I have not been baking for a while. It’s at the back of my mind for weeks on end. If there was a ~ quick and scrummy ~ cake I’d bake, then it has got to be that almost effortless and idiot-proof Banana Loaf Cake. Ha ha ha …

I’m glad my boys share the same sentiment as I do.

3 weeks ago (or probably longer..) I bought a nice-looking bunch of Chiquita bananas in the hope of ripening some of them for my Banana Loaf Cake. I needed only 3 bananas, so we ate the rest of the bananas. 


 

While the 3 bananas were dangling on the banana hook to be ripened, my poor guys tried to brush their temptation away. With the cold weather outside, it’s warm inside the house with the heating on. And the result? 3 completely blackened and over-riped bananas with some mouldy white spots after more than 2 weeks of ‘crucifixion’. OH * MY * GOD!!


  

“What are you going to do with those bananas? To ‘hatch’ more black bananas?“My hubby asked (with a hint of sarcasm)

LOL!

There go the bananas … in the bin“, he said, pointing to the dustbin.

I replied with a classic feedback cheekily, “I’ll make Banana Cake*grinning with guilt big time*

Erm… by the way, did I use the ultra black, over-riped and limpy and almost fermented bananas in my cake? 

Uh-uh! Don’t think so … I needed ripe bananas but they were way, way too ripe! So I bought a new batch of bananas and made sure they ripened within a visually correct duration of time. Ha ha …

Here were the bananas that went in my Banana Loaf Cake I baked last night.


Not Once But Many A Time … And The FIRST Time, Though!

The first tutorial I’ve watched on YouTube in making a Banana Bread was the demo by Stephanie Jaworski of JoyOfBaking.com and I have baked Banana Bread or Cake as well as muffins many times since. It’s the easiest cake to bake. And I have done several tweaks and modifications to suit my family’s palates and they usually turned out great, me thinks …

Last night, however, was the first time I baked the Cake with the help of the Thermomix.

Here’s how I did it, by combining recipes of a cake and a muffin.

Sorry for the bad photos as the only lighting I had was my kitchen tungsten halogen lamps. No natural (sun)light. I did say I baked the cake last night, didn’t I? *wink*

Banana Bread or Banana Cake? It looked like Bread but it tasted like Cake, so I called it Banana Loaf Cake! It was super yummy and moist. I kid you not…


Ingredient A

  •  240 g ripe bananas

Ingredients B

  • 125 g butter
  • 110 g cassonade light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Vahiné natural vanilla powder

Ingredient C

  • ca 120 g eggs

Ingredient D

  • 60 g Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Ingredients E (dry ingredients)

  • 255 g APF
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • A pinch of sea salt

Steps 

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius
  • Place A in TM bowl and blitz the bananas for 40 sec/ sp 5 until they form a creamy consistency. Set the mashed bananas aside in a separate bowl.

  • Add B and mix for 3 mins/ sp 5. Scrape down the sides of the inner bowl and continue mixing for another minute to form a light and creamy consistency. 
  • Add C one at a time. Beat for 10 sec/ sp 5 per egg. 
  • Add A and D to combine for 45 sec/ sp 5


  • Add E by weighing the dry ingredients, then tip the mixture into a clean bowl.  Fold in manually with a spatula until the mixture is combined.

  • Scoop the mixture into a greased loaf tin/ pan. Bake for 55 mins in a pre-heated oven. The cake is baked through if a skewer pricked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.



My Verdict?

I LURVE the smell of freshly-baked cakes and pastries, although I am not a sweet-tooth person. The smell that floated in my kitchen last night was heavenly. My boys were upstairs when I baked the Banana Loaf Cake and they could immediately smell baked bananas when they walked in the kitchen 🙂

While leaving the cake to cool on a wire rack, I just had to cut a generous slice of the cake (while still a bit warm). It was too tempting for me to let it sit until it’s cooled completely. And by the way, I’m a crust person, so the slice with the crusted end was mine! It may have appeared to look like it’s on the hard side but, surprisingly, tasting is believing and seeing is deceiving; it was actually quite soft and moist (crust et al).   I’m glad I added Lyle’s Golden Syrup. You could add Maple Syrup or Honey. The syrup gave the cake a nice tan colour and made it moistier and ‘stickier’ with a caramelised flavour. I left the Cake on the kitchen table overnight and had a slice for breakfast this morning. The softness and moistness of the cake remained.  Before I left for work, I placed the cake in the fridge. When I got home, I thought the cake would harden while being refrigerated, but no, it remained as soft and fresh. You know what?  This is by far, my favourite Banana Loaf Cake recipe sans nuts.  The next time, I will add some walnuts from my garden!
Have a great week!

Cheers!

When my 2nd year University son came up to me in Feb this year, here’s what happened.

He walked towards me holding a scruffy looking piece of paper.

Me: What’s that in your hand?

Son: Er….nothing

Me: Then why are you coming to me when there’s nothing?

Son: Ah…. actually there’s something I want to tell you…

Me: Yes, go on…. I’m listening

Son: Me and my besties are going for a holiday this summer… to the Balkans, at least 5 or 6 countries..?

Me: What?!! That’s still 7 months down the road and your final exam’s in June. Shouldn’t we be discussing that first?

Son: Well, we’re in a planning stage ….

Me: That’s a good plan, son, and who’s going to pay for your holidays?

Son: Erm…..that’s what I’m here for ….

