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This post concludes my reviews of Cannes restaurants — for this year, at least.

All of them are at the midpoint of my Recipes/Health/History page.

Astoux, along with Maître Renard and Le Pistou, truly impressed us.

(Photo credit: TripAdvisor)

Astoux, located at 41-43 Rue Félix Faure, is not cheap. However, it is awfully good.

Astoux is in partnership with Brun Coquillages on the corner. The two restaurants share their seafood and run a shop open to the public.

We ate at Astoux twice in June 2015.

Our first dinner was on the evening we arrived in Cannes. What a treat!

We started with red mullet terrine, which was fresh and tasty with plenty of texture. We then had the loup — Mediterranean sea bass — which came wrapped in, of all things, puff pastry! This was the best loup we have had in Cannes. Rolling puff pastry around it then baking it resulted in an unctuous, moist cylinder of delight. We are still talking about it. If I can reproduce it at home, I’ll certainly share the recipe.

For dessert, SpouseMouse had a competently done crème brulée.

I spotted St Marcellin made with raw milk from local cheesemonger Ceneri on the menu, although that was not part of our prix fixe menu. I asked the maître d’ if I could substitute it for a dessert. Much to my relief, he readily agreed.

Little did I know how large Ceneri’s St Marcellin was. Those that I buy in the UK are enough for one or two servings. This one was twice the size.

Hands down, this was the best St Marcellin I’ve ever tasted. It was completely gooey on the inside, glorious from start to finish.

We had a bottle of regional rosé: Château du Galoupet, Cru Classé de Provence. This is a full-bodied rosé, comparable to those from Bordeaux. It was our favourite wine on this trip, and we highly recommend it to northern Europeans who are used to rosés with bags of character.

The bill came to €159.30 for two.

Afterward, I spent time talking to the waiters by the fish tank. I’d never seen such a huge langouste in all my life. It was pretty aggressive, too, completely dominating the lobsters in the tank and crawling towards the top in an escape attempt. One could imagine a horror movie: The Attack of the Giant Langouste!

Having enjoyed ourselves so much, we booked a table during the second week of our trip.

I had a grand plan in mind which involved ordering off the slate — ardoise — which lists a variety of fish and seafood of the day priced per 100g. I figured we could order a dégustation of several.

On the night, the maître d’ quickly disabused me of that notion. Just because the fish is priced at 100g does not mean that one can order an assortment. One orders the whole thing. Therefore, my grand plan of starting with oysters and praires (small abalone from the Channel Islands) then moving on to a tasting menu of prawns and fish went out the window.

‘Too much!’ the maître d’ barked in English. ‘That’s too much food! You’ll never eat it all.’

He rather reminded me of the grumpy Vincent Gardenia character — Cher’s plumber father Cosmo — in Moonstruck. ‘Copper pipes, Loretta! Copper pipes!’

Well, we had to admire his honesty.

So we ordered two items off the slate, things of which we’d never heard. Chapon — also the word for capon — is actually red snapper. It was huge. The camerones géantes are ginormous prawns from Madagascar, much larger than my favourite UP10s. I would say these are UP6s. SpouseMouse thinks they are UP4s, they were that large.

The maître d’ came out minutes later with both presented on a platter. Each bore an Astoux & Brun till receipt. A whole chapon was €89 and one camerone géante €29. We said yes and the maître d’ assured us that would be plenty for two.

Indeed they were. We declined dessert.

We started with the camerone géante. SpouseMouse made a joke about David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister. The maître d’ said, ‘I don’t know who he is. But I do know who James Cameron [film director] is.’ Typically Cannois!

Anyway, the camerone géante arrived split down the middle in its shell. It had been roasted in garlic and olive oil, which was to die for. It was unforgettably rich and most satisfying. I could eat another right now!

After a welcome pause, the chapon arrived, accompanied by assorted steamed vegetables, fresh from nearby Marché Forville. We’ve never had such delicious red snapper. We will definitely be ordering some from our local fishmonger.

We drank Château du Galoupet, which, once again, complemented our dinner perfectly.

The bill came to €164.90, rather eye-watering but what a gastronomic experience.

It’s worth saving up to dine at Astoux. Seafood and fish lovers will truly enjoy their experience here.

We can hardly wait for our next visit!

Additional observation: Astoux’s bread baskets come with several hand towelettes. Take all of them. Restaurant loos in Cannes this year were surprisingly appalling. These towelettes came in handy during our stay. Pistou, along with Maître Renard and Astoux (tomorrow’s post), is one of our favourite restaurants in Cannes.

Pistou, incidentally, is the Provençal version of pesto, although without pine nuts.

(Photo credit: TripAdvisor)

Pascal and Patricia Flavel own Le Pistou, located at 53 Rue Félix Faure, where the classic seafood restaurants are.

Pascal Flavel is the chef we’ve never seen. He spends his time in the kitchen, creating ‘gastronomy at gentle prices’.

We often eat here twice during our stay. We did so once again in June 2015.

Our first dinner this year cost a very reasonable €79 for two, including a bottle of regional rosé, Château Minuty.

On that occasion, SpouseMouse enjoyed crispy, unctuous deep fried prawns — gambas — in light batter. I had the traditional fish soup, which was rather bland on its own until one added the regional aioli, rouille — full of crushed garlic and just the right amount of saffron. The soup came with the traditional baguette croutons and finely grated cheese.

For our main course, SpouseMouse had maigret de canard (duck) and I tucked into a plate of gambas. No trip to Cannes is complete without having gambas at least once.

Our desserts were delightful. SpouseMouse had a baba rhum with plenty of rum and I loved the cinnamon flavoured crème brulée. It is unusual for the French to cook with cinnamon, so this was a real treat.

