Monday, 31 December 2012

It's the end of the year as we know it, Jim...

 Apologies to all my reader, for ignoring you since the end of October when I stopped swimming in our local lake, and noting it here in all my enthusiasm...
I have instead dug out my Movement skis, my Gecko skins and my Black Diamond ski poles and dusted them off and warmed up my Salomon rando boots and in an attempt to keep fit in mind as well as body, I have turned once again as the snow has arrived, to ski touring - not too far; but at least walking uphill for an hour or two. Once a small peaceful break, and perhaps a sandwich of home made bread with local cheese or ham and maybe a small glass of chilly white wine has been enjoyed, I ski down in just a few minutes...

Wonderful. Freedom, peace and tranquillity.

To anyone who passes this way, I wish a very happy and healthy New Year - 2013

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Painfully Glorious Swim...

... and no doubt the last this season although only a day or so ago. Very cool water; clear and slowly moving, with the lapping waves corkscrewing along the pebbled beach.

The sensation of cool water awakening after the perspiring strimming of steep Arab gardens up the mountain slope. Was I getting more numb or just becoming used to the low temperature?

I parked the van, and with bag in hand walked down to the lake edge, through the trees and along the path above the beach, the sunshine of mid-afternoon October autumn glinting on the soft water. One or two yachts could be seen out towards the middle of the lake; a sailing school of small dinghies being towed by an instructor in inflatable boat and a rushing Navibus commuting across the water from Thonon-les-Bains towards Lausanne in a streak.

Further up the beach a white board sign announces or warns, the plage thereafter is given over to naturist bathers, one or two of who I could see in the distance, all men, standing strategically behind low bushes. In the height of summer this must be rather nice but I felt this was neither the time nor the place for me. I was here to swim and not to lie naked in the low sun of late afternoon. I changed between the thin strip of pebble beach and the large autumnal leaves of the rough vegetation shielding the beach from the paths behind and walked out into the water. It was liberating.

I lasted barely 10 minutes...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Risotto aux Cepes for 2 lovers...

Simplified recette...

150 g  Carnaroli or Arborio rice
180 - 200 g cleaned weight of fresh ceps (cepes, bolets, porcini) as those shown above, sliced.
3 times volume of rice in hot vegetable stock including the amount of wine, vermouth or Noilly Prat you want to include.
1 shallot or small onion
1 small clove of garlic
olive oil
25 - 30 g butter
50 g grated Parmigiano (Parmesan)

Chop finely the garlic and shallot or small onion. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a heated small casserole pan and sweat the garlic and shallot until almost transparent.

Add the rice to the pan and stir making sure all the grains are well coated in the olive oil. Add the wine or vermouth. I prefer to use vermouth as it has a fuller flavour and all the old recipes from Italy I always found said vermouth, but, as I live in France I like to use their version; Noilly Prat. When the wine has been well stirred in and almost absorbed completely, add ALL the hot stock.

Bring to boil and as soon as those little bubbles start to breaking at the surface season it with salt and freshly milled pepper depending upon how seasoned your stock already is. Turn heat to very low and leave it for 10 minutes.

Now add the sliced ceps, (cepes, bolets, porcini) stir them in carefully to make sure they are well mixed cover the pan again as before and leave cooking for a further 5 minutes. At the end of cooking time, turn off the heat & leave the pan to sit for at least 5 minutes, if there is any liquid left in the rice, leave it for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and butter, until you have a creamy risotto...

Pull a cork out of a bottle of your favourite wine and enjoy with the one you love...

Who knows, it might just have the desired effect?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Bones Amongst The Stones

 My beach spot from where I plunged into 14C lake waters and swam for more than 20 minutes in exhilarating freedom...
Out of sight? Well almost; the blue tinted distant shore of Switzerland and Jura mountains across the lake from Thonon-les-Bains from where I bathed, today. Wonderfully liberating.

broken mountain,
rocks fall
at lake edge
small pebbles freckled.

mirror calm,
this sometime violent
inland sea.

Freshly cooling skin,
warm to swim
my feet colder in green depths,
colder still below,

where bones lie amongst the stones.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Site of yesterday's 10 minute dip in 16C temperatures near Amphion... no one around, the occasional single skulls on the water's flat surface skimming past further out...

