Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I'm going to do in the holidays ...

Today it's the 14th of July, and in theory we should all be out drinking toasts to our dwarf  (try googling "sarkozy booster height" and see what you get: perhaps we can get away with "vertically challenged") hyper-active Hungarian Pres, but in practice it's too bloody hot and no-one really likes the little bugger anyway, (apart from  maybe his dog and Carla Bruni, and I really cannot for the life of me think why she does) so why bother. Especially as it seems he's cancelled the traditional Elysée garden party, to which I was rather looking forward. Not that I was actually invited or anything ...

On the other hand, we did have the Tour de France: today was the Chambéry-Gap leg, so Chambéry was sewn up tighter than a chicken's arsehole by the CRS and other state-sponsored thugs. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it: cycling along in 35° heat with a hot, muggy southerly blowing in your face. Cooled down a bit this evening, mind you: the thunderstorms started circling and the wind got up to gale force, which I imagine rather put the kibosh on the fireworks displays.

Made it off to see Jacques the other day: he wanted to buy some more of the possum-fur gloves he bought back in 2005 when he came back to NZ with us, so I introduced him to the delights of internet shopping. In return I headed back home with a pot of gelée de framboise, which is what this little lot sitting here marinating in their own juices under the sun will eventually turn into. Mind you, he cheats: puts some blueberries in there too. Not that I'm going to complain too bitterly.

Got a reasonable amount of work on just at the moment: there are 300 motors to get ready for Cla-Val, the Windows CE stuff to do for the new Swiss client (Hach-Lange, if that says anything to those of you interested in water analysis, particularly that of dissolved gasses - they apparently do a lot of business with brewers), another 10K for a client in Lyon, and of course there's the SNCF. As I've billed them, I suppose I'd better start getting some work done at some point. Bit of a bugger, really. Whatever, that's July/August fully booked as far as I'm concerned, so my holidays will be more or less nonexistent. Fortunately, that's normal, so I'm kind of used to that.

I'm seriously thinking (if that's the right word for the random firing of neurons that tends to happen after a couple of glasses of rosé) about getting a new laptop. Not that this one is actually broken, or anything like that, but it is, let's face it, sloooow. At least, it is when I'm trying to run Visual Studio with the CE Platform Builder add-ons - mind you, you might not do that sort of thing. On top of that it's still running Windows 2000, which I still think was a good call - stable, and just worked - but that's reached end of life now, so at some point I'll have to upgrade.

And if I'm going to go to all that hassle (because let's face it, nuking from orbit, installing a new OS, and then reinstalling all the old apps for which you can no longer find the CDs or the licence keys is a hassle, not to mention finding and reapplying all the tweaks and patches you've set up over the years), why not go the whole hog and get a shiny new machine? You know the main thing that's holding me back? They all have those crappy 16:9 wide screens now, and I like 4:3 (1600x1200 pixels, if you're worried). But I'm going to have to overcome my distaste some day.

And as XP has also reached end-of-life, that's going to mean Windows 7. (Any snarky buggers out there who feel like suggesting Linux can do so if they want, but let's face it, all the software I develop is either destined to run under Windows, 'cos that's what the client wants, or it's for embedded systems and all the development tools run under Windows. Or, in some cases, DOS.) Anyway, that'll probably get up my nose: not only will I have to pay the Beast of Redmond for it, but it does seem to have Certain Issues.

Particularly with networking. Margo's little Samsung (yes, still got the plastic protective film on the case) will sometimes wake up and refuse to recognise the wired Ethernet connection or if it does, says it can't find a DHCP server. A reboot will usually fix that, alternatively she just uses the Wifi but that can be a bit problematic around here, what with all the iron in the walls (and hanging off them, in the form of bloody great radiators). As it happens, in fact, the router/access point is in my office, on the first floor: if I take my laptop down onto the balcony (on the ground floor, at least as seen from the road) I'm fine, so long as I haven't closed the shutters on the french doors from the office out to the first-floor balcony. Which I tend to do in summer, to avoid the place turning into a furnace. Oh, the joys of old houses.

Sunday now (sorry about that), and at least it's cooled down a bit. Only about 20° in the mornings, rather than 26°, and there's a bit of a breeze. Which does make the hammock even more attractive. Anyway, meals tend to be on the light side, so when I came across a recipe from Clotilde Dussolier (Chocolate & Zucchini, over on the right there) I thought I really ought to try it (with a bit of adaptation for what we happened to have in the fridge).

This, then, is a tarte pâte fine au chèvre et aux courgettes, and what first drew my attention was that she made the pastry with yoghurt. Which struck me as being rather a good idea, but unfortunately yoghurt is one of those on-and-off things around here - one day there's gallons of the stuff, then there's none for a month - and someone finished off the big tub of fromage blanc which I'd considered as an alternative, so I made it with sour cream instead. You take 1 1/2 cups of flour and a good pinch of salt, rub in 60gm of butter, then add about 1/2 cup of whatever and mix it in to get a good, not too stiff, dough, before letting it sit for half an hour in the fridge.

After which she suggests rolling it out thinly, sprinkling sesame seeds over half, folding the other half over and then rolling it out again: as it's with difficulty that I can get Margo to eat pastry at the best of times (with the exception of phyllo) and she regards sesame seeds as devil-spawn, I gave that one a miss and just rolled it out, thinly, once. You could line a pie-dish with it: personally I prefer to roll it out into something like a rather wobbly rectangle on some baking paper, and then slide it onto a baking sheet. Your choice.

