Appetizers, Christmas

Quick & Easy (and oh so cute) Party Appetizer!

Did that get your attention?  It should!

This year why not dazzle your guests with a really cute Appetizer for your next party?

Pinecone Cheese Ball
Pinecone Cheese Ball

Here’s all you need:

Your favourite cheese ball recipe – any will do!

Whole almonds

a Sprig of pine or spruce or balsam.

Make your cheese ball and shape it on the plate in a mounded pile, in an oblong/pinecone type shape.

Insert the tips of whole almonds into the ‘cone’ and cover completely.  They shouldn’t be standing up, but just sort of laying across the top with the tips in to hold.

Then, clean off the tip of your greenery, and insert it into the top of the pine cone.

Voila!  A cute pinecone appetizer to serve with crackers.  Trust me, everyone will run home and make one!

Enjoy!  And… of course… Happy Noshing!




My Favourite Things – again

I thought I’d get a bit of a head start on my… ahem, your… wish list for Christmas 2013.  I know, it’s early December… but hey, you want to be sure that you get “the list” into the right Santa hands! Am I right?

Let’s do a year rewind for a bit first.  This year, I had a nasty accident. I fell down a flight of stairs while on a business trip to Holland. First, I must say the Dutch health care system is exceptional! We here in Canada could learn a thing or two about Emergency Room wait times.  (I’ll get off my soap box now.) I really have no memory of the fall other than I tripped on the first step. So, down a full flight – knocked unconscious – badly broke my right wrist.  It left me with a nasty concussion that for at least six months I was feeling the repercussions of.  Not nice.  The wrist – yikes. That’s another story.  After a long consultation with the medical staff in Holland, and with my boss/former boss also attending the same conference, I decided to return home to have surgery rather than having surgery in Holland.  Good move.  Long story short, I shattered the right distal radius and had to have a plate and screws inserted to patch it back up.  Six months later and I’m still not at full capacity.  The prospect of further surgery looms large in my future.  You had read a bit more on the post “Girl, Interrupted

So, why did I tell you all this?  Well, what I thought were simple, easy tasks in the past became major undertakings for me.  Holding a pen was excruciating for me. Using it was worse!  I’m right-handed so imagine….  *shudder*

I came across a unique product at Canada’s Baking & Sweets Show (CBSS) in 2012. I hemmed and hawed about it for so long, and then forgot about it as the frenzy of excitement over new baking pans kicked in. Yes. I get excited about great quality baking pans!  Thinking this “item” was good but not a real essential to my kitchen, I wasn’t heartbroken over not getting it.  BOY what a mistake!  This year, at CBSS 2013 I bought one!  It has become a much used and loved product in my kitchen!  What is it?  Simple, it’s called a Staybowlizer!  Check out the video here:  Staybowlizer .  Use it a your second (or third) hand in the kitchen! I sure am! This unique and wonderful product let’s you free up a hand while you’re whisking, stirring, double boiler-ing (is that even a word?) and serving, without any spills!  My hand is doing my better now, but this great item (it comes in a set of two; a larger and smaller one) is my new kitchen bff.


Okay, next.  From last year I had listed Anna Olson’s “Back to Baking” book as one of my “I sure hope someone in my family is reading this and will buy it for me” items. I’m happy to report – Adam (my new favourite son, sorry Jay) did buy it for me and I’ve used it so many times.  This amazing cookbook by one of Canada’s premier pastry chefs has become indispensable in my kitchen.  Everything from making perfect pastry to more advanced desserts, everything that I make comes out perfect!  Thank you Anna Olson!  If you didn’t get it last year, be sure to pick it up this year!

Again making my “most favourite things” list is a good chef’s knife.  I started at George Brown in January of this year, and learned that (a) you don’t need a complete set of knives when you’re starting out, and (b) invest in top quality!  So, I got myself a 10″ Chef’s Knife (and cover) that is amazing.  I also learned how to properly sharpen the knife and how to hone the knife.  It was the ONE class I thought I would really do bad in. But, I actually did very well!  Surprise!  (Well, I was surprised!).  So other than a good 10″ chef’s knife, get a boning knife and a good paring knife.  That’s probably all you will need.

