Whirlwind Trip to the UK

This has taken much longer getting back into posting after our busy holiday than I imagined it would.  Before I get to our amazing holiday I wanted to share a PSA with everyone.  Our trip was 3 weeks long but it’s been another couple of weeks since and I haven’t posted.

I had decided a few months ago I would come off my fibro meds once we were back from holiday because I still had the fibro symptoms plus some awful side effects.  Including a brain fog that was something else!  Now I spoke with doctors beforehand and the only thing they said was to step down the dose carefully.  I did it nice and slow.  It went better than I thought it would.  But once I finished the fun really started and they never mentioned anything about this which is why I’m sharing this with you.  I know I’m not the only one going through this.  The withdrawal after the meds was horrendous and I could barely get out of bed.  I did some research and found that people can end up having seizures or have to be in hospital.  Luckily I didn’t have that but I was really upset that I wasn’t told of this prior to going on the meds and not being told this when I said I was coming off!  So if you are going to be dealing with this, do research and really push your doctor to give you proper support, otherwise it can get really miserable.

That’s the end of the PSA and on to the fun stuff!

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This year we took the kids with us to the UK, one because we were due for a family trip and two because our daughter is touring universities this year.  Surreal that she is beginning this new chapter!  We had so much to fit into this trip and hit the ground running by taking a day trip to Cardiff.  We were all pleasantly surprised at what a fabulous city it is.  The university was right near the town centre and we were fortunate to be able to speak with a senior professor who is part of the admissions.  It was a well spent half hour.  Crossing the Severn was quite the treat as well.

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Without much of a break we headed to our next adventure.  My husband’s family planned a day coach trip to the Somme because his great great uncle was killed in action 100 years ago to the day.  The cemeteries take your breath away and they are immaculate.

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Thiepval was very powerful.  73,000 names of people of unknown burial.  73,000 families had the heartbreak of not knowing what happened.  It was overwhelming for me.  I was struck by the inability of humans to learn from history and the current climate doesn’t hold much hope that we won’t see another Thiepval.

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We were treated to a gorgeous view back across the channel with the sunset.  Hard to beat the sun going down over water.

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We realised that the kids had never been to Stonehenge so it sounded like a perfect day trip.  I really like how they’ve changed the area by moving the visitor centre a mile and a half away.  It really opens up the surrounding area so you see how it was in ancient times.  It was really lovely to walk in the countryside seeing all the barrows.  We also went to Avebury which is a village smack in the middle of a very large stone circle.  A fascinating place.

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After a couple of days puttering about it was time to head north.  I couldn’t wait to show the kids the countryside up north.  University of Manchester was on the list to tour and my friend works there.  Which was fabulous as she actually gave us a much better tour than the official one.  Including getting into the Rutherford Room where the atom was split in 1911.  That was so cool.

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The next day was a gorgeous trip into Yorkshire with Skipton Castle and Bolton Abbey.  I hadn’t been to the Abbey before and I loved it.  The whole area includes the Abbey, the current church in use and the village.  Loads of walking to be done.

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The next day was a great mix of geeky stuff.  We went to see the Lovell Telescope which is an incredible bit of engineering.  You have to have your phones off or in airplane mode as you can interfere with the telescope.  The telescope can pick up a single mobile phone signal from Mars.  We also enjoyed the diesel gala at the East Lancs Railway.  We rode the rails for bit.  The door windows were popular as it was the best way to cool off on the trains!

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It was time to head to London, no rest for the wicked!  Our daughter wanted to visit the Tate as some of the art work was in her image set from her AP Art History course.  I’ll admit, I don’t get the Tate.  At all but to each their own.  It was this afternoon that our daughter got her results for her AP Art History and AP Bio.  She achieved a 5 in both, we are so incredibly proud of all her hard work.  She worked so much with the studying.  It took a lot of time after school and weekends for the heavy coursework.

My husband noticed before our trip that the London Transport Museum was having an open day at Acton.  Our kids weren’t overly impressed but he and I loved walking round all the old stock, maps, signs and artifacts.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering round Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.  I have to say by this time I was tired of the sun and heat.  It wasn’t so bad in the countryside but London was pushing it!

