Saturday, September 29, 2012

And The Night Comes ...

Woke up this morning and totally failed to leap from bed with a spring in my step - I find it difficult to work up too much enthusiasm when it's raining sullenly outside. Still, as I took the train into town to head off to the market, I comforted myself by looking out the windows, watching the toilers in the vines on the steep slopes above Arbin and Montmélian and thinking that picking grapes in the rain must indeed be one bitch of a job.

That thought cheered me up no end, and it got better as the sun came out and it started to get hot and I reflected that whilst doing the vendange in the rain was definitely unpleasant, doing it in heavy, damp clothes on a muddy slope under a hot sun with wasps buzzing around was likely even worse.

And that good mood lasted until I was halfway around the market and realised that I was wearing a black wool jacket, had a camera slung around my neck and a backpack on, and was toting the caba for the market and a by now completely superfluous umbrella. And it was definitely warming up.

Whatever, even if the sweet-corn is over now there are still peches de vigne with their fuzzy skin and rich burgundy flesh, there are pears destined for a pastis aux poires tonight (after the rouelle de jambon and the strudel aux blettes et chèvre), tiny piments forts, beans and butter beans, tomatoes with taste even if they're not picture-book pretty, plums and grapes and bunches of fresh herbs and aubergines and artichokes and cendré au chèvre.

The Beer Tree: surprised chicken, lurking
Difficult to stay grumpy with all that. And a glass of gamay at the Beer Tree afterwards, in the sun, washed away any lingering morosity.

Also, it's not every day that I get accosted by beautiful young women on the train. I had the backpack and laden shopping basket on the seat next to me, camera on the table, and this young blonde slid into the seat opposite, neatly avoiding tripping over my legs (which I'd left sticking out in order to discourage exactly this sort of thing), and out of the blue asked if that wasn't an E-510 I had? Was photography my passion? Maybe I should let my kit hang out more often.

As she asked, I told her that the only place I'd found lenses apart from online was the FNAC but she might have to order and then wait for bloody ages, then I learnt that she'd made the trip back to St Pierre specially to pick up her camera (an E-520, should you wish to know) from her parent's place because after a week in Grenoble without it she was getting desperate, that she loved wandering around in the ruelles and the traboules where no-one seems to go because there are such wonderful opportunities for photos, that both Chambéry and Grenoble were beautiful cities and that she was seriously thinking of dragging out her old film Praktica because she liked the feeling of having real photos to hold.

Made for a very pleasant trip back home, nattering away about photography and all sorts. Doesn't often happen. (Also, people who own Olympus cameras tend to huddle together protectively. Everyone knows that we can't afford Nikons, so we console ourselves by saying that ours are quirkier, and even if the auto-focus is crap it just teaches you how to do it properly. Sort of geekish self-defense, I guess.)

So we got a phone call from Jeremy the other day - that doesn't happen often, either - you guessed it, needed a bit of money to tide him through until his first paycheck. And he also tried, very delicately, to broach the subject of his holidays, trying to intimate that he wasn't necessarily going to spend them all with us and that he perhaps had better things to do than vegetate at St Pierre. Quite funny, really: it was difficult not to blurt out "Oh! Thank God!". We managed to content ourselves with something along the lines of "Of course we're disappointed dear, but you must do as you see best. We quite understand."

Godnose what kids think we're expecting. They've been underfoot for 18 years, and they think that now we finally have lives again we wish to spend them doing more laundry and topping up the fridge? Personally I'm quite anticipating fleeing without leaving a forwarding address.

In other news, I came across an article in El Reg this morning, of which the first sentence was absolutely marvellous: It's the rare scientific mind that has the pure intellectual chutzpah to tackle a problem that has troubled boffinry since the discovery of cryogenics – namely, "What happens if you combine liquid nitrogen with 1,500 ping-pong balls?". Have to admit that if you're trying to get kids interested in science, blowing things up is always a good way to go.

I guess I can't be the only one doing this but I shall moan and bitch bitterly about it anyway, why oh why has bloody blogger forced the new, "improved" interface onto all us fusty old fogies who were quite content, thanks very much, with the old one? Navigation is not entirely self-evident, and the big blobby orange buttons are an eyesore. Plus, I don't want to get used to a "completely new, streamlined blogging experience", I had just about gotten familiar with what I had.

