Saturday, May 18, 2013

Per Ardua Cadastre ...

... It's bloody hard work, surveying.

First of all you have to set this bloody concrete monolith, with some sort of plastic Eye'o'Sauron/reflective pyramid thingy on top, into granite and locate that using GPS, or magic, or something, and then you have to hike around a lake and take sightings of it from different angles, apparently so that you know where the rest of the lake is, and can write that down on a bit of paper with billions of squiggly lines in red and black.

Now normal people would not find that too difficult, it's the wet stuff that one of your brand-new Nikes has just stepped in. Also, there are baboons jumping into it, for a swim. Or maybe a fight. Or a bite. (More likely, knowing baboons. Nasty foul-tempered sods.) But NO CROCODILES, for they are not friendly campers.

At least, that's what it looked like to me, back in the day in darkest Africa. It was quite a long hike, much of it just up and down, on land where you could sell both sides of the same acre. And it's not as though anyone actually cared. Least of all the lake itself.

Or maybe I just got the spelling wrong, and it should have been "Per Ardua, Cadavre". Which, under certain circumstances, could make more sense. Hard work will kill me.

Sorry, don't know what brought that on. I thought I'd try the first bagel recipe I came across, given that David Lebovitz has nothing to say on the subject, and I have to admit to some doubt when I came up with something with absolutely no fat in it. No butter, no oil, no milk: just unadulterated flour, salt, water and yeast. (OK, a bit of sugar to encourage the yeast to do its thing and go forth and multiply, but that hardly counts.)

Speaking of which, when first we turned up in this benighted Yurrupian country one of the things that perplexed us was the number of flours on display on the supermarket shelves, each labelled prominently as T50, T55, T60 ... I think you get the picture here. As, back in NZ, you were happy if the flour in the packet turned out to be what it said, had few weasels weevils in it, and were totally unconcerned about its gluten content, this confused us.

And even not so long ago, you could go in and find farine, and farine spéciale pour gateaûx, so you knew more or less where you stood, provided cake-making was on your agenda. But I had the occasion the other day to go off and get some flour, along with the rest of the groceries, and Margo had helpfully noted "wholemeal" and "strong" on the shopping list.

OK, wholemeal wasn't that difficult - I hope, I bought some farine complète and I guess that'll do the job - but for strong flour ... I wound up buying some farine pour pain maison, after carefully reading the label to make sure that there was nothing in it but flour, but it was not easy to find. All those handy labels seem to have disappeared, rendered useless and obsolete by the disappearance of home cooking. Although there were handy instructions as per its use in a bread machine, which I suppose speaks volumes.

Because I, for one, will not use them. Bread machines, that is. I actually like the otherwise pointless ten minutes spent kneading, the rather erotic (to me, anyway, which also says something) feel of the dough under my palms, and the satisfaction as it starts to turn out silky and elastic in my hands. On a good day, anyway.

Still, maybe by pure luck, it turned out well. With 250gm of flour, yeast and sugar dissolved in 200ml of warm water, the whole lot mixed up with a wooden spoon and then kneaded vigorously: definitely made a nice dough. Maybe I should change my flour-buying habits. Into the microwave with it for a minute at 100W to warm it up and encourage it thusly to rise, before knocking back and making it into eight doughnuts.

The fun part, of course, is poaching the little buggers. Actually, the fun part is trying to prise them off the greaseproof paper without them becoming some sort of deformed pretzel before dropping them into the simmering water, and there's also the fun to be had trying to persuade the sods to turn over, using only a slotted spoon and an electric cattle-prod.

I knew vaguely that bagels were supposed to have stuff on top, so I left a couple nature for Margo and brushed the rest with milk before liberally sprinkling them with sea salt, poppy seeds, nigella (well, it says "Best Finest Black Cumin Seed" on the packet, but I'm not convinced that the shop in Nepal was too concerned about actual veracity, what with poetry being beauty and beauty, truth ... whatever) and whilst I was at it, some anis. Because I do not seem to have any caraway. Or maybe I do, but it was hiding at that time.

