Cirque de Navacelles – strange coincidence

Last night I opened a bottle of wine for dinner.

Cirque de Navacelles bottle

I like a nice bottle, who doesn’t, but I don’t actually put a lot of time or effort into choosing what I drink. I send £15 a month on payday to Virgin Wine Bank, they top it up with interest and two or three times a year I have enough to pay for a crate of bottles. I drink them as I feel like it or use them as last minute hostess gifts. I try to get a huge 16 bottle box, which is always delivered by a tiny woman who can heft it to my doorstep far more easily than I can move it around the house. I can be sure that each of the bottles that arrives will be interesting and delicious, but it’s fairly random what turns up.

(If you want a referral to Virgin Wine drop me a line as there’s a friend-get-friend scheme.)

Last night’s bottle had a really irritating typographic design, with all of those letters jumbled up, unclear where the words begin and end, so I insta’d a pic and left it there. There was a bonus opportunity to make a weak, limp, rude bilingual pun, because if you work really hard you can see cir que  as cire queue which are the French words for wax and dick, although of course for it to make sense as a French phrase it would have to be a queue de cire.

A helpful friend who presumably wasn’t up to her eyes in an oven full of classic British Saturday night fare  (we had baked potatoes, Lincolnshire sausages, corn on the cob, carrots and a gravy made with fried onions, mushrooms and a spoon of caramelised red onions from a jar, which barely left any room for an oaty walnutty crumble filled with jumbo apples from the kind neighbours) deduced the phrase in full and posted a link to Cirque de Navacelles which jogged a memory.

I’ve actually been there!

I have also wondered over the years, reviewing the pictures of the awesome six-week round France trip I did after working on the successful campaign to re-elect Paul Holmes in 2005, if I was ever going to work out again where that strange, heart-shaped hollow was.  Somewhere in the south of France, somewhere on my journey from campsites near Canne and Perpignon, I followed a brown sign to something interesting to tourists and found myself overlooking a giant hole in the ground which I photographed and then got back in my car. Places to go, tents to erect, dinner to cook before dark.

Now I know!

Cirque de Navacelles

12 years later and it’s about time for another holiday of a lifetime.

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Summer reading report

It all started what feels like a lifetime ago in a tent in Derbyshire, hours after the last bell of July had rung…

I started The Murder Room (P D James) but it felt a little silly and I didn’t get far with it. I came back to it and finished it later in the holidays, but I wasn’t in the right mood to start with. The very long exposition at the start is the problem – two thirds of the book are over before anyone dies!

So instead I switched to Total Recall (Paretsky / Warshawski), and was ambushed by a detailed holocaust story spliced into the action of the novel. At the end of my degree, which is almost twenty years ago, I told myself I had had enough of holocaust survivor texts, having read so many in French and German. I felt slightly ambushed to find one in a much-loved detective series. However, it fit well, and really helped round out the characters of some of Vic’s old friends.

Both James and Paretsky are engaging, interesting reads, but they are not exactly light and fluffy, so I have a few series on standby now that are less taxing on the eye and mind. I read Kickback (Nick Boyd) for a little light relief which continued much in the same vein as the previous two in the Nick Dixon series. Our diabetic hero with his girlfriend subordinate went through a similar set of baffling detections to work out whodunnit, and it filled an hour or two.

Ken McClure tackles difficult scientific and medical topics, but he does so in short thrilling books that are well explained, so this series also counts as light relief. His hero is another one who seems to do baffling well with the ladies in record time, but Dr Steven Dunbar has at least been on the same girlfriend for the last few novels. In Lost Causes, I was thrilled to feel it was bang up to date, with references to coalition government, a female home secretary who loves her shoes, and the deputy prime minister chairing COBRA meetings! Clegg in a McClure novel! Then I realised that actually the start of the coalition is now a long time behind us. Lost Causes is a fun romp about an evil right wing conspiracy with some germ warfare thrown in, and the sequel to that, The Secret, touches on the death of Bin Laden, polio eradication and more large scale conspiracies. Published in 2013, The Secret seems to be the last of the Dr Steven Dunbar novels for now, and I’m almost sad to put the series behind me.

Just before I flew off to Madeira for a family holiday, a parcel arrived with birthday books from a dear old friend who a) knows exactly what I like and b) is a bit of a crime novel expert, so can choose very well indeed. This year’s parcel included two novels set in the former GDR which I reserved for the airport. A five hour flight and a two hour wait at a departure gate go so much quicker with a good book – and I do prefer an actual paperback, because there’s no threat of being told to turn it off once you’re on the tarmac.

David Young’s Stasi Child introduces us to Karin Müller in a story totally unafraid to sprinkle krautisms like Oberleutnant, Jugendwerkhof and Kriminalpolizei through a story with a shocking conclusion. Who knew that the people running the institutions of a communist state sometimes didn’t have the citizen’s best interests at heart?  The second, Stasi Wolf, a jolly good romp, lots of lovely period detail about building and allocating the GDR’s housing, but the plot more than a little bonkers. Not quite sure where I put these books, but I definitely must share them around the languages department at school, where there’s more than one Stasi fan.

