Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bring On The Christmas Spirits ...

So continuing a fine old family tradition, or some musty ancient charter or something, I have decided on a butterflied, barbecued leg of lamb for our Christmas lunch. Plucked it from the freezer, let it defrost, and now it's marinating in olive oil and lemon juice and herbes de Provence before its immolation in a few days. Mind you, I think I'll probably finish it off in the oven for the last half hour, mainly because there are other things to be got ready and I can't be disappearing down to the courtyard every five minutes to check on the thing.

Still not sure what to have as an entrée, coquilles St-Jacques would certainly be nice but I'm not entirely certain that I'll be able to find any in the supermarkets on Monday due to general panic-buying by people who find themselves with only a couple of kilos of the things so I might have to formulate a Plan B. I have some red cabbage (it looked so sweetly at me from the market stall, runt of the litter) and some carrots and apples, so a decent coleslaw is not out of the question and that does go rather nicely with eggs Benedict ...

Bryan, Beckham and Stacey are supposed to be turning up some time around mid-day, we'll see how that works out for we are in France, more specifically in Savoie which is known for le petit quart d'heure Savoyard ie nothing ever happens on time, so eating will probably not be committed before 14:00. At the earliest.

OK, been there, done that. For some strange reason felt inclined to stay up until 2am cooking, so made up a few batches of bastard puff and got some little feuilletés aux pommes et au chèvre ready and, with the help of a bottle that's been sitting in the pantry for some time, some proper mince pies: and while I was at it some mini pommes Anna to go with the lamb. And as there was - always is - leftover pastry, that turned into an apple crisp for breakfast, with brown sugar and pomegranate molasses dribbled over the top.

The most time-consuming part, really, was getting the eggs Benedict ready, as it involves poaching each and every egg individually, given that I don't have one of those totally unfindable egg-poacher thingies. (Mind you, Beckham thought that was great. Either that, or she was seriously taking the piss when she said "Oh! Are you poaching the eggs? It's really clever, the way you make the water go round. But don't the eggs get dizzy?" The balance of probabilities is, I suspect, on the side of piss-taking.) That, and getting the barbecue burning nicely, and then going down to watch over the lamb as it cooked.

And this morning, as I got on to the access ramp for the autoroute, I just couldn't help myself: "Fark!" I said, with feeling. I'd left the house under a bright blue sky, with a song in my heart and a smile on my lips, but that vague feeling of goodwill towards all person-kind rather quickly evaporated as I realised that I had, in fact, forgotten that today is the first of the chassées-croisées, when those who've gone skiing over Christmas go home and those who are planning on skiing over New Year head on up.

So once again the autoroute kind of looks like a sewer full of Parisians and other races: smelly, bloated and slow. On the bright side it only took me 20 minutes to get to Montmelian where I gratefully got off and took the back roads, unencumbered by anything more than other locals, doing exactly as I was, and the odd Dutch-person religiously following their GPS, which had told them that the D155 was, if not exactly on their itinerary, a good way to get home. Maybe.

(Which brings to mind The Cars That Ate Paris, if any of you remember that little gem from way-back-when.)

The point, in any case, was that feeling all chipper and dashing and happy, garbèd I was in a decent white shirt and black bow-tie and the coat of many colours, ready to do battle with the old haglings at the market, and here I was stuck on some unspeakable small road behind a learner driver, some guy with a trailer loaded with unmentionables, and two Belgians in Volvos, all of whom apparently could not count higher than 20 'cos that's the speed we were doing.

Until we got into Chambéry itself, where our little caravan met up with others: a trickle of Germans here, five Dutch at a roundabout, a very lost-looking English Range Rover at one cross-road and a flock of Spaniards, traveling in convoy, screeching to a halt at a pedestrian crossing.

At which point, not having a malfunctioning GPS and, above all, not being demonstrably lost, I decided that they could bloody well get on without me, parked without paying (betting on the spirit of Christmas to protect me from the attentions of the meter maids) on one of the little side streets just underneath Bryan's place, and trotted off to the market on foot.

(Some people, incidentally, just will not take the simple option, and stop to ask for directions. Partly, no doubt, because they know that these directions will be barked out rapid-fire in some incomprehensible foreign language that sounds like a duck choking on its own vomit. Authoritative studies show, incidentally, that about 100% of these people are men. Just saying. And believe me, I know, I'm one of them.)

Whatever, I can't complain too much because it meant that as I returned (with rather longer arms, due to gravity and all those kilos of clementines and greenery and above all cheesery in the shopping basket) I was more or less obliged, even forced, to stop off as I passed by for a quick restorative at the Beer Tree. Where I discovered that they had - finally - managed to remove that recalcitrant cork but bar-owners being, as a rule, an abstemious lot, had not yet managed to finish the bottle, so we downed it together.

Not, let it be admitted, a wine for every occasion, but as an apéro or, if you subscribe to the "vin moelleux with foie gras" school of thought rather than being one of the righteous who prefer the driest white you can lay your hands on, then why not go for that, or else with dessert. But certainly a wine to be tried. Shall have to see if Bruno can't get me another case of the stuff.

Completely off-topic, I have found that should you happen to have a butternut squash in your possession you could probably do worse than to peel it and cut it into thick circular slices, from which you get to remove the seeds and crap before frying them, like steaks, in butter.

That's not all, because while they're frying you also need to fry up, at a minimum, some onions and diced poivron with a good sprinkle of decent curry powder: kidney beans, sweetcorn, why not some blettes as well? So put the pumpkin steaks on baking paper on a tray, and fill the middles with this vegetable mixture, preferably bound with some blue cheese: into the oven with it. If you leave a little hollow on the top, you could probably break an egg into it about five minutes before you plan on eating.

Simple, see? I like simple. Also, it's a good way of getting rid of those awkward bits of left-over vegetables that always seem to accumulate, at least around our place.

And it went quite nicely with the simple steaks, quickly seared and served with a slice of foie gras and sauce béarnaise on top, that we were more or less forced to have due to the presence in the fridge of half a tin of foie gras, left over from the eggs Benedict. Waste not, want not, as they say.

Anyway, having got through Christmas everyone's preparing for New Year, which will involve even more oysters, smoked salmon, champagne and you name it. Which goes some way to explaining why, if another reason were necessary, I am currently avoiding Carrefour like the plague.

So in keeping with yet another fine old family tradition, I rather think we'll be taking it quietly this year. Not exactly to the point of swilling hot cocoa as we vegetate in front of the teeveehee (there's nowt to watch on at the moment anyway, we are reduced to catching up on Elementary and others that we didn't have the time to watch earlier), but not far from it.

Happy New Year to you all, see you in 2013 I suppose. If all goes as we'd hope, somewhere warmer, down in the Aude. Take care now, and mind how you go.

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