For the last full day we headed to Cambridge for the last of the university tours.  We loved being able to walk in the footsteps of Darwin.  His room is still used by students.  Can you imagine being assigned his room?  Because most of the colleges own the river banks they charge you to walk through to the River Cam so we decided to do a punt tour down the river.  So much cooler on the river!  We got a great view of the Bridge of Sighs, named because Queen Victoria thought it looked just like a bridge in Venice.  It doesn’t but who was going to argue with the Queen?

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After a week straight of walking 4-8 miles a day, we were done in but what memories.  It was amazing to do all the exploring with the kids and spending the time with them before they went off on their next summer adventures.

 

 

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Villandry and Gardens to be Jealous of…

Hard to believe but the Chateau of Villandry was once up for demolition.  Fortunately Joachim Carvallo and his wife Ann Coleman, a Spaniard and an American, bought it in 1906.  Pretty remarkable that they took this on but take it on they did.  They refurbished the buildings and uncovered and brought back to life the gardens.  And what an amazing place it is.

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So of course it was a must on our list.  It was well worth the trip.  They have acres of formal gardens, both vegetable and flowers.  I can’t lie, I’m envious of how well their veg patch is doing given theirs seems to be surviving without rabbit damage.  Unlike ours!

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The formal part of the garden “spells” out tender love, passionate love, fickle love, and tragic love.

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I do wonder how the family, who still lives there, find ways to enjoy the gardens.  I would find it difficult to have to stay out of sight until the masses have left.  But it would be a wonderful place to stroll with a glass of wine.  There are lovely spots to find whether it be the stone watchdog or the graceful swan swimming by.

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But my favourite spot was the sun garden.  I much prefer the gardens that follow the English cottage garden, rather than formal, straight, and narrow gardens.  Letting the flowers and plants do what they are meant to do naturally.

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One thing I really enjoyed while in France was the wonderful food you can get at the tourist stops.  At Villandry they had a restaurant that used the veg from the kitchen gardens.  I had a smoked duck fillet salad with roasted pine nuts and a violet vinaigrette for a dressing.

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It was delicious.  It was such a great day with the kids.  We created so many good memories on this trip that will last a lifetime.

Chinon and Being Flung Back to Reality

They need to come up with a way of easing you back into reality after a fabulous holiday.  Air France does not know how to do this.  In fact their goal seems to be the opposite of my wish.  I thought my husband might have been over cautious about the time we headed out in the morning to begin the long journey back stateside.  I didn’t mind as I thought it would give us plenty of time to have dinner before boarding.  You would think I was a rookie at traveling or something.

Now flying over on Air France was pretty decent.  Newer plane, it even had foot rests back in the cattle section, and the crew was pleasant.  And, get this, the food was edible!  Well, for airplane food.  See why I thought everything would be civilised for the trip back?

Whole other story on the return trip.  If you aren’t first class or priority for Air France in Paris they become very lazy in providing help.  They expect us to do it all with kiosks and self checking the baggage.  Which means weighing it, scanning it, reshuffling stuff, stand around and hope you can get help.  Then finally watch your bags leave.  This took forever.  And we needed to change the seats.  The kiosk wouldn’t do it so we had to find someone to help.  Now we are feeling bedraggled as we work our way out of that area only to go past the priority where they have several people helping out the passengers as they sit comfortably at desks.  Grrr.

Nothing decent to eat really at the airport and we were running out of time even with the delay.  Now this was a 747 fully booked.  When we flew over they called boarding by rows.  Which prevents people from having to climb over each other.  Not this time.  Everyone queue up and hope for the best.  No surprise it took longer to board.  The delay was because the plane was late coming in and they had to clean it.  What they were cleaning I don’t know but I was lucky to have wipes with me so I could wipe the food and dirt off the tray table, arm rests, etc.  Just gross.  It was an old plane so things were broken and the entertainment system for my husband didn’t work so we switched back and forth during the flight.

Reality was a swift kick up the backside!

So forgive me if I want to wander back to France and enjoy the memories. 🙂  One of the places we visited was Chinon.  Everyone we spoke to said we should visit.  I’m glad we did as it was a neat place.  The imposing fortress overlooking the town dated from the 10th century though evidence suggests people have been there for a few thousand years.

