Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Brain Is Full ...

So like I said, it was gray and dismal today, and as the afternoon wore on I started to think seriously about warm comfortable food, and then I looked in the pantry where the serious spices lurk, which is probably why there's a vegetable curry simmering away on the stove-top, and a large apricot clafouti sitting on the kitchen table, ready to go into the oven.

And then, between all that and going down to the garden under the grey drizzling rain to look at a few sparkles of sunlight glistening on the first daffodils down there, and the primeveres in great clumps, I started looking up facts and figures on gîtes and chambres d'hote: late, you may well say, and doubtless correctly given that in principle we're out of here in something around three months, but better than never.

So now I know that the average occupation rate is, according to an INSEE survey in 2010, about 28%, that only 20% do tables d'hote (for which there is a formation, but no qualifications required), and that average turnover for a three-bedroom place is about 20K. There are many other fascinating statistics out there, but I do not wish to bore you to the point where you start gnawing your own legs off to escape, so I will not recite them all.

On the other hand, Mad Karen (who spent time as a financial wizard before moving to vegetate in Mumblefuck) reckons that we really should see a notaire down in the district, who knows what's going on, before we settle on exactly how we set it up: one possibility is having an SCI that owns the place and an SARL, of which we are the sole shareholders and employees to run it, paying rent to the SCI for the privilege ... yes, that does sound complicated I agree.

And as happens from time to time, I found myself at the Beer Tree looking for some vitamins: apart from Camille and Simon, who were propping up the bar (an unequal struggle, as Foul Ole Ron wasn't on the other side pushing back) I was alone. So I made my way past them and what I took to be a couple of child restrainer seats and took my usual place and then Camille came and sat in one of those seats and leant back, evidently in total bliss.

Which is not necessarily something that I like to see, so I sternly asked what the hell was going on. So for starters, a négociant had come round that morning, to sell them wine, and they'd started the day at 10am with glasses of marc de Savoie, which is basically 50% alcohol and not bad if you have a full stomach but otherwise could be considered the start of a slippery slope towards - if not alcoholism, than at least laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate moments - and it had gone downhill from there.

Blood orange frangipane flan
And those restrainer seats turned out to be massage seats, which fitted nicely over the back of the chairs, and apparently it's open season so I may have to reserve my place from now on, because those suckers are good. Camille was a bit spaced out but still had the presence of mind to invite me to give it a try, so I did and turned it on to shiatsu, lower back: oh, sheer bliss. I probably looked about as sheepishly limp as he did.

Sadly I had to leave shortly afterwards: possibly not a bad thing for I rather suspected that the afternoon was going to go downhill as Camille answered the phone, nodded a couple of times just to check that his head was still attached, however loosely, to the rest of his body, and then gloomily confided through the serving hatch to Simon "une réservation pour dîner. Deux anglais. A six heures trente." I understand his pain.

Still, as I trudged back to the bus stop I couldn't but help notice the big sign in the window of the place that sells rather brief but exceptionally expensive lingerie on Boulevard de la Colonne to the effect that they were moving to Aix, but that they could be found at Brightened my day, anyway, sad old pervert that I am.

Then the weedy gourmet delivery guy turned up and we had another of those far-ranging discussions, which started out with the lamentable quality of the leather jackets you buy these days (to which I had to retort that I bought my last leather jacket almost 30 years ago in Hamilton and it's still going strong, have to admit that the lining has more or less evaporated though) and went through the usual twists and turns (for every French-person is, by some gift of bountiful nature, an expert on more or less everything) before getting on to food.

So we talked about his adventures with Thai cuisine, and then we got onto the subject of that night's meal which was, for him and I suppose a number of guests, going to be a 1.8 kg côte de boeuf on the barbecue. "Marinated?" I hazarded. "Oh no!" quoth he. "I never marinate beef, not if it's a good cut and well marbled. No need, and I find it changes the taste, and not to it's advantage. Now lamb or chicken, OK ..." And I would have to admit that he's perhaps not wrong. If you happen to have a good butcher.

And on the side, some little potatoes: ratte de Touquet, cooked in gros sel in the oven and then - his special little extra - once cooked, crushed lightly with a fork in some of the salt and drizzled with olive oil.

I could do no more than mumble, for that left me a bit ashamed of what I had planned. Which was, as I had some leeks floating about in the fridge, to slice and fry them with an onion and some lardons (yes, mine own home-made ones) before spreading them out on a disk of very thinly rolled pizza dough (with a teaspoon or so of herbes de provence in there), topping them with rounds of chèvre and sloshing some cream on top before sticking the whole thing in the oven.

And having made twice as much dough as required, it seemed only reasonable to make a pissaladière with the rest: in its purest form this is but tomatoes, anchovies and cheese spread on a round of pastry but these are degenerate times we live in and anyway I had half a tin of tomato pulp in the fridge that needed using up before if went seriously furry, so it wound up with the few anchovies I could find lurking in there being mashed up in their olive oil and spread over the pizza dough, the tomatoes going on top, tinned tuna on top of that and then some grated cheese.

Because around here, there always seems to be R+3 bits of various cheeses, where R is a reasonable number, and Jeremy seems to have this Thing about actually finishing off a hunk of cheese. The cheese appears in the fridge by the operation of the Holy Spirit, or some such: he eats it, and then at some point it diminishes to a point where it is too small to eat and too big to throw away. Or so it seems. So I must regularly make meals involving grated cheese, because otherwise we would be overwhelmed by small chunks of various cheeses, leaping gaily from the fridge every time we open it.

And as some of them are kind of runny this is not something I really want happening on a regular basis.

Whatever, it pissed down Saturday which does not, contrary to what a reasonable man could expect, reduce the fréquentation at the market, far from it: all those OAPs are out under their huge umbrellas and stop in gaggles to chatter in the middle of the alleys about the lousy weather and, quite incidentally, blocking traffic and dripping cold water everywhere. They're all deaf as well, and either won't take or don't hear subtle hints to the effect that perhaps getting out of the way would be a good idea ...

The point is that I really didn't feel like going past the pork butcher nor stopping in chez Jojo to pick up some diots, and of course I had completely failed, on leaving the house that morning, to get some meat out of the freezer to defrost and on top of it we have pickled beetroot in the fridge which can mean only one thing, hamburgers.

Of course I have hamburger buns in the freezer but for some reason that did not really appeal so I dug out that battered old copy of "Use Your Loaf" and turned to the page on "The All-American Burger Bun". This is definitely fool-proof but there is an important caveat, the things will rise and rather more so than you might think: I really should have made six buns rather than three. Still, there is a great advantage which is that, unlike the commercial crap (yes, France has great bread but they do not put the same effort into burger buns as they do into baguette and in any case commercial baguettes are pretty crap too and our local boulanger does not do buns), they do not fall apart when you're eating. Also, nice and crusty and warm from the oven.

Anyway, the pork shoulder has finally defrosted and the chicken thighs are sitting marinating in milk and peppercorns and cajun spices before being floured and going in to bake, so I have done my duty there and can no go back to digging through more statistics. Lord give me strength, I just hope my brain doesn't implode.


  1. "Use your loaf" - dug out my copy of it just the other day, to make their dinner rolls (to accompany the duck of what I wrote on my other blog :D ). Great little book; pity it's out of print or I'd buy a copy now & then for various presents.