Me: OH-KAY! Then I know what’s best for you. If you don’t get through your exams, there will be no hols for you. If you get through your papers, papa or mama will not pay your hols, but you have to earn it yourself. Get a summer job! Okay?

Son: Ok, mama *big smiles*

And by the way, he got through all his papers and did his summer student job at the company I work with, but working at the most unaccomodating graveyard shift. You can read it all here: A Mother’s Insane Sacrifice 

But hey, wait a minute! Isn’t this post about 7 girls? And why am I chewing over my son’s story? 

Well, to be honest, there’re some similarities and dissimilarities on both sides of the narratives. 

Ready?

Se7en!

My son left for Skopje (their first stop) with 6 buddies, all boys, in September before the new semester began! The weather was a bummer, with some waterlogged days and some, sunny days. The boys were away for 2 weeks.

I left for Porto with 6 friends, all girls, recently in Oct. The weather was a bummer, with one day when we were completely soaked! We were away for only 3 days!

My son and his mates planned their holiday destination early this year and came to a unanimous consensus to visit the Balkan states plus Budapest since February. They met regularly at one of the boys’ houses to discuss the details of the trip, places of interests, budget, mode of payment etc. 

My girlfriends and I talked and planned about an all-girl getaway via whatsApp, with several destinations mentioned, but no mutual consensus to any one location. It was just a plan, so it seemed …

Our girlie conversation started in March. One of the girls, AO, was pregnant with her second child. Her baby was due in May. For her – inititally – it was a no go as she said she would be in a breastfeeding mode, depending on the date of our trip.

So with the 6 remaining heads, the topic was cooled down for a while and was again brought up in April. That time, AO was in Kuching with the intention of having her baby delivered there. While AO was updating about news and foods in Kuching, the 6 of us decided to go on with the trip plan without AO, hence, on 26th April, C sent out a doodle poll to gather a unanimous and compromised date of our inaugural all-girl weekend getaway. 

Lo and behold! We had a date!!! Amazing… considering it came from 6 double X-chromosomes Homo sapiens. LOL!

The weekend of 22nd October it was! Brilliant, and wait until you hear this…. because we wanted to stay 2 nights, those who’re working had to take a day off on either a Friday or a Monday. We all decided to take Friday off to fly to our chosen destination and came back on Sunday. Yup, it’s a short trip but for goodness’ sake, we are all married girls with and/ or without kids (yet).

Doing Our Own Things

Since the doodle poll in April to secure a date (which was brilliant), we went on to do our own things. Nothing was discussed anymore about our trip, except at fleeting moments when one of the girls, AM, brought up the subject but only to be swept under the rug or fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, AO had given birth to gorgeous baby Z. Due to work, business trips, kids’ activities, football season, exams and the summer holidays, our intended all-girl getaway appeared to be just an ambitious and far-fetched idea/ plan.

Meanwhile, my son and his 6 buddies had settled some prepaid expenses of their pending trip and he was showing me the places and locations they would cover and visit. Mum could only admire…

Midas Touch

August arrived. My family and I went for our ‘ritual’ South of France trip. While enjoying the sun, great food, sceneries and fresh air, I was showing my girlfriends some photos of our Provençal summer getaway, despite the sporadic internet connections at our holiday home in one of the remotest parts of South of France.

 

That was probably the photo that Midas touched. Suddenly a trail of chatty girls started to re-open the conversation that was held back frozen some 4 months before ….

Thursday, 11th August … Full Steam Ahead!

After the girls saw the photos I shared in our group chat, the conversation went full steam ahead …

And here’s how 7 girls made the decision in one evening ! It was a vivacious and animated conversation…. but darn the internet connnection!!

AO: Yup … we really should plan a trip next time

X: We have our trip in October!!

AO: Where you girls going again?

D (with very limited internet connection): Our trip in Oct? Not even planned anything yet! (suddenly, no internet connection/ out of conversation)

AO: Oct will be pretty cold already, unless we head South… Spain/ Portugal

X: That’s the plan, somewhere South. Corsica?

AO: I wanna go, but baby Z has to tag along

X: Where’s AM, our organiser?!!

AM: My questions: Are you still keen on our all-ladies’ trip? If yes (in Oct), (1) where? (2) flying or taking the train? (3) who are still keen to go?

AO: Yes (1) anywhere (2) anything (3) me

C: If weekend, we fly

X: Corsica? Flying… if Corsica. Me

C: We talked about Porto. Corsica is also OK. Flying is best if long weekend. Me, depending on date.

X: C, we had the doodle poll, remember? We had a date… the weekend of 22/10

AO: Are we doing Fri-Sun or Sat – Mon?

AM: First, how many of us going or rather who are confirmed going?

AO: Me, you, X. C maybe. G? O? D?

AM: Also need to confirm if 21/10 to 23/10 or 22/10 to 24/10 or 20/10 to 24/10

X: Let’s wait for G, O and D to respond

AO (deflecting her thoughts): If we go to Pisa from there, train to La Spezia and then Cinque Terre! It’s soooooo gorgeous!

C: I have been there but don’t mind going again. Very beautiful. Italy’s always a good destination. Pisa/ Verona/ Bologna

AM: Are we going for food, sight-seeing, walking or shopping or all three?

