Sunday, June 5, 2011

But None Have Your Beauty ...

Well, though I says it myself as doubtless shouldn't, that really was a rather nice dinner, a sort of fitting end to a lazy day under the sun.

Roast chicken stuffed under the skin with heaps of chopped parsley and garlic and gros sel, with stuffed courgette and little pois gourmand and a melting potato and chèvre gratin, the whole lot finished off  by what is possibly the best bloody nectarine coffee cake ever.

If you're interested, go have a look at Smitten Kitchen (credit where it's due) and if you don't think it's wonderful you might as well stop reading this.

I must admit that I did change things around a bit: nectarines instead of strawberries, 'cos that's what I had, and because my spring-form mould is not particularly water-tight (but is a bugger to clean) I did it upside down, in a silicon kugelhopf mould. Which we just happen to have lying around, as one does.

Which just meant sprinkling the bottom rather heavily with the 2 tbsp of sugar (and a dose of cinnamon, just because), putting the fruit on top and then pouring the batter over the lot.

It had caramelised and glazed when I unmoulded it, which was kind of what I'd hoped for, and did it ever smell wonderful.

And personally, I don't think it needs whipped cream.

But about the day - usual scramble into Chambéry to empty the supermarket shelves and go through the market (apricots now!) where I actually bought rather less than usual, given that this week there'll be only one of us around at any given time as I'm in Paris until Tuesday night and on Wednesday Margo heads south to the Lubéron. Bright and sunny, and on days like that there's really only one thing to do: drink.

Luckily Bryan was about (for once, not doing a couple of laps of the lac du Bourget) and his little American friend Rebeccah turned up, then Stacey with her bratlings in tow, so we squatted the few available tables at Le Modesto and downed glasses of chardonnay to up our vitamin intake, always a wise thing to do in the heat.

Then, that afternoon, I finally got off my arse and did something about changing my car, too. As I have to give the 147 back in two weeks, it was about time. Now Margo is doing quite a few shows and such these days and occasionally needs something a bit bigger than the little Suzy, so I went off to the Fiat place to see what they had. Which happened to be a Doblo utilitaire: five seats (three of them for the pedally-deficient, I admit) and a hugeish cargo space.

The other advantage, fiscally speaking, is that as it's classed as a utility vehicle there's no TVTS (that's taxe sur les voitures de société, to you, and involves paying money to the state, so not good) and I can claim the GST on the rental back.

The downside is that it is, essentially, a white van, so Jeremy will feel ashamed if ever he gets caught being picked up or dropped off (not really quite the same cachet as a sports car, let it be said), but on the other hand that does mean that I can - nay, am expected - to act like a white van man. Ie, drive like a maniac. There's a silver lining to every cloud.

Anyway, had a rather pleasant trip up to Paris: for once the SNCF (whose online booking system still sucks a rat's arse, but never mind) stuck me next to a beautiful brunette, who must have been all of half my age. She spent the trip reading some turgid 900-page novel: I fell asleep. Sad, isn't it.

I do love trains. They go past people's back yards, so you get to be a sort of high-speed voyeur. I find that rather nice. You know you'll never see them again, it's totally impersonal apart from whatever stories you choose to invent, which is probably the best part. Baby chateaux, old maisons de ferme, tarted-up houses with a swimming-pool only 50m from the lake ...

Whatever, beautiful weather at Paris, with only the merest soupçon of pollution in the air (that's over and above the yellowish haze that's considered normal), and the stuff for the SNCF actually went well. With any luck they'll be able to go out on the trials with their 1.3M€ of gear and reasonable confidence that they'll get some meaningful data.

The only problem with going to Vitry is that I get to eat at the SNCF canteen, which is about as dire as you'd expect. Even the bread is boring - the caterers must have some sort of device for removing all traces of flavour. On the bright side, at least it's not dry, unlike the EDF canteen at a nuclear power station.

OK, so it all had to go titsup. Christ, I can be so frikkin blond. I got to Gare de Lyon on Tuesday night with 20 minutes to spare before my TGV pulled out and started looking for car 17. It was a single rame: no car 17. So I go check with the controleur on the quai, and handed him my ticket: he gently pointed out that the date on that was for Wednesday, 1/6. Oh fuck.

Can't change the ticket there and then, have to go to the guichet: they can't do it either but give me a phone number. Which is inoperative after 18:00, although I could do it via the intartoobz. So I ring the long-suffering Marie to check that it'll be OK to squat for another night, and head back out to Eaubonne ruefully asking myself how I can be quite so thick. I mean, the website even gave me two chances to review the bookings before confirming ... if any one of you speaks of this again there will be trouble. Believe me.

