Author Archives: Monica

Walking the Ridgeway: Stage 2, Ogbourne St George to Uffington Castle

On the road again... #ridgeway #Wiltshire #nationaltrails #walking

From Ogbourne St George to Uffington Castle / White Horse Hill  (~12.2miles, ~66 miles to go)
Completed on 27 January, 2015.


Totally perfect walking conditions.


Beautiful views, not all of which were of Swindon (learning point: the corduroys work).

White Horse Hill

Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow – How have I never been to see this before?!

Wayland Smithy

Rocky reincarnate

Reincarnated Rocky

New homemade raw bar invention which I’ve named the Raw Orange & Cacao Ridgeway Bar, rated 10/10 by Ridgeway walkers!

Ridgeway snacks to power us from Ogbourne St George to Uffington. Trying out a new raw bar blend with orange zest and cacao nibs. See you at the White Horse!

Victory pub: The White Horse (totally empty and not serving food but it had a good vibe, a fireplace, and thatch!)

Victory pub.

See also:

Raw Orange and Cacao Energy Bars

Ridgeway snacks to power us from Ogbourne St George to Uffington. Trying out a new raw bar blend with orange zest and cacao nibs. See you at the White Horse!

As part of my 2015 Adventure Goal to complete the Ridgeway this year, I’ve been experimenting with raw snack bars to power me through the miles. This is the latest, receiving a 10/10 rating from my walking buddy. I make these in my Froothie Optimum 9400 which does a great job of grinding the nuts into a fairly fine powder and makes it easier to bind together the ingredients in the bars, but you could also use a food processor or other blender to make these.

Raw Orange and Cacao Energy Bars


  • 1.5-2 cups cashews
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 heaped tbsp of cacao nibs (I recommend Naturya Organic Cocoa Nibs)
  • a small pinch of salt


  1. In a food processor or blender pulse cashews until coarsely chopped.
  2. Remove half of the cashews. Continue processing the remaining cashews until finely ground. Combine with the coarsely chopped cashews.
  3. Add the prunes, dates and orange zest to the food processor or blender and blitz into a paste.
  4. Add the cacao nibs and the nuts to the food processor / blender (don’t add all of the nuts at once – you might not need all of the nuts to bind theses together; it depends on the moisture content of your dried fruit). Blitz until everything has congealed together. Check the consistency – if it’s super sticky, add more nuts.
  5. Line a small container with cling film (I used a 4′ tupperware). Press the mixture into the dish with your hands.
  6. Refrigerate for half an hour and then cut unto pieces.

See also:

Winter Guacamole with Pomegranate and Dukkah

Winter Guacamole with Pomegranate and Dukkah

This is some well-traveled guacamole. It started at a cocktail party in Berlin. Or rather, in the hours before the cocktail party began. The hosts were my friends Rachel and Dave who I were visiting for Thanksgiving – me, Rachel and Dave go way back and have a happy history of expat Thanksgivings together. And on this particular Thanksgiving, they had the genius idea of having a Thanksgiving Eve cocktail party.

But back to the guac… pre-party, we went to the Turkish Market on the bank of the Maybach for provisions, and somewhere amongst the spices, pomegranate, dolmades, and traditional Turkish Heisser Apfel Ingwer Punch, an avocado score was found. A gentleman at one of the vegetable stalls sold us a whole box of avocados for a mere 2 euros. An idea was forming…

Requisite avocado...

One of my visions for the cocktail party was guacamole to pair with the Mexican Martinis I planned to make. The challenge in Berlin – and many parts of Europe – is that it’s really hard to find fresh coriander. Maybe it was the Turkish influence but in my mind I started to evolve my idea of guacamole to use other herbs. I also needed an alternative to tomato which is woefully out of season in wintertime Germany. There at the Turkish market, stalls laden with bright red pomegranate and big bundles of parsley, the solution was practically screaming at me.

