Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sumer Is A-cumen ...

So, five English-persons (or maybe the same one, five times) looking for "sexy hunk" is understandable, but I really have no idea why someone in Pakistan should be looking for pictures of buttocks (well, that's a foolish lie, I admit, I actually have a damned good idea). I certainly cannot think, on the other hand, what impelled someone in Turkey to go looking for "manufacturers of budgerigar". And why Google should send them here is totally beyond my comprehension ... like so many things these days, alas.

Whatever, we didn't, what with one thing and another, mostly involving car in paddock, get around to eating that asparagus last night so I'm searching back in some of the more archaic neurons in the hindbrain to see what I could do with them. Well, not so much what I could do with the asparagus, I know exactly what's going to happen to them, it's more a question of what else is going on the plate.

I have some nice fat juicy hamburger steaks in the fridge, so I thought perhaps a couple of burgers with asparagus to go: sadly, we seem to be right out of hamburger buns. A decent lasagna would be good, but I also have these bloody gratins left over from last night and I'm pretty sure that potato and pasta would be classed as overdoing the carbohydrates. Which would also rule out pizza.

Which kind of leaves me with a choice between chicken thighs (in lemon juice, with white wine and cream? Please?) or that bit of saddle of lamb, just nicely roasted. Or both, I suppose - not the same night, obviously - there's more than enough asparagus. Decisions, decisions ...

Well, as it happens, it was the chicken that won. And tonight, before those hamburger patties decide to open the fridge door and escape under their own steam, as greenish zombie-steaks, it's going to be decadent luxury-burgers. With a slab of foie gras on each, just for fun, and béarnaise sauce instead of ketchup. It's going to be fun - and probably messy - trying to get them in our mouths, though. Especially with that buttery asparagus on the side. Perhaps I should remove my tie before sitting down to eat, given that it's a reasonably nice one I'm rather fond of.

(Can't remember how I acquired it though. It's not one of the op-shop jobs I still have and love from 30 years ago, and I can't recall actually buying it: I suspect it must have been a present. And from the colours, must have been from Sophie. I think. Hopefully, the topic will never come up in conversation.)

Had you noticed that most TV series downloads are only available as MP4 format these days? Bit of a bugger really as the computer in the TV room is so certifiably ancient as to have a version of Media Player which doesn't understand such things, and as it also has only XP on it there's no point trying to install anything more recent - so anyway, if we want to watch something like that we have to head upstairs and settle down in bed with a warm cocoa and the laptop balanced on my knees.

So last night we were watching "Republic of Doyle" in just such a manner and another thing I had not noticed when I downloaded it was that it was a version with voice-over, presumably for the blind. So WTF are blind people doing watching TV? Wouldn't they be better off just listening to the radio? What's the point of the moving pictures? Cos it is very annoying, in a TV program, to have some bint say "Now Jake is just going over and slaps Des. Des seems hurt and surprised". I mean, I know that, I can bloody see it happening.

It has been drawn to my attention that you have this thing called a "Brownley" or something like that, which pops up from time to time and makes stupid comments along the lines of "pull me finger!" and generally manages to insult Scandinavians, which given the history of the Viking invasions is not genererally considered to be a good idea.

Could you please get rid of him? He seems totally pointless. I mean, not that I'm personally concerned, or anything, just saying. But hey, if he brightens up your day and you don't mind being a laughing-stock, by all means hang on to him. Decent village idiots are hard to find these days, you just can't get the wood.

Just as an aside, could I point out that for some things, French is a remarkably poor language? Replete in all terms erotic, unlike English - to the point where a translator we knew once confided that she could not translate an erotic novel from French to English, as the result was invariably either obscene or off-puttingly clinical - but sadly lacking in other respects.

Take the good old English "toe" for instance. Do you know what the French for that is? Quite right, it is "doigt de pied", or literally, "foot-finger". I ask you. (Actually, that's not entirely fair. There's another word, "orteil" but that seems little-used, doubtless due to the possible confusion with "ortie", which is a nettle. Asking someone if they've cleaned between their nettles might not be appreciated. But "athlete's foot" does translate directly as "foot mushrooms", which is rather gross if you ask me. Oh, and don't get me onto the subject of why the hell it's "une bite" and "le vagin". But "la chatte". Go figure.)

Tomorrow is Stacey's birthday, and she just rang to ask if I would make pizzas for dinner. She would like a bog-standard flammenkuche, and maybe a Hawaiian, so I just looked in the pantry for the redcurrant jelly and some pineapple slices: did you know that there was a tin of apple purée in there with a use-by date of 2006? Neither did I, only noticed because of the black oozy rings under the tin. Note to self: do not even think about eating that one. Mind you, I'm a bit scared about chucking it out, lest it take offence and seek revenge. Best perhaps to leave things as they are.

