Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome to 2011, the drinks are on me ...

God alone knows which blathering idiot first decided that it would be a good idea to kick off the new year in the middle of bloody winter. Personally, I can't think of a more depressing time to start anything. And just to rub it in, we've had three days of unremittingly cold, gray, dismal weather. Roll on Spring, I say.

And just to start the year off with a dribble, the washing machine has decided to go senile on us. First of all the belt connecting the motor to the drum decided to come off, which is, I admit, not the most difficult of things to fix, and then it decided to start pissing water everywhere. So I've just spent some quality time with a tube of mastic trying to bog up a long rusty slit at the back of the drum, just to keep it going for another few days until I can get a new one. Bloody typical.

Friday I really couldn't be arsed working or anything, and anyway Margo was going in to Chambéry to get the windscreen on the little Suzuki replaced: usual story, a little chip from a stone and then, with the cold, you wake up one morning and find there's a bloody great crack running from side to side. Luckily insurance covers all that; the damn thing costs about €450. So I whipped past the office to make a token appearance (Renaud was off skiing) and then headed down to get a bit of shopping done.

Me, and apparently everyone else in the known universe: people worried, no doubt, that with only 50kg or so in the pantry they might be a bit short in the foie gras/saumon fumé department.

Whilst wandering aimlessly about the carpark at Leclerc waiting for Margo to turn up I did spot something which rather piqued my curiosity: a big 2x3m box with a truck pulled up by it, and people in the truck apparently pouring what looked like milk into the box. This kind of intrigued me, so I waited for them to go away (I suppose I could have just asked what was going on, but that would be cheating) and took a closer look.

They probably were indeed pouring milk into it, for the box advertised itself as a "dispenseur du lait cru" ie an unpasteurised milk vending machine. You can turn up with your own bottle(s), or for a fee the machine will throw one at you, and then for 1€ the litre it will fill your bottle with creamy white goodness, fresh from the morning's milking.

Personally I detest the stuff, my psyche having been permanently scarred by drinking milk fresh from the cow when I was once a wee lad: hot, steaming, thick and with bits of grass and what looked like rats' buttocks floating in it. But it seems odd that there's such a market for the stuff in the city. Hitherto I've come across it once or twice at one of the laiteries at the market, but I'd hardly expected to stumble across an industrial-scale vending operation in Chambéry.

Then later that afternoon, after a beer with Bryan I went off back to Mumblefuck to drop Jerry off: he'd organised New Year's Eve with Amelia. (Amelia is a friend. An honorary cousin. And despite Karen's best efforts, likely to stay that way. So stop  being salacious.) So we got to have a quiet evening in: a nice meal, a couple of the older bottles rudely dragged from their slumber in the cellar, and idling around until the fireworks went off at midnight. (And no, I am not speaking metaphorically here. The neighbours let off fireworks - and young James got to put his fingers on the trigger on one of those gas-powered airhorns.)

OK, I know you're suffering from temperatures up in the high 20s, but over here we is having -10° and worse at night, and as the dog is getting no younger we decided to make her sleep inside at nights. Because although her cellar is technically warmer than the outside, that's still too damn cold for comfort, and doubtless no good at all for her arthritis. Or rheumatism, whatever. Reluctantly she does so: on the plus side (from her point of view, anyway) we have to leave the pantry door ajar so that the cat can get to her dirtbox which means that the dog can also, despite it being absolutely verboten to enter the kitchen and she knows it, get in there too and scarf any leftover food from the cat's bowl. Not to mention any Kitty Treats™ she might find in the dirtbox. Dogs can be quite disgusting.

Which is, I suppose, just tough titty on the cat, but I really did think the dog was rather abusing the situation when I came down one morning to find that she'd clambered up into my bloody armchair and was happily asleep in it. I remonstrated, she gave me a Look (one of those ones that says "Oh, it's you! You're up early, aren't you? I'm not actually here") and pretended to be still asleep: I wound up upending the chair to decant her onto the floor. Then another five minutes removing dog hair so I can curl up with my coffee ...