When we got home, we realized that the aforementioned gentlemen was eager to dispose of his avocados because they were insanely ripe. But even after discarding the truly worst of the bunch, we were still left with an ample supply of avocados to play with. The guacamole was assembled as all guacamole should be… throw your ingredients into a bowl, mix, taste and adjust as you go. Our ingredients were avocado, red onion, lemon juice, pomegranate, parsley, salt and lots of pepper. The icing on the avocado cake, however, was the final flourish of dukkah sprinkled on top.


In case you’re not on the dukkah bandwagon yet, it’s basically just a mix of toasted spices, nuts and seeds that have been coarsely crushed. You can buy dukkah in the shops now, but it’s so much better when you make it yourself. There are an infinite number of ways to make dukkah, but I personally like Ottolenghi’s dukkah recipe. If you don’t feel like making the whole thing, even a pinch of freshly toasted cumin seeds, or a sprinkle of toasted chopped pistachios, will take this guacamole to otherworldly dimensions!

Winter Guacamole with Pomegranate and Dukkah

This concoction – guacagranate? pomemole? – was so successful we made it again the next day. And it made a reprise again this last winter solstice at our tamale party in France where, again, cilantro was impossible to come by. But even back in the UK, where cilantro is readily available (a reminder of how lucky we are to live amongst such food abundance), I still go back to this, especially as we’re still in the midst of winter, and tomatoes aren’t even worth buying at the moment.

Also, for the record, the Mexican Martinis were wildly successful and went down perfectly with the guacamole – and the games, which went on until nearly 5am! Total success!

Winter Guacamole with Pomegranate and Dukkah

When I’m making guacamole, I typically allow for one avocado per person, so scale this up appropriately to your group size!


  • 2 large ripe avocados
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • dukkah for garnish (I like Ottolenghi’s dukkah recipe)


  1. Mash the avocados in a bowl – don’t go too crazy, try to keep some chunks in there for texture.
  2. Stir in the pomegranate seeds, parsley, red onion, lemon juice, a good pinch of salt and a hefty grind of fresh black pepper.
  3. Mix together and taste – at this point I often end up adding more salt, pepper and lemon. But you could also add more of everything as you wish!
  4. Serve in a bowl garnished with the dukkah.

Winter Guacamole with Pomegranate and Dukkah

With thanks to my awesome friends Rachel and Dave for entertaining my avocado fantasies (and treating me to the most amazing weekend in Berlin!).

Kadawe champagne stop

Also seen on Great British Chefs.


My 2015 Adventure Goals

My 2015 goals fall into a few categories, for example, “financial freedom” and “fitness”, but the category I’m excited about the most (and which all other categories lead up to) is “adventure”! These are the big adventures that I hope to achieve this year:

The Ridgeway

First leg of the Ridgeway DONE. We freakin owned it. Done before noon. 78 miles to go. 6 more sessions with this LDF and I think we'll have cracked it! First, Sunday lunch.

The Ridgeway is a long distance footpath that runs runs from Overton Hill in Wiltshire (near Avebury) to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. It’s not far from my house, so I can bite this one off in long day walks. Aside from its proximity, this walk also appeals for its historical significance, the great views, well-markedness and gentle inclines! First 9 miles are done, just 78 left to go!

Munro-Bagging in Scotland

Scotland Panorama 1

A Munro is a mountain in Scotland with a height of over 3000 feet – there are 282 of them! This trip is planned for the first week of May – I’ll be happy if we tick off three of them!

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path on the Wales coast “twists and turns its way through 186 miles of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in Britain.” This is part of the broader Wales Coast path that Gloria and I started last year. Estimated time to complete at a “relaxed pace” is 19 days. I might have to do this one in 2-3 stages.

Wales Coast Path

Bike Tour in France

I want to get back to my bike touring roots. I’m thinking Southern France (inspired by Penny of Stopover Connections, and all the awesome people and things I love in that part of the world).

