needless to say, we had a fantastic time.

It was probably no skin off his back but I was extremely touched by this generous gesture from a man I'd only met once. So it was with deep sadness when I heard that he was a tragic victim of the recent Mumbai attacks.

X had heard the news of what happened even before it was reported. We found a phone interview he had given to BBC saying that he had gone to the Taj Mahal hotel for curry & recounted how they were led to the basement (the interview has since been removed but the text is here). I was thinking to myself, he was alright then. But shortly after, BBC published a report that he was identified as one of those shot by the terrorists. The Times ran the story here.

From the little time I'd spent with him, I found him to be a man who enjoyed life & made the most of it. I remember that I couldn't believe he was in his 70s. His crew is fiercely loyal to him, many of them having worked for him for years (X had worked for him for 5 years) . He loved children, Alysia was named after his grand-daughter & when we were on the boat, he would often take the time to play with The Girl. We will always remember him as a generous man full of life & humour.

Our thoughts are with the Liveras family. May he rest in peace.

X & The Girl on the deck of Alysia

M/Y Alysia (the one in the foreground)

Jacuzzi with the color changing wall

Upper deck Alysia

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Playing catch up

I've been so behind on my blog reading so if you're suddenly seeing a slew of comments from me on your blogs, you now know why.

I missed reading for a couple of days & my blog reader is already prompting me with an overwhelming 500+ posts to read. Darn. And because I know my favorite blogs all have something interesting to say, I couldn't bring myself to click the "mark all as read" button.

So bear with me as I slowly knock down the posts & once I have my camera back, download the photos & get my blog back on the road.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All about silver linings

I don't have the car. It snowed last night.

All weekend, I've been fretting that I won't have the car this week. I wasn't worried about going grocery shopping cos we all know, I have food in the freezer to feed an army for several months. I was more worried about getting The Girl to school. I can let her eat in the canteen, that should take care of lunch. But what about going to & from school in this weather ?

This morning, with the alarm set earlier than usual (to account for the extra time we will need to walk to school) I woke up, opened the windows to find everything covered in snow. Urgh. Out came the heavy winter stuff - hats, gloves, scarves.....I wasn't looking forward to it.

But I was so wrong. So it took a bit longer cos she wanted to stop ever so often to play in the snow but we had so much fun. The cool fresh air. Walking on the pristine untouched snow. Even tho the sun was out, it wasn't hot enough for the snow to start melting yet so it was all beautiful. Seeing the snow on the leaves, the blades of grass, on the fence, giggling when we saw dog prints on the snow. If I had the car with me, we would not have enjoyed this walk.

So you see something good did come out of this. In fact, I'm already planning what to do with all the free time I'm going to have this week. X, I'm sure would want me to use up my free time wisely by cleaning the house. Don't tell him but I've got other plans - so many things to catch up on.

Side : I had left my camera at X's sister's place last Saturday & if I can get it back soon, I'll try to take some pictures of the snow covered countryside (that is if the snow has not melted by then).

It never rains, it pours

This was a recipe that I've been meaning to try the moment I saw Sri's post on it. It sounded so delicious - chunky crab meat, crunchy celery, lime juice - what's not to like. The only reason I've not done so before was that wonton skins were so precious. The few packets I have were exclusively used for wontons. I really didn't have any to spare....that was until I discovered that the Asian store in Aubenas, Papilla stocks them too.

I was excited to finally make them but sigh...anything that could go wrong, went wrong with this. First of all, the wonton skins had too much flour on them - nothing that I couldn't fix, I just had to brush the next batch with oil. Then they start crumbling on me the moment they were in the oven but that also got fixed when I brushed them with oil.

When I opened the can of crab meat (no fresh crab meat here) that I'd bought, okay so I wasn't expecting big chunky meat but they turned out to be a sort of watery crab soup - yikes. Then cos I couldn't find fresh mangoes, I used canned mangoes which was another big mistake. To make things worse (yes, it does get worse), my head wasn't screwed on right & instead of dicing the mango-wannabes, I turned them into a puree by putting them thru the food processor.

All I can say about this is that, in the end, the cups turned out great & I would be doing them again for pre-dinner snacks but unless I get the right ingredients for the crab filling, would probably look to substitute with other type of filling instead.

So to see what it should have looked like, go see Sri's beautiful crab wonton cups.

Crab Wonton Cups
source Feed My World

For the Wonton Cups:
18 wonton wrappers, thawed (if frozen)
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad:
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced mango
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.

2. Brush the wonton wrappers with oil, and place each wrapper into a section of a muffin tray. Gently press each wrapper into the tray and arrange so that it forms a cup shape. The wrapper will overlap itself and stick up out of the cup. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and crisp. Remove and allow wrappers to cool.

3. Meanwhile whisk together the zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Add the oil and whisk until well combined.

