Friday, 15 March 2013

We Have Moved...

Yes, you all know we have moved from Cork to Provençe, but now I've made the move from Blogger to Wordpress, too.  I hope that Wordpress will allow me to better express the diversity of the blog - after all, I'm now regularly discussing dogs, horses, French food, Provençal tourist attractions and then there's Sunday Stills Photography challenges to fit in, too.  Sigh.

Please please please follow me on over to Wordpress... and bear with me while I get the hang of it and set the page up the way I want it.

Right now, I'm at but within a couple of days, I should have set up to point there too.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Spring? Please?

The rain has stopped, the snow is gone and the weather has warmed up!  There are little flowers appearing everywhere.  At the horse farm, there are wild crocuses all over the place.  I didn't expect to see them, but there they are, springing up through the dead oak leaves, looking ever so pretty!  Back home, we have mini-daffodils in bloom beside the garage door and real Irish crocuses flowering in pots.  These were a farewell gift from a Cork friend - she bought a two sets of various bulbs, she has them growing in Cork and I have them growing in Provence.  Hers are far, far ahead of mine, but I'll still enjoy mine when the whole pot as a-bloom!

But to more serious matters... did I live up to my promise and get my saggy butt into the saddle?  Yes I did!  I did a little work with Aero yesterday - I lunged him for about ten minutes and rode him in the arena for about twenty.  He was a good boy, a little excited on the lunge but pretty sensible in the arena.  Then today, the LSH decided to come out on a hack with me so in the late afternoon we headed up to the farm.  It was sunny and warm - about 14C, I think.  Both horses seemed happy at the prospect of a little work, although Flurry was once again coated in a layer of mud.  When the LSH went to fit his front boots, though, he found another problem - the Cavallo sport boots were always a tight fit, and Flurry is now in need of a trim after several weeks on soft ground.  There was no way the boots would go on, so we had to break out the rasp and give him an on-the-spot trim.  We took his heels down a little (I think they could come down even more) and levelled off the walls.  At that stage it was clear just how much toe we could round off - there was a thick layer of wall visible outside the white line.  Cautiously, cautiously - we're amateurs, after all - we trimmed it back until his boots would fit.  I plan on having another go at him tomorrow, to take the heels down and level off the sole another bit.  I'm also looking at Aero's feet and going "Hmmm...I could do a little bit there, too... "

Finally, we were ready to go and we headed off, keeping to trails that would not be too muddy and treacherous.  Both horses were definitely happy to be out and about again, as were their riders!

C'mon Spring, we're waiting for you!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day on this side of the Atlantic.  What a nice day I've had!  It started with a Skype Breakfast in Bed with my daughters... they had set their Dad up to bring me breakfast in bed along with the iPad so they could Skype me - how sweet is that?  After a lovely chat & lie-in, with hyper-terriers curled up beside me in non-hyper mode, it was time to haul myself out of bed...

It was a beautiful warm spring day and we decided to walk up to Reillanne market with the hyper-terriers.  There are lots of teeny-tiny flowers starting to appear everywhere - I think we are going to have a very verdant spring here after all the rain we've had, it should make for some nice photos.

After lunch (potato and jalapeno soup YUM, my favourite!) we went up to see the horses and gave them both a good scrub for a photo shoot.  Aero is moulting like mad, Flurry not so much, but it won't be long before he joins in as well.  Sneak preview of the photo shoot :
You'll find out more about this during the week!

Cinnamon had a go at horse-riding.  She had read the book and she knew that she should first introduce herself to the horse :
(by the way this is NOT my gobsmacked face)
Well, actually, it was more like Flurry saying :


and yeah, she snapped at him right after this photo.  He'll know not to try eating Small Brown Dog paw again...

Once I put her on his back, she was surprisingly not too petrified.
and I was even able to step away from her

I suspect if I was sitting on Flurry as well she'd be quite comfy, snuggled into me. I don't know that she'll ever match Frances Taylor's BeAnneDuvet, though!

