Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Humble Spud ...

Now I is a happy man, for the facteur pulled up in his great throbbing yellow Kangoo, leapt from his seat, thrust a large package into the letterbox and was off again in a shower of shit and small stones before Shaun could get his wits together and bark. And sure enough, when with frenzied fingers I'd succeeded in demolishing multiple layers of packaging (sustaining only minor flesh wounds in the process), it was indeed the new cookbook I'd been waiting for.

I read his blog on a regular basis, as you may be aware, and when I discovered that David Lebovitz had come out with "My Paris Kitchen" I just could not resist, and even paid for a copy with my very own money. (Oddly enough, The Book Depository in the UK offer free world-wide shipping, and they were cheaper than Amazon by a good margin. Go figure.) Now my only challenge will be to take it slowly and savour a few pages every evening, rather than reading from whoa to go in one fell swoop.

Actually, when I say "my money" what I really mean is "the gubblemint's money", because it is theirs and they wish me to pay for the privilege of using it. Fair enough I suppose, they're the ones that printed it after all - they need to get a decent ROI for their shareholders. In fact, they wish me to pay for the privilege of getting old and still working, hoping that if ever I actually retire I shall keel over from a heart attack on receiving another letter asking for only 500 000€ for "les fonds de solidarit√© social" or whatever, or maybe a letter to the effect that they actually owe me 200 000€ which will be repaid in monthly installments of 10€ over some 1600 years, and then they will not have to pay me a pension. Although the Bank of Hell does accept good intentions.

But I digress. I had an inkling that there was a decent spare-rib recipe in there and so, as one will, I'd picked up a kilo of pork spare ribs at the Narbonne market on Saturday, just on the off-chance ... he reckons you should serve them with mashed potatoes but with all due respect he's wrong: baked potatoes, either with a very mustardy vinaigrette as they like it in Lyon, or with mustard butter, are essential. And salad - I like to make a honey vinaigrette and then mix in a good dollop of sour cream (if you've got the amounts right the vinegar will not curdle the cream, you'll just have to work it out for yourselves) and then sticking in some sweetcorn, sliced spring onions, chopped mint and maybe grated carrot and leaving that to marinate a bit before turning in the lettuce. A lazy man's slaw, I guess.

I also had a shoulder of lamb lurking in a fridge (yes, we have more than one, go complain if you like), so it seemed a reasonable idea to bone it, spread a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, fresh rosemary and grated parmesan over the flesh before rolling it, tying it neatly and roasting it. A bit much for just the two of us so we invited Richard and Mary, our Irish neighbours, around and it was very gratifying to see it disappear. Despite the humorous interval with the empty gas bottle halfway through cooking, fortunately we did have a spare and, exceptionally, it was not empty. A mistake I will not make again.

I know I mentioned that we have a new maire - we went to the inaugural pissup a while back for the free food'n'booze - and he seems determined to make his mark. Only two months or so into his reign term and we have already received two sternly worded letters on the mayoral stationery reminding us that a) it is forbidden to park in front of the rubbish bins, especially on those days when the dunnykin come past to empty them and b) dog-poo is a no-no.

And with a new mayor comes a new mayor's idiot nephew: I don't know if it's a job requirement nor, if so, in which way the causality operates. Two possibilities present themselves immediately to mind: either you have an idiot nephew and are thus fore-ordained to become a mayor, or if you are elected mayor and, for some reason beyond your control, you have no idiot nephew, one pops spontaneously into existence once the votes are totted up and you are found to have got in. Which could, I guess, be embarrassing.

Anyway, the municipal employee and he were out this moaning in the municipal utility vehicle (a tiny three-wheeled Piaggio of which the cabin is barely large enough to hold the employee, for he is of imposing stature: at least it has an engine, of sorts, and the employee is not obliged to pedal) - well, the employee was in the vehicle, and the idiot nephew was hanging on for grim life behind - doing one of those important jobs that need doing in small-town southern France: making sure that the village is gai by planting flowers in the municipal flower-pots.

So just one thing, the next time I head off to the market, a smile on my lips and a song in my heart - or just possibly an all-over scowl, depends on the weather - announcing my attention to buy "bio" vegetables, do me a favour? Distract me (possibly by pointing to pretty flowers, or a non-existent fighter jet scrambling overhead, or just sparkly! shiny! look! A SQUIRREL!), stun me (if required, and only with care, please), make sure you have one of those nice linen waistcoats that does up down the back to hand, and take me off to have my head examined.

Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly well aware that all vegetables are in fact "bio" because if they weren't biological we'd be eating rocks, now wouldn't we, and I know very few people that like to sit down to a plate of warmed-up schist. But just sometimes it's nice to get that warm fuzzy feeling of having saved the planet (from what is not clear, but probably irrelevant) when you go out and buy - let's say, potatoes -  from some honest horny-handed son of the soil whose idea of pesticide is a good piss.

Getting back to the potatoes - we are, I think, in agreement that the best bits are just under the skin, and that too is where the eventual toxins (from the DDT, Agent Orange, arsenic, genetically-engineered nanobots, sperm whales - are you listening? - and cadmium cocktails that Big Agribusiness likes to spray on the leaves to kill unicorns and make small children cry because there are no fairies left anymore) are going to be, and so it would follow that if I shave a half-inch off the exterior of each and every humble spud I prepare, then I am safe. Vitamin-free, but unpoisoned. Although possibly at risk from a falling sperm whale.

Given that my bio potatoes have been pissed on (but only under a full moon) to disturb the nesting codling moth - or whatever, and what about them, anyway? Don't they have a right to live? - it would seem prudent to wash them, at the least. But sadly, as their homeopathic pesticidal treatments are about as efficacious as scrubbing lepers with acne cream, I wind up taking an inch off the outside, just to make sure that our mashed spuds, chips or whatever are not going to be full of black spot, grey rot, and brown mould.

I would like to do the right thing, really I would, but if I have to make the choice between paying three times the price for bio vegetables, half of which I have to chuck away because they're either rotten or full of weevils or something (and then I feel even guiltier because I know that starving children in Korea or Chicago would really love that extra protein, and I am putting it in the bin), and buying something much cheaper that I can actually eat, I know what I will do.

You're quite right, I was planning on doing myself a plate of steak-frites for dinner tonight. However did you guess?

But let it be said that the combination of frites cooked in duck fat with a bit of sea salt, fresh thyme and paprika (at the last minute, that - tis a delicate spice, don't want to burn it) and a slab of hampe chucked in for three minutes a side before serving with beurre à la moutarde is pretty damn good. And, of course, makes a pleasant change from all that Gordon Blue cuisine what we is usually eating around here.

Anyway, just at the moment I have a dog insistently thrusting a slobbery tennis ball into my crotch, so I know what I have to do. Mind how you go, now.

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