The cool water chilling me as I breast stroked through and gradually warmed. A wonderful sensation of freedom.

Dear Diary, please remind me to do this again...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

There are times;
when I sit on the balcony
watching the sun sink low,
in the warm clear dusk
the crickets singing,
and the bird song silent
when I want you here...

One of these days I'll swim to Lausanne... or maybe not that far.


Dr Alice Roberts, an 'ologist', that used to co-present a programme on BBC TV called 'Coast' made a film on the subject of wild swimming that was repeated during this past summer on BBC Four. Wild swimming ; the enjoyment, the freedom, the exhilaration and the exploration of it, and throughout the programme a voice over, as she swam, spoke the words of one Roger Deakin. I was also taken somewhat by the images of the young and beautiful Dr Roberts swimming in some of these places; and in particular a Lake District tarn.

I had never heard of Roger Deakin. But his poetic words and prose sparked something in me and I researched his name, and found amongst other things, the website Caught By The River. This website seemed to celebrate Deakin and his writings. Through links I bought Deakin's 'Waterlog' his book about wild swimming and a journey across and around Britain, its coastal waters, lidos, open pools, rivers, waterholes and the like.

This I should do, I thought.

And so this summer I made my way, not with any difficulty by any means, down to the water's edge of the vast lake over which I look from my living room windows and my balcony. I have swum in this lake before but not once did I venture in last summer. Was I too busy? If so doing what? How could I not have set aside an hour to drive down or even walk or cycle to? The thought of the murderous cycle or climb back up the mountain side was not too pleasant, but with a little effort and practice I could get used to it.

The more newsletters I received from Caught by the River, the more I read about Roger Deakin, the more I felt I should just dive in. And write about it. Just for fun.

This must have been in mid-August. I hadn't swum for ages. How long could I swim for; 5 or 10 minutes? Could I make it that long without passing out and sinking to the stones below? Only one way to find out.

The water was warm. The lake lapped but was mostly flat across only broken by the fishing boats and the motorboats some way out, roaring loudly past dragging someone on skis or a wake-board. Maybe that was the reason I hadn't bothered having anything other than a refreshing dip after a day strimming someone's mountain slope garden.

But as my wife sat upon the stones and read, or swum a few strokes to cool off in the heat of August I swam for about 12 minutes, and the next day 15 minutes. And then I managed 20. Each day a little more, each day just enjoying the feeling of flying as Deakin sometimes puts it, sensing the liberty of the movement. I could see the sunlight shining on my tanned skin and the sense of well being as the water gently broke over my shoulders as my breast stroking arms broke through the warm surface waters. Finally coming into the shore, and standing on the stones nearly two metres below the water remained cold.

And it was good.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Before making tomato sauce to preserve for the winter months ahead from 3 kilos of the Italian plum variety grown by friends we stayed with down in Lot-et-Garonne last week, I searched for a recipe in Elizabeth David's Italian Food written in 1954. As the pages flicked past, my eyes fell upon the following, which I repeat here with much respect to my teacher/cook;

"It will be seen that this dish is very different from the slice of nondescript  meat encased in a sodden jacket of bread and blotting paper and fried in synthetic lard which so frequently masquerades as a Milanese cutlet in this (Britain) country."

Wonderful. She told it like it was and so often, still is. I feel she needs to be put firmly before any budding cook, any lover of food, any European traveller who has not had the chance to read her work and find what an inspiration she was.

Here above, a couple of litres of really good tasty tomato sauce made with about 3 kilos of peeled tomatoes, several garlic cloves, which were added to sweated out & nicely softened chopped onions, a bunch of small basil leaves; the last on our balcony's plant, some origano, some thyme, some rough old sea salt from somewhere around this beautiful country's coast and some freshly ground pepper. Once that was cooked and tasting good it was given a quick blitz while I thought how best to proceed.

The problem was, that having got home from Périgord late Friday I went the following morning to a local agriculteur's business, which is like a cross between a small garden centre, an old fashioned ironmongers and in spring somewhere to collect the new season's hen chicks, to buy a rotavator,  answer an advert for one to hire, to find gardening services or a small flat to rent for a month in summer on the Côte d'Azur and somewhere to have the lawnmower repaired. There I found the shutters down and a small notice advising that, due to a death in the family; the matriarch at 95, the business was shut, I assumed, for a period of mourning.