Our second visit this year was for the seven-course menu dégustation, our final dinner and a memorable one, indeed. We’d had the ‘menu dég’, as Le Pistou wait staff call it, two years ago. We talked about it for months afterward.

As we were eating on a Saturday, we decided to reserve a table the day before and told the maitre d’ that we would be having the menu dég. Judging from his facial expression, we’d made his day.

When we arrived the following evening, he seated us at a table for two just off the terrace. He asked us for a wine choice — Château Sainte Roseline — and our evening took off.

Flavel has changed the menu slightly, but it still titillates the taste buds.

We started with lobster in tomato-parsley coulis with grated carrots and orange ginger sauce on the side. It shouldn’t work but it does — brilliantly!

The next course was tatin au foie gras. This must be unique to Le Pistou. What a revelation! It is two panfried pieces of lobe of foie gras resting on a small tarte tatin: thin apple slices baked in Calvados resting on light, buttery puff pastry. How Flavel came up with this combination, we’ll never know. Yet, it is a highly flavoursome dish.

Afterward, we had langouste with rice and a light cream sauce enhanced with lemon grass and parsley. It was delightful.

Then came the palate cleanser, green apple sorbet flavoured with Calvados. It was perfect in every way. We could taste plenty of apple and identify the Calvados.

The fillet of beef was the main course. It arrived rare, as ordered, with a tasty morel sauce. Flavel’s heavenly potatoes dauphinoise — wafer thin slices in light cream sauce — made an ideal accompaniment to the tender, yielding beef.

Our cheese plates — a generous assortment of four on each plate — came next. By the time I’d finished, I wondered if I’d have room for dessert.

The wait staff knowingly gave us a bit of a pause prior to presenting SpouseMouse with baba au rhum and me with a tangy lemon tartlet.

We finished everything. We were members of the Clean Plate Club!

The bill came to €158.30. Compare this to the menu dégustations at the grand hotels on the Croisette and this would be the cost per person. Le Pistou really does offer gastronomy at gentle prices.

We highly recommend Le Pistou. It will be among the first places we visit on our next trip.

My last three posts on Cannes restaurants will focus on our favourites: Maître Renard, Le Pistou and Astoux.

We have dined at these establishments several times during our visits over the past several years and wouldn’t miss them for the world.

Maître Renard in the old part of town — Le Suquet — is located at 4 Rue Saint Antoine.

(Photo credit: Maître Renard)

The name is the equivalent of ‘Mister Fox’, a nickname for the animal. It is also a play on words, as Philippe Renard owns and runs the restaurant.

On his Michelin Restaurants page, Renard tells us that he spent six years — 1976 – 1982 — as a chef on boats undertaking oceanographic research. As such, he has travelled the world and brought what he learned to Cannes.

Renard is also a huge jazz fan and features live music later in the evening. We were there one Sunday when he had a terrific young singer and pianist entertain the dinner crowd. She — and the food — were one of the big highlights of that trip.

On our earlier visits, we always made reservations at lunchtime for dinner. Renard is always there, which is good to see.

This year — June 2015 — we didn’t reserve a table. We went on a Monday, a slower night in town, which is strange given that a number of restaurants are closed.

We had our choice of tables on the terrace which has an awning in case of rain. A young waiter, eager to please, took care of our table.

Maître Renard has a prix fixe menu of €18 for lunch and a €34 one for dinner. For some reason, I asked about substituting a starter item. (This isn’t quite the done thing in France, although wait staff are more flexible these days.) Our waiter said, ‘With me, everything is possible!’

There were four of us that night. For a starter, SpouseMouse ordered a delicious ‘heart’ of salmon. Our two guests and I ordered the house made duck foie gras, about which we all raved. It’s one of the best in Cannes and perfectly seasoned.

For our main course we all ordered the Mediterranean sea bass — loup. The generous fillet of tender, yielding fish was accompanied by an assortment of local vegetables. It was a delight.

Dessert at Maître Renard means only one thing for the two of us: the three crème brulées which come to the table flambéed. We’ve never seen anything like it. Furthermore, it takes a minute or two for the flames to die out, so it’s a great spectacle.

The crème brulées come in three flavours: vanilla, fresh berries and coffee. Each is perfectly sized and eminently flavoursome. This is the dessert of a lifetime. Once seen and tasted, always remembered!

To drink, we had a reliable regional rosé, Château Sainte Béatrice.

But that wasn’t all!

Our waiter told Renard that he was so impressed with our demeanour and command of French that Renard told him to bring us the house vanilla liqueur steeped in aromates for a complimentary digestif!

It was gorgeous. What an honour to have had a glass of this off-menu item!

With that, another delightful and memorable dinner at Maître Renard drew to a close. Paying the bill — €200 for four (a bargain) — and leaving was such sweet sorrow. Our guests wholeheartedly agreed. The atmosphere was easygoing and fun.

We’re already looking forward to our next visit!

Two things Renard should note, however.

One was the small sprig of fragrant jasmine which came with the sea bass. I asked our waiter whether it was edible. He immediately went to the kitchen to check and returned within seconds to say that it was not; it was there just for the fragrance. He added that we would be ill if we ate it. That could be dangerous for another patron! Don’t put anything on the plate that can’t be eaten — especially if it could make someone unwell!

The other was the state of the lavatory, which, whilst basic, was always functional. Now it is something out of the Third World. Whilst the toilet works — thank heaven — the basin had no running water! Although there was an antibacterial wash on hand, there was also no note of apology taped above it. If they haven’t already done so, the staff need to get this fixed pronto.

