Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the Origins of Conflict, and Other Things ...

Well, today I can almost believe in Spring. Bright and warm, with tits everywhere in the garden - that's the blue feathered sort, not vacationing Scandinavian bints looking for a suntan. Except, perhaps, in some of my wilder dreams. (Although they might also have been blue, had they in fact been there. "Warm" is a relative term.)

Next Sunday we pack Jeremy, his belongings and computer in the car and head south around Bollène to drop him off at Rochegude for six weeks. The house is going to be quite empty, something to look forward to. Would it be tactful and/or appropriate to slip him a packet of condoms during our teary farewells, do you think?

Do remember that he will be spending his time in a chateau perched on a frikkin' great rock with vineyards as far as the eye can see, and you apparently have to make your own fun. Probably using only bits of string and whatever root vegetables are conveniently to hand.

It does mean going on to ViaMichelin or something to get directions: down to Bollène I'm pretty sure I can manage, but after that it might get a bit tricky as all these bloody departmentales tend to look alike to me.

Yes, I know, I have a smartphone which is GPS-capable but apparently as part of the deal with Bouygues, Samsung zapped the Garmin satnav app that was one reason I actually got the bloody thing, and the only one that seems to be available I cannot download for it tells me that the 4Gb available on the memory card is insufficient for the 400K it requires.

If I thought it would do a damn bit of good I would go find a Bouygues store, stand in line there for an hour or so behind other dissatisfied customers, and then complain bitterly: but I have better and more rewarding ways to waste my time, I think. Like watching the septic tank overflow, for instance.

Our slightly deranged friend Karen is off to Tunisia for a while: managed to land some sort of financial-wizardry job with a Spanish company that has an outpost there. It all seems a bit odd, maybe even too good to be true, but as she said - even if it is only a three month trial and she gets the boot at the end, it's still three months at €3000 the month.

Which, last time I checked, came out to €9000. Hell, I'd do tricks for that sort of cash myself. Especially if it involves going off for a holiday in the sun, and probably not getting shot at.

Just looked up on ViaMichelin, and it's probably a good thing too: there are in fact two Rochegudes down south. Confusingly enough they're both accessible from the same autoroute exit, just that once you get off at Bollène they're in diametrically opposed directions. And one thing I so do not want to do is to find myself in the wrong place and be faced with a 100km backtrack through the departementales of rural France on a Sunday with no map.

Ever noticed how wars seem to start, and no-one can ever say exactly why? Apart from fingering some hairy-eyed anarchist with a pipe bomb, or something like that? Historians and analysts will chunder on about economics and trade routes, Rumpelstiltwitz (would be a neologism were it not a philosophical conflation) would blather for years about geoplitical imperatives and the like, but I have discovered that it's much simpler than that.

Case in point: not so long ago our friend Stacey (not being the most experienced of cooks) rang to ask how you made pancakes. After a bit of stunned-mullet silence Margo gave the traditional recipe, which involves far too much butter, flour, an egg and - I quote - "as much milk as you need for it to be right", and we left it at that.

Now this is where it all goes titsup thanks to the fact that we simply do not really speak the same language as our trans-atlantic cousins - or at least, we don't pronounce it the same way -  for last night I had occasion to ring Stacey and apparently the crêpes were a success because the first thing she said was "Do tell Margo I had the best craps ever with her recipe".

If that's not a casus belli, buggered if I know what would count as one.

 In case you're wondering, I did in fact get around to making the Chickeninnabun™ recipe I mentioned last time, and it was indeed not too bad at all.

Because that's what I happened to have, I used lard and sour cream and rosemary for the bread dough (which got made the evening before, and then got to spend the night in the fridge, reflecting on its misdeeds), and I stuck some tinfoil over it after about half an hour in the oven to stop it browning too much.