AO: I don’t really shop. For me it’s food and views (preferably ocean/ sea)

C: If it’s a long drive to Cinque Terre, then we will need an extra day …

AO: Plus anywhere next to the ocean, is bound to offer fresh seafood

X: It is a short trip, so I would recommend to keep it simple

AO: You’re right…. just saw Pisa’s airfare was soooo cheap, I lost my mind

AM: We go for all – sightseeing, walking, some fun/ excitement, food and some shopping

AO: Ryanair is pissing me off. Their website is ridiculous; no matter which destination I clicked on, it always directs me to Berlin!!! Easyjet is having a sale now…. lemme search..

AM: If I’m not mistaken, D has mentioned no France trip for her

G (just joining in the conversation): I’m going to Napoli on the cruise after our all-girls trip, so no Napoli, please 

AO: Grrrr…. OK no Easyjet

G: Milan, I don’t mind

AO: OK, I don’t either. Any destination for me is good. I haven’t been many new places, always the same few drivable cities

AM: Before we look at air tickets, we still have to decide 1-2 destinations and the 3 dates I mentioned that we are all OK with. Only then can we talk about air tickets

C: I stick with Porto. I don’t think we should spend too much time again on destination. We know we do not want to go too far and make it too complicated. Italy or Portugal. No one mentioned Spain but that is also good. Alternatively, Edinburgh? Or Ireland? Please be quick as some of us need to apply for leave. And make sure kids are taken care of

G: I agree with C on this matter. Ireland is pretty boring. I have been there a few times and no Edinburgh please ‘cos I plan to go there to see my sis in Glasgow.

AM: Does D have wifi or internet access at her holiday villa?

D (back in the conversation): Argghhhh!! Issues with internet connection. So slow. It was fine when we arrived but not anymore.

X: So ladies (1) Porto (2) Bologna (3) Naples

AM and AO: Porto looks OK to me

D: OK with location (I assumed, Porto?), but no France please. Have we booked the hotel yet and what’s our budget?

AO: Take an apartment from AirBNB? Much more fun? Can cook too…

AM: Hah … we are on holidays. Also wanna try the local foods.

D: We all need a holiday! No cooking please. I wanna see places. Move around.. a bit of shopping (souvenirs) and Port wine!!!

AO: Agree! Agree! No cooking …

D: Need to check location to/from airport. Is the place too remote? Walking distance to city centre? Places of interest?

X: Single room or twin sharing? Best to stay around city centre

AM: Twin or triple sharing? Do we need to rent a car?

X: I don’t think we need a car

AM (summarizing): Destination = Porto. Meals = No cooking. Transport = no rental of car. Accom = Hotel

D: Please book accomodation first before booking air tix

C (suddently sidetracking): My initial idea was to go and book into a spa in Germany!! We drive there in 2 cars, then save on flying cost and just spoil ourselves and baby Z in a spa

AO: I would love to be pampered!

C: No need to buy air tickets. Then go out eating in the Mosel area and have a great time

X: I’m easy …

C: Not sure about Germany as well …. Heard some good ones in Austria but that is too far

AO: Aiyah, me anything anywhere anytime OK

C : Are we back to Lisbon??

AO: No, I’m exploring German Spa hotels now …. cos I do love German food

C: I can drive and take 3 more persons. Driving there is approx 3 hours

AM: Please no Germany or Austria, please, please !!!!

C: Why not???

AO: Ok ok AM …. let’s find a spa hotel in Porto?

X: Ladies, are we going to Porto to stay in a spa?

AM: I do not necessarily need a spa hotel in Porto. Depending on the rest, I go with the flow

X: We go there for sightseeing so let’s get a decent hotel

AO: I definitely wanna go out sightseeing, eat local food, then go back spa a bit before sleep

D: Are you sure all of us want spa hotel? To be honest, I don’t like to be cooped up in the hotel. I want to walk and see places …

AM: We really need to come to a certain decision …

X: I’m with D

AM: I’m with D and X

AO: I think it’s safe to say we’ve settled on a destination

X: Let’s park the spa trip another time, ok?

D: Brilliant! (and suddenly no connection …)

AM: How many of us for Hotel? Apartment?

X: AM, D, are you into hotel or Air BNB?

AO: I’m still pinning on AirBNB because much cheaper and allows more camaraderie. With the savings, can splurge on food, shopping …

AM: Hotel and in the city, if possible. I’m not much of a spa person – does not work for me

X: OK

AO: Ok lets do hotel

C: Best hotel in the city …

AO: Yay! Let’s book

X: Lets wait for G and D. For D, it’s definitely no cooking, I know …

AO: Cooking is for future trips that are weeks long

C: I’m a light sleeper, so can’t share room

AO: Ooooh… are we all taking single rooms? I’m OK with sharing or single

AM: I guess it depends. If anyone wants to share rooms, can share, otherwise, she can also decide on a single room

AO (feeling excited): I’m just excited we agreed on a destination. LOL … And I’ve not been to Portugal, so extra chuffed

C: Yay!

D (back in the conversation): Just reading your messages. Catching up. So hotel, OK for me ..

X: We need to book the flights to enjoy the rate

AO: Yes, agree,must get flights asap

D: Once we have agreed on location and place, only then can we proceed to book the flight. But must be unanimous

X: How do we manage the flight booking? Book individually?

D: Not heard from G or O ..