Been there, done that. A couple of tartes flambées with sour cream, onions, bacon, goat cheese and redcurrant jelly, and two pizzas marocains with poivron and chorizo - and, for Sue's pleasure, pineapple. (Did you know that they apparently call it an "australian"?)

I am going to have to do a bit of work on the dough for the tarte flambée base mind you: cooking on a hot slate tile helps but you still need a really hot oven, the delivery system (sliding it off waxed paper) needs improvement, and above all I'm convinced that I can do better. The traditional recipe is just flour, oil, salt and water, in coyly unspecified proportions: I think that using saindoux (aka pork dripping) as the basis for a pate feuilletée, instead of butter, would work better.

Given the speed at which it all disappeared, regardless of these defects, I rather suspect I'll have the chance to try, and sooner rather than later.

Whatever, the holidays are over and there are only geriatrics and foreigners up in the ski stations, which is why the autoroute was more or less deserted when I headed through to the market this morning, because they tend to be late risers.

Still, they made up for it later: the off-ramp for the péage at the northern end of Chambéry was blocked solid when I went past later on, not particularly helped by the fact that a couple of people had apparently decided that it would be a Good Idea to have an accident just there, and had completely blocked one lane as they filled out the insurance declarations.

Makes you wonder, sometimes, why people bother going off on holiday. Are they really looking for the extra stress, what with the kids already squealing "are we there yet?" and all? I'm pretty sure I'm better off just heading down to the garden with book and bottle: it doesn't take nearly as long to get there, the view's just as good and the food is cheaper - and better.

Unfortunately, as it is yet another fine day (don't worry, supposed to get a dégradation next week, maybe with snow - I told you so) world + dog (and granny, and her frikking trolley) was out at the market and, unpardonably, later on at the bars, soaking up the sun. (Terrace chez Liddy was full, and I had to resort to squatting a fire hydrant at le Modesto. These are truly sad times.)

Despite which it was still a quick trip: a rougette, some tomatoes that are starting to taste like they're supposed to, aubergine and some sanguines, and of course asparagus. Still too early, sad to say, for stone fruit, so as the mandarins are no longer fit to eat and the pears are definitely questionable, Margo's reduced to eating bananas until something better comes along.

Which, in the fullness of time, it will, and we shall gorge ourselves on apricots and nectarines and peaches and plums until we is sick, but it's still a long hard wait. But worth it, if only for the cherries which should start to arrive in a few weeks.

Sadly, as Bryan's plans have advanced at such speed that they open the doors at his new language school end of next week, he was off painting the just-rented offices, and Beckham replied that she was still in her pyjamas and had no particular desire to turn up at a bar dressed like that. A shame, really.

But anyway, even a solitary glass of white at midday is better than none at all, especially under the sun in a blue sky.

While I think of it - in the occasional "Place-Names You Don't Want To Know" department there is Craponne-sur-Arzon. Don't ask.

And tomorrow, off to see our old friend Jacques up in the Maurienne: there's a little salon du gout et du terroir he's got some tickets for, there's a teeny patchwork show at Hermillon that, as we're going to be around, Margo would like to have a look at, and I'm sure we'll squeeze lunch in there somewhere.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Which My Weekend is Unexpectedly Busy ...

Well, looking over those stats I see we have:

    obscene vegetables5 hits
    chili con carne revisited1 hit
    april wine the nature of the beast2 hits
    flogging daughter1 hit
    dead threadworm bunches photo1 hit

We is obviously heading towards attracting a rather better class of visitor that we've had in the past, not too difficult I hear you say and SHUT UP! in the cheap seats, the threadworm hits are way down which is good because quite frankly threadworm-obsessed people are of little interest to most advertisers (although I suppose there must be a niche) and exactly how do you think we make our money anyway?. Mind you, all these things are relative.

So anyway, even though it's a beautiful sunny day I'm glumly expecting an unseasonable cold snap or, who knows, maybe even a late snowfall of at least ten centimetres: yes it's that time of year again, and the apricot tree is in blossom. It is a given that we will not in fact get any apricots off the damn thing, the only real question is exactly what cataclysm or natural disaster will prevent its metaphorical vegetable loins from being fruitful.

Whatever it is, it'll have to be spectacularly disastrous to top last year's attack of leprosy, or the brewer's droop and self-immolation by napalm of the year before. (How the hell does a tree, even suicidal, manage to order in a Vietnam-era attack helicopter? I should never have left the Wifi access unsecured. And I should also have changed my credit card, perhaps.)

