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Spring is a time of bright sunshine, a couple of picnics to shake off the winter blues and the ubiquitous cheese cake!

Cheesecake is a beloved dessert around the world. While many assume that it has its origins in New York, it actually dates back much further. Let’s go back over 4,000 years to ancient Greece!

The first “cheese cake” may have been created on the Greek island of Samos. Physical anthropologists excavated cheese moulds there which were dated circa 2,000 B.C. Cheese and cheese products had most likely been around for thousands of years before this, but earlier than this goes into prehistory (that period in human history before the invention of writing) so we will never really know. In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy, and there is evidence that it was served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. The simple ingredients of flour, wheat, honey and cheese were formed into a cake and baked.

The writer Athenaeus is credited for writing the first Greek cheesecake recipe in 230 A.D. (By this time, the Greeks had been serving cheesecake for over 2,000 years but this is the oldest known surviving Greek recipe) It was also pretty basic – pound the cheese until it is smooth and pasty – mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour – heat the cheese cake “in one mass” – allow to cool then serve.

When the Romans conquered Greece, the cheesecake recipe was just one spoil of war. They modified it including crushed cheese and eggs. These ingredients were baked under a hot brick and it was served warm. Occasionally, the Romans would put the cheese filling in a pastry. The Romans called their cheese cake “libuma” and they served it on special occasions. Marcus Cato, a Roman politician in the first century B.C., is credited as recording the oldest known Roman cheesecake recipe.

As the Romans expanded their empire, they brought cheesecake recipes to the Europeans. Great Britain and Eastern Europe began experimenting with ways to put their own unique spin on cheesecake. In each country of Europe, the recipes started taking on different cultural shapes, using ingredients native to each region. In 1545, the first cookbook was printed. It described the cheesecake as a flour-based sweet food. Even Henry VIII’s chef did his part to shape the cheesecake recipe. Apparently, his chef cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked those pieces in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter and sugar.

Well here, spin forward to 2015 and Madame’s recipe is delicious! Maybe she’ll share it with us, one day?

 

Our friend Vincente (110% French) does not like the modern trend to a light coloured rosé -

Our friend Vincente (110% French) does not like the modern trend to a light coloured rosé – he says that “you must not see your fingers through the bottle”. Madame and friends like it as pale as possible!

Thanks to Town and Country magazine (USA) for this:

Here are a few facts that might surprise even a seasoned rosé drinker.

1. Provence is considered the birthplace of French rosé, dating back 2,600 years. Today 141 million bottles, or 75%, of all Provencal wine is rosé.

2. The opening line in Billy Joel’s 1977 hit “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”—”A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?”—was inspired by a server greeting his table one night at the now-shuttered Fontana di Trevi across from Carnegie Hall.

3. The curvy bowling ball shaped bottle used for rosé in Provence is called a “skittle” or “flûte à corset.”

4. Contrary to popular belief, the Hamptons (USA) did NOT run out of rosé last summer.

5. Rosé can be made three ways: skin contact, saignée (bleeding off the juice from pressed red grapes), or blending.

6. The most common way of making rosé Champagne is by mixing red wine with white wine.

7. In 2012, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased Château Miraval and released their first rosé on Valentine’s Day of the following year.

8. Château Miravel also houses a recording studio where artists such as Sting, AC/DC, and Pink Floyd have all recorded songs.

9. It is illegal for winemakers in France outside of Champagne to blend white and red wine to make rosé.

10. The first known sale of rosé Champagne was by Champagne Ruinart in 1764.

11. France is the world’s largest producer of rosé, graciously providing 28% of the planet’s total production. Italy and the U.S. round out the top three.

12. Over the past 10 years, rosé wine production in France has increased more than 30%.

13. France consumes more rosé than white wine.

14. The U.S. is second thirstiest country of rosé consumers in the world (behind France).

15. In 1975 Sutter Home first introduced White Zinfandel to the world by accident when a portion of wine failed to ferment all the way, yielding an off-dry rosé.

16. The New York metro area accounts for nearly 20 percent of all rosé imported to the U.S. Miami accounts for 15 percent.

17. Rosé wine can and should be enjoyed year-round but is often associated with spring and summer as most wineries are bottled and ship their current release in the first half of the year.

18. Most rosé is best consumed within two years from release. Lopez de Heredia from Spain is a well-regarded exception (the current release of their Gran Reserva is from 2000).

Thanks, Micaela.

Spotted in the Parc du Luberon.

Spotted in the Parc du Luberon- the wild sweet pea: is it poisonous or not? Read below..

Into the Wild. Another Poisonous Plant Fable?