The height of fashion
I know, I know: if I'm unhappy, vote with my feet and go elsewhere - the problem with that, of course, is that not only would it entail further change, it could even mean paying! And I somehow doubt that the threat of withdrawing my services is going to make Larry (the other one) and Sergey quail and tremble and piss in their boots where they stand, so I guess I shall just fulminate quietly and get over it.

Whatever, I finally found some duck legs at a price I was willing to pay, so I stuck those in a big casserole with kosher salt and orange rind and badiane and cinnamon and garlic and spring onion and ginger (and a bit of szechuan pepper, just for fun): now they've had time to soak up some of the aromas I suppose I'd better go scrape them down and rinse them off before putting them on to cook for three hours or so.

Come to that, the poitrine de porc in the fridge down below has been sitting in its curing mix for ten days now: probably time to go rinse that off too before hanging it up in the cellar to dry for a couple of weeks, not forgetting to brush it every few days with a bit of honey. I really must get off my arse and get that artisanal smoker up and running, because the idea of smoked honey-cured bacon is starting to get rather attractive.

As is the thought of cassoulet, as well. It was all I could do at the market to stop myself buying some lovely fresh beans: I'm sure I could have adapted the cooking time to accommodate them. I could probably have found enough charcuterie to go in with them as well: lard paysan, duck legs and saucisse fumée would be an acceptable minimum. (I have not yet got on to making my own sausages, although that will come: the rest we have.)

Only problem, of course, would be finding enough people to invite around to eat the damn thing. Have the same problem with choucroute, just can't make it in 2-person quantities.

And I see, thanks to the august web-rag I cited above, that Noo Zild can claim what is probably another world record: "NZ Bloke Gets Eel Stuck Up Jacksie". Is there nothing you lot won't do to get in the papers? Still, the mind boggles somewhat. Oh, and thanks for the Kim Dotcom saga. Also good fun.

I also made a big mistake today. Now let me admit that when I want a sugar fix I want it bad, and when, many years ago, we went to Strasbourg and discovered the pain au chocolat aux amandes (along with the bar that served 135 varieties of beer and vodka, had a resident cat, and played nowt but Black Sabbath tapes), I realised that I'd found the perfect solution.

Now these little buggers are traditionally made with the leftover patisseries from yesterday: at 4am the weary boulanger (or, more likely, his apprentice: you listening, Jeremy?) will split them, stuff them with crème frangipane (about which I have already spoken, suffice it to say that it contains vast quantities of powdered almonds, sugar, and butter), and put them back in the oven so that they can be sold at a premium.

But I digress. Again. So whatever, as I was hanging around waiting for the late train back home I felt a sudden need, and the Boulangerie de la Gare (imaginative names these places have) which happens to make the best of these things in all Chambéry was fresh out of them (I suspect this is the case by 8am, they're that good) I went off to a viennoiserie (and god knows why such things are supposed to be from Vienna when it was the Italians that taught the French the art of patisserie, never mind, not important) in Boulevard de la Colonne.

Not a good idea. It's a sad commentary on the state of French cuisine when what you get for your money is greasy industrial pate à croissants rolled up around some really gross chocolate with crème patissière to make it even soggier, and the whole pastry turd smothered in icing sugar. And a vague hint of almond essence in there, somewhere. God, that was a disappointment.

Anyway, another rainy Saturday today, not helped by getting up early to catch the 8:40 in to Chambéry to head off to the market and see what there was. Mostly, rain as it turned out ... but a very enthusiastic stallholder convinced me to buy some pêches blanches which I'd dismissed as probably being gross by the simple expedient of cutting one up and giving me most of it, and there are Barbary figs (have to admit I really don't know what to do with those), and the broccoli is starting to look not-sad.

And given the rain, and the early - for me - hour, the place was not exactly overcrowded, which is always nice. Rain down the back of my neck (for of course I had not brought the umbrella, being made of sterner, or stupider, stuff), not so nice. And I fear that the days of sitting out in the sun outside the Beer Tree inhaling a few vitamins or more or less over for the year.

Oh well, better go down and mark the end of summer by lighting the fire in the kitchen, I guess. Always a kind of melancholy moment, even if it does herald the arrival of good slow food cooked gently on the stove-top overnight. And while I'm at it, might as well go tend to the bacon in the cellar. Enjoy spring, won't you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shit Happens ...

So I was down at the Beer Tree enjoying a pleasant, and incidentally tax-deductible, lunch when up stroll two young Americans and plonk their arses at the table next to me, order two coffees and two beers and, with an accent that I can only qualify as execrable (but, in all fairness, probably no worse than ours when we first arrived over in Ole Yurrup all those years ago), ask if that magnificent chess set is still on the premises.

