Sunday, September 1, 2013

For Crimes Committed ...

Monstrous Municipal Monuments, n° 7
... ie remarking idly that perhaps having dinner at some point would be a good idea, I have been quietly but firmly directed to ensconce myself in the kitchen, where I am currently reflecting on a) the reasons for this cruel banishment and also b) something to do with whatever I can find in here. Let me see, any number of tins of exotic beans, there's some farine de pois chiche, farine de mais, a bit of roasted corn on the cob left over from the other night, a rather friendly-looking aubergine, tomatoes and peaches ... this can mean only one thing.

Yes, apart from the fact that I'm stuck in an apparently empty kitchen, not something that happens at The Shamblings ... it means, tada! desperate improvisation. Well, not actually panic-stricken rushing about like a mad thing as such, just a bit of inventiveness ...

So first of all I sliced that aubergine in 5mm slices lengthways (the little bugger did not thank me for that), put some baking paper on a tray (and bless the person who invented the stuff, saves so much on washing-up), poured olive oil over that and then smeared the aubergine slices around on both sides to coat them before dusting them with some herbes de Provence and sticking them in the oven to roast for 30 minutes, turning them halfway through. (This technique, whilst not as quick as frying the sods, does use a hell of a lot less oil and is consequently considered to be Healthy, and possibly even Good For You.)

While that was going on I split, drained and chopped some tomatoes and stuck them in a frying pan with a chopped onion and a bit of lurking poivron, just to dry it out a bit, and sliced the kernels off the corn-cob and scraped the the starchy bits off with the back of a knife before adding all that to the pan with a helping of corn flour to stiffen the mix. Give it five minutes, stirring, and turn the heat off.

When the aubergine slices are brown and soft, use them to line a rectangular cake mould (silicon is my friend!), leaving some overhanging over the sides, then put a few rounds of goat cheese along the bottom. Beat an egg into the vegetable mixture along with some baking powder, add more corn flour if necessary (it will be) to get a reasonably stiff mixture (or, if you are feeling like work, could just use the egg yolks, whip the egg whites and fold them in as for a soufflé and forget about the baking powder) and stick the lot into the prepared mould.

Fold the flaps of aubergine over the top and stick the lot into the oven: forgiddabahtit for half an hour and finally, when it's smelling done and feels springy to the touch, unmould the lot onto a plate, slice and serve with decent bread and salad. If you happen to have some spicy salsa that would go well, if not I guess there's always ketchup.

Anyway, Jacques and I drove back down here on Monday, after I'd bidden a tearful farewell to the rental car (a Renault Clio, but surprisingly well-equipped): kind of to my surprise we were untroubled on the roads, although I must admit that those who were northward-bound didn't seem to have it as lucky. If the traffic jams on the other side of the autoroute were anything to go by.

He left Wednesday moaning, on to Toulouse to see family, and I headed off to the market. I'm a sucker for these things, and the shopping basket slowly, and quite unintentionally, filled up. No truffles, sad to say, but baby yellow courgettes and a decent salad and tomatoes and some grenaille and a fresh goat's cheese and diverse fruit - also, knowing that J-C and Babette were turning up that night on their way back from Banyuls I was torn between the tuna steaks at the fishmongers (only 10€/kg, for godsake) and the travers de porc a bit further along.

So with my usual decisiveness, I bought a kilo of each, on the grounds that whatever didn't get eaten that night would be used at some later point - basically, I was waiting for inspiration to strike, and putting off the decision until the evening. Which is fine by me, because as it turns out I just seared the tuna rapidly on both sides and then fried up a mass of onions and tomatoes and poivrons with the odd herb or two and a decent quantity of pepper, stirred in a slosh of white and stuck the whole mess in a baking dish. The tuna went on top, the thing got covered with tinfoil and into the oven with it for half an hour. Gave me time to make dessert.

Speaking of herbs, I had always been under the impression that they ran rampant down south, but as it turns out they seem to keep themselves to themselves. To find rosemary I have to wander up past Henri Bataille's mausoleum, thyme grows in clumps on the outskirts on the other side of the village, and so far I've only come across sage up on the flanks of the montagne d'Alaric. Which is a bit far to trot if, on the spur of the moment, you decide that nothing else will do but a bit of fresh sage with your pig-meat.