Zwilling J.A. Henckel 10" Chefs Knife
Zwilling  J.A. Henckel 10″ Chefs Knife

Much to my delight, Chef Michael Smith came out with a new Cookbook this year. It’s on MY list!  His recipes are simple, classic, and very very yummy!  Cooking anything from his other books (yes I have more than 1) results in lots of compliments from our guests.  So I am eagerly anticipating that this new cookbook will be a favourite in my kitchen!

available at any bookstore, or on line ( or
available at any bookstore, or on line ( or

I invested in a citrus press this year.  Best investment!  I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not, and I must admit that after my surgery I couldn’t even hold it, let alone use it! But, it’s really an indispensable tool now in my kitchen!  You can squeeze your lemons/limes all you want by hand you won’t get the juice out of them that you need!  And, forget about those old fashioned types, this is by far the best!  I cannot get over how much juice I get out of my citrus fruits now.  Don’t be fooled by the design, it looks like you need to put the lemon half into the press in the direction of the “curve”, but resist that urge!  Put it in upside down, i.e. against the curve. as you squeeze together you will find that you get so much juice without seeds!  Best ever!  Okay, so the one I purchased was from The Pampered Chef through my friend Karen Hoover.

Citrus Press
Citrus Press

Hmm, what else?  Commercial grade cookie sheets are a must in your kitchen!  I don’t know about you, but I get tired of those cookie sheets that “pop” in the oven. Oh, you know what I mean!  You have something on them, and you hear that pop… they’ve warped!! Of course they go back into their shape, but they are brutal!  Use those old cookie sheets you have for something else…. but seriously get yourself some commercial grade sheets.  Two reasons; they are reinforced around the edges so that you don’t have warping, and they are bigger than the standard sheets, but still fit nicely into your oven!  Last year (2012) at Canada’s Baking  & Sweets Show in Toronto I bought two different ones to test them.  I love them both!  The USA Pan has small ridges which allows air to flow under what you are baking, like cookies, giving a nice even cook to the bottoms.

Image on the left is the USA Pan (yes, that’s the brand name) and the one on the right is Chicago Metallic.  Both are wonderful!


Chicago Metallic
Chicago Metallic

Well, I could go on and on and on…. but you get the idea.  If that special person in your life is looking for a perfect culinary gift for you, have that person send me an email and I’ll help with THE perfect purchase for you!

For me, I’m off to the kitchen, going to get my traditional French Canadian Tourtiere started. Must get it done and in the freezer so that on Christmas Eve, we will have that delicious treat!  Stay tuned, that’s my next post!!

Until then, Happy noshing!


Vegan Stuffed Peppers – Guest Post!!

Vegan Stuffed Peppers – a healthy (and delicious) choice!


I am very happy to share the following post and recipe from Jay Wood.  While I am not a vegan, I can appreciate a good recipe when I see it!  This one looks like a winner and I know I’ll be testing it in my own kitchen soon!

Guest Post by Jay Wood  (

For those of you unfamiliar; the term “vegan” was coined in the 1940s by Vegan Society founding member Donald Watson, who derived it from the first three and last two letters of Vegetarian ‘because Veganism starts with Vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.’  Like Vegetarians, Vegans refrain from eating meat but take it further and don’t include any bi-products from animals such as dairy or eggs either.  A vegan diet is a purely plant-based diet.

There are plenty of benefits to enjoying a plant-based meal for those who normally enjoy meat-based meals.  For example; in this recipe you can benefit from all the protein needs that are normally met through a meat diet, but with less cholesterol, saturated fats, and calories.

One of the main ingredients in this recipe is black beans. When measuring the 15 ounces of Black Beans used in this recipe against the same measurement of ground beef,  black beans contain the same amount of protein, with no cholesterol, no saturated fats, but high fiber (ground beef has no fiber) and phytonutrients (which may help prevent disease). Ground beef contains no phytonutrients, and actually contain heterocycilic amines (which may increase the risk of cancer).

So having mentioned this, I’d like to share this recipe with you, and then layout some of the benefits of the ingredients afterwards.



1 Medium red onion, finely chopped (1 cup)

2 Tbs Safflower Oil

1 Cup finely chopped cucumber

1 Tbs ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp)

2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes

1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 Cup Quinoa

3 large carrots, grated (1 cup)

3 large bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs & seeds removed

Peppers all prepped and ready to be filled with the quinoa mixture
Peppers all prepped and ready to be filled with the quinoa mixture


1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cucumber, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sautÈ 1 minute. Stir in drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

2. Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.

4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping quinoa mixture, wrap in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 1 hour. Uncover, and bake a further 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates.

The great part about cooking this is that the Quinoa mix has a southwest aroma to it , which I thoroughly enjoyed during the preparation.  Those final 15 mins of baking without the foil was great because it made the tops crispy which added a nice alternate texture to the dish.

* I personally added some frank’s hot sauce to the tops of mine, because I like it spicy.