Expect further extracts from the Beckham Diaries in the near future, she's currently off in Lille, of all places, and I confidently expect the outcome to be sufficiently disastrous as to be funny. Why Lille? Bryan, who can sometimes be terse to the point of obscurity, you'd think he had to pay per letter for his SMS, explained that she was still looking for a man with the Big C, which led to a bit of confusion.

Quite frankly all I could think of was Cancer or Cash, and Beckham's never seemed to be the gloater type: finally he enlightened me, the 'C' is for commitment. Why the hell he couldn't just have come right out and said that straight away I'll never know.

Another thing I'm still vague about is why she would expect to find such a paragon in Lille, of all godforsaken holes. The place is not exactly known as a world-class exporter of such things: truth to tell, in France it's known mainly for being the fief of Martine Aubry, one of the last surviving old-style Socialists and architect of that French economic miracle, the 35-hour week.

Now steak Diane is a bit of a disappointment for me, in that alcohol does not figure in the list of ingredients. Neither, sad to say, does flambéing, but that's maybe just as well for otherwise it might have earned me another scolding from Sophie, for non-existent fire damage to the cobwebs in the stove hood.

In its simplest, and probably its best, form it's just thin slices of steak cut across the grain (yeah, I use hampe because I like it and, as well, I can get it) and then quickly stir-fried over vast heat (this is, once again, where the triple couronne on my stove comes into its own) until crispy brown all over and still red in the middle before being dumped into a bowl.

At which point you need to stick some sliced mushrooms in the wok or whatever and let them wilt before adding cream, sour cream, and a generous slosh of Worcester sauce. Oh, and a teaspoon of decent whole-grain mustard, while you're at it. Let all that thicken (it will, if you've done it right), then add the meat just to heat it up again and sprinkle the lot with chopped parsley. Salad is always good with this (salad is good with most things, in my experience), as would be asparagus. Which, oddly enough, is just coming into season.

(An alternative would be filet de boeuf Woronoff, which is more or less the same thing apart from being completely different. Should you happen to have a couple of slices of fillet steak you just brown them on both sides and then poach them for about five minutes in a mixture of cream, sour cream, and peeled thinly-sliced cucumber: when ready to eat just add a shot of Worcester and sprinkle, as usual, with parsley. See? And they call that haute cuisine. Mind you, Margo won't eat the stuff on account of the cucumber.)

Restaurant des Halles
Still, as Sophie said, if you can't even eat cake you can at least drink wine, and an advantage of steak Diane is that it does take, quite literally, about five minutes once it's prepared, which in fact leaves you quite a lot of time - if you're so inclined - to appreciate the sunlight and the blue sky and, why not, some wine.

Still a bit early in the year for rosé, but as luck would have it Bruno, from Sorhea (that's a client, not a place-name so don't bother trying to go there) had given me a bottle of Gascon white as a token of appreciation for the fact that the last software release I delivered did not in fact fall over in the first ten minutes, which let him get through his demonstration without too many awkward questions.

Which is always a Good Thing.

Terry Gillam does Rousseau
Whatever, I found myself then with this bottle of Uby on my hands: cépage gros et petit Manseng, if that means anything to you; as far as I'm concerned it was Muscat. Une tuerie, pour du vrai: I don't think I've ever tasted anything so fruity, or so dry.

Not a wine I would ever drink with anything: it would rather overpower whatever you served it with, but as an aperitif, a bloody wonder. Sad to say, I rather doubt you'll be able to come across a bottle (or two). Come to that, I can see I shall have to be extra-nice to Bruno until he gives me the name of the vigneron where he got the stuff.

And not only are there Lombard pears at the market, which are completely inedible and fit for nowt apart from being poached in red wine and sugar and spices (OK, what's on the stove right now?), there are also the first strawberries of the year. Which, to my sensitive ears, are just crying out out to be hulled, sliced and marinated with a bit of Grand Marnier or something.

Fairly obviously, a fish-mongers
Later on in the season, when we start to get bored with them, there will be strawberry shortcake and other such desserts, and should there still be some around when the cherries start to make an appearance I will know what to do, but just for now simple is best.

So anyway, I'd rather planned on getting this wrapped up and posted but as usual one thing led to another and I started some little individual gratins aux chèvre cooking and dragged the asparagus spears out and packed a few essentials like a decent knife in a bag and set out to cook dinner for Stacey.

Sad to say I didn't get very far - about half-way down the hill in fact - before, for reasons best known only to itself, the front right tire decided to wrap itself at 90° to the hub, which left me  sliding down and off the road with three wheels instead of the more usual four and a great gush of sparks as the bare hub scraped along the tarmac.