Cheese shop in Hillsboro

Have you got any grand plans for 2015? Tell me about it!

Walking the Ridgeway: Stage 1, Overton Hill to Ogbourn St. George

Ridgeway miracle: I am fitting into my favourite hiking trousers again!

From Overton Hill to Ogbourne St. George. ~9miles (78 miles to go)


  • The Sanctuary, circa 3000 BC, a prehistoric site at the start of The Ridgeway on Overton Hill, part of a wider neolithic landscape that includes Avebury and West Kennett Long Barrow (need to go see this).
  • The views – when the sun eventually burnt through the mist.
  • Gentle, straightforward walking meant more time for some good convo and really getting to the bottom of some heavy life shizz like when are we going to take a cocktail making course?
  • Victory pint and Sunday Roast at The Plough, truly a proper pub with exceptional wallpaper

Predominant view on the Ridgeway this morning....

The sun eventually broke through to reveal a marvellously beautiful Wiltshire winters day.

Learning points:

  • We can cover way more mileage than this in a day – we ate this up in less than 4 hours, finishing before noon.
  • Wear gaiters.
  • Explore the gray areas; think less in black-and-white.
  • Jane makes a way better nut roast than any pub in the country.

Walking kit essentials: gaiters, which I own and always remember to wear when I need it most.

The Sanctuary, a prehistoric site on Overton Hill located around 5 miles west of Marlborough in Wiltshire. From Wikipedia: It is part of a wider Neolithic landscape which includes the nearby sites of Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and Avebury, to w

Looking forward to:

  • Cracking Wantage
  • White Horse Hill and Uffington Castle
  • Crop circle season
  • Discovering Ridgeway-inspired ales like Ridgeway IPA and Wayland Smithy from White Horse Brewery (alas the selection at The Plough was pretty limited; they made up for it with wallpaper and REALLY cold Italian lager)

Totally smitten with this wallpaper.

Moments when a Gastro pub just feels wrong, and all you want is an honest boozer with ice cold lager and real people. No tweed in sight. And no signs declaring "muddy boots not welcome". And plenty of room for mood pads. Victory pint to the max!

Things I’m Making With This Ginormous Pumpkin

Why I do #crossfit: so I can tame beasts like the Crown Prince! Which I happen to have thanks to a generous green thumb at @crossfitcirencester.

This pumpkin was gratefully received from one of my fellow Crossfitters, and it’s quite a beast! Especially for one person. But it’s a high-quality challenge, and I’m ready to take it on. Fortunately pumpkin keeps very well so there’s no huge rush and I have plenty of time to try lots of different recipes. Here are a few of my plans but further suggestions are most welcome.

  • Pumpkin Soup – Good, simple, reliable; something to add to the freezer soup stash for easy weekday lunches. I’ll either go for the classic curried pumpkin soup, though I spotted this squash soup seasoned with mixed spice on Kavey’s blog that sounds happy, like pumpkin pie in soup form (I’ll sub the bacon brittle for toasted pumpkin seeds)
  • Pumpkin Hummus – Inspired by Kellie’s Roasted Pumpkin Hummus. I have made this once already and I’m not certain the pumpkiny-sweet hummus is for me. It definitely requires balancing with lots of toasted pumpkin seeds and a potent garnish (berbere, smoked paprika, piment d’Espelette or similar). My favorite dipping implement for this is broccoli or straight up raw kale.
  • Pumpkin Laksa – Adapting Demuths recipe for Laksa Lemak from Rachel Demuth’s Green World Cookbook.
  • Pumpkin Curry – Another gem from Rachel Demuth. A bit unusual with the orange juice, but all the better for it.
  • Roast Pumpkin and Walnut Salad – Yes it’s another Rachel Demuth recipe. What can I say? She rocks the veg! I think I’ll roast the walnuts with a bit of chilli.
  • Veggie Chilli – Either a winter riff on Mardi’s seasonal Summer Veg Chilli, or a twist on Abbey’s Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chilli (using pumpkin in place of sweet potato).
  • Sambar with Pumpkin – From Jenny Chandler’s excellent book Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas and Lentils, to Tempt Meat Eaters and Vegetarians Alike
  • Pumpkin Bread? I’m not really doing the wheat thing at the moment but Laura’s Savory Pumpkin Loaf is pretty tempting, and could be particularly fitting for imminent Imbolc celebrations and its associated sheep cheese consumption.
  • Pumpkin Smoothie? I have a pumpkin pie smoothie in my book, but Helen’s Pumpkin and Cranberry smoothie looks like a lot of fun, too.
  • Frittatas. Lots of frittatas. With kale.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Roasted pumpkin salad with walnuts and Homewood Cheeses' pickled ewes cheese