Still turned out delicious mind you, after twenty minutes in the oven. Chewy outside and a firm dense crumb inside, they were fine for my lunch today, with a bit of cheese and whatever. No need even to toast them.

(Note to self - did have a stash of caraway. It was lurking in a jam jar in one of the spice cupboards, and has since been consigned to the footnotes of history or, in this particular case, the dustbin of the household, as I must have bought it about 18 years ago and after all this time it smelt of nothing more than old paperbacks, more particularly an abandoned John Grisham legal potboiler with wooden dialogue and really cringe-inciting sex scenes. A mercy killing, really.)

Completely unrelated, but as I was walking around the market the other day I noticed this flappy noise, eventually realised that I was the one responsible, and then looked in surprise as the sole of my left shoe went flying off into the distance. Christ, I only bought the damn things in '96, whatever happened to quality and workmanship? Or am I being unreasonable here, expecting my clothes to last me a lifetime?

And speaking of flappy noises, there was music being practiced - and I use the word advisedly - this morning. Not that I would personally care to call the piano-accordion an instrument - not of a musical nature at any rate - but this guy was there, squeezing away at the dismal box and singing quaint old French songs (think "As I were a-tupping a maid that day", you get the idea) as though his life depended on it. For all I know, it did. Maybe he'd been hired by disgruntled stall-holders to go play in front of a too-successful competitor; maybe, despite the evidence, he actually enjoys the break from the screedlehorn and belchpipe. Whatever, my visit to that particular area was rather brief.

I mean, I will do a lot of things, some even without being paid, although that does rather go against my principles, but I can see no earthly reason why I should listen to that sort of stuff. Unless, of course, I am indeed paid, and as it happened there seemed to be a dearth of benign idiots with bulging wallets in the neighbourhood. And as I didn't really want to buy mushrooms anyway, it was no great hardship.

On a brighter note, I did manage to find some more asparagus, which will go rather nicely with our pavés de saumon tonight, and the nectarines are getting to the point where they are both affordable and edible. Should ever we see some sun in these gloomy lands at some point we will have a glut of the little suckers, which will mean a number of bavarois au fromage frais et fruits de saison which will please Jeremy no end, for he particularly likes that as a dessert, but right at this here point in time that seems rather far off.

The week has been busy - although luckily Fabrice, my other petit suisse, has headed off on holiday so that's three hours a day I won't be spending on the phone (and just what the hell do they think you're doing all that time? Being productive? You know, I think they probably do.) - mostly running around seeing banks to see if they will lend us relatively small amounts of money, Margo getting quotes from movers and stuff like that. For it is true that, just looking at the accumulated things we have here does rather strike fear into the heart when contemplating shifting it all.

At least Jeremy should be alright, his dossier for the OPAC is complete and, I hope, handed in, so with any luck he'll very soon be living it up in a taxpayer-subsidised cheap apartment, and no longer Our Problem. Also, should he ring to ask "Hey! Can I come down to see you with girlfriend (meuf, not a particularly nice word) number X" we will be able to reply, with straight faces, "sorry sunshine, booked out, no room at the inn". Well, that would be nice, anyway.

Before I leave you, may I just point out that these have been naughty little cherubs? Not only are they playing Silly Buggers with the Congenitally Deformed Seagull of Happiness, but they have taken all their clothes off and seem to have painted themselves with really cheap woad, which is not the right colour and has already started to run in spots. Also, they're kind of obese, which I would put down to bad diet.

Only the fact that they appear to be sitting on the Perpetual Toilet Paper Fountain has preserved their modesty, and if you ask me when Venus gets home from the nightclub with whatever seedy demi-god she's managed to pick up (shame about her looks these days, she used to be really hot but 2000 years does rather take it out of you) there will be Words Said, and the odd fessée or two. Well-deserved, in my opinion. Cheeky little sods.

1 comment:

  1. I do believe "Use Your Loaf" has a bagel recipe. Can't say I've ever tried it, though; I don't particularly like bagels.

    The brioche I made for lunch today, OTOH, were particularly fine, even though (or possibly, perhaps because) I made them with a mixture of wholemeal & white flours & rolled them up with brown sugar, sultanas & orange zest within, rather than the blueberries I usually use.