Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cat Classification ...

So just to be clear here, we have Primary Systems Cat (PSC, the doyenne), Emergency Backup Kitten (or EBK for short) and, far down the food chain, Shaun the Dog. In case of standard maintenance or other scheduled downtime for PSC, EBK will take over essential functions, like licking hands, clawing legs, bonking any other gratuitous bits of anatomy, and generally being obstreperous. If necessary, crapping on the carpet, as old mainframes are wont to do.

In the eventuation of catastrophic or terminal failure of PSC, EBK is promoted to full PSC status with a simple firmware update (basically, it involves upgrading the grumpy bits), and a new EBK is rolled in. I sometimes think it would be so much easier if I just migrated the whole damn lot to the cloud, paying sod-all for a few instances of APS (that's Amazon Pussy Services, should you be wondering) for example. It's cheap, and you have guaranteed five nines up-time, which means purgles and warm spit every morning. On your Kindle, admittedly.

Also, you don't have to fill up the tub of kitty kibbles every morning, due to how between the lot of them a single kilo of crunchy kitty treats seems to disappear overnight. Is a mystery, because unless they're crapping somewhere we've not yet found, I don't know where it all goes. In, apparently, but I have not yet found the "Out" door. A lurking surprise, no doubt. All will doubtless be resolved the next time I go to find my cufflinks somewhere in the top drawer.

Margo has to take photos now, for the odd magazine column, and she can't stand using my ancient SLR (in Frog, ça fait chier, lit. "makes one shit" but more correctly, "annoys the hell out of one") and - quite frankly - I don't like her using it, because I have to fiddle with the settings and change lenses and all: anyway, as the FNAC had a sale on when I was in Chambéry I picked up a little Canon Eos as a belated Christmas present. It has everything you could possibly want, including more megapixels than you can shake a stick at, apart from an optical viewfinder.

Which means that I can't use it, because after 30 years or so of using SLRs, and being long-sighted to boot, if I can't stick the viewfinder to my eye to see the shot I'm going to take then I simply do not want to know. Holding the camera at arm's length and squinting at the screen just does not cut it. I know some people actually like that experience - well I bloody don't. Probably just as well, it is her camera, not mine.

I also picked up a kilo or so of fromage whilst I was up there, because I was going through the market on a Saturday morning and, to be totally honest, ça fait chier to pay 34€ the kilo for aged Comté around here when I can pick it up for 18€ in Chambéry, and it was probably just as well that I bought the stuff and returned home on a cool - not to say chilly - day because a large ripe reblochon was included in the lot. And you don't really want to have one of those in your backpack when it's stifling hot. Believe me, it is worse than a runny Camembert, which is pretty foul in summer. (Truth to tell, I personally find a Camembert pretty foul at any time. That's just me. I blame my parents.)

As I was saying, a reblochon's vocation in life is to go into a tartiflette, the Savoyard dish made with tartiffes (don't worry, they're nowt but spuds dressed in patois): no more complicated than cubing a vast heap of potatoes, mixing them up in a large baking dish with bacon chunks and sliced onions, drowning them in cream and then smothering them with the cheese, cut in half and placed on top, cut side down. As it cooks in the oven the potatoes soak up the cream and soften, the cheese melts into the top and the rind goes crispy for the pleasure of those who like such things ... pure cholesterol and carbohydrate, guaranteed 100% natural and therefore healthy.

So as I was on a roll, having got that lot into the oven I turned my attention to an apricot clafouti, which I've not made for some time due to the lack of starving mouths to feed: so I made the batter, whisked the egg-whites, folded the one into the other and opened a tin of apricots and assembled the thing in a baking dish - and then I went to put it into the oven.

Which was when I discovered that the gas bottle that feeds the oven was empty, that the tartiflette had warmed to blood temperature and no more, that I had not got around to swapping the spare (empty) gas bottle waiting patiently at the door for a full one, and that dinner was likely to be something involving nothing more complicated than toast. (It's an odd thing, no doubt an old charter or some such, but no matter how many spare gas bottles you happen to have, and regardless of your good intentions, there is only ever but one gas bottle in the house with any gas actually in it, and that is the one that is currently guttering to an end as dinner signally fails to cook. Strange, but true.)