Nutritional Benefits:


  • Complete Protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids
  • Almost twice as much fiber as most other grains.
  • Lysine (mainly essential for tissue growth and repair)
  • Riboflavin (improves energy metabolism and aids with relieving migraines)
  • Manganese (antioxidant)
  • Also a source of Iron, Carbohydrates, Calcium, potassium, sodium and Magnesium
  • Lowers Cholestrol
  • Reduces high blood pressure and diabetes

Black Beans:

  • Aids with digestive tract
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Cardiovascular Health
  • Cancer prevention
  • Nervous system health


  • Phytochemicals (improve working of Vitamin C in body boosting immunity)
  • Regulates blood sugar
  • Prevents cancer
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Helps reduce inflammation, and heal infections
  • Reduce risk of gastric Ulcers
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A


  • Cancer prevention
  • Anti-Aging
  • Vitamin A
  • Prevents heart disease
  • Reduces Cholesterol
  • Helps prevent stroke


  • Iron
  • Aids in digestion
  • Boosts immune system


  • Promotes joint health, relieves gout and arthritis pain
  • Helps cure diabetes, reduces cholesterol and controls blood pressure
  • Aids in weight loss and digestion


  • Helps prevent cancer
  • Prevents DNA damage
  • Reduces risk of Heart disease
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Potassium
  • Niacin (helps fight depression)
  • Fiber, Magnesium, phosphorus and copper
  • Calcium
  • Reduces risk of cancer
  • Regulates blood sugar
  • Help reduce chronic pain & inflammation


  • Strengthens immune system
  • Vitamin C
  • Helps protect against Heart disease
  • Vitamin B6
  • Regulates Blood sugar


  • Capsaicin (controls diabetes, relieves pain, eases inflammation)
  • Helps prevent cancer
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6


Thank you Jay, for sharing one of your favourite recipes with us!  I know I’ll be giving this a try for sure!

Enjoy, everyone!

Happy noshing!

on the road

Paris, the City of Lights

I once read in a “bloggers rules” type of thing that you should never apologize for gaps in your blog writing.  Well, part of me agrees, but another part of me thinks that if you start a story, you should finish it, and if you delay, you should apologize.  So, I’m sorry.  Breaking the bloggers’ rules, but I am sorry!   Let finally wrap up the story of our trip to France….  Paris, the City of Lights.  It would be a whirl wind visit to Paris,

We arrived in beautiful Paris on Saturday, August 31 and we were flying out on Tuesday, September 3 so we only had three evenings and  two full days in Paris and  we wanted to make the most of those hours!   We checked into our gorgeous small boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais  We were a little tired after our long train ride from Nice to Paris, then a harried taxi ride to our hotel.  We settled in to our gorgeously appointed room.  We felt like we had taken a step back in time, although complete with all the modern conveniences, the decor was strikingly beautiful. After settling in we headed out for dinner and decided on a lighter fare, and had pizza – it was amazing! The ultra thin crust was crispy, the toppings fresh and full of flavour.  Seriously, we need to do pizza better here in North America.  The air had a bit of a chill to it that evening, but we decided to walk for a bit as well.  How refreshing after the intense heat on the Riviera!

The following morning, we ate a light breakfast, as usual, at a nearby cafe. Delicious.  That’s all, just delicious!  Since it was such a beautiful sunny day we decided to walk – and walk we did!  We headed toward the Seine and crossed the bridge.  We were very close to Notre Dame Cathedral and so we went in!  Mass was just starting, we skipped it and did a self-guided tour through the church.  Stunning stained glass windows,  ornate states, carvings, you name it. It was just beautiful!

From Notre Dame, we continued to walk and came to the famous Lovers’ Bridge, completely adorned with locks.  Each lock bore the initials or names of lovers, and dates.  We thought of buying a lock and doing the same, but then we thought, nah! Let’s just get a Sharpie and write our names on someone else’s lock!  (OBVIOUSLY, we didn’t do that!) Moving on, we were on the other side of the river again and very close to Le Louvre museum. We decided not to go in… I’m not really sure why now, but we didn’t go in!  Continuing to walk… the temperature of the day rising…. we walked, and walked.  Our goal was to make it to the Eiffel Tower. We saw it in the distance and it seemed that no matter how long or how far we walked, the tower never seemed to get any closer! Scott assured me that it wasn’t very far.  Scott lied.  ha ha.  I’ve got to tell you , the more we walked, the warmer the day became, and the warmer i got, the crankier I got.  Walking back and forth across bridges, stopping to look at different things and sites along the way, we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower. Praise the Lord!  It was HOURS later.