4. In a medium bowl, toss together the crabmeat, celery, mango, scallion and cilantro. Add dressing and toss to combine. Fill each cup with the crab salad and serve.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mediatheque Aubenas

The spanking new mediatheque aka library & media centre in Aubenas opened in Jan 2007. Since we registered as members, we've been going there every 3 weeks (that's how long one can keep the books for). It's free for children under 16 & for adults, it's a nominal fee of 15 euro / year.

I like that they have a great selection for children - books (fiction & non fiction), magazines, DVDs, CDs & even computer stations. They have more English language childrens' books than English adult books (a handful of Shakespeares, Jane Austens & Harry Potter) which is why the quota on both our library cards goes to renting only children's books.

As you can see, they have a cosy little corner for kids which The Girl absolutely loves. Since I can't borrow any books for me, I usually head over to the movies & CD section. They have a limited but very interesting collection of movies - remember the Bollywood ones which I had gotten. For music, I've probably already borrowed all their Brazilian & Latin music CDs by now.

There is one thing that I've been meaning to look into - comics or
bande dessinée or BD for short is very popular in France. The library seem to have a decent collection of these. Although my French is limited & slang French even more so, I may try to borrow some of these to see if it would help improve my French. I am already reading Elle in French so I suppose I should broaden my French reading horizon a little. Hmm I know exactly the person to ask for recommendations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Le Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval

One day in April 1879, on returning from his daily postal round, Ferdinand Cheval tripped on a stone that looked so strange that he took it home with him. The next day he returned to the same spot & found more beautiful stones which he gathered & carried off. These stones reminded him of his dream about a magical palace beyond the bounds of imagination.

So this postman of Hauterives, a landscape rich in fossils & porous limestone, started his epic journey to build the palace of his dreams. He devoted 33 years of his life to modelling, night after night, this monument to obstination.
At first he carried the stones in his pants pocket. When his wife got tired of mending his trousers, he had to turn to other means & finally ended up with a wheel barrow. Cheval would deliver the mail, marking the stones for later pick up. After his rounds, he would return with his wheelbarrow to collect the stones for his garden which today is known as the Palais Ideal.

This architectural wonder put the small town of Hauterives on the tourist map. When word of his project spread, everybody wanted to see what this crazy postman was doing. Accusations of his madness soon shift to admiration, drawing atention from artists.

With no professional training, Cheval built an eccentric palace evoking a mix of Egyptian, Roman, Aztec & Siamese styles of architecture. He was also a bit of a poet, his numerous sayings are chiselled all over the fascade & interior.

Le Palais Ideal became the perfect illustration of naive arhitecture & was classified as a historical monument in 1969. It is considered as world reference for Outsider Art.
The site is just under 2 hours drive from us, somewhere between Lyon & Valence. It was raining & cloudy but we managed to be totally captivated by this strange monument. You really have to see it to believe it & to appreciate the workmanship of this one man with his eye for detail.

Le Palais Ideal
26390 Hauterives
04 75 68 81 19

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vacuum Pack

Considering how often I freeze food, it should come as no surprise that one of my most used kitchen gadget is a vacuum packing machine. I believe it was my friend Helena who first introduced me to it. I can't believe how much I rely on it.

The one I have sucks out the air as well as seals & uses regular freezer bags. Other than soups which I freeze in plastic containers, I use this to seal & bag just about everything else - vegetables, meat, mushrooms.

All these mushrooms which I collected last week, after cleaning & preparing, got sealed in individual packs that you see below. Because they are packed flat, they take up less space in the freezer & much easier to stack.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best Banana Cake Recipe

Best. Banana. Cake.

Everybody who has tasted this have asked for the recipe. I don't remember where I got this from cos it was in my archive from a year ago (you see whenever I come across a recipe that I like, I send an email to myself with the subject recipe & back then, I didn't know I was going to be posting this on a blog).

The recipe yields a big loaf or you could pour the extra into a muffin tray which is what I would do the next time.

Eat it in slices, in cubes, with coffee or with ice cream. Enjoy.

Banana Cake

250g butter (X says that's the reason it's so good)
300g sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 Tbsp milk
4-5 bananas, mashed
300g flour, sift with 1 tsp bicarbonate soda & 1 tsp baking powder

1. Cream butter & sugar. Add eggs, vanilla essence & milk and mix well.

2. Add mashed banana & mix well. Then add flour & mix.

3. Pour into loaf pan. Bake at 160C for 1-1.5 hour until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes up clean.

4. Cool before slicing & be prepared to fend off greedy fingers and forks.

Help Wanted

The 3 olive trees that we have are weighing with olives. I'd be all over them when they turn black. I'm already fighting off everybody who asked if I was going to do anything with them.

Of course. Except I don't really know what or how. Does anybody know a good way to preserve olives ?

Les Chanterelles en Tube

With this dreadful weather that we're having right now, the only consolation is that we are now flushed with mushrooms.

These are called chanterelles en tube, sorry but I don't know the common name in English. A cousin to the famous golden chanterelle. As I've discovered recently, these grow in abundance in the woods behind us (I can't believe I'm living near a treasure trove of mushrooms).