G: Sorry ladies, my phone battery died last night when I was out so only saw messages now. Yeah, I’m fine with Porto. Twin sharing is fine with me. Think I can share with AM since she asked me. As for flights, best we book ourselves, no? Just send the appropriate itinerary to all and we book ourselves

X: I have the flight itinerary. SN Brussels

G: Email or in this whatsApp? So many messages, I will need to read through …

C: Email the definitive is best

G: So Fri to Sun, I’m OK with that

AO: Its only G who needs to get home before Monday is it? Would anyone mind if I stayed one extra night on my own (anyone is welcome to join me, of course). If I’m alone for extension, I can visit my friends in Faro

G: Anyone can stay as long as she wants. I can still come back on Sunday

AO: I understand that majority needs to work Monday. The non-workers are welcome to spend an extra day there with me, optional.

G: I prefer to come back earlier cos Thursday early morning we are leaving on an 11-day cruise. A lot of travelling…

AM: I do not mind coming back on Monday, too

AO: Great AM, we stay an extra day, k?

X: O, are you joining?

O (just got a new job and busy with her work, just joined in the conversation): Read through all the messages… Yes, joining! Sorry, can’t chat long. Need to work.  I go with the flow …

X: Are you going to take with you hand baggage or check in?

AO: One small luggage

X: Please note tickets are non-changeable and non-refundable

D: Hand baggage. Check and go. I’m doing that. Faster.

C: Me, too. Pack light …

D: Wear something warm on and carry light. October will be quite cool

C: Agree with D

AO (the first to book): Wow, me plus baby only Eur xxx total. Cheap cheap cheap! Booked and paid…

AM: Air tix and hotel booked! Yay … our tour begins…

D: Did we all book flying the same hour?

X, C, G, AO: Yup!

AM: Thanks to X who had us speeding up with our booking

AO (sidetracking again …): I’m going to get dining tips! I want that portuguese egg tart …pasteis de nata!!! Seafood!

G: Re the rooms, we have 2 twin sharings and one triple. Since I will be sharing with AM, my guess is that D, X and C will take the triple, right? The extra nights, those who will stay behind can bunk in together. Then rooms issue settled

AM: I have 3 sizes hand carry luggages at home, all Samsonites. Which is the standard size??

D: Check Brussels Airlines website. Allowable carry-on baggage Check&Go is 1 piece, max dimensions 55x40x23 cm with max total weight of 12kg. Note Size and weight apply hand in hand. If size is OK but weighs a ton, you cannot hand carry

X: AM, check the dimensions of your baggage. We are taking the Airbus, so it should not be an issue if you sticked to the dimensions as per D‘s guidelines. I do face issues at times when on biz trips, where they put your luggage away because of the size of the plane but it’s rare..

AM: Thanks X, so far I got checked before because my carry on looked bulky but it fitted to their measurement basket.

D: Again, suggest you carry light and wear warm clothings on with good walking pair of shoes. That should solve the carry & go baggage dilemma. Read its cold in Porto even in the Summer esp at night !!

All Settled and Ready to Go?

Phew!!! The double X-chromosomes managed to agree in record time … in one evening’s conversation!! One summer photo snowballed the effect with X speeding things up. Thanks, X! Note, there was no face-to-face communication, but only text conversation via WhatsApp. Thanks to cyberspace and 7 thinking heads ‘brainstormed’ by a Marketing & Sales Manager, a Communications Manager, a Lawyer, a Business Finance Controller, a former Nurse, a Food & Beverage Expert and a former Flight Stewardess cum Restaurant Manager. We were such diversed personalities, and strong-headed, too, that we even managed to come to a decision, was utterly amazing!

Oh by the way, did you manage to count the number of cities and locations in our conversation?

In case you lost count, at least 13 destinations were hinted at! Corsica, Lisbon, Pisa, Porto, Verona, Bologna, Naples, Edinburgh, Mosel, Nice, spa in Germany, Ireland, Austria… It was a LOOOOONNG list. But Porto was the winner!

Meanwhile, my son and his 6 buddies returned home from their trip from the Balkan Peninsula plus Budapest on 20th September before the new University Semester started. Their 2 weeks hols saw their friendship grew even more. The group was made up of the following students: 2 Civil Engineering and 1 Business Engineering students, 1 Sports Science student, 1 Business Management student, 1 student of Architect and 1 IT student.


Now, how will 7 girls and a baby fare after the weekend trip of 2N and 3D in Porto?

We shall see…

Stay tuned *wink*

Porto, here we come!

 
While waiting for the next part, please hop over to this post: When 7 girls decided to meet …

Cheers!

 

Friday, 19th August. Our last day in South France.

The night before, I told hubby that I would like to re-visit an outdoor Friday market before we wrapped up our Summer hols this year. By the way, we had been to 3 this Summer: the Tuesday market at Vaison-la-Romaine and the Friday market at Carpentras. We had also done the Saturday Flea Market and Antique Fair at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

We never do the same market twice, hence, Carpentras was out. Fortunately, there were 2 other locations of Friday outdoor markets in the Luberon region of Provence. We chose Bonnieux. Bonnieux Friday market was not new to us. We had been there in one of our Summer trips. Loved the charming little village a lot!

 
Bonnieux

We left our holiday home earlier than usual at 8.30am. The distance to Bonnieux is 88 km. 

Bonnieux is one of the many historic “hill villages” in the region. Erm …. did I just say “hill”? Yup, Bonnieux is built on a plateau above the valley. It rests on top of the Luberon hills with a view of the rest of the valley. The first thing we noticed when we reached Bonnieux was the view of the church tower.


