Monday, October 17, 2016

Horsing around The Alps, St. Agnès, France....

So many of my posts from The South of France are focused on the Côte~d'Azur and all that it has to offer. But now, as the weather cools, I thought I'd share with you some picturesque examples of the other side of this region of France which is called Alpes~Maritimes, and why I love it so muchIn this section of France the high peaks of The Alps slide down to meet The Mediterranean Sea, creating dramatic views, landscapes and an essential playground where one can enjoy the pleasures of the mountains and the sea in the same day with ease. 

These hill are filled with ancient, extensive trails that will allow you to hike for the morning or for several days, staying at refuges or small village hotels at night. Lately, I've been riding up in the mountains with an unique operation called Horse and Ventures. From our Pied~de~Eze {which is between Nice and Monaco}, it takes just 35 minutes to drive up to the base of the beautiful perched Medieval village of St. Agnés.

St. Agnès is famous for being the highest coastal village in Europe. It's a wonderful place to wander, with charming winding alleyways, potted flowers on balconies, thick, irregular stone walls, rich patina and delicious little restaurants that look into the valleys and out to the Med.  It also contains a massive concrete bunker built back in 1932 as a point of French defense against Italy during WWII, back when Nice {or Nizza, as they still refer to it on the bi~lingual street signs} was still a part of Italy.

Higher up on the hill, you can see the outline in the shot below, is what's left of the Medieval St. Agnès Castle, one of the oldest castles in France, portions of it date back to the 10th century. I haven't made it up there yet, but hope to soon, it's supposed to have a beautiful garden, maintained by the locals. 

I met up with my horse Usarline at the base of St. Agnès in front of the rustic and très petite Chapel San Sebastian. 

I love the contrast of the more contemporary Madonna paintings above the worn stone benches on each side of the entrance walls. 

 Here we climbed onto our trusty mounts {they provide chaps & helmets} and wandered up into the forested, limestone trails. As we dipped and climbed through the brush and trees I loved the smell of the fresh mountain air, spiked with whiffs of junipers and other mountain flora. Every once in awhile we came upon other humans, mostly trail runners, a few hunters searching for wild boar, and a lone biologist, studying the mountain streams on his bike. 

Eventually, we arrived at one of the renowned "Balcons de Côte d'Azur", which can be found along the stretch of the southern side of the Alps from Grasse to this one overlooking the principality of Monaco. This is a popular route for hiker, bikers and equestrians.

After two hours of wandering this pristine wilderness we were back at our starting point. The horses were freed of their saddles, and bells were traded for bridles. 

We helped to herd the horses down to their wild pastures

where they roam and graze freely after a honest morning of work. 

Denis Longfellow {below} who makes this authentic alpine experience available is quite an interesting fellow indeed. He came to these hills via Carmel, California years ago with plans to continue his studies, but he fell in love with this alpine lifestyle and instead became a sheepherder. From sheep he moved onto horses and cows and now he provides the world with a small taste of this very special rural lifestyle. 

In addition to day rides they also offer many longer tours of this pristine section of the world, including an opportunity to participate in a traditional Transhumance, the historic alpine practice of herding animals to higher mountain pastures in the spring to graze on fresh grasses through the summer and then returning them to their lower homes before the cold weather begins, to spend the fall and winter safe from snows and harsh storms. 

If my courage holds out, towards the end of the month I'll be doing a 5~day ride in the hills above the scenic and gastronomically rich Italian Liguria, including a dip down to the coast near San Remo for a night... 

...stay tuned! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Finding Vitality, Mountain Trek, Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia...

You may have noticed a bit of a repose on my recent splurge of posts, this is because I was up in the wilds of Canada hiking in thick, beautiful forests with my gal pals, plenty of mountain streams and these lovely fungi's. 

Can you believe this beguiling blue specimen? I've tried to identify it on line but couldn't find any images of this exact shape. But, from my cursory research I've learned that blue mushrooms are quite rare, so I feel very fortunate to have observed a few in person, especially as these positioned themselves so beautifully in a bed of thick green moss accented with some smaller orange pals. 

 We ventured north to spend a week at Mountain Trek, a fitness retreat and health spa... I wasn't sure what to expect entirely, but I must say that the week gave me a great deal to think about and relieved me of a nice little chunk of pounds and a few inches. 

As I did when I visited The Ranch in Malibu, I plan to come back to you with my top take aways for  fitness and well being from the program, after I have a chance to implement some of their teachings and principle into my real life.

They shared a great deal of information about metabolism, nutrition, fitness, detoxification, sleep and stress management and how all of these elements affect your level of....


which, by definition is: 

"the state of being strong and active; energy and also: the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things".

Vitality was the operative word in all that we learned and all that we did at MT, the theory being that yes, we all want to live a long life, but not a life where we spend most of our time in bed counting our cats and wondering when our diapers will next be changed. We want to be active and healthy, and as we age, we need to work hard to develop habits to keep our bodies fully functioning to achieve that elite status. 

Now, I'm not a mycologist, but I know that this is a big, luscious Lobster Mushroom (hypomyces lactifluorum), you can find them more and more frequently in the markets this time of the year. 

Not only do they look like a lobster {the crustacean~like color actually comes from an attacking mold}, but the texture and taste, when cooked, is similar to lobster meat. But we were on a set diet at Mountain Trek, so we left this gargantuan specimen for fortunate future foragers. 

Post-Trek I hopped on a plane to join Mr. Splendid at the Pied~de~Eze where I am staring out on the Med on this sunny day as I write. We've been enjoying these early fall days here, saying good bye to some of our favorite beach front restaurants, and hiking and riding up in the Alps, I'll be sharing some new finds and old favorites soon. 