The Lover's Bridge
The Lover’s Bridge
On the bridge
On the bridge

We had to line up forever to buy a ticket to get up the tower, and then we had to line up to get UP the tower.  But up we went, and what a view!  Spectacular!  However, because it is so crowed up the tower, it was not enjoyable The crowds were oppressive up there.  We were able to get a few pictures of the city below, and then decided it was time to go.  Once at the bottom, Scott treated me to a delicious lemon ice.  It was cold, sweet, tart, and refreshing!  He’s a good man!!  Either that, or it was to distract me from shopping in the wee souvenir shops!  I worked.  I was too tired to shop.  Yes, I said it.  I didn’t shop!  😦

Finally, we made it!  Eiffel Tower
Finally, we made it! Eiffel Tower

Of course, we were miles and miles from our hotel and I just didn’t have the energy or desire to walk back.  That’s when we discovered the Batobus!  Ingenious!  We bought a two-day pass, and it was a bargain!  Unlimited travel up and down the Seine as many times as we wanted getting on and off wherever you want to! So, we got on, and headed back toward the hotel… or actual toward Notre Dame.  We figured out that if we went one stop further to ……  we would be about a ten minute walk to our hotel.  Brilliant!  Sitting on the boat, watching the sites, and relaxing, best thing EVER.

Back at our hotel, we  had a much-needed short nap, freshened up a bit and headed out for dinner. Since we liked our breakfast spot so much, we decided to try it for dinner.  Not disappointed Great food. I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter where you eat in France, the food is good! Pretty sure it’s because food is an art to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately, savouring each bite, and resulting in great pleasure!  Food is a sensual experience in France!

Not sure how far we walked that day, but man was I tired!  It was an early night for us. Dinner over, wine finished, cafe consumed, we were ready for sleep!

Now, Monday was MY day!  It was all about Heather!  Oh yes it was!  We had a light breakfast at another new place, and enjoyed it.  Surprise!  My goal on Monday was to find E.Dehillerin and Le Cordon Bleu. If I could just visit those two places i would be very happy.   We had Google’d the location of E.Dehillerin and turns out we were very close to it! About a 20 minute walk from our hotel.  So excited.  SO excited.  About one block from the kitchen essentials store, we passed Au Pied de Cochon. This restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel as uniquely Parisian.

E. Dehillerin
E. Dehillerin

One of the very few places that are open 24/7, unlike the usual places open for breakfast, break, lunch from 12-2, break, dinner from 8-whenever,  Au Pied de Cochon is always open.  Apparently, according to our source, the only time they shut down was during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II. The reason was that it was more desirable to shut their doors then to serve Nazis.  Gutsy.  So, since we were walking by, we went in and made dinner reservations for our final night in France.

Back out on the street again, we continued on to E.Dehillerin, just a block or so away.  There it was, in front of me. Taunting me, beckoning me to come in. Almost giddy with excitement, and scared of being labeled “annoying tourist” we went inside. The store was everything I had read it would be.  Rough wooden shelves stacked to the ceiling with everything ‘foodie’ with a light layer of dust on everything,  I was facing the most complete and amazing collection of kitchen things ever.  Now, I had to be careful – I couldn’t exactly pick out something cast iron, or large, since I had to get my treasures home with me.  But I HAD to get something!!!  I also didn’t want to be looked at as a tourist since this store’s reputation is that it serves the professional chef.  I was careful to be as professional as possible.  HA!  Hard to do when my husband was trying to take pictures!  🙂  But I maintained my demeanor and made my choices.  Here’s the process:  Take your purchases to table number 1.  Man there writes everything down and you take that paper to another desk, the cash desk.  There, the really nice (but overworked) woman takes that sheet of paper and looks up product codes and prices.  She shows you that list again to make sure that’s what you understand is right.  If it’s ok, she then totals up the sale and you pay.  Then, the man at table 1 takes that new paperwork, double checks everything to be sure that what you paid for is what you have waiting for you on the desk. If it matches, he puts everything in a bag for you and out you go.  I held it all together, keeping my emotions under the surface… I was beyond happy to be in this store!  We walked out the door and as I hit the threshold, I broke down and started to cry… just a little, really… but that one tear fell down my cheek as my heart overflowed.  I had shopped in E.Dehillerin.   I did it.  I had three smallish items that I was taking home with me.  Now, none of these things were life or death purchases, but just things that I could take home and always know that they came from Julia’s store in Paris.  The very store that Julia Child shopped in.  How awesome was that?  Very!