And as it happens it was, sadly, missing one of the horsey-things, but never fear, its place had been more than adequately filled by a particularly jolly specimen of miniature garden gnome. This did give rather an unfair advantage to white, because no-one seemed entirely sure as to the legal moves of a gnome on a chess-board: I can only say that it seemed able to go just about anywhere it wanted. Or maybe they don't actually move: just stay where they're put and piddle on the other pieces as they go past.

Hey, chess never was one of my specialties. Although I find that if I google me (there's probably a term for that, doubtless not a pretty one) one of the top items is credit for a variant of trapdoor chess. Must have had too many cheddar cheese sandwiches that day.

Anyway, I did make it off on that bike ride. Having better things to do I headed off to Stacey's instead of doing them (there's a word for that too), and she persuaded me to hop on this old bike in the garage which had functioning gears (although I must admit I'm not too good with those gears and such, I tend to just stay on the central plateau and chop up and down between the seven plateaux at the back: doubtless not optimal but it works for me - back when I was a kid gears on a bike were something of a luxury) and brakes and everything (with the possible exception of a comfortable saddle, it was apparently designed for people with concrete buttocks) and head off to lac St. André.

Now that is only about 7km from her place, and on top of it, it's all flat ... hah! What the French, in fact, call "faux-plat" because although, to the untrained eye, it may look flat, when you actually start riding across it it's actually all up and down and stuff. Nothing actually vertical, just ... rolling. Which is all very well if you're in shape and have legs like tree-trunks, but if, like me, you're somewhat unfit and anyway haven't done that sort of thing for some time, it can be a bit wearing.

Also, not only had I forgotten to take the precaution of stuffing something soft and yielding, like a good juicy steak, down the plumber's crack, but I couldn't help but notice that there was an awful lot of downhill going there, which by corollary means a surplus of uphill going back.

So when we finally arrived there and had applauded the keen fisherman with this high-tech, three-rod system that looked like some sort of spidery rocket-launcher as he pulled yet another 10kg carp from the foetid waters, I was almost tempted to stay where I was until night fell and I could sneak away unnoticed and hail a taxi, but pride was - once again - my downfall, and I did the return trip on the same bum-punisher.

Let's be generous and call it a 15km round trip, it felt like rather more. I suspect I'd maybe have got there just as quickly, and probably in better shape, had I walked. But maybe I should persevere, who knows, it might be good for me. (Which is probably a good reason to stop right there, but what the hell.) But after a couple of days most of the pain has gone, and I can sit normally again.

And I suppose I should point out what you doubtless know already: beware of preconceptions. Case in point: I was lounging out in front of the office the other day, just starting a cigar, when a delivery guy turned up - as it happened, with a present for Margo, the thermofax machine she ordered from her friend Günther.

Small, skinny, weedy redhead - the driver, not Günther - with a parcel about as big as he was (on later inspection, the enormous box contained a smaller box, in which was another smaller box, in which was Margo's new toy: the guy evidently believes in pre-emptive packaging) and I went inside and took delivery and, in a moment of weakness, offered him a coffee. (Not as evil as it may seem, the coffee machine isn't too bad these days.)

So as he rolled himself a thin fag he started reminiscing - about a Romeo y Julieta he'd had a few weeks back, and the box of Cuban Corona a friend from the douanes had given him (fell off the back of a lorry, didn't it, squire): the guy is an amateur of cigars, for heaven's sake. That'll teach me. Still, we're friends now.

And I headed off today to my appointment with the delegué du procureur de la République (the actual procureur being, I assume, too busy with other matters) to discover my fate. I was, let's admit it, rather pleasantly surprised.

Arrived at 9:45 and, ten minutes later, left again knowing that I was up for a €200 fine, three months suspension of licence (counting from 21/7) and six points off: could have been much worse.

(I have to admit, I don't actually mind using public transport to get up to the office and back. The train's a good place to nap for another 15 minutes before starting the day, and there's a bus every six minutes. Quite relaxing, really.)

Oh, today is Wednesday September 19: it's International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Arrh, me hearties!

OK, enough of that. Tonight, in this week's News For Geeks, I find myself the proud owner of a new, powerful, and rather ugly Asus laptop running Linux. Of course, it wasn't meant to be that way - it rarely is around here.