After fun & games with the horses, we came home to find dinner had dried out, but fortunately it hadn't actually reached cremation point yet, so once I chucked a bit of hot water into it, it kind of reconstituted itself - duck cassoulet with lentils (and a glass of white wine..... ahhhh).

The weather has turned a corner and I reckon Spring is just a breath away.  No more excuses, it's time to get my saggy butt back in the saddle.  It WILL happen this week, and keep happening thereafter.

For those who have been waiting with bated breath (all two of you) here is The Gobsmacked Face :
Poor Aero thought I was going to assault him and ducked.  Bless.

(all photos in this post are courtesy of The LSH)

Sunday Stills - Potluck

I've been missing from Sunday Stills for the past couple of weeks - life got ahead of me! This week, the theme is Potluck - whatever we want, so when we took a walk to see the floodwaters of the Calavon river, I took a few shots which I will share here.

First of all, here's one I took for "The Number Seven" a couple of weeks (eek actually four!) ago and didn't get around to posting.  I was quite pleased with this...
...I just didn't have TIME to blog! (Get it? Get it??)

We've had three days of heavy rain since I came back from Ireland on Tuesday and the rivers and streams are all running at full spate.  We walked to Le Saute du Moin to see the waterfall and sure enough it was a lot fuller than it was on our last visit (and a lot less frozen)
This is one of the tributaries that flow into the pool which feeds the waterfall.  This was running pretty fast too, and I had to keep a close eye on Cinnamon to make sure she didn't decide to go swimming.
A much more peaceful point of view :
And finally, this is a ford across the Calavon at the North end of the Gorge d'Oppedette.  Normally, there is just a trickle of water here and you can walk across it in ordinary shoes.  Not today.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Virtual Friends?

Part of the reason I started this blog was to keep in touch with family and friends back in Ireland, but a side-effect has been a whole pile of new on-line friends - there's all the gang at Haynet for starters, there's a load of Facebook friends, there's the folk at A Matter of Horse and then there's the twenty-five people who have taken the time to click the "follow" button here at Some of you keep your thoughts to yourselves, but it's nice to know that you all enjoy reading of our adventures here in Provençe.

I've had the pleasure of meeting two "virtual friends" in the last couple of weeks.  First of all there was Sara, from Le Petit Village.  Sara is a weeny bit younger than me (a year or two, y'know) but we have a lot in common - an Irish mother, dogs, rugby, Provence, and Barry's tea.  Well, of course we hit it off.  Cinny and Cookie took to her straight away, and then we went to visit the Boyz, who were appropriately attired in mud for the occasion.  Sara didn't seem to mind the mud, or their extreme enthusiasm when being offered apples, so yeah, I think we'll be meeting again, if only to bemoan the Irish team's performance...
Máire & Ben

Then there was Máire, whose blog I found when I was researching barefoot horses a year and a half ago.  Well, it's a small, small world - it turns out that Máire lives literally a stones throw from my mother, so when I was in Ireland last week I called down to see her.  We talked horse... and talked horse... and talked horse... and my poor mother was bored to distraction, I'm sure, but she kept smiling and nodding!  It was so lovely to meet Máire, Ben and Cloud, and of course, the two-legged family members, and I think Máire enjoyed hearing about "how it used to be " by the lake!

Who will be next to make the transformation from virtual friend to real friend?  It looked like it would be Stella at Cavalier Attitude - there was a plan to meet at Equisud in Montpelier on Sunday, but circumstances have conspired against both of us, so that plan was shelved, but I suspect we might manage to meet up during the summer.  It now looks like the next virtual friend I will meet is Sharon from La Fiaba. The LSH and I have booked in for a three day Transumanza at Easter and we are looking forward to meeting Sharon, Lorenzo and all their four-legged friends.

What's a Transumanza?  Yeah, I didn't know what it was either.

