Oh How Lovely!

That’s how it was in the UK. It also is what a Welshman said to me when he asked the name of our dog. When I said, “Shakespeare,” he responded, “Oh how lovely!” I couldn’t help but smile after that response.

Between my husband and me, we took over 500 pictures during out South Wales vacation. Instead of putting you to sleep, I thought I’d share only a few pictures with you. This will probably turn into a two-week share.

For those who don’t know, we went to South Wales, UK for vacation this summer. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t the best but we still enjoyed ourselves. My husband is so wonderful. He did all the driving since I don’t know how to drive a manual (which I hate) car. I’m hoping we get an automatic car next year. Anyways, we drove from our place through the Netherlands, Belgium, and into France. From there, we took the Chunnel from Calais, France to the Cliffs of Dover, UK.

Before arriving at the Chunnel, we stopped at a coastal town in France called Escalles. The first picture is of a WWII bunker in a field. The next is a cross on the side of the road in Escalles, and the third is the beach.

We finally made it to the Chunnel—the 31 mile train that runs underneath the English Channel from Calais, France to Dover, UK.

Once we arrived in the UK and a good night’s sleep, we decided to explore before arriving at our destination. We drove through the Cotswolds known for its villages and historical towns made of stone. Take a peek at a few towns we stopped by; Burford and Lower Slaughters.

On our first full day in South Wales, we went on a waterfall walk. The area was beautiful, but extremely muddy. Good thing we brought our boots, although Shakespeare looked like he was dipped in ink.

We traveled to the coastal area to Cardigan Bay and walked along the Ceredigion Coast. There were several rainy days on our trip.

While driving around, we came across several reservoirs, and browsed a few towns. The first two pictures are by a reservoir, and the second is the Brecon canal in the town of Brecon.

I thought I’d end this post with another beautiful waterfall.

Stay tuned for next week, when we explore a castle and the Brecon Beacons.

Nature and Appreciation,
Baer Necessities

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Gosh! It’s Squash, How Posh

I recently turned 48, and through the years, I’ve recognized the importance of healthy eating. But it better taste good! 😀 Today, I’m going to introduce you to a new spin on squash. Fall is approaching, which is my favorite time of year. All the autumn delectable foods will be arriving soon, including squashes. I love me some squash, whether it be butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.

This recipe was inspired by the Tasteful Venture site with a few modifications. Of course my blog isn’t a food blog, nor do I have a fabulous camera, so I apologize in advance for the pictures. Fortunately for you, I didn’t take as many pictures of this recipe. They really don’t do the food justice, but believe me, you’ll be in heaven without feeling the blahs.01 - Spaghetti Squash with Italian Ground Beef fillingTo start, you will need an oven, along with these ingredients:

1 large Spaghetti Squash
1 lb. of ground turkey (beef or pork)
½ red pepper chopped
½ onion chopped
1 large garlic clove
2 stalks of fresh basil
2-1/2 cups of Marinara sauce or Denise’s homemade sauce (Recipe below)
½ to ¾ cup of ricotta cheese for both halves
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese for each half
Olive oil
1-1/2 to 2 T. Butter (depending on the size of squash)
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

Instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F (176 C) degrees
2.  Wash and cut Spaghetti Squash in half, lengthwise
3.  Scoop out the seeds, place the halves cut side up on a foiled line baking sheet.
4.  Brush melted butter over the insides of the squash and season with sea salt and pepper.

I use non-salted butter instead of olive oil because I believe it’s healthier and tastes better. It’s debatable, but from several articles (here’s one) I’ve read, butter is not processed like olive oil, which makes it better, and it has more vitamins. But the debate goes on…

5.  Bake the squash for an hour. While it’s cooking, prepare the filling.
6.  In large pan, add olive oil, red pepper, onion, and garlic. Cook on medium heat until the pepper and onion is softened, and then add the ground turkey until it’s cooked. Season with salt and pepper.
7.  Add in the marinara sauce, cook at medium heat for 5 minutes, and then turn low to simmer.
8.  Remove squash from oven and scrape the insides of each until it forms a spaghetti texture. Scrape as much as you can.
9.  On top of the spaghetti, add half of the filling to each squash half, and then put a layer of Ricotta cheese.