Up till now, you see, all my Linux development work I've done under various virtual machines on the poor old Dell N1700, which has worked well enough but a few days ago I finally had to do a rebuild of the kernel and, after a day or so getting to 68% done, it became obvious that this was not really going to be good enough. So, off to the local supermarket to pîck up a reasonably high-specced machine and, as I had better things to do, hand it over to young Lucas to install Fedora.

The original plan was to leave it a dual-boot machine: I would have Windoze in Frog as a last resort, and Linux on the side. That did not happen. At the end of the first iteration, after the lad had played about with partitions and other black magic, what I appeared to have was a large ugly brick that wouldn't recognise its own hard drive and would boot only from a DVD. Not, as they say, too promising. The Windows partition, recovery partition, and MBR had, apparently, gone the way of the dodo.

So, perhaps time to try installing a live version of Fedora 64-bit? "Hop to it, young Lucas" quoth I, "I have stuff to do. Let me know when it works." This is called "studied serene indifference", and hardly ever fools anyone. Whatever, no joy.

Time, sadly, to get one's hands dirty. Reboot with the DVD and try repairing the system: this installs a bootloader and lo! there is once again a hard drive at boot time. Which is an improvement. Unfortunately none of the install options I requested have been installed, and I can't even log on with either my own or the root password until going through the maintenance options. Not practical for everyday use.

So finally, that evening, discouraged at the absence of the development environment and everything else I'd wanted, I nuke the sod from orbit and do a total reinstall. Which works, flawlessly. Kind of alarming, I'd been expecting something worse.

End result is, I now have a powerful Linux laptop which I can - once I work out the arcane command-line options or, by dutiful googling, find the equivalent GUI tools - configure exactly as I wish, and I must admit I really love the convenience of being able to just get a needed package with sudo yum install packagename: maybe I should install VirtualBox and set up my Windows development environment as a virtual machine?

It's either that or schlep two 17" laptops around, and quite frankly those buggers are heavy. I should also invest in a backpack, and forget about the neat corporate leather carry-bags. Mind you, finding a decent padded backpack that'll take an 18" monster is not all that easy either.

And one other thing, before I go off to watch Bones: why is it that about half the visitors to this humble (and, let's not forget, definitely wholesome and family-oriented) blog, come from Russia + Ukraine? Have I done something to offend what used to be the KGB? Could it be that threadworms are either a popular delicacy, or a mistranslation of "Kate Middleton's tits"? I suppose they could just be trying to improve their English. Not that this is the ideal place for that sort of thing.

Still, it puzzles me somewhat. I mean, I just can't see the attraction. Whatever, it's not going to stop me sleeping.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Indulging One's Self ...

So it's a beautiful Sunday morning, which I admit I am only around to appreciate because Bryan, who evidently has yet another translation to do, thought it a good idea to drag me from a particularly blameless sleep by texting me at 8:30 to ask me for the english equivalent of "carte de mesure". Has the man never heard of Google? But I suppose I should be grateful really because otherwise I would not be sitting out under a clear blue sky enjoying my coffee with a couple of these, which I'd had the forethought to prepare last night.

A bit of croissant dough, some left-over crème frangipane in the fridge, raisins and brown sugar and cinnamon: presto!, more or less instant gratification.

NOT a kuchen. Over-ripe, SC?
And while I'm thinking about food, a kuchen mit streussel isn't half bad either. I came across that one back in the days when The Listener had a food column - I think the columnist was Lois Daish at the time, but I'm doubtless completely wrong - and that page got cut out and added to a growing file. Which is now more of a yellowing pile, but it's still been with me for thirty years or more, and half-way around the world.

Whatever, it too is remarkably simple: the kuchen part is just brioche dough: flour, sugar, warm milk, yeast, an egg and obscene amounts of butter. To which, being unable to leave well enough alone, I add a few drops of pure orange oil (note to self, am now right out, go buy some more soon).

This should be very glossy and rather soft when you've finished kneading it: enough so that, rather than try to roll it ('cos it won't work) you should just press it into the bottom of a deep pie dish or, if you happen to have one, a spring-form mould.

Then you need some plums: I was lucky enough (or I'd had this recipe drifting quietly around at the back of my head anyway) to pick some up at the market. I cannot tell you what variety because I do not know, fruit identification emphatically not being one of my strong points, but you want them to melt as they cook so I guess you would want to avoid Black Doris and the like. They ones I found had purply skin and soft orange-yellow flesh, if that is any help.

But I digress, as usual: slice these into halves or quarters and arrange them, cut side down, over the dough so as to cover it, then your streussel over the top and into the oven with it for half an hour or so.

