Friday, August 2, 2013

I Have Small Black Warty Balls ...

No sex please, we're French
... read on, you'll find out. But first, thanks to the services of a wiry, efficient and heavily-accented repair-man (but nowhere near as incomprehensible as the tanned studly youth who connected our phone), we have rediscovered the Joy of Dishwashers. It used to be Mad Karen's (the dishwasher, not the tanned studly youth, but she does tend to dream) but got passed on to us when she left the apartment in Chambéry to go off and seek love and self-fulfillment at Mumblefuck, and it gave us a few years of loyal service and, let it be said, great physical pleasure, before, one day, it decided to stop working.

A quick google showed that many people had experienced the same symptom and had cured it by enthusiastically shaking the thing, which sounded kind of like voodoo even at the time but when in extremis you'll try most anything, and we shook it and, for good measure, threatened and then insulted it: it sullenly consented to work again, but a week later it stopped and steadfastly refused to budge. Even tempting it with an exceptionally greasy plate had no effect.

At the time we had other worries so we left it sitting there in the kitchen, but when we shifted down here we thought that we might as well bring it with us - thinking that maybe the change of climate would soften its stony heart, who knows - and on installing it in its place, hied us to a magasin electromenager to ask for their help. And so they promised to send their best man the very next day and, somewhat to my surprise, for this is the south after all, the guy duly turned up with a bulging tool kit. And a sack of spanners and stuff like that.

He listened to our tale of woe and then, taking the obstreperous machine by surprise, wrestled it to the ground and had the bottom plate off in mere seconds. (Maybe this is why the French from around here are so good at rugby.)

Then he dived into its guts and pulled a large hunk of broken glass out of the pump - could not, as he said, have been good for it - and tried it again. Still no joy, but never despair, he had its skirts up again and this time twiddled with the motor, which he said seemed grippé. And eventually, after half an hour, a cold beer and a mere €60 for the déplacement and his time, he had it working and was headed off to his next life-threatening emergency. My hero!

I know I said that we went off to la nuit de la poésie on Saturday (and I flaked, pleading fatigue): I failed to mention one of the more amusing parts of such gatherings, which is that there is always a number of older persons, mostly male, casually dressed but spotless, chattering enthusiastically and showing every sign of the bon vivant. The meal was no exception to this general rule, and the conversation was more than usually fun.

A bon vivant in its natural habitat
For these gentlemen of a certain age were discovering smartphones, and bragging about how their twitter was bigger than yours, and how on the Samsung Galaxy III Tab (pronounced with capitals, just like I wrote it) there was a facebook. Which is apparently the web, or something like that. And as for your iPhone, it pisses warm spit, in their considered opinion. Who'd have thought it?

Anyway, today being Wednesday it was market day at Lézignan, and having been duly warned by Margo - who'd headed off there last week with Janet and Kevin - I went early, like arriving at 8:05. Which was indeed a Good Thing, because I managed to get there just before the rush, and even found a park less than 2km away.

Only a small sample yet I know, but I do find these things to be so much more animated down south. Had I been there later I suspect I might have been buffeted to death, as it was it felt as though much of the surrounding countryside had already arrived, intent on letting everybody know. Muscled old women were darting hither and thither to chat with cherished friends they'd not seen for all of half an hour, small children were rushing underfoot, and the males of the species were, thanks to the magic of the cellphone, seated at a bar busily regaling their pétanque partners with a blow by blow account of how good the melons looked. And the fruit and vegetables, too.

Me, I found a spice merchant (always handy) and a couple of stalls selling nowt but paella: the cheese selection was pretty limited though, and also hideously expensive. I mean, €26/kg for Morbier? Then there were any number of stalls with tiny dried sausages like matchsticks, and primeurs by the bucketful, and it was at one of these latter that, for the first time in my life, I bought a truffle.

Cheap at only €100/kg and smells, quite literally, like shit - no, not quite true, more like a bucket of soil might smell if someone had thoughtfully stuck a dead chicken in it a few months back, and left it to ripen. I shall have to think of something to do with it now. I'll let you know how that works out. But first of all I shall go consult the authorities, for there are differences of opinion as to whether the little buggers should be peeled, or just well-scrubbed: I would hate to get it wrong.

Later ... that wasn't too bad. My cookbooks being still in the back wall of cardboard boxes and thus inaccessible, I resorted to the Great Google and came upon a recipe from Epicurious which I combined with another one I vaguely remembered, just for fun. Luckily I happened to have a duck breast, so I used my fingers and small ouch! ouch! sharpy knife to separate fat from flesh, leaving the two attached down a 1cm strip lengthways. (Are you following me here?)

Then, having carefully washed my truffle, and peeled it (peelings, and the rest of the truffle, are now in a closed jar with a few eggs for when I feel like making an omelette) I took some very thin slices off it (mandoline? I spit at mandolines. A good sharp knife is all that's necessary) and stuck some of those between fat and flesh before sticking it in a hot pan, skin side down, to start cooking and render some fat.

When that was done, out went the duck and in went some cubes of potato, to fry in the duck fat with a bit of salt and be joined, ten minutes later, by some petits pois and chopped shallots ... then they too went into a bowl and into the pan went a couple of chopped mushrooms, finely chopped truffle, more shallot and, when browned, a sprinkling of flour.

For a proper sauce perigueux you'd have to use Madeira but I have none of that on hand, so the pan got deglazed with some Banyuls, the sauce thus obtained enriched with a slab of butter and some chives, then the duck breast sliced and chucked back in to be reheated and served with the potatoes and peas on the side. Can't complain, I suppose.

Thursday Edgar's surrogate mother (Edgar, incidentally, has not been seen since Sunday morning, with any luck he's flown off and found a flock somewhere) came past and invited us to an apéro at midday. That sounded pretty good, so we pulled on our glad rags and headed round at the appointed hour ...

When we were comfortably installed under a parasol at the table in the courtyard out back, her partner Philippe did the honours and asked what we'd like to drink, and came back with a dripping bottle of white from the Chateau de la Baronne ("un copain", he said, "et son vin n'est pas mal non plus") and a red for Margo, and Caroline busied herself with chunks of melon and poivrons marinated in olive oil (what else, around these parts?).

We started talking, as one will, and shortly into the conversation Philippe noticed that the bottle of white was empty, and headed off to get another one to go with the pizza ... must be evaporation or something, because they'd just promised to introduce me to the young Italian oenologue for the chateau, who also happens to be an impassioned cook, when he was obliged to find yet another bottle.

And another few bottles later, once we'd put the world to rights, discussed the lamentable tendency of the English to keep to themselves in a sort of ghetto without taking the trouble to even try to learn French, found out that he'd had a varied career in "import-export", as he put it delicately, down in the Pacific and now went around with a gang of Polish workers renovating chateaux, and that she has a landscape gardening company in Toulon, it was around 18:00, and we found ourselves agreeing to come back the next evening for a barbecue. Hopefully, we'll find out more: I am dying to know how the guy came to spend time flitting between Wallis & Fortuna, northern Africa and Cuba.

Under other circumstances the words "gun-running", "arms dealer" and "smuggler" might come to mind, or maybe "civil servant", but I am willing to give the chap the benefit of the doubt and admit that he might, just possibly, be a business-man with wide-ranging interests. As they say. Shall let you know, as and when.

Mind how you go, now.

Oh yes, Orange seems not to have disposed of my e-mail address - at least, it still appears to work - so do keep using it if you feel the urge. Bye, I'm off to make dinner.

1 comment:

  1. "import-export"

    Dum diddly um dum, dum dum dum DUM diddly um dum...

    but probably something quite prosaic, in reality :)