So, after more pictures in front of the store, we left.  and started to walk again.  We made it to the river and hopped on the Batobus and took that to the Eiffel Tower, again.  Only this time, that was just the jumping off point.  From there we walked, again, in search of Le Cordon Bleu.  It was quite a walk but not nearly as far as we walked the day before.  After a few wrong turns we found it.  My personal Mecca – Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  I was there, standing in front of the iconic cooking school.  How surreal for me!  Scott took out the camera and took pictures again – thanks!  I needed to have it documented!  🙂  With a boldness that I drew from deep within me I went in like I belonged there.  My heart was bursting, seriously, bursting.  If I could attend there, well, that’s a dream best left alone….  Scott did take a picture of the framed (blank) diplomas on their wall for me with a smile and said “picture your name on one of these”…. ya Scott, for a mere $50,000.  Sigh.  You KNOW I had to pick up a few little things to prove I had been there!  I got a beautiful wine server’s apron in black – yes I know, but it was pretty!  Also picked up a few dish towels, and a little bib for our granddaughter that said “Le Petite Chef”.  Everyone was friendly, and I left with information on applying to LCB, but seriously, a pipe dream that won’t be a reality.

Le Cordon Bleu... and dreaming of what could have been!
Le Cordon Bleu… and dreaming of what could have been!


Leaving LCB we walked to a little corner market, picked up a couple of sandwiches and some bottled water and walked across the road to a little park where we ate out late lunch.  Feeling very proud of myself for NOT crying inside LCB, and the sense that I had been in the hallowed ground of great chefs, I lost it in the park!  If I could have had my way, and I sort of did, I would have looked for the original LCB which apparently was very close to where we were in the morning near E.Dehillerin.  Oh well.  I also wanted to find Julia Child’s Paris apartment on Rue de L’Université, or as Julia called it “Roo de Loo”.

No walking… we took the Metro to Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee – another shopping mecca!  I did none! 🙂  Scott then wanted to show me the spot where Princess Diana was killed.  We walked… and as you guessed it…we walked some more.  Finally found it.  He had said there was a “memorial” there to mark the place.  Unfortunately that is not true.  That is what is told to tourists, but it is actually a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The replica flame was placed there in 1987 on the 100th anniversary of France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States.  Close!  However, coincidentally, it is AT the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed.  Many flowers, notes, pictures, etc. were all around the flame and the tunnel bridge itself, marking the life of Diana.

We walked back to the Seine and hopped on the Batobus and headed back to our hotel, with my treasures from my two shopping stops in hand.  Heading out later that evening for our final night in Paris to the historic restaurant, we were feeling sad at leaving France, yet happy to be heading home again. The restaurant didn’t disappoint us!  We had a beautiful table on the street in a (very rare for France) non-smoking section!  Everything was delicious!  Good wine, good table, sweet evening air, and wonderful company!  Love my hubby!  Now, the specialty of the house was Pigs Foot.  Naturally, given the name of the restaurant, what else would you expect??  I ordered fish.  The only thing about the evening that was a big disappointment was dessert.  It was bland, unimaginative, and boring.  I had ordered tarte au citron which other than being yellow had no flavour of lemon at all. The pastry was hard. It was topped with a meringue (which surprised me) but even that was horrible.  I’m thinking that the dessert came from somewhere else and were not made on site.  Too bad.  It was a bad end to an otherwise delicious dinner.

We had a leisurely walk back to our hotel, taking the long way to take in as many of the area sites as we possibly could on this our last day.  What a beautiful evening.  What great company.  What a sad night since it was our last!

Good night’s sleep, off to the airport in a cab ride that rivaled any thrill ride at any amusement park, and check in.  This was it, we were heading home.  Finally on board our Air Canada flight, we were homeward bound.

That ended our  10th Anniversary trip.  I can cross that off my bucket list.  I spent time in the south of France and also in Paris.  I saw and shopped at E.Dehillerin.  I saw and went into Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  I experienced the sights, sounds and tastes of France in all its splendour.  I got to practice my French, as pathetic as it was I did ok.  I was happy. Oh I was leaving tired, but very happy and content.

I tasted France and it whet my appetite for more!

So, instead of my usual sign-off (Happy noshing), today I leave  you with Julia’s signature sign-off….

Bon Appetit!

on the road

The Riviera

Years ago, when we first talked about going to France. My thought was always that we would spend it in the south of France, and of course that meant seeing The Riviera.  So to finally be there was a dream come true!  The Mediterranean, the Cote d’Azur, the palm trees, the sun, it was all there waiting for us to enjoy!  Enjoy we did!