So anyway, I managed to change my ticket to some ungodly hour Wednesday moaning - TGV from Paris to Milan. Apart from the usual rush getting from Eaubonne to Gare de Lyon no problems there, but once we'd started moving I thought I could at least go get some breakfast.

Off to the restaurant car to find myself behind a gaggle of Parisiennes of a certain age, all arguing about who wanted to order what and how they were going to split the payment ... after half an hour I finally got to the head of the queue, got handed my coffee and patisserie, to find that they either couldn't or wouldn't take plastic. I should have guessed: the staff were Italian.

And then I finally got back home, unshowered and unshaven and consequently feeling like shit, to find it pissing down, with snow not too far above us on the Bauges. Bah. Luckily Margo had not yet left for the Lubéron, and was able to pick me up from Chambéry and decant me at home

Ah, the joys of the countryside. As there's neither Margo nor Jeremy it's me that has to take the dog for her evening waddle around the graveyard. There was an enormous squawking of crows, harassing some poor fox whose only sin was trying to slink unobtrusively down along the vines. Without so much as a chicken feather to be seen.

Friday afternoon it was a quick trip, despite the best efforts of a lorry and a couple of camping-cars: three hours all told down to Tour d'Aigues, or more precisely Cabrières d'Aigues. And I have to say it again - Provence is unreasonably beautiful. Spectacular too - at one point as I was barrelling down the D1075 at an possibly excessive speed, blue sky at my back and steel-gray and black ahead, Alice Cooper streaming around me, five or six lightning bolts seemed to fly up from a peak ahead, like a fist unclenching. Only more quickly than that.

(The headlines in Saturday's paper were all about a team of five climbers up in the Hautes-Alpes who had the misfortune to be struck by lightning. Four survived. Good thing a car is a pretty good approximation of a Faraday cage, I suppose.)

Margo got a little villa for the weekend in a camping ground on the shores of a little lake, l'Etang de la Bonde. Or something. There's a little chateau, Provençal-style, at one end, and it seems to have an endless supply of ducks. At dusk yesterday it was half-covered with fog, and I stood watching as a couple of swans slid in and out the frontier between light and mist. A watery tart brandishing a sword would, I admit, have been a useful addition to the scenery.

I could happily live out my days here - a tanned, wrinkled gin-soaked wreck basking in the sun like some antediluvian lizard, getting ready to die happy. Unfortunately for posterity, my last words would probably be something along the lines of "Garçon! Another pichet of rosé, tout de suite!" Whatever. Posthumous fame is much overrated, in my opinion.

By dint of following my nose as I wandered around with the camera this morning I managed to find a decent bar - have to do something to make up for not being at the market, don't I? Even served copious quantities of nibbles: shame that the olive and I are not really on speaking terms.

Of course people never speak about the dark side of Provence, which is that, on recent form at least, it seems to rain six days a week. I spent a happy morning wandering around under a burning sun, then this afternoon decided to go for a walk with the camera ... stuffed my face with cherries (last of the Napoléons, would've been a shame to let them go to waste) from an abandoned orchard on the side of some little communale and then, as the storm clouds massed overhead, decided it would be a good idea to head back.

I had just made it to the entrance of the camping when the heavens opened: in those last 150m I got soaked to the skin. Which is why I spent the rest of my afternoon naked, with a glass of wine, trying to iron my jeans dry.

Across the road from the bar of which I spoke was a small restaurant, l'Ange Gourmand, whose 13€ menu looked rather interesting, indeed had me salivating a bit, and that night, as Margo had had a rather good day, we tried a drink or two at the bar and then, bloated with inertia and having no real desire to go back and cook fish fillets and go to bed early (no internet, remember? What did people do, back in the days before porn à volonté?) we thought we'd try eating out, for once.

Sadly the menu that had drawn my attention was only available for lunch - I was looking forward to those lasagnes -  but the salade composée with honey-roasted goat cheese, the filet mignon bordelaise, and a rather scrumptious pot of raisins macerated in rum bedded down in a sort of creme caramel that we had to settle for were a more than honourable substitute.

Even picked up some pottery: as a general rule I find the Provençal stuff definitely a bit - well, rustique, lumpen-proletariat if you prefer - but there was a potter with stuff that although it was definitely in the right colours was almost delicate. Came away with a plate and a bowl, don't even regret it. But I shall tell you about the return trip some time later, when I've calmed down a bit. (And if they see fit to release me from the holding cells: you'd think exterminating campervan-driving Belgians was wrong.)

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