Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shut The Bloody Door ...

So first of all, prepare your salad. Get some of the tender leaves from the heart of a feuille de chêne or a rougette, tear them into bite-sized pieces (for I personally cannot abide, and it is considered the height of rudeness - if not actually a capital crime - over here in Ole Yurrup, to cut your salad on the plate, and I have seen people perform marvels of origami folding an entire lettuce leaf into a neatish package that will fit into their mouth) and put them on a plate.

On top of those, a handful of the very last of the small sweet tomatoes that you won't be seeing again for six months, cut into quarters, and you could usefully prepare a decent vinaigrette, with honey and cider vinegar. And as you have nothing else to do, go make some bastard béarnaise, with vast quantities of chopped chives, and fry a couple of slices of good not-watery bacon until crispy.

Whilst your halved muffin is toasting (I'm assuming I don't have to tell you in which direction you should halve a muffin, trying to fit it into the toaster if you get it wrong should be a giveaway) poach two eggs and, when done, assemble everything: the halved muffins go on the plate next to the salad (do remember to put the dressing on that) and then on each bit of bread you put a thick slice of foie gras, a bit of bacon, top that with a poached egg and pour béarnaise over the top.

Eggs Benedict, my way. A simple meal for one: goes down well with coleslaw too, but that requires rather more organisation than I'm capable of, not to mention some forward planning.

Nothing from Health & Safety this week - I guess no-one's living dangerously - just an informative and educational Household Hint from The Shamblings. It is short and simple - much like me, really - and just says "always close your office door".

You might recall that my (temporary) office is located on the ground floor of what we now call home, in what will at some point become the dining room, also that due to the hopefully imminent destruction of the first floor, my bathroom is on the second floor and I am kipping down on a mattress in the office. So far, so good.

However, I have a rubbish bin in my office, in which can be found the usual detritus of a middle-aged smoker: empty envelopes, cigar packets, and used tissues. There would be no point putting unused tissues in there, and it would be a waste of money. And effort. Be that as it may, for reasons as yet unclear and possibly destined never to be known, Shaun has A Thing about used tissues. So when I went out - for five minutes, no more, I swear - leaving the office/dining room door open, the carpet was covered with shredded paper and he was frothing at the mouth. Not a pretty sight, and I don't know about you but personally I don't appreciate picking up papier-maché with extra snot.

So, when out of the office, close the door. Rule number 1. Also, when in the office, close the door. A simple precaution which I neglected, the other night. There are few things, in my experience, more horrific than half-opening a bleary eye in the morning and finding your entire field of vision - such as it is - filled with a dog's nose and a broad slobbery pink tongue, which is headed for your mouth. And that's just Shaun. Indra has already curled up on my feet, which is probably why I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable.

And another hint: French "customer service" has not really improved - or what improvements there have been in the past thirty years are a case of lipstick onna pig. The other day, being at the market, I thought I'd get some bread from one of the best boulangeries in Carcassonne: at least, I assumed it was one of the best because every time I go past there are long lines of people snaking out the doors.

Their bread is indeed excellent, but the real reason that there are queues (and who but the French would queue so patiently?) is that it takes about ten minutes to serve one person with a single baguette. Nominally there are two people serving at the counter but one apparently has to do other things at the same time and so when one discovers that there are no more linseed and pumpkin loaves on display the baker stands there scratching his balls with a cigarette drooping out of his mouth as both of them go rushing off in search of the elusive loaf, which eventually turns up on a shelf behind the ovens.

Then someone else comes in to start their shift, which means a bise all round and an in-depth discussion of how the new baby's doing ... about that point I really did think of walking out and getting bread somewhere else, but I didn't want to be thought rude. And when I eventually got it, the ciabatta was really very good.

Oh noes! We has no Internet!
It doesn't take much to please me, so as you can imagine I was really happy the other day after heading off to Narbonne and picking up a radial saw. (You know, circular saw mounted on rails ...) Given the amount of parquet flottant and skirting-boards I am going to have to cut it's worth it just for the speed (no more bending down to pick up the circular saw, slicing, putting it back down ...) and let's not bother going into the fact that it does a very neat cut. Also, it is shiny. So NOT a gadget!

Can't help myself, like the traditional dog + vomit pair I keep going back to for "news". Wherein I note that the nice young Mr. Keys who looks after you would like to authorise previously unauthorised stuff (because of REASONS, goddammit, and it never happened anyway cross fingers and hope to die) and no-fly lists and things like that, so that you will be protected and up-to-date and some people won't be able to fly on aeroplanes (or whatever the new-fangled word is) because it's not good for them and also you will become a modern democracy to rival that of your neighbours because Australia's concern for its citizen's privacy is well-documented.

A very long time ago now, I went off one evening to the cinema (note to self: must explain that for the yoof) to see "Sleeping Dogs". Anyone remember that? A bit rough around the edges, but still an entertaining film. The plot was a bit far-fetched, I must admit: these days I don't think you actually need American military advisors or political consultants, you're grown up now and doing a pretty good job all by yourselves.

