Friday, September 18, 2015

Rallying round

This weekend the streets of Angoulême in Charente will be thronging with crowds to watch the famous rally that takes place around the town.

The Circuit Des Remparts staged in the pretty town of Angoulême is one of only 2 street races in Europe ( the other being Monaco) and every September brings racing enthusiasts flocking to this part of South West France.

Commonly known as 'Monaco without the sea', the race offers spectators the chance to see Bugattis, Rileys, Fraser Nash and MGs as well as post war Porches and TVRs.
The event has been running every 3rd weekend in September since 1939 with only a break during the war years. The demanding course consists of hairpin and right angled bends within the walled town making this a unique spectacle worth a visit simply for the atmosphere.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Quirky collectables

One of the unexpected consequences of the smoking ban in bars and restaurants has been the increase in demand from collectors. Ashtray production was big business and the ban saw manufacturing grind to a halt, putting pressure on prices.

As Ebay regulars will testify, there is a whole category dedicated to 'Tobacciana' or smoking related merchandise. Sounds nerdy right? On a par with stamp collecting, or worse. 

The ashtray has been around since the beginning of the 19th Century when it started to become very popular so some are now genuine antiques and worth a small fortune. Sounding less nerdy now?

Businesses like Pernod, Ricard, Martell and Moët & Chandon saw ashtrays as a cheap and effective way to advertise. Not surprisingly, some were also emblazoned with cigarette brands, the ubiquitous Gauloises and Gitanes being the most recognised. Designs in ashtrays would often reflect the artistic movements of the era, particularly obvious in the stylised art glass of the Deco and Art Nouveau periods. The 1970's saw a move towards very heavy and curvaceous glass. By the 90's, celebrity chefs were commissioning designs for the ashtrays used in their restaurants. Quaglino's, Mirabelle and OxoTower all experienced such a high level of theft of their highly prized ashtrays, some even began to sell them on their websites. Now selling on Ebay of course!

Green majolica frog ashtrays from the 1970's are now highly collectable. L'Heritier-Guyot is 
a manufacturer of Crème de Cassis.

This Mercedes-Benz ashtray is one of my favourites.

Gitanes and Gauloises ashtrays from the 1970's

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pesto alla Genovese

For the last couple of years I have nurtured several basil plants so I can make at least a couple of jars of pesto in late summer. My attempts to sow basil from seed have been rather dismal, so instead I buy young plants which, if planted outdoors and watered well, and not picked to within an inch of their lives, will quickly develop into much larger bushes boasting plenty of deliciously scented leaves. The flavour and aroma of home made pesto puts all the bought ones in the shade. Made in a blender it takes 5 minutes flat. That doesn't include picking the leaves off the stalks, but I guess there are worse jobs for a sunny morning. You will feel more Italian if you use the traditional (harder) method and pound it all up in a pestle and mortar, but your wrist won't thank you. This is the method Antonio Carluccio prefers for his version.

Recipes vary greatly and there are 3 ingredients that are considered non-negotiable. Basil, cheese and olive oil. Whether you add garlic and pine nuts is a matter of taste. I add both. I can't imagine it without garlic and the bashed up pine nuts give the sauce more texture.

The health benefits may not be as well known as it's culinary uses but this article gives us some of the mind/body benefits from clearing up breakouts to detoxing the liver.


50g basil leaves (try to pick fresh green ones, in the morning if possible)

1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (better quality will give better flavour)
25g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Start by toasting the pine nuts in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Watch them like a hawk. If you turn your back they will burn into little black bullets. A couple of minutes should be enough to lightly brown them.

Pack the leaves, pine nuts, garlic and a pinch of salt into a blender and then pour over the olive oil. Blend with caution, using the pulse button if there is one. Don't over process or you'll end up with green slime. You may need to poke the leaves down from time to time or add a glug more olive oil to get a sauce like consistency.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cheese. Spoon into a sterilised jar and seal with a little more oil. Refrigerate and top up the oil after every use.

That's it. Done!


1.Cheese and pesto bread

You can never make enough

2.Pesto marinaded prawns

Gently heat through on the bbq or grill pan

3.Toasted sandwich

Cheese, ham, tomato, pesto. What could be better?

5.Pizza Margarita

Little dollops make a big difference