I used Ricotta, but you can use shredded Mozzarella, Gouda, or whatever other cheese you want.

10.  Then add about 3 to 4 large fresh Basil leaves, and top with grated Parmesan.
11. Bake for another 12 minutes and Voila! Dig in!

Denise’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

12 to 16 small to medium tomatoes
1 large fresh basil sprig
1 fresh Thyme sprig
1 large garlic clove
¼ cup of fresh Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt
Cracked black pepper

01 - Tomato Sauce1.  Preheat the oven to 390 F (200 C). Cut the tomatoes in quarters and put in a large mixing bowl. Using a garlic press, squeeze in the garlic clove, salt, cracked pepper and olive oil.

Now I didn’t put an amount for the olive oil, because it depends on each person. I swirl the olive oil around the top of the tomatoes a few times. I don’t like it too oily.

2.  Mix everything together, and then add the parmesan cheese, mixing again.
3.  Put the tomato mixture on a lined cooking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes.
4.  While it’s cooking, wash the basil and thyme, and then remove the basil leaves and the thyme from the sprigs, throwing away the sprigs.
5.  When it’s done, take it out of the oven and cool for about 15 minutes.
6.  Take the large food processor container and add the tomatoes (with all the juice left on lining), basil leaves and thyme. Blend it on low at first to get it somewhat mixed. Remove for taste. If needed, add more salt and pepper. Blend higher for another minute and then put in a container.

03 - Tomato Sauce (2)I use some and then freeze the sauce for future recipes. 🙂

Hope you enjoyed today’s DEE-LISH recipe!

Love of Food and Cooking,
Baer Necessities

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In Constant Bloom

I’m back from a relaxing vacation, and kicking off this return with a breath of fresh air. I tell you, this is one of my favorite author interviews because not only is she full of life, she has so much to share, and behind the scenes, showed me her big heart. Laurette Long has spread her wings in life, and this is one interview you won’t want to miss. Please take a seat, enjoy a warm drink, and give a warm welcome to Laurette.

Describe yourself in 150 words or less.

I’m a gregarious hermit. A wobbling Libra.

The best of times: When not in hermit mode, locked in the study, daydreaming in the garden, I like to fling the doors open. A houseful of people-family, friends, different ages, nationalities, opinions, all enjoying wonderful food, wine, laughter and conversation. Throw in songs, a fandango and a brass band–perfection. I’ve been lucky to share many experiences like this, with my Yorkshire family whose doors were always open, in a graduate student community in the USA, and for several years in SW France where the tradition of hospitality is alive, well, and doing the cancan.

The worst of times: Any kind of disharmony. When the knives come out, I’m off. Though I must confess to being hooked vicariously–House of Cards, wow! Game of Thrones, ooh là là! So long as it stays on the page or screen.

Do you think book covers are an important factor in choosing a book? Explain.

As someone who loves art, a striking cover is the first thing to catch my eye when I’m browsing bookshelves, virtual or real, on the lookout for new authors. Certainly the consensus today is that they’re particularly important in terms of commercial success. A friend recently gave me a lovely present, a box of 100 postcards featuring book covers from the Penguin imprint. Fascinating to see how styles have evolved over 70 years.

Tell us about your published works.

I started off with non-fiction, a course book for Advanced Learners of English for Oxford University Press, then a translation into English of a work of literary criticism. Lots of fun, lots of hard work. But my first love, my childhood passion, had been writing fiction (those old notebooks are mouldering somewhere in the junk room) and a series of holidays in the French Basque country rekindled that flame. I’ve always been a fan of the Romantic writers and the way in which nature is such an essential element in their work. Gradually, as I got to know this part of France, its mysterious history, its stunning beauty, dramatic landscapes and changing weather, the idea was born to use it as the setting for a series of novels where it would be woven into the stories, become a part of their identity. Biarritz Passion, came out in 2014, followed by Hot Basque in 2015. They’re contemporary romances following the adventures of a group of women from different backgrounds, with different lives, different passions, who all at some point fall under the magical spell of le pays basque. (Go visit!)

If you didn’t decide to become a writer, what else would you like to be when you grow up?