Sometimes people ask me why I don't go back to NooZild. Mostly, because I kind of like it here: partly, because I think I don't know you lot anymore, and I'm not entirely sure I really want to.

Still, I suppose that if you look at France from the outside it's no prettier, or maybe I'm just having a bad hair day. Sorry about that.

So I took the hairy retards off for their afternoon trot, up into the stands of scrubby pine in the garrigues, where the air is still hot (yes Virginia, it is still getting up to 25° in the afternoon over here) and heavy with bees, and no matter where you step it's going to be onto thyme so it also smells like essence de Provence. And as we were wandering through the knee-high grass looking for a water-hole that I was sure I'd seen around there a while back, we came across some mushrooms.

As one will in such circumstances - if you're French, anyway - I phoned Jacques, my go-to guy on all matters mycological, and we spent a good ten minutes nattering as I described the beasts and he asked for further details ... yes I know, were I less of a Luddite I could probably have taken a grainy out-of-focus shot with my phone and sent it to him, and if Jacques had a phone with a screen he could have looked at it: don't go there.

"The cap" I said, "is kind of old bronze in colour, the stem is green-yellow, and the underside of the cap is spongy rather than having gills ..." So once I'd made it clear that the cap was in fact bombé like a normal mushroom Jacques confirmed my first thought: I was looking at cèpes. Not, I'm afraid, cèpes de Bordeaux which are a) delicious and b) bloody expensive (mind you, at only 20€/kg still cheaper than decent steak), but still one or other of the many varieties of boletus.

"People down your way" he said dismissively, being originally from Toulouse himself, "say that they're excellent. It's true that they're better than the alternatives ... " (although there I think he's being a bit harsh, for there are truffles to be found to the west, and excellent cèpes in the montagne Noire, off to the north). Even if the things are not a gustatorial delight they are at least comestible: maybe I shall go back without dogs but with a plastic bag and my Opinel and as Jacques suggested I shall cut into one, and smell it. And if it smells strongly of cèpe, I shall harvest it and its little friends and arrange a meeting for them, in a frying pan, with some bacon. I have been missing mushrooms.

(That did not happen. They smelled good, they felt good, but sad to say as I was slicing them for the pan I couldn't help but notice that various worms, maggots and godnose what else had used them for high-density housing. Also, probably covered in squirrel-piss. I'm all for extra protein, but you have to draw the line somewhere. And as far as I'm concerned, things that wiggle are way over the other side of it.)

Friday moaning I dragged myself out of bed, aided and abetted by Shaun (only went and forgot Rule n° 2, didn't I?), rapidly made myself at least presentable, if not exactly human, and headed off to Montpellier to pick Margo up from the airport. I can only assume that Air France are trying to redeem themselves for her flight actually arrived on time, which is more than you can say for me because of road works. Also, access to the dropoff/pickup area is NOT clearly indicated. Never mind, we made it back home to ecstatic dogs, and thanks to those of you who helped make her stay so enjoyable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Facteur Factor ...

What is it with dogs and posties? Why is it that our two normally placid dogs (OK, I will admit that Shaun becomes hyper when he hears the squeak of the gate up the street opening, thinking that just maybe the rottweiler he'd like to become friends with will come out and ask to play, and Indra yips whenever she startles herself, like when she discovers that she has a tail which is apparently capable of autonomous motion, and both of them are right royal pains when it's windy because it goes up their bums and the air gets into their heads - their ears blow up like rubber gloves and stick out alarmingly) will start barking like mad things when the postie calls?

I means, accountants I could understand: it's fairly well-known that their genome is not entirely human - sometime back in the day they split off from our branch of the evolutionary tree - and so I guess they secrete hormones or something that dogs can smell (and a good thing too, or otherwise they'd be walking amongst us undetected), but a postman?

As far as I can tell they're every bit as human as you and I, apart perhaps from being rather fitter due to all that going around on pushbikes

So I was chatting with old Charles the other day - he who's sold a house and 8 hectares of vines to an English couple who want to live the Mayleish dream of owning a vineyard in the south of France (or who can't afford a place in Tuscany, I guess) - and even before we could get on to the vexèd subject of the weather he said gloomily that pretty soon Moux would have to put up signs around the village saying "Twinned with Gibraltar", such is the number of English ex-pats around here.

What with the lot that's already settled here (I guess we count, the French don't seem inclined to make a distinction), these would-be vignerons, another couple who've bought a place belonging to a mate of old Charles, just up behind the post office ... the place is getting overrun.

Leafing idly through the Health & Safety advisory pamphlets that, for some reason, litter the coffee tables here at The Shamblings, I came upon one that seemed particularly apposite at this time of year (at least, over here, where we live right-side up): n° 247, "Triage of grapes, the importance of". This is indeed important because when you are planning a flan aux raisins et crème frangipane, one of the last things you want to find in it is an Earwig Surprise. So just remember, when you're going through the vines appropriating some of the bunches that got missed during the harvest, don't pick the ones too low down unless you're an amateur of dog-slobber, and check the others for signs of life.