So where else would I buy 'capsules' for my Le Parfait jars, donated for the job? There was nowhere else. Sunday morning and the business still shut I ventured to a few local supermarkets that open until midday only... sensible country France, and practical too but none had what I needed.

My trusty neighbour, he of the wisteria, didn't use that system and so now the sauce sits, chilling at the bottom of the 'frigidaire' until Friday morning next which is the earliest I can revisit this little problem.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Wild Swimming?

Lake Days...

August lakeside late afternoon beach -
almost forgotten by the moving lowering sun -
the pebbles warm, for now;
golden forms of late day swimmers.
The tiny white peach-likes exposed for me; are quickly gone.

Lapping edge pebbles move once more,
the lake changing
shape, changing colour.

The heat subsides; the evening beckons
as the sun moving
catches patches and people part; for now.

The girls lie at the water's edge, half in half out
of the warm cooling lake, tossing the fine pebbles
lost in child dreams.

They conspire, giggling
in first friendly intimacy; none allowed in,
not the elderly couple stumbling
along the shingle shore - long past intimacy.
They pass; the lost girls giggle more hidden in their game.

Just off; a man swims, a strong crawl
easy breathing stroke past the buoys
and back again.

The lapping water here
crashes, smashes,
against the harbour bar wall.


Today; glass like grey but green once in,
and warm as my arms break through the fresh expanse.
Cooler lower and clear down to stones,
peeking up from sandy patches.
The tiny perch dart away from threat in the lower silence.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Mid-August heatwave afternoon beach; pebbled,
and I'm sweating so refresh in warm lake calm and shiny top flat,
but bubbled froth-like as it laps around my shoulders.

My hands strike through, straight and turn,
and brown skinned arms break through the green lighted water
as it quietly laps about me.

10 minutes -

I circle once and see the drift...
I pull forward,
the fresh soft water, unsalted, pulls me down.
I wouldn't float.

The noises of playthings nearby, and cries of babies...

15 minutes and I'm glad.
Still strike forward but turn larger circles of fresh once wild,
once mountain stream,
now valley torrent plunged deep
and rising years later.

20 minutes and I smile,
that satisfaction mounts;
what have I gained?

Freedom; momentarily.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Poem for a former lover...

furiously flapping flags
in wild windy weather,
worn outside/ inside
late lunch laughing lads leering longingly at leggy lovely,
louching her brothel stew.
Interruptions; mobiles manipulating the mood...
bottles débouched and corks coming,
the sound of wine escaping captivity amongst the unintelligible gabbles;
French flung frantically in between the chairs and the old cuir walls...

And you think you'd love this ?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

On the London Underground the following day...

I sit upon the Tube train carrying me back to the airport and wonder from where the outburst of the previous evening came... I said, "one word from you and they do as they like..."

Yes, it was a criticism but not meant harshly, but one borne from watching over so many years as my younger sister battles with her kids who do not listen or obey until she feels she cannot keep on and on and on at them, and she gives up, and they have won. And they know it. And they tell her.

She being much younger than me, won't remember the way our bullying father disciplined his young family with his hand and not his words. She being a girl wasn't hit.

Our sister was not either, but I being the older and a boy received his pent up violence in the only way he knew; him having spent six years, but some years earlier, in the most violent world imaginable. His Victorian father probably did the same.

And having said those words I let open the torrent of self doubt... and they still do as they like.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Full Fathom Five thy Father lies

Gull above the glinting seas of England
Full fathom five thy father lies;
     Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange:
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell.
Hark!  now I hear them,
                             Ding-dong, bell!

William Shakespeare

Probably the first Shakespeare I was taught and which I learnt;
posted this day, 23rd April Shakespeare's 448th birthday and St George's Day, patron saint of England.
England, my England. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

The voices raised outside the house drew me to the window, and looking along the road I watched as the party approached.

"Oui ! Il est mort! Il est mort!" he shouted in frustration at the two women who walked some distance behind him. It seemed in answer to something earlier said.