And that’s where Bonnieux market starts; around the new church at the base of the village on the small square, the Place Gambetta and extending mid-way up the village. Like all outdoor markets in the Provence, the Bonniuex market is an important weekly event for local residents who come to buy fresh seasonal produce. It’s also an important social centre, ie, a place where the locals meet up with friends and get caught up with the tittle-tattles. On the other hand, for tourists like us, we relished the opportunity to – occasionally – find exceptional deal.


I was happy to see a stall selling olivewood-carved pieces. By the way, I bought my first olivewood piece – a soup ladle – at a Christmas market some years back in Leuven. It was from Greece and I fell in love with the wooden ladle instantly, which my older son fondly called, ‘The Hobbit Spoon’. LOL!

While perusing the many different carved olivewood pieces, I sensed the guy manning the stand was gawking at me. Well, of course I felt stressy. And then I heard him talking, in almost perfect English! That’s the best ice breaker to start my morning.

Hello ma’am, do you need help?  He asked.

I asked if he was the master crafter. He said, “I wish, but all what you see here are made by a good friend. If you noticed, not a single piece is the same because every piece is uniquely hand-carved“. I was sold immediately by that remark. I bought a rolling pin, a spatula, a slice and two cooking spoons to add to my olivewood collection! *wink*


The guy told me that olivewood could last a lifetime. Olivewood is a hard and non-porous wood that will not absorb flavours, odours and it does not stain. A final word of caution from him,” You can use any type of oil to polish the wood but never use olive oil.” Out of curiosity, I asked him, “Why?” He said, “olive oil is the only oil type that will penetrate the wood, hence the grain pattern may fade.” 

Okay, Roger that!

Before I left his stall, I asked his permission for a photo. 😀

Next to the olivewood stand was a couple selling artisanal Provençal’s pistous, crèmes, confits and tapenades.

We walked slowly past their stand but the lady was very persuasive.  She hurriedly smeared some pistou on a little piece of bread and insisted we tried. And then the crème and the tapenade and the confit! We must have tried almost all the spreads given to us.

To be honest, I did not like everything I have tasted. A bit too salty for my liking.  I’m glad hubby and I agreed unanimously with the choice of spreads – crème d’Ail, crème printanière and pistou rouge. The three jars travelled with us some 1,000 km from France to Belgium.

In 2012, hubby bought a fedora at the Wednesday market at Saint Rémy de Provence. This year he bought another felt hat at the Friday market at Bonniuex. The lady manning the booth claimed  the hats were from Panama. The price per hat was surprisingly on the cheaper end tagged between Eur 5 to Eur 50, compared to what we saw at the flea and antique Saturday market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with price tags of above Eur 70!! The hats were also from Panama! 


Bonnieux outdoor market is a lot smaller compared to several other markets we have been to, but, nevertheless we loved the colours, smells, sounds and the busy, social environment interacting with the traders, most of whom surprised us with their almost flawless English. 


Curious 

Bonnieux’s steep and narrow streets are lined with renaissance old buildings, most of which are built on top of even older structures. 

We made a curious stop. We saw many people going in a small shop. There was no one manning inside the shop. All we saw were hand-made figurines dressed in period costumes placed on different miniature location replicating an era of Bonnieux

Seconds later, a guy came in the shop and asked us if we understood French. Someone replied ‘yes’, so the guy babbled in French which I could understand a little bit here and there. I later learnt that the guy and his late father hand-built the miniature replicas. Absolutely brilliant!


What’s Up Yonder?

We thought Gordes was high and steep, but Bonnieux was even higher with steeper steps! We seemed to be climbing up and up endlessly. We felt we could reach for the stars! It was amazing to see how the little enthusiastic boy was climbing the stone steps. I couldn’t help taking a snapshot of the lil lad. He seemed to be enjoying the climb tremendously, leaving his Mum, Dad and sister far behind. 


The kid (like my kid) was probably curious to see what’s up yonder! The last 86 stone steps led to “Vieille Eglise” (old church) and the magnificent old cedar trees.

If you are wondering if the church is being used. The answer is “Yes” and it’s opened occasionally for tourists visits, marriages and funerals and special services such as the Christmas Eve Mass. Unfortunately, the “old” church was closed that day because there was a rehearsal for a matrimonial service. Ah well … too bad.

Anyway, we enjoyed the view from up yonder looking down the beautiful view of Monts du Vaucluse, and the villages of Gordes and Roussillon


By the time we got down to road-level, we were famished!

We left Bonnieux and drove 30 minutes farther to Lourmarin.

Lourmarin was such a hustle and bustle little village with its several wonderful cafes and restaurants. It was probably the best place to have lunch after the market. Oh by the way, Lourmarin’s open market day was also on a Friday!


Every restaurant was full house. We were lucky to find a table for 4!

With such a hot day, our colourful summer salad plates were to die for. We licked our platters clean!

Gorgeous!


Reality 

With holidays, it seemed the days were too short! I wished the days would drag longer, because I knew our lunch at Lourmarin spelled our final eat-out in the Provence. And then reality folded in! *sob*

Another reality was, I had achieved climbing up 64 flights of stairs (not steps), walked a total of 49.33 km with a total of 82, 804 steps in 2 weeks (including sedentary days). Yay! Thanks to an App I had on my iPhone 🙂

TGIF !

Have a fantastic weekend!

Cheers!

Last Summer my family made a trip to Kuching; a very much delayed trip of 7 years’ overdue. While I was in 7th heaven binging foods I grew up eating, my Belgian hubs and Belsian boys were craving for their Belgian fries. Erm… I guess I could totally understand their cravings, because that’s what happened to me this Summer!