Streussel, incidentally, is nothing more than the German equivalent of a crumble topping - flour, sugar and cinnamon with even more butter cut in until it resembles fine bread-crumbs. I guess that if you're feeling particularly luxurious at the time, and happen to have them to hand, you could add a generous dose of powdered almonds to the mix, or maybe just sprinkle the topping with slivered almonds before sending it off to cook.

Anyway, after that little culinary excursion, on to other matters I suppose.

So Margo loaded up Jacques' Dacia wagon with all her stuff and the boat anchor and headed off to pick up Mad Karen on her way to the salon at Ste Marie aux Mines. I kind of expected, given that the poor thing was full to the gunnels, that Karen would have had a pretty uncomfortable trip strapped to the roof, but as it turned out things weren't quite that bad.

Bad enough -  from what Margo said Karen was sitting in the passenger seat holding a suitcase larger than she, on top of which was piled a few last-minute necessities like swatches of fabric and a few assorted bottles of dye and, in a concession to reality, a toilet bag - but not absolutely dire. Must have been a tricky and rather time-consuming exercise getting out for pit-stops en route, though.

But the pair of them made it, to be greeted by wails of dismay from Reiner et al when they learned that confit de canard was nowhere to be found. Because Margo had kind of said that she'd try to bring some up with her, but sad to say this does not seem to be the season for duck legs. At least, not at a price I'm willing to pay.

All this meant that I was all on my lonesome all week, which does have the advantage of letting me cook for myself. Diots, quiche, things with an abundance of sauce, really spicy curries, breads and pastries - all that sort of stuff that Margo only tolerates. I really don't know how I manage to get off without putting on weight.

I guess Jeremy must be OK: we've not heard a word from him for ten days, since he announced he had a contract, which probably means he's too busy working. At least, I'm going to use that as a working assumption: I rather doubt I'll be proved wrong.

Anyway, like I said it's a beautiful Sunday - might have been even better if I could have woken under my own steam as it were, grumble grumble - after a wonderful Saturday. Clear blue sky, warm but not oppressively hot - I could sit here and think about taking some exercise for hours.

Always with a glass of white to hand, in case of mental exhaustion. But anyway, it's a funny old thing: you think you know a place, and there's always something new to see. I mean, I must have walked past this little traboule that turns into an alleyway in Chambéry hundreds of times, and somehow I'd never noticed this sign.

Now who was this Alain Fournier, and exactly why did he have a circle? And what was so bloody special about it? So he kept it on the first floor, and you could see it for an hour, in the evenings only (or doubtless by appointment), but seriously? This is a puzzlement, as the King remarked.

Lots of things like that around, been there for years but no-one ever pays attention, or they've just faded into the background noise maybe. Which is why I find wandering aimlessly around, camera slung over the shoulder, to be such a rewarding exercise. (Also, spending your time looking up does take your mind off the dog-shit on the pavement, of which I must say there's a lot less than there was back in the day.)

Has the added advantage of making me look like a tourist, and thus off-limits - I mean, no-one is ever going to ask me for directions, are they? Although there was this one time at the market when, having disposed of the vegetable booty in the car, I was strolling around in just such a fashion and was accosted by some woman who was convinced that I was the photographer for her daughter's wedding.

Apparently I must have been late, because she tore a strip off me for COMPLETE FAIL in the punctuality department, and on top of it there was no way I should have been smoking a cigar - doubtless because of the fire hazard. And, I suppose, just on general principles, because it's smelly. Which is fair enough.

I can remember that after a ten-minute tirade I did finally manage to extricate myself - can't actually think now exactly how, but it was more or less unscathed. Apart from those ten minutes of total incomprehension, with strips being ripped off me. Should have taught me not to wander around looking, apparently, professional. Although, in my defense, I am not one to have three or four lenses slung about my person, along with a couple of backup cameras, and the faithful old Olympus is not really a camera to inspire awe, being seriously smaller than the Nikon I lust after, and also a good deal more out of date.

Which reminds me that JCB, in the office next door, is trying hard to think how he could possibly justify buying a Leica M9. Not to himself, but to his doubtless long-suffering wife. Probably a good thing he has not yet spoken of the latest Hasselblad, that would definitely be a killer.

And now, having successfully navigated my way through lunch, I might actually go off and do some of those things I've been seriously thinking about: bestride a velo and wobble bravely off in various directions, or just head off blindly on foot one way or another, and see where it takes me.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Giving To The Poor, Also Helping SC ...

