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?

1 comment:

  1. Re eels & jacksies - the NZ Herald is no longer the grande dame of publishing. She has moved to tabloid format (except on Saturdays - don't know why that is, but it ensures we still have bits of paper large enough to wrap broken glass in) & her taste has declined along with that.