Whilst I think of it, has anyone else noticed that they just don't make keyboards the way they used to? (Reflection perhaps due in part to the fact that, when cleaning out the Cupboard Below The Stairs so that we could send an expedition in to get to the Christmas decorations, we came across - amongst other things like the original Windows 3.11 installation diskettes - an old keyboard with the 5-pin DIN connector. It's currently on the balcony with a large number of boxes full of other junk, awaiting the next trip to the tip.) I have a Microsoft comfort curve  keyboard (or whatever they call it - used to have one of the hump-backed ergonomic ones which was a joy to use, but it didn't resist the effects of a glass of red wine) and the letters are starting to wear off the keys. Luckily, although I'm no touch typist, my fingers do know where the keys are, but still ... shall have to get out the Letraset and clear nail varnish, I suppose.

There's a quiet week ahead: Margo's gone off to give four days of classes on fabric dying in Switzerland and Jerry goes back to the lycée tomorrow morning, which leaves just me, the dog and the cat. Which means that when I come home in the evenings I'm going to get my knees whipped by an energetic tail and my face slobbered by a none-too-clean dog's tongue, and the cat will be trying to get her little bit of love as well. All this, and trying to get an intimate dinner for one ready: what bliss!

It appears that I no longer know how to cook for one person. If, indeed, I ever did. (Rather as, when Margo gently reminds me as I'm driving that I no longer have the reflexes of a 20-year old, I like to reply that in fact I never did. This tends to make her nervous.) I seem incapable of making little quiches and am unable to eat more than half a (baby) chicken: probably a good thing then that I didn't decide to make soupe à l'oignon or diots au vin blanc because they are huge and I'd have to make more space in the fridge for the leftovers than physically exists in there. (Memo to self: a hyperdimensional fridge would be a Good Idea. Go get one.) At least I'm unlikely to die of starvation in the immediate future. Maybe I will go and make some onion soup anyway.

And as it happens, dinner tonight is in fact onion soup, quiche, and salad - the lot followed - if I can find the room - by a bit of buche left over from Christmas that's currently hogging vast tracts of real estate in the fridge. At one blow I can get rid of one lot of leftovers and make room for the next arrivals. Seems a bit of a pointless exercise really, when you think about it. I should just leave the damn things in there and let them breed, and do a bit of culling when it's dinner-time. Would save a lot of bother and expense.

Speaking of things breeding, I just found a coffee mug that Margo must have left out before she left. Not a pretty sight.

Lunched with Sophie the other day (now there's a good example of a poor innocent noun being raped into a verb before it can say "philologist") and for the first time noticed that she commits one of the cardinal sins of French table etiquette: uses a knife to cut her salad. I was hugely deceived: it's a bit like accidentally scratching granny's paintwork and finding Klaus Barbie underneath. Just goes to show one never can tell what evil lurks in the hearts of men: this will be a lesson to me.

Whatever, as you can tell, the market is back to normal and the fishmonger is once again plying his trade. Which brings me to the treat of the day, which would be really nice made with turbot but as I'm not going to pay 20€ the kg for an overblown flatfish, and you probably can't get turbot anyway, you'll be pleased to learn that it works really well with salmon.

The first part is simple: take your fish, and remove its vital organs. In their place stick a couple of healthy sprigs of thyme - or rosemary, if you prefer. I could go for rosemary. Then place it on well-buttered tinfoil (this doesn't work. I always wind up ripping the stuff when I try to smear the butter over it: these days I just stick generous cubes of butter everywhere and hope for the best. Not yet let me down), pour a glass of white over it and wrap it all up hermetically. Now into the oven with it, for about 40 minutes.

While this is going on consider the state of the wine, for you'll need another glass for the sauce: go on, open another bottle. You know you want to.

So anyway, at this point stick a chopped shallot, a half-dozen peppercorns, 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar, a goodly glass of white and - the important bit - a star anis into a saucepan and start it all simmering. Let it do this thing for fifteen minutes or so, while you drink and get a salad ready. After which you should add about 100ml of stock, 2 tbsp of cream, and some saffron: turn up the heat and reduce this by half.

And when that's done, strain the whole lot through a sieve and over a very low flame whisk in about 120gm of butter and, if you feel that way, a pinch of cayenne. Keep it warm until the fish is ready, and serve to applause.

1 comment:

  1. OK, there's no turbot in good ole NewZild - but we do have perfectly good flounder here, you know!