Le Bar à Thym, Chambéry
I have actually been in that sort of situation before but it's not really the sort of thing that gets any more enjoyable with practice. On the bright side, the paddock off to the right was fairly level and the car didn't roll as she ploughed through a couple of hundred meters of it before coming to a graunching stop.

Also, the insurance company is pretty efficient, and Margo had just got me home to await the arrival of the depanneur and his mighty tow-truck when I got a call from him to say that he was at the scene of the crime and would I mind turning up?

So I left the cooking and headed back down: happily the formalities didn't take long because when I got back it was to discover that in the mad rush I'd left a frying pan to heat on the stove and it had, in fact, heated.

I really would have done better not getting out of bed, or perhaps calling at a day around mid-afternoon. Still, it's such a beautiful day I can't feel too upset. Maybe I'll just go down to the garden and appreciate the daffodils for a bit.

(While I think of it - 2012 has been declared l'année Rousseau, and as his adopted town Chambéry has been decking itself out. I can't think which bright spark at the mairie had the idea of getting Terry Gillam to do all these bloody floating banners.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In The Land Where the Lizards Play ...

There must be an amazing number of loonies and generally mentally deranged people in Chambéry, if the difficulty of getting an appointment with a shrink is anything to judge by. March and April seem to be their busiest months, at least according to the one that Laverré recommended. Still, he reckons that he should be able to fit me in before the end of the month, which would be good.

I mean, just how barking mad does one have to be to get a little bit of attention in this place?

Our eldest son finally deigned to honour us with his attention: just a brief text to let us know that he'd arrived but had no network coverage. I don't really expect to hear anything more from him until he returns, but Margo did forward the contact number off to Malyon, who wants him to come up to Glasgow one weekend. God knows why, but I rather fear the worst.

Sometimes I forget just how good simple food can be. We were a bit desperate the other night, but we did have a couple of pork chops (would've preferred them to be thicker, but Mr B. is about the only butcher I can be arsed going to and he's hardly likely to be selling pork, now is he?) which got fried up with a sprinkling of herbes de Provence and then covered and left for a bit to melt down and make some nice burnt crusty bits.

Added cream and some whole-grain mustard for a quick sauce, served with Brussels sprouts and potatoes  mashed with butter, the rest of the cream, and an egg: it doesn't really get much better than that.

Except for the day after, with even less in the fridge and what there was mostly vegetables, so I peeled and thinly sliced some potatoes and used them to line a pie dish and stuck that in the oven, with melted butter drizzled all over, to bake. And while that was going on I fried up the only meat there was in the place - some bacon bits - added some sliced leeks to that and left them to soften, then flour, beef stock and some white wine for a quick sauce.

Ladle that into the prepared potato pie crust, top with parmesan and bake a bit more: with cubed aubergine fried up in olive oil with tomatos, poivron and heaps of basil it turned out to be surprisingly edible.

Mind you, it did leave me minus the skin of the tip of one finger, the result of slightly too incisive a gesture with a knife. My own fault, I do know better, but on the bright side blood always comes in handy for thickening a sauce, provided you remember never to let it boil.

Sad to say we're a somewhat diminished family these days: Margo had to have Kelly put down on Thursday. About the only thing she had left that actually worked was her sense of smell and when she started getting jaundiced, anaemic and incontinent, mainly blood and water, we decided that it was about time, before she started to feel too much pain. The cat doesn't seem to have noticed yet.

We still have those moments where you've a nagging feeling that there's something you really should be doing, like letting her outside or going for walkies, but that'll doubtless pass.

Saturday evening we're off to see our mad friend Karen for her partner Philippe's 60th birthday, someplace around Geneva. Sadly  neither Sylvia nor Liz will be there, so it might not be such a bundle of laughs as usual.

Part of Jeremy's plans for world domination involve him doing one more year at lycée to do a specialisation in boulangerie: at the end of which, as a bi-lingual French-trained chef and boulanger the world should be his mollusc. (Or, if you prefer, his huitre.)

Which is why, as I headed off to the market - once again, avoiding the autoroute, which was moving like a backed-up sewer - Margo went off to the lycée concerned, in St. Alban-Leysse, as they happened to have their open day. She chatted with the prof de boulangerie, and the general consensus is that when Jeremy gets back from bloody Blackpool he'd better go out and find a stage ASAP (which should not, it seems, be too difficult) and get back to the lycée.

Cuisse de canard confite, riz aux champignons, salade verte
So anyway, there was a quorum of four when Margo, Bryan, Beckham and I met up for the usual Saturday noon meeting of the Wine Label Appreciation, Cork-sniffers and Allied Trades Society (although Bryan, by virtue of having rather over-done things the night before, was recused and permitted a beer).