I was torn between librarian and actress. The hermit loved the idea of becoming a phantom of the library, flitting about those warm, hushed spaces, surrounded by thousands of books opening up worlds of fantasy. The extrovert wanted to be on the boards, declaiming and showing off.

At one time or another, we’ve all received a poor review. How do you think authors should respond to them?

The minute we agree to let our precious ‘baby’ out into the big bad public world we must be ready for anything. But…ouch, the first one’s like a personal insult, isn’t it? A kind of slap out of nowhere. Who is this unknown person who hates me so much?? Then a blackbird tunes up in the garden and puts it all into perspective. After a while you notice there are two kinds of critical review. There are those where the reader says something genuinely helpful that enables you to do better next time. The others? I think ideally we should be noble and remain silent. Genetically speaking I’m supposed to have an advantage (the British stiff upper lip).

If you could meet any character you’ve written, who would it be? Why?

It’s got to be Antoine Arantxa, the Hot Basque himself, naturellement! Handsome, funny, warm, caring, spontaneous, generous, loyal, a sympathetic listener, a shoulder to lean on. Not to mention other assets, as heroine Jill reminds herself:

Antoine is waiting for you, in his wetsuit, with his smouldering eyes and sexual techniques known only to the Basque nation.’

Obviously I would only be meeting him for a friendly cup of tea and a literary chat. (Just in case the Master of the House is reading this…)

What comes to mind when you think of France?

France seizes the global imagination like no other country. It manages to combine the best of earthly delights-its cuisine, its fashion–while moving and inspiring us intellectually and aesthetically. In November 2015, after the 2nd terrorist attack on Paris in which 130 were killed and 368 injured, tributes poured in from across the world. I wrote a blog ending with a true story. During World War 2 Allied planes flew over Nazi-occupied France dropping weapons for the maquis, the resistance fighters. But not just physical weapons. Fluttering down from the sky came thousands of copies of a poem. Its title was ‘Liberté, j’écris ton nom’ (Freedom, I write your name). Written by poet and resistance member Paul Eluard, its famous celebratory stanzas end with the following lines:

And through the power of one word

I begin my life again

I was born to know you

To name you

Freedom.

(And I cry every time I read it!)

In regards to writing, what are you working on now?

Last summer I made a start on the final book in the French Summer novel series, Villa Julia. Then I got side-tracked by the idea of a prequel, a novella, which is now in the editing stages. It tells the story of Alexandra, the mother of the two main female characters in the series, Caroline and Annabel. It’s been very challenging to write. Apart from the constraints imposed by the novella form, it’s almost like aanother genre, more dramatic, darker, a different narrative style. A lot of it is seen through the eyes of Caroline, aged 7. I am feeling afraid, very afraid…(Any tips about multi-genre writing, Denise??)

Where in the virtual world can people find you and/or meet for a chat?

I’m on Facebook. But the place I like to be most of all is my blog. That’s where I chat about things that really get me going-books of course, but also animals, planets, art, music, aviation pioneers… It’s a real pleasure to hear from readers sharing their own passions.

Why do you like gardens?

garden 1Gardens are part of English nostalgia. There must be hundreds of songs about them, lilacs, apple-blossom, nightingales. Here in France, when we moved from city flat to country house in 2011, we finally got our ‘garden’. Actually it was a sort of warzone, impenetrable brambles and nettles covering a dauntingly steep slope. We had it cleared by a fearsome machine, then scratched our heads: can we really turn this into a dream, not an English garden but a Mediterranean one, full of lavender, rosemary, cypresses, poppies? We attacked. My partner ended up with a new shoulder and me with a new hip. But it was worth it. Watching things grow, sitting in the middle of all those colours and scents, there’s nothing like it. Endlessly fascinating. My favourite flower would have to be lavender (the perfume, the healing properties, the associations with the south, with the ancient world). At this time of the year we let it go mad. It’s home to an orchestra of bees and a dazzle of butterflies.

garden 3 garden 4In conclusion I’d like to say a big ‘merci!’ to Denise for inviting me to chat with you all on her blog. If you’re ever in SW France there is a beautiful garden waiting, with a glass of bubbles to say ‘Santé!

Writing, Conversation, and Wine,
Baer Necessities

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