Sunday, June 1, 2014

Kindly Mother Nature ...

Up periscope! And put the windows up.
... red in tooth and claw. Or so I thought to myself the other day as I was out on the terrace (all tiled now, thanks very much for asking, and very pleasant it is indeed to be out there) and a crow flew overhead and something went Splot! just next to my foot. Not guano, but a fledgling: I'm guessing that the butterfingered bird was either doing some house-keeping, or very clumsily dropped its breakfast.

I've noticed for a while that my cooking has definitely changed. Vast quantities of meat are out, the humble spud sits and glowers balefully on the sidelines, vegetables get to kick up their heels in the chorus line (figuratively speaking). Don't get me wrong, I've always believed in eating seasonal vegetables - which is when they're at their best - and I remain a committed carnivore: there's no way I shall stop making quiche (sometimes, I admit, with leeks) or boeuf bourguignon or charcuterie (a wonderful term which embraces even the humble sausage), nor has the leg of lamb been banished from our premises, never again to sear on the barbecue - but things do change.

Age, and different requirements, are one thing: quite frankly, there is absolutely no way I could sit down these days to a shrimp cocktail (remember when those were the trendiest of the mutt's nuts?) followed by a 300gm carpet-bag steak with mushrooms, a baked potato and salad on the side and then scarf down a healthy wedge of cream-cheese frosted carrot cake. Not that I ever could, given that a carpet-bag steak - a recipe harking back to the day when thrifty house-wives would instruct the cook to pad out the steak (expensive) with oysters (virtually free) - contains my arch-nemesis, the aforementioned mollusc. But you get my point.

And although I do a fair bit of exercise - there is no remote control for the TV, so I actually have to get up from the sofa to change programmes - I rather doubt I could burn through all those calories. Even if I did do a jog up mont Alaric every morning, as does old Neville the neighbour.

(Actually, there is no TV either. We stream everything. So not only do my legs get exercise, I also have to push a mouse around. Gotta be good for me.)

Tastes change too, but mostly it's lifestyle. It's hot, sunny and lazy; decent vegetables are virtually thrusting themselves lasciviously at you; the olive oil is almost good enough to make me forget my vows of fidelity to (salted) butter. Oh, and the fish is not only excellent and as fresh as it could possibly be without your going and catching it yourself, but also available. (Also expensive - let's not dream here - but you pay for what you get. Suppose I could buy frozen, but that's not much cheaper and has the added drawback of being uniformly foul: watery and textureless, and the flavour but a pale shadow of the real stuff.)

So anyway, since we moved down here we've started to eat more lightly, probably less, and maybe even more healthily. I'm not complaining.

You remember I spoke of an Alfa 159? She beguiled me with her lures and I bought her, leather upholstery and all. We went back to the concessionnaire, looked her over, took her out for a spin - and then Margo said "there's no point in looking at anything else, is there? You want her" and I'm afraid I had to say yes. So I reluctantly turned her nose around, for she had taken it into her mind to go to Limoux, and quietly drove back to the garage, where I signed the papers.

Of course the unseemly subject of finance reared its ugly head, as it will - and on considered reflection, although the concept of an extension of the warranty is attractive it is not sufficiently so to make me want to pay €3000 extra, which is what I've had wound up doing if I put down a bit of cash and paid the rest off over three years. So after talking to the banker I rang the garage back to say that I'd just pay cash after all: they had sads, but that is their problem, not mine.

For some strange reason - possibly related to a pressing need for the bathroom, occasioned by the fact that the lower reaches of my intestines have been scoured as clean of life as the Sahara, and reforestation has not yet taken place - I woke at an ungodly hour this morning and so arrived, once again, hideously early at place Carnot. Under a spiteful gray sky, but what the hell, at least there were courgette flowers again so I picked up some shrimp and I have heaps of mint in the freezer, and a fresh chèvre in the fridge, so that's tonight's dinner decided on.

I've not really thought much further ahead than that, although I do know that at some point in the near future there will be roast asparagus just because I can, and also for a change: come to that there's a chicken floating around the place somewhere too so maybe a barbecue would not be a bad idea.

Not actually a bulldog.
Or then again, I was trawling the innatübz, studiously postponing doing some work that I really ought to get on to (massacring a video driver so that it will handle a monochrome OLED display, if you really want to know) and quite serendipitously came across a recipe for slow-roasted chook, which involves rubbing the bird all over with herbs and olive oil and salt before putting it in the oven at 160° (180° in mine, it's kind of optimistic that way) and roast it for two to two and a half hours, with vegetables.

Which sounds rather attractive to me, so who knows? I just hope like hell I didn't accidentally pick up a boiling fowl again, by mistake. (Believe me, unless you're actually planning on boiling the bird, that is not a mistake you'd want to make twice.)

Whatever, June has just dawned and despite it not even being summer there is an ugly rash of camper-vans on the road. I think they must have hatched, and be heading off on the long journey to their ancestral breeding grounds or something. In which case it seems reasonable to assume that the Belgians, Dutch or whatever that are behind the wheel are actually unnecessary as far as piloting goes, and are just carried along to serve as food during the trip, and just before the climactic battles that precede mating. I dare say it would probably make a good subject for an Attenborough documentary.

Be that as it may, having better things to do I headed off early this morning with the camera to rejoin the canal du Midi at Trèbes, near Carcassonne, with the aim in mind of loitering in the sun and following the twisty-turny back roads to get home.

When you head to Carcassonne from here you go through Trèbes, or at least there are signposts that tell you so, but in fact you're going through the southern outskirts, which are kind of dull and semi-industrial - not somewhere you'd actually think to stop, unless you needed to pick up a baguette. But turn off the D6113 (used to be the N113, but the state got tired of paying for the upkeep and foisted it off onto the département) and head north, cross the Aude and you get into the old centre, on the banks of the canal. It's all very peaceful, with the odd houseboat moored here and there (you can rent them by the week, you know, if that interests anyone), and even this early in the year full of bloody tourists.

Given that I'm wandering about with a camera and a huge zoom slung over my shoulder I suppose I can hardly complain, but I still wonder why that should have given the English couple who asked me, in what we'll charitably call French, where the market was any confidence at all as to the accuracy of my reply I really cannot imagine.

Having wandered, and rummaged through a brocante vaguely in search of some enameled cast-iron gratin dishes (no luck there, some nice copper moulds but let's face it, I'm not going to use those) and found the English Bookshop, it seemed like a reasonable idea to head back via Marseillette and Puichéric, on the little road that more or less parallels the canal, which you can spot by the double rows of old trees that line the banks. At some point I shall have to do that on a bike, for the advantage of a bike track running alongside a canal is that it is, more or less by definition, flat. Until you get to a lock, that is.

Also, on a bike it is easier to stop when you need to feel like it and just sit down and admire the countryside and the light through the leaves and reflecting off the water and smell the scent of hay baking in the sunlight.

But even in the car, I managed to find somewhere to stop at Millegrand and wander a hundred metres or so down to the canal, up onto the old shaded hump-back bridge that goes across and do all of those things, which set me up very nicely for doing nothing at all for the rest of the day.

Hope yours was as good.

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