Arriving in the area around 6 p.m. we found our next B&B. Les Terrasses du Soleil, in Cagnes Sur Mer, is situated at the top of very steep and narrow roads in the historic Haut de Cagnes. Our hosts, Catherine and Patrick, were warm and welcoming.  A little bit of the history of this beautiful B&B: The Villa was once owned by G. & Betty Ulmer, famous in the sixties musical years. Some of the ‘stars’ who stayed and frequented this beautiful home were Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, Christina Onassis, among others.  I loved flipping through the scrap book of news clippings about the Villa and looking at the pictures framed that adorned the walls.  Our room had a private terrace that had both a sea view and castle view.  Arriving with little time to do any real exploring, and not wanting to move the car again ever, we asked Catherine for a dinner recommendation. We took her advice and walked to Le Perousin. We hit the food jackpot! Served by the delightful Sabrina, her husband is the chef, we sampled some wonderful food, prepared with great care, and served with such pride.  Really, a jackpot! I will write a separate blog post just for this restaurant.  Stay tuned!

Walking the narrow streets of Haut de Cagnes (Cagnes sur Mer)
Walking the narrow streets of Haut de Cagnes (Cagnes sur Mer)


We really liked this place!  After dinner we headed back to our B&B and to bed.  We had a busy day planned for the next day including Nice and Monte Carlo!

Nice didn’t disappoint! A bustling city, a playground, Nice was delightful.  Our B&B host warned us to keep an eye on our valuables.  We did.  No issues, everything was fine. What surprised me the most about the ‘beach’ of Nice was that there was no sand.  None. Everything is stone! Now of course that makes for a very uncomfortable experience when lying on the beach.  Ugh.  We did learn that you can pay to use a private beach.  these private beaches have lounge chairs and often small wooden walkways so that you wouldn’t have to walk directly on the stones unless you were heading for the water!  We decided to save beach day for another time and concentrated on the city itself.  One of the best ways to see and appreciate the history of any city is to take a small tour.  Our menu in Nice? A delicious pizza.

best ever pizza
best ever pizza

This pizza had a delicate crust, a hint of tomato sauce, and emmenthal cheese. Then topped with prosciutto and warmed again.  Finally fresh arugula and field greens and freshly grated Parmesan topped the whole thing. This pizza was a taste explosion in my mouth!  So delicious!

The rest of our time on the Riviera was spent visiting Monte Carlo, and a wonderful beach day in Cagnes Sur Mer.  After our final breakfast of fresh yogurt, fruit, and breakfast breads/pastries, we bid farewell to our hosts and headed to the train station in Nice.  Returning the car was a nightmare, but we did it! Whew!  We boarded the train and headed to Paris!  Ah Paris! J’adore!

Next up:  Two days in Paris.

Gorgeous Med. Sea
Gorgeous Med. Sea
The Beach
The Beach
Looking for James Bond
Looking for James Bond
on the road

Provence – Part 3 – Aix-en-Provence

Getting back on track.  Blog interrupted due to my work schedule. I was in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia this week.

Okay, I’m back.


Where were we?

Our first view of the castle
Our first view of the castle

Ah yes, we left Avignon and traveled to Aix-en-Provence.  Well, actually, we went to a place called Le Barban. Our accommodations here were in a medieval period castle, Chateau Le Barban.  It was everything a castle should be!  Large, imposing, lots of stone, and lots of beautiful history. The narrow road up from the (public) parking lot to the private lot was difficult to navigate, again, and the car bottomed out a few times.  But, we pulled in, found our hosts and were escorted to our room.  First set of stairs – 21.  Second set of stairs – 21. Third set of stairs 21. Ah there’s the sky again! We’ve reached the top after 63 stairs up. (No elevators, it’s medieval!)  We stepped out onto a gorgeous terrace area, breathed in the beautiful fresh air and noticed that our hostess was still going.  Oh dear!  I turned around to see sets of stairs shaped like a horseshoe heading up yet again… and up we went, and into the castle again, and up more stairs and more stairs.  All in all, it was 110 steps from the entrance up to our room.  I told Scott I would be content just to stay in our room for the duration and not leave.  The thought of doing those stairs again, wow.

