Saturday, October 1, 2011

Of Sealing-Wax, Of Cabbages and Kings ...

Well, I did something this morning that I haven't done for a very long time - apart from getting up before midday on a Sunday, which does make quite a change - namely heading off into Chambéry for the grande braderie d'automne, when the centre of town turns into an enormous boot sale with people flogging off everything from spare tires to their vintage Barbie collection, not forgetting the 5000 mixed Lego bricks, headless teddy bears and much-chewed soft toys. (Not a pretty sight, but doubtless evidence of much love.) I'll spare you the diesel-powered nose-hair clippers and the battery-operated cucumber shears.

Parking, of course, is a bloody nightmare, but fortunately on such a day the police turn a blind eye to all but the most egregrious infractions, and the little Suzy can fit into slots you really wouldn't believe were possible.

With hindsight - for I certainly didn't think about it that much as I committed the act - I was probably lucky not to have been hassled by the cops as I strolled from my impromptu parking place into place Porte-Reine, with a big bottle of beer swinging in each hand. In my defense, let it be said that they did not actually contain beer, but vinegar and chili peppers. For I had used the last of the stash of my vinaigre aux piments at Sophie's, making the vinaigrette for Saturday's lunch, so I felt obliged to replace it.

Still, now I see that her surprise was perhaps not entirely unjustified when I turned up and thrust a bottle of Fischer into each hand.

It was all Sophie's fault that I was there, of course: she'd emptied out her mother's place of books, reluctantly bid farewell to a couple of pairs of her old boots (which probably looked really trendy fifteen years ago) and her LPs, and made me promise to come along and admire her talent as a salesperson. (Given that  I actually did get up at a time of day that I usually prefer to pretend does not exist, we may say straight off that she can be pretty persuasive.) Which is why I rudely pulled myself from the arms of Morpheus this morning, and duly trotted along and watched appreciatively as money changed hands and the piles of books diminished steadily. (There are some "invitations" one does not refuse, not if one appreciates a quiet life anyway.)

Shame it rained overnight, for she and her friend Sév had set up the stand on Saturday evening and slept in armchairs on the pavement, as one does: despite the tarpaulins, a couple of boxes of books did not survive the experience. At least it was fine and sunny on the day, with what seemed like the entire population out strolling and buying what I'd personally have thought were completely useless bibelots and what have you. No cabbages in sight, but I'm sure I could have found sealing-wax had I looked.

For some strange reason there was a roaring trade in chipped coffee mugs, and some enterprising charcutier was doing brisk business with his (shudder) chocolate and blueberry saucissons. I was sorely tempted to get one for Jeremy, just for the sake of trying it, but discretion won the day and I eventually came home empty-handed. (Not entirely true. I bought a book, a humorous dictionary. It was only two euros. Yes, from Sophie. Happy now?)

And there's always those people selling antique carpentry tools and stuff like that: OK, the brass and wood look nice, but I'm certain that a circular saw cuts better.

The restaurateurs probably loved the day too: perfect weather to sit out on the sidewalk and have a drink or a meal, which is what a lot of people seemed to be doing. A good antidote, I suppose, to the supposedly morose economic atmosphere.

A bit of a pity that the morning is not really my best time, the brain still not being completely evolved, as I didn't think to pack a picnic lunch. The hamper's still there in the cupboard under the stairs with the wineglasses and the corkscrew, I just needed to add a couple of baguettes, some cheese, butter, ham or pâté and a salad - plus a bottle of rosé, of course - and we could have made a decent meal of it.

On the other hand, I think I shall soon have to pack the barbecue away for the year. Jerry and I had one Friday night - I had some basse-cote that was pretty much ripe, having been marinating in whisky and Ancona chili sauce for a few days, and that went down really well with a bit of salad and some potatoes cooked in the embers, but I rather doubt that there'll be many more occasions for that in the next five months or so. Adieu, faithful friend: see you next Spring. Or maybe Christmas eve, if it snows. (Gotta keep up tradition, you know. Mad dogs and Englishmen.)

It was one of the better buys I've ever made in the cookware department, I have to admit. It was - still is in fact, don't know why the past tense - a good one: a very solid Le Creuset cast-iron bowl on a pedestal. Cost a bit, but it's lasted fifteen years or more and is still going strong. About the only servicing it's likely to require in the near future is replacing the wooden cutting-board that sticks out from it, this being somewhat incinerated around the edges in spots.

