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Posts tagged ‘Birthday’

Marseille to Marbella, Part VI: Aix, Le Birthday Boy

I adore Aix-en-Provence. Apart from the inimitable Paris, it is undoubtedly my favourite city in France. Elegant, leafy, filled with bustling squares and trickling fountains, it is a city which is inescapably gentrified, and which exudes a real sense of cultural enrichment and a proud artistic heritage which resonates at every corner. Ever since we first went back in 2013, a visit which led to my painting, Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains, Aix has held a prominent place in my heart. If you want true Provence, the kind of Provence which you’ve seen on postcards or dreamt about in visions framed by lavender-scented cobbled streets and rosé wine supped amongst stripey-shirted waiters and vichy table-clothes, this is really it. Aix is a veritable feast of pretty squares and idyllic leafy shopping streets. Dare I say that it is close to perfect?

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So when we decided to head down to Marseille around the time of my birthday, Aix had to feature, and given that it is truly my favourite place in the region, it felt like the perfectly appointed seat of celebration for my impending anniversaire.  Soon enough we were bedded into a lovely little attic room in the Hotel des Quatre Dauphins (very La Bohème) named after the four dolphin fountain of the same name which trickles away in this very ochre-coloured stately area of Aix. Within seconds we were on the main leafy thoroughfares of Aix, where Cezanne, Aix’s most famous son, used to sip on wine and consider how best to capture the nearby Mount St Victoire. And all around we were surrounded by cafes and galleries and boutiques aplenty. During 24 hours in Aix we must have seen over 200 paintings in exhibitions which ranged from the Jaeger collection to a retrospective of Sisley landscapes. We had breakfast opposite the multi-coloured food market (more about that later in the week), lunch in the imperial surroundings of the Hotel de Caumont and dinner in a tiny patio hung with decorative laundry and bourganvilla. Could there be a better way to spend a birthday?

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So once again Aix proved to be the perfect Provençal destination, and a flawless birthday gift. It’s one of those towns which seems to glow with a golden sheen, like Rome whose streets bask in the reflected light which bounces of its terracotta walls. Here the effect is created by walls painted in butterscotch and caramel, and reflected across the streets with the aid of sunlight magnified in trickling fountains. It really is an aesthete’s paradise. That’s why Aix can make a Cezanne of us all.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ronda | Day Two: Ronda Joy for the Birthday Boy

Being a proponent of self-indulgence in all forms I am a great lover of birthdays. And being a great lover of birthdays I very often get disappointed when they are anything less than perfect. Which is most of the time – after all, when one is hoping for perfection you will almost certainly be on the look out for problems. But this year’s birthday, my 31st I am loathe to admit was, perhaps because it was so unplanned and unexpected (original plans to go to Cadiz being abandoned) utterly and in every way perfect. For how could it be otherwise, waking up in the glorious Spanish city of Ronda to some of the most spectacular views the country has to offer. 

Those views, of golden fields, red rocky outcrops, white washed houses dazzled by the sun, and the vast imposing structure of the New Bridge, accompanied me throughout the early exciting stages of my birthday: admiring the views, taking a bath still admiring the views, unwrapping those few presents and cards I had brought with me from the UK, eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant still admiring the views, and finally getting my fill of those same stunning views as we strolled through the morning tranquility of the Almeda Park. 

Opening up my birthday presents and walking out into Ronda’s delightfully sunny morning

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All that set me up in perfect stead for the day to come, energy levels sky rocketing inspired by the beauty all around us. We headed straight over the vast gorge to the fairly new museum of another artist who had been inspired by these landscapes as well as the wealth of art historical references boasted by Spain: Ronda born Joaquin Peinado. His works, largely figurative moving into cubism, all wonderfully colourful and full of energising geometric forms, are contained in the beautifully converted Moctezuma Palace which is today owned by the Unicaja Ronda Foundation. The conversion makes for the perfect meditative surroundings where art is appreciated at its best: marble floors, clean white walls and incredibly detailed ancient mudejar ceilings. And just in case the building itself does not do it for you, the paintings on show are comprehensive and varied: Not only was a plentiful collection of the work of Peinado himself on show, but the museum was also hosting a temporary exhibit of Picasso’s Voillard Suite of around 100 prints. Those works, which are mainly crafted in etchings and lithographs and depict themes of the minotaur and the sculptor and model, demonstrate once again the versatility of Picasso and how prolific he was in the field of print.