Chez Liddy was closed for their annual holidays - seems even bar-keepers get them these days, what is the world coming to? - and the Bar de la Place was full with happily eating families, so we wound up, as one will, sitting outside in the sun at l'Arbre à Bières, for all the world like a pack of wrinkled (Beckham excepted) lizards soaking up the warmth.

At about that time, as we were going over the minutes of the last meeting, the Maharajah - that being the excellent Indian restaurant across the alley - started cooking up a curry which, as it does, started the old gastric juices flowing. And then the guy sitting at the table next to us - another regular - had ordered the plat du jour, which quite frankly looked rather tempting.

So it didn't take us too long to decide that what we really needed to do was have lunch, so it was a pichet de blanc for Beckham and I, a glass or two of red for Margo, another beer for Bryan, and slates of cuisse de canard confite with timbales de riz aux champignons all round. Again.

And while we ate and drank in the sun we took in the street entertainment provided by the yoof of the quarter, which is kind of low-rent.

Definitely a working-class street, and I guess there's not that much to do of a Saturday afternoon apart from lounge around in the hotted-up Peugeot 206 for which you can't afford the gas, and maybe deal a few soft drugs out of the back seat.

Their sartorial sense is also a bit misplaced: I mean OK to the Adidas track-suits if you must, but honestly, with one leg rolled up to mid-calf? Beckham, who apparently knows about these things from her youth in Salt Lake City, said it was so 90's, and I would have difficulty arguing with that.

The advantage, I suppose, of the track-suit pants is that they allow incredibly easy access should you have the urge to discreetly scratch your balls, which apparently took them every five minutes. Not too surprising, there don't seem to be that many young women in the district, and those that are are sometimes a bit zoned-out and wander past nicking a few cigarette butts and sugar cubes from the unoccupied tables.

Then Foul Ole Ron turned up, doing the rounds and requesting cheap red wine with menaces (he got a big mug-full from the Maharajah, which does rather give me pause as I wonder what the clients get, let's be charitable and assume they keep it for sterilising the dishes) and the Likely Lads dispersed, which pretty much put a stop to the street theatre. A shame.

Whatever, we eventually called it a day around 15:00 as Margo had to pack the van for a little show on Sunday and we both had to get our glad rags on for the evening's entertainment.

Sifting through the wreckage ...
Which turned out to be very Swiss, or old-style French, come to that. Back in the day, one never invited people to one's home for such an occasion, but always to a restaurant, and so it turned out to be.

I took the precaution of looking up La Croix-de-Rozon on viaMichelin before we set out, and in fact we found the place easily enough and crossed into Switzerland through a frontier post you wouldn't know was there were it not for the fact that they close it at 19:30, but once we got there, no sign whatsoever of Place de Brunes and the Café Babel.

Of course the GPS refused to recognise that the place existed, and it was only thanks to a nice young man at a garage who told Margo that you had to specify it was in Bardonnex that we finally found the place, at the arse end of nowhere in some forsaken hole.

And when we did get there, it was to discover aunts, uncles, cousins and diverse descendants in attendance: everyone but the cat, really. Still, the cousins who cannot stand one another were seated apart, the business partner's wife who insists on flashing her (admittedly rather attractive) breasts was quite restrained, and the meal was excellent.

But right now, having arrived home some time after midnight, our week of wonderful weather seems to be over, as it's howling with wind and raining horizontally: I shall go and light the fire, I think.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

AlieNation ...

Just as an aubergiste cultivates aubergines, an alienist treats the alienated or those suffering from alienation. This is not, despite what you might have seen in B movies, a condition wherein a human being is taken over by a horde of (usually) malevolent alien invaders, but simply one of being detached from the realities of life: a loony, or nutcase, in the vernacular.

Forgive me for boring you with this, but it came to mind the other day as I realised that I really have no idea who I am anymore. Despite the years spent over here and the love I have for the place (some bits of it, anyway) and its people (definitely only some of them) France is not my country: the sad fact is that the New Zealand I knew all those years ago has disappeared too. (Probably, as Bryan once remarked, up its own insular arsehole, to have now disappeared from the universe in its own singularity, but that's neither here nor there.)

This is what comes of going away for a couple of years and then letting that stretch out unreasonably: you change imperceptibly whilst expecting everything else to stay the same, and then you wake up one day to discover yourself stateless, rootless, and wondering vaguely whether it's already time for the apéro. I'm probably condemned to spend the rest of my life as an eternal tourist with no attachments, a sort of spiritual Flying Dutchman, only with better accomodation and no risk of sea-sickness.

So I can see I really shall have to do some serious work thinking about what I want to do with the future, which is kind of sad because "work" is one of those words that I rather thought I'd succeeded in banishing from my vocabulary years back. I'll keep you posted.

