Saturday, February 16, 2013

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse ...

... it does, of course. What else do you expect?

Like I said, it was softly spattering snow on Saturday morning and then on Sunday it did a bit more, taking advantage of -10° temperatures (I can tell you that my little walk in the hills left me feeling that Scott had it easy) and then this morning the weather really went to town.

Only a couple of cm when I left home, but it still took me about 90 minutes to get to the office - 60 kph on the autoroute (snow-ploughs being notable by their absence), then down to two lanes on the slush on the VRU, and the last bit up the hill to Chambéry-le-Haut was a bit hairy. To say the least.

A fair number or cars had just slowly slithered over on to the side of the road, others were still pitifully whizzing about like dying dung beetles: I recalled all the advice I have ever been given, stuck the car into second and very slowly, without ever applying too much power to the wheels, ground on up.

There is always that temptation to rev just a bit, because you feel that otherwise you're going to stall and indeed one thing you don't want to do, going uphill, is to actually stop, but the thing you really do not want to do is to let the wheels spin.

Once that happens, you might as well just stop, look at the skid marks, and resign yourself to putting the chains on. And be grateful that you wore brown trousers that day.

So, the big scandal over here in Ole Yurrup is the 100% beef-burgers and ready-to-eat crap meals that turn out, after DNA testing, to be mostly 100% horse. Personally I have no problem with that, I've eaten horse: hell, I've eaten quail, frogs' legs, snails and crocodile, and other bits I never asked about. And that's not even counting the odd slug in the salad.

I can see that the mis-labelling could cause a problem: there you are, thinking you're chowing down on old Buttercup the cow, who until fairly recently was gambolling in the paddock (or doing whatever it is cows do, I'm not an expert on that sort of thing), and then you discover that instead you're chewing away on bits of Black Beauty.

Could be distressing. So now the makers of these dreadful meals (whose consumers, in my opinion, deserve whatever they get) are seriously investigating how the ponies got into the food chain, as it were.

And in the same week, the Pope resigns. Coincidence? I think not. More on that in the fullness of time, once I've done some serious investigative journalism looked up some rumours on the innertubes.

Anyway, I got back from Lyon about 9pm last night and, having started the beans soaking that morning got to work on that cassoulet, which lead me naturally enough to thinking about what should go into one. Which leads, as it will, to a bit of looking into cookbooks and then, when you can't find the right page because the favourite ones are kind of of stuck together with what I can only call "blodges of stuff", a quick google.

Now as far as I'm concerned the essentials are - apart from the trinity* of beans, onions, garlic and tomato purée, of course - duck legs, lard paysan (preferably smoked), smoked sausages and garlic sausage. The first three of this second trinity** should be fried in the fat that the duck will render and go in with everything else, and the garlic sausage gets added in thick slices towards the end, along with heaps of chopped parsley.

I am apparently a heretic, because according to others nothing should be smoked, the sausages must be veritable saucisses de Toulouse, and chunks of fried lamb shoulder appear to be mandatory. Also, I slosh in a good half-bottle of white wine instead of water, which is apparently a major sin.

But I do find that the saucisses de Toulouse have a lamentable tendency to explode or auto-destruct after an hour or so in there, so personally I prefer something with a bit more strength of character. And a skin like a hernia girdle, to keep everything in. A diot, for instance, is perfect.

And I must admit to sometimes passing on the whole crust-of-persillade thing. Still, at least we're all in agreement that you should never under any circumstances chuck prawns in there, although I have read of that happening. Luckily, nowhere near me, or Things Would Have Been Said.

But it being Saturday now, and the cassoulet well and truly cooked, the entire famille Bimler arose at the crack of dawn (which sounds ruder than, in fact, it is) and we drove down into a sea of featureless white (for it was foggy) and the car danced and pranced a bit on the black ice on the road and then chucked Jerry out at the rond-point in front of the hotel where he is, it seems, in charge of entrées and desserts, before I unloaded Margo - rather more civilly - at the club room before heading off into Chambery.

Avoiding, needless to say, the autoroute like bubonic plague, for this is the first weekend of the February school holidays. 'Nuff said, squire. So I chuggered peacefully and, I admit, rather smugly along the back roads until I made it in to the market. Where, if I may say so, my delicate shell-like ears started fairly quickly to freeze, because apparently the news that things are starting to warm up has not yet made it to the metropolis.

Whatever, I got the usual suspects - clementines, blettes, apples (for Jeremy wishes to make a crumble), blood oranges and assorted greenery - and was headed back to the car with my arms getting longer when I happened to stop at a stall that does, I'm afraid to say, "bio" products: partly because the woman who runs it seems to think I'm an old friend and I have to admit she does seem familiar from somewhere, but mainly because when you leave the place du Marché by the rue du Sénat it's just there on your left, before you get to chez Liddy for a glass of white ... but I digress.

So we conversed, and against my better judgement I picked up a small potimarron which'll probably wind up stuffed with peas and bacon and onion and cream before being roasted, and some dark, almost purple, broccoli (I thought that had to be a healthy sign, I could be wrong, could just be necrosis) and then as I was rummaging around I came across some bergamot, which is not something you see every day.

So as they were selling them at four for the euro it's not as though I was risking a lot, anyway they were small, bright yellow and, I felt, my friends, so they went into the shopping basket as well before I went on my way to commiserate with Bryan at the Beer Tree.

Now the only thing I know about bergamot (not to be confused with the similar-smelling herb, for one is a citrus fruit and the other is not) is that its rind is used to flavour Earl Grey tea, but the invaluable David Lebovitz suggested making marmalade with the things, so even as we speak the little suckers have been sliced, blanched and are simmering away in the kitchen, before I add a capful of rum and a dose of cinnamon and stick them in jars to await Jeremy's depredations.

I have to admit that I've always been rather suspicious of jams and such, on the grounds that you can't really fry the ingredients - not in duck fat, anyway - but I guess we'll see how it goes.

And whilst I'm more or less on the topic, did you realise that there is - for such is the richness of the French language - a specific word for those small fish-bones that get stuck in the top of your mouth? It is, should you wish to know that, "une arête". (Which can also mean a mountain ridge, but that's hardly the point.)

On the other hand, there is no simple French word, nor phrase, for "self-righteous bombastic pretentious twat". I had always assumed that this was the case on the grounds that there is no way such people could be French - they'd have to be lords of finance from London or something - but Bryan assured me that he and Beckham had the dubious pleasure of dining in the vicinity of just such a person the other night, and he was definitely a Frog.

Perhaps, when he texted me in desperation the other night, I should have suggested that he just call the guy "a banker", and left it at that. It feels right, somehow.

* It's holy, alright? It doesn't have to add up. Or even make sense.

** See above. Try to read the bigger words without moving your lips.


  1. Prawns in the cassoulet ? How ... but ... I am speechless.
    In all seriousness though, that's desecrating a national treasure.

  2. Just as well I don't use them that way either, isn't it?