Next step is to spread a thin layer of cheese over it: batusson, mashed-up goat's cheese or ricotta would be good. I had batusson, so that's what I used. (When I say "thin layer", I'm not suggesting you be too miserly. It was suggested, in the tactful way such hints are made around here, that I should have put more.) And because I felt like it, I drizzled some liquid honey over that, before sprinkling it with heaps of chopped fresh mint.

Finally, spread very thin slices of zucchini over the cheese, sprinkle some fresh thyme over (if you feel like that) and stick it in the oven for 15 minutes or so. A word of warning: I used the yellow zucchini for this, and they seem to have a lot less water in them than the bog-standard green kind, but I still fried them in a bit of olive oil first. Don't like soggy tarts, and wasn't going to take the risk.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There's oil on the beaches ...

Suntan oil, that is. Along with abandoned drinks cans, cigarette packets, condoms, Parisians and all the other detritus of the shorefront. Yes, France has shut down for the summer, as usual: the juilletistes have left, another month to go before the aoutards do the same in their turn. And right now we're enjoying reasonable temperatures: up in the mid-thirties at the moment, which I must admit does not really inspire me to move at all. And it doesn't really cool down that much at night either: we had dinner out on the balcony last evening, and at 9pm it was still more or less sweltering.

Mind you, I suppose I could have thought of something for dinner which was not duck breasts cooked gently in their own fat with little freshly-plucked new potatoes dusted with thyme and chopped onions cooking alongside them.

Which of course brings me to The Joy of Hammocks, or what to do when you get home from work and it's too bloody hot to think of anything except some rosé and a lie-down. In my case, this involves getting a glass, putting something cold and pinkish in it, and wandering down to the garden with a cigar, just to make sure that no-one's shifted the hammock from where we put it up, underneath two big acacias. To date, no-one has, but it's always better to be safe than sorry, I feel. And at least if I'm in it, people will think twice before walking off with it.

The other thing about that is that to get down to the garden you have to walk down 50m or so of the little path and cross the stream: nothing particularly exceptional about that, just that Joëlle's raspberries have burst out of her garden and into the path, where they're fair game for all passers-by. Me, in other words.

Malyon is turning up sometime in August: until then she's working like a dog. Or that's what she says, anyway. In theory she was going off to Blackpool to work in one of the casinos, but there was apparently a bit of a cock-up on the catering front (ie she got a phone call the day before she was headed off to ask when she was turning up) so she decided to carry on working at the bar in Glasgow, where at least they're competent. And I'm not entirely sure that Blackpool has much to recommend it, anyway. Whatever, we are to be privileged by the presence of Tony: she feels that as she's met his parents, it's only fair that he should have to put up with hers. Just so long as they're not too bloody noisy we'll survive.

Last Saturday, Margo being off at her salon at Morzine (somewhere up in Haute-Savoie, if you really want to know), I invited myself (and - under protest - Jeremy, who had other plans for the evening) round to Sophie's, who'd organised an evenings debauchery. Well, that's perhaps going a bit too far: let's say an evening with some of her colleagues. God, schoolteachers can drink. A right gang of pissheads where rosé is concerned. And, let it be admitted, given what they have to put up with you can understand why. It was rather a good evening, even if Jerry didn't get to go off to the lake for the fireworks and a free concert, as he'd planned. Tough luck, self-denial builds moral fibre. Or so it would seem. And in any case, I wasn't about to let him go off and get up to godnose what, maybe even enjoy himself, without being close to hand.

Did my usual turn around the market before going off for lunch with Sophie, and as I had some time to kill, and being more or less in the right spot, I thought I'd stop off up at the top of the parc du Buisson Rond, which used to be the grounds of the chateau de Boigne. General de Boigne had an interesting history - started off life in the 1800's as a penniless servant boy in Chambéry (or something along those lines), got engaged in the army and went to India and became general of some maharajah's army before returning, stinking rich, to Chambéry. To which he eventually gave most of his money, which is why there's a column, supported by four elephants, to his honour in the main square. But I cannot think why the nice forged gates have "Vermont" on them, unless of course he admired George Washington.

Anyway, he built himself a nice neo-classical chateau with some of the loot, and left it and the grounds to the city when he died. Up above that there's the old Barberaz cemetery, right next door to the chateau des Gottelands, who were definitely old money. It's a nice calm spot for a bit of an amble in the shade, you can always natter to the headstones if you feel like a chat, and behind the chateau there's a little sort of fountain where you can (well, there are no signs saying you can't) bathe your feet and head, which I did.

Whatever, after that little bucolic interval I headed off and got the salad ready, flambéd the gambas in Scotch and soused them with white wine and cream sauce, and opened the rosé. Did not, exceptionally, drink that much: too damn hot and stifling, for one thing, and for another we were all of us headed off to Mumblefuck in the evening for a barbecue at Karen's. If for no other reason than to let Jerry catch up with Amelia.

There is one disadvantage to air-conditioning in cars. It's all very well when you're driving along, nice and cool and relaxed, but when you finally arrive at your destination, get out of the car and find that for some unaccountable reason they've forgotten to air-condition both house and garden, it's rather like being stifled by a hot, dry, fluffy towel. And Mumblefuck was even hotter than Chambéry - about 37° when we turned up, around 5pm. We opened the car doors and started to wilt.

We finally had a stroke of luck though: the thunderstorm that'd been lurking all day decided to get off its arse and do a decent evening's work. Much appreciated, as it meant it was actually cool enough to get a decent night's sleep when we finally made it home, a bit after midnight.