Our room was spectacular, the view even more so.  With a flourish that only the French can do so well, Gislaine threw open the windows and shutters to behold our view!  Three words:  Oh Wow, Wow. Maybe the 110 step climb carrying luggage was worth it! She quickly said “Cocktail reception at 7:30 on the terrace before dinner” and with that she was gone!  We were left to enjoy our room. the large imposing door – very ‘castle like’ had a skeleton key lock which I just had so much trouble working. The bed was gorgeous.  The bathroom was bigger than my entire master bedroom at my home!  A giant claw-foot tub, a beautiful Italian shower, double sinks, a small table, a couple of chairs, more windows…. you get the idea. I could have moved into the bathroom and lived there quite happily!  The bedroom and bathroom were both decorated with beautiful pieces of art.  The bedspread, bed curtains, wall coverings, and window coverings all matched.  In my house, that would look way overdone, but in a castle? It was perfect.

open air and beautiful view
open air and beautiful view

At the reception we met the other guests, a young French couple enjoying a night away.  Their English was way better than our French! After drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the terrace, our hosts Gislaine and Bertrand, led us to the castle’s historic kitchen where they seated us and then said goodnight.  The dinner was spectacular!  We had lamb shank with all the fixings.  I wish I had a picture of dinner and the five courses, but I didn’t think our French dinner companions would understand my obsession with photographing my food!  Sigh.  No pictures, sorry!  We were able to communicate so well together, we laughed, shared stories, just really enjoyed getting to know them.  Of course, after dinner, we had to climb up the stairs again – in the dark!  However, since we were already about halfway up, we only had about 47 steps to go.  Not so bad!

More of our view
More of our view

The next morning we had a delightful breakfast and met Jacqueline!  What a delight this woman was!  She served our breakfast to us in the same kitchen. Her English was really good as well, although she kept apologizing for it.  We learned she was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence.  Scott told her that when we visited the city that day we would look for the historic plaque marking her birthplace.  She laughed!  We really liked Jacqueline.  Before we left for the day, we took the castle’s historic tour.  Unfortunately, it was all in French and we really couldn’t follow along.  We were given written English translation but you could tell it didn’t quite match what our tour guide was saying. Regardless, it was good to see the entire castle!

Gorgeous, yes?
Gorgeous, yes?

Off to Aix we went!  We parked the car and spent the entire day walking.  Really, it was so much easier!  I fell in love with this absolutely picture perfect place!  So many fountains.  So many boulangeries. So many artisans. We had cafe at a cafe, surprise! Later in the day we returned to the same area to have dinner.  I was really loving all this outdoor dining.  I have never eaten outdoor so much in my life!  It was fabulous!  We learned that Aix-en-Provence would be the dominant city of Provence if it weren’t for its close proximity to Marseilles. From the 12th Century to the Revolution Aix was the capital of Provence.  The whole of the old city of Aix is surrounded by its ring of beautiful boulevards.  The streets are alive with people, tempting restaurants, cafes, and shops.  We took so many pictures in Aix.  I’ll post a few here below.  Such a gorgeous city.  Gorgeous.  But our day had to come to an end.  Sadly.  We headed back to our castle.

Images from Aix-en-Provence

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Driving along the roads back it hit me.  “Scott, we did a tour of the castle this morning up and down those stairs, we’ve been walking ALL day in Aix. I’m exhausted.  And guess what?  We still have to climb back up those 110 steps!”  From Scott… no comment!  🙂  I’ll tell you one thing, my poor aching feet enjoyed that tub!

The next morning, at breakfast, we spoke briefly with Jacqueline. Such a sweetheart of a lady!  Back upstairs to pack up and head out.  Next stop – The Riviera!  Oh ya baby!  What I’ve been waiting for the whole trip!!

Horseshoe stairs from terrace to the rest of the castle, at dusk
Horseshoe stairs from terrace to the rest of the castle, at dusk
Breakfast in the historic kitchen, filled with beautiful antiques of the period.
Breakfast in the historic kitchen, filled with beautiful antiques of the period.

Okay, next stop: The Riviera!

on the road

Provence – Part 2 – Cooking!

Cooking.  In France. In a traditional Provence Farmhouse. Am I dreaming? Nope!  It happened.  Thanks to our wonderful trip coordinators (France Just for You) Emilie booked us a wonderful experience!  Leaving our B&B after breakfast on August 24, we took a leisurely drive (not really). We found Catherine’s farmhouse after driving by it and then doubling back.  Her house is set back off the street and unless you are really looking for it, you’ll miss it.  Nestled in the trees with vineyards all around, it’s a beautiful setting.

Catherine's beautiful farmhouse in the Provence countryside
Catherine’s beautiful farmhouse in the Provence countryside

While we waited for Catherine to get set up for us, we enjoyed some coffee in her garden. Her beautiful garden.