I first came across the French word Transhumance last year when I bought a children's book to try and help myself and the LSH increase our vocabulary. The word was used to specifically refer to the droving of sheep from their summer pasture high in the Alps to their winter grazing in the low-lying valleys, so naturally enough I thought it was only used with reference to sheep.  This year, though, I learned that it means a long-distance drove of sheep, cattle or horses and, within days of figuring that out, I came across the La Fiaba blog post announcing an Easter-time Transhumanza, moving young horses from their winter home to their summer home.  It turns out that we're only a six hour drive away from La Fiaba, the LSH is very enthusiastic about the whole concept and our dogs are welcome to come too.

So that's our plan for Easter weekend, what's anybody else up to?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - Restaurant Carluc, Ceréste

This week's TFIL is a little different, in that we actually had our meal out on Thursday evening, not Friday lunchtime.  The quality of the food won't change from morning to evening, we reasoned, although there won't be a Menu du Midi (lunchtime special) on offer.

We ate in Carluc a couple of times last year and were never disappointed, so we had high hopes as we arrived at 7.30pm.  The owner greeted us like old friends, and actually, it felt like something of a homecoming - it hadn't changed inside at all, there were some familiar dishes on the menu and best of all, our friends R & G joined us for dinner!

The LSH and I have the same taste in a lot of things (except he likes fish!) and we often opt for the same dish.  This evening was no exception, and we both ordered the same starter, Croustillant de Chévre (goats cheese in filo pastry).  In fact, the croustillant appealed to everyone at the table and we all ordered it!
It was superb - goats cheese and mouth-watering semi-dried tomatoes wrapped in crisp filo pastry, with a crisp green salad on the side - an excellent start to our meal.

G and I opted for the same main course, Cuisse de Pintade, a leg of guinea fowl.  Guinea fowl has been a revelation and I buy it quite a lot in the supermarket here.  To me, it's just like chicken used to be, in the good old days before they started pumping it full of liquid.  The meat is more fibrous and less glaringly white than chicken, and although some people might find the flavour a little gamey, it just tastes extra-chickeny to me.
It came with a little heap of risotto, a really good gravy-like sauce and seasonal vegetables on the side.

The LSH ordered Bouef aux Echalots, or beef with shallots.  This is an old favourite on the Carluc menu, and it's always good.  The beef is cooked to taste (French people are always surprised when we order our beef rare!) and served in a rich sauce.
This was served with mashed potato and the same seasonal veggies.  It was very, very tasty, but the beef was a little tough.

R ordered spaghetti a la carbonara, I'm not sure why, I always thought he was a beef man myself!  He ate it all anyway and said it was good!

We finally moved on to dessert, where we encountered some more old favourites.  Unfortunately, at this stage, the wine was flowing, the company was good and the food was good, so we forgot to take photographs of the food...

The first old favourite was Pain Perdu - literally it means "lost bread" but "pain perdu" is French for stale bread.  In the sense of dessert, it means bread pudding.  It's quite different to English bread pudding, the bread is usually baked in slices and served with a caramel sauce, and, in the Carluc, topped off with cinnamon ice-cream.  If you're ever in Carluc, order it!  I promise you won't be disappointed!  Then there was Tiramisu, tarte tatin (an upside down apple pie) and crème brûlée... all good!

Price wise, dinner is always going to be more expensive than lunch, but even at that, this meal came out at just over €21 per head - not bad at all for good food in a pleasant atmosphere.  It's a very different place to the Saigon Wok which we visited last week, both offer different things, but I think I'd opt for Carluc any day I was given the choice.

Service : ✮
Food : ✮✮✮ 
Value : ✮✮✮✮ 
Ambiance : ✮✮

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A trip down Memory Layne

I'm visiting Ireland to see my mother and the YD.  I hired a car at Shannon airport to go to Cork, and after I left it back, I went for a wander through Shannon town with my friend Elayne (who has featured in this blog before).  We both grew up here and we had fun revisiting our old haunts, so I thought I would share our roots with you all.

