Sunday, March 20, 2011

In which I am, once more, Clinically Blonde ...

Glue-sniffing just isn't what it used to be. Not that it ever was, mind you, but still ... Our friend and occasional alcoholic Bryan recently confided that thanks to European regulations governing such things he can no longer get a quick fix of OTC solvents (the glue itself is more of an occupational hazard than anything else, tends to clump once it gets up yer nose and extractiong it when dry is extremely painful - or so he says), and has had to resort to taking up the carpet in his apartment with a heat gun.

Which also has its drawbacks, as apparently it plays merry hell with his knees. And he has sworn that people who actually glue carpet to the floor deserve a hideous death. I'm tempted to agree with him, if only because the people who do that are also the sort to choose fuschia as a colour scheme. But what I really want to know is why he won't let me tear the wallpaper off. It's not as though the walls will come down too ... I think.

The infallible weather-prediction system currently in use around here (to which I suppose I really ought to give a cutely humourous name, like "Ramshackle Hall", or "The Shamblings", or "Please Ask The Bailiffs to Turn Off The Lights") has once again proven its worth. And, of course, its infallibility. For the Nth year in a row the apricot has flowered: so far the temperatures have only plummetted by 10°, but I'm confidently expecting a rain of toads or something in the near future, which should definitely knock the blossoms from the boughs.

(Doesn't have to be toads, although that would be fun. Anything large, preferably gross, and rather improbable would do - pork chops, for instance. Although those I would pick up and put in the freezer.)

Should, by operation of the laws of chance as affected by narrativium, some blossoms survive the hail of batrachians (not that I'm that hopeful), this means that in all likelihood the Empire State Building will fall on the garden, causing the few nearly-ripe fruit to go suddenly rotten with shock. Or it might be an attack of locusts, or flying killer swine, or someone goes down and reads a depressing story to them: quite frankly I no longer care.

Tree buttocks
I really must start dyeing my hair: I seem to be going blonde at the roots. Headed off to the market this morning and got unsuspectingly onto the autoroute to find that most of Belgium seemed to have had the same brilliant idea, so I congratulated myself quietly for having thought to do most of the shopping Friday night as I dived off at St. Baldoph and took the back roads the rest of the way through to the market.

And there, as I drove around in ever-decreasing circles looking for a park, it came to my attention that in the rapid packing of the car before I left, I had totally forgotten to take my wallet. No plastic, no cash, no cheques. And I so did not want to waste another hour heading back home, grabbing the thing, coming back in (nationale or departementale all the way this time, given the state of the traffic, which wasn't getting any better that I could see) ... so cue a couple of rapid phone calls to all of the few friends I still have around Chambéry who might be willing to lend me some cash.

Bryan was off doing a couple of lengths of the lac du Bourget - at any rate he wasn't answering his phone (possibly had some premonition as to why I was calling), Sophie was still asleep at that hour, Pierre was off having Chinese lessons ... just as I was resigning myself to a really annoying wasted morning I remembered Stacey, who was at home and did have some cash to lend me. Saved!

Which was rather good, as it meant I could go off and get some trout for lunch.

It has always been, as the King remarked, a puzzlement that many otherwise intelligent people seem to firmly believe that fish and red wine shall never mix, as though some gastronomic oracle had set the principle in stone. Personally I think that red wine, like a little black dress, goes with anything - especially a little black dress. What then, shall we think of truites à la maconnaise? (Please note the absence of the little squiggly thing under the 'c', which means it is pronounced like a 'k'. Difficult, I know.)

For this little number, you will need as many trout as you have fish-eating guests: I am talking here about Frog-style farmed trout, truite d'elevage, which are about 9" long at best. Assuming that there are six of you, that means six trout, which you should put in a pan (or in the oven, up to you) and poach in a half-bottle of red. (A Maconnais, naturally.)

And when I say "poach", I mean just that: the wine should be barely simmering. Otherwise you'll wind up with fish soup. And don't forget to bring the wine to a rolling boil for five minutes or so to get rid of the alcohol before turning down the heat and putting the fish in, or it will taste bitter. You have been warned.

All that will probably take about 20 minutes: while that's going on, you need to glaze some onions and sauté some mushrooms. Glazed onions requires those teeny pickling onions, about the size of a marble: they are a right pain to peel, I admit. (Nice alternative: use spring onions. Cut the roots off and leave a bit of the green shoots on for colour.) Brown them in a saucepan with butter, then add a dose of beef stock (or wine - white this time, more for you to drink) and a good tbsp of sugar, then let it reduce until it's all syrupy. With luck, this will happen about when the fish are done.

In another pan, just sauté the smallest button mushrooms you can find in butter: let them sweat, add some garlic if you like, and some chopped parsley would not go amiss. And if there's any wine left over, drink it.

Assuming the fish are cooked, it would be nice to take the skin off so they look neat and then put them on a serving dish in the oven to keep hot, while you reduce the rest of the wine they were poached in by half. Add to that some beurre manié to thicken, boil it up and then whisk in 50gm or so of butter to, as they say, "enrich" it.

At which point just stick the glazed onions at one end of the serving dish, next to the fish, the mushrooms at the other end, pour the sauce over and serve. Crusty bread and salad to go with it go rather well.

After all that we headed off to Grenoble to see Upstage Theatre's latest effort: Miller's "The Crucible". Would you believe we were 1500m down the road when I realised I still didn't have my wallet?

On the bright side, at least we weren't halfway to Grenoble, 'cos that would have been embarrassing. And very, very stupid.

And the play was, as usual, excellent. Caught up with David Simpson, Mal's old English teacher, afterwards over a glass or two, then wandered around the quartier a bit to find and scarf a kebab before heading back home for bed around 2am. This is getting harder and harder to do - without side-effects, anyway.

Before I leave you, I'd like to share an interesting place-name: did you realise there's somewhere (in Alsace, I rather think) called Rorbach-les-Bitche? Kind of unusual, I feel.


  1. most of Belgium seemed to have had the same brilliant idea

    The Belgians are all turning blond? This is presumably some ingenious scheme to avoid the opproprium of not having a government after all this time, by pretending to be Scandinavian tourists. They will be propping up the bar in the drinking establishments of Brussels, speaking in affected accents so they sound like the Swedish Chef, and laughing with one another at the foolishness of those feckless Belgians.

  2. Someone has to laugh at the foolishness of the Belgians, and they are generally considered - by the rest of Europe anyway - to be somewhat retarded and too stupid to do it themselves. So I can only see this as an encouraging sign.

    But you did forget to mention that many of them will be dressed as a rugby-player's idea of a transvestite, which apparently passes for hilarious in Wallonia.