Madeira 2017

So my week in the sun was book-ended with Germans but whilst I was actually on my sunlounger (private on villa terrace; had to be moved out of sun so I didn’t fry; also very convenient for stargazing; srsly considering a chaise longue for the lounge, it was so comfy for reading…) I read two more VI Warshawski books, Hardball and Fire Sale, both good. More than two thirds through the series now, the end is in sight.

I also read the third book from the crime novel parcel, Land of Shadows (Rachel Hall Howzer). First in a as-yet short series fronted by a black female police detective, Elouise Norton. You’ll never guess what – she has  a dark and troubling history that’s directly relevant to the case she’s starting to investigate. #shocker.

And finally to Y is for  Yesterday (Sue Grafton). I pre-ordered it from Amazon, set myself a reminder on my phone to check my Kindle at midnight, and started reading it pretty much as soon as I could. It’s a doorstop of a novel and I didn’t finish it in a single sitting, but it was a great story with an ending I didn’t see coming until it was right upon me. Although all of the Kinsey books are set in the 1980s, this is themed around a story of teenagers getting into trouble for filming something inappropriate, a theme which is incredibly contemporary, as anyone working in a school can tell you.

11 books in six weeks? Not bad; better than last year or the year before.

Afternoon tea

Getting the tea set out is something that’s on the list of things I should do more often, so I invited my lovely friends to come over for the bank holiday weekend.

Normal people in this sitch would take photos of the people, I think, but I took photos of the food.

We ate:

Salads you can make with the grating disk in the food processor

  • carottes râpées (I grate carrots, mix with something crunchy, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, sultanas, and then make a dressing out of the juice of half a lemon, olive oil and seasoning)
  • coleslaw (quarter of a cabbage, a carrot and an apple grated, with mayo from a jar, and a spoonful of wholegrain mustard)

Sandwiches

Two loaves from Aldi with a variety of fillings. 3 rounds of sandwiches quartered to make 12 sarnies for 8 guests. V non-u, but I left the crusts on!

  • caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot (reserved some carrot from the salad above) (whole pot of hummus)
  • egg mayonnaise and chives  (5 hardboiled eggs) (I feared these would be unpopular but they went just fine.  Bought a pot of chives and will plant into garden to see if they live!)
  • goat’s cheese and onion jam  (the caramelised red onion jam is one of those jars at the back of the cupboard that was probably left there by ex as I have no recollection of it and it is ahem approaching its sell by, but these sarnies were delicious, and will definitely make again and/or put in packed lunches.  Leave the cheese out for an hour before attempting to spread and I also loosened it a little by beating the cheese with a couple of spoons of mayo)

Cakes

So my aim is something showstoppery for the cake stand, and a variety of nice things for the two tiered plates.  Completely lacking in the time and inspiration for a show stopper (OMG did you even see bake off this week!?) I threw together another of my regular blender cakes and set it atop the cake stand. Oh well.

A few days before I had seen (and eaten!) some beautiful coconut macaroons, topped with cherries with even, chocolate decorations drizzled across – I thought those would be lovely to make and would look great topping a tier, so asked for the recipe and did my best from the resulting photo.  Only… I don’t have a mixer, or working scales at the moment… So I forked out 20 quid in Aldi for something that’s a bit like a mixer  (aargh, it says don’t put in dishwasher!!) to breach the gap and estimated the quantities by googling cup equivalents for the sugar and estimating from the packages – eg 200 grams of desecrated coconut is half the bag…

I think I didn’t beat the eggs enough. I’ve never really got along with meringues, and will have to practise a lot more to see if it’s possible to make in my new mixer or whether it’s just me… But instead of lovely pillowy domes, I got flat discs.

Afternoon tea(chers)

In the end, I decided to drizzle the chocolate on anyway and brazen it out. As it was, they were delicious.

Afternoon tea(chers)

I also wanted to make Portuguese custard tarts, having just returned from (Portuguese) Madeira where they were everywhere!

I went with this Not Quite Nigella recipe to start with except when reading it through I realised half the instructions were just “make custard” and that’s something I’ve been practising a lot lately as a way of using up egg gluts. The instruction for rolling the pastry seemed properly weird, and I was worried

Both the macaroons and the custard tarts were made the night before – and that ended up with the tarts being slightly too soft by the time they were served. Some of them poked out of their cases a bit much, but lots of them looked good and tasted good too.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Afternoon tea(chers)

I got some lovely gifts from my gracious guests – two fab boxes of chocs which did not last long, and two separate people turned up with sunflowers, which I turned into a huge bouquet which looks absolutely super! Both guests were concerned about showing up at a man’s house with flowers. People rarely bring me flowers, but I love it and was delighted to receive them. They’d both separately thought that sunflowers were sufficiently manly to hand them over.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Here are a couple of other posts about times I’ve used the tea set – as a farewell party for councillors and last year with a vegan twist.

And here’s more photos on flickr.