Pumpkin Curry

Homemade Raw Bars with Agen Prunes

I first became acquainted with Agen prunes when I went to Gascony in 2012. As my friend Mardi (the venerable blogger at eat live travel write) puts it: “if someone thinks they don’t like prunes, give them one of these and they’ll change their mind.” It’s totally true.

Agen prunes (pruneaux d’Agen) have been developed to have the perfect balance of sugar and acidity. They are moist, delicious and very addictive. I always bring some back with me when I go on my France road trips.

Agen prunes

Speaking of road trips, while I was cruising along the autoroute last December from Gascony to the ferry terminal in St Malo, snacking on prunes and daydreaming about car snacks (and Armagnac, also good with Agen prunes), I got to thinking that these prunes would make a great alternative to dates in a homemade raw snack bar recipe. I’m talking about snack bars of the Larabar / Nakd bar variety; basically a nut and dried fruit mush, expensive to buy, delicious to eat, and actually really easy to make at home.

Dates are the default fruit binder in homemade raw bars, but they are SO sugary that it makes me wonder if these raw bars are any better for you than a Snicker’s bar (for your reference, a “Cashew Cookie” Larabar has 230 Calories and 18g of sugars while a Snickers bar has 250 Calories and 27g of sugars – food for thought!).

Agen prunes

Not long after I got home I tested my Agen prune theory. It turns out that the prunes are even better than dates for binding the ingredients together, and they have almost half of the sugar as dates. I love their flavour, less cloyingly sweet than dates and with a character all of their own.

In this recipe I’ve combined the prunes with walnuts, a nut which I’ve always found a nice compliment to prunes, and are also purported to be “the healthiest nut” for their high level of antioxidants. I also added cinnamon (I love cinnamon) and coconut flakes (I love the texture), though you could keep it pure and simple and omit these ingredients, or get creative and add your own spices and add-ins.

Homemade Raw Bars with Agen Prunes

And so, from my Gascony road trip, a new road trip snack is born! And this isn’t only for road trips – I’m going to be bringing these on hikes and bike rides, too.

Lastly, if you think you have to go all the way to Gascony to get their delicious prunes, fear not – Waitrose now stocks them, and no doubt a Google search will reveal more online stockists. (Even so, you should go to Gascony, because it’s amazing!)

Prune, Walnut, and Coconut Bars

This is a good basic template for making all manners of homemade raw bars. Sub all or some of the prunes for other dried fruit; the walnuts for cashews, almonds or a mixture; add other spices like nutmeg, ginger or cocoa; experiment and have fun! For more raw bar inspiration, check out my previous post on making homemade Larabars.


  • 1.5-2 cups walnut halves or pieces (depending on the prunes, you may need more or less nuts to get them to bind)
  • 1 cup pitted Agen prunes
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes (or shredded coconut)
  • 1-2 Tbsp shredded / desiccated coconut
  • a good pinch of cinnamon
  • a small pinch of salt


  1. In a food processor, pulse walnuts until coarsely chopped.
  2. Remove half of the walnuts. Continue processing the remaining walnuts until finely ground.
  3. Add the prunes to the nuts along with the salt and cinnamon. Process a few more seconds until everything is combined.
  4. Empty mixture into a bowl and stir in the reserved walnuts and the coconut flakes.
  5. Line a small container with cling film (I used a 4′ tupperware). Sprinkle some of the shredded coconut on the bottom of the container. Press the mixture into the dish with your hands. Top with the rest of the shredded coconut and press down gently so it sticks to the top.
  6. Refrigerate for half an hour and cut unto pieces.

