Monday, February 17, 2014

One-Track Mind: Food ...

In order to avoid problems with Alzheimer's later in our lives, we very cunningly got married the day before St Valentine's, which means that yesterday marked our 33rd anniversary. (And if I use both feet and hands I can calculate that this incidentally means that Jeremy will be 20 this year, but that's another problem.) The great google tells me that amethyst is the gift of choice these days, but I'll have none of that, so we went out for dinner again instead. (I personally look on this as being as much a question of duty as anything else, we are expected to know about restaurants around the place, and in any case we had that cash from Tom to burn through ...)

As it happens there are eight Michelin-starred restaurants in the Aude, and one of them, la Barbacane, is only fifty metres or so from where we actually went. But being an indecisive person I checked all the restaurant websites, and theirs promised me "Dîner romantique aux chandelles, accompagné d'interprétations musicales au piano" - loosely translated as "Romantic dinner by candle-light so that you can't see what's on the plate, and some tin-eared arsehole banging away on a frikkin piano while you're trying to eat" - so I crossed them off the list immediately.

Incidentally, "Interprétations musicales" is an ambiguous phrase that never fails to fill me with dread. You may have had an aunt, or a cousin, that would insist on playing a musical instrument despite all the available evidence - and a number of police reports - indicating that, in fact, they could not, and were physically incapable of such an act?

The piano is indeed a favourite weapon, and has the advantage of being readily available (its sale, for some reason, being uncontrolled). But most people agree that the violin, in the paws of a completely untalented amateur, is absolutely dreadful.

It may also refer to persons in possession of a piano-accordion, and sad to say in my experience such persons require absolutely no encouragement whatsoever before going on to demonstrate exactly what it is of which they are capable. Which I had thought to have been banned by the Geneva accords, but I am apparently mistaken.

That was a digression. Sorry. Anyway, two-starred restaurants tend to be kind of on the expensive side - I'm talking about taking on a second mortgage here, not just cutting back on the Nuits St-George for a couple of weeks - so we wound up at le Comte Roger, which is also in the heart of the old walled cité of Carcassonne.

It actually makes for quite an impressive evening out, starting when you arrive in front of the great arched gateway of the porte Narbonnaise, set in those bloody massive walls and of course flood-lit so it stands out against the black sky.

I know, I know - we both went for the foie gras as an entrée despite what I've said, but just let me say that the slice that had been poached in coffee was exceptionally good. The bitterness of the coffee cut the sweetness of the liver perfectly, left a slight smoky taste on the tongue (my tongue anyway, but according to Margo everything should taste of smoke to me - untrue!). Heaven on a plate.

(Incidental hint to restaurateurs, especially when you run a posh joint - do get your menus translated by someone who is bilingual and who knows something about food: resist the temptation to get your 16 year-old who's doing English at high school to do it for you. Somehow, "White breast airy creamy mousse" is just a noisy concatenation of adjectives as far as I'm concerned, and does sod-all for me. Should it interest you, my services are available at remarkably reasonable cost. Just saying.)

Sadly, Margo spitefully chose the magret de canard roti à l'orange with rutabaga chips and pumpkin purée for the main course, which left me with no choice but to go with the cassoulet, bubbling hot and extremely filling. Wrapped that lot up with a parfait au muscat in which the alcohol was not in-yer-face, and after finishing the bottle of cuvée des Coquelicots rolled out into the night to walk some of it off before heading back to the car. (Well, Margo rolled. I was supposed to be driving.)

All in all, excellent, but not especially inventive cuisine to my way of thinking. Not a criticism, just a comment. So if you want a very well-executed meal, with better-than good service in nice surroundings, feel free. Just don't expect the unexpected.

Need bras.
And right now, even though it's grey (I suppose brilliant blue skies absolutely every day would get a bit boring) the landscape is dotted with clumps of white and delicate pink in amongst the olive trees and the pines as the pruniers sauvages and the almond trees all seem to have burst into flower overnight. So I guess that for us, at least, spring is on its way. Shan't complain.

Headed off to the market at Narbonne for a change, and went past the butcher who sells côtes de boeuf rassis de 15 jours, tendre comme mon coeur as the little sign proudly proclaims. I cannot answer for his heart, but I have eaten his aged prime rib of beef before and it is indeed meltingly tender and tastes wonderful, just browned in butter in the old and well-travelled Copco cast iron pan before being finished off in the oven. Deglazing the pan with a bit of wine and maybe some shallots while the meat rests is also not a bad idea.

Unfortunately it looked as though everyone else had much the same thought for the queue was far too long, so I left it for that time and went off to another butcher who will do me hampe. Where, as only 600gms of meat seemed like a ridiculously small amount, I felt obliged to pick up five or six côtes d'échine in one piece, for roasting (neck end chops. I am a great believer in the Cap'n Rum school of argument, and no matter what anyone else may say I hold that they are the best, being nicely marbled and thus staying juicy and tender when cooked.), and a bit of filet mignon just for fun.

Actually, I might dig out the old Australian Womans' Weekly Chinese cookbook and get the recipe for Chinese-style marinated pork fillet: been ages since I last did that. And if it turns out fine on Tuesday, could even cook it on the barbecue I guess.

(As it turns out, I need not have bothered rummaging through the cardboard boxes that tower precariously in my office, waiting for work to be finished so that they may be opened and their contents redistributed to their final resting-place in actual bookshelves. That cookbook, and its recipes, may be found all over the web - mostly unattributed, I'm sad to say. Still, I'm glad to see that it lives on.)

Although sometimes, you have to wonder. "Stick it", they say, "into the marinade, and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally." Sorry? I am supposed to get up, maybe every couple of hours (because they're not exactly precise here, are they? Hell, 2gm of baking powder I can handle, that's clear, but turning "occasionally"? Every 15 minutes? When you have time? Finished having sex on the counter?), empty my bladder, stumble down the stairs, burst into the kitchen and give the meat a half-turn? I don't think so.

Quite frankly it's in there under gladwrap and as far as I'm concerned it can stay that way, until such time as I need it. Yes, I'll probably give it a shake tomorrow morning, and again in the evening, but that's as far as it goes. I simply will not be having with needy food.

As usual I'm a bit behind the times - no matter what you may think I do not spend all my time following breaking news, nor watching cute kitty porn - and so it's but recently that I learned that you people elected as Prime Minister someone - or should I say some thing - that may or may not be an alien shape-shifting reptilian life-form bent on total planetary domination. Although I must say that NooZild seems an odd place to start for that sort of thing. You really had to go one better than the US of A, now didn't you? Trying to give the tinfoil-hat brigade apoplexy?

Anyway, I have things to do - as no doubt do you - like, for instance, getting dinner ready before turning my brain off and slumping in front of the goggle box for a new episode of Castle. Also, packing my bag for another trip up to Chambéry, which is going to involve hunting through the clean linen basket in search of matching socks (not so much of a problem these days, now that Jeremy is not around to pluck odd socks directly from the clothesline) and clean knickers that EBK hasn't chewed. Too much.

Mind how you go, now.


  1. Did you get married before us? Cos we got married in 1981 so it's our 33rd this year :)

  2. The great google tells me that amethyst is the gift of choice these days, but I'll have none of that,

    Teh classical Greek tradition was that amethyst would somehow neutralise alcohol and keep the wearer sober, so no, I suppose you're not interested.

  3. He tried counting , using his fingers and toes, at the end of the evening so was probably seeing double for at least one of his fingers - and No I don't know which one. Anyway we got married in 1982 so 32 years.