Highlights from the Peinado Museum

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If my birthday had ended there, stepping out after that wonderful art gallery experience, I would have been happy, but it was far from over. Next the compulsory coffee, enjoyed in the heart of the old town in the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, after which a quite random walk took us quite accidentally but fortuitously down around the outskirts of the old arab ramparts of Xijara and to the Islamic remains of the city. Chief among them are the almost fully intact Arab Baths, which today make for an atmospheric visitor’s attraction with sunlight flooding through the small star shaped holes in the stone ceiling, even though the water is today long gone. Then, just outside the baths, the incredible Old Bridge (so called) crossing the El Tajo gorge is likewise a supposed remnant to the old arab civilisation in the city. Today it makes for a stunningly impressive sight.

Arab Ronda

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Birthday cupcakes – pistachio and raspberry with white chocolate frosting a little celebratory gold

It’s my birthday!! Woop woop! And while you read this post, I should be sat somewhere on the Rue St Honoré in Paris, sipping delicately upon a cup of strong French coffee with a couple of Ladurée macrons on the side. For a leo birthday can only sensibly be celebrated with a little class and plenty of extravagance, so while I soak in the sights of the city of love for one day only, why don’t you join me in my pursuit of birthday hedonism by making these amazing little cup cakes. Complete with edible gold leaf, these pistachio and raspberry beauties are more than appropriate for a summer birthday, where a ruling sun requires celebrations in all things golden, sparkling and extravagant. Or at least that’s my excuse. The sponge is fat free, which makes it a guilt-free, lighter pleasure for a summer’s afternoon, while the white chocolate frosting reminds that while healthy food is all very well, its the icing on the cake that feeds the eye and fuels the pleasure. Ah mais oui!

This recipe is something of a reinvention of a recipe on my good friend Celia’s super-cool foodie blog, Lady Aga. As soon as I saw her cake, I wanted to devour it there and then. The problem was, my cake was destined for work, to be shared amongst my colleagues who have been long-promised a birthday cup-cake treat. And as this distribution would inevitably entail a journey on the stuffy tube in rush hour (with added olympic pressures), the fresh cream of Celia’s oeuvre was never going to work, nor indeed the incredible constitution of her multi-layered sponge. I therefore opted to turn her recipe into cupcakes, replacing half the ground pistachios with self-raising flour to encourage the cakes to rise, and replacing the cream filling with a super-indulgent white chocolate frosting. I also baked a raspberry in the middle of the sponge for added moisture and a hidden treat in the cake’s centre.

So, how to make:

Grind up 110g pistachios to a fine powder. Grind up a further 50g or so to a mixture of fine and textured crumbs for use on the topping. Next take 6 large eggs and separate. Whisk up the egg white into soft peaks. In a separate bowl, whisk up the egg yolks with 180g of caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Into the egg yolk mix, fold in the ground pistachios and 110g of self-raising flour and a spoon-full of the egg white to loosen the mixture. Once mixed, fold in the egg whites. Divide the mixture between 12 large-ish cup-cake cases and place a single raspberry in the centre of each cake. Bake at around 200 degrees centigrade for around 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake or the sponge becomes dry. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

In the meantime, take as many raspberries as you have cakes, melt some white chocolate, and fill each raspberry with a drop or so of chocolate until filled. Prop the raspberries upright in a small container and place in the fridge so the chocolate solidifies.

Next, the icing: slowly melt a bar of white chocolate (around 100g I think, but I can’t really tell how much I was melting as I kept on eating it) over simmering water. As the chocolate starts to melt, add a splash or two of full fat milk to loosen up the mixture to a creamy liquidy chocolate. Meanwhile, take 120g unsalted butter and  mix with 375g icing sugar with around 25ml of full fat milk and a small dash of vanilla extract. This should be whisked for extra creamyness, probably for a good 5-10 minutes. Once light and fluffy, mix in the melted chocolate until thoroughly combined and my god you will have created pure nectar worthy of Mount Olympus itself. Pour your icing into a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle (I have no idea what this is called) and place the icing bag in the fridge for 20 mins or so to firm up the frosting a bit. Pipe onto the cooled cupcakes and top with a sprinkle of crumbled pistachios, a chocolate filled raspberry and a little fragment of edible gold leaf for extra extravagance. Or try edible glitter if you prefer.

(Obviously if you can’t be bothered with the piping bag – which I can easily understand – just smooth the icing onto the cake with a palette knife – this can look just as good.

And there you have it. Cakes fit for a King. Or a birthday boy.

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