And I still have the left-over beef to dispose of, for it was quite a big piece of meat. I'd do another spicy beef salad, but I've got two saddles of rabbit sitting in the fridge and there's no point cooking those when Margo's here because she won't eat them - not with any pleasure, anyway - so they're destined for tonight's meal, and Monday I'm on my own again ... you see how my life is full of problems?

Nothing insoluble, luckily: I have beans, salad, tomatoes and perhaps a bit of potato purée would go down nicely with the bunny - once I've worked out exactly how I'm going to cook that, of course. Something involving gravy, I suspect, for the little buggers can be rather dry and it must be said that there's no fat on a saddle. And I can't be arsed barding them, so roasting is out of the question.

Well, I worked that one out. Brown some bacon in the cast-iron pan, brown the rabbit in the fat along with some sliced onions and a bit of flour, then add a sprig of rosemary, some juniper berries and dried mushrooms, and pour a bottle of beer over the lot. And in to the oven with it to gratinate and bubble. Not half bad, though I say so myself.

I also found myself with some ripe figs: sufficiently ripe in fact that between Saturday afternoon, when I picked them, and this evening, when I thought I'd better do something with them, around half of them had suffered melt-down and were starting to ferment. But not so far gone that I couldn't stick them in a tart along with some grapes.

With a bit of luck the leftovers (Jerry wasn't particularly hungry, and I know there's no way I'm going to be able to face that for breakfast, which consists of a couple of mugs of coffee) will last through until Tuesday night, which means I won't have to do dessert for when Margo arrives. Another job out of the way and ahead of schedule.

OK, so Margo made it back. It was a quiet little salon, apparently, so she didn't sell a great deal but as usual, lots of contacts and she has at least three courses organised and booked for next year, so there's always that.

Apparently I'm invited should I wish to tag along: I suspect it's so there'll be someone lined up to do the cooking, given that it appears there was much moaning and wailing when she turned up at St-Marie aux Mines totally bereft of home-cured bacon and confit de canard. But I might be being over-cynical.

Anyway, she did sell some stuff, which was good because it meant that there was enough room in the van for the food she came back home with: home-made jams, a two-litre preserving jar full of civet de chevreuil (that's venison stew, to you) and a big tub of the local speciality, l'aligot.

This is nothing more than mashed potato raised to the sublime, beaten energetically as it is with sour cream and lots of fresh cheese and, should you so desire (as I personally do), garlic. It's a lot lighter than you would think, actually. Down in the Aveyron they think nothing of having a bucket-full of that with salad as the main meal.

At the moment we're enjoying one of those typical Indian summers where the days are bright and hot, the evenings are still warm enough to be out in a T-shirt, and only the morning mist (OK, down on the nationale by the Isère it could be classed more as fog) and the dew on the Velux to remind us that it's autumn and time to get some wood - and more importantly, some diesel fuel for the central heating - in.

That, and the fact that the vendange is well and truly over, and that's kind of irksome because it used to be that they did it by hand, always leaving bunches behind (I guess they weren't quite ripe or pretty enough) for passers-by such as me: much to my disgust it's all by machine these days, and they basically give the vines a very short back and sides. So don't expect to find many forgotten bunches, and kiss goodbye to those grape tarts.

Discussed the question with old Henri from across the road as I came back from work, and he was full of nostalgia. "Ah", said he, "it was better back in the old days. We used to sing in the vines ... and the fun we had ..."
Personally, from my experience of grape picking it wasn't singing so much as groaning; in the morning from all those sore, little-used muscles and in the afternoon from that and the aftermath of a two-hour lunch with enormous quantities of food washed down with litres of wine. (What else?)
And fun? You go try having sex on a hard stony steep hillside between rows of vines, with the odd rotten bunch of grapes falling on top and angry wasps buzzing around looking at yer arse as though it might just be dinner. Might as well have a big target painted on it.
Whatever, with weather like this it seemed a waste of it not to have lunch in town with Stacey, just to catch up on news and have a good gossip. (It's not just girls that gossip, you know. It's a mixed-sex activity, like most fun things.) So it was off to the Modesto for a little gratin des ravioles and a tartine au chevre, a glass of white and a chat. My life could be fuller of these small pleasures, shame I have to work sometimes.
Chosen search terms of the week (and citing them here will probably make them self-reinforcing) are "obscene tomato pics" and "fellatio in the garden of eden". Sometimes I wonder at the iniquity of mankind, I really do.
But who cares, it's a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, with more of the same promised for the next ten days or (so maybe I will be able to have the barbecue I've been promising myself for my birthday, which I hardly need remind you is in a week, any and all gifts are appreciated thanks very much, small-denomination notes - lots of them - are always good) and I'm rather looking forward to a little apéro out on the balcony before getting stuck into these bleeding flammenkuche (version 2.0).

