Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Am Curious (Not Yellow) ...

I have never really understood just why it should be that some people seem perpetually surprised that I can actually cook. That they should be stunned that I can get out of bed without falling over, or tie my own shoelaces without adult supervision: now that I can comprehend, given that I show few signs of competence in either area, but cooking? I suppose, looked at one way, it's sort of flattering ... mind you, looking at it that way does require you to believe that men are completely useless in the kitchen too, thereby permitting surprise at the discovery that one can cook at all, let alone do it well.

You'd think Sophie would know better - we've known each other for years, and I've made her godnose how many lunches - but still on Saturday she had a look on her face like a stunned mullet (which does not come naturally to her, but is actually a pretty neat trick if you can pull it off; must be handy for childrens' parties) as I made up some bastard puff pastry in her totally impractical (but admittedly well-lit) kitchen. OK, it is a bit of a feat in itself I admit, given that her total unencumbered bench space must be about 10cm² and I had to use a wine bottle instead of a rolling pin (yes, I bring my own gear when I cook, but I refuse to take an entire suitcase full just in case something's missing), but she's seen me do that sort of thing before.

And yet, each time, there's this look of dawning amazement and pride, as though some well-loved but particularly stupid pet has managed to do something clever and not involving bowel motions. I taxed her with this, and she said that she actually likes to watch me work; "j'aime te regarder travailler; tu fais des beaux gestes". I'm not entirely sure that I believe that, but I suppose that I should: it's better than the alternatives.

Whatever, it's not all pleasure at these lunches, you know. Yes, we get to eat, but there's the critique raisonnnée during and afterwards as well, and you are expected to be able to work out what exactly went into the plate - all part of the game. So the next time I try those scallops - and there will be a next time - I rather think I'll be sticking some badiane and cinnamon sticks into the spice blender, and adding a subtle dose to the orange juice. (Lord knows what I'll do with the rest. Make up some more confit de canard, I suppose.) And the sesame oil, instead of soy sauce, definitely stays.

But no bright red blobs of hot pepper jelly, I promise. (I do have this tendency to man-with-hammer syndrome, I admit. Everything looks like a nail. The culinary equivalent is to think that a dish is going to be improved by adding some of whatever you have available to it, which turns out to be not necessarily the case.)

This weekend - or at least Saturday night - will be busy: Stacey's trying to organise a Thanksgiving dinner and we also have the combined 90th birthday party for Sophie & Séverine. And on top of that our mad friend Karen is turning up for the day to do things with Margo, maybe involving learning how to use a sewing machine.

So the current plan is that we get ourselves tarted up (insofar as possible, in my case anyway: the theme is "chic et sexy"), then I get dropped off at Stacey's to help with the cooking because as a non-carnivore she's unsure as to exactly when meat is actually cooked and is all too-likely to leave it roasting for three hours, whilst Margo drops Karen back at the train station before returning, whereupon we eat, then run to Sophie's to catch the arse-end of the party.

Preferably bearing finger-food, which means that I will be spending tomorrow afternoon making up club sandwiches, which for some reason the French adore. Salmon and cucumber, ham with goat cheese and mustard and sour cream, chicken with smashed curried eggs - and I may, just out of a spirit of bloody-mindedness, stick in some with mashed banana and honey with dates; I'm sure someone will eat them.

Completely unrelated to anything: random Google search terms that lead to this blog apparently include "battery operated cucumbers". OK, it's my fault I suppose because I did in fact use the phrase at one point, but - umm - people search for this? Vegetable vibrator technology? The mind boggles.

Much, much later ... so the market was a right arse; they've finally finished refurbishing les halles, the old Stalinist-style market building (and don't ask me why they bothered, they could have just torn the dump down and put up something decent, not as though it had any redeeming architectural merit but there you go) and so I had to go and find out where everyone is all over again and on top of that, it being the first day, world + dog were there just to have a look and getting in the way of serious people trying to get their shopping done.

And for some reason, there was no rougette, which is a serious offence, and we're once again reduced to broccoli and brussels sprouts in the vegetable department. Good healthy stuff, certainly, but a solid diet of brassica can get boring after a while.

I don't think that you can really claim to have seen a proper party until you've seen a French one. Or heard one, come to that. Often karaoke will be committed, and they do love dancing. And not just flinging yerself around in some sort of Brownian motion, proper stuff with moves and everything. And of course there's enough food to support an African village for a year, and sufficient wine to drown a horse.

So we turned up at Stacey's, as planned, and while she was organising almond-chocolate caramel I got put in charge of roasting some pears and red onions in sherry vinegar with rosemary before moving on to the filet mignon de porc, flambé with whisky and finished off with sour cream and whole-grain mustard sauce. With beans and bacon, and an enormous (and delicious) mess of mashed potatoes drowning in butter and paprika, cooked for an hour in the oven.

Not really traditional Thanksgiving fare (if you don't think to order ahead, turkeys are difficult to find around here at this time of year - they come on tap for Christmas), but definitely good. And thank heavens we avoided the bloody pumpkin pie, something I've always dreaded because it seems to be about 90% sugar. Stacey had very thoughtfully made an apple crisp instead, and someone (hats off to that person) had brought along a proper carrot cake with real icing.

But we missed out on coffee, as time was getting on and we still had to head off to Séverine's place, somewhere out in the wops behind les Marches, for this party. Which we duly did, turning up - a wee bit late, I admit - to find that Renaud had organised a band (he's one of nature's drummers) with all the trimmings, which meant that the affair was even louder than usual.

To do this sort of thing properly, you have to cram about 40 people into a 30m² room, a good percentage of which is already occupied by the sound system, drum kit and guitar stands: then you put food onto every available flat surface, distribute bottles and Chateau Carton at strategic locations around the place, turn the lights down and put the volume knob at 11. The people take it from there.

As Margo remarked, it's quite alien. It's been a long time, I admit, since I last went to a birthday party in New Zealand, but still I doubt that there is actually organised, choreographed singing at the guest of honour. Over here, yes. It still feels odd - maybe I just don't get out enough.

Anyway, we weren't allowed to leave until the cakes had been cut and distributed which means it was something like 2:30 when we made it back home, and I for one am feeling just a little bit jaded. Goodnight, all.


  1. OTOH, pork slow-roasted at about 140o for 3-4hrs, before the heat is raised dramatically for a brief period to give the crackling that requisite crunch, is soooo moist & tender & simply falls apart :-)

  2. You can cook?! Goodness me. You should blog about it some time.

  3. Mmm, well, if there were 27 hours in a day I might consider it... (We had pork like that last night. It was nommylicious.)

  4. Anyway, I can't compete with Trevor in the cooking stakes - I bow before the master :-)