Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autumn at my Table ...

You know what I really, really hate about this time of year? It's like, when you go out to see people on a Sunday, and the roads are full of really slow extremely elderly people who are teaching their grandchildren to drive just like them ie assault me mentally by being all passive-aggressive, and then you finally get where you're going and you have a nice meal and a really good time and then around 16:00 it's perhaps time to leave but not just yet and so finally you drive back and when you get home it's all dark despite being only 17:30 and you feel like you're seven again and it's time to go to bed.

Which it's not, because I'm 53 for god's sake and I will not eat my broccoli if I don't want to, and it's not even time for the apéro yet. I dislike Sundays. Intensely.

Especially, Sundays where it's all gray and overcast and generally dismal. I can see no point to them, and as a general rule I won't have them in the house.

But whatever, as you can doubtless guess we made it to Mumblefuck. And back. There was no blood on the floor - Liz would no doubt have screamed at the very idea - but it was still a great afternoon. Sylvia downing kir royal as if it were going out of fashion and holding three conversations at once with anyone who wasn't actively indicating their disinterest by committing seppuku, Liz delicately picking at her food (cooked apart, so it didn"t get contaminated by blood splatter from the medium-rare roast beef, and I note in passing that she managed to eat more than I - fair enough, she's eating for two), and Philippe smiling indulgently at all this foolishness and doubtless counting the time until the next half-bottle of valium.

And then they all went to bed (that's, uh, like separate beds, people), for a little mid-afternoon nap. Something I've not yet got the hang of. Although I'm sure it'll come, as age catches up with me.

Don't get me wrong, I like these people, it's just that when you meet them you are forced to admit that a lot of American soaps fail dismally because they don't go far enough. Some things are difficult to satirize, if only because the ghastly reality is so far up the wall that any attempt to take it further would be greeted by universal cries of disbelief.

No dysfunctional family would be complete without the coolly cynical son, a rôle that the younger one is learning to perform with some credit. We were, as usual, a tad late, so Karen jokingly suggested that, in case we were lost, they should start drinking anyway and that would lead us to them - "Trevor can smell an open bottle from 20km". So Liz starts to expostulate, and Emmanueli, without even looking up from the game console, wearily says "It's true. Maybe even 30".

Mind you, the argument was not so much about the distance at which I can distinguish a Vacqueyras from a cow-pat, as to whether or not the remark should have been made behind my back. For that would be impolite, whereas accusing me of being a cork-sniffer to my face is OK. (Actually, I don't mind. And my talents are over-rated: my personal best is a whiff of Beaujolais at 17.35km. Upwind, though.)

And don't get me onto the subject of how UHT milk is apparently perfectly acceptable for coffee, whereas UHT cream, when whipped and stuck on a pavlova, is an abomination. It's those frikkin microbes, I tell you.

It's all rather like Woody Allen, only way back in the days when he was still funny.

Switching topics, as will happen when one has the attention span of a mayfly, I really love little silicon moulds. I got some miniature loaf tins a while back - about 12x5x6 - and they are absolutely great for doing individual gratins. They taste the same, but it must be admitted that if you're trying to be elegant a small gratin unmoulded onto each plate is a damn sight more elegant than a quivering wodge of a single enormous one.

Personally, I sprinkle the bottom of each with paprika and chives and maybe some gros sel and then put cheese on top - either rounds of chevre or a slice of old cheddar, line the sides with extremely thin slices of potato (shame the mandoline is so bloody deadly, but it's guaranteed to make sure you leave no fingerprints at your next crime scene as you've little chance of having fingertips afterwards), then half-fill them with more potato slices. Another slice of cheese and chives, the rest of the potatoes on top, then fill with cream. Five minutes in the microwave, followed by twenty in a hot oven, and voilà.

Goes really well with a slice of rare fillet, some bastard béarnaise, a grilled tomato and salad. In case you were wondering.

Certainly cheered me up, anyway. After Berlusconi promising to resign (but still not actually getting around to doing it), the Greek mess, Iranian nukes and Israeli menaces - and a couple of extremely persistent but excessively stupid flies buzzing around that haven't yet quite grasped the concept of dying for winter - a right depressing week. A decent meal does wonders.

Yet another public holiday, and on a Friday yet: a good reason to laze in bed for a few extra hours. Which is a bit of a waste given the weather, absolutely glorious. The stream's still dry, and the bed's full of yellow leaves; the sky is clear blue and the light is wonderful. I do so like global warming.

Because it's the season, over here anyway, I'm going to put this up as a suggestion. I profited from the fact that Margo's back in the Lubéron to make it, as I know bloody well that she wouldn't touch it because it involves fruit with meat. (Sometimes I feel that she doesn't go away often enough, as there's still some diots in the freezer to be steamed over the white wine in which the potatoes and onions are cooking, and there are things I'd like to do involving quail and apricots, or veal and apples.

OK, pintade d'automne, for which you'll need a guinea-fowl. Don't be tempted to use a chicken instead, I think you really need the gamey taste. Whatever, cut the poor beast into pieces and brown them all over in butter, along with four chopped shallots, three or four unpeeled cloves of garlic and a bay leaf. (A decent cast-iron casserole would be a really good idea here. Go buy one, you know you want to.) Then add 200gm of button mushrooms and let them sweat, then a couple of handfuls of not-too-sweet grapes and let the lot cook for another minute or so.

Finally, sprinkle it all with a couple of teaspoons of  flour so that the eventual sauce will be a bit syrupy, flambé with cognac (or Scotch if you prefer): when the flames have died down and you've checked your eyebrows add two glasses of dry white wine and a sprig of thyme, cover the pan and let it cook on low for 40 minutes.

If you can't find a guinea fowl, you could always have a go with duck legs instead, if you have access to a supply of such things. In which case I'd be very tempted to replace the bog-standard white wine with either a Gewurtztraminer or a pinot noir, something with a bit of residual sugar. Just saying.

And another thing if you do decide to go with the duck: you will need to either prepare it as if you were turning it into a confit ie cook it very slowly in its own fat for about three hours, or for some time in a pressure cooker. When the meat is soft, proceed as above. You'll be better for it, believe me.

Spaetzle, the Alsatian noodles, would go really well with this - if you've not come across them, they're little nubbins of fresh pasta dough which are poached, then drained and fried in butter - but you might have difficulty finding those. But I do remember having something similar at a restaurant in Colmar many years ago, and that went down quite nicely with cubed potatoes fried in duck fat with thyme. So if you open a tin of foie gras to serve as an entrée, that would be one way to get rid of the fat.

Finally headed off to the quack this morning (the only appointment I could get was at 7:30, which is why I was more or less out of bed around 6, one of those times which was never made for me and at which, under normal circumstances, I would sneer) to pick up some happy pills. He read the riot act of course, and one point he did stress was that I should not, under any circumstances, read the little paper inside the box: it would only, it seems, upset me. As he said, side effects are very rare, and if I do get them then nausea will be the least of my worries.

Oddly enough, I rather like our GP.


  1. And then they all went to bed (that's, uh, like separate beds, people)

    Way to chase away the audience only 1/4 way through, Trevor. Did you run this pass your agent?

  2. This, like Riddled, is a blog destined for a family audience and naturally aims to promulgate healthy family values. Also, we have boring friends.

  3. I sincerely hope you do not extend the epithet 'boring' to your family!

    OTT but why the quack?

  4. SSRI: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, to you.