With this the tall elderly man with the shock of grey hair and suntanned face strode in a manner belying his 82 years. His lean figure passed as he continued his determined stride towards a house around the corner but out of sight.

Behind side by side walked his wife and his sister, quietly talking. His wife walked falteringly with the aid of a stick slower than he did, as usual she wore a brown felt hat and her woven wool jacket. She needed to stop frequently ostensibly to look at something nearby that had caught her eye but her sister-in-law, silent, continued almost shambling alone in a world of her own, a world that had, not long before been turned upside down.

The sister wore her white hair cut in a manly fashion often seen on a spinster her age; her trousers dark blue, her open cardigan a lighter shade of blue over a white blouse and her white socks leaving a tiny gap for flesh to show between the trouser bottoms and her black shoes. She had lived nearby in the empty house to which her brother now strode.

Several weeks before her other brother, the one with whom she had lived, had been taken away to hospital having been ill for some months and who I had often seen walking very timidly, being slowly led by the visiting physiotherapist to exercise his wasting muscles. And a couple of weeks just past he had died. His funeral over and his remains buried everyone that had attended had eventually turned away and left the surviving brother and sister to return to normal life.

But what was normal life now?

Surviving brother and wife went home and sister went to empty house. Before his death she had thought he would return and fill the house with his voiced demands as they lived like man and wife. He drove the car. He went to work in his French blue workman overalls. She did the shopping. She did the washing and she did the cooking and he did the eating. Now he was not there. Now there was no one to make the morning café for. Now there was no one to demand a bowl in which to dip his bread.

Decades before when they were young, their parents made demands. One brother had travelled and married and started the next generation, but the parents worried that their daughter would not marry quite so easily. What was their fear? They made the brother promise that he would not leave her. He must wait until she was married off before he could do the same. She never married as they knew she would not.

They shared the house and at least they shared some of the chores. But out he went to drink at the café on the corner. And when he had drunk that is how he would return home. Sometimes when the café closed and Madame la Patronne had fallen asleep with her old dog upon her sofa in the cellar, he would back his car out of it's little garage and not so softly on the clutch he would shoot off, down the road to another bar that would give him a little Bière 33 or a small glass of anis, and eventually without mishap he would return. Presumably to eat the dinner that his sister had cooked for him.

Decades passed. They lived together much like a married couple. And gradually he became ill.

He rarely walked to his brother's house. He rarely got the lawn mower out and cut the grass. That would be done by the lean brother down the road, who would walk energetically past in his brown rubber boots, his blue work jacket pushing a Rotavator, or carrying a basket of salad, a bucket of potatoes fresh from the garden, a bunch of haricot verts. And while he was there lean brother would cut the grass. Felt hatted wife would walk to visit, and look at me and smile and say, “Bonjour.”

When the house needed painting lean brother would walk purposefully past with a ladder on his shoulder ready to shin up and do the necessary work.

And the years passed.

Now the grieving sister is on her own. She lives like a widow. She feels like a widow. She walks slowly past, on her own, nothing to return for. No one to go home to. And everyone says her brother has died. No one sees the loss inside. The ones she now needs most have no concept of her loss, because they too have lost a brother.

He's heard it all before. He does not understand how his sister feels. He does not understand her sense of emptiness.

Oui! Il est mort! Il est MORT!

But she has lost so much more, and no one understands she is grieving as a widow would.

Now several months have passed; it is spring but winter is clinging on and she walks slowly lost in her thoughts past my house between the house of lean brother and felt hatted sister-in-law, and her own, empty. She is in no hurry and now seems, as I watch her pass, a shadow of the woman she must have been.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


In the garden of Mr and Mrs Jones there is this year some fine blossom. It took the whole of March in the making only for the winds from the north to sweep down across Europe and bring with it rain, and sleet and, slightly higher, snow, and more rain and the wind that came with it during the night time blew the blossom so that it sprinkled lawns and streets...

Nature can be cruel in taking away from us so quickly the beauty she gives...

It can also be a depressing time of year for those that dislike the cold and the relentless snows of winter; those that have looked forward so long to the longer days, the return of warmer sunshine to bring  life back into their plants.