A Life At Rainbow's End ...

So to my mind, if SC can do BÖC lyrics I'm allowed to go for Ultravox. Who generally make more sense, to be quite honest: in my experience, anyway.

Last Sunday turned out to be a bit dirtier than I'd planned: came downstairs all happy and definitely clean, after a nice long and above all hot shower to find Margo in the kitchen making Meaningful Looks at the stove, which meant that it was time to gird my metaphorical loins for the traditional ramonage de printemps. As she said, one of the neighbours came past and made remarks about the quantities of black smoke coming out of the chimney, perhaps we'd all be burnt to death in our beds and we wouldn't want that, now would we?

Having being married for some time I've learnt to recognise a rhetorical question when one comes up and bites me on the ankle, so I went off and got out the gloves and the Poky Stick for frightening things in the chimney itself, took down the pipes and carted them outside for a bit of treatment before getting down to some hot sooty action with the Stick itself.

As it turns out there was in fact quite a lot of crap up there but with vigorous poking I'm pretty sure that I got all of it out: a shame really that it had completely slipped my mind that perhaps it would have been a Good Idea to clear away the clean dishes before bringing down a minature Krakatoa upon them, like the wrath of a life-long smoker emptying his lungs.

So as she said afterwards, had Jeremy done anything so silly I'd have yelled at him enough to have stripped the hair from his head, which is completely true: so I sort of grinned sheepishly, hung my head, and decided that silence was probably my best option at that time. Still, the chimney is now well and truly clean, the neighbours are happy that we're not belching soot into the pristine Alpine air, and best of all it won't need doing again for another nine months.

I try to keep up with the news from time to time, on sites like xkcd, for instance, where I found out that Orion isn't running in the direction we've always thought, and that the thing hanging out from below his belt is not, in fact, a sword. Doubtless a mistranslation from the Greek, but whatever, I would have difficulty now taking the children out to look at the night sky.

Turns out I was right, Bryan had not worked out how to set up voice-mail on his technological wonderphone. Every time he tried to get to it the thing would insist that he "personalise" it and while you can in fact skip that by punching in some random sequence of numbers after the third time it got all sullen, and wouldn't even do that. So finally he found a young woman, born in the arse-end of the last century and so conversant with such matters, who set it all up for him.

According to him the procedure involved bonking the phone rather hard on the table, but I suspect that's just wishful thinking on his part; whatever, it works, so we can once more arrange dissolute Saturday apèros. Which, for once, involved Beckham, back from Avignon with a little gift of calissons d'Aix for Bryan (nothing for me, why is that? I am hurt) and some more sordid details of Bristol. It was actually rather funny.

(By the way, couldn't wait for a barbecue, that's still some considerable time off, so I drank the Aussie Roadkill chardonnay anyway. Not surprisingly for a 2004 white it was kind of maderized, so it looked for all the world as though I were drinking a glass of prime urine or, gods forbid, apple juice - but it was still fruity and alarmingly enjoyable. On her last legs, but not yet ready to be put down.)

So after our little reunion I went off and made quiche and salad for lunch with Stacey, and finding myself with left-over feuilletage rapide (yeah, that's bastard puff) discovered that you can, if that happens to float yer boat, roll the trimmings out into a sort of square, spread that with a bit of honey and sprinkle it with gros sel and lavender flowers (should you happen to have some lying around, if not rosemary would be good) before baking it for ten minutes. Tested and recommended.

Whatever, it made a nice start to the middle of an unintentionally lazy afternoon in the golden sunlight of early Spring, as her demented cats harassed my jacket (they seem to go for the armpits in particular, which is a bit embarrassing) and I tried to explain how to rip her CD collection into MP3 format.

We saw Jeremy off on the first leg of his trip to Blackpool on Monday: we now have five weeks of solitary bliss, undisturbed by mumblings from The Heap in his bedroom. I suspect we're unlikely to hear from him until he gets back, unless of course he finds himself in dire need of money. And he'll have to organise his own return from St-Exupéry to here, for we shall be in Grenoble for the last night of the twentieth Upstage production: "The 39 Steps" this year. And the next day we may well be back there, for the big party.

And today, it has been drawn to my attention, is the date of the annual braderie des enfants here in St Pierre. Sadly, this is just an occasion when the children of the village set up stalls on the pavements and, with the help of their long-suffering parents, importune passers-by, trying to get them to buy legless Action Man figurines, and dog-chewed Barbie and Ken in compromising situations. It is not, contrary to what one might think, a sort of boot sale where parents sell off their redundant or surplus-to-requirements children to those who seek the service of nimble little fingers, which would be much more fun.

