Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gotta Get Out Of This Place ...

It hits me every year about this time: why oh why, of all the places we could have picked, did we choose somewhere that it snows on a regular basis? It came to me yesterday morning, as I blearily fumbled my way out of bed and looked up to see the velux windows covered in bloody white stuff, which was still drifting down from a sullen gray sky. It didn't last, of course - turned to chilly rain, didn't it? - but it was definitely enough to start me off.

Mind you, even I have to admit that it's beautiful. At night, the Bauges up above us with a blue-black sky behind, a few timid stars and dusted with snow like icing sugar.

I know I mentioned that it's time for things like civet de cerf, and having time on my hands Tuesday lunch-time I wandered down into Chambéry and found myself, as so often, at the Beer Tree. Where I panicked for a minute, for the menu had nothing to do with what I'd been promised, but that was sheer laziness on their part, they hadn't gotten around to wiping off the blackboard and changing it. And so, within ten minutes of plonking my arse at the table, I had an enormous plate with a little poelée de champignons, a rice timbale, a fresh crusty roll and a heap of soft, tender, gamey Bambi bathed in the marinade in which it had slowly cooked. (OK, so personally I might have thickened it a tad with a bit of beurre manié, but that's just me.)

Also, a pichet of cabernet which is, as any fule kno, a sovereign remedy for cold weather if applied internally. It's a serious pleasure, eating like that, and it kept me occupied for some time. But all good things come to an end some time, so around 14:00 I heaved myself up and waddled over to pay.

Sadly, the credit card machine was on the blink, so what happened? I got told to pay next time I popped in, that's what. Does that happen often? I did tell them to be sure to note it down, plat du jour and a pichet de 50cl, I'd hate them to short-change themselves on Saturday when I go past.

Now might be a good moment to mention what we're eating at home too: there's a leek, butternut and bacon soup with a dash of curry simmering away on the stove, awaiting a brief encounter with the immersion blender.

I'd planned on lasagna for tonight but as I had to whip off to Carrefour to get a few emergency bottles of red wine the steaks tempted me for once (the devil made me do it) and there were affordable tins of foie gras so guess what, there's bastard béarnaise ready, the brussels sprouts and the baby potatoes have been steamed and are even as we speak rissoling in some duck fat, and in about thirty seconds those juicy bits of meat are going to join them in the sauteuse.

The lasagna can wait until tomorrow, I rather think.

Oh yes, as it's the season there are also great chunks of beef bathing in red wine and olive oil, with carrots and leeks and garlic and juniper berries: I'll fish them out on Saturday, sear them quickly and then stick them back in to simmer away for three hours or so.

Mad Karen and Philippe are currently in the throes of getting ready to prepare to begin to build: yes, the process is indeed that drawn-out. But they cannot wait to get out of the house they're currently renting at Mumblefuck, especially in this season: as Karen says, there's no double-glazing, sod-all insulation, the high ceiling in the living area means all the heat floats uselessly about at something like 4m altitude, and the dump was built on a concrete pad in direct contact with the ground, and the damp is not so much rising as risen.

If ever, by some miracle and the reckless expenditure of your entire retirement fund on heating, you manage to get a room warm, it is an instant steam bath. She reckons that bulldozing the place would be doing it a favour.

But that is not their immediate problem. They have bought land at Seyssel and would kind of like to build there: first of all, they have to have it confirmed that the land is actually classified as constructible. You'd think that would be simple enough: apparently this turns out not to be the case. So six months later, they're still waiting to find out.

The next problem is getting someone to draw up plans with which they're comfortable. You can actually pay an architect to do that, I guess, and be in the enviable position of living in an "architect-designed" (read, "totally impractical") house but that does cost rather a whack of cash so, like most mere mortals, they are trying to persuade the builders to modify their stock plans in such a way that all parties concerned come out of it convinced that it's someone else that's lost.

But it is hard work: you can specify four toilets, an actual door from the laundry out onto the terrace rather than a window, parent's room as far away - on another planet, if that were possible - as can be from the kids' rooms, and NO OPEN-PLAN LIVING until you're blue in the face, the plan will inevitably show one toilet (downstairs), all the bedrooms on the same corridor (upstairs), a vast open space around the french windows out onto the deck and a window (a very nice window, admittedly) opening from the laundry to what will become the compost heap. Plus, the kitchen will be a 5km hike with the groceries from where you park the car.

And she is convinced that the French have some sort of unhealthy fixation on toilets. For some reason, she reckons, they are always right next to the front door. Which means that when you turn up somewhere for dinner, first thing you get to check out is the state of the loo. (Not necessarily a bad thing, to be honest.) I cannot honestly say that I'd ever noticed this, but that's probably just me: I shall have to start paying attention when we visit. (Which is rare, and being invited a second time is even rarer.)

Now I don't know whether I'm regressing to some idealised childhood, or I'm becoming more adventurous, or maybe just that the season makes me search out things that look as though they'd make good comfort food, but I do find that these days I tend to buy vegetables at the market that, not so long ago, I'd have sneered at.

Case in point: this morning at the market (bitterly cold by the way, and me without my gloves, thanks so much for your concern) I went in innocently enough and walked out with some blettes (swiss chard to our colonial cousins, but I call it silverbeet), a spaghetti squash, and some topinambours (the Jerusalem, as opposed to globe, artichoke). So what am I going to do with those?

Well actually, the blettes (a blatte looks much the same written down like that but they are not related, the latter being in fact a cockroach and having little culinary interest) will get sliced and fried with bacon before getting mixed with either crumbled Rocquefort or small cubes of chèvre and becoming the guts of a vegetable strudel.

And having spent the best part of a half-hour attacking the little buggers with a scrubbing brush (for they manage to harbour prodigious quantities of mud) I rather suspect that the topinambours will get sliced into thick rondelles and go into the boeuf bourguignon which is even now simmering nicely away on the stove-top, along with carrots and leeks and other like-minded stuff.

But I am at a bit of a loss with this bloody squash. I gather that I am supposed to roast it and then use a fork to pull out the flesh, which should come out in long strands (hence the name), but then what would I do with it. It seems kind of criminal just to serve it like that, couldn't I at least add some nutmeg and a dash of cream for a gratin? Difficult.

There is also, for your information, a faint but unmistakeable smell of cinnamon coming from it as it roasts in the wood-burner. Maybe I should be thinking of dessert, substituting it for chestnut purée.

Oh, don't worry about Mr. Scary-Face over there. A long-dead jurist, and by all accounts a nice man and kind to kittens, so you see appearances can be deceptive. Yes, I did think he looked like one of those Harry Potter things too. It is the palais de Justice, after all. People are supposed to be scared.

1 comment:

  1. Seems the French lessons of Frank Whitehead at HBHS were beneficial after all Trevor!!!! Regards Wayne Wright