It is hard to believe that this is not the sea but a lake, Lac Léman as the French call it, Genfsee in German but Lake Geneva to most of the rest of us. The very same as the earlier dark pond like waters that was home to the swan a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Swan over Rocks

Posted by Picasa Too many coincidences to let them just go...
You knew I would call.
You started your poems with the same line;
There are so many things I wanted,
to discover, with you;
I wanted to travel with you;
I wanted to visit galleries with you;
I wanted to wake up next to you;
but most of all,I wanted to discover;
how you made love.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

I was working outside the house the other day; clipping the overgrown honeysuckle into a much more abstract line. Thin but lengthy stems reaching up and around the post above the mailbox; without shoots to allow for free growth this spring and hopefully then a decent show of perfumed flowers when summer arrives.

Madame Veuve walking by stopped to say "bonjour monsieur". She walks past most days, often several times each day; she probably has already forgotten the earlier walk that day and she often says as she once again asks me my name that her memory is going, like her knees.

She laughs and we talk briefly about the weather. Spring is almost here I suggest, in the 18 celsius temperatures of the sunny afternoon. She shrugs and disagrees saying it is early days and more snow will probably fall, and besides the wind is still cold. 

"Mais," she says, as she looks along the road and to the mountain line above us,

"Elles sont belles, les montagnes, mais c'est fini maintenant. Trop tard, trop vieille."

I tell her I didn't climb the Dent d'Oche last year, for some reason the opportunity didn't arise but I walked and climbed others.

"Ah", she replied, "la Dont d'Oche, j'ai 17 ans le première fois, 1941 quand j'ai monté la. Nous sommes parti à 2 heures le matin; ma cousine, son mari. C'est dur. Mais après St.Paul c'est beaucoup mieux. Ah, oui."

As she smiles distant memories coming back, she says goodbye and walks on up the road, her faltering aged steps slowly progressing and leaning on her stick as she takes a breather, looking into another garden, I wonder what was a 17 year old girl doing at 2 o'clock in the morning, in the dark climbing up through the woods, or even up along the quiet roads in 1941, in invaded France, with wall-to-wall German armies, up to a mountain which forms part of the French Swiss border, and which was known as an escape route to freedom for Allied troops and downed Airmen.

Was she at that age doing her bit? Was she in the Maquis, the resistance?

Some years ago at the age of 80 she did her first tandem paraglide; her photo published in the local newspaper. At 88, a widow, peacefully shuffling along the road taking the late winter sunshine and fresh air. Quite a lady . Next time she stops hereby I'll ask.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Veal Braised in Chianti

This is a fabulous recipe from Tuscany using a bottle of Chianti in which to very slowly braise Tendron de Veau, which is a perfect cut and which happened to be on offer in our local supermarket. I found a bottle of Chianti Piccini from the co-operative in Castellina-in-Chianti where we stayed some years ago in a wonderful little farm building high in the Tuscan hills.

The slow cooking mellows the amount of freshly ground black pepper included. So, grab the following; and this is for about 3 to 4 persons.

970 gr of veal breast.
half a dozen good cloves of garlic.
1 bottle of Chianti.
2 soup spoons of freshly ground pepper - pepper corns in the coffee grinder!
fresh sea salt, rosemary sprigs and a bay leaf.

Cut up the veal; and with any bones, put them into a heavy based pot like a Le Creuset. Add the other ingredients and pour in the wine - yes, the whole bottle! Bring it to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid making sure the wine covers all the ingredients and place it into a pre-heated oven at 150C... no idea what that is in Gas...

This is the stew just starting to bubble... leave it in the oven for several hours, go and shop, do some work, go for a long walk, and then it will be ready to devour...

I'm going to buy a Romanesco type cauli and do that with some of those funny dark red carrots, and maybe serve with some polenta in separate little pots...

As I type this out and change things about, adding this, editing that, the smell from the oven is just delicious. My mouth is watering so much I have to go out and  play.

I'll let you, my dear reader, know how good it was or even how it was not...

And to drink? Well, I have set aside a Brunello di Montalcino 2002, which is conspicuous by it's absense from Hugh Johnson's 2011 Pocket Wine Book...I hope that won't prove to have been a waste of money in Tuscany several years ago.

