LIFE AT LA VUDELE - quiet winter days

Provence in winter: gorgeous, quiet
Winter is very quiet in the countryside, and in Provence it is no expection. Our days are marked by the rising sun in the East and the sun setting, usually with a glorious sunset, in the West, in the general direction the famous Mont Ventoux in the Vaucluse.
The temperatures this year have been very moderate and sometimes even very warm so that flowers which usually do not appear until later on in spring are already out, and there are already plenty of almond trees which normally blossom the middle of March are in full bloom!
Winter is also the time to reflect, to take time out from the busy summer and its heat. Following is a poem created for the village of Quinson describing the summer, with its heat, the sound of the cigalles chirping, the streets empty and dry, only the thought of "dinner" on one's mind - ah, the easy life:

Chez nous quand midi carillonne,
Les rues sont vides. L’heure sonne
Sur un monde d’indifférence :
C’est souvent ainsi en Provence,
Surtout dans ce village clos
Tapi au pied de son coteau
Et ne pensant plus qu’à « dîner ».
La vie s’est soudain enfermée
A l’intérieur des maisons fraîches ;
Et les rues ne sont plus que sèches
Venelles sans vie et sans heurts ;
Le déjeuner gomme deux heures
Du temps rétréci pour un temps.
Les rues sont vides comme antan,
Aux jours des anciennes chansons
Des troubadours du vieux Quinson*.
*Poème offert au village de Quinson

To a lovely 2016 and a long summer
 with many positive experiences!

EXTRA - cat sanctuary Cinque Terre

Whilst walking a section of the world famous foot path of the Cinque Terre in Italy this past September - on the stretch between picturesque village of Vernazza and the beach resort of Monterosso al Mare - we came across a cat sanctuary in the middle of a forest! 
We were exploring this area known for its perched villages which are connected by a foot path high above the sea, with splendid views onto the Mediterranean and the entire coast line. "Cinque Terre"or Five Lands are 5 ancient fishing villages which have turned into a very popular and very frequently photographed tourist destination all year round. Supposedly it is accessible to anyone and any ability but we found some parts to be rather "sportif" and slightly demanding, especially for the ladies in flip-flops and heels and even more people in sandals...

So we were walking along this path when, on the ascent from Vernazza, we discovered this picnic area with a fence in front, with kibble and soft food and some notes to the passer-bys so as to not feed the cats too much as volunteers descend two times per day to take care of this feline population.

the "guardian cat"?
friendly reminders for passerbyes who want to help

No need to feel sorry for these fluffies as they are living in the good life! Although quite shy they don't seem to mind people passing as that usually means attention and food...

a snooze in the morning sun

complete with a perched cat house

There was also a small money box where we deposited some coins, to help pay for the food and upkeep. 

So if you happen to be walking between Vernazza and Monterosso maybe you can spare a few coins to keep these cats happy and fed.

 To Good Karma!

YOGA - grounding sequence for winter

As the colder and darker winter months have arrived a calming yoga sequence is ideal for this time of year.
It all starts with taking the time out of one's busy schedule, to make space for oneself. Mindfulness.... awareness... comfort

* * * 

Find a warm cozy spot where you can spend a few minutes to yourself, undistracted by your daily life.

Choose a soft blanket, a zafu or fold your yoga mat so that your body stays warm.

* * * Sit down in a comfortable position, one in which you can stay a good five minutes without moving or shifting. This will take a while to find; give yourself the time to find it. Start by simply being. Breathing. Thinking. Feeling. Let your thoughts wander and learn to accept this natural state of mind. When you are ready close your eyes. When you feel ready start observing your breathing, without forcing it in any direction or way. Do a 3-3 pranayama, also known as So-Ham, followed by a 4-8 pranayama. Returning to regular breathing formulate your wishes for this yoga sequence.

I would like to direct you now to a web site which, along with beautiful photos, put together a lovely restorative yoga sequence. Do this at your own pace, stay in the poses for as long as you can. Watch your breathe: once it becomes forced you leave yoga and enter effort so that is the moment to release out of the pose.

* * * At the end of this sequence come back into a comfortable seated position, close your eyes one more time and reflect on this sequence: which aspect did you enjoy? Which postures helped you relax? Which postures made you feel positive? Take this into your daily life, this realization. Now turn your focus on the wishes you had formulated at the beginning of this sequence and reflect on them. Slowly open your eyes and find yourself back in the hear and now.

and  may peace be with you


ACTIVITIES - truffle market

The truffle market. Every village in this region has one! And one is more important, has the better truffles, than all the other ones around. 
Riez, a small village nearby, holds its annual truffle market the last weekend of January, and then every Wednesday morning during market hours.
This year I happened to be outside the "Café de France" where the official opening ceremony was about to take place. Surrounded by the earthy scent of this subterranean fungus, people scurrying past with cloth-lined basket and shopping bags, and all around this atmosphere of busy-ness, quite unusual for this quiet town.

Varying slightly in size some of the goods were displayed on a table in the middle of the large central room, and the mayor of Riez gave a very brief speech along the lines of "I declare this truffle season open". The scent was even more intense but there was no touching allowed, this is serious business!


This year is not a good year for truffles which has been reflected in a slight increase in the price, between €70 and € 80 per 100 g. The truffle makes for some delicious meals or simply shaved over spaghetti - simply delicious!

In former times specially trained pigs were used to find this brown gold but since they would eat the truffles themselves they have since been replaced by dogs
back in the old days


 Things to do in winter in Provence...

RECIPES - socca de Nice

socca street vendor on the Promenade
This recipe has been in my "stack of recipes to share" for a while, and now is the ideal time for it! 
A typical dish from Nice, this big ancient city on the Cote d'Azur, the city where everyone around here always sighs and says ".. but Nice is such a big city". And yes, it is. But it has lots of charme and still lots of tradition one of which is the preparation of a socca, or farinata as it is called in nearby Italy.

Eaten straight off the pan it is simply and truly a delight! And if you ever wondered what to make with chickpea flour here is your answer!

Traditionally baked in a brick-clay oven fired with oak wood it tastes almost as good as the real thing in Nice when baked in a regular oven at home. If you happen to own a cast-iron skillet the result will be phenomenal but a regular pizza tin or anything like that will also do.
traditional baking in a wood-fired oven
delicious socca out of the oven at home

And it's so easy to make! Simply make a batter like for pancakes or crepes, pour that into the dish or pan, place it in the oven for a few minutes, et voilà la socca!

1 cup chickpea flour
2-3 cups of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
1 teapspoon freshly ground black pepper
4-6 tablespoons olive oil, preferably from handpicked olives or a local producer of trust

Preheat the oven to 200`C on the top-grill setting. Once hot place the oiled pan in the oven until the oil starts to smoke. Renmove the hot pan (careful not to burn your hands!) and pour the batter into it. Place it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven (very hot!), divide into slices and eat right away!

And if you feel like dressing it up be creative! I love fried onions and dried crushed rosemary from our garden or anything else that comes my way. Or simply with some extra freshly ground sea salt - delicious!

Bon appétit!