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What was fascinating to me was that they were saying this was the seat of the Legend of Arthur.  I’ve seen a documentary that said there was some evidence that Arthur could have been a French legend but nothing for certain.  But by and large I’ve always thought of it as an English legend.  Of course some of our kings ruled from this area.  But this was what they were going with.  The kids had fun with it.

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For me the real history was fascinating enough.  Joan of Arc was here.  Charles VII was staying at the fortress when she was having her visions and she went to him and convinced him to let her lead an army.

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They even have a transcript of her trial for heresy.

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Quite a bit of the fortress is still standing though extensive renovations have occurred here and there given the age.  The Royal quarters is where most of the exhibits were held.

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The views all around the site were breathtaking.  And it was such a gorgeous day where you could just see for miles and miles.

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Of course all this trekking can make you peckish so we headed into town to find a place to eat.  I wanted a place where you can try new things and we were able to find that.  I ordered for a starter some stuffed mushrooms with escargot.

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It was very earthy but good.  They did a decent job with the escargot.  That is an ingredient which is very hard to cook.  At least that is my impression given how often it is screwed up.  My husband and daughter were brave enough to try it but I don’t think they were impressed!  For the next course I ordered a brouillard of eggs.  No clue what it was but I saw that my father-in-law had it for his starter.  I didn’t think I’d like it given how his looked.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I would say it was like burratta for eggs.  With bacon.  Can’t go wrong with that.

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We finished off the day going down the famous Medieval street.  They are private homes, many of which have been refurbished, but they survived the world wars.

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It was well worth the trip to Chinon.  It’s not a huge town but there is lots to see and it was great to wander round it.  Just a beautiful place.

Rabbit and the Need to Strangle a Cock….

4am.  Still dead of night as far as I am concerned.  Cock-a-doodle-doo!  My husband then rolls out of bed to close the ceiling window because I’m too short to reach it.  Every morning the bloody thing would go off.  And it would go all day.  There is another one down the road that answers but that is more muted.  Ours was about 10 feet from our window. I say was as this morning it’s been quiet.  I’m wondering if coq a vin is on the menu next door.  If I never hear another cock-a-doodle-doo I’ll be a happy camper.

On my list of ingredients to cook while here in France was rabbit.  So off to the market we went in search of one.  

 
We were successful.  Good thing I asked the head be removed.  An unfortunate thing about the kitchen we’re using, aside from a very anemic oven, is the knives are very dull.  We’ve tried sharpening them without a whole lot of success.  Which made butchering this rabbit quite the chore!  My MIL helped as I had to wrestle it to submission.  I ended up removing the legs and then took what I could of the remaining meat to add to the sauce.  I didn’t want to waste the rest of the rabbit so when my MIL suggested making a quick stock I went in that direction.  In a saucepan I covered the rabbit in water, added a shallot, salt and pepper, and thyme.


Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Once that is done heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and brown the legs of the rabbit.

  

While that is happening, prep a small onion, a few cloves of garlic, and some fresh rosemary.

  
Remove the rabbit legs and set aside.  Sauté the onions and garlic until they soften.  Add some of the rabbit stock to simmer with the onion and garlic.

 
Add the rabbit bits and rosemary and sauté for a few more minutes.  I bought some local mushrooms at the market which were really nice.  I sliced a few and added them the the skillet.  Again add some stock.  About half a cup or 4 ounces each time.

  

Chop up a few tomatoes.  I also had a can of diced tomatoes that needed to be used.  Toss these in and add 4-8 ounces of red wine.  Bring to a simmer and add the rabbit legs to finish off cooking.

  
The tricky bit is not to over cook and toughen the meat.  In fact after simmering awhile there was still a bit of rabbit on the larger leg that wasn’t cooked through.  We still had plenty of meat to go round.  

 
The sauce with the stock was really nice.  Not sure if I’d cook a lot of rabbit going forward.  It was nice but not something I would crave.  But I can cross this off the bucket list so to speak.  

Today is packing day as we have a long journey home.  I’ll miss this place.  I’ve loved the food, the sightseeing, working on the language, and the leisurely meals.  No one rushes you and it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine or two with lunch.  And I could eat bread here with minimal side effects.  It’s been fabulous!  But back to reality I’m afraid. 