Smelt heavenly as it cooked (really does need at least 90 minutes, mind you), and I managed to slice the top off the bread, extract the chicken without massacring it too much, carve it and stick it all back in for serving without too much hassle. On reflection, I could probably have got away with sprinkling a little persillade (don't worry, that's just finely chopped parsley and garlic) over the top before sticking the lid back on and putting it back in the oven for a few minutes, but that might count as gilding the lily.

Whatever, the gusts of herby steam when the lid came off at table were worth the effort, and the best bit, as Lucas remarked, is that you don't have to go to all the trouble of dunking your bread in the chicken juices: it's already imbibed them as it cooks. Comes pre-dunked, as it were.

I think that's another recipe that I'll put on my little list of things to do again, some time when I want to impress guests without working too hard.

And as you can probably tell, we made it down to Rochegude (and back again, fairly obviously) to leave our firstborn son to the tender ministrations of the kitchen staff there.

As luck would have it, the weather chose today to turn to rain, which is a bit of a bugger - at least from a photographic point of view. Didn't really make the trip any more pleasant either, and having to have the picnic actually in the car rather than on the grass in the sun is also a bit of a downer. Too bad.

The place was apparently started back in C11 by Boris "On-spec" the Bastard & Sons, Bespoke Builders to the Ennobled Thuggery, and had a few improvements (like a couple of extra floors, a gatehouse, rather approximative glazing in many of the windows and rough plumbing) done back in the 18th.

The head chef very kindly took us on a tour of the place, and I have to admit it does look rather classy. The kitchens are pretty tiny though, I should think they'd be rather cramped with the full staff of five in there.

Still, I find it reassuring that restaurant dishes are even grubbier (perhaps "well-used" would be a better choice of words) than ours.

I get the feeling Jerry will enjoy himself: it's a small team, the chef de cuisine seems very nice, and apparently they do everything - with the exception of the bread, which they do buy ready to be baked - on the premises. So if fish, for instance, is on the menu, it gets gutted, peeled and dissected in the kitchen. It'll make a change from reheating anonymous packets in the microwave.

With any luck it'll be fine when we go back in six week's time to reclaim the prodigal, and we can spend a bit of time wandering in the 10-hectare park that comes with the place. And doubtless spending a bit of cash in the boutique, where they have wine (as you might expect), truffled balsamic vinegar, little flasks of lavendar essence and other little gew-gaws. I think I'll be a sucker for the vinegar.

And as an aside, Jeremy was not joking when he said that the lunch menu started at €170. It does, and I have a photo to prove it. Given that it seems to be truffle-themed, I can understand that. How does truffle-stuffed scallop sound as an appetizer? ("Truffe serti dans son Noix de St-Jacques", if you really must know.)

And for a main course, roast quasi de veau (go look it up in Larousse, I can't be arsed) studded with truffles and served with its ecrasée des legumes oubliées? (Which is no more than a purée of what some people will rather annoyingly and somewhat pretentiously call "heirloom" vegetables: my personal opinion is that if they've been forgotten, as the French name suggests, it's for bloody good reasons, like they're too much trouble to prepare and/or they taste absolutely foul.)

Still, I could think of worse surroundings in which to eat them.


  1. You swine, I am drrrrooooollling!

    Now, about the chickeninnabun - I am inclining to doing that for tomorrow's dinner guest instead of the proposed spag bog (with homemade spag; homemade bog if it comes to that, apart from having to buy the mince!). What temprachure are we talking here - 180?

  2. That sounds about right. I'm not really that good with ovens: mine is hopelessly optimistic and I turn it on to 220 to get it warm enough to melt butter, Sophie's has a fan and other complicated stuff ...

  3. mmmmm, chickeninnabun was delightful!

    Had you ever thought of using a microwave to do the butter-melting bit?

  4. I may not have been clear. It's not that I turn on the enormous oven especially to melt butter, just that if I want it hot enough to do anything useful I have to set it to an outrageous temperature. I suspect its thermostat of being congenitally untruthful.