Whatever, cooking for one is a bitch. Re-reading My Paris Kitchen the other night (David Lebovitz, shameless plug for an excellent book) I was taken with an Urge for a salade lyonnaise, and so this morning at the market I took care to pick up some frisée (explaining to the stall-holder that there was just one of me and could I have but a few leaves rather than a kilo of salad) and of course I have potatoes and lardons and eggs and bread for croutons and garlic, and this evening I went into the kitchen to put it all together.

Fried the bacon and fished it out, added oil and slowly fried a clove of garlic in that until golden and then fried the bread cubes in the garlic-infused oil, made the dressing, steamed the potatoes, poached a couple of eggs ... now I remember why I always seem to roll away from the table after a lunch at Lyon. That, and belch garlic. And I still have a fair bit of a grape flan for dessert, waily waily. Just saying, I don't always seem to get a lot of sympathy.

Then I picked up a couple of round baby courgettes as well, thinking that they'd go down rather nicely stuffed with meat and stuff: of course it seemed evident that leftover boeuf bourguignon would be good for the stuffing, which meant heading off to les Halles to get the meat for that. As the guy behind the counter said, you just can't make it with a pitiful amount of meat so I didn't escape from there without 600gm of beef nestling in the basket - which at least means I'm assured of having some actual leftovers, which was more or less the point - and then I made the mistake of going past the pork butcher's.

He does a lovely shoulder roast, and although I was sorely tempted just to get him to cut off a 1" thick chop I finished by going for the roast - of course that was 1.2 kg, which is kind of a bit much for little me in one sitting ... Still, that's probably my protein needs satisfied for the week. And let it be admitted, cold roast pork does make wonderful sandwiches.

Also, slow-roasting is wonderful. Bugger your paleo diet (which does not, incidentally, seem to have made any headway over here in Furrin Parts, in fact I can't find anyone who will even confess to having heard of it), what's wrong with a rolled shoulder of pork browned all over, slathered with white wine and then roasted under tinfoil for three hours on a bed of garlic? (A word of warning though: don't salt the meat. After all that time the juices are thick and concentrated and caramelized, and to my taste at least salt is superfluous.)

And taking advantage of the fact that the oven was on I quartered some of the garden tomatoes I also managed to acquire (sadly, I don't think there'll be more for a while, maybe I'll be lucky next weekend) and stuck them in to roast liberally coated with olive oil, pepper and basil (you know, I really love baking paper - cuts down on the cleaning-up something wonderful) and of course some spuds: but with an eye on my health I put those in to cook with duck fat, which is better for you.

This is a good thing, because for some strange reason my supply of duck fat seems to be inexhaustible. I have at least four jars of the stuff in the fridge, one of the unavoidable by-products of cooking duck breasts, and no matter how much I use they all seem to be full. Maybe I should just stop eating duck breast for a year, see whether that changes things.

In other news, I have been contacted by a nice man at the Union Bank of Nigeria to let me know that my pre-paid debit card, loaded up with USD 750,000, will be mine within 72 hours of sending them my personal details and a wire transfer for $140 to cover postage & packaging. And all this thanks to the fact that I apparently inherited the sum, fulfilled a contract, or won a lottery. Great stuff, maybe I should buy Nigerian lotto tickets more often.

I did think that the last sentence was a nice touch: "Please help us to serve you better". Not something you hear every day, and it fair warms the cockles of my miserable wizened heart.

Other than heading off to the market I managed to spend a large amount of the weekend in displacement activity, avoiding doing stuff that I really do have to do. So that rather than look into the slimy details of programming the flash memory of a Texas 470M, I took the bikes we'd borrowed when Alex and Bridget were here the other month back to Peter - at least he welcomed them like long-lost friends.

Then I managed to get myself distracted again, and shifted all the clothes out of our bedroom on the first floor into temporary accommodation elsewhere - wherever I could find room, basically - and then dismantled our bed (for the Nth time, I can't for the life of me remember exactly when we bought it but it's followed us about like a bad smell ever since) and took what I could of the bits up to the top floor, in a little alcove in what will eventually become my office, in the hope that this will encourage Cédric to come back and start demolishing everything on the first floor.

I know, I know, it's sympathetic magic but the good thing about it is that sometimes it works! God only knows how many lost Papuan tribes have built airports out of grass and sticks and have had a Cessna loaded with Coke come and land there (the statistics are sometimes contradictory, but the general consensus is that the answer is a number less than one) - come to that, how many IT startups have lost a small large fortune by having a business model of "build it, and they will come"?

Rather a lot, actually, which I think proves my point - whatever that was. Oh yeah, getting builders to come back. In this day and age, maybe a phone call would be more effective. Certainly worth a try, I guess. Can always put off sacrificing the goat until after. (Good news, I suppose, as far as the goat's concerned.)

Anyway, I seem to have exhausted my excuses for not doing something useful/profitable, so maybe I should go try to wrap my head around the TI libraries, in between loading up the dishwasher and building a release version of the latest PC software.

Oh hang on! Now I have no bed upstairs I shall have to sleep on the spare bed in my office, must go get that ready! Shiny! Sparkly!

On that note I shall leave you to your own devices. Mind how you go, now.