Tuesday 20th March...
I ate it again last night. My bum is burning. I had the last portion that couldn't be eaten on Saturday night and which we found, spoiled the wine because it was far too hot. 4 tablespoons of ground black pepper with 2.5 kilos of meat was the recipe's original proposal, and I put 2 soup spoons (slightly less than a tablespoon) into a fraction under 1 kilo of meat, and although it wasn't a vindaloo, it was hotter than the average Italian would want I'm sure. At least we drank most of the wine before we sat down to eat and so only the last mouthful was ruined before we went on to a more robust Côtes du Rhone. 

This must be a misprint in the book.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

On a recent visit to London I went to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace ( ) to see Herbert Ponting's stunning photographs of Scott's ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic 100 years ago. The photographs were simply huge beautiful images of a frozen wasteland, often printed on coloured paper to give an idea of the colour they saw, but were not able under the conditions, to record using photography as a medium.

Towards the end of the exhibition having rushed through the photos of Shackleton's own expedition I saw two watercolour paintings, made on site during Scott's journey and have shown one here.

Unfortunately I did not note who it was that painted this small but equally beautiful image of a vast and colourful landscape. The brush strokes and restrained use of colour were inspiring and showed that what these people saw, often before they were due to die, was simply nature's wonder.

As Capt. Lawrence Oates memorably said, "I am just going outside and maybe some time." His body was never found. The photo he took of himself, with Scott and three others shortly before they did indeed die, was saddening in it's portrayal of their desperation and hopelessness. Giants amongst men.

Monday, 12 March 2012

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens.

Perfect description for today...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Lugrin, France early Feb., 2012

I Am The Walrus on the beach at Meillerie, on the French shore of Lac Léman...

Boats don't stop here anymore. Not in
this cold... at Lugrin, between Meilerie and Evian-les-Bains.

Like some creature from the War of the Worlds; on ice...

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sunny randonnée to Pointe de Pelluaz

I decided to attack an ambition long held in my quest to climb, randonnée, some of the most beautiful mountains in this part of France.

When I awoke I found the skies blue, the air cold and crisp and a perfect day to set off and ski up to the Pointe de Pelluaz, and gaze from the top across the mountains to Mont Blanc in the not too far off distance.

The village of Bernex I expected to be busy but I hadn't expected pandemonium such as I found where various owners and occupants appeared to leave their vehicles wherever they wished, regardless of others and disappear. I continued to the nearby Relais de la Chevrette, a delightful little savoyard restaurant near to the Dent d'Oche to park and get my Gecko-skinned skis ready, check my pack contents and start my climb. It was about -3C and the snow lying about me was dry and powdery still.

I crossed the Dranse streaming down towards Lac Léman and slid my skis uphill towards the main climb, using the small enclosed steep meadow under deep snow below a shuttered chalet to join the main piste.

After about 50 minutes I reached Pré-Richard and continued to ski through the swell of people milling about around the Ski School Meeting place, and dodging the young skiers and snowboarders descending to this same spot at a speed far above their competence. Once out of this area it became a little more peaceful although I was being passed almost constantly by skiers as they descended whooping, shouting and laughing on their way down.

I reached the spot I had skied to with Bob at the end of December when we cooked up some noodles before our freezing descent and continued upward as the same skiers whizzed past, took the lift back up and whizzed down once more. Like this they passed me time and time again.

At about the 2 hour mark I found a lone ski lying on the snow at the edge of the piste. I stopped and looked around to see if i could see anyone who might have fallen. Only much later having stood the ski upright in the snow and continuing onward and upward did I see the reason for that lone ski.

Accidents wherever they happen are, for the sufferers, often awful experiences. This was evident now. A man of indeterminate age, was lying in the middle of the piste, an icy and snow covered rough 4x4 track to the mountain ridge above and surrounded by a half dozen people attempting to give assistance. He lay in the recovery position his face covered in blood that was staining the snow, waiting for medical help and as I passed and continued upward, for there was nothing I could do to help, I heard the distant helicopter approach.