Later on Stacey turned up, ostensibly to pick up the spare vignette for the Swiss autoroutes, and I was a bit surprised when she came into the kitchen, accepted a glass of rosé, and brought a bag of flour, a sachet of yeast and a baking tray out of her handbag. It soon became evident that what she really wanted was a lesson in making pizza bases. Why me, oh lord?

Anyway, market as usual today: Bryan seems to have landed himself a rather cushy job wherein he is paid to speak English (or his approximation thereof) at people whilst they all have lunch together so he recused himself from the midday apéro, which left only Beckham and I to hold the flag.

The conversation turned, as it will, to diverse things, and she explained how, having unfortunately broken her old vibrator (don't ask. Even I'm smarter than that), had been obliged to buy a new "facial massager". Which apparently came with a really extensive user's manual explaining in some detail all the things one could possibly do with it.

Relieves migraine, it would seem, if you use it on your forehead and temples: back of the neck and top of the spine for general stress relief: all down the spine for back pains. I'm not sure what you do for varicose veins but in any case the gentleman over on the left there seems happy enough with his.


  1. No cabbages in sight, but I'm sure I could have found sealing-wax had I looked.

    Naturally this brings Frank Muir's shopping-list to mind: "Ring, down, the curtain, the fussy sofa".

  2. @ Smut: 'Naturally'????

    Trevor - we has a BBQ now, we does! Bought it as a 30th wedding anniversary present to ourselves, partly because (with memories of the Christchurch quakes still fresh) in the event of any major power failure we will still be eating/drinking hot food long after the little gaz camping cooker would have flamed its last :-)
    Oh yes - and hipy papy bthuthday for the big day (only missed it by two!)

  3. Current activity: Spamming Trevor's birthday date on all the blogs he frequents.

  4. What do you give a man who has everything? How about a giant floating stone head?

  5. I was actually hoping for a decent 40cm stainless-steel copper-bottomed frying pan, a decent vegetable peeler, and a poupée gonflable, but I'll settle for whatever comes my way. Off to hit the cooking sherry.

  6. Happy Birthday! Belated or otherwise!

    Also... a poupée gonflable and an BBQ do not mix...

  7. ... should have been a BBQ. I would have deleted but if Smut is angling for the floating, stone head, we will not waste any comments.

  8. Oh sure, everyone wants decency.

    I'm afraid you'll just have to settle for the likes of us.

  9. Jennifer made me come here to say Happy Birthday. She is the Designated Bat-Wrangler and Bloggerhood Den Mother, you know.

    I am just the Undersecretary for Rays of Motherfucking Sunshine, so who am I to argue?

    hmpf. A Zardoz? On a French blog? I am wounded that my epic Mekon-postery does not get the seal Of Floating Stone Heads on this lovely weekend.

  10. ...umm, I hope I didn't offend anyone with my title there.

    The Minister Of Optimism will vouch for me, should it be necessary. Ignore his squirrels.

  11. Current activity: Spamming Trevor's birthday date on all the blogs he frequents.

    You could also have spammed it on the blogs he DOESN'T frequent. Why come I gots to learn about it from Saying Yes?

  12. and she explained how, having unfortunately broken her old vibrator

    sounds like a job for mikey, actually.

    Also, 'unfortunately'? That's an interesting modifier there.

  13. You could also have spammed it on the blogs he DOESN'T frequent. Why come I gots to learn about it from Saying Yes?

    I didn't want to distract you from the arduous task of writing up your Mekons concert.

  14. Happy 153rd? Oddly enough that's exactly right, as our bank has my birth year down as 1858. Personally I think I'm not doing so bad.

  15. You could also have spammed it on the blogs he DOESN'T frequent. Why come I gots to learn about it from Saying Yes?

    I was merely a drive-by, ZRM. If Trevor is frequenting my place, it's news to me, although I haven't been around that much and do forget to lock it up.

  16. Mekons post? I think ZRM should just start another blog.

  17. Also... after a less stressful week, I think I might be leaving Bat Wrangler territory and may be headed for Bat Whisperer.

  18. Oddly enough that's exactly right

    S.C. speeled the beans.

  19. Mekons post? I think ZRM should just start another blog.

    How do you know I haven't?