Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Country Bumpkin In The Big Smoke ...

A quick trip up to Paris this week - just Thursday and Friday - to see my friends at the SNCF about what they might have in the wings in the way of development, and incidentally squat at Ian and Marie's place for a couple of nights: catch up on news, see my favourite niece, stuff like that. Wednesday turned out beautiful, and the trip up would have been perfect were it not for the fact that the TGV was full to the gunwales with 8-year olds back to Paris from a classe de neige.

(For your information, this where an entire school class or two are exiled from the city to go and find out first-hand that snow is cold, wet and generally miserable. They are escorted, in an attempt to prevent escapes, by at least two teachers and a variable number of parents, all of whom are confirmed alcoholics at the end of a week. For some strange reason the classe de ville, where country brats are sent off to Paris, is not particularly popular.)

So I sipped my rosé and tried to ignore the periodic cries of "Maitresse! Maitresse!" and "Pipi!" or, more ominously, "Je pense que j'ai vomi!". (Which means exactly what you think it does, and exactly how anyone, even an 8 year-old, could be unsure as to whether or not they'd vomited I cannot imagine.)

On the bright side, one of the schoolteachers charged with ecorting the brats back was rather good-looking, which gave me something to contemplate other than the drain-cleaner I was swilling.

It's an odd thing, but there's something almost instantly identifiable about teachers, almost like they're a race apart, or belong to some sort of club. Maybe it's the air of harassed, ignored authority, or the barely suppressed psychotic rage.

Margo always said that it was a good thing they weren't allowed to carry weapons.

Of course, with my usual impeccable timing I arrived at Gare de Lyon at 19:15, just in time for the hellrace from there to Eaubonne: at least there's only one correspondance, and now that I know which quai I need to be on and how many floors up (or down) it is from where I am, at all goes relatively smoothly. Although the day they change things around at Gare du Nord I'll be up shit creek.

And whilst I think of it, you really would think that they'd have plans of the major stations up on their website, wouldn't you? Nothing complicated, just a sort of map of each level, with the quai numbers clearly visible and all the escalators (usually hors service anyway) and stairs marked. Sadly, that seems beyond them.

Thanks to the site I do know that there are 5 boutiques La Brioche Dorée at Gare du Nord should ever I want a coffee and a croissant during the thirty seconds I have to spare whilst looking for the right access to quai 34, and trying to remember whether I want to go by Valmondois (I really do, because otherwise I end up somewhere I do not wish to be) or not: unfortunately I do not know where they are, or at least the website does not tell me.

I'm sure that there's a reason for this other than a lack of imagination and sheer incompetence, but for the life of me I cannot think what it could be.

And much to my surprise the weather is great, even in Paris. (The only downside to Paris, really, is that  I feel greasy all the time, except for the five minutes immediately after having a shower.) If it keeps up I swear I'll try for a picnic lunch on Saturday, up at the tour at Cruet: maybe plaited fillets of sole.

The little preparation required (basically, cutting them into strips and plaiting them) can be done the night before, and the actual cooking part should take no more than ten minutes on the little camping-gaz burner. I suspect the longest part will be reducing the white wine, cream and saffron sauce - and getting the salad ready, of course.

Thursday morning I managed, of course, to get myself temporarily lost on the RER: sheer force of habit got me onto the D line for Maisons-Alfort rather than onto the B line through to St-Michel and change there onto the C to get through toVitry. That cost me five minutes lost time at Chatelet scurrying around to find the B line, which made me twenty minutes later than I should have been.

And could someone please tell my why it is that people think trains are a good place to make love? Take the young couple on the Métro this morning: totally oblivious to all else, he was staring like a landed fish deep into her eyes whilst she idly caressed a thigh with an abstracted air, gazing longingly back into his. Sickening.

Later ... I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, with all the work going on around Paris the TGV was almost an hour late getting me back to Chambéry. Still, what did leave me rather gobsmacked was that  SNCF staff were handing out stamped addressed envelopes at the station so that all I had to do was stick my ticket in it and send it off to get a refund.

Despite it's turning out another wonderful day - must be about 19° out here on the balcony in the sun - both Sophie and Margo are off today so that kind of buggered my picnic plans. (Maybe next weekend. I really do want to do this fish thing.) So it was a leisurely drink with Bryan at Cardinal's, and now I'm idly dreaming of a dinner involving tournedos Rossini and the first asparagus of the season.

I can't recall whether I've told you about those before, but they're amazingly simple and extremely healthy, so you really should know about them. Sad to say no wine is involved at any stage, but that's a poor excuse for not opening a bottle anyway. Especially with the weather so good, I can crack a rosé and pretend that summer's just around the corner.

Rather than April, which tends to have a well-deserved reputation for being - shall we say - changeable.

Anyway, all you have to do is take two good slices of beef fillet, quickly fry them to your liking, place a slice of foie gras atop each one and spoon some sauce béarnaise over. Serve straight away, with asparagus that you've cut into little batonnets and boiled furiously for five minutes in a little water, sugar and about 30gm of butter until it's reduced to a syrupy emulsion, and sprinkled with chopped parsley.

(A variant on this is tournedos Henri IV, which is more or less the same thing only the steak is served on a fried crouton which itself has an fond d'artichaut placed on top. Personally I'd advise you to buy a tin of prepared artichoke hearts, but that's because I can't bear to think of chucking out all the leaves you have to trim off just to get the base - there aren't many things in this world better than pulling the leaves off a boiled artichoke, dipping them in melted butter or béarnaise, and squeezing out the little fleshy morcels at the base of each one between your teeth. If you happen to like that sort of thing,)

The only problem - if you can call it that - is that you are left with a goodly amount of foie gras, which it would be a shame not to eat. How you do this is up to you and I have no objection at all to just spreading the stuff over slices of buttered baguette, but I should also point out that there exists a dish called les délices Landais which merits your attention.

Briefly put, take some veal escalopes and bash them out thinly: cut them into neat, foie gras slice sized bits and then make little foie gras sandwichs with them, pressing the meat together well around the edges. Flour, egg and breadcrumb these (having a hopeless tendency to go overboard, I will mix grated parmesan in with the breadcrumbs, but this is optional), then fry until golden-brown and crispy on both sides. Perfect as an entrée, but do be careful not to make so many that you have to open another tin of foie gras, because then you might well find yourself back at the beginning, with an excess of the stuff on your hands that you have to get rid of, one way or another.

1 comment:

  1. It's an odd thing, but there's something almost instantly identifiable about teachers, almost like they're a race apart, or belong to some sort of club. Maybe it's the air of harassed, ignored authority, or the barely suppressed psychotic rage.

    I am surprised and vaguely disappointed that no-one gave you beans about that.