And now on my final climb I wondered if I might complete it in under 3 hours. Need to push and in the event I reached the Pointe de Pelluaz in 2 hours 54 minutes. The view - stunning.
The lungs heaving, the stomach empty, the thirst needing more than juice to quench it.
And so 15 minutes later having skied down I was at the bottom. Pulling off ski boots, brushing off snow from the skis and as I did so another group of skiers arrived having skied from a different peak and route. We acknowledged each other's ascent and descent and off I drove with an incredible sense of achievement, elation and exhaustion. A beer was needed.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Poulet Béarnais - cooked on a bed of garlic.

Yesterday was a perfect Sunday for a Sunday Chicken roast... I sat up in bed with me mug of tea and perused a few cookery books while the rain beat upon the Velux window above our bed and then, looking through the triangular window at the bedroom's other end I could not make out the shore of Switzerland through the lake's covering of mist. At least it will be snowing a little higher up I thought.

I turned of course to Elizabeth David's 'French Country Cooking'. I found her quotation of Ford Madox Ford's recount of a London mannequin cooking garlic and Poulet Béarnais in his piece entitled 'Provence' and published in 1938.

I then turned to the internet and a quick Google click threw up a few references to this and it occurred to me that some bloggers miss the point for some reason. One had written, Poulet Béarnaise from Provence. And then went on to say "glamorous young woman from London who was reputed to be one of the best chefs in the city." This is not what Ford writes at all. She was, in the 1930's, a mannequin. What was that then? A model! Not though the kind of model we are used to seeing à la Kate Moss on the catwalk. Usually a débutante, a young woman who had been well and expensively educated. Would she get a job in a bank? Not in 1930's London even if the Bank concerned was Daddy's! But could she cook? Of course she could. That was what being a débutante at the time was all about so indeed she may indeed have been one of the best cooks in London, but she sure wasn't a chef.

So, 'Béarnaise from Provence'. Hmmm. Béarn is in the Pyrénees between Bayonne and Pau. Quite some distance from Provence. Apart from giving it's name to an entire province it also gives it's name to the well known sauce of, basically, 'egg & melted butter'. People from Béarn are either Béarnais or Béarnaise dependent upon their gender. Collectively they are known as les Béarnais.

But this dish is not from Provence in which case it would be known as something like Poulet Provençale which means it would be cooked in or nappé in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions and of course, garlic. The usual suspects.

Another blogger would seem to have fallen into the very same trap, twice. If the article was called, 'Provence' it is merely including in that writing this recipe; not suggesting that the recipe is from that beautiful area.
So; take a few heads of garlic, and break them up, peel them (and I gave up when I got to about 470 grams of them) and put them in an oiled Le Creuset type oven pan. Next clean one grain fed open air reared small chicken, and rub olive oil over it, season it and place it onto the bed of garlic.

Heat an oven, I chose 'traditionnel' rather than'pulsé' - fan assisted, and set it to 180C. I left it to cook for an hour and a half and it was perfect.

I'd have loved to have met Elizabeth David. I'd have loved to have cooked this for her too...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Frozen Evian-les-Bains...

At the end of January as it turned colder, snow fell and lay deep and crisp and even, upon the neighbouring gardens, and paths and roofs, except that down at the lae front the Bise started to blow, and with the wind the temperatures plummeted, ice formed in the most beautiful shapes and formations upon everyday objects that became for a short time magical, but vicious; stunningly surreal, and unreal, but mesmerising all at the same time. Evian, February 2012.

The normally people filled promenade at Evian-les-Bains, deserted during the wild weather casued by the Bise, the northerly wind that blows over Switzerland, across Lac Léman and hits France with a freezing force of frozen fume... the water being at about 5 or 6 degrees Celsius seems to smoke when small waves break and the spray meets the air temperature which is well below zero...

As boats, anchored, rise and fall in the calmer parts of the port, the water around the anchor chain freezes into beautiful galettes that grow as they come into contact with sub-zero air temperatures.

Galettes of ice...

A bench, normally welcoming, becomes less so in such a hostile environment.

A surreal vision, someone said to me, Narnia?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Randonnée in Vallée de la Manche ...