And just to put the candle with the handle on the gateau from the chateau, we have had no heating since Sunday night, when the chaudière decided to have a hissy-fit and stop working. The plumber has dutifully beaten it with a hammer, and menaced it with a screw-driver, but to no avail: he reckons it's the clapet anti-retour on the fuel line or something technical ... oh, did I mention also that we've just flung the last log of wood in our possession on the fire? Whatever, I guess we'll survive until tomorrow. Burning the furniture if required. And should it come to that, we shall move in with the plumber, until he gets everything working again. (That should speed things up.)

There is a fine old tradition in France, especially in small rural villages such as ours, where the entire population can fit without crowding into the salle des fêtes, of the présentation des voeux du maire et du conseil municipal.  It's the occasion for everyone to get together, listen patiently and applaud when prompted as the mayor takes credit for gouging the cash out of the conseil régional to pay for repairs to the local sewage treatment station and what an asset his idiot nephew has been to the team before wishing a good year to all and sundry, and then take a dive towards the trestle tables lined up on either side of the room, groaning under the weight of slaughtered pizzas, chips, and serried ranks of bottles - red, white and rosé, pastis and whisky (Label 5, but still better than paint-stripper) ...

A lot of people bring their kids, because the little buggers cost a lot to feed and you don't want to miss the opportunity of a solid, and above all free, meal when it's going.

The event is, of course, mandated by law (is that an oxymoron?) and it is also - Margo informs me - totally illegal to use the occasion for political ends. And I have to say that there was no overt electioneering, just a few words to the effect that after the municipal elections "we will carry on with our platform": also, those people that we know on the other side of the political fence were notable by their absence. Doubtless pure coincidence.

In my opinion, small-town politics is so much more vicious and underhand than it is in cities, if only because it's, well, personal. Everyone does actually know everyone else - hell, they're related, even if only distantly, through a sheep - and the memory of what our Doreen said, seventy-three years ago, and cousin Harold's answer, still burns balefully in the back of their brains. (Hey! I've just done onomatopoeia! Was that clever, or what?)

Back up to Chambéry again for a week, and made the big mistake of deciding to head off to the Creativa salon at Montpellier in the morning, and catch the TGV from the St Roch station. I say "mistake" because although Creativa is principally about patchwork and stuff like that (which is why Margo wanted to head off there, to catch up with friends and acquaintances) it is not exclusively so and in fact they have a little section devoted to cooking.

Which, of course, I found. I was pretty restrained, and made it out of the first stand with just two microplane graters and a kilo of Valrhona couverture chocolate: the result, I've read, of an accident with a batch of white that got left in the bain-marie overnight and thus slowly caramelised. Supposedly a right bitch to work with, not that it's difficult or anything, just that you tend to eat it rather than cook with it. Or so it's said.

Second stand was people I've already met, in Grenoble back in the day: they sell nowt but tea and spices. I know, I have no actual need for more of that sort of thing, but what else could I do? Madras curry, Bombay curry, green curry - check. Szechuan pepper - check. Smoked paprika and vanilla powder - OK. I came to my senses about then, and decided to leave whilst I could still walk.

Whatever, it's a good thing that Cook-Shop (for such is the name of the place) have not only an honest physical bricks'n'mortar shop at Pézenas, not too far from here, but also an internet boutique where, I have just discovered, I may order such indispensable things as a candy thermometer. Indispensable to me, at any rate, for now that I have that chocolate I can see no other option than to make some salted butter caramel and top the one with the other. If you get my drift.


  1. I've just done onomatopoeia!

    Welcome to the ranks of the Alliterati.

  2. I <3 Smut's comments; I can never compete!

    On the tartiflette - I have very fond memories of the one you cooked for Rosie & me when we visited. I don't care about the cholesterol & all that stuff; it was heaven on a plate :) (Pity about the oven, though. Potentially an issue with the BBQ but we keep 2 bottles, one plugged in & one in reserve. She said smugly.)