Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Golden Weather ...

The weather may be is foul up in Savoie, to the point where friends up there are already thinking of turning on the central heating and in some cases have gotten to the point of lighting a fire in the evenings, but down in more southerly Furrin Parts we're still enjoying warm, sunny weather - fingers crossed, of course. Still, autumn's on its way: we can tell this from the road signs that have gone up around Conilhac warning passing drivers to be wary - "Attention! Vendanges!".

I hadn't realised just what a sweet tooth our dogs seem to have - it's bad enough their scarfing up road-kill figs from the tarmac, but going past the blackberries they hoover up as many as they can, tugging hard to get over to the masses of brambles, and should ever you go through the vines, with all those low-hanging bunches of grapes ripe and hot under the sun ... maybe it's time to make a grape flan. Nicking a few bunches from somewhat higher up, as a nod to hygiene. It has been brought to my attention that some people prefer their desserts without dog slobber.

From time to time I get email from the Chambre de Commerce back in Chambéry (they don't seem to have noticed that I've gone - fair enough, I never told them, but then I never told them I'd arrived either) which is usually harmless enough, like dead yeast in beer, and truth to tell I usually just delete them because they're almost always asking for money. For some reason I clicked on this one: just occasionally they like to go through the motions and show that they really are trying to help entrepreneurs, and here they were advertising a little morning session for start-ups.

I mean, I can see the point - in France entrepreneurs tend to be harried, furtive pallid people (comes of not seeing the sun enough) who slink around the edges of rooms hoping not to be noticed (for it is a shameful thing to be, and on top of it everyone else believes that you have illegally or immorally accumulated vast wealth to which you have no right, and they - especially the administration - will try to relieve you of it) and who knows: a morning with like-minded individuals, maybe a chance to do some networking, at the least get a decent coffee.

Unfortunately the programme reserves only about half an hour for this potentially useful activity, most of the morning being taken up by a presentation entitled "An entrepreneur is NOT a super-hero" (who'd have thought it?) by some guy who is noted as being "spécialiste de l'entrepreneuriat", and another by a fellow who is apparently a "specialist in Mindfulness" and also a business consultant in "accompaniment in change". Only after you've been overcome by the fumes from the joss-sticks and stunned by the whale-song do you get thirty minutes for "un slow meeting" (yeah, that is apparently French) with everyone else.

I mean, "entrepreneuriat"? What the hell is that? Come to that, how do you get to be a specialist in it? Go bankrupt several times, maybe.

Our estimable maire, M. Mazet, appears to have picked up an old copy of How To Win Friends And Influence People, but sadly his grasp of English is - shall we say, tenuous - and he has got it all arse-backwards. Mind you, that's a normal state of affairs for him. Whatever, we have been informed by a highly-placed mole (one of the Sources family) that he has asked the conseil municipal to authorise him to call in the gendarmerie to police the "situation de parking anarchique" in place St-Régis. Good luck to him with that one.

For godssake, either they ban parking in the square, they paint neat little parking lines, or people continue to park as they have since the invention of the mule ie where they can without bothering anyone else.

Coverage of NooZild politics is a bit spotty over here, but I have been able to discover that everyone's favourite right-wing sickness beneficiary and bloviator Fish Blubber is sad, for reasons which escape me but apparently involve a Minister of the Crown, a prostitute, and unmarked envelopes of cash completely unrelated to anything else, they just keep turning up. Just goes to show that you can make money from writing. (These people used email for "confidential" exchanges? Oh dearie me.)

Also, that nice Prime Minister of yours (I would say "ours", but I'm picky about what I walk in and in any case haven't been able to vote anywhere in the world for the past 20-something years) is not a happy person either, whereas that senile old git from Tauranga is extremely happy indeed because everyone's paying attention to him. For five minutes, at least. And Mr Cunlipps, of the Worker's Party, is happyish too because he has a chance to say "Hey, look at that! That totally wasn't our fault! Is that a unicorn?"

Like I said, I'm not entirely sure that the whole story gets correctly reported over here in Ole Yurrup and in any case my grasp on reality can be tenuous at the best of times, so do feel free to correct me if I've got anything dramatically - or libellously - wrong.

Be that as it may, with our usual selfless dedication to duty (also, there was no food in the house and I couldn't be arsed cooking what there was) we forced ourselves off the other night to l'Auberge Coté Jardin, just up the road in Conilhac, as part of our continuing mission to discover just where around these here parts you may, and should not, eat. (Re-reading it, that was perhaps not entirely clear. I am not trying to say that you should not eat at places where you may eat, nor the inverse: just that there are some places where you may eat, with a more than reasonable chance of satisfaction, and others where you should not eat, unless your tastes happen to run that way.)