As usual we did not get away from the house until about 10.30 and at 1180m altitude or so our randonnée started later than we would have liked; it was no less beautiful for that and as the old guy, waiting with his impatient dog for his elderly wife to catch up on her randonnée skis, said, "C'est féerique, ça!"
We slid slowly upward past a small chalet almost buried in the snow amongst the pines and nesting warmly if one imagines the logs licked by flames in the stone fireplace inside. We were below the cloud which hangs like a mist at this altitude and climbing steadily up into it towards the Chalet des Mines-d'Or passing the lone cross-country skier on her tenuous descent. She stopped for a chat, a chew the cud if there were any underneath the thick snow, and she was soon self-satisfied by telling us she was 78 years old, and becasue of that she didn't want to complete le petit tour her friends were making; and as it later became evident a good few years younger than she. Not easy descending sharply on thin cross-country skis without heel attachment however proficient or experienced one might be.
Just above the Mines-d'Or, where the lake was covered and the snow heavy on the surrounding trees completed a postcard scene, I found a pine branch leaning out towards the path edge; heavy with snow and beautifully stuck on one side with the hoare-frost made by the frozen cloud. It was then I realised that although I know this mountain well, in snow the topography changes and I was not making my way up the path which in truth was filled with snow but by the right hand side and across a small open meadow; in summer fenced off for grazing cows as they are gradually led up the mountain to summer pastures.

People on raquettes, snow-shoeing upward passed us as we climbed, stopped to take a breath along with a photograph; randonneurs skied down from out of the cloud descending from the Col de Coux, some skiing in terrain far above their level of competence and this time descending safely. We passed a family of three, sitting on weather proof jackets in the deep snow eating from thermos flasks the steam rising with their spoons. A greeting passed and then we see we have arrived at an altitude of 1500m and not far to go on until we arrive at our picnic spot...

Chalets de Fréterolle (1533m); a lovely little farm, opened up in summer as a 'restaurant' although 'Auberge' is probably more accurate. It serves many people, locals and tourists alike and often places have to be reserved. The carte usually contains all the usual suspects of this region; melted cheese dishes, omelettes, cured and smoked ham, salads, beignets des pommes... often as coffee rounds off the meal, the patron tours the paying tables with unmarked bottles of a local distillation, handing out small glasses of génépi, or poire william; my mouth waters as I write this with memories of summer hikes here.

Today though, the chalets are closed against the winter, and after nearly two hours climb, as we near, we can see that others have already had the same idea and underneath the corrugated iron roof held up against the encroaching snow by strong pine beams, four people are packing away their picnic debris and we take out turn. And in the cold we eat our sandwiches, dried figs and drink our cold juice and resolve to bring hot drinks next time...

Fed and watered, we removed our cold 'peaux des phoques', adjusted our bindings and change any climbing clothing for those for descent. As we climbed out of our lunchtime refuge we saw the cloud had come down and the visibility was just a few metres, this somewhat concerned my Missus who doesn't care too much for deep snow skiing at the best of times but without a fall she made it down and the thrill of 'skiing back-country' through knee deep fresh powder although for only a short descent was heart lifting. The silence, the calm, the beauty; all there. 10 minutes later we reached our starting point. And nearby was little refuge, a restaurant, café-bar where we were served delicious crépes & chocolat chaud.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Broken Pine à la Fritz Lang...

Some months ago while on a favourite Sunday hike I came upon this bleached torn pine. As I stood and looked at it for a while it began to take on a surreal element. Most of the trees around were still standing, growing and reaching majesterial heights but for some reason this one had broken; snapped off in it's prime, and had assumed an almost engineered appearance.

I must make a note to go back a photograph it when I am sure it is surrounded by deep snow

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Deer Tracks; Quietly Made...

It may often be said that one can hear the silence. It is of course a contradiction in terms but I heard the silence only a few days ago; I stood in the quiet of that part of the valley known as La Couttetaz and listened as the silence was enveloped in the low cloud slowly and quietly building around the summit and higher slopes of the Dent d'Oche.

The fresh snow was deep, and crisp, and even; once broken, only by the tracks before me as they disappeared towards the lower branches of a line of snow laden pines.

Deer tracks. Made quietly, before we arrived and disturbed the peace with our breathing panting and puffing, a little heavier than usual caused by the upward climb and the packs we carried with just water, a few biscuits, some fruit and protective wear against bad weather.