Monday, April 5, 2010

Tell that to the young folks today, they just won't believe you ...

I'm not quite sure why - probably because we were swapping stories about our mis-spent youth the other afternoon as we attacked the rosé in the watery sunlight of a typically grotty Easter day - but something brought to mind the glory days of the EDP department at the PNCC. I think it started when Karen brought out a tray of sausage rolls, one of those sort of iconic Kiwi finger foods which, in some Proustian fit, made me think of the trays of buttered sliced white bread, boiled saveloys and buckets of tomato-coloured gunk that awaited us every Friday evening in the upstairs lounge bar of the old Commercial Hotel just across from the PNCC building on the Square, where Maggie the barmaid presided with alarming efficiency and an uncanny ability to know who was going to be coming through the door next, and get their favourite tipple ready and waiting for them on the bar. Quite frankly, I think she'd have been mortally insulted if one of the regulars ever felt the need to actually ask for their drink.

Or it might have been when we were talking about how so many people seem to eat out rather than cook in (Sylvia was complaining about how it's impossible to find an apartment with a kitchen in New York, because no-one actually cooks) which brought back the memories of times with no kids and two disposable incomes, when The Stable and The Homestead were rather like second homes (only they had better furniture than us), and when we'd perfected the art of the four-hour Friday lunch. (We'd planned on starting a tradition, but unfortunately a mild word from the Town Clerk to the effect that he'd quite appreciate seeing some of the EDP staff in the office during working hours rather put a stop to that. A shame, as we were rather good at it, and the restaurants certainly appreciated our custom. To the point where we didn't even need to reserve a table, really. Ah well.)

As you may have guessed, we spent Easter day at Mumblefuck with Karen, her mother Sylvia,  her partner Philippe and our peripatetic emigré friend (and now naturalised Frog-person) Brian Lovell. We did, I feel, do full justice to two 2kg legs of lamb, a pavlova and a mille-feuille aux trois fromages - not to mention the five bottles of wine. But three of those were rosé, and so don't really count. (Actually, I was quite pleased with the mille-feuille. I had some batusson, some phyllo, and Karen  - like any self-respecting Italian - had some mozzarella and some parmesan hanging around, so I just stacked some sheets of buttered phyllo up with paprika and gros sel and herbes de Provence sprinkled on them, cut it into three and baked it until crisp, then spread batusson mixed with fried poivrons on one, put the second on top and put mozzarella slices all over that, then put the third on and sprinkled that liberally with parmesan before putting it back in the oven again for ten minutes. Simple and easy, and quite delicious too. At least, that was the general consensus.)

Today, contrary to all the laws of nature, it turned out beautifully fine and sunny, despite the dire warnings of the weather office. I really do not know why I bother listening to them anymore. Everybody's out and about enjoying the warmth, and Stéphane has got all enthusiastic and dragged the rotary hoe out of hibernation.

Saturday I'd planned on a quick run in and out of Chambéry, but around 8am I got a timid SMS from Sophie saying that she was too knackered to go help a friend shift flats, and was I still tempted by an after-market apéro? Silly question, so I dressed up in waistcoat, bow tie and frock coat so as to frighten the little old ladies at the market and wound up making eggs Benedict for lunch, which we washed down with a decent bottle of white. (Eggs Benedict are good. Poached eggs on toasted muffins and crispy bacon, the lot topped off with sauce Béarnaise. The hardest part is poaching the eggs, given that no-one seems to have an egg-poacher these days. Whatever, really delicious brunch with a good salad and some goat's cheese and granary bread to follow.) Unfortunately, her two share the same attitude to food as Jeremy - someone obviously put it there to be eaten, and it would be ungrateful not to do so - and so instead of chocolat noir aux baies roses with our coffee we had to make do with a couple of biscuits. Bloody kids. Anyway, we wound up chatting away as usual - well, maybe a bit more than usual, it's coming up for two years since she and Renaud split, and she's feeling a bit down - until it was time for her to play taxi, and for me to head home and do manly things.

Which turned out to be a little less pleasant, as I finally got around to cleaning the chimney. Took the pipes down from the stove and cleaned them out, and then I had the bad idea of actually looking up the chimney to see how filthy that was. Now the thing about this place is that the wood-burner is on the ground floor, and when the original building got swallowed by the "new" part back in the '40s they put in a lovely marble fireplace on the first floor, with a proper brick chimney about 80cm wide and 40cm deep going up. And rather than put themselves to any bother, they just pierced a 15cm diameter hole in the kitchen ceiling and stuck a pipe through it from the grate of the fireplace, and hooked the wood-burner up to that. Which means that properly cleaning the chimney entails taking down the pipes and cleaning those, and then going up to the first floor and trying to get the crap out of the chimney proper. Not all that easy a job, as most chimney-brushes are not made for that size of chimney - at least not these days. I suppose we could have sent Jeremy climbing up the inside - that'd have brought most of the crap down - but I think it's illegal nowadays. 

So I found myself on hands and knees in front of the grate, poking this silly little brush up into the vasty spaces above and trying to shake it around so as to get it into the corners and things. Because, let's face it, there was an awful lot of gunk up in there. Filled a 50l rubbish bag with the stuff, and that's not counting what came down in the kitchen. And of course, as I'd started off with the firm intention of just doing the pipes I hadn't bothered to put gloves on; by the time I'd finished not only was I black with soot, bits of crispy burnt tar, and stuff that looked for all the world as though someone had stuffed the chimney full of old newspapers  and pigeon feathers and set fire to them, but my arms were raw from scraping up against the filthy bricks of the chimney. Some things you really shouldn't start.

 Anyway, as you can see the flowers are out:  forsythia (I'm told), daffodils and the well-known cognassier de Japon (aka the Japanese quince, I think) and what with the blue sky, bright sun and temperatures hovering up there near the 20s for once it actually felt as though Spring wasn't too far away. I certainly hope not - we could do with it. I'm bored witless with winter.

Sad to say, but out of all the responses to last time's quiz no-one actually came out and defended any of the places on my list. (Apart from Gisborne, which did get noted as having good wine.) Still, at least no-one got me started on Taihape, which is probably for the best. Although Brian did have some rather unkind words for Invercargill, but I prefer to lump that in with the rest of everything south of Cook Strait, and forget about it.

Oh, I almost forgot - the Beeb has started the latest series of Doctor Who! This may not excite you, but it does us - just goes to show how sad our lives are, I suppose. First episode looked good, and they're promising Daleks and Cybermen and just about everybody! Goody!



  1. Mmmmmmm, cheeeeese :-) Mmmmmmm, filo :-) Gonna do some shopping on the way home from work!!!

    Annette & David have a download of the first ep in the new series, so may watch that with them & make the cheesy thing...

  2. The photos of spring are lovely but where is the one of you all blackened and looking chimney-sweepish?
    I would also love to make the cheesey things but some of those ingredients are French and where the hell do I find batusson mixed with fried poivrons in Palmerston North!
    Taihape is a great place to stop, by the way, on the way to Taupo - the Brown Sugar Cafe is par excellence! love to margo - anne

  3. Anne - couldn't take a photo because I was, effectively, all black and covered in crap, and didn't want to get the camera too filthy. Although I did think about it. All I really wanted was a good hot shower.

    As for the batusson, you'll just have to find someone that does fresh goat's cheese and persuade them to mix chives, garlic and parsley into it. Hell, it took me 20 years to find someone who did it that. Come to that, it took me 20 years to find phyllo pastry over here. You are so lucky!

  4. Beeb has started the latest series of Doctor Who!
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