There must be something about the air in railway stations. It seems like every time I go into one there are people kissing, and not just in a perfunctory manner, this is full-on osculation. The other week, as I was sitting outside a bar opposite the station (yes, the train was 30 minutes late, so I thought I might as well take advantage of the fine weather) there was a couple going at it - full tonsil exploration - for a good fifteen minutes.

Which was pretty good, and then last night whilst waiting for yet another late train there was a couple squatting one of the shelters out on the quai and I will swear that what they were doing was not just kissing. I will admit that I could not see just where her hands were, but one can guess.

Unfortunately, just around the time I planned on sauntering cautiously closer (purely for informational purposes, you understand) the SNCF guys starting tweeting madly on their whistles, and I understood that my train was about to leave and as I had no particular wish to be trepanned on arriving home I thought that perhaps I should leave with it. So, sadly, I cannot give any further details: you'll just have to make them up for yourselves.

No longer being one of those traditional nuclear families due to the diaspora of kids, one of the things we notice these days is that we have jam in the fridge that actually belongs to us again, and does not disappear within three days. The cheese, too, actually has a chance of maturing. We also find two-year old packets of cereal, opened and returned to the cupboard open-side down, not so good. Especially when one pulls them out, to see exactly what there is lurking in there.

And Margo has been very brave, exploring the other bathroom. Amazing, the things one finds up there. There are knives and plates that never belonged to us, a myriad of plastic tubs and tub lids, none of which seem to go together, and odd socks which have crept away to die in peace.

So I guess it was probably a Good Thing that I did not have the camera with me today, as I wandered around and found an unusual (not that the poop itself was of itself unusual, in fact it looked pretty ordinary as such things go, just that these things are no longer as common as muck) pile of dog crap with a beer-bottle cap just next to it.

All things being interconnected (apparently by quantum, although Margo could not see that) I instantly worked out the situation: someone had taken a jack terrier or something in their arms and, rather unhygienically, had opened a beer bottle with its arse. (Hey, in Cameroon I used to use the edge of a table. A step up, I suppose.) The animal, understandably terrified and possibly in pain, chose that moment to empty its bowels, which neatly explains the little tableau with which I was confronted. Would not, personally, have cared to drink from the bottle, though.

As an aside, and I cannot vouch for its authenticity, you could do worse one Friday night than stick three cups of flour (or two cups of flour and one cup of fine semoule) into your stand mixer, make a well in the middle and drop a few tablespoons of honey in, then pour in about 200ml of warm water and add a sachet of yeast.

While that's doing its business chop some dates and when you turn the mixer on, add those and about two tsp of anis seeds and, if you're feeling luxurious, a bit of orange-flower water. (You will note that I'm using nothing that the average household will not have in the pantry.) Oh, add a bit of oil as well, you'll notice the absence of any other fatty stuff.

Once the mixer has done all the hard work for you, stick the lot into a bowl and put into the microwave on defrost for a minute or so, just to heat it to blood temperature: after half an hour's rising, you can cover it with glad-wrap and stick it all in the fridge. Then go to bed, happy in the knowledge that Saturday's breakfast is mostly ready.

When finally you escape from the arms of Morpheus (or whoever it is you actually share a bed with) as the sun rises and lights up the house with its warm glow, go down to the kitchen and cut off a chunk of dough, knead it a bit and roll it into a long thin log, about a foot long and maybe half an inch in diameter. Then form that into a spiral, and flatten it out a bit with the blunt instrument of your choice to form a disc.

Incidentally, depending on your circumstances and living arrangements, you might want to get dressed before doing this, or at least fling a dressing-gown on. Jamie Oliver notwithstanding, some people are, perhaps understandably, unimpressed when they come down to get coffee and find a naked chef orbiting the kitchen.

At this point, those of you with proper bread ovens (which you've thought to fire up a couple of hours earlier, doubtless to make a batch of croissants or something) will be feeling rightly smug (and probably extremely tired) because without a bread oven, these little suckers need to be cooked twice. Once, in butter, in a hot frying pan, until light-brown and blistered on both sides, and then in the oven until they've risen nicely and the inside is properly cooked.

Eaten, in chunks, with butter and honey, these are not to be missed. You hear me? Also, once made into discs they freeze well and can be defrosted just before cooking, so there's no excuse for not offering breakfast in bed next weekend to the partner of your choice. (Except around here, I'm excused 'cos Margo cordially detests anis.)