We were in the South of France for 2 weeks, consuming local Provençal’s 3-course meals almost daily. And guess what? My palate was screaming for SPICES!!! 

When we headed home, I was longing for that one dish that’s packed with spices and fresh herbs. Because I had been “pampered” with served meals while in the Provence, it was hard getting back to cooking mode. By the way, I have not been using my thermomix for almost a month! Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

Therefore, one weekend, I moved my thermie and placed it under the extractor hood. My mission? To appease my craving. Yup, I was craving for the Indonesian inspired dish, “soto ayam” because that’s one tantalising dish that’s packed with all the goodness of spices and fresh herbs. No ready-made or instant boemboes! Everything was fresh and cooked from scratch… in my thermie!

If you are wondering what “Soto” means, I was as blur as most of you, so I asked the right people, my Indonesian colleagues. They said it’s a soup dish. Yes, I knew it’s a soup dish, but what is soto? I did not get an answer right away but they went on to explain that usually chicken meat is submerged in water with specific spices and herbs to obtain the broth.

Okay, in my humble opinion, soto is not just a simple soup dish, it’s the method how the broth is made. My Indonesian colleagues agreed to my curious conclusion. 

And by the way, I used fresh turmeric to give the broth that vibrant yellow look, while poaching and simmering the chicken in the broth. It’s such a healthy dish, with lots of flavour and very, very aromatic.


Two years ago, I posted the soto ayam recipe done the conventional way, so in this post, I’m going the opposite direction. 

The Revival

Since our Summer hols in August, my thermomix had been left idle for about a month! When I started cooking the soto ayam, my thermie went bonkers. The sound of the blades spinning was not normal. It sounded rusty. I was hoping the squeaky sound would go away. It did not, until I started to boil the chicken. Guess what?!!! My thermie stopped cooking completely in the first 4 to 5 minutes. And I still had so many more minutes to go before the raw chicken meat was cooked!! Oh no!!!! Not now. So I did what I had to do, i.e. removed the plug and then re-plugged. At the same time, I had to re-start the menu. I felt like a surgeon reviving a comatose. Thank goodness, the ‘flatline’ re-acted and my thermie came back to life! It was a HUGE relief! Phew!!!

And here’s how I cooked my Soto Ayam, which I have personally translated as Fragrant Herbed Chicken Soup, because that’s what it actually is!

Ingredients A


  • 5g Sarawak white peppercorns 
  • 5g coriander seeds


Ingredients B


  • 70g garlic
  • 230g shallots
  • 50g galangal
  • 10g (1 stalk) lemongrass 
  • 25g turmeric 
  • 65g ginger
  • 20g candle nuts
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves



Ingredients C

  • 60g coconut oil

Ingredients D


  • 8 pcs (ca 1 kg) chicken drumsticks 
  • 800g water
  • 4 stalks lemon grass (bruised)
  • A palmful kaffir lime leaves (bruised)
  • Coarse sea salt to taste


Ingredients E


  • 8 – 9 medium-sized eggs placed in Varoma dish 


Ingredients F

  • 500g hot water

Garnishing 

  • Cucumber, julienned
  • Fried shallots (not in photo)
  • Spring onion 
  • Fresh coriander
  • Mint leaves 

Method


  1. Place A in TM bowl. Dry roast for 10 mins/ V/ sp 1. Mill the toasted spices when temp drops below 60C. Mill for 1 min/ sp 6->10/ MC
  2. Tip the ground spices onto a clean plate/ bowl. Set aside
  3. Meanwhile add B and blend for 15 sec/sp 10. Scrape the sides of the inner bowl and under the lid. Again, blend for 15 sec/ sp 10.  
  4. Add C and ground spices A and sauté for 15 mins/ V/ sp 1
  5. Add D. Cook for 15 mins/V/R/ spoon
  6. Place E on top of TM bowl and cook / boil further for 17 mins/ V/ R/ spoon (or until the eggs are boiled according to your liking or better still, use the TM5 recipe chip and boil the eggs separately. I like mine with firm white and runny yolk. Heaven!  )
  7. Remove Varoma dish and cool eggs under cold running water. Set aside.
  8. Remove cooked chicken. Set aside 
  9. Meanwhile add F and check the seasoning of the broth. Boil further for 5 mins/ 100 C/ R/ spoon
  10. Before drizzling the hot spiced broth, plate the sliced cooked chicken in a (deep) bowl and garnish with thinly stripped cucumber, coriander leaves, spring onions and mint leaves. Place a hard or medium or soft boiled egg on top and sprinkle with fried shallots/ onions.
  11. Pour the hot broth slowly over the chicken.
  12. Serve with steamed white basmati rice (which I also cooked in my thermie)

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words!


Sinfully yummy. One of the best comfort foods 🙂


Mmmmm….Simply gorgeous!

I served my soto ayam with steamed basmati rice.

My Verdict?

When my thermie stopped cooking in the first 5 minutes, I felt my whole world came crashing down around me! It was that bad. I was thinking that I had prepared everything for nothing. That’s just not me. I wanted to see, or better still, taste the end result. It appears that the thermie must not be left idle for a long time. It needs attention and wearing, therefore, TM owners, keep your thermie busy! 