The Samsung software is crap but provided I don't try to edit things with any luck words don't disappear into thin air, so whilst around us happy German bikers were taking photos of their meals I was writing up my tasting notes. Not that I have anything against taking photos of my food, just that I won't use a phone to do it because the quality is always invariably crap (it's not the number of pixels, it's the bloody optics for god's sake) and hauling out an SLR at the table is kind of obtrusive. Also, the strap always seems to land in the sauce.

Anyway, for those of you that may make your way over here and get bored with my cooking, Coté Jardin is but a five-minute drive from here and the ambiance is, let's face it, rather nice. Even if the armchairs are designed more for slumping in than eating. So after a quick discussion as to whether or not there was room we were parked at a table overlooking the terrace and menus were dished out and we ordered, and a helpful young woman brought us a little amuse-geuele, in the form of some rillettes de sardine.

Nicely arranged in an oval in a pristine dish with a sprig of chives, but let's face it, they're sardines mashed with butter and could have done with a bit of lemon juice, in my opinion. Also, a bit of decent bread to smear them on would not have gone amiss.

Margo just wanted the main course (and, of course, dessert): I am made of sterner stuff and so, dear readers, just for you I went for the menu. Which, as I didn't want slugs that evening, started out with a tarte fine aux sots les laissent, which turned out to be a chicken pizza with lettuce on top. Don't get me wrong here, let me deconstruct. The sots les laissent (lit. "idiots leave them") refer to those delectable little nuggets that everyone fights over on the roast, on the backbone just at the thigh joint - you don't fight over those? Hell, around here wars have been started for less.

In any case, I have no problems whatsoever with a crispy pastry base, nor with tomatoes reduced with a hint of balsamic vinegar to a chunky state, and even less with pan-fried nuggets. But like that, in a thick wodge - and with artistically torn roquette on top ... could've been great, was bleah. Sorry, no other word for it. And a royal pain in the arse to eat, politely. On the other hand, the extremely healthy ('cos of being full of seeds, and stuff) bread rolls on the side, fresh out of the oven, were excellent.

Once that had gone down we went on to more serious stuff, and I have to say that the dos de cabillaud with reduced fish stock and a sauce involving aubergines and cream, smoky-sweet, was excellent. But calling it "en croute" was, in my opinion, going a bit far: generally speaking that should be crispy, not a soggy mass of fine breadcrumbs and butter. Just saying.

A mi-cuit au chocolat for me and a deconstructed lemon-meringue tart (that's what it said on the menu, don't blame me) for madame rounded off the evening pleasantly enough, and we rolled out into the evening only 75€ lighter in the pocket, including a very generous glass of excellent wine. (At least we're in the right place for that.)

General conclusion? Not bad, but should be better. The chef is young - well, in his thirties, which counts as "young" for me these days - and I'd have liked to have been excited, or inspired, or challenged, or something. As it is, you're probably better off going to le Comte Roger at Carcassonne or (only they're not open in the evening) the resto routier just down the road, for good simple food and a half-litre of wine per person for 11€. Your choice.

And just to end the week in la joie et la bonne humeur, as they say, old Hélène invited us to her annual al fresco dinner, on a little piece of land she owns close to Ferrals. A couple of hectares on the slopes of a colline, planted with olives and cypresses under the pinède at the summit, facing due west out over the valley, and the warm golden light as the sun goes down is just magnificent. We ate - and drank - abundantly, and I could quite happily have gone to sleep there with the smell of herbs in the dry air, but I do like my bed.

The very next day - not too early, luckily - Charles turned up on the doorstep. Having also been on the receiving end of a missive from M. le maire, on the occasion of that little impromptu street party that occasioned such distress, he has taken to us as kindred spirits and oppressed underdogs, and as he just happened to have the boot of his car full of bio muscat grapes (for he, like so many around here, is a vigneron - and if you're looking to buy an 8 ha vineyard and a house in the village, I can give you his phone number) he thought we might like some. Definitely be a grape flan for dessert sometime soon.

Whatever, I'd better go and start tiling a shower. A messy business, I find - perhaps because I'm particularly maladroit when it comes to sticking the cement on the wall - but it needs doing if we're to move up there.


  1. Like I said, I'm not entirely sure that the whole story gets correctly reported over here in Ole Yurrup and in any case my grasp on reality can be tenuous at the best of times

    If you really want to cultivate an interest in NZ politics, Darylmc at Dim-Post focuses on the aspects best designed for pointing at and laughing.

  2. BTW are you still prepared for incoming visitors on Sunday arvo?

  3. 13:05 at the Beziers aerodrome. I'll bring a cushion: try not to miss it when RyanAir flight attendants fling you from the plane at 300m. You thought they were actually going to touch down?

  4. so do feel free to correct me if I've got anything dramatically - or libellously - wrong.

    Looks pretty accurate to me!

    I hope you have laid in lotsa veges for our two wanderers - their biggest complaint about Spain & Portugal has centred on the paucity of fresh vegetables.