Homemade Raw Bars with Agen Prunes

I traveled to Gascony from Wiltshire, UK, by car and by ferry, using Brittany Ferries to cross the channel from Portsmouth to St Malo. Brittany Ferries also sails to Caen, La Havre, Roscoff, Cherbourg Santander and Bilbao, all perfect launch pads for your road trip to Gascony, for prunes, Armagnac and whatever other Gascon goodies strike your fancy.

Also seen on Great British Chefs.

Europe by Ferry: My Favorite Way to Travel

Ferry to Calais

This last month saw me take my third trip to France via ferry, travelling with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth, UK to St Malo, France, followed by a 6-hour road trip to Southwest France to visit my friend Kate Hill of Kitchen-at-Camont in Gascony. I’ve made this same journey before by plane, which is admittedly a bit faster, and possibly a little cheaper. But time and time again, I return to the ferry as my travel mode of choice. Why? Because you can’t put a price on FREEDOM. Let me explain…

10 Reasons Why The Ferry Is The Best Way To Travel to Europe

1. You can bring lots of stuff with you – whether you end up using it or not! Bicycles, juicers, blenders, goodies for your friends, clothes and shoes for all manners of adventures, be it walking, cycling, running or lounging (don’t forget your slippers!)

Sun trap with a view!

2. You can bring lots of stuff back with you! Including liquids and heavy stuff! Some of the things that I’ve hauled back from road trips to France and Spain include wine, Armagnac, dried beans and lentils, an absurd amount of soap, Agen prunes, honey, clothes… no furniture yet but give it time.

Off and away.

3. You can easily bring your pets. As long as your pet has a pet passport (which isn’t too hard to get, see the PETS Travel Scheme), it’s pretty straightforward bringing your dog or cat across the channel, and the ferry accommodation for your beloved furry friends is sublime. There’s a whole deck for pets where you can visit them and take them out for mini walks. It also helps facilitate my next point…

All paws on deck... #rockyroadtrip

4. You get to meet interesting new people. This is especially easy if you are traveling with pets because you keep running into the same people every time you go check on Fido. I am still in touch with a couple I met on the ferry a couple of years back.

They let us on the boat. I can relax now. Farewell England...

5. The ferry journey itself is like a mini cruise. Bars, restaurants, shops – even a piano bar, playing all of your favorite tunes.

6. Cozy cool sleeper cabins.

I slept like the dead in my space pod @brittanyferries. I am grateful that waves make me sleep and not hurl.

7. Shorter check-in time. 45 minute check-in for the ferry verses 2 hours for the plane. You don’t even have to do the math: this IS a no-brainer.

England. D'oh!

8. Great customer service. My last journey to the ferry terminal was fraught with traffic jams and car trouble. There was NO way I was going to make my ferry, so I called Brittany Ferries using the number on my itinerary. This put me through to the ferry terminal, and a PERSON answered the phone right away. When I explained my predicament they told me not to worry and – as luck would have it – there was another ferry a couple hours later that I could take. No questions asked. No being put on hold. Just reassurance, which really helped ease the stress of my otherwise super-stressful journey. (Hefty tip: while you’re bringing loads of stuff with you, be sure to pack some jumper cables, as well!)

