Skip to main content

Slow

Absinthe Bar, Antibes
One of the reasons why I love our house in Antibes so much is that pretty much everything is within walking distance. The centre of Antibes is a short walk along the seafront and up the broad, plane tree-lined Boulevard Albert 1er. Supermarkets, La Poste, our bank and insurance agent, the Mairie, the Provencal market, bakers and fishmongers and chocolate shops, enough restaurants, bars and cafes that would probably take a year to visit, are all there.

Juan les Pins lies in the opposite direction, a steady climb to the crest of Chemin de Sables from where, 75 years ago, the 19th century palazzo that’s currently being renovated must have had a sweeping and uncluttered view of the bay and the Cap d’Antibes. Now the horizon is mostly filled with high rise apartment blocks that start on land once belonging to the palazzo’s estate and trickle down the hill to La Pinede at the edge of the town, a park full of umbrella pines, clumps of Strelitzia, or Birds of Paradise, and fairground rides for little children.

I now find myself measuring distances in streets and landmarks (the other side of Place de Gaulle, or two streets after Café Kanter) rather than the miles I used when I was living permanently in Kent where even buying a pint of milk involved a car journey.

How long each walk takes depends on how long you’ve been living here. In my first few months it took me ten minutes or less to reach the centre of Antibes. These days it’s likely to be fifteen, or more. I suppose the heat is one reason to slow down. Even in February the sun can sometimes be hot enough to have you wiping perspiration from your forehead and tugging the damp cotton of your t-shirt away from your skin if you set out route-march style. Try it in July or August and you’ll find yourself liquefying after the first 200 yards. But that’s only part of it. The engine that drives life here actually runs at a slower pace.

It might be easy shifting down a gear during a two or three week holiday but getting used to a slower pace every single day is more challenging. Even after three years I can still get irritated when the person serving at the fishmongers or the greengrocers keeps on chatting, at length, with a customer after they’ve made their purchase, regardless of the queue of people waiting.


Yesterday, when I went to buy some Carpentras strawberries at the greengrocers, worth every cent of the 4,50  for their sweetness and deep red hearts, the woman carried on tidying up the punnets of soft fruit, shifting them towards the front of the stall, lining them up neatly. I’ll be with you in a moment, Madame, she eventually said to me, but she didn’t rush, and stood back to admire her handy work before going back behind the stall to ask me, Qu’est-ce que vous voulez? The strawberries that have been sitting in my hands for the last 4 minutes?!

But yesterday I managed to embrace the slowness. While she was wrapping the strawberries I tasted a little slice of melon from the sample plate she'd put out (the first Provencal cantaloupes of the season) and told her I’d take one of those too. She picked up one, two, weighed each one in her palm, tapped them and put them back. She took a third to the scale then changed her mind again, brought it back and exchanged it for another. Ça c’est un bon melon, she said and I had no doubt she’d be right.

I won’t idealise France; it’s not always the case that ‘slow’ is good. I signed a mandate for a new savings account at the bank two weeks ago and the account still hasn’t been opened. But that’s French bureaucracy for you; even the French complain of la paperasse, the bumf of paperwork and length of time that even the smallest administrative task can entail.

But sometimes slow is wonderful. No one has ever chosen a melon for me with such care. And not necessarily because she wanted to please or impress me, but because it was her metier, her trade, and doing it well was what mattered.

Slow Tomatoes

I’ve been preparing this dish with winter tomatoes, adding a sprinkling of sugar to enhance their flavour, but now we’re into spring, and soon to be summer, they don’t need that extra kick of sweetness.

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and place cut side up in a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with dried herbs – oregano, or Italian, or Herbes de Provence. If you’re using winter or forced tomatoes you might want to add a little salt and sugar too but don’t over season as the flavour does concentrate during the slow cooking.

Now you have a choice. Either put them in the oven at 100° centigrade for 3 to 4 hours or at 50° centigrade over night. This timing is okay for medium to large tomatoes.

I love them cold with crusty bread, or just snacking on them during the day, but I’ve used them in a tomato and buffalo mozzarella starter too, dressing them with roughly chopped basil and balsamic syrup.

Slow here means flavour. So good.


Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about walking away from home.
  • Write about slowing down.
  • Write about soft fruit.
  • Write about someone who cares.
  • Write a list of all the good things in your life.

Popular posts from this blog

Pie, pie glorious pie

So often when we talk about food we are talking about family. In fact that was how the hungry writer blog began, nearly six years ago: weekly memories or life stories linked by the theme of food. Food is nurture and love. It can be celebration and anxiety too. It can also be a battleground, as the parents of young children know so intimately! Which is rather a satisfying segue into the family featuring in this week's blogpost: The Radfords. Because if anyone understands the feeding of children, really, really understands, it has to be Sue Radford who, with her husband, Noel, has 19 children. You can read about the family on their website but don't rush off yet as what I really want to talk about is pie. And specifically Radford's pies.
Noel Radford has been a baker for 25 years and opened his own bakery in 1999 in Heysham, Lancashire and makes pies with locally sourced ingredients. That, along with his skill as a master baker, means that the pictures of the 'filled to t…

Eat, laugh, cry, remember: Baked Camembert

Once, on a holiday in Malta, I dressed Tony up in my gypsy skirt and stretchy white vest, used two satsumas for breasts and made up his eyes and lips with the brightest colours I had with me. Then I took a photograph. He didn’t seem to mind, in fact he seemed quite tickled by the fuss and attention to detail, but the quantity of rosé we’d shared at Snoopy’s restaurant on the seafront in Sliema earlier in the evening might have had something to do with that.

This was 1988. There were no digital cameras for instant viewing (and, praise be, instant deletion). The only instant photographs at the time came courtesy of Polaroid, with their packages of square film and box-like cameras, and slid out of the front of the machine on shiny thick card that everyone huddled over and watched develop. But they tended to be party cameras, appearing at Christmas, birthdays, engagements. You captured your holiday photos on a proper camera, one you had to load and feed film into, then unload and drop off…

The Mythic Biscuit: Oreos

My childhood biscuits were mainly plain but had lovely names: Marie, Nice, Rich Tea. Quiet biscuits. The kind of biscuits that would never interrupt a conversation. Polite, not pushy. At the other end of the spectrum, and only irregularly present, probably a result of practical economics, were cheeky Jammy Dodgers, irritable Garibaldis, and self-contented and reliable Bourbons. And even more irregularly, the flashy inhabitants of a Christmas Box of Biscuits: Pink Wafers. I ate them at the same time as not liking them very much, a bit like Miss World Contestants in sparkly dresses, too much eye make-up and a saccharine idea of world peace. 
I'm in the mood to think, and personify, 'biscuits' because the lovely team at Oreo sent me some samples of their new Oreo Thins. I hadn't heard of Oreos until the early 1990s when a friend asked if I would bring him back a packet from a Florida holiday. I forgot and pretended I couldn't find them. 'But they're everywher…