That said, we’ll be back!

Hannah GrantTeam Tinkoff-Saxo is fortunate to have Hannah Grant as their chef.

(Photo credit: Tinkoff-Saxo)

She ensures that the team’s riders have tasty and nutritionally balanced meals each day.

Of course, Hannah cooks for Tinkoff-Saxo in all races, not just the Tour de France.

However, it is the Tour which attracts the most attention.

And Hannah’s cookbook is entitled The Grand Tour Cookbook, available to order from her website.

Cycling’s food secrets

The Telegraph recently summarised Hannah’s cooking strategies for Tinkoff-Saxo. These are useful for mothers of budding athletes and anyone else who cooks for a family. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Avoid monotony:

The general thought is that food for professional cyclists is mostly just pasta and chicken. We don’t work with those old-school principles. What actually goes into feeding a troop of riders through a Tour de France or another Grand Tour is very different. The food should be inspiring and tasty. A real crowd-pleaser for the team is salmon with orange and ginger.

Eat together:

Meals are the only times of the day when all the riders can sit down together and just talk and relax.

Try new concepts:

I sometimes like to do dishes that are inspired by where the different riders are from. It gets them talking about flavours and tastes. No matter what your nationality or personality, everybody can relate to food somehow.

Make sure ingredients are identifiable:

If a meal is made of too many ingredients or things they don’t recognise then they might not want to eat it. So we work on the principle that every vegetable and ingredient is as visible as possible.

Cook from scratch:

We cook everything from scratch and we don’t use any ready-made products.

Treat your diners now and then:

On the night before a rest day I serve a build-your-own burger, which is a treat but it also indicates that it is a rest day so it is a psychological thing. It says: ‘There is a rest day coming up and you can relax a bit.’

Hannah Grant the chef

Hannah gave Velo News an extensive interview in 2013.

She is Danish and has a husband.

Initially, Hannah’s dream was to become a Michelin starred chef. She completed the requisite four years of training in Denmark. She worked at the world renowned Noma in Copenhagen.

She then considered a degree in food science from the University of Copenhagen. This would have necessitated a part-time job. Her sous chef suggested ringing a contact of his at Tinkoff-Saxo. The rest is history:

I thought it sounded intriguing. I have a basic education in health and nutrition, so I had the basics down for that, and he said, “This could be really interesting for you.”

And I spoke to the guys here at the team — they had lined up three other guys up for the job, but they wanted to try something new and so they hired a female chef. And basically that was it. That was the weird road that led me here. And so I got hired and got thrown straight into a training camp, 30 riders, alone, the hardest 14 days of my life, but I earned my spot here.

Although she knew little about cycling at the time, Hannah’s now an avid fan, which is just as well!

She has a huge responsibility every day the team is on tour. Balancing nutritional needs, sourcing food in remote areas and avoiding digestive issues are constant preoccupations:

… we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It’s all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that’s a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can’t just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

if I have even the slightest doubt that something’s good, I throw it out. I never serve shellfish for the same reason, never any mussels or anything. Never anything that could have even a one in 1,000 chance of not being good. Even if it smells fresh, I never serve it. That’s a priority. I take no chances.

As for odd locations on the Tour de France, Hannah says:

… now I’m in the routine and I know how to do it, so it’s easier. I source from wherever I can. Sometimes I order through the hotels, sometimes there’s a market, sometimes I go to (the supermarket). In France, it’s great, they have lots of biodynamic things in the market. We go very much organic and biodynamic whenever we can.

So it’s basically whatever is available, but because we have the big truck and the big fridges, I can fill up for four or five days in a row. So I know now that when we’re going to the Alps, I can’t get anything on Alpe d’Huez, so it’s important for me to load up and be ready for that.

Hannah acknowledges that being away from home for weeks at a time is difficult, however, she minimises distractions:

It’s not so bad. The first year was hard, because I didn’t know how to source my energies out. Now I know, I keep my conversations short with my husband (so I can stay focused on my work). This is also a learning process in a relationship. But for sure, I love being out, and it’s nice coming home. But it’s a lot about getting used to being out here.

Tinkoff-Saxo may not be the only professional cycling team with a chef, however, Hannah Grant is the first to lift the lid on what goes on in a Tour de France kitchen.

Much to France’s chagrin, the Tour de France has not had a French winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

This produced much negative media coverage concerning Britain’s dominant Team Sky and the winner, their leader, Chris Froome.

This is Froome’s second Tour victory. The first was in 2013. The British have now won the Tour de France three times since 2012, when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first winner from the UK.

Target Froome

The French suspect Froome of doping. Yet, he won this year’s Tour by only 1’12” over Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who made no secret of his own desire to take first place on the podium in Paris.

Oliver Brown, writing for The Telegraph, explained:

Froome has found this race antithetical to any notion of comradeship. He has borne the brunt of outrageous attacks from spectators, endured the slurs arising from critical documentaries on French television, and waged public and unpleasant battles with his chief rivals – not least Vincenzo Nibali, who he accused of unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to exploit his mechanical failure on the descent from the Col du Croix. For 21 days, he has been a man besieged …

A climate of scepticism is perfectly legitimate in light of cycling’s benighted recent heritage, captured by a bizarre appearance mid-tour by the attention-seeking Lance Armstrong. But for Froome to be belittled and excoriated without a shred of hard medical expertise has the feel of a sordid injustice. He would be within his rights if he refused to celebrate too conspicuously on Sunday. He ought to derive greatest pride, though, from having emerged unscathed from one of the most gruelling emotional ordeals that an athlete should ever have to endure.

