Sunday, February 26, 2012

Le Sacré du Printemps ...

Well, now that the snow has melted we can see the primeveres poking their heads up through the grass down in the paddock, and in another irrefutable sign of spring's imminent arrival there are hordes of lycra-clad buttocks on bikes making the little side roads a misery for those of us who just want to be about our business and avoid the tourist-clogged autoroutes without having to stop every five km to scrape stuff out from underneath the front bumper.

No swallows as yet, but they're a tardy bunch and unreliable as harbingers go, in my experience. In fact, some of the buggers don't even bother migrating anymore: come over to France, settle into a nice cosy little state-owned apartment and stay here for life.

Anyway, the snowdrops are out too, the pussy-willow is having kittens, there are twice as many crocuses (crocii?) in the lawn as there were last year (don't get excited, that means there are two, which could be either a linear or an exponential series, too soon to tell) and the first trim folded leaves are starting to come out on the noisetiers along the stream and over the barbecue. So Margo can look forward to a couple of months of hay-fever.

Incidentally, we were idly looking over the ads in the real-estate agents in town the other day, and it came to our attention that for all their linguistic snobisme, the French are just as capable of committing dreadful neologisms as their cross-channel cousins. I mean, "piscinable"? OK, so you could stick a swimming pool in or on the lawn but honestly, there has to be a better way of saying that.

Some Dutch pervert is looking for pictures with the keywords "human testicles cut off". Why do they persist in doing this? Especially when they must be sadly disappointed.

Beckham made it back from Bristol, or so it seems, although apparently she was in no state or mood for drinking on Sunday afternoon when I met up with Bryan at Cardinal's, which he seems to have adopted as his week-end office. Perhaps she'll be better this Saturday, although given how the pair of them tend to pass the Friday evenings I'd not bet money on it.

And as it turns out, I was right to be cynical. Foreseeing problems, Margo and I went off and did much of our shopping on the Friday night, when Carrefour is, although beastly, still bearable, which left plenty of time on Saturday morning to admire the traffic jams - from the exterior, I'm not stupid. Yes, I took the back roads - early enough that the cyclists hadn't yet hit them - and it was with some pleasure that I noted the jam started at the Chignin péage, carried along the autoroute and snaked its way through Chambéry along the voie rapide (no, that's not sarcastic), and then turned solid at the northern autoroute access. That's about 20km, which is kind of impressive, and it was the same in both directions.

So I was feeling understandably smug as I went about my business at the market, staggered back to the car with my arms lengthening from the weight of the shopping basket, thankfully unloaded it and headed off to the Arbre à Bières to meet Bryan. Who was, when I arrived, comfortably ensconced with a book and a chardonnay, but no Beckham.

Turned out that she'd found a new love interest and had headed off to Lyon for the weekend: at least, as I said, if she gets chucked out for not putting out it's still a damned sight easier to get back to Chambéry from there than it is from Geneva.

Still, the visit wasn't wasted: the chardonnay was excellent and as I'd thoughtlessly left home without a single drop about my person the cook very kindly served me up a couple of shots of whisky ("No point in Laphroaig, J&B will be fine", said he, "just for a flambé, and I can't ask you to pay for that") in a small bottle - which did rather look as though I was wandering around carrying a urine sample, but food is food.

When we left he asked what I was planning on doing with it, so I told him; heat through the cuisses de canard confits that I'd brought along, dust them with flour, flambé the suckers and then let them simmer gently in gewurtztraminer with grapes and some jumbo golden raisins. "And just what", he asked, "do you plan on as an accompaniment to that?" "A young, beautiful woman", I replied - not strictly true for Sophie is 50, but let's not quibble about mere details.

The cook had the good grace not to laugh too heartily, but Bryan subsided into a fit of muffled snorts: I think he's just jealous, sad to see how petty it can make people.

And as we headed back across Carré Curial, they were getting the stages set up for carnaval and running a few sound checks. As Bryan remarked, it always seems such a shame that they spend so much money on the sound gear, and none at all on music lessons. Still, as he lives just a couple of hundred metres away, he'll have a chance to see whether or not things get any better as the evening wears on.

So anyway, he headed off to have a few more adventures with DIY shelving and kitchen units (and, no doubt, to buy some earplugs), and I went to get lunch ready. I still think I got the better end of the stick.

Being of a kindly disposition, and also feeling totally unable to face yet another meal of left-over choucroute, I'd brought what was left  (a considerable amount, really) in a plastic tub and confided it to Sophie, who was cooing with glee as she went off to hide it in the fridge at the far end of the cellar, so that Lucas would not find it. (That fridge has done pretty bloody well, really. We bought it in Brittany in '87, it came down here with us in '88 and gave us years of faithful service before we donated it to Sophie about ten years ago - and it's still working. They just don't make them like that anymore.)

The duck turned out fine: it had cooked for three hours or so in its own fat on Friday night and was just about ripe. So as Sophie was getting all hot and bothered discussing les options d'orientation with Rémi (this is nothing more frightening than working out which uni courses to take in order to preserve a maximum of choice for the future, maybe get into a really good school - France is very elitist like that - and, just possibly, get a job: but it's far more important and let's be honest, anguished over here than I remember it being for me) I squatted a corner of the dining-room table and an empty wine bottle to make some feuilletage rapide for the baked apples before starting on the serious business.

Unfortunately I chose a moment when Sophie was looking up (doubtless rolling her eyes to heaven) to set fire to the whisky, which earned me a reprimand for reckless endangerment of human life and a good scolding as she wiped non-existent soot marks from the kitchen cupboards.

Whatever, there was no lasting harm done. And the best thing, I have discovered, about wearing a tie is that you always have it conveniently to hand should you need to clean your glasses. Or wipe a knife blade.

Sadly, the duck was alcophilic or deliquescent or whatever, for by the time it was ready there was nowt left of that bottle of gewurtz. There was, on the other hand, a gorgeous syrupy sauce of reduced wine, grapes and brown crispy bits which Lucas, at great personal cost, undertook to eliminate, armed only with most of a baguette. And Sophie had some rosé to hand, and a Tautavel, so not all was lost.

On another subject entirely, it appears I was right about Jeremy. He confided to Margo that on turning up to his stage at Briançon, almost the first words were to the effect that the daughter of the house was strictly off-limits.

And in other news, it appears that fairly shortly it will be required to have an alcotest in the car, along with the reflective triangle and the jacket. The principle, I suppose, is that you can hardly claim ignorance of the fact that your blood alcohol is through the ceiling if you have, in the glove-box, everything required to find out. A case of auto incrimination, as it were.


  1. That duck sounds divine!! I am tempted to pop into Nosh tomorrow (always supposing that it's safe to be on the roads - the weather forecast for tonight & tomorrow is absolutely appalling) & see if they have duck & golden raisins on their shelves. Not the sort of thing one would fine in New World, alas!

  2. I had it once in a restaurant in Colmar, back in '96 I suppose, and set out to redo it. If you really want to do it properly you should serve it with spaetzle: little nubbins of egg pasta dough which are poached and then fried in - what else - duck fat. Good.