And would also, as these sort of things tend to all be held at the same time in different villages, provide a good opportunity for arbitrage: buying nice polite, well-spoken if somewhat poorly-nourished children from Betton-Bettonet and selling them at a premium here, where such qualities tend to be rare. I admit that the profits might not be enormous, but it's all a matter of scale, innit? And what better way to introduce children to the basics of economics?

Zaire seems to be a nation obsessed by threadworms, if the traffic source stats are anything to go by: seven so far this week. I suppose that's understandable. Mind you, the UK is not far behind, why would that be?

    recursive sauce bottle
    spiders overtake countryside
    fashion elderly people
    bretons en cuisine
and from Noo Zild, quite simply ...

And amongst this busy day I found the time to head off to see the quack (nothing new wrong with me, just topping up on the meds and getting a recommendation for a shrink) and rediscovered the French system of queueing. He doesn't do appointments (I think he feels that they're something that happens to other people) and of a Saturday morning opens the doors at 10am before bolting them again at mid-day. Anyone who can get in between those hours he will see, and gives each at least ten minutes.

I turned up early with a couple of books, and there were only seven people before me, which still left me plenty of time to finish off "Making Money" and start (again) on "The Truth". But back to this queueing business. It starts outside the door, as everyone turns up early to get a good seat, and even then people note the arrival order down to the nearest millisecond.

Then the steaming mass of humanity crashes through the suddenly opened door, there's a brief moment of carnage as the sweet little old ladies fight over the chairs and then things settle down to a semblance of normality, as the snotty-nosed kids hit one another with plastic toys to the embarrassed displeasure of their mothers (who don't actually mind the hitting, it's the noise).

And then Laverré opens the door to his office, and whoever it was that has been silently acknowledged as being first in line gets up and goes in ... that leaves only six, so another ninety minutes to go ...

And the amazing thing, apart from no-one being seriously injured in the scrum at the beginning, is that there seems to be a general consensus on the order, and I've never seen anybody try to jump the queue. You'd think, these being actual French-persons we're talking about, that getting them to respect these small niceties would be about as easy as herding cats, but that turns out not to be the case.

(Mind you, I wouldn't put it past Laverré to have a bank of video monitors in his office and a few cameras outside the door and in the salle d'attente, because he seems to know whose turn it is too. And I'm pretty sure he would take a dim view of disorderly conduct in his waiting room.)

Anyway, it's another beautiful day, far too nice to spend all of it inside. Stéphane, who is somewhat more enthusiastic than us, has fired up his huge barbecue again: it's a tempting idea, I admit, and perhaps I really should go off and find some of those thick pork chops that I know are lurking somewhere in the freezer.

Or on second thoughts, that's a bit like work so perhaps I'll just go down to the garden and check up on the snowdrops.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Sanctity ... and Food ...

The Roman Catholic church is truly a wonderful thing, offering to all a state of grace, escape from eternal damnation, and a wide choice of saints to suit all occasions.

A rapid (crueller souls would say "superficial") tour of Wackypedia leaves me none too enlightened as to the origins of Epurus: the single (fictional) entry I found stated that he was a 3rd century Roman legionary of Greek origin, who chose martyrdom by prolonged immersion in the sewers of his adopted city in preference to being devoured by enraged budgerigars in front of a paying audience. 

(Rome, in the 3rd century, had become somewhat decadent, not to mention penurious. Buying off barbarians had become a major drain on the public purse, a situation made worse by the fact that the Caesars themselves made no great distinction between public and private. So long as "private" was definitely theirs, they were happy to leave "public" with a rather ambiguous status. Mind you, they were tyrants, so that's alright then. Had they behaved correctly they'd not have been half as popular.)

Anyway, even if we accept the cause of death as given, there's still no hint as to why, not to mention by which impecunious pope, this humble victim of primitive sanitation was beatified. Nor, come to that, are there any particularly trustworthy records (unless you count Sir John Mandeville as a person worthy of trust, which I personally do not) as to miracles performed either by him in life, or by his intervention after it.

Unless you accept one apocryphal story, dubiously attributed to an early, esoteric, version of the Decameron, which involves, amongst other things, a cess-pit and what could best be described as miraculous multiplication. And a humorous nun, but we'll not go there: look it up yourself.

So there remains this nagging doubt as to his actual historical authenticity, and one might think that, in its drive to reform, modernise, rationalise and generally out-source where possible, retaining only the core competences required for fulfillment of its mission statement, the church could well have struck him off the register with an act of desanctification.

But being an - let's say, ossified - organisation, she feels incapable of moving faster than her adherents, and as he has become the semi-official patron saint of dunnykin and other public workers occupied in the less appetising side of infrastructure, we seem to be stuck with him.

