Sunday, August 12, 2012

Marketry, Mostly ...

It is always a wonderment to me that one can learn so much from these "pages" on the "internet". Only the other day I was leafing through porn The Economist and came across a book review of a life of Titian, interesting enough in itself but with the added tidbit that he often lunched with "Angela del Moro, the model for Urbino’s Venus and the second-highest paid courtesan in Venice, who was noted for refusing to feign orgasms."

I did not know that earlier, but I can see that random fact coming in very useful for dinner parties and otherwise extremely boring lunches. And could I just say that I have never feigned an orgasm either? No? Sorry, let's forget it then. (Mind you, it's a good word, "feign". Difficult to drop into a conversation, though.)

On the other hand, I would like to know who was, in fact, the highest-paid courtesan in Venice. And having an idea of the price differential would be good.

So Margo had someone here for the week, learning everything there is to learn about the gentle art of textile dyeing. Food and board was included in the deal, and as a result I have been cooking above and beyond the call of duty: homard palestine, bubbling ramequins of chicken and lardons in a blue cheese sauce, and my favourite coquilles St-Jacques in white wine and cream. And lots of salad.

Not beans. Margo's gorgeous imperial purple silk
A shame Jeremy wasn't with us to enjoy it, but he disappeared on Monday, then we got an SMS to say that we shouldn't expect him before Friday and as of writing he still hasn't turned up. As Sophie is off in Montpellier I kind of suspect that he's staying at her place with Lucas: I hope they have time to clear up the wreckage and dispose of all the bottles/bodies before she arrives back.

But it must be admitted that not having him around does have its benefits. For one thing, you don't start the weekend off with 16 eggs in the fridge only to discover, on the Monday, that there are now only 6. (I think, but am not sure, that this is related to midnight snacks of pain perdu.) It would be nice to be able to plan ahead sometimes, rather than be forced to work with whatever one happens to find in the fridge.

Whatever, do not get me onto the topic of the SNCF and their communication skills. I checked the timetables on Friday night and headed down to the station to catch the 8:40 to Chambéry on Saturday morning: being of a suspicious nature I checked the timetables again, looked for warning notices and finally, satisfied, composted my ticket. (Do not ask why the French should choose to have a verb like composter, referring to the act of validating or stamping, because I do not know. Probably because it gives them a chance to make mean jokes about foreigners.)

So of course it was at that point that I spotted a couple of Jeremy's friends lounging around, evidently waiting for the same train as I: they very kindly volunteered the information that the train was cancelled, and the next one was at 10:10. And thirty seconds later, a rather harassed-looking little man with an official cap and ratty whiskers poked his head around a door to tell me the same thing, adding for good notice that "there were signs up, and everything".

(To do him justice, there were. I checked, and on a noticeboard behind the door in the toilets there was, tacked up, a grubby little bit of paper with a note on it to the effect that, due to work on the lines, traffic would be perturbé on the 4th & 11th of August, and certain trains were subject to cancellation. So that's alright then.)

And rather than cool my heels for 90 minutes taking in the scenery around the gare, I headed back up the hill to get another coffee. Almost killed me - by drowning - it was already about 28°. Uphill, in the full sun ...

Still, let it be admitted that travelling by train does let one keep a finger on the pulse of popular kulcha, if only by looking at the posters for films and stuff that are up at every station. (Yes, people still pay to put up physical ads. Seems a bit odd in this day and age, but there you are.)

In this particular case, I am referring to "The Expendables 2", which seems to be a sort of retirement benefit performance for every old action-movie dinosaur from the last thirty years. With an all-star cast including the Gubernator, Stallone, van Damme, Bruce Willis and with, I suspect, lots of explosive special effects but very little plot and probably even less acting.

As I meditated on this and other matters the train finally pulled up and decanted me at Chambéry, so I trundled off and stocked up a bit: no apricots because, sadly, they've reached that point where you need to eat them within five minutes of buying them and you can abandon all hope of getting them home without their turning spontaneously into soup, but nectarines and apples and as much greenery as I could carry, and cheese.

For Malyon turns up on Monday night, and she expressed a desire for Thai spicy beef salad, and maybe a feuilleté au trois fromages, and as the goat cheese guy was there and it was still early enough that he had some batusson, I took advantage of that and got some. And while I was there, a bit of cendré, and a fresh goat cheese rolled in poivre/poivron ... and then I went past a stall that I'm pretty sure hadn't been there before, selling Arab pastries crunchy with powdered almonds and dripping with honey, and also Moroccan bread.

So I got some flat-bread, which seems to be called, variously, hacha or meloui, but whatever the name is absolutely delicious, whether spread with cheese or sopping up sauce or, probably, drizzled with honey. I've found some recipes - some involving cumin and anis and honey - and I am going to try them, some time soon. I'll let you know how that goes.

It was not, in fact, this big
But I digress. With my arms about 5cm longer I gratefully deposited the shopping baskets in Stacey's car, and we headed back to the Beer Tree to pick up our cases of rosé. (Which is, incidentally, a côtes de Ventoux, which they rather tweely call "Gour'Mandiz" but the stuff is so good that I can - just - forgive them that.) So the pair of us slumped into our seats and ordered a glass apiece when Jeff came out, at which point he also saw fit to inform us that he was leaving on September 1st.

Bugger!, with feeling. He's a good lad, he will be sorely missed. Still, he won't be going far, and he promised to keep in touch, let us know which restaurant he goes to work for. After a month's doubtless well-deserved holiday, down in Croatia. (You see? I do talk to people, sometimes.) And on the bright side, we didn't have to pay for the drinks. "On the house", he said, "seeing as you're taking two crates". Anyway, know what we're all doing Saturday 1st of September, especially as he's buying. Shall have to organise Bryan & Beckham.

Anyway, for some reason Stacey decided she wanted diots that day for lunch, so she dug out those ones that she got from the farm across the valley the other day and I whipped those up in white wine and onions and herbs with new potatoes simmering in the sauce, and some salad. Sad to say they were kind of deçevants, disappointing: 100% natural, with no added colorant, but unfortunately no flavour either. Possibly a bit too much fat (for they shrank alarmingly), and whoever made them apparently forgot that a charcutier uses salt in abundance for a very good reason.

Veggie porn
And I am not great friends with the blette, which I'd call silverbeet but which our colonial cousins will insist on calling chard, but I do have to admit that if fried up rapidly with some caramelised onions and a bit of nutmeg, put on a base of filo pastry and covered with mozzarella before being stuck in the oven for twenty minutes or so, it is more than just edible. In fact, the thought comes to me that with a bit of bacon and blue cheese, it would make rather a nice filling for a vegetable strudel. Next weekend, maybe.

Also, the same guy that sells me pepperoncini also does little baby poivrons which are, with the top cut off, seeds removed, stuffed with batusson and baked in the oven for thirty minutes, quite sublime.

But right now, I am trying to work out what to do with vast quantities of domesticated blackberries (that just means that they don't piss on the furniture, also they have no sharp ouch! prickly bits) from Joëlle's garden, being as what she has taken off to New York with her niece to celebrate the Getting Of The Baccalaureat and also so that she (Joëlle) can go see the Rocky Horror show.

(You know, I would never have picked her as someone who would be into that. Just goes to show - apparently she saw it thirty years ago or so, and it marked her for life.)

In any case, I rather think the evening is going to involve blackberry shortcake. Wish me luck with that.

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