He almost looks like he's saying "Hasta luego." We'll miss you, Spain.  #rockyroadtrip

9. Better food. Travel food can be dire, hallmarked by fast food, potato chips, soda and sour stomachs. With a car, it’s a whole lot easier to bring your own food and maintain your awesome healthy eating habits as much as possible (and save the indulgence for all of the magnificent wine, bread and cheese waiting for you on the other side). And the food on the ferry is pretty good, too. A salad bar for dinner and fresh fruit and yoghurt for breakfast makes Monica a happy sailor.

Good morning from the high seas. @brittanyferries #breakfast

10. You get to celebrate the road trip. Mix tapes. Car snacks. Travel games. Rest stops. Sing-a-longs. A road trip is freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want.

Rocky road trip in situ

11. You have time to decompress. After a long trip, the time on the ferry offers ample time to reflect on the trip, jot down some notes, write postcards and generally relax and unwind before embarking on the final leg home.

Using up my euros on postcards and fizz in the ferry's piano bar

Related links:

Camont Christmas: A Wine Tour of France

Wine revelation of the evening

Wine may not seem an obvious topic for a blog called “SmarterFitter”, especially when this time of year many people banish alcohol completely after weeks of holiday excess. But alcohol – be it wine, beer, cocktails, or home-brew cider – needn’t be the enemy of all things good, especially if you drink as you should eat: mindfully, with care and attention to flavor and provenance. In fact, I assert that alcohol can be a companion to a healthy (and happy) lifestyle, a topic which I’d like to give more attention to here at SmarterFitter. So I’m very grateful to have my friend Mr. Neil help me kick things off with a tale of our Christmas “vin tour de France”.

I mentioned in a previous post that I spent the holidays in France with my friend Kate Hill of Kitchen at Camont. Christmas itself saw a much anticipated reunion with our dear friend Mardi of eat live travel write who Kate and I both first met in August 2012 (see My Food Story from Gascony). This year, I finally met Neil, Mardi’s husband, and a true wine enthusiast of the best kind. Neil’s attention to wine parallels his attention to the things that are served with it: the food, the place, the people. As such, Neil was a natural choice to take on the responsibility of picking the Christmas wines. Neil took on this task with an enthusiasm that pleasantly caught me off guard. He not only picked outstanding wine matches for each course of our challenging hodgepodge menu, but he also took us on a tour of France. I learned so much, and was reminded of how much better wine can be when given just a little thought and attention, both as you choose it, and as you drink it. Some of the picks had me flabbergasted (there will be a separate post in tribute to the Cotes du Jura and giardiniera match). But I will let Neil tell this tale of Christmas past in this guest post.

Neil Phillips: Food and wine matching extraordinaire

Many write about pairing wine with a specific dish. There are several different methodologies to pairings, but I put them into five main groups: regionality, weight, acid/tannins, flavours (sauces, seasonings & spices) – and personality.

The first three are fairly self-explanatory. Especially when dealing with the Old World (areas with winemaking traditions stretching back more than a century), wines have often evolved to match the local cuisine. With weight, a light dish likely won’t pair well with a heavy wine, or vice-versa. Acid (whites) and tannins (reds) are similar to weight, but have a bearing on foods as well, in a more complex way.

Wine flavours can complement or contrast with food. Both offer differing approaches in pairing. While complementary flavours are more traditional, some daring contrasts work remarkably well. Have fun experimenting!

The elusive fifth aspect is what I call personality: it’s the creative element that dances above all the rest. It could include history of food & wine, past wine encounters that trigger memories with the meal…a plethora of possibilities where you can have fun. (A dinner party for a friend? Choose wines that all have labels in her favourite colour.)

This Christmas, I was presented with the opportunity – some would say challenge – of pairing wines for a full Christmas day feast for seven at the wonderful Camont kitchen in the countryside of Gascony. The meal itself was somewhat of a collective, with elements prepared by four different individuals, to be savoured at a leisurely pace over many hours.

Our ambitious Christmas menu

With the above five factors in mind, I set about creating some inspired match-ups.

The first decision was simple: I chose to celebrate France, thereby imposing that all wines would not only be from the country, but that they should cover a wide range of the country geographically, if possible.