Froome’s Tour gave viewers a lesson in patience and doggedness. He was calm, quiet and determined on every stage. He refused to get unnerved by attacks from Quintana, Alejandro Valverde or Alberto Contador. His Sky teammates stayed cool, too, and were there for him every day. The climbs proved tough for some and, occasionally, Froome was on his own near the end, but he rode with aplomb, dedication and humility throughout.

In his victory speech, Froome alluded to the accusations he received this year. From The Sun:

In a victory speech laced with emotion, he said of the Yellow Jersey: “It is very special. I understand its history, good and bad, and I will always respect it, never dishonour it and I’ll always be proud to have won it.”

Team Sky ace Froome has been the victim of a vile campaign of doping slurs as well as physical and verbal abuse from sick fans.

But after swapping the urine and spit for champagne, he added: “Someone needs to speak up for the cyclists of 2015 and I’m happy to do that.

“Someone’s got to take a stand, it’s time.”

Froome won not only the Tour but the polka dot ‘king of the mountains’ jersey which puts him on a par with the legendary Belgian Tour winner Eddy Merckx who won both in 1970.

Yet, even some Britons disparage the UK’s latest sporting hero. The comments following one Telegraph article reveal that Froome isn’t British enough. Not only was he born and raised in Africa, he now lives in Monaco. As a British citizen, how dare he?

Soon, Froome will become a father for the first time. I wish him and his wife Michelle all the very best.

The African Tour

Chris Froome was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and spent his formative years in South Africa. It was in Africa that he developed his love of cycling. His English parents emigrated from Gloucestershire to become arable farmers in Kenya. He was reading economics at the University of South Africa when, two years into his degree, he left to join the South African cycling team of Konica Minolta.

However, he was not the only reason the 2015 Tour was an African one.

A new wildcard African team entered this year’s Tour: MTN-Qhubeka. Whilst the Tour has had African teams and riders before now, the Tour de France site tells us:

Rooted in South Africa since its creation in 1997 by Douglas Ryder, a professional cyclist until 2002 and still the manager of a team sponsored since 2007 by the telecoms operator present throughout the African continent, Qhubeka (a word that means “advance” in the Xhosa language) is a foundation that provides bicycles as a means of transport to underprivileged populations. It is a team with a strong identity and humanitarian calling that is set to write a fine page in the grand international history of the Tour de France. In its ranks, it boasts Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot, the best climber on this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, and his countryman Merhawi Kudus, who completed the Vuelta at the age of 20 years. The toughest runners on the planet come from this part of the world. Now it is cycling’s turn to be enhanced by these exceptional athletes.

And it wasn’t long before MTN-Qhubeka became a household word. On Stage 6, the aforementioned Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first black African to wear the Polka Dot jersey. All eyes were on him and his teammates thereafter.

Teklehaimanot’s teammate, Steve Cummings, fittingly won Stage 14 on July 18 — Nelson Mandela Day.

Cummings was born and raised in Merseyside and was also on Team Sky before joining MTN-Qhubeka for the 2015 season.

We look forward to seeing more of MTN-Qhubeka next year, especially Teklehaimanot, a brilliant climber and marvellous to watch!

Hope for France

Spain’s Movistar won the team prize this year.

In 2014, it was France’s AG2R-La Mondiale. My hopes were high because their indefatiguable Jean-Christophe Peraud came in second place and Romain Bardet sixth.

This year, Bardet came in ninth place and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) came in tenth.

At least Bardet won the Super-Combative — Most Aggressive — rider prize. And he won Stage 18, his first Tour stage victory, a daunting Alpine challenge from Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne:

He built it from a long lasting breakaway and escaped near the top of col du Glandon and rode away solo in the downhill. He stayed away for 40 kilometres with an advantage of 40 seconds over his chasers. This is the second stage win for France and AG2R-La Mondiale at this year’s Tour de France.

It was amazing to watch and one can only admire a young man who told interviewers he bought several books before the Tour de France just so he could distract himself from cycling during his limited free time.

Things looked much brighter for France last year. It will be an uphill struggle — no pun intended.

France Télévisions and ITV4 do it again

France Télévisions did a superb job of filming and broadcasting the Tour de France. Anyone who wouldn’t want to visit France after seeing the beautiful countryside and monuments is, frankly, a bit off.

No other network can film cycling the way France2 and France 3 can. Nothing ever looked flat or one-dimensional as cycling races can in other countries. There must be something in the way French cameramen are trained. Everything is cinematic, eminently watchable.

Tour fans in the UK are grateful that ITV4 have the broadcast rights to free-to-view live coverage of every stage. It appears this will continue to 2019, thankfully.

July was indeed a beautiful month, enhanced by ITV4’s broadcasts, including commentary from Tour veterans Jens Voigt and David Millar!

Last week, several news articles hit the headlines concerning allergic reactions to plants.

Each case required a visit to the casualty unit or a stay in hospital.

Being a keen gardener myself, I was stunned to read these accounts of notionally harmless plants.

(Photo: F Geller-Grimm/Wikimedia Commons)The first story involves teenage boys who were playing in a park in Bolton, Greater Manchester. They brushed up against hogweed and, naturally, thought little of it. A rash later developed, which then turned into blisters and boils. The Mirror has photographs. Two of the boys required hospital treatment. One needed to stay overnight. Both are still receiving drugs to help their recovery. Initially, physicians at Royal Bolton Hospital were baffled by the injuries. However (emphases mine):

It can take as long as seven years for the skin to repair itself after a hogweed burn and the boys will now have to make sure they are protected from sunlight.

If the hogweed sap is rubbed into the eyes, it can cause temporary or even permanent blindness.

Apparently, according to the Woodland Trust — from which the photo also comesit is the giant hogweed which can be hazardous. Woodland Trust tells us:

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a plant in the Apiaceae family which was introduced to the UK as an ornamental garden plant. It has white flowers and deeply incised compound leaves (where the leaf is divided into several smaller leaflets) whose edges are irregular and very sharply or jaggedly cut. It looks similar to its harmless relative common hogweed however it can grow up to 5.5 metres (18 feet) in height, making it easy to spot when fully grown!

Giant hogweed is closely related to carrots, common hogweed, cow parsley, and (a bit confusingly!) is sometimes known as cow parsnip, or wild rhubarb.

The second story involves Mrs Rita Savage, 79, of Frome, Somerset. Several years ago, her sister gave her a Madagascar palm — a type of cactus — which Mrs Savage replanted recently after it outgrew its pot. Whilst repotting it, she accidentally pierced herself with one of the thorns. Emergency services were initially unhelpful because they did not understand the significance of her swelling and pain. She spent several days in hospital taking antibiotics and antihistamines. Doctors told her that she would recover fully — in another six weeks!

The third incident occurred in Loup near the Côte d’Azur. Six-year old Louise, from nearby Vence, was on a picnic with her parents. She and a young friend were having fun pulling leaves off a fig tree. Twenty-four hours later, both girls had to be rushed to hospital with burns and huge blisters. One of Louise’s hands has second degree burns. (Nice-Matin has photos.)  Louise’s mother told Nice-Matin:

[Doctors] told me it’s an ongoing phenomenon. However, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. No one talks about it.

In a conversation about gardening here last week, my reader Underground Pewster helpfully explained:

The milky sap that one finds when picking figs is both a local irritant and allergen. In addition, some people can develop burns when the sap affected skin is exposed to ultraviolet light. I have experienced only mild skin irritation on the fingers which is worse with the less ripe fig. When the stem or skin is green, then more sap will be flowing. Peeling figs can cause the same problem when the skin is thick and not fully ripe.

Who knew such hazards existed? The Tandurust site has more detail on fig tree sap. Excerpts follow:

Fig allergy rash may come from contact with the latex of unripe fig fruits which is usually made into a powder to be used for making meat tender, clarifying beverages, and rendering fat.

Rash will appear as a result of irritation which has been a big problem for fig harvesters.

… the leaf and root sap of a fig tree cause more allergic reaction and rashes than the unripe fruit and other parts of the tree

Psoralen and bergapten which are abundant in leaf and root saps of fig trees are considered to be the primary cause of the allergic reactions and the appearance of rashes.

Besides rashes, phytophotodermatitis can also develop when a patient comes into contact with psoralen that is present in fig trees. This condition is characterized by hyperpigmentation, sunburns, and blisters. There also had been cases of anaphylaxis.

I would not wish to cause my readers alarm, but it is worthwhile reading up on certain plants before working or playing with them.

I’ll certainly pay closer attention in future!

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:5-13

The Faith of a Centurion

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,[a] ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[b] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.


A parallel account of this miracle is in Luke 7:1-10. I have highlighted the differences in bold:

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant[a] who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion[b] heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

Whether the centurion sought our Lord in person or sent local Jewish elders is less important than the fact that this Gentile — pagan — had not only a deep humility but true faith that Jesus was fully capable of healing the sick from a distance.

To better appreciate this miracle and the centurion’s mindset, it is useful to try and place oneself in that era. A supplicant centurion, even via emissaries, was surprising as was Jesus’s agreement to heal the servant. Matthew’s passage also includes our Lord’s prediction about the Jewish people and Gentiles.

Looking at verse 5, the backdrop is Capernaum, which Jesus had just entered. It is likely that this, as well as the cleansing of the leper, occurred shortly after He had concluded the Sermon on the Mount nearby.

A centurion approached Jesus. This was every bit as astonishing as the leper who, a short while beforehand, told Jesus that He could cleanse him if He saw it appropriate. That appeal was an exercise in humility.

Just as the leper was an outcast, so was the centurion. The centurion, a Roman military officer, would have commanded 80 to 200 men. Rome stationed centurions throughout the empire’s territories. Their presence was a constant reminder of domination.

John MacArthur says that Israel’s centurions were local men — Gentiles — therefore, pagans (emphases mine):

The soldiers of the Roman occupation army were not really sent from Rome.  They were trained in the community or the area where they were being occupied. And what they did, according to history, what they did in Palestine was they found non-Jewish people in that area and they drew them into the Roman army and trained themThis man in Capernaum was, no doubt, a soldier under the troops of Antipas. And if he was a non-Jew living in this area, it is highly likely that he was a Samaritan. And if it was bad to be a Gentile, the worst kind of Gentile was a Samaritan, because a Samaritan was a Jew who had intermarried into Gentile lines, and that was to sacrifice his Jewish heritage, the worst imaginable kind of Gentile half-breed.

So here you’ve got a guy who’s a Gentile.  He’s the worst kind of Gentile, a Samaritan.  He’s the worst kind of Samaritan.  He is a member of the occupation forces of the Roman army who are oppressing Israel.

Yet, this man, as Luke tells us, built a synagogue for his local congregation. MacArthur says the ruins of the temple still exist, even if Capernaum as a town no longer does:

He loved their nation, and he built them a synagogue in Capernaum.  I’ve been in Capernaum.  I’ve stood in the ruins of the synagogue there.  They say the footings of the synagogue came from this day, and maybe they were purchased by this very centurion.

Now back to Matthew’s account. In verse 6, the centurion appealed to our Lord, telling Him that his servant is at home ‘suffering terribly’ from paralysis.