This little sunken area is where we played when we were little.  The community hall was on the patch of concrete in the background, but it was set on fire a couple of times and was demolished recently.  When we were small, we used to play "The Billy Goats Gruff" on the bridge - somebody was picked to be the Troll and hid under the bridge and then leaped out and chased the Billy Goats when they tried to cross.  Simple pleasures, simpler times.

My first home was in one of the blocks of flats in the background.
There used to be three swings here, strung between the concrete pillars.  See the stone wall behind the pillars?  That was VERY VERY high and jumping off it was a massive feat of bravery and sometimes resulted in a scabby knee.

The former home of the Shannon Lawn Tennis Club, where I spent many an unhappy hour perfecting the Fresh Air Shot.  Nobody realised I needed glasses for years.  I also wasn't particularly interested in tennis... nobody realised that, either.
There used to be a clubhouse on the far side of the courts, a green portacabin, but that's gone too.

The mighty Shannon estuary.  I used to love walking or cycling down here or on one of the other "points," as we used to call these peninsulas which jut out into the river.  That's County Limerick on the other side.
Outside our first school :
We were very careful not to look like we were trying to photograph kids in case someone called the Guards!

This used to be the football pitch for the school.  The boys played football or hurling while the girls did knitting and sewing.  Different times, folks.
The church, which is straight across the road from the school.  Where we all went every Sunday, no matter what.  Did I say different times already?
This is me in front of my second home.  My earliest memory is of playing on the street in front of this house, I was probably about two and a half or three years old.
One of the local hostelries.  It was the only local hostelry initially, apart from the bar at the airport, two miles away.  
Yeah, I know it looks a bit grim.  The daffodils were nice though.

Shannon in the 1960s was a strange place, it was custom built to provide housing for the the brand new industrial estate which grew up beside the airport.  My family was one of the earliest to move there.  Everybody was a blow-in which made us all equal, although some people were more equal than others and lived in "posh" houses like this :
This house is one of a row which is straight across from the blocks of flats in the first picture.  We thought they were HUGE, but they look so small and ordinary, now.  Initially, the flats and these houses were the only accommodation in Shannon, apart from some really grotty barrack-style hostels at the airport itself where my father lived initially.  Elayne's family lived in "the flats" too - apparently they brought the population up to 302 when they arrived!  Then the first stretch of "housing estates" was built, which was where I lived from the age of two to four, and after that the town mushroomed, with a massive boom in the seventies and another more recent boom in the late 1990s.  According to Wikipedia, the population now stands at about 9,600.

This was my third home, where I lived from the age of four to fourteen.
Just as I was about to leap out and take a photo, a car pulled up outside and stayed there, so we ended up doing a "drive-by shooting" instead.  I didn't want to look as if we were casing the joint or anything like that.

Then we whizzed by our old secondary school, which looks much the same as it always did, except somehow the yellow brick on the walls has become red.  This school was pretty special, it was Ireland's first ever Comprehensive and heralded a new era in education.  We were guinea-pigs and they tried out a lot of new courses on us before introducing them into the mainstream school system.
After that, we had a look at some of Elayne's former homes, where she lived in the early years of her (first) marriage, and then drove back to Granny's house via the scenic route.
A dolmen type-thing we passed along the way.

Granny's house (my fifth home, the fourth one was only a temporary rented house so it doesn't count) looks out over this beautiful lake.  It's a lot nicer than Shannon, and most importantly, the riding school was only three miles away!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Limerick, you're no Lady

Limerick : a city that thrived during the boom years and, even now, still has a feeling of vibrancy in the streets.  They've fought hard to clean up their act and get rid of that nickname.

While window shopping last Saturday, a jeweller's shop caught my eye.  Oh sez Granny, they're one of the oldest jewellers in Limerick, they're very good.  So we crossed the road and had a look in the window.

This was the first thing that caught my eye (apologies for the crappy photo, the rest are a bit better)
Yeah.  That's a cannabis leaf pendant on the left and a blinged-up armalite on the right.