 In Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild. (“You should read it!”), dwelling especially on the “cause” of Christopher McCandless’ death. The ending sounded disturbingly like another rendition of the Poison Plant Fable to me, but many very intelligent people, convinced by Krakauer’s skillful prose, would argue, “No, it’s really true!”

Into The Wild is about an emotionally embattled young man named Chris McCandless who left his affluent upbringings behind, renamed himself Alex, and wandered the West searching for purpose and identity. His decaying body was found by a moose hunter in Alaska on September 6, 1992.

Through an autopsy, medical examiners determined that McCandless had starved to death, and all evidence pointed clearly and unambiguously to that conclusion. But the Poison Plant Fable proved irresistible to Krakauer, who first wrote about the tragedy in “Death of an Innocent,” (a January 1993 article in Outside magazine). He conjectured that Chris had died by poisoning when he mistook the wild sweet pea Hedysarum mackenziei for the “wild potato” Hedysarum alpinum. But since Chris had clearly starved to death, Krakauer had to reach further, positing that McCandless was “laid low” by the poisoning, and thus unable to feed himself. Since we have all internalized the Poison Plant Fable, this unlikely and scientifically unsupported explanation for Chris’s death was immediately and widely accepted as fact.

But there is no evidence that Chris McCandless ever ate even a single seed of H. mackenziei. Krakauer doesn’t even try to provide such evidence; he simply tells us that the two plants grow beside each other and are “very difficult to distinguish.” Provided with these facts, most people immediately and unquestioningly conclude that McCandless mistook wild sweet pea for wild potato. Like Krakauer, they don’t need any evidence because the Poison Plant Fable says that it happens this way. But how plausible is this?

Well, many scientists and botanists have concluded – the wild sweet pea is NOT poisonous!

Oh dear! On my way to the vet to be neutered. Little Tiger, our feral kitty has been in a bad mood since

Oh dear! On my way to the vet to be neutered. Little Tiger, our feral kitty has been in a bad mood since she has been off on a day long excursion to the operating theatre. We are in bad odour but here appetite and mood is improving.

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… the “coquelicots” that bloom in May.

The poppies – why?

Farmers use mild herbicides and spread poppy seeds in the fields to get rid of weeds. And, as they are not allowed to spray within a certain distance of roadways, one still sees banks of poppies along French roads.  Within the Luberon Valley (which includes such poppy magnets such as Bonnieux and Lacoste as well as Roussillon), many farmers practice oganic methods – no herbicides, just poppies and what we call ‘talcum powder’ – a light dusting which keeps the worst bugs away..

 

The poppies ablaze with colour are at the bottom of the hill in Ménerbes, in the Luberon. An unretouched photograph!

The poppies ablaze with colour are at the bottom of the hill in Ménerbes, in the Luberon. An unretouched photograph!

Sunshine, wild flowers, vineyards in the distance. Sheer beauty in Ménerbes

Sunshine, wild flowers, vineyards in the distance. Sheer beauty in Ménerbes

As the glacé fruit capital, the Luberon locals watch the cherry crop like hawks – this week they rae moving through the all-important ripening phase.

Soon the markets will be flooded with the fruit!

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This series of wild flwoers were seen on the Grand Luberon, blanketing the countryside

This series of wild flwoers were seen on the Grand Luberon, blanketing the countryside

 

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Mark your diary – Monday 25 May in St Remy-de-Provence : Le Fete de la Transhumance.

The Fête de la Transhumance is held in Saint Rémy every year on Whit Monday (Pentecôte). It marks the moment when, at the end of spring, the local pastures have dried up, and sheep must travel to the lusher grazing in the high mountains. Today the animals are transported by trucks, but in times gone day the journey was done on foot and took nearly two weeks. The Fête de la Transhumance commemorates that tradition. Starting at around 11h00, the town becomes a spectacular sea of sheep as some 3,500 of them from all around the Alpilles, plus goats, donkeys, shepherds and sheep dogs swirl twice around the old town.
The tourist blurb does not exaggerate. This is an event not be missed, and in one of our favourite villages.Last year, we headed off early to miss the crowds and get a good vantage place at a roadside café. What we had not realised was that there was a major ‘brocante’ (antiques and collectables) fair on at the same time, so Madame was in her element. Waiting time sped by as various purchases arrived back at the coffee table from sorties into the fair.

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Arriving early is great advice. Although the start was scheduled for 11h00, it only really got under way at 11h30. It seems that allied with Provençal time, it does take time to marshal 3,000 sheep and goats but when it does happen (and there are two circumferences of the old village), there is a mass of sheep, goats, shepherds, donkey carts and various stragglers not to mention the very happy sheep dogs.

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Mark down Pentecost in your diary if you are planning a trip to Provence during this time. The Fete de la Transhumance is a must.

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