The ESV defines ‘servant’ here as ‘bondservant’, someone who owed a debt to the master which was to be paid off through slavery. MacArthur says that the servant could have been a child:

“Lord, my, [He used the word pais in the Greek, which means my child] my child lies at home sick of the paralutikos.”  He’s a paralytic, sick of the paralysis, grievously tormented, or suffering tremendously or suffering severely.  Now, the word pais is used here, and it means child.  Luke uses the word doulos, which means bond slave. And the question comes up: Was he his child or his bond slave?  The answer is it was rather common to have a child slave in the house, a young boy. And that’s what it was, a boy servant, a boy slave. And so he says, “My boy slave is at home sick of the paralysis.”  We don’t know whether it was polio or whether it was a nervous system or brain disorder or a tumor.  We just don’t know; but he was paralyzed and in tremendous pain.

Jesus immediatly responded that He would go to the servant and heal him (verse 7). This was unthinkable in view of the Jews’ impressions of Gentiles, the lowest of the low who would never inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus would have been in the midst of a crowd, so onlookers must have been shocked or confused. MacArthur explains:

They believed that, before the kingdom came, all the Gentiles would be destroyed.  That’s right.  If you read the, some of the apocryphal literature like 2 Baruch, chapter 29, it pictures the, what they believe is going to be the great feast, where all the Jews will sit down with Messiah … The great messianic banquet; and never, for a moment, did they believe that Gentiles would be reclining at the table with them.


They wouldn’t … use—a Gentile utensil.  They, they believed that Gentiles aborted their babies and threw them down the draft in the house.  Therefore, the house was polluted by a dead body, and they had all kinds of strange things that the rabbis had invented to keep them apart from the Gentiles.

For this reason, and also out of profound personal humility, the centurion declined Jesus’s gracious offer (verse 7).

Instead, he said that Jesus needed only say the word in order for the servant to be healed (verse 8).

The centurion was in awe of Jesus. He discusses his own situation — commanding soldiers — and, in this (verse 9), is saying that he recognised His authority. The unspoken subtext is that Jesus’s power and authority are infinitely greater than his own. Hence, the humility of his appeal. He dared not to invite Jesus to his home. He did not feel worthy.

Jesus immediately contrasted this Gentile’s faith and recognition with what He had found among His own people whom He came to save (verse 10).

He then issued a strong warning that many, unknown to the Jews, would inherit the kingdom of heaven (verse 11), whilst those expecting to be there would instead be cast into ‘outer darkness’ where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 12).

And, as we read in John MacArthur’s analysis of the first several chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus left the Jews in order to teach and heal the Gentiles, establishing His Church among their number.

Returning to the centurion, Jesus instructed him to return home where he would find the servant healed — just as he believed (verse 13):

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

As Christians we can take several lessons from this, if not for ourselves, for others. Citations below are from Matthew Henry’s commentary.

1/ God owes us — miserable sinners that we are — no favours. May we therefore approach Him and His Son in humility and supplication for divine mercy and grace. The centurion, like the leper, recognised this. Note how they both approached Jesus. The leper: should You see fit to do so, You can heal me. The centurion: I am not worthy of Your presence in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.

The centurion came to Christ with a petition, and therefore expressed himself thus humbly. Note, In all our approaches to Christ, and to God through Christ, it becomes us to abase ourselves, and to lie low in the sense of our own unworthiness, as mean creatures and as vile sinners, to do any thing for God, to receive any good from him, or to have any thing to do with him.

2/ Our Lord recognises our caring about others. The centurion’s servant was a slave who could have been put out of the house or neglected. There were many others who could have replaced him. Yet, the centurion was careful to seek Jesus’s help, even though the slave was on the bottom rung of society.

A charitable regard to his poor servant. We read of many that came to Christ for their children, but this is the only instance of one that came to him for a servant [he] sought out the best relief he could for him the servant could not have done more for the master, than the master did here for the servant.

We can extrapolate ‘servant’ for others who are equally deserving of our charity.

3/ This is also a spiritual analogy, relating to the state of the souls in our care.

We should thus concern ourselves for the souls of our children, and servants, that are spiritually sick of the palsy, the dead-palsy, the dumb palsy senseless of spiritual evils, inactive in that which is spiritually good, and bring them to the means of healing and health.

4/ May we never neglect the virtue of humility before Christ and our fellow man.

He does not say, “My servant is not worthy that thou shouldest come into his chamber, because it is in the garret ” But I am not worthy that thou shouldest come into my house. The centurion was a great man, yet he owned his unworthiness before God. Note, Humility very well becomes persons of quality. Christ now made but a mean figure in the world, yet the centurion, looking upon him as a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, paid him this respect. Note, We should have a value and veneration for what we see of God, even in those who, in outward condition, are every way our inferiors.

5/ Personal humility ties in with deep faith.

The more humility the more faith the more diffident we are of ourselves, the stronger will be our confidence in Jesus Christ.

6/ The centurion showed us that power of Christ knows no bounds.

This centurion believed, and it is undoubtedly true, that the power of Christ knows no limits, and therefore nearness and distance are alike to him. Distance of place cannot obstruct either the knowing or working of him that fills all places.

7/ Christ answers the call, whatever social status, of those with faith: leper or centurion.

Christ’s humility, in being willing to come, gave an example to him, and occasioned his humility, in owning himself unworthy to have him come. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, should make us the more humble and self-abasing before him.

8/ As was true with the Jews of Jesus’s time, not everyone who considers himself a member of the Church will be saved. We are in for some surprises:

Note, When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many there, that we thought had been going thither, so we shall meet a great many there, that we did not expect.

9/ Do we put our temporal comforts above our relationship with Christ? Are we in danger of putting ourselves in peril for eternity, a concept which is difficult for us to understand?

They shall be cast out from God, and all true comfort, and cast into darkness. In hell there is fire, but no light it is utter darkness[:] darkness in extremity the highest degree of darkness, without any remainder, or mixture, or hope, of light not the least gleam or glimpse of it it is darkness that results from their being shut out of heaven, the land of light they who are without, are in the regions of darkness yet that is not the worst of it, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 1. In hell there will be great grief, floods of tears shed to no purpose anguish of spirit preying eternally upon the vitals, in the sense of the wrath of God, is the torment of the damned. 2. Great indignation: damned sinners will gnash their teeth for spite and vexation, full of the fury of the Lord seeing with envy the happiness of others, and reflecting with horror upon the former possibility of their own being happy, which is now past.

With our busy schedules, let us ensure we make time to pray, even in the most unlikely places: the walk to a bus stop or railway station, when crossing the car park on the way to the office, whilst we are preparing dinner or doing household chores.

May we also develop the faith and humility of the centurion.

Next time: Matthew 8:14-17

hiding thebreakthroughorgOne of the most disappointing things believers encounter online are Christian sites that further conspiracy theories.

It is one thing to alert others about evil in this world which comes from corrupt and powerful people. It is quite another to continue to encourage those vulnerable in the faith to think that they should be living in fear because of it.

Certainly, there are places in the world — Africa and the Middle East — where Christians are suffering and dying for their Saviour.

We in the West, on the other hand, are keyboard warriors for real or extrapolated scary events and threatening people. If have fallen into this trap whilst professing to be Christians, aren’t we putting man above our Lord?

Encouraging other believers to be afraid is a denial of Christ. In fact, it is one of the Devil’s best works. By cloaking conspiracy theories as being biblical, those new to or shaky in Christianity see a bogeyman around every corner. They forget Christ’s power over sin and sinful man. Instead, they gravitate towards unbelief by feeding on conspiracy theories.

The Sola Sisters, two women who came to the faith in adulthood, explore falsehoods connected with Christianity. In 2015, they wrote extensively about and against conspiracy theories.

In one of these posts, ‘Christians and Conspiracy Theories: Witnessing, Romans 1 and An Appeal (Part 4)’ they say (emphases in the original, purple one mine):

What is the end-game for it? What lost people need is not a dissertation on evil. They need Christ. They need the gospel message. They need to be helped to understand what sin is, and then told that they need to repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s keep our eyes on the Christ, and make sure we’re keeping our hearts pure, and making sure our time is being spent on a BALANCED study of the Scriptures.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17) 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18)

So let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. And when souls are saved through the preaching of the gospel, those new believers WILL leave behind the trappings of the world of their own accord, because He who has begun good work in them will bring it to completion, will He not?

A few other Bible verses come to mind (emphases mine):

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. (Psalms 33:10, NIV)

Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. (Isaiah 8:12, NIV)

And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me, nor taken it to your heart? Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? (Isaiah 57:11, NKJ)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness … (Matthew 6:33, KJV)

Those of us alarming others about conspiracy theories would do well to realise that every moment we spend concentrating on them removes our focus from Christ Jesus.

We would do well to ask ourselves if we are doing the Lord’s work or Satan’s.

Like Le Bistrot Gourmand, Aux Bons Enfants, 80 Rue Meynadier, was another Cannes restaurant the Daily Telegraph recommended in 2015.

We added it to our list of places to eat in June 2015.

(Photo credit: Justacoté)

Potential diners should be aware that Aux Bons Enfants has a CASH ONLY policy.

The management does not accept credit cards, debit cards or cheques. Unfortunately, there is no mention of this at all at the restaurant’s entrance or on the menus.

In addition to the inconvenience, this type of policy raises suspicions with some French and Italian customers.

Right or wrong, it might result in lower prices. At €90 for two, wine included, it was our cheapest dinner.

Another factor in more reasonable prices is the fact that the family owns the premises.

Luc Giorsetti runs Aux Bons Enfants, which has been in business since 1935. His grandparents, Marie and Constant, made it a local landmark featuring regional specialities. In the late 1960s, Luc’s father Romain continued in his parents’ footsteps. He retired only a few years ago. Some families have been dining at Aux Bons Enfants for over three generations, each one passing the tradition down to the next.

Food is sourced locally, particularly from the nearby Marché Forville.

Reservations for dinner are strongly recommended. Whilst one cannot telephone Aux Bons Enfants, their website has a page allowing one to reserve by email. As the restaurant opens for lunch, it is also easy enough to stop by in the afternoon and book a table.

Another point to note is that the tables are spaced very closely together. This might be a good or a bad thing, depending on who is sitting next to you! The night we went — a Friday — two Cannes Lions sat next to us on the terrace. Our fragmented conversation did not change my negative impressions of two years ago. They were arrogant and elitist. My late grandmother-in-law, a born and bred Londoner, would have said: ‘They’re no better than they ought to be!’

Inside, Aux Bons Enfants is charming, although patrons will still be sitting cheek by jowl. Family pictures are everywhere, lending a pleasant, nostalgic atmosphere.

Service is adequate, at times perfunctory. Trip Advisor has a number of reviews from local French people and some Italians who objected to the manner of the wait staff.

That said, the food at Aux Bons Enfants is excellent. The prix fixe menu offers three courses with something for everyone.

SpouseMouse and I started with a succulent daube de poulpes comme à Marseille — octopus stew Marseille style. It comes in little cast iron Staub pots with lids. This is perfect for those who are curious about octopus. The stew, prepared with a red wine sauce, has equal proportions of octopus chunks and diced potatoes. The octopus is unctuous. It melts in the mouth. Interestingly, in that preparation it tastes like veal. Therefore, it is perfect for meat eaters looking for a seafood sensation!