There were a lot more cannabis leaves in the display, plus this this pony & sulky :
That might be a cultural reference that only Irish people would get, this next one is a little more obvious :
I guess this jewellers caters to... hmm... an interesting cross-section of the underbelly of society, shall we say.

Sorry, Limerick, you'll always be Stab City to me.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - Saigon Wok, Cavaillon

Last Saturday, I had to collect the LSH from Marseille Airport.  It had snowed overnight, leaving the road over the Luberon covered with a layer of packed, frozen snow.  By the time I left, the snowplough hadn’t passed yet, and I crawled carefully along.  I was confident that by the time I got to Manosque, it would be slightly warmer, with less snow, as Manosque is usually a few degrees warmer than our side of the Luberon.  I was wrong.  Not only was Manosque covered in snow, but the Autoroute was also snow-covered and treacherous.  At least the snowploughs were in action there, clearing one lane on each carraigeway, so I trundled along in a long line of traffic, presumably with a snowplough at the head of the line.  Traffic in the opposite driection was desperately slow, even at a standstill in some places, so when I finally met up with the LSH in a completely unsnowy Marseille, we decided to go home via the Western end of the Luberon – a long detour, but we decided to have lunch along the way and do our TFIL meal a day late.

Just as we passed through Cavaillon, I spotted this.
All-you-can-eat Chinese, basically.

We can’t lose, we said, and in we went.

You don’t often see very overweight French people, but there were quite a few in this place – it’s obviously a popular choice for those with – eh – large appetites.
It’s a gigantic hall of a restaurant, with the buffets laid out in the middle.  There was one with bits and pieces you could ask the Wok chef to cook, one with starters, one with mains and one with desserts.  We stuck the the stuff that was already cooked, to keep it simple, and we hit the starter buffet - nems (spring rolls), chicken things, fried vegetable things, prawn things and some other seafood things (that I stayed away from), with an array of salads and sauces to accompany them.
I could have just kept eating the starters until I exploded, but after one revisit, I moved on to the mains, in the interests of research, y’know.  There were Brochets à Poulet (chicken skewers), Thai Beef, Pork Caramel, Moules au sauce Chilli (chilli mussels, a weird combination, neither of us tried that) and Poulet au Gingembre (Ginger Chicken).  These were fine, but less awesome than the starters, with the exception of the Brochets à Poulet which were the best I’d ever had.  It’s possible that they were laced with MSG, but I reckoned that if it triggered a migraine, it would have been worth it.

By the way, if you really love spicy food, you'd be better off getting something cooked by the Wok Chef - the French don't really do "Hot" and we find that Chinese restaurants here cater to the French palate, with Thai and Chilli dishes tasting a bit bland.
Desserts were a bit lacklustre by comparison with the first two courses; there was Dame Blanche, a soft meringue sort of thing, crème caramel and fresh fruit.
Value for money?  At €12.90 per head during the week, it’s brilliant value.  If there’s something you don’t like, you can just go back to the buffet and get something else.  They put the price up at the weekend, so it cost us €14.90 per head, with a pichet of wine bringing the total up to €32.50.  If you’re a big eater and find the portion sizes disappointing during your Provençal visit, it’s definitely worth calling in here.

Comfort wise, yeah, it’s a big barn of a place with no ambiance whatsoever.  We were seated beside the door and were chilled everytime someone came in or out, despite the electric heater placed nearby.  The toilets were surprisingly minimalist for such a large restaurant, too – just one cubicle each for Dames and Hommes.  I bet the queues are not too nice when it's busy in the summer.

I wasn't overly impressed with the service.  I know it was self service, but they brought wine to our table (when asked) and cleared plates.  However, they also left us hovering in the doorway looking bewildered for quite a while when we arrived.  My advice is to march in confidently and just grab a table if that happens.

Here's the ratings.  I know it doesn't look great with the one star for Service and two stars for Ambiance, but that's just the kind of place it is.  I'd happily go back again.

Service : ✮
Food : ✮✮✮ 
Value : ✮✮✮ 
Ambiance : ✮✮