Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Memoirs of an Unhealthy Couch Potato ...

I may have been unfair: Jeremy did in fact turn up (well, asked to be picked up) last weekend. I'm not entirely certain exactly why: I had to drive through to Aix at 9:30 on the Friday night to collect him (ruining a good evening's drinking), left him in front of the TV watching the last few episodes of Doctor Who, and then he left Saturday mid-day. I suppose it's flattering in a way, but the point of coming home for an evening just to sleep at us kind of escapes me.

Well, I hope you're ready for this. Yes, I did indeed get off my still relatively trim arse (all that healthy living, don't you know - steady diet of red wine and all that) and go jogging: some of my thigh muscles (the ones that normally do nothing more assertive than wobble a bit as I sit down) are still protesting, silently but strongly. Margo had headed off to a salon in the Auvergne, Jeremy had gone back to the hotel in Aix, and Sophie was packing her bags for a class trip up to St. François Longchamps, which left me with a Sunday afternoon completely free.

I tried lying out in the hammock with a glass of wine, which was fine, but you can't keep it up all day - have to get up from time to time to get another bottle - I tried procrastinating on a project I need to deliver Real Soon Now, which made me feel better, but I can't do that all day either - and finally I decided that if I'm really going to do this jogging thing it might be a good idea to start.

So I climbed into my oldest and possibly most disgusting shorts (the ones that consist mostly of holes held together with duct tape, used when mowing the paddock), forced my feet into the old running shoes that accompanied me to Cameroon all those years ago, and drove down to the Isère. Where I reluctantly parked the car, found a nice shady track, and boldly headed off. I think I managed about twenty minutes (which probably translates to about 500m) before body spoke sternly to brain.

Still, it could have been worse, and I'd like to remind you that it's been 25 years or so since I last did something like that. And whilst I do go walking in the mountains and suchlike quite regularly, you're not using the same muscles. I should have recovered enough to have another bash next weekend: in company this time, with any luck. Because jogging on your own is bloody boring, unless you're an anal-compulsive who likes to count your pulse rate. Also, having a camera slung over your shoulder (in case you spot something interesting) is not necessarily a good idea, unless you like have your liver prodded heavily.

At least it was good weather for it - a bit overcast, not too hot or heavy - which is probably why I wasn't actually sweating like a pig (do pigs in fact sweat? Strange image, when you think about it) when I slipped gratefully back behind the wheel of the Alfa to head home.

Which is more than I can say for today. It's been gray, miserable and damp all week. Bye-bye, summer. See you next year. I hope.

The vinegar over there on the right is just to remind me of lunch. Not that I used it as such, 'cos it's not ripe yet - the little piments have only been soaking in it for a couple of weeks, need at least a month - but it involves vinegar. Apparently it was rather à la mode in Parisian bistrots a while back (about twenty years ago, to be honest) but that's not really a reason to dismiss it out of hand, and it found favour with our totally impartial tasting panel of two adolescents. (Well, out of four large chicken legs - that's four thighs, four drumsticks - there was exactly none left at lunch's end. And the frying pan was wiped clean. Sounds pretty much like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to me.)

Anyway, all you have to do is brown your chicken pieces (either cut up a whole chook if you feel like it, or, like me, just get some legs and cut them in two) for ten or fifteen minutes, then chuck out most of the butter and olive oil and rendered chicken fat in which they've been swimming and sweat some shallots and lots of sliced garlic. Then take that out of the pan, put the chicken back in and spoon the shallots and stuff over the top.

Incidentally, this is best done in a stainless-steel frying pan or an enamelled cocotte. Do not use a cast-iron pan or you'll regret it, and you just can't get the burnt-on crispy bits in a non-stick pan. Sad but true. Whatever, turn the heat up full, wait for a minute or so, then pour over a good 3/4 cup of decent red wine vinegar which will, if the pan is hot enough, start to sizzle and boil straight away. Let that reduce by half, then add the same quantity of tomato coulis and when that comes to the boil, turn the heat down low. Then cover the pan and leave it to fester by itself for half an hour or so, during which time you can start drinking. Or making a salad. Or both. (This is called multi-tasking, and apparently women have been doing it for years. To little apparent effect, I might add.)

You might want to stir it from time to time and maybe add a bit of water if it looks like it's sticking a bit, but otherwise you've nowt to do but sprinkle a bit of parsley on top and serve it (about the same time as you finish the first bottle, which means it's time to open another).

Forgot to mention - being, as I was, on my own last Saturday, I invited myself around to Sue's for dinner. Which I did end up making, but that was my own fault. They have an enormous old building in the middle of Saint Pierre which is slowly getting titivated, and Serge has evidently been taking lessons from Gaudì. To good effect.

I was actually quite lucky, because she'd just come back from ten days walking on the Compostelle trail. (That's the pilgrimage trail of St Jacques de Compostelle, just to be clear.) Which is rather serious exercise, and puts my feeble efforts to shame. But not sufficiently so that I'm tempted to try it myself - for one thing, I'm damned if I know where I'd find ten consecutive free days. And apparently it rained, which is about par for the course. (Hands up if you really like walking with rain steadily dripping down the back of your neck. No? Thought not.)

Driven by some sort of masochistic auto-flagellative instinct, the French seem obsessed by the football matches that are apparently taking place. Not only do they feel driven to watch every humiliating match involving (even peripherally) the French team, but they seem to have this need to discuss every ghastly detail , blow by blow, the morning after. Sometimes I feel like a hopeless sex therapist in a Woody Allen movie, only with a worse love life.

Still, looking on the bright side, at the rate they're failing to win matches they'll soon be out and back here, and people will have to find something else to talk about. With luck it'll be a little more interesting - the President's haemorrhoids, perhaps. Whatever, I'm going to get dinner ready.

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