Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice

Though my relationship with Christmas is evolving, and perhaps because of it, I find myself engaging with others more during this Season this year. I continue my Christmas visits with friends and family, on Skype and in person, taking in this year’s solstice lantern festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden with a few old friends and new. Inspired by several Christmas letters, I decide last-minute to prepare my own—taking stock of my 2013 year’s achievements and blessings, some more in disguise than others—in the form of a Christmas poem.

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Following a few ancient Polish traditions, and developing some new ones, I celebrate Christmas Eve with a small gathering of friends and the requisite multi-course meal. I try to give up sledzie (the pickled herring) as one of the courses, but simply cannot—and am happy that my dinner companions enthusiastically indulge in this delicacy with me. I greatly enjoy our after dinner activity, too—a game of pick-up sticks, which I had not played for years, perhaps even not since becoming more shaky. With some trepidation at first, I find I thoroughly enjoy it and even do alright with it. Then, most thematically for this Holiday of new birth celebration, I spend Christmas Day dinner with my relatives that now include 3 new babies, all born on the same weekend!

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

I spend the next few days packing for my first of two upcoming writing retreats—although I run out of time, and steam, for identifying what specifically I want to work on writing while there—so once again, I improvise. With a few days remaining in the year, I commence my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, in the South of France. I bring along a couple of writing support books among my book writing retreat supplies—and this time, unlike the last, I remember to pack some posted notes and a highlighter. Forgetting, though, to pack the red tape, a roll of scotch tape gets added to the book writing supply kit.

The Writer's Nice Workspace

The Writer’s Nice Workspace

Inspired by fresh fruit and veggie markets of Provence, and reinforced by seeing the movie by its title, I make Ratatouille as my Special Dish for the Week in Nice. There are two daily markets in Nice: one at the Libération tram stop, catering perhaps more to the locals, where I pick up some miel de lavande; and the other in Vieille Ville, so a little more touristy, but that one has the olives and dry herbs and spices! Both markets, a true sensation for the gastronomic and visual senses!

Nice Market Inperations

Nice Market Inperations

New Year’s Eve dinner celebrations see my writing retreat companion and I sharing a charcuterie board of cured meats like prosciutto jambon and speck; a selection of goat cheeses and some camembert; hardboiled egg (left over from my journey there); delicious green olives with garlic and herbs; some nice and spicy Dijon mustard; and a cornichon pickle. Accompanied by a fantastic artisan baguette, with Bio butter (that does not cost $10 per pound like it does in Canada!), and sipping on a small bottle of delightful Châteauneuf du Pape, this feast completes with a piece of Belgian chocolate and a macaroon. We partake in the traditional promenade niçoise (though not quite down to and along the fully traditional for New Year’s Eve Promenade des Anglais). We bring in the New Year 2014 by sipping on wine and watching the film “Amélie”, en français.

New Year's Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

New Year’s Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Throughout my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I weave my hours of daily writing together with exploring the charming narrow streets of Vieux Nice, ducking into souvenir shops and taverns for some vin chaud when the uncharacteristic deluge comes upon us, stumbling onto the Palais Lascaris filled with baroque instruments, and not very successfully avoiding tourist trap restaurants in this off-season period. I do not, however, get the opportunity to experience the Vélo Blue bike share, because I fall in love with the Nice tram. And if there is a cemetery to be found, I will find one—or two—on a hilltop, when possible. I feign a statue at the one in Nice on The Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau), and marvel at the other in the medieval hilltop village of Èze.

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

As I wipe away the tears when I write about the time when I nearly gave up, I keep engaged in life now by taking a day train trip to Italy for the Ventimiglia Friday market, and drop into Monaco for a crèpe and a glass of rosé, at the medieval hilltop Monaco-Ville, on the way back to Nice. How fortunate am I to experience life at such extremes, oscillating between death and life?!

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

My writing is inspired by following, for a distance, the footpath of Nietzsche to the medieval hilltop village of Èze, along which I picnic in solitude on my croissant de jambon and disguised rosé—as though the surreal Èze was not inspirational enough. High up, towards the skies, the ghost of Nietzsche and I rendez-vous for an Artist Date.

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche's Footpath

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche’s Footpath

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

The Writer's Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

The Writer’s Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

On my return flight to Vancouver, the frigid weather in Toronto—where one of my two plane connections takes place—delays my flights by a couple of hours. I feel a little annoyed by the inconvenience of the trip lasting 2 hours longer than the regularly scheduled 18 hours of flights, until I realise that the Frankfurt airport makes for as good a place to keep writing as some of my other inspirational nooks and crannies around the world, and my contentment returns. The delays prove to be a bit more trying once I get to Toronto—where my return gets stretched by another 4 hours—but the lovely mid-air chance encounter with a good-looking and kind-hearted Francophone and “Art of Living” breath teacher—who is captivated by my story, and I by his—makes for a gratifying ending to my 30-hour journey back.

Though as usual, while engaging in my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I constantly feel that I am not doing enough: enough of writing; enough of exploring; enough of living. Taking stock of my achievements and experiences like this, in a post, brings a more balanced perspective to my endeavours—and I am glad for having made the trip.

Special Dish for the Week: Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

For the last Special Dish for the Week of 2013, I prepare an authentic version of this favourite dish in one of my favourite places on Earth—Provence in the South of France:

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

When in Provence, where I currently am over New Year’s for my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, I take advantage of the local produce that my retreat companion picks up from the daily market while I make my way in from the airport, and make the colourful, nutritious comforting ratatouille.

Following the recipe now well-ingrained in my mind, I peel, grate, dice and slice some garlicgingeronion and red pepper. These I sautée, till soft, then browned, in generous amounts of cold pressed virgin olive oil. I add some chopped cilantro stems to enrich the base flavour. Plus some slices of red Thai chili pepper for a little added spice. Next is coarse dicing of zucchini—or courgette—and eggplant—or aubergine—which I add to the pot to make tender and juicy. Then, I coarsely chop some tomatoes, adding them towards the end, along with some chickpeas. I add more chopped cilantro, fresh basil, herbes de Provencethymepepper, and some salt—from my dried spice travel stash! I let all the veggies cook—covered, to soften, releasing and intermingling their plentiful juices—for about 1/2 hr.

For protein and carbohydrate source, I separately cook some jasmine brown rice with a dash of cinnamon. I serve the ratatouille next to the cinnamon rice, for a change of pace rather than on top, and enjoy with a glass of rosé.

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

For dessert, I enjoy macarons for the first time in all my travels in France (a little beat up by the time I get them to the apartment, but still tasty), with a side of baklava morsels left over from my journey from Vancouver.

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Back in Vancouver, for the first Special Dish for the Week of 2014, and in an attempt to keep fresh the memory of my visit to Nice, I make another Ratatouille Provençale.

This time, the cinnamon jasmine brown rice also includes the sweetly moist and delicious raisins. To the base ratatouille, I add some turmeric and black pepper for some variety and more anti-inflammatory action.

The star of this meal, however, is the wine glass from which I sip my red wine. It comes from Europe—Hamburg, to be more precise—by mail, no less! A gift for Christmas from my good Hamburgerin friend. It is customised specifically for me, and intended to accompany my Special Dishes for the Week. It has engraved on it a memory from our South East Asia travels: Santé, machine à manger! Yes, “the eating machine”—c’est moi, bien sûr ! How thoughtful—and how incredible that it made it all the way from Europe in the post, in tact!