Sunday, July 17, 2011

And Then He Kissed Me - On Osculatory Practices ...

Poor Sophie is off in Brittany and apparently suffering the usual dismal Breton summer weather rolling in off the Channel and washing over the stony beaches that the French, for some peculiar reason, seem to find so attractive. She still finds the place enchantingly beautiful. But then, she is French.

She's doubtless right, even some of the places we did get to go to when we were there lo! these many years ago were wonderful, and she's been off to the islands which are supposedly savage and marvellous. Although I suspect I could happily give them a miss in winter: I prefer the sea to be more or less horizontal.

She's very thoughtfully been keeping me up-to-date with her adventures - horse-riding, motocross, whatever - so it's a bit of a shame that virtually every SMS starts off with something along the lines of "Foul weather, gray skies, windy, pissing down with rain ..." But expressed in impeccable literary French, which reads rather better.

We had our 4th of July barbecue, just a bit late this year ... usual story, of course: after weeks of baking heat (what the French call a "soleil de plomb" from the sheer oppressive weight of it) it really bucketed down Tuesday night and Wednesday.

So Thursday dawned gray and overcast, but the sun started to break through around midday - ie about an hour before people finally started to turn up in dribs and drabs - and it turned out not too bad.

At least it wasn't so hot that I entered terminal meltdown as I slaved over the grill, but sufficiently warm that the rosé was much appreciated.

With, unfortunately, the inevitable side-effects: by the end of the day I was, as the French are wont to say "lamentablement cuit" or, put otherwise, in no fit state to drive anywhere. A good thing then that I didn't have to, really. It's kind of odd because I swear I had only three or four glasses - I have to admit that my glass holds a bit more than half a bottle, though.

Whatever, before dedicating the afternoon to lovingly marinating my liver I prepared some piginnabun (cheated, and cooked it in the oven, though), the making of which I shall now relate to you. It's basically steamed pork buns, without the steaming - one of my favourite quickies because it's delicious and also uses up left-over roast pork, which would otherwise get chucked or go and lurk in the freezer for years (not good).

The idea is that you stick chunks of pig in the kitchen whizz to mince the stuff fairly finely, then make up a more or less spicy sauce (depending on taste) to bind the stuff. My recipe (which comes from the good old Womans' Weekly cookbook series) involves frying some chopped root ginger and garlic for a minute or two, then adding a dose of soy sauce, some oyster sauce, a bit of char siu or hoi sin, maybe some sweet chili sauce, sesame oil, red food colouring and thinly sliced spring onions. Then a couple of tbsp of cornflour mixed with water to thicken, fling the pork in and mix to get a nice thick stuffing.

At this point you may congratulate yourself on having got so far and make the bread dough, which is bog-standard except that I like to use lard as the fat, and sometimes a 50:50 mix of rice flour and standard flour. Of course, if you don't happen to have rice flour lying around in the cupboards  this won't be an option, and you will not be confronted with hard choices. (One of these days I shall have to find something to do with the foufou I have in there. Any ideas?)

So anyway, once the dough has risen nicely (I always stick the stuff in the microwave on defrost for a minute or two, works a treat and it only takes half an hour to rise) you should knock it back, cut it into seven or eight chunks, and roll each out into a circle about 15cm in diameter. Then place a ball of stuffing in the middle of each circle, bring the edges up and over to enclose it completely, and pleat to seal.

Place the balls in a deep pie dish (do not forget to oil this, or you will regret it), the idea being to create a sort of daisy (which is why it's called a marguerite over here), then brush the top with milk or sesame oil and sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds or whatever takes your fancy: that's it. It just needs to rise for a couple of hours before baking - if you are, like me, super-organised you would get it all ready the night before and stick it in the fridge overnight.

While I was busy being efficient I also found the time to make up that Memphis marinade I mentioned last time, and stick a bit of beef in it. I cannot vouch for the authenticity: it involves nothing more complicated than frying a chopped onion and some garlic in butter, then adding a half-cup of ketchup, a good dose of Worcestershire sauce, oregano, thyme, chili and cayenne to taste, 2tbsp brown sugar and ditto molasses, then finally a half-cup of cider vinegar before leaving it to simmer for twenty minutes.

After which an immersion blender could come in useful, if you want a smooth sauce. We actually have one lurking in the pantry, dating back to the time when we were Good and Dedicated Parents who had sworn to feed our darling first-born on nothing but healthy, home-made purée positively oozing with vitamins and stuff. That didn't last long, truth to tell.

Whichever you prefer, after marinating for a day or so in that the meat is ready to be barbecued - slowly, please - then sliced and served with whatever's left of the marinade. At which point you may reasonably expect general applause, because it really is bloody good. And don't limit yourself to beef either - that's what I had, but I reckon it'd be just as good with pork, or even chicken, why not?

And now for something completely different: have to like the title, but I really hate the lack of proof-reading 'cos maceration is NOT that. As usual, go see the sordid details here: "Unhappy Man's Manhood Macerated in Garbage Disposal" - of course, it's The Register.

In further good news guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your lips, it would appear that the Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad of Ecuador has been taken off the list of vanished amphibians, due to its no longer qualifying as such. Because it's been found, and can thus no longer be considered to be "vanished". (Exceptionally for this blog, this item is in fact true. For a given value of "true", anyway, knowing that this may tend towards "false". Whatever.)

Have to wonder how the little bugger went missing in the first place, probably more misplaced than anything else. And to tell the truth, one frog looks much like another, to me at least. Anyway, no thanks at all to Mal, who should be leaving the jungle in ten days or so to get in a month's backpacking around South America, by the way.

The 14th of July marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season: some people do head off before then, but some people will do anything. The righteous and upstanding wait, on starter's orders as it were, and once Bastille Day arrives the mad rush starts.

Apart from wreaking havoc on the roads, it also means that my blood pressure takes its annual hike as the camper-van season opens. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against them in the abstract, but when you're at the arse-end of a line of six of the frikkin' things, pootling along at 70kph the better to admire nature's wonders, you begin to understand how Genghis Khan must have felt on coming across a tranquil, isolated nunnery after a furious argument with his mother.

I came across these sumptuously purple beans at the market and had the firm intention of preparing a glorious multi-coloured bean salad to go with the roast pork: imagine my deception when they turned green on cooking. Never mind, they still tasted like beans, and at least there was corn on the cob, the first of the season.

Which leads me, albeit circuitously, to the discussion on kissing that Bryan, Beckham and I had at the Modesto as we guzzled our vitamins. (I think they like us there. Even gave us free drinks, to make up for making us shift from a table to the bar, as someone wanted to eat. Now that's good customer relations. But I digress.)

Anyway, Becks was trying to describe a kiss she'd had, and the best simile she could come up with was "like, you know when you're making potato purée, not too stiff but not runny either, and before you've put the butter in? So you've got it in a bowl, all mashed, and you bend down, and you put your lips in it? Well, that's what it was like."

That is, I must admit, one of the grosser culinary metaphors I've come across, and I'm sure you can imagine that our conversation got quite animated at this point, until cooler heads prevailed and another round of drinks was procured. But I'm still having difficulty imagining exactly what that kiss was like. Come to that, I completely forgot, in the heat of the moment, to check whether it was open-mouthed or not. Or whether there was garlic in the purée. Very lax of me. A quick trip to the kitchen may be in order, to test these hypotheses.

I hope, incidentally, that this convinces you - should more proof be required - that our Saturday gatherings are in fact dedicated to the improvement of our minds and the lot of humanity in general, and not just an excuse to swill alcohol.

Anyway, I'm off: it's bucketing down with rain right now and I have some work I really feel like avoiding, so I need to go do some seriously creative procrastination. Mind how you go.

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