Now, the verdict for the dish. Usually I would serve the soto ayam with vermicelli or noodles. This was the first time I had the fragrant herbed chicken broth with steamed rice. It was a complete meal which we all liked, but personally, I would serve the broth with rice noodles. As you can see, the egg was supposed to be hard-boiled, but it turned out soft, which we all liked, too 😀

With the summer temperatures behind us, this dish will be made quite frequently now. This dish is pure comfort food for cold weather. 

So I made this dish again with rice vermicelli, and making sure to boil the eggs separately as per the recipe chip. 

Et voilà!

Yummy !!!!


Stay warm! 


Cheers!


In part 9, I wrote about our laid-back, relaxed and lazy day which wrapped up in a lovely find almost in the middle of nowhere. 

The following day was a complete surprise for me and the boys; an unplanned trip. Hubby kept mum all morning and did not want to tell us where we were heading to. Well, I love surprises, so no complaints there! All I saw was the journey had a distance of 77 km on the GPS. It could bring us anywhere…

While I was dozing off, I suddenly woke up and found that hubby was driving on a long and winding road…

Huh? Are we driving up Le Mont Ventoux again?

Erm… wait a sec… it looked as if the long and winding road followed the line of shady bulwarks.


And then we saw the most appealing vision of a very charming fortress perched on the edge of the high Plateau de Vaucluse

The alluring fortress is called Gordes, a hilltop village crowned by its Renaissance castle. 

By the way, Gordes is ranked as one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France‘.  

Houses are built on slopes and narrow cobbled streets that coil through the town leading to steep steps. 

To be honest, I had not been walking so strenuously in a long while and climbing up the so many steps was the best work out ever! 

It was such a joy strolling around the narrow streets that climbed up between tall houses. 

The best discoveries were the perfectly restored dry-stacked walls built from years gone by and the panoramic view of the valley and mountains of Luberon

Breathtakingly stunning!

And by the way, Gordes is one of the “in” villages of Luberon where many movie stars and artists have made their home. We found that out when we walked back to the foot of the hills. After the long walks and sweating buckets under the glaring August sun, we were in dire need of something cold and refreshing to rehydrate our body. 

We stopped at Le Renaissance. Because it was such a hot day, we headed for the shady terrace. A butler stopped us and asked if we were there to eat. We said, “no, we just want to drink“.  He replied, “sorry you can’t sit here“. He sent us away and pointed to the tables and chairs in the open space under the glaring sun!!

My sons and I ordered fresh juices while hubby had his pastis. When we were done, I goggled at the price tag in disbelief! 

What?! Eur 45 for the drinks?!!  That’s a lot of Euros to impart for just 4 drinks. That’s daylight robbery.

We ain’t no movie stars or famous people and we certainly felt the pinch immediately.


After paying the bill, we left and walked downhill along the narrow streets of cobblestones and found a crowded little terrace or patio (shaded) . I was attracted to that restaurant because of the sound of one of the set lunches. It was roasted chicken legs with lavender honey,  for only Eur 16.50 plus dessert. Hubby and I went for that.

The boys had à la carte of Salade niçoise and Salade gourmand. 

In hindsight, after ogling at my older son’s plate of Salade niçoise. I should have gone for that!

Too late!

If not for the lavender honey, the roasted chicken plate was nothing at all. There was not much finesse in the presentation with dollops of mashed celeriac and mushy courgette at the side. The dessert was one miserable scoop of chocolate ice cream served in a small air-tight jar.


We left Gordes at 3 pm and was home by 4 pm. The boys went straight to the pool while I tried to align the photos on my iPhone to document some memorable moments of our sunny Summer hols in the Provence in this post 😉

I was looking forward to the next day as it would be our last and final shopping day…

Cheers!

Yes I know, the Summer Holidays are over. Hubby and I came back to earth ~ abruptly ~ to work; as for the boys, it’s the start of their new school term, one of them at least (the younger one).

Geez… Time flies!

Anyway, I’d like to relive that holiday mode in this post. After all, it’s a continuation of the last few days of our recent Summer hols.

<< Flashback…

17th August. Three more nights in the Provence and back to reality. Yikes

Nope! I tried to shake my head off the reality because I was very much in my holiday mode.

However, with almost back to back activities we had had the past days, we tried to have a more relaxing time at our holiday home. Since we arrived at Lagarde-Paréol, almost 2 weeks earlier, we had not got the chance to explore the surrounding. So near and yet so far …

By the way, 17th August was declared a slow and lazy day. While hubby was e-reading a book on his iPad and my older son was watching a film on dvd on his laptop, I turned to my younger son and said, “Let’s go for a walk and explore our neighbourhood, you and I”

I was lucky my younger son was game with the decision as he had intended to make a video of our summer hols. Any new photos would be great material for an amateur video.

Lagarde-Paréol

Lagarde-Paréol is a tiny village with a population of ca 300. The nearest biggest city, Orange, is 12 km away where most of the inhabitants commute to work there. 

If you’re looking for a shopping holiday near where you live, then forget Lagarde-Paréol. There are not many shops nearby and there are very few organised events. In other words, it’s a rather laid back location. But we loved it there. The peacefulness, tranquility and serenity… and lots of fresh air, away from the maddening crowd!

The place is rich in flora. I loved the smell of nature and the colours.

It was so still and quiet that my son just lay down on the deserted narrow street (can you spot him?). I wasn’t panicked at all because cars passing by were really sporadic.

There are a few winegrowers in the area and they bring a bit of life to this little village. 

The wine grapes are deep purple in colour, very heavy and dense to the touch. Although I was tempted to pop a grape in my mouth, I shrugged the thought off. 