But now, I've got to get my vitality going with a march up our beloved Chemin de Nietzsche.

If you would like to learn more about Mountain Trek right away, you can upload their App, "A healthy lifestyle support tool" on your phone. With it you'll have recipes, philosophies, motivating lectures, work out ideas and goal setting tools in your pocket at anytime.

I'll leave you today with this quote from Jerome Bock, an early German botanist. He said: 

"Fungi and truffles are neither herbs, nor roots, nor flowers, nor seeds, but merely the superfluous moisture or earth, of trees, or rotten wood, and of other rotting things. This is plain from the fact that all fungi and truffles, especially those that are used for eating, grow most commonly in thundery and wet weather".

Á bientôt!

Friday, October 7, 2016

When life gives you apples, make Apple Sour Cherry Chutney....

One of the most gratifying sounds for me in the fall is the clicking sound of canning jars sealing up the fresh tastes of summer in a jar; it's a promise that I can share and enjoy those great flavors, created by a season of rain, bees, sun and a few added ingredients, all year long. 

A jar of chutney is an essential ingredient to any well stocked pantry, it will help you bring your food from blasé to bling in an instant. Spoon it over cream cheese or serve it beside other mild cheeses {Manchego is one of my favorites} to create a zingy~creamy appetizer with ease; spread it on sandwiches to bring them to life; serve it with pork, game or poultry to add a of punch piquant to your platter; dilute it with water, wine, port or juice for a glorious glaze; and of course chutney is a core standard for any curry meal from the most basic spread to a full on 12-boy Curry

 This batch of chutney felt especially delicious to make because I used apples we harvested from our orchard on Orcas Island. 

I modified this Barefoot Contessa's Apple Chutney recipe {made with 6 granny smith apples} to create my concoction, generally quintupling her recipe to accommodate seven pounds of apples and yielding 12 perfect pints of complex, tangy, sweet, spicy, ruby colored chutney. 

Because I am planning on using this for gifts and dinners during the holidays {thinking RED}, and I like a little more tart taste, I used red onions instead of yellow and dried tart Montmorency Cherries instead of raisins. 

As far as condiments go, chutney is very easy to make {once you peel, core and cube the apples that is}, you simply add all of the ingredients to a large pot and let it gently bubble until the fruit is plump and soft and the flavors have all melded together, which takes less than an hour.

Splendid Apple ~ Tart Cherry Chutney
yield: 12 pints


7 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes 
{discard any brown spots or imperfections}
6 cups chopped red onions
10 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
7 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
4 cups brown sugar
5 teaspoons mustard seed
1~1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
{use only 1 teaspoon if you'd like it mild}
4 teaspoons kosher salt


Combine apples, onions, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes, salt and cherries in a large soup pan. Place over medium~high heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as it comes to a boil reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes to an hour {I cooked mine for 45 minutes to keep it a little chunkier}. 

At this stage, you could put the chutney in (an) airtight container(s) and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Or, can it using the jar manufacturer's instructions

I ladled the warm, fragrant chutney into sterilized pint jars as soon as it was cool enough to handle, filling each jar to about an inch from the top. 

Then I cleaned off the lip of the jars with a wet paper towel and topped them with sterilized lids and rings.

Next I put them in a boiling bath of water for 10 minutes, pulling them out with this essential canning jar lifter. Minutes later, I enjoyed a symphony of clicking and clucking sounds letting me know my chutney was good to go to a dark, cool place until I'm ready to head to my first holiday party! 

what flavors of summer would you like to preserve??

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Care Package Party...

Are you missing a fledgling who has flown the coop? 

If so, I'll bet you're not alone. So, why not invite your child's school chums' moms over for a casual dinner and and Care Package Party? This is a great way to gather the old group to commiserate and celebrate while putting together a package that will let your kids know that everyone back home is thinking of them as they move into this next stage in life.

When I held such a gathering I went with a collegiate theme, trying to emulate what I imagined our college kids may be doing. To keep it simple I ordered our local favorite, Pagliacci Pizza and salads and served drinks in these fun Stemmed red plastic cups {because moms deserve a stem}. 

You may be tempted to buy these stemmed red cups with the fancy glass stem, but I don't recommend it. I ordered some of them and most of the glass stems broke off right away, and I was left with just a plain old red solo cup and some bad glue. 

I also encouraged everyone to wear their kids school logo gear. 

To get ready for the party I picked up some medium flat rate priority mail boxes from the post office, USPS will also deliver them to you for free. I also bought some of these petal envelopes from Paper Source. I set them out on the dining table, with each students name on the outside of the envelope and on their box. After dinner we sat at the table and passed around the stationary so every mom could write a short, personal note to each kid.

Next, we filled the boxes, the group effort made the it easy to put together a premium pack of love. 

Of course, what goes in the package is completely up to the imaginations of the collected guests. It was fun to see all of the different things people brought...

I had made a little pouch of goodies earlier in the day, including inspiring messages that I printed out on my computer and then cut into ribbons.

I found these cute little egg plants at Home Depot, and slipped in the inspirational notes "Be a good egg" and "Bloom where you are planted". These are so great, you crack open the top, water them, put them on a sunny sill and wait for the pansies and marigolds to bloom!

Mini~hand sanitizers, I tagged with "Keep it Clean" came from CVS Pharmacy.

Flashing Skull and Pumpkin rings with the message "do something scary everyday" were a seasonal sensation.

I bundled them up in cello bags with a little sizzle and labeled them with a personalized message to each friend. 

This evening was a definitely a win~win. All the mom's had fun getting caught up and sharing stories of how our kids were doing, and the kids scored with a fun box jam packed with goodies and sweet wishes from their {mom} friends back home.