But we did go out the other night, taking Shaun for his evening walk, and harvested nature's bounty. He very good-naturedly sat calmly as I spiked myself to death on juniper bushes trying to pluck a few of the blue-purple berries (no, I am not going into making bathtub gin, but they do go very nicely in a stew, or a rich red wine sauce for simmered ducks' legs), and then munched a few blackberries as we carried on.

For there are indeed masses of blackberries, which no-one else seems to think of: there are also elderberries which are ripe now and look as though they would appreciate being turned into sirop, or jam, or reduced into a jelly to serve with meat instead of cranberry sauce.

There are also figs, and I rather kicked myself, later on when I was getting a couple of flammenkuche ready with sour cream and onions and Serrano ham, for not having picked some so I could have stuck slices on top, instead of being reduced to using confiture de figues. Let that be a lesson to me.

Anyway, for a few days now I've had a craving for a rolling-pin, and Margo wanted to check out materiel anyway, so we headed off to Narbonne to check the dump out. Successfully circumcised the one-way system and arrived more or less in the centre of the old town - a car-park being unexpectedly close to hand we left Suzy there, with instructions not to make a fuss, and set off on foot.

Now Narbonne was once a major Roman city - they used to call this side of Provence Gallia Narbonniensis after Jules (Caesar, that guy) settled most of his pensioned-off troops from the 10th legion down here - and it has a fair few vestiges. Not, perhaps, as much as Nîmes (which is lucky enough to have a crocodile as its city animal), but still ... for instance, in the place de l'Hotel de Ville there is a pit, in which are exposed some 30m² of the via Domitia. Looking at it - those Romans built really crappy roads. I mean honestly, it wasn't even flat! (Come to that,I'm not really sure how they get away with calling it a "road", there are laws on truth in advertising you know) You try taking a Mercedes over it. Go on, I'll wait until the tow truck arrives.

Whatever, Rome got sacked but life apparently carried on in the provinces, because news took a while to get from A to B back in those days I guess, and in any case there was an arch-bishop to look after things: can I just say that
  1. arch-bishops have no taste, and
  2. they really, really want everyone to know just who it is that has the power around here.
Also, they are by no means subtle. The palace of the arch-bishops of Narbonne is an immense fortress: kind of brutal, but at least you know where you are. Which is outside, looking up. And let it be said, the cloisters are calm and very beautiful. I suppose they had to have somewhere nice to go and relax after a hard day oppressing the poor.

And the Hotel de Ville is just next door, they've installed the fonctionnaires in the old chateau so all in all it's quite impressive. Mind you, trying to imagine the municipal employees galloping across the cobble-stones and under the great stone archway before handing the reins off to a flunky and heading for their desks kind of boggles my mind.

In any case, I eventually found a bit of solid bamboo about the size and weight of a baseball bat at Geneviève Léthu and the bored-looking guy behind the counter shoved it into a enormous paper bag as he wished me a nice day, and we set off to see if Margo was going to be able to find what she wanted - sadly, after traipsing through the ruelles of the vieille ville the answer turned out to be no. At least whilst she was looking I got to lick the windows of the Bose stereo shop. But we found ourselves, at the end of it all, in the rough vicinity of what was supposed to be, according to Google, "The English Food Shop", so we headed off there.

Oddly enough - for these things tend to be ephemeral - it was indeed where it was supposed to be, and we very bravely went in. There was a freezer packed with pork pies and bacon, a fridge with what looked like (and, I can now tell you, tasted like) good mature cheddar, and the shelves were crammed with Hovis and HP sauce and sherry and crumpets and marmelade and Marmite and carrot cake and ready-made curry sauce and gingernuts, the whole thing presided over by an impressive-looking Swiss woman who put us at our ease by asking if there was anything in particular we'd like to see on the shelves, seeing as how she was putting together an order for stuff from the antipodes to satisfy the particular needs of some of her special clients: you guessed it, Maoris playing rugby for the Narbonne team.

I actually think we did rather well, making it out of there - eventually - only 50€ lighter in the pocket. And that enormous paper bag came in quite handy after all.


  1. Successfully circumcised the one-way system

    I.e. you took a short cut?

  2. Something along those lines, yes.

  3. That must have been a helluva big aubergine!

    Also, why you no grow herbs in pots?

  4. I should point out that my cake tin is only about 18cm x 9cm, so not that gigantic. Also, like I said, I sliced the sucker thin. Herbs in pots will come, once the terrace is redone and we get some big planters up there. Mint, chives, thyme and rosemary would be a minimum.