In hindsight, I should have tried at least one grape. Now I haven’t the notion of how wine grapes taste like versus table grapes 😛


My son and I walked for more than 2 hours and we suddenly felt peckish. By the time we got back, it was 5.30 pm. I realised we did not have any proper meal that day. We only had brunch at 12’ish.

There was nothing much left in the fridge or the pantry, so we decided to have dinner in the nearest bigger town.

Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes

We left the house at 6.30 pm and drove 5 km to Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes. It’s the nearest ‘biggest’ town from Lagarde-Paréol. The village has a spectacular view of Le Mont Ventoux as backdrop. 

It’s amazingly quiet in the early evening on a weekday. Looking for a restaurant was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We found two restaurants, but they were closed and there were 2 pubs opened, however, they did not serve decent meals.  So we walked on, hoping to find that ‘needle’…

And then … Eureka

It was NOT a restaurant, but a little pizza stand, adjoining a private residence. Interesting!  

We immediately walked in the patio or terrace area and found enough chairs and tables for us to dine on.

And dined we did! It was one of the best pizzas I have tasted. Why? Because it was home- and hand-made, from the dough to the toppings.  

And you know what? There was no cutlery! So we became complete philistines and ate our pizzas with our fingers. So what?!

They were seriously supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Suddenly, Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes came to life. We heard ceaseless mobile phone calls and orders kept rolling in. People came by and picked their orders. 

And here’s the one-man show chef who made it possible. 

A simple smile creates its own message without words, but action with superb execution. 


Happy mid-Week!

Cheers!

We left home exceptionally late and had a late breakfast. I was excited about the trip that day because I had pre-warned hubby about a sought-after kitchen item I wanted months before the Summer hols.

We left for La Camargue at 12.30pm. The GPS calculated a distance of 106 km from our holiday home.  It was the farthest distance  we’d travelled from origin to destination yet.

When we reached the Camargue, it was 1.30 pm ~ in the nick of time for some local dishes of the region. Lol!

What better way to indulge in moules et frites (mussels and fries) and le steak de taureau (bull steak) ! 



The Camargue
is home to black Bulls, prevalently white horses, migratory birds and pink flamingos. 

We were at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the capital of the Camargue. It’s a coastal town  situated in the Rhône river delta, hence, our lunch of mussels and bull steak befitted our trip there excellently. 


Walking in the centre of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer reminded me of some coastal towns in Belgium. 

It’s a charming little town, very clean, with touches of Spain; after all, the Camargue almost bordered Spain.

This floral corner was a popular photo shooting spot. I had to take several shots before I succeeded in getting the view without earthlings *big smiles*

My Quest Ended …

I know we could find this salt in some of our local supermarkets, but, it was not the same as buying it in the manufacturing town itself.  La Camargue

The trendiest salt used in most health-conscious kitchen is fleur de sel (flower of salt).  

My jaw dropped looking at the many types, colours and flavours of the salt displayed. It’s definitely not the cheapest salt type around. The fleur de sel from the Camargue was priced at Eur 2.50 per 100 g. I bought the big pot of 1kg, which was slightly cheaper than buying in break-bulk, plus a pot with a personal label!

I was a happy bunny 😉


Before leaving the town, we strolled along the coastline, which I later learnt about the close link with our next stop. 


Arles

We left La Camargue at 4 pm for Arles. Like the Camargue, Arles is a city on the Rhône River in the Provence region of southern France.

Arles is famed for inspiring the paintings of the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. That was precisely why we visited Arles that late afternoon. We headed for the Fondation Van Gogh where contemporary arts are displayed. 



Vincent Van Gogh 

The story of Vincent Van Gogh is rather poignant. He had not known fame or fortune during his lifetime, but he left a legacy of his thousands of artworks for us to appreciate. By the way, he sold only one painting during his lifetime, and became renowned after his suicide, at age 37, which followed years of deprivation and mental illness.


I was so glad I found this painting of the fishing boats on the Beach of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We were just there that afternoon! 

Vincent Van Gogh painted this painting in 1888 when he lived in Arles and took a trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

As you can see, the painting of the fishing boats became a centre of attraction that afternoon. Lol!



Same Theme, Different Colours, Same Painter

If you noticed, the early paintings of Van Gogh when he was in the Netherlands, were always dark and bleak, as can be seen below (top left) of the Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, painted in 1884 in Neunen

When he moved to the Provence, his paintings were more colourful, as depicted on the painting of Pine Trees in the Garden of the Asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1889.

On the other hand when he was in Paris, he painted the Blossoming Chestnut Trees in Auvers-sur-Oise (1890) with minimum colours, ie, mostly greens and blue/purple. 

Vincent Van Gogh was considered a lunatic and a failure or loser in his lifetime. He exists in the public imagination as the exemplary and misunderstood genius where insanity and artistry converged.

Le Café La Nuit Vincent Van Gogh, Arles

One must not leave Arles without visiting Place du Forum. That’s where the painting of Vincent Van Gogh’s yellow café came to life! 

And by the way, the song, ‘Vincent’ (Starry Starry Night),  by Don McLean was written in tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. The painting Starry Night over the Rhône was painted in Arles in 1888.


We walked away from the hustle and bustle Place du Forum glancing back at the yellow café for the last time. 

We left Arles at 8 pm. Unfortunately with the longer hours of daylight, we did not experience a starry night. 

Have a great weekend!

Cheers!