Sunday, August 29, 2010

One last little wafer, Sir ... ?

Not, perhaps, the prettiest feet on the block, but they're mine, I'm kind of attached to them and they're right where I want them: at the other end of the hammock from my nose. Of course, in a few months you'll be laughing like mad things as you barbecue on the beach and we shiver in the swirling snow: until then my feet are - metaphorically and surreptitiously - giving you the finger. Raising a digit, anyway. Whatever. Don't take it personally.

They are, however, completely functional as far as pedal extremities go, and just to prove it they took me on a little walk around Barberaz, one of the old suburbs of Chambéry (in fact, a town in its own right, really). There are lots of unexpected mansions lurking away in walled parks, odd little streets that are more staircases than anything else, and greenery everywhere. It's a pleasant stroll under the sun, especially if you've no place in particular in mind and just want an amble.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned that Margo, Malyon and Jeremy are off up at Pesselière at the moment, rusticating amongst the wheat fields and the sunflowers, and apparently gathering blackberries and plums. With luck I'll get to see some of the blackberries at least when they come back Thursday, but I'm not really too optimistic. So I'm rattling around the house like a pea in a rather large pod - or would be if it weren't for the fact that the dog is trying to keep me company.

Her idea of doing that is to come up at some inconvenient time - like when you're trying to have your first coffee of the morning and pretending that the world doesn't exist, or it's Saturday, or something - and try thrusting her damp black liver-shaped nose into crotch, armpit and then down the back of your neck. Accompanied by whuffly sound effects, this is not really my amongst my favourite ways to start the day.

Mind you, that particular list is pretty short, containing as it does only one entry. Which I've polished over the years, but it's no secret to say that it involves lying half-asleep in bed for at least half an hour before even contemplating getting out of it, followed by a leisurely breakfast of fruit, coffee, fruit juice, diverse patisseries, then a shower ... after all that it should be around lunch time.

Speaking of which ... Saturday again. Found some figs at the market, which is good if you happen to like figs. I can live with them.

Also, exceptionally, I made lunch for the monsters. Hamburgers, and if I may say so rather good ones at that. I would have taken a photo (yeah, they were that good) but in the 30 seconds between my setting them on the table and returning with the camera they'd disappeared, or at least were unrecognisable. Bloody adolescents, you'd think they could have the decency to wait just a minute ...

Around that time Lucas called out that there was an enormous fat pigeon in the garden, so all we adults eventually put down our glasses and came out to mock this overweight avian. My first guess was a partridge, but I know that they're only found in pear trees and Sophie has none of those: as it happens there was not one but four enormously fat hen pheasants going for a little walk through the bottom of her garden. Not something you see every day.

Whatever, I was not suitably equipped (not everyone wanders around with a rifle to hand, you know) so it was back to Plan B, or coquilles St-Jacques. Again. I swear, I shall have to get more imaginative.  Mind you, just gratinée like that, under the grill, bathed in white wine and cream - I could probably get people to pay for that. Could I patent it? ("A method and system for making people stuff their faces with shellfish and the generative organs thereof" - probably no sillier than some of the things that have in fact been granted.)

Tomorrow we're headed off up the valley to show Malyon off to Jacques, who has promised - in return - to make lunch. Judging from the last phone call this will probably involve amanite de césar, which is apparently a close relation of our old friend amanite phalloïde, but non-toxic. Or so we hope. He's been hunting the things for years now and is still alive, so I'm willing to assume that he knows what he's doing.

On the other hand, he does seem to have had a run of bad luck lately. Every time I've rung he's had some small accident or something, and I'm obliged to snicker quietly as his tale of woe unfolds. First time it was just some minor operation on his thumb to get the tendons running smoothly over the pulleys (or whatever) and that put him out of commission for a while, then got his little finger split open whilst putting up an awning, then he fell off a stool doing the vacuuming (yes, I know, the same question went through my mind too) and flattened his nose on the floor, then it was an infection in a tooth that the dentist didn't pick up that put him onto horse-doctor's doses of antibiotics, and when I rang to see about bringing Malyon over he dolefully announced that he was going in that very afternoon to get the root of the offending tooth removed. Still, I suppose there's not much else that can happen to him now, so he's good for another couple of years.

Back after that, and quite honestly I do not think I can eat another thing - not today, anyway, and quite possibly not tomorrow either. He'd gone all out, so we started off innocuously enough with a little terrine de lapin: fait maison, evidently. Good rustic stuff, can't go wrong with that, cornichons, some decent bread and - for me at least - some salted butter. Green salad on the side would be nice, too.

Had we stopped there, all would probably have been well. But next up, just because he happened to have the mushrooms and anyway he likes to spoil Malyon rotten (also has problems believing that she actually gets any decent food in Glasgow) was the terrine corézienne aux cepes, which involves nothing more complicated than a well-seasoned farce made from minced breast and belly pork with a good slosh of cognac: a layer of that in the dish, a thick layer of sliced fresh cepes, another layer of farce, more mushrooms ... I'm sure you get the idea. That then goes into a hot oven for about half an hour, then you turn it down low, stick a slice of pork caul over the top and let it cook for another two hours.

The pièce de résistance was, however, his famous vol-au-vent savoyard. This is no relation to the classic vol-au-vent, which is a puff-pastry shell stuffed with meat or sea-food in sauce and garnished more or less elaborately, depending on whom you're trying to impress. (Financière, for instance, gets garnished with - amongst other things - truffles and poached cocks' crests. It's a rare beast, these days.)

This involves browning some veal and bacon chunks in the bacon fat, then adding some thick stock and some morilles and whatever other mushrooms you happen to have lying around before covering and letting it simmer away for a couple of hours. While that's going on you fry some croutons (slices of baguette are fine) in butter: they go in - along with some veal quenelles (which is a kind of sausage made from very finely minced veal and beaten egg-white which is then poached) - about half an hour before you plan on eating. (Bury the quenelles in amongst the other meat, and spread the croutons on top so that they just start to soak up a bit of sauce.) And five minutes before serving, stir in 20cl or so of heavy cream. A word of warning: this is not a light meal.

I had foolishly taken the last of a peach and cream tart I'd made the previous night to satisfy Malyon's longings: I say "foolishly" because of course Jacques had made a tarte aux myrtilles just to finish us off. He works on the basis of 500gm of wild blueberries per tart, which get stirred into what he calls an "appareil": it's an odd usage which I've not come across before, and it means a very thick sweet crème anglaise. That all gets poured into an uncooked pastry shell and the whole lot goes into the oven to be baked, and then left to cool before eating.

You can probably see why traditional French Sunday lunches are lengthy affairs. Sophie and I are nowt but dilettantes compared to that.

Anyway, I think I just might go have a nap. Goodnight, all.


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