Sadly, the central heating boiler seems to have realised that Jeremy is no longer with us and has, in its monomaniacal microcontroller brain, decided that we no longer need all that much hot water, certainly not at half-past one on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Personally I beg to differ, and I will take a shower when I feel like it, but it's difficult to argue with a small squat plastic and metal cuboid that just sits there and blinks at you like a sullen adolescent Borg mother-ship.

I suppose it's time to call in the nice M. Damiani who does such things, and get him to do one last révision before the winter, and before we leave the place, at which point it will become Someone Else's Problem. We, of course, will then have to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the heating system wherever we wind up: with luck it'll be something simple enough that, like with a 2CV, you can fix most problems by belabouring the thing with a short length of pipe.

And whilst I think of Jeremy, he's actually sent a mail with a bit of news. Along the lines of "Dere mum & dad hope youre all well I am too plz send money". OK, I exaggerate, somewhat. On Monday he signs his contract with a boulangerie which, he says approvingly, makes good bread - and could we please send him a tie. Because the compagnons are very big on the yoof being at least presentable, so hoodies and holed jeans are a big no-no.

This also means that I can dispose of his old boat anchor, thus getting rid of yet another bit of obsolete computer gear from around here. Got quite a bit of a clean-up to do in that department actually: the screen on Margo's old Samsung cracked and died, although it still works perfectly with an external monitor so that goes into the TV room for streaming TV series, like Dr. Who goodie goodie, and she bought herself an Asus. Jeremy, at the same time, got a laptop too because he really does need something, which leaves me with two hulking underpowered boxes.

Not to mention various speakers from the time when hissing and crackling were acceptable substitutes for high-quality sound, a box of backups on diskette (I think I still have a machine somewhere with a stiffy reader, but I'm none too sure) which can also go, and the cable box full of knotted IDE cables, various connectors and assorted power supplies, 10Mbit Ethernet cards, two tin cans and some string dating back to when networking was for real men, and sundry other crap is long overdue a quick one-way trip to the dechetterie. There are also installation CDs that only work under Windoze 95, and I rather doubt that I'm ever going to set up a virtual machine just for the dubious pleasure of listening to Reader Rabbit again: those too will be inhumed.

A little something for SC
All of that just to say that although Mad Karen From Mumblefuck actually has a laptop, she also has an ancient Compaq pizza box running (or hobbling, more like it) under Win2K which she still uses for something, god alone knows what as there are far more efficient and attractive door-stops available, but anyway the point is that her kids also use the thing and she would, for some reason, prefer that this were not the case.

Hence a happy hour or two passed the other night, nuking the least clunky of the two boxes from orbit, re-installing and re-registering my authentic copy of Win XP and then installing all the service packs and security patches that ever there were before sticking a pathetic little note on it "I have been abandoned. Please take me in" so that it's in a fit state to be pushed out the door. I must say that I won't be regretting its departure.

Whatever, I find myself with a couple of nice lamb shanks on my hands - they looked so sad, waving mutely at me from the rayon agneau in Carrefour - so I guess I shall have to work out what to do with them. Maybe confites, which is going to involve long slow cooking with wine and juniper berries and onions and carrots and whatever herbs and spices happen to take my fancy - or maybe with honey, thyme and garlic.

(Incidentally, in frog a lamb shank is une souris d'agneau. No, I have no idea why: nor, let it be said, do I particularly care.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pizza Sex Crimes ...

So like I said, today was Jeff's last day at l'Arbre à Bières (sorry, that's the last time I shall use that name as the Plenary Committee of the Drunken Expat Anglophone Dweeb Society has decided - sliced, or tranché, as the Frogs will say in their quaint idiom - that the correct pronunciation is in fact The Beer Tree) and so we all turned up: Beckham, back from Bulgaria or wherever, Bryan, looking a bit pallid after this epic translation, Stacey, Margo, and I.

And once we were all comfortably installed and Jeff had brought (and, incidentally, bought) us our drinks, talk turned, as it does on these occasions, to Lit. Crit. and it was open season when Margo announced that she quite enjoyed reading the Daily Fail on the web. We were each trying to outdo one another with ridiculous headlines that could - and probably have, at some time - turned up in those august pages: "Three-Foot Tall Aliens Seduced My Husband", "Octopus Sex Slave Reveals All", "Palace Shock: Prince William Has No Willy", stuff like that.

But I did think that my contribution - "Pizza Sex Crimes" - wasn't too bad, and I was kind of shocked when Beckham announced, just like that and out of the blue, that she was going to appropriate it for the title of her next book! She even noted it down and, I couldn't help but notice, starred it. I will definitely be scanning the best-seller lists with some attention, as I expect to get at least credit, and hopefully some money.

Although I suspect that I will be waiting for some time, as to the best of my knowledge her magnum opus on the deficiencies of the French as lovers (working title, "All Men Are Arseholes") is still very much a work in progress, as are her other projects including the collected short stories (one so far, and that unfinished) and the movie script (as yet untitled) about the daily tribulations of a beautiful, blonde, thirty(ish) American woman (played by Tom Cruise) in Chambéry in the 1930's. (I can actually see that doing quite well in French cinemas.)

And then one thing lead to another, as it will - with us, anyway - and after all that talking we were getting rather hungry, so we stayed for lunch. The plat du jour was la croute savoyarde, which I personally would have done differently: a thick slice of toasted pain au levain rather than a demi-baguette to start with, and rather than farting around with dribbling some white wine and cream on I'd have spread it with sour cream and then put a diot fumé grillé, split lengthways, on top with some of its white wine and onion sauce. But at least we can all agree on the necessity of topping the lot with a slice of reblochon and putting it under the grill for five minutes.

Anyway, Jeremy left us on Wednesday: he and Malyon headed off to Nîmes to get him set up. Seems that the auberge de jeunesse was, as they say, irreprochable - even if it was a 500m walk uphill from the bus stop, towing the homicidal baggage - and that the maison des compagnons was everything you could want. On top of it Nîmes is apparently a friendly city, lots of parks and hidden surprises. We are not going to worry about him - not that we were in any case, but having Mal's seal of approval is still kind of reassuring.

On the other hand we are, it seems, going to be obliged to get a bike to him one way or another. Given that he'll be working les horaires du boulanger when he does begin, and it would appear that at 3am, when he'd start, there are damn few buses running.

Now some time ago he rescued a stray bike from the paddock, where someone had thoughtfully dumped it, brought it up to the house and promptly stuck it in a cellar, where it has stayed ever since, waiting for him to get the time to fix it. Which, needless to say, he never had.

As it happens there's not much wrong with it, or so Renaud assured us: the steering is fine, the pedals appear to be attached, there's not too much play anywhere in the mechanicals, and basically there's just the spokes to be tightened, a brake cable to be replaced, ditto one tyre. So can't really complain.

Of course, there's still the problem of getting it to him. Surprisingly enough the SNCF does not do freight, unless it happens to be more than a tonne or less than 17 jubs, this latter being defined as the average weight of a Bulgarian airbag. (If you really, really want to know, go look at El Reg. The full guide to their definitive units is online, along with a handy converter. Not that I'm going to vouch for its absolute accuracy.)

(Come to that, just at the moment the SNCF does a pretty random job with passengers too, what with work on the lines; getting ready for snow, pigeon crap on the overhead lines and whatever else. Not that I'm complaining mind you, even if there are half-hour delays sometimes. Nation's finest. Possibly also the nation's healthiest, getting as they do to retire at 50 due to all the heavy lifting.)

So anyway, might have to pass on the idea of slipping a few euros into the country's coffers and see if there isn't a shipper that does regular trips between here and Nîmes, see if he can't take an old pushbike down some time soon. Maybe I should get in contact with my old friends from Stock It, they know people in the business. Might even get mate's rates, although I rather doubt that.

After all that, Jacques came round on Sunday for lunch: this being a French affair he turned up at 11 and left around 17:00, which is about par for the course. As luck would have it I had prepared the pastry for my planned dessert and was just about to roll it out when he waltzed in, bearing a large home-made pear tart: the pastry fairly rapidly disappeared into the freezer. For another occasion.

Luckily he hadn't bothered to bring a main course, so we were able to eat the simple roast chook with all its trimmings and drink the 2007 Pouilly Fuissé (which had been lurking in the fridge for some time) and the 1995 Rioja unencumbered by feelings of guilt. Not that I'm often worried by that, especially when it comes to food.

And that, I'm afraid, is about all really. The canicule seems to be well and truly over and even though it's not yet official you can tell it's autumn: not actually chilly in the mornings, and the days are still bright and sunny (except when we have really gross thunderstorms)

But you can tell that pretty soon there'll be snow up on the Belledonnes, and it will start to get chillier, and I will get pissed off. You know, I really can't wait to move down south, to warmer climes. So long as there's no bloody mistral, of course.