Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spring, Sprung, maybe Sproing; whatever ...

Wednesday night up at the office, and it's frikkin frigid outside: trying to get some hardware to do what I want and it doesn't want to.

Hence Margo has been left to fend for herself in the food department (happily, there are enough leftovers for an army - or a brigade, anyway, so I don't feel too guilty) and I am headed off into town to see if I can't find something to eat.

Something which is neither a burger nor a kebab, and which won't take too long: good thing it's not a Monday night, or my options would be severely limited.

As it stands, they're limited to "L'arbre à Bières", which is, as it turns out, rather good. Noisy and cosy, with a rather good line in flammenkuche, at least if I'm any judge.

Not that I can claim to have eaten that many, nor to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of such things, but at least those I have in fact eaten were authentically Strasbourgeois, by birth anyway.

Should you be wondering, a flammenkuche (lit. "flamed cake") is the Alsatian answer to pizza. The yeasty dough is paper-thin, and in the basic version gets spread with cream, onions and bacon chunks before being stuck in a really hot wood stove for 15 minutes. When well done, it's definitely worth it. I had a slightly more elaborate version, involving raw cured ham, goat's cheese and fig jam: excellent. Especially when washed down with a glass or two of Gewurtz.

Which is all very well, but when I did get home around midnight it was to find that the central heating had cut out and didn't want to start again. This is not a nice thing to have happen at this time of year, let me assure you.

Especially as, in common with most such installations over here in ole Yurrup, yore central heating not only does the heating but also the hot water, so if it goes on the blink you can kiss goodbye to the nice hot shower you were so looking forward to in the morning. And as the ice-cubes come tinkling out of the shower-head to clang invigoratingly against your skin (I have no idea why this is called une douche écossaise, but it is), you may be forgiven for wondering what the hell you're doing in a place where the temperatures ever get below 23°.

It's a question which weighs upon my mind, anyway - along with "how can I get out of bed when it's only 9° in the bedroom?": a question to which I have not, as yet, found an entirely satisfactory answer. If only because "I can't" doesn't seem to be acceptable in all quarters.

Whatever, after no shower and a few frantic phone calls, the nice M. Damiani came and fixed the burner, despite a few dire warnings about the life-expectancy of the pump. Don't care. We is happy!  and warmer. For that sort of weather in the bedroom in the morning is CHILLY and even the cat thinks this. (As far as we can make out, anyway. She certainly seems to lick chins with more desperation, probably hoping to be invited under the blankets. That is not going to happen.)

Well, the earth moved for us last night - not like that, you band of filthy perverts: one last little wobble (or wibble) on its axis (is that sidereal precession, I wonder, are these words just coming to me from some of the darker recesses of the grey jelly I'm pleased to call a brain these days) and it suddenly feels like spring. No more bloody winter. I for one am heartily content, especially as it means I can dream again of drinks out on the terrace as the sun sets at a reasonable hour ...

Of course it also means that the snowdrops are coming up in the garden, the birds are cheeping in their nests as the cat waits below, and sometime in the next few months I'll have to take the lawnmower out of hibernation: I do not care. Not just now, anyway. Although I know I will, soon enough.

For the first time in years, Jeremy having been invited round to Sophie's for the evening (she's been booted out of the house so that Lucas can have his little soirée raclette free of adult interference) Margo and I went out. Nothing posh, let me assure you: just off to Cardinal's, for their inaugural Fish'n'chips evening.

Rather to my surprise it was actually very palatable: the chips were excellent, as was the fish. Beautifully battered, not greasy at all. On the other hand, they had no malt vinegar, so we had to settle for sauce tartare: memo to self, should we go again take a hip-flask full of vinegar.

The music wasn't too bad either, even if we did have to explain who Peter Frampton was.

I'd planned something quick and easy for lunch - involving wine, as usual - and it turned out to be poulet sauce dijonnaise. Of which you may not have heard, so I shall now tell you all about it.

It starts with bits of chicken - I always use chicken thighs because they're convenient, tasty and cheap, but if you feel like cutting up a whole chicken go to it, I'll stand back and watch in admiration - which get pan-fried for 5 minutes a side or so until nicely golden. Resist the urge to turn them every 30 seconds, it really doesn't help. Quite the opposite, in fact. When this has been done you can either stick them in the oven to roast or cover the pan, turn the heat down low, and let them finish on the burner.

Sophie doesn't have a decent cast-iron skillet, and I wasn't about to put her proper stainless-steel skillet in the oven to see if it worked, and in any case she has a typical French oven ie tiny which was already full with potatoes crisping up and some mushrooms roasting in olive oil and garlic, so I went for the stove-top option. Which also has the advantage of leaving all the crispy bits in the pan in which you'll make the sauce, which has to be good.

After 25 to 30 minutes the chook should be done, so haul it out, stick it on a plate, cover it with tinfoil and try to find room in the oven for it anyway - just so it stays warm. Then fling a couple of chopped shallots in the pan and let them soften before adding a glass or so of white (I assume there's some left) and the same amount of chicken stock: let that reduce by half.

When that has happened, add some cream and let it simmer for a bit more until it thickens. I can't give you accurate measurements here as I was using a knife to dig the cream out of its pot, being as what it was frozen solid. Which is because Sophie's fridge died, so whilst awaiting the arrival of a new fridge everything got stuck into the old one - which is in fact the first one we ever bought in France, about 23 years ago - which is manic-depressive and knows only "tepid" and "freezing". But I digress.

Add 2 tbsp of decent Dijon mustard and as many handfuls of chopped chives as you want - and I personally think a bit of cayenne would go nicely - and stir it all in before plonking the chicken back in it (or, alternatively, pouring it over the beast) and serving.

It was almost warm enough for us to have eaten outside, but the sporadic arrival of a playful breeze rather put paid to that idea, and so we dutifully dined around the table. Which was probably just as well, for otherwise we might have missed all the excitement concomitant on the arrival of her new fridge.

A burly man rang the doorbell, said "'ere, is the the Clavel place?" (or something very like that, loosely translated) and then with the help of his PFY assistant, proceeded to haul away the departed carcass and install its replacement. Which, incidentally, came loaded with about 750m of sticky tape holding various drawers, shelves and whatnots in place, which meant a half-hour's fun ripping the stuff off and trying not to wrap ourselves up in it. And as the presumed husband, I got assigned the manly-job of screwing various bits in place. ("'Ere," said the burly man, "monsieur will do that." Nice to know he considered it within my competence.)

Whatever, the big white gleaming beast is now Sophie's best friend, and I can see it standing there in the corner, unplugged and with all and sundry forbidden to touch it on pain of pain, at least until the gloss wears off. At which point the boys might be allowed to stick a yoghurt or two inside.


  1. Remind me not to read this blog when I'm hungry. That pizza sounds like the most delicious thing on the planet right now.

    As to fish and chips, I have always been REALLY fond of a good tartar sauce, but I would like to give the malt vinegar a try sometime...

    BTW, in 2010, our air conditioning went out in the dead of summer and our heating went out in the dead of winter. It was...not pleasant.

  2. Also, I feel like I'm going to puke right now and really need to eat something... TMI?

  3. Ah, tarte flambee -I have very fond memories of that from when Rosie & I were in Strasbourg. Nom nom nom. For some strange reason shecwent for the spare ribs instead...

  4. Actually got inspired (and had forgotten to get meat out of the freezer that morning, so all we had were bacon bits in the fridge) and made one last night. Sour cream, bacon, some reblochon (no goat's cheese either, what is the world coming to) and there was still some confiture aux figues left over from a foie gras evening, so that went on too: delicious. With salad. And, of course, a glass or three of white.