Nearly Lost the Battle with the Charcoal….

So apparently chickens are flammable.  I found out the hard way last night while cooking chicken for the non fish lovers in the family.  I’m still getting used to cooking with charcoal and I made the mistake of walking away after I put the chicken thighs on the grill.  I had other parts of the dinner to prepare.  The grill didn’t think that was a good enough excuse.  When I checked the chickens were balls of flame.  I removed the grill part with the chicken from the heat and started blowing the chicken out like candles.  Oops.  Fortunately they weren’t flaming chickens for long and they turned out ok if you ignore the blackened outside.  Forgive me but I was too busy to take a pic. 

Luckily everything else went smoothly.  The other day a few of us popped down to Saumur to check out the market.  It was a lot of fun and quite large.  It wanders through a lot of streets but we found the food side and found some wonderful ingredients.  One was selling fresh mushrooms including pink ones.  I have no idea what they are called but he also had shiitake mushrooms so I got a bit of both.  I also found a lovely piece of salmon.  There was a bit of language juggling as we sorted out I wanted the skin on but the scales off.  But we got there in the end.  

  
 Following the suggestion from the mushroom man, I minced up some fresh garlic, sliced the mushrooms, and prepped the basil to sauté.  

  
In a skillet heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Once it is hot add the mushrooms and garlic.  Stir as it begins to cook so the mushrooms are evenly coated with the olive oil.  The mushrooms will shrink a bit.  As they begin to brown add a bit of lemon juice to taste along with salt and pepper.  Near the end add a healthy handful of the basil.

  
Once they have browned nicely they are ready to serve.

  
In addition to setting the chicken on fire I also grilled salmon.  I was much more successful with that.  I added a bit of lemon juice and thyme along with salt and pepper to the salmon and cooked it medium rare.  

 
Yesterday we went to Fontevraud Abby which was very interesting.  The scale of it is immense.  It has been sanitised quite a lot and almost looks brand new in some areas.  Still I was glad we went.  

   

  

  

I’m not sure what rose this was but it was stunning.  It was like it was lit from within.  The gardens were lovely though in the cisterns I thought ducks were stuck given the sounds.  Turns out to be two frogs.  Not sure if there was a massive argument or one of them was hoping Barry White music would break out.  But one was running and one was chasing!

Roger from Food, Photography, and France was kind enough to email me about Les Halles in the towns.  So I went back today as I didn’t know what market was on and this one came recommended.  It had some amazing cheeses to chose from.  And there was a fresh produce stall.  So thank you Roger!  

We found a bistro to have lunch.  They seriously know how to do cheese plates here.

  
I also spotted pork belly on the menu.  The flavour was really good.  I think they should have slow cooked it more as it was pretty firm though.

 
As you can see, I’m still having loads of fun.  It’s going to be hard going home.  Tomorrow I’m taking an art lesson so I’m excited for that.  Life is good!

Lovely Farmer’s Markets and Grilling Cod

The schedule for the markets in the surrounding towns is being figured out.  We went to our first one in Noyant and what fun!  It isn’t a big one but you won’t lack for food.  Though for this one, in order to get fresh herbs I had to buy a thyme plant.  Where there’s a way!

 
It wasn’t expensive and my in-laws can keep it when they go home.  

  

With our phrase book, little French, and the vendors’ little English (or sometimes big English!) we managed to get everything we needed for the special dinner of celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary.  Quite the accomplishment these days!  

  
We also managed to find some lovely cured meats, cheeses, and the most amazing crevettes.  They are very messy to peel and eat but it’s worth it.

  
The fish monger had a very good selection of fish so I bought some cod to grill.  The stall that sold cured meats also sold spices and we got a mix that was like a citrusy dry rub that had paprika in it.  I thought it would be perfect for the cod.  We found some ready prepared kebabs made with turkey and beef for the non fish lovers to round out the meal.

I prepared the cod two ways.  First I rubbed the fish with the dry rub and added olive oil.  I wrapped it in the tin foil and put it in the fridge.

  
For the second preparation of the cod.  I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added lemon slices, thyme sprigs, olive oil, and dry white wine.

