Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bocuse is a B'stard ...

Been a bit of an hiatus here, hasn't there? I could put it down to that general summery feeling, when the sun goes down behind the Bauges and there's still that lovely golden light over the Chartreuse (yeah, where reclusive monks make a particularly vile liqueur that, personally, reminds me of liquid soap) until 9pm ... and on top of it, the Wifi doesn't actually extend down to the garden - it's 100m, for heaven's sake - and so I can't do anything productive in the hammock. It's not for want of wishing, promise - it's just the way things are.

Alternatively, I could say that I'm in over my ears in work and quite frankly, after a couple of all-nighters, all I want to do when I get home is slump (elegantly, of course) in front of the TV and purge my brain with "Burn Notice". Or "True Blood". Or "Lie to Me", whatever. A bit of light entertainment that lets me put Mr. Brain in neutral, and stop wondering why the hell it is that Platform Builder CE6 R3 will no longer do a debug build, or incorporate my changes from the main platform tree.

But these are problems you probably don't have, and aren't you the lucky ones then? Anyway, I owe you a bit of deathless prose - not to mention some photos to get you salivating in yer southern hemisphere winter - so here goes. (That, by the way, is an unborn zucchini. In case you hadn't noticed.)

Our neighbour, Stéphane (who is happily married to the half-English  Emily) got it into his head for some strange reason that he wouldn't be happy until he'd cooked a whole ham. Which involves braising the sucker, then finishing it off in the oven. This does result in a helluva lot of cooked pig, rather too much meat for them and their three kids (one of which isn't actually at the meat-eating stage anyway) so they invited all the neighbours around to help out.

Which, with the help of a number of bottles of wine, we quite happily did.

It was all rather nice, especially as it combined three of my all-time favourite things: eating, drinking, and lying out in the sun.

Anyway, it was off to the market as usual yesterday, and as you can see the apricots are out, bless their little orange-speckled hearts. As indeed are the nectarines and the peaches, and the lovely bright yellow courgettes, and the tomatoes, and the poivrons ... not to mention the melons.

Which brings me, admittedly indirectly, to a topic dear to my heart, and about which I can get quite excited if you let me; namely, just how badly frog-persons eat as a rule, and how expensively. I don't know whether it's the stress of modern life or what, but the humble art of domestic cookery has pretty much disappeared in the average French household.

Watch someone shopping at Carrefour on a Saturday, and what goes into the trolley will be frozen or chilled pizza, a bag or two of frozen legumes poelés, some nicely packaged individual servings of grenadins de veau sauce forestière with a picture of a smiling Paul Bocuse on the box (he can afford to smile, can't he? Smug bastard.), more frozen stuff, maybe some canned ravioli (beurk!), and even the salads come ready-torn, under nitrogen in handy little plastic sachets.

Which I personally find rather depressing, because for half the money you could get the fresh ingredients and knock up something actually worth eating: OK, I admit that you'd miss out on getting Bocuse's signature, but I could live with that. And when I think that last night, having come across a 400gm packet of frozen scallops (with coral, yay!) at €5.50 at one of the discount supermarkets, it took me about 15 minutes to put together a salad and some coquilles St-Jacques, sauce à la crême et au vin blanc for the two of us (Jeremy being away at Amelia's birthday, just as well really as he cordially detests scallops), it really does make me wonder.

Mind you, I could be getting a bit too worked up. There are always lots of people at the market, and they have to do something with all those fresh vegetables and fruit. So the situation can't be totally desperate. But they do tend to be older people (myself excepted, of course) so I suppose I'll just have to hope that the cooking thing has just skipped a generation, and that in five or ten years people will be using their ovens again for something more creative than reheating frozen fish fillets in sauce.
In totally unrelated news, Margo's headed off today for a week to see a friend, work on a magazine article and go to a salon, so she went off to the supermarket to get a couple of bottles to take with her, as one does . She swears they were just lying peacefully next to one another on the back seat of her car, and that the two just kissed (as it were) when she took the roundabout: whether or not you believe that, the upshot was still an exploded bottle of rosé all over the back seat, which smelt like a brewery - not the best should you be stopped by the gendarmerie. So she spent the afternoon steam-cleaning and vacuuming the car, which had not been in her plans for the day.

Nor was it in mine, as it happens: after the market I picked up Sophie and we headed off to lac de St-André for a picnic. The lake's not all that much to write home about, but it is quite a pleasant spot with some nice shaded areas and a couple of major advantages: it's close by, and it's not crowded.

I have to admit that I'd feared the worst when we arrived, seeing all the cars and campervans lined up in the car park, but I needn't have worried: either they were autonomous robotic Terminator-style meat-sack killers, or the actual inhabitants had all caught typhoid or something, because the beach was, by French standards at least, empty.
Basically our closest neighbours, 50m away and happily downwind, were a trio of apparently neanderthal Dutch-persons trying to light a barbecue using only damp grass and duck poo. It can - apparently - be done, but it takes rather a long time, and in my opinion isn't really worth it. But I must say I admired their perseverance, and by the time we left they had managed to blacken five or six sausages, which just goes to show. (Just what it goes to show I'm not entirely sure - perhaps that some people actually like charred "meat" with a hint of anatidine excrement.)

I had no plans of proving my manly skills by incinerating meat, and had come prepared with a chilled bottle of rosé, some bread, a salad which just needed tossing, and a bit of saumon en croute (that's salmon fillets with sour cream and herbs in puff pastry, to you). And there's always a corkscrew and a blanket in the boot of the car, which, along with the picnic hamper we got years back as a present for subscribing to some magazine or another, pretty much takes care of everything.
So we lay out in the sun and ate and drank and talked, and for reasons which escape me the conversation turned to food, with Sophie reminiscing about the tarte à la crême that her grandmother made and which neither she nor her mother have been able to duplicate, and the traditional four-hour Sunday lunch (vegetables as a separate course, please note), and me about the good old Kiwi roast leg of lamb with potatoes, parsnips and godnose what else - all of which probably led me to my diatribe on the death of French cooking.

Whatever, that's summer so far for us. Jeremy turns 16 in a week (where did the time go?) and shortly after that I have to pick up Malyon from Geneva, and then it's off to Pesselière for a few days to see Jean. Then, all too soon, people start coming back from their holidays, school starts, and it's back to the daily grind with another ten months to get through until next summer. Such a depressing thought, I think I'll go lie down in the hammock until it passes.

1 comment:

  1. Well, just to show that the older generation in NZ can still cook too, last weekend Annette David & Iris came over (to help celebrate that little award, donchaknow) & I made slow-roasted pork belly. The nice butcher at New World (Te Rapa) boned a 2kg piece for me & also scored the skin, which was a big help as I didn't want to blunt my good knives on the stuff (apparently a Stanley knife is recommended). I rubbed the meat side with a mix of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, & chinese 5-spice powder; then covered it with a large piece of foil & flipped it over to sit skin-side-up on the foil in a roasting dish. Next, oiled & salted the proto-crackling. One can then fold the foil up to enclose the flesh :) 3 hours at 140oC & 1 at 130o, followed by 10 carefully-watched minutes under the grill to make the crackling really crackle. We had it with gravy from the juices (the birdies got the fat the next day & very happy they were too); parsnips creamed with butter, cream, ginger & honey; baked purple taties; & brocolli. With a plum & sour cream pudding for afters. Divine!!!