Even in rigorously secular France, you'll not go past a single sewage treatment station without spotting a little roadside sign to St. Epuration in his honour.

Before we get onto cooking corner, especially for Malyon who asked so nicely, the search terms hall of infamy continues with:
      brazilian threadworm
you're such a percy
chartreuse pipe cleaner
latex/leather in the 80's
and my personal favourite
eating wet pussy

But I do have to admit that, given a choice, I would in fact use Chartreuse (green or yellow, both ghastly) to clean out drains rather than a pipe, or anything else that I might put in my mouth come to that.

So anyway, for honey chili chicken I use the recipe from those ancient Australian Womens' Weekly cookbooks, which are not, honestly, too bad. I suppose at the time they must have been the epitome of adventurous cuisine, with the added salacity of being foreign and exotic. I'm still surprised that anyone bothered looking up from the barbie.

Basically you take a decent cleaver and chop a few chicken thigh+leg into more-or-less bite-sized pieces, toss those in flour, deep-fry until crispy and drain. I'm willing to bet that at this point you could substitute tofu for the chicken, and otherwise carry on as normal.

Once that's done and you've discreetly poured off most of the rancid oil down a storm-water drain or something, you need to have a glass or two and then peel and finely chop (or grate, if you had a microplane grater, about which no-one around here seems to be able to take a hint for birthdays and such, just saying) a thumb-sized hunk of fresh ginger (but do not mistake your thumb for the ginger, that would hurt) and fry it up in the remaining oil with a chopped spring onion or two.

Then add two tbsp of honey, let that melt, and add 2 tsp cornflour mixed with a half cup of water, a half cup of lemon juice, some soy sauce and as much chinese chili sauce as you feel necessary. (Personally, I feel you can't have enough of the stuff, but I do hedge my bets and use half-and-half sweet chili sauce and the proper burny stuff.) Bring it to the boil to thicken, then chuck the chicken pieces back in to heat through while you have another glass.

And as for satay beef, that comes from the same source. They call for fillet which seems a shame to me, I use my favourite hampe and no-one's yet dared to call me out on it. Whatever you prefer, cut it into fine slices and stick them to marinate in a bowl  with soy sauce, cornflour, water and sesame oil. This leaves you a good half-hour of free time which you could either use to get everything else ready or, more profitably, have a drink.

I know which I prefer.

Anyway, at some point you really will need to put the glass down and coarsely chop an onion (just to be clear, that does not mean you need to swear whilst doing it) and crush a clove or two of garlic before sautéing the lot in a little oil.

For the rest, I buy saté powder, which is not really so much a powder as fine gravel, of which 2 tbsp goes into a mortar with 2 tsp of decent curry powder, cornflour and a sugar lump and the lot ground together and mixed with a half cup of water and some soy sauce.

And now that everything is ready, turn the heat up high (this is where a triple couronne comes in handy, I am so happy I have my stove) and add the marinated meat: it should do no more than brown on each side. Pour in the sauce, bring to the boil, and let thicken for a couple of minutes before serving to general applause.

Happy, Mal?

To the market, as usual: I took the back roads again, to avoid the autoroute which was as clogged as one might expect but it still took me half an hour to get in to the dump. Still, I must have some good karma or something, for the guy at the place where I usually buy the weekly 20l of wine gave me a present: a bottle of 2004 Australian "Roadkill" chardonnay. Which is currently sitting in the fridge downstairs, waiting for the next barbecue. Which will probably not be roadkill, unless I come across a half-ripe badger.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe
And of top of it it's been wonderful weather: the biting cold has gone, hopefully for good, and it was bright, blue and above all 20° as I sat out at under the sun in the place de l'Hotel de Ville with a well-earned glass of macon blanc and toasted everything in sight.

Alone, unfortunately, for Bryan wasn't answering his phone - quite possibly hasn't worked out exactly how to do so yet - and Beckham, when I rang, turned out to be in Avignon, which is a bit far to go just for a glass. On top of which it wasn't really the weather for a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape, excellent though it is. And to make matters worse, the boulangerie had no more pains au chocolat aux amandes, which was a right bugger 'cos I'd rather had my heart set on one. Life can be such a bitch sometimes.

So having nothing better to do, and as Jeremy goes off to Blackpool for five weeks on Monday (via Zurich and Manchester, godnose why), I headed to Nature & Decouvertes to get a universal power plug adaptor so that he will at least be able to charge his phone and MP3 player or whatever.

Where I discovered that not only do they sell extremely expensive little phials of essential oils to people who don't know how to cook, and that their power adaptors are not particularly cheap, their corporate symbol is a huge tortoise apparently humping the planet.

I find the idea disturbing, and I must admit that it kind of puts me off ecology.