On the personality front, I wanted to mix some more established pairings with something a little less expected – something for people to talk about.

On arrival, there was much final activity in the large kitchen, with everyone pitching in to complete an appetizer or contribute to a dish. What better way to get a gathering in a celebratory mood than with some fizz?

Monica and Neil

Champagne is the obvious choice, of course: but France produces quality sparkling in most wine regions. Using local grapes, they are often made in the same traditional method, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. I chose a Crémant de Limoux from the Aude. Domaine de Mouscaillo (NV) was just over two hours away by car, giving us a (relatively) local start to our wines. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc, it features two of the main grapes in Champagne. Zero dosage, this “brut nature” bubbly is bracingly dry – just the thing to whet the appetite and accompany pre-meal nibbles. This featured a bright nose of green apples and lemon, with a medium-fine bead. On the palate, green apples were most evident, with an undertone of golden delicious providing a second layer, with a hint of freshly baked baguette. Crisp and refreshing, with a citrus finish. A delightful start to the afternoon!

Monica and Mardi

When we finally sat down, our first course was a bit of a mélange, all fresh homemade fun but not entirely coherent on the flavour profiles: latkes, beet latkes, savoury crackers, giardiniera, chili currant jam, vegetables platter, ranch dressing. An absolute matching nightmare!

Homemade ranch and crudites

I had been built up prior by Monica on the secret Chicago family giardiniera recipe, so decided to focus on that as a leaping-off point. Pickled things are difficult at best, as many wines would be lost and overpowered. I opted for something bold, in a vin jaune made from the Savagnin grape. The 2008 Domaine Macle from Château-Chalon, Côtes du Jura (in the far east of the country, bordering Switzerland), is aged a minimum six years, three months in wooden casks prior to bottling. Only partially topped up during this time, a layer of yeast (or voile) forms on the surface. Sherry-like via yeast and oxidation, these unfortified robust wines have a lot of leeway with foods, and I thought would have the strength to battle pickled items, and hold its own. This was a fine example, deep gold with notes of almond, bread dough, and a lingering sweetness. On the palate, the wine is dry, with a creamy mouthfeel while still remaining somewhat light. Tastes of bitter almond, marzipan, and a salty/briny finish. Not as aggressive as Sherry, this was an absolute treat – and managed to pair with the giardiniera quite well.

Wine revelation of the evening

Here at Camont, “free range” or “organic” mean much more than at your local grocer’s. Produce is truly of the land, and nowhere is this more noticeable than with the meats and poultry. A local turkey was roasting, browning and crisping beautifully in the oven, relinquishing sufficient juices for tasty gravy as well. A decidedly easier pairing!

Christmas wine

Here I took the traditional route, and took the diners to Bourgogne. Burgundy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are both excellent matches for turkey. The white was a 2011 Château-Fuissé, Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru. This is a blend of grapes from over 20 vineyard sites, vinified separately to make the “top blend”. Light golden in colour, with notes of white flowers, almond, honeysuckle and light caramel. On the palate, luscious in the mouth, with bitter almond, citrus, and a medium-plus finish. The red was a 2008 Propriété Desvignes, Givry 1er Cru “La Grande Berge”. Light red with garnet hues, this had a lovely perfumed nose of tart cherry, slight earth, herbs and a hint of smoke. On the palate, silky tannins are balanced through a long savoury finish, wild strawberries evident. Both these wines were excellent Bourgogne examples, and both worked well. The gathering seemed split over preference for white or red. I think with all the fixings the Chardonnay performed better; with just the (dark) meat, the red.

