Saturday, October 8, 2011

Just One Last Little Wafer, Sir ...

We went off walking our geriatric dog the other day and as we came up alongside the stream, just under Rémi's place, (her favourite place for a good bowel motion, for reasons which escape me) noted with surprise the presence of a couple of Kubotas in the bottom of the garden. (These, like Hoovers or Xerox, have become a generic term. Unfortunately generics are different between languages, so the French call a forklift a "Fenwick", and Kubota apparently sell vast quantities of diggers in ole Yurrup. But "Hoover" and of course fridge, seem to be universal. Funny old thing, language.)

But I digress, as usual. The stream is "managed" by the two mairies of St Pierre and St Jean, and they have decided that the diversoirs or artificial waterfalls along its length, which help to break the flow and reduce the risk of flooding, have got bogged up, and need some maintenance - no need to change the spark plugs yet, but emptying and deepening, stuff like that.

An entirely innocent proposition, but the only feasible access to the stream along its length is through the gardens of various folk (like us, for instance) and even though the communes have the right to send people in to do whatever is required, you really would think they'd have had the common decency to inform people of what was happening.

Think again. The first Rémi knew about it was on coming home from work to find the diggers parked there in the garden and a couple of trees chopped down and neatly sawed up.

I suppose we'll find out at some point if they need to go through our land to do a few extra bits and pieces: probably from the screeching of metal on stone as they try to get a digger through a gate that's just a tad too small.

Whatever, this afternoon I'd scheduled what will hopefully be the last cut of the year for the lawn, and sadly I was on schedule so that actually got done. Probably just as well, had I left it later it would have been too late and I've had been mowing jungle. Unfortunately part of the deal (whereby I get to use her mower) is that I mow Stacey's lawn, so as a man of honour (if I can't get out of it, that is) I could see no way to avoid that. Not without faking a heart attack, anyway. So I have mown two tall, soggy lawns today, and I hope that somewhere this is noted on the credit side of my karmic ledger, because Stacey has some really wicked nettles.

And of course I was wearing my platonic shorts, so-called because they are in fact closer to the Platonic ideal of what shorts should be than to actual, physical, shorts. In that they are mostly gaps, held together by thread. Occasionally. With a hole at the top, and rather more at the bottom, through two of which my legs emerge. Platonic or not (shorts, not legs), they would not have protected me: I really should have worn a full hazmat suit.

I had planned maybe a barbecue for my birthday if ever it turns out fine next weekend, but it was just to be us. In my dreams, anyway. I can see I shall have to rethink that: Bryan and Beckham have invited themselves, as have Sophie and Sév, so I might just have to cook a three-course dinner for eight. And Beckham suggested that it would be a really good idea to do it at Stacey's, because then they could get there by bicycle. And doubtless cycle home after midnight. By candlelight, no doubt. So sweet.

I have to admit that's an interesting proposition and doubtless good practice for me: if I can cook a decent dinner in Stacey's excuse for a kitchen I can do it anywhere. It will limit my choices somewhat in the menu department (think, do what you can ahead of time) but that's no bad thing: discipline is apparently good for one. I shall have to think that one over very seriously. Might even ask Stacey (I think that would be polite, don't you?).

In any case, the idea of the barbecue may well have to be abandoned: obviously I've been thinking too hard about it, and so the weather is supposed to go titsup on Thursday. Bit of a shame, but can't hope for too much. So I asked Sophie to think about menu suggestions, and promptly at about 5am I got an SMS containing her idea of a simple meal: start off with coquilles St-Jacques, followed by tresses de poisson, beurre blanc à la badiane (with verdures fraiches du marché to accompany them, evidently) and then a simple dessert léger aux fruits du saison. Why is that woman thinking of food in the wee hours of the morning?

Whatever the reason, that does, I suppose, leave me some leeway in the dessert department. I don't want to work too hard (hey, it is my birthday) so maybe a simple tarte tatin with some blackberries thrown in for good measure, and a nectarine tea-cake. These should satisfy her urges.

I foresee a couple of hours in the kitchen getting that lot ready: at least most of it can be done ahead of time and will only take a few minutes to finish off on the day. Dessert will probably take longest, quite honestly. And for once someone else can worry about the wine - although I do happen to have a couple of bottles of that Tasmanian chardonnay hidden away in the downstairs fridge.

Now Waverly Root (I really would not have wanted that name for myself) once had the pleasant conceit of dividing France into three culinary regions (plus Paris, of course), rather as Caesar divided it into three administrative ones. He did this by the arbitrary, but amusingly simple, procedure of classifying places on the basis of their primary cooking fat; France is thus divided into the realms of butter, lard (or goose fat) and oil, plus Paris.

A nice enough idea, and I can imagine the fat old sod sitting down to a twelve course lunch with his editor (this was some time ago, you understand, before budgetary restraints started to spoil the atmosphere, and in Paris), and saying, all three chins wobbling with glee and grinning like a bishop that's found a fresh choirboy under his pillow, "I say Bernard, I've got a bloody brilliant idea for a book ..."