  
Wrap in tin foil and place it in the fridge until ready to grill.  I also prepped aubergine with salt and pepper and olive oil to grill.  The mushrooms I dipped into a lemon thyme dressing I made for the salad.

  
  
I’ve gotten the hang of the charcoal grill but it is very hot work in this heatwave!  Yesterday was 100F/38C.  Even in the shade, trying to be an asthmatic bellow to get the flames going nearly did me in.  But I was successful.  Given that it’s not a large grill I had to do the food in stages with the aubergine put on last.

  
Keep the lemon thyme cod in the tin foil so it poaches in the olive oil and wine.  I decided to be brave and place the other cod directly on the grill.  Conor from One Man’s Meat was kind enough to give me a tip of about five minutes.  This was quite the thick piece so after a few minutes I checked to make sure it was starting to flake before flipping it over to cook on the other side.

  
So far so good!  The kebabs were done so I added the leek to the grill.  You want the fish to be flaky but not dry.  It’s ok to have it medium well rather than well done.

 
My husband made delicious garlic bread and his aunt made a salad.  I have to say, I was really pleased with how the fish came out.  Both ways.

  

We are enjoying the countryside and I love the sunflowers.  Though if you stop on the roadside beware!  I don’t know if I stepped in stinging nettles or some stinging insect nest.  Either way it was painful getting the shot.  Taking the suffering for your art a bit too far I think.  😊 

Smack Dab in the Middle of France and a Heatwave

Well we made it!  Actually we we’ve been here a couple of days but as I get older jet lag gets harsher.  We flew Air France this time round and I have to say it’s not too bad!  Food was edible, not a guarantee.  And the flight attendant presented the wine label when I asked for the Merlot.  Though for red wine it was that or nothing!

I’m stuggling with the French language.  The hearing part.  I saw what I thought was the drink cart coming down the aisle so I went over in my head what to say in French to ask for the merlot and water.  He rapidly said something and I responded with my sentence.  He looked blank.  Not a good start!  I asked my husband if I got it wrong and he pointed out I was asked what I want to eat.  Sigh.  I actually said the sentence correctly but was answering the wrong question.  Things haven’t improved much on that front but I’m forging ahead the best I can.  

 
Driving hasn’t been too difficult.  I went a bit overboard with printing out maps of our route because I don’t sleep on planes and it makes it difficult to do tasks.  We only struggled a bit round Paris because given the fact that the roads here can have 3 or more numbered names some weren’t on our maps from Google.  But we got it sorted.  There was a comedy of errors at the toll booth when it was time to pay.  Fortunately no one was behind us until the end, unfortunately not a soul to help us either.  We pull up, as you do, and put the ticket in.  Good so far.  Tried to pay with a credit card, didn’t recognise it, tried another with same result.  Eventually it spit out the ticket, just as the wind blew and it grabbed the ticket.  For about five minutes we were scrambling to find it.  We did just as a truck pulled in behind us.  We decided paying cash was the way to go.  

  
But other than that everything else was smooth going.  I do love the rest stops on the motorways in Europe, you can find real food.  And thank goodness we have air in our hire car.  It’s ranging from 90F/32C to 100F/38C this week.  The only saving grace is that the humidity is low.  If it was like it is back home we’d be having 95% humidity.  But it’s still a bit much.

    

We’re in a lovely gite.  It’s in the middle of nowhere so it is very quiet.  The villages are near ghost towns but I’m not sure if that’s because of the hot weather.  We have struggled to find a farmer’s market but we have it on good authority that there is one in Noyant tomorrow and a good one in Samaur on Saturday.  We’ve had to make do with the Super U.  Not impressed with that!  Can’t for the life of me find fresh herbs and when you buy produce you have to put them in individual plastic bags.  I’m not giving up though, this is France!  The good stuff is somewhere.

We did find a nice restaurant yesterday for lunch.  I had a delicious salad with bacon and a soft boiled egg.  The bacon was divine.

   

I tried for the first time duck confit.  Oh my that was good.  A bit heavy for the heat but worth having.  

 
We did a bit of exploring today and went to the Château de Lathan.  A small family owned one but they are doing a lot of restoration of the parks and gardens. I don’t envy them!  But they seem to be getting through the large list.

 
I think we’re going to have a grand time here.  A much needed break!