That Neil sure knows how to pour

At this point in the lunch we had a break…but the entire affair was at a most leisurely pace. No over-stuffed souls here – lots of room for dessert. The star attraction was Mardi‘s chocolate-topped coeur à la crème. As with sparkling, France has a wide range of dessert wines. Desiring something red, I opted for a region lesser-known than Sauternes. We travelled to the far south of Roussillon, near the border with Spain. The 2011 Domaine de La Rectorie, Banyuls, Cuvée Léon Parcé, is a vin doux naturel. Made from 100% Grenache grapes, alcohol is added to the must during fermentation, keeping sugar levels naturally high. At 16% this is not as heavy as a Port, and while the nose is similar it had a much more savoury note of allspice and rosemary along with dried red berries and baked caramel. Smooth on the palate, with red currants and gooseberries adding a tart note; the tannins balance the residual sugar. Long- finishing, this lingered and paired with the dark chocolate nicely without being too heavy.

With that, our own little Christmas vin tour de France was over. All in all, our pairings proved a worthy match to a most delicious meal amongst friends. And really, that last accompaniment is what really matters in any meal.

Mr. Neil
December, 2014


Thank you again to Neil for encapsulating our Christmas journey in food and wine – truly a Christmas to remember and I am forever grateful that I have this write-up so that I can relive the experience whenever I wish. I aspire to be able to taste flavours like “baguette” in my wines. If you, like me, want to get better at this wine tasting stuff, have a read of Neil’s Wine Tasting Tips for Everyone on his website, Vincetera.

And for further reading…

  • eat live travel write – Mardi’s excellent blog on all things food, travel and yes, wine, too
  • Matching Food and Wine – Fiona Beckett’s treasure trove of food and wine pairing tips; an indispensable resource

Pumpkin Soup with Homemade Curry Powder

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Homemade Curry Powder
This time of year we’re all craving food that will lift us from the winter doldrums, excite the tastebuds, and negate the effects of holiday indulgence. This spiced pumpkin soup ticks all of the boxes, while still remaining true to the season and totally comforting.

Of course, curried pumpkin soup is a classic, but this recipe takes it up a notch by using homemade curry powder which is such a huge step above from the shop-bought stuff. Freshly ground whole spices are intensely more fragrant and flavoursome than pre-ground spices, which quickly go stale while sitting on the shelf.

The soup itself is very simple – you need little more than pumpkin (or other winter squash), onion, oil or butter, water and of course, the curry powder, which itself isn’t spicy so if you’d like a bit more heat in your pumpkin soup, feel free to add some cayenne or a chopped red chilli. I love this soup garnished with Greek yoghurt and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), but a good vegan standby is coconut milk and chopped coriander.

I do my soup-blending and spice-grinding in my Optimum 9400 blender which conveniently blends both wet and dry ingredients. But you could also use an immersion blender, spice grinder, coffee grinder, and so on to get the job done.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Homemade Curry Powder

Spiced Pumpkin Soup


  • 3 tbsp butter, coconut oil or a neutral oil like grapeseed
  • 3 pounds of pumpkin or other winter squash (crown prince, butternut, kabocha, etc), peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (see below)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or water

Optional garnishes

  • Greek yoghurt
  • Coconut milk
  • Toasted seeds
  • Sliced spring onions
  • Chopped coriander


  1. Put the butter or oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. When hot, add the pumpkin and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
  2. Add the curry powder, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, give it a stir and cook until fragrant (a minute or so). Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the pumpkin is totally soft (about 30 minutes).
  3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or jug blender (if using a jug blender, let the soup cool a bit as hot liquids can be explosive when blended!).
  4. Serve hot with garnishes if you’d like.

Homemade Curry Powder


  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg pieces
  • Seeds from 5 cardamom pods
  • 3 cloves
  • One 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 4 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dried curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek


  1. Put all the ingredients except the fenugreek in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly toasted and fragrant. During the last few moments, add the fenugreek.
  2. Let everything cool and then grind to a fine powder (you can use a high powered blender for this, or a spice or coffee grinder). Store in a well-sealed container. This will keep nicely for a few months.

For more healthy blender recipes, check out my fellow #jumpstart15 comrades: