Saturday, August 13, 2011

Where Food Meets Technology ...

Zombie-punk bunny skull
Our disorderly and slightly demented friend Karen has just rung to gloat at me: she has a new friend. His name is Sam, he is big, solid, and reassuring (and, I suspect, slightly thick), and he dispenses ice-cubes at will. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, he is a ginormous fridge: what's called over here a "frigo americain." (Although most of them are in fact made in Korea - hence, I assume, "Sam" for Samsung, but never mind that. They're supersized, which is what counts.)

She apparently felt it indispensable to ring me especially to let me know this, and that her fridge is bigger than mine. What this means is that she can now stick even more rosé in there, for that is the purpose of a fridge around her place. And around ours too, to be perfectly honest: that is why we have two fridges. One for the essentials, like rosé, and another for the incidentals of everyday life, like stuff for Jeremy to graze on.

I can understand her wanting to change mind you, the old one she had in the apartment in rue de Boigne back in the days before going to rusticate in Mumblefuck had personal issues and had, last time we met, developed sociopathic tendencies: its main aim in life had become, apparently, to throw bottles of wine at me whenever I opened it, and old butterfingers that I am often missed. With the inevitable result that the bottles gleefully succumbed to the law of gravity, crashed to the floor and shattered. So the floor around the fridge was always clean, but had a slightly pinkish cast to it.

And as one does on a Sunday afternoon, I finally found a use for the old Netgear router that's been sitting around gathering dust in my office since we switched over to Orange and a Livebox for our internet access: set it up as a simple bridge downstairs! Which means that at least in the living room and library I'm not obliged to sit just so without moving if I don't want to lose the Wifii signal. (Don't know why, but Windows 7 seems to be a lot pickier about signal strength than 2K was. One of the mysteries of life.)

It only took an hour of time that I'm sure could have been put to better use, but I have done a geeky thing and it is good. Now if I had another spare one floating around I could do the same thing on the top floor, where the signal strength could be better too ... The only thing I've not been able to do is make them appear as one seamless network, but I'm not sure that's even possible so I rather think I'll rest on my laurels.

In the course of my ongoing investigations into small eateries around Chambery, I'm happy to report that "Bangkok by Kanne", rue Croix d'Or, gets a more than honorable mention. Thai food, as you've probably guessed: doubtless dialled back a bit for French tastes, but my pork slivers in red curry sauce with coconut cream were delightfully creamy with a subtle afterburn, and Margo's prawns and stir-fried vegetables in a slightly sweet but spicy sauce were every bit as good.

It's always a pleasure to find decent exotic food in France, outside of Paris anyway, and having found a place to get it we rather tend to clutch it to our collective bosom, as it were. Makes a change from Chinese too, which is nice - above all it makes a change from Chinese restaurant decor, which seems to be universally, and uniformly, repulsive. I imagine there must be a single supplier somewhere in the world, perhaps working out of a hole in the wall in a back alley somewhere in the hinterlands of Hong Kong, who makes nothing but the red and gold lampshades, the red faux lacquer medallions, the scrolls with authentic but sadly obscene Chinese pictograms and those wonderful pictures driven by electric motors where you can actually see the river flowing and things.

You can relax, "Bangkok" is nothing like that. It's actually rather eclectic: sort of trendy café tables meet ex-pizza joint (for that's what once it was). I suspect they have not spent a great deal of money on the decoration.

Sometimes, as we're all aware, Good Ideas turn out to be Not So Bloody Brilliant. We use Ethernet over power lines around our place, given that back in the 40's when the modern part was built you were pretty lucky if you got aluminium wires for the freshly-invented electricity, and very few people had the forethought or the decency to install CAT5 cables everywhere, or even just empty ducting.

So, when I set up that second Wifi network, the Netgear downstairs was connected to the router upstairs via the power lines, and I connected to the Netgear over Wifi. Great signal strength in my comfy chair: so far so good. I first got an inkling that things were not perfect when I started to download something and noted that the download speed was all of 15Kbps, which is not good. Switch over to the other, weak Wifi connection: back to my usual 1.1Mbps. Better.

If you dig around enough there's a diagnostics page buried deep in the Netgear menus so I logged onto that and soon came up with the answer: a quick look at the statistics for then LAN told me that it was maxing out at 28 packets per second. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, the wiring around here is a bit of a mystery but I do know that the living room comes off the kitchen supply through a couple of (exposed) connector blocks and then the kitchen connects to the switchboard through those old-fashioned cartridge fuses ...

With hindsight, the kind of miraculous thing is that packets were getting through at all. In fact, sometimes it astounds me that the electricity manages to circulate.

To my great disappointment there was NO SWEETCORN at the market: I shall, apparently, be forced to wait another week or so for the next crop to be ready. On the other hand the guy did have some vitelotte potatoes, which was nice. The skin is almost black, and the flesh is a brilliant violet with the odd cream swirl: I personally find that the best way of cooking the little buggers is to steam them. They stay nice and firm, so if you have any left over I really would recommend slicing them thickly and adding them to a mixed vegetable salad for a splash of colour. Mashing them would not, I think, be a Good Idea - it might turn out OK, but the thought of raising purple purée to my mouth would rather put me off.

(I know that there's a variety much like them in New Zealand, for I have a copy of Jane's All the World's Potatoes somewhere on the shelves. Try to find them some time.)

Which reminds me that I spoke of sabayon a while back. The word comes from the Italian zabaglione and not the other way around: don't forget that the French knew nothing of the fine art of patisserie until Catherine de Medici brought a whole swag of Italian pastry-cooks into France with her in her luggage back in the 1500s, just to make sure there'd be something worth eating at her wedding with Henri II. In principle it's a very light egg custard, made with sugar, fruit juice and white wine. It can be delicious, and I for one like it as a topping lightly caramelized, which you can do if you have a really hot grill (which the French call a salamandre, and the Wikifiddlers amongst you can look it up for yourselves) or a portable kitchen flamethrower (which is more fun).

But I have other culinary questions confronting me. Margo has someone coming for a dyeing course on Sunday, and it seems I have lunch to make. I've a rather nice salmon roll recipe in stock, which is basically a flat salmon souuflé rolled up around a chopped egg and herb filling, but I want to do something different with it - "as usual", Margo mutters in the background, "can't leave well enough alone ...". Which is true enough, but one has to do something ...

Anyway, I love filo pastry, and I happen to have some in the fridge: now I could stack a few buttered sheets with grated parmesan, cut them into smallish rectangles and bake them until crisp, but then what? Should I spread the soufflé mix out over a rectangle, stick another rectangle on top, then maybe some cheese soufflé over that and another rectangle, then bake the lot for 10 minutes so as to get a sort of crispy two-flaovour millefeuille? Or just bake the soufflé in a lamington as usual, then cut it into rectangles, put each on a rectangle of filo and pipe some sort of soft creamy cheese and herb gunk on top?

I simply cannot make up my mind. Indecision will be the death of me. Maybe I should try both.

Christ, I need a fag RIGHT NOW!
Finally, I cannot help but note that they're really trying to do their best to discourage one from smoking. I find this particular one just so gross. Mind you, from the looks of them they've both got other things on their minds anyway: sex does not appear to be at the top of anyone's list.


  1. If smoking can "reduce the afflux of blood", I expect to see cigarettes as part of first-aid kits.

  2. I just recently discovered that even my garishly big American fridge is not big enough. I go shopping twice a month and buy LOTS of produce and count on leftovers for I need a ton of space to keep everything fresh. Throwing out an wasting food is a big no-n o for me.

  3. Yeah, I see your point. I get fruit and vegetables at the market every Saturday, meat at Mr B's, and as we have a 17-year old son there are no leftovers. So, no problem.