"The Food Of France", which incidentally came out in the same year as I, worked out alright in the end, because he actually wrote rather well and did a very good job of communicating his love for food, for the food of France in particular and France itself in general, and by an odd quirk of fate it was one of the first few food books I picked up in Bennett's Bookstore all those years ago, and thus partly reponsible for my own love of food. Despite the fact that there's not a single recipe in it: the book's more about destinations than the trip, but if I may stretch the metaphor a bit more, if you know enough geography you can often reconstruct the voyage.

Which is why a number of my favourites come from that book, despite them not actually being in it. If you know what I mean. And they are mine, because given an endpoint everyone will work out how to get there in their own way. (Well, those that bother, anyway.) Those coquilles St-Jacques à la bretonne, anyone?

He was an American of course: a journalist of the old school who came over to France early on in the last century, fell in love with the place and stayed. And managed to explain in his books just why he fell in love, which may be why he got the Legion d'Honneur, and for which I'm very grateful anyway. A posthumous toast to a bon vivant and great food writer, although godnose why today, it's neither the anniversary of his death nor his birthday. Just because I feel like it, then. And you lot can put up with it.

Anyway, the sun's going down behind the Bauges in a sky the colour of which is what they invented the word "cerulean" for, and I have a couple of duck breasts to trim and slap in the pan to sear before browning the spaetzle in the fat and getting a salad ready.

A pleasant not-such-a-surprise Monday night, when my mates Jean-Pierre and Denis from the SNCF made the trip down from Paris for a rustic dinner with us. That was not in fact the sole reason for their presence, we had work to discuss today and just thought we might as well profit from the occasion, but it still made for a good evening. Debauch was not on the menu, and we did not overdose on wine. And it was a very nice thought of J-P's to bring me a jar of honey from his own hives. (Yes, perhaps SNCF staff do have too much free time ...)

So we left the office early on Tuesday, as Margo wanted to get up to Alvertville before 19:00: that being the case, it was only natural that we should get down to the voie rapide to find it jammed solid. Stands to reason, really. Of course, the woman ahead of us on the roundabout chose to park right in the middle so that there was no way I could head back up to the office and whip through the back roads to the other side of Chambery, so we had to go through the centre ... it would probably have been quicker, if a damn site more frustrating, to have stayed on the VRU.

Given the time of day, all the old doddlers were out, the mums were doing the school run ... it took us over an hour to get home, rather than the normal 25 minutes. Some days you just shouldn't get out of bed.

And to finish the week, this morning marked the arrival of autumn in no uncertain terms. Quite literally overnight. Rain in the evening (luckily we'd brought the wood up out of the garden from all those bloody acacias Margo cut down when she was playing with her chainsaw) and definitely cool this morning. Oh, there'll be more beautiful days to come, but the Indian summer is over and we'll just have to wait for April for the temperatures to start climbing back above 20°.

Whatever, I'd better go and start getting things ready for this small feast tomorrow, before slumping down to vegetate in front of the box. At the very least I can get the little coupelles of filo ready for the scallops: I have this idea floating in my head about sprinkling gros sel, thyme and a little drizzle of liquid honey on the buttered sheets as I stack them prior to baking. I'll try it anyway, and doubtless get the verdict tomorrow night from the food critics.

(Oh yeah, I found out about the vibrator. It was old age that did for it - that and being thrown into a rucksack for a back-packing trip around Europe. Apparently the arrival in Venice was a great disappointment. I really had no idea they were that delicate.)


  1. Your mentioning BBQs provokes me to say that last night I cooked the very first ever meal that I've done on a BBQ :-) Barry tried the thing out using sausages but I do not trust him to cater for a crowd lol. We had a leg of lamb that I butterflied with mine own hands & marinated for the day in a mix of lemon juice, far too much garlic & ginger for anyone of a nervous disposition, sesame oil & a smidgeon of maple syrup (for caramelising purposes, don'tcha know?). It would have involved soya sauce instead but one of the guests is gluten-intolerant, seriously so. And that went on the grill, plus a couple of peppers so they could blacken while I waited before being added to the nice little salad of buttercrunch lettuce (from our garden!) & herbs. And on the hotplate I cooked some rather delicious mashed spud patties with heaps of parsley, lemon thyme & lemon zest, held together by an egg. Twas hugely successful & I am very pleased with myself, ta-dah!

  2. That does sound rather nice, although I don't know how anyone could have too much garlic. Also we don't have electrickery in the garden, so I just bake the spuds in tin-foil, in the embers. Sweetcorn too, why not? It's over for us, sadly. Until next spring.

  3. Hope the birthday dinner went well - warm fuzzies for another year
    Sue and Jeremy

  4. As Zombie Rotten Mcdonald noted on the previous thread, we have a mutual imaginary friend (mikey) whose past job experience includes repairing vibrators. Unfortunately he's based in California but if your friends continue to regale you with broken-vibrator anecdotes you can always refer them to mikey for a long-distance consultation.

    A while ago I was trying to convince him to go into full-time self-employment as the proprietor of a vibrator sales & maintenance emporium. He could call it "Oestrus".

    "How do you pronounce that?" people would ask.

    "The O is silent," mikey would be able to reply.

  5. We don't have the electrics in the garden either; twas all done by gas :-) (The serious reason for buying the thing was so that, in the event of a Chch-scale disaster, we could at least heat the baked beans while awaiting succour.