Hanging in the garden
Hanging in the garden

Everything set, we headed into her kitchen.  Catherine’s kitchen is beautiful. Gorgeous copper pots hanging from the traditional yellow walls with blue trim.  Beautiful blue and white ceramic tiles adorned the walls.  I felt like I was in a Monet french painting!  Just gorgeous! SIgh.

Catherine's kitchen
Catherine’s kitchen

Catherine led us through a three-course meal. First, a wonderful chilled zucchini soup. Second, a delicious stuffed chicken breast. Finally a finish with a wonderful light dessert.  So, let’s dig in and get started.  Catherine put us both to work. I was more excited to see Scott working in the kitchen and learning a new skill.  Now, before you get all “oh how sweet”, Scott is actually a very good cook. He’s made dinner for me on more occasions than I can remember.  We both work long hours and my commute is over 2 hours (each way), so by the time I get home, I’m often too tired to do much.  If Scott is home before me he often has dinner on the go before I get in!  So, on days when I do have time (and energy) I love to cook yummy things for him!  Okay, back to our lesson…

We started with the soup. Cutting up zucchini and adding it all to a pot with some chicken (or vegetable) stock and a handful of arugula, a bit of salt & pepper and simmer away!  Once it was all cooked, we pureed the soup and Catherine set it on ice in the fridge to chill.  At serving time, we ladled it into beautiful martini glasses, dropped in 3 whole cherry tomatoes and garnished it with fresh arugula.  Result? A refreshing, delicious chilled soup!  So yummy!

Our yummy soup!
Our yummy soup!

Meanwhile, while the soup was chilling, we started the dessert.  Again, with gorgeous glasses, we crushed some high quality cookies – a cross between arrowroots and shortbread… is that even possible? Oh yes it is!  So, with the cookies in the bottom of the glass, we added the next layer – we whisked together mascarpone cheese and…. something I cannot remember (I’m SO sorry!) this ended up being a light fluffy treat, topped with fresh sliced peaches.  I didn’t even take a picture as I was too interested in eating it!  On the bright side, I’ve emailed Catherine and asked her for the recipes!! Once I get these from her, I’ll make it again and take a picture hopefully before it gets eaten!  Let’s move on.

While dessert was sitting in the fridge to stay cool, we started our main course.  Catherine gave us wonderful plump chicken breasts.  We slit these open making a pocket in one side. These were stuffed with a goat cheese mixture – yes, I don’t have the recipe for that either… it’s coming, I promise!. Suffice to say everything was smelling wonderful!  I love the smell of anything savory cooking!  So, once the chicken breasts were stuffed, each was then wrapped with prosciutto and ‘tacked’ shut with a toothpick.  After taking about a medium sized white onion and slicing it thinly, Catherine pulled out a large skillet.  With a good splash of olive oil in the skillet and getting it heated up, we added the onions to the sound of that wonderful sizzle.  The chicken breasts were placed on top of the onions and we let the chicken cook. Once cooked, the chicken and prosciutto became one (oh yes, oh yummy, oh so yummy) and the onions were caramelized.  Catherine put on the polenta and got that going.

Prepping, with our Aussie cooking mate Kathy!
Prepping, with our Aussie cooking mate Kathy!
Under Catherine's watchful and expert eye!
Under Catherine’s watchful and expert eye!




cooking the chicken!
cooking the chicken!


Scott, Kathy (our Aussie cooking mate!) and I got set up outside in the garden and were eagerly awaiting our zucchini soup. Mostly we were looking forward to the chicken.  As you can see, below, the chicken looked AMAZING, the side of caramelized onions were sweet, and the polenta was amazing!

The final result!  Looks yummy doesn't it?  It was!!!
The final result! Looks yummy doesn’t it? It was!!!

Over dessert and coffee, we talked. We compared cultures. And despite the differences and language barrier, we all agreed on one thing – neither KFC nor McDonald’s is REAL food!  We really couldn’t sit around all day, well we could but we didn’t want to wear out our welcome, and so goodbyes were said and we headed out to find Gourdes.

This cooking time in France was a real highlight for both Scott and me. Scott learned something new about using fresh garlic (darn, all my secrets are getting out!) and I learned a new way of doing chicken that was moist (from cooking over the onions) and delicious.  I’ll be making this recipe the next time we have guests for dinner.  Start to finish.

Thank you Catherine!  Nous avons eu un très bon moment et j’ai vraiment apprécié vous rencontrer!

I hope I said this correct: We had a very good time and really enjoyed meeting you.

Happy noshing!