They are easily identified by their yellow stem & dark brown cap but since they grow near pine trees, are often hidden under moss or piles of pine needles. But once you know where to look, you can easily collect several kilos of these in an afternoon.

They are very easy to prepare. After cleaning, just dry fry them in a pan until all the water is evaporated. Then add some diced garlic, a knob of butter & handful of parsley. Delicious with meat & scallops too - something I just discovered when X recently served them with pan fried scallops.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Char Siew Bao

I've been on a nostalgic phase lately which is why you are seeing a slew of Cantonese food on the blog.

There is something about dim sum restaurants that I love. The anxious longing of the cart of favorite dim sum to come along. The bamboo trays. The dim sum ladies as they call out. Even the noise level (why are dim sum restaurants so noisy?). Of course all the little plates of delicious har kows, siew mais, chicken feet (you have to know that's my favorite), lor bak go, char siew bao.

I haven't included any recipe for char siew bao cos I haven't found a bao dough that I like. Even though I've tried a few recipes, none seem to yield the soft fluffy kind of bao. Do I need HK flour ? Maybe someone can enlighten me. For what it's worth, the baos aren't too bad. I guess I'm just fussy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wanting Wontons

A must have in my freezer are wontons. Okay, so I know there are lots of stuff in my freezer but none as crucial to me as wontons. I suppose if you know how much I love my noodles, you'd probably understand why there must always be some in the freezer.

Last week, I finished the last of the wontons & it was time to make new ones. Back in May, I posted that I had a make-your-own-wonton-party with my neighbour Laurence but had forgotten to take any pictures. This time round I didn't make the same mistake.

I use store bought wonton skins which I buy in abandon whenever I find any. I once entertained the thought of making my own but it's too much hassle cos they all have to be cut in squares & must be fairly thin which I probably won't be good at doing. Thick wonton skins is just buerk.

If only shrimps were not so expensive, I would be tempted to make all shrimp wontons like they do in HK. For now, I use half meat & half shrimp. The recipe makes about 60 so halve that if you don't want to make so many.

Wonton Filling - Just mix the following together

700g minced pork
700g shrimp (remove heads, shell & tails then diced)
12 water chestnuts, diced
1 egg
light soy sauce
oyster sauce
chinese wine
sesame oil
corn starch
salt & pepper

I'm not going to show you step by step how to wrap one cos I couldn't wrap & take pictures at the same time. But I did find this site which has 8 different styles of wrapping wontons. I think mine is either style 5 or 6.

The 60+ wontons I made should last me for at least 3 months, I hope.

Perfect for the cold weather
A simple bowl of wonton noodle soup

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stand by Me Around the World

Mark Johnson, an award winning film director & producer, recorded a street performer singing Stand by Me, then went around the world & did the same with the local artists. The video below is a montage of the footage that he took.

This is all part of "Playing for Change - Peace through Music". A foundation that aims to help impoverished people in the areas visited to show how music brings people together. They are currently involved in building an arts centre & music school in various parts of Africa.

Like Matt Harding's video, this appeals to me because it transcends cultures & borders. It hasn't knocked the Best Video on the Internet off the shelf but it is pretty darn awesome.

Check it out.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween Party

Instead of the usual playdate this week, Gaby decided to host a Halloween party at her place. Even though Toussaint is a big deal in France, Halloween is not really celebrated. Although children do dress up (they must be cos I saw many parents buying Halloween costumes probably for private parties), I'm sure my neighbours would be totally unprepared if I were to go trick or treating with The Girl.

I have never celebrated it myself. Even tho I lived in NY for 4 years, I was single, Halloween is really more for families with children. I've seen how houses in the suburbs going over the top decked out in spookiness.

Nevertheless it was an excuse to have some fun with the children.

Spidy @ chez Gaby

The Girl was particularly fascinated with the spider rings

We had gone a few days earlier to help Gaby & Joshua bake Halloween cookies but she was the one who put on the finishing decorations. A big hit at the party.

The Girl as a Giraffe. Pardon my very unprofessional face painting. Unlike what you're about to see next.

Prele, costume designer extraordinaire, make up artist & mum
She even brought her kit & seen here painting Iliana

Everyone had a go at carving the pumpkin
Then Gaby roasted the seeds which we all enjoyed as snack

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween too

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Toussaint or All Saint's Day

photo credit : sonictk/flickr

November 1st is Toussaint or All Saint's Day in France. Similar to our Ching ming. The day to respect & honour the dead. The day people place flowers on the graves of dead relatives. It's also a public holiday where only churches are opened.

In France, the traditional funeral flower is the chrysanthemum. All week supermarkets & flower shops have been displaying pots & pots of chrysanthemums.

It may be good to know that this flower is associated with death & bad luck. A word of advice - if you're visiting a French family, don't ever buy them chrysanthemums.