For our main courses, SpouseMouse was very happy with the bavette de veau (veal) grillée. Bavette is comparable to a sirloin tip cut. The Giorsettis turned a less expensive cut of meat into a tender, memorable dish. The beignets d’aubergines which accompanied the bavette were generous pieces of deep-fried lightly-battered eggplant.

I had espadon grillé, which was the best swordfish I’d ever tasted. It had just enough texture but, unlike swordfish I’ve had elsewhere, was neither dense nor heavy. I could have eaten in quite happily the next day! The tomates à la provençale I’d ordered as a side dish complemented the fish perfectly.

SpouseMouse had a respectable tarte au citron for dessert, though not as good as Le Bistrot Gourmand‘s. I enjoyed a satisfying cheese assortment which came with a lightly dressed salad.

Our rosé was Domaine de Jale ‘Les Fenouils’ (‘The Fennels’), which was delightful.

We will be returning to Aux Bons Enfants on our next trip and look forward to sampling more from one of Cannes’ most traditional menus. However, we shall book a table for a Tuesday or Wednesday, when we hope it will be less busy.

One of our new gastronomic discoveries in Cannes this year was Le Bistrot Gourmand, a stone’s throw away from Marché Forville.

It is located at 10 Rue Docteur Pierre Gazagnaire.

(Photo credit: Trip Advisor)

Looking at the photo, note the discount supermarket next door. Right next to it is the market.

On the other side is — or was — a bar called Les Pénitents (if I remember rightly). This is a nod to the Chapelle de la Miséricorde, which is just across the street from the market and clearly visible from Bistrot Gourmand.

Not far from Les Pénitents is the railway line at the end of the street, busy with commuter and long-distance trains covering the Côte d’Azur. I counted 15 roaring by during our dinner!

It’s a quirky yet historic setting in the oldest part of Cannes.

Guillaume Arragon is the young chef and owner of Le Bistrot Gourmand. His talent and effort has propelled the establishment into the Guide Michelin, Guide Hubert and the Association Française des Maîtres Restaurateurs.

Marc, considerably older, runs the front of house. He is the classic Mr Grumpy of French maître d’s. Unlike the waiters at Le Rendez-Vous, there’s no making friends with him.

A friend of ours who had read the latest must-go restaurant listings in Britain’s Daily Telegraph suggested that we eat at Le Bistrot Gourmand.

Our visit mid-week in June 2015 was a delight. Considering its accolades, it was fairly easy on the pocket as well. Dinner for two came to €102.90, which included a bottle of Château la Calisse (rosé), an AOP Côteaux Varois en Provence from the Cuvée Patricia Ortelli. (Var is the wine-producing département next to Alpes-Maritimes Côte d’Azur.)

Like the owner of Le Bistrot du Suquet, Chef Arragon sources his food locally, particularly from the Marché Forville.

He offers two menus, the Menu Décourverte at €22 and the Menu Gourmet at €32.

We chose the latter. Both of us started with courgette flowers, coated in batter and deep fried, which were filled with fresh goats cheese from the Var. These were nothing short of heavenly. They were much lighter and crisper than those at Mantel, and the yielding, unctuous goat’s cheese melted in the mouth. We could have easily managed another plate!

We then moved on to the steak tartare with matchstick fries. Actually, these are comparable to the old-fashioned thin fries done in beef dripping, the way McDonald’s used to prepare them until the 1980s. I do not know if Arragon is the fry king or if he has an assistant. The chips are fabulously crisp on the outside and stay that way until the end.

The steak tartare was perfect in texture and flavour. I make it at home a few times every summer, based on SpouseMouse’s suggestions. Anyone in a similar situation would do well to order it at a reputable restaurant if or when they visit France, just as a reminder of how it should be done. The texture should be coarse — just blitzed — never fine like ground beef.

For dessert we both had lemon tart ‘revisited my way’. As the first two courses were spectacular, we were willing to try a deconstructed creation. were not disappointed. SpouseMouse is still talking about it.

(Photo credit: Le Bistrot Gourmand)

A light yet satisfying caramel sauce is on either side of the tart, topped with equally light, melt-in-the-mouth meringue strips.

The tart itself is to die for. The crust is very short, meaning that it’s unbelievably buttery and crispy, like a thin shortbread biscuit but much better, if such a thing can be imagined.

The creamy yet firm lemon custard, if one can call it that, was fresh, tart and unctuous. It defies description. We’ve never had anything like it.

We will definitely return to Bistrot Gourmand and highly recommend it. This was SpouseMouse’s favourite new restaurant on this trip.

A few closing comments. We dined on the terrace. Whilst it is noisy, you get to watch the local street scene. Certain French people prefer to eat inside. An older woman, with her family in tow, bumped into SpouseMouse on the way in — no apology or anything. She and her entourage monopolised Marc’s attention much of the time. How the conversation flowed. Would that he shared a bit of that warmth with the patrons outdoors. His manner alone prevents me from giving five stars to what is a particularly outstanding restaurant on the Cannes scene.

Also, Bistrot Gourmand often takes pre-booked groups of tourists, conference-goers or students. Therefore, the noise level might be fairly high. A large group of American students with their teachers dined indoors on the evening we were there. (They arrived after the Frenchwoman and her family were leaving.) I hope they expanded their gastronomic knowledge and appreciation!

Noise and Marc aside, Bistrot Gourmand should be on the restaurant list of everyone visiting Cannes. It has some of the city’s best food.

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