Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nights On The Tiles ...

There are two cookbooks I crave: Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, and just about anything by James Beard. I was reminded of this the other night, looking down at the chopping board on which sat my solitary veal chop.

I stared at it, it stared stonily back. I had a vague recollection of his recipe for Swiss steak: perhaps it was lucky that I didn't actually follow it, because I'm not sure that veal actually requires at least 45 minutes braising ... although perhaps it would indeed have gone from "raw" through "tough" and metamorphosed into "meltingly tender", who knows?

Truth to tell, the only similarity between his recipe and what I did was the beating into the meat (the back of a meat cleaver or a heavy knife works well, I find) of unreasonable quantities of flour and seasonings before browning it in a very hot pan: at this point we diverge because
  • I was hungry
  • it smelled too good
so I contented myself with a quick whisky flambé, sloshing in some Marsala and sour cream and tinned (oh! the shame!) mushrooms to heat through and thicken, before sticking the chop back in the pan with a bit of parsley to reheat.

This is, incidentally, one of those reasons why iron or stainless steel pans are so much better than bloody light-gauge aluminium Teflon-coated crap. They heat nicely and evenly, never warp, and you actually get the caramelised brown bits stuck to the surface that you may then slowly incorporate into the sauce to thicken it and add flavour. (I recall that one of Sophie's wedding presents - from her father-in-law, a chef - was a hideously expensive professional stainless steel frying pan which actually had a slightly milled surface, just to make sure that things stuck better. It was always a real pleasure to use.)

Despite the wails of our hairy retards I headed off to Carcassonne on Saturday evening, found somewhere to park (and cheated myself out of 50 cents by feeding it to a parking meter which didn't really need it, as parking there is free after 18h - I really should read the manual) and wandered vaguely up rue de la Republique until I found le Canard Bleu.

Where Robert was already occupied with other guests, pouring wine and encouraging nibbles ... for he has finally opened his wine shop. There were seven or eight bottles I really wanted to try so not only did I pace myself but also limited myself to a mouthful or two of each: still probably over the limit, even spread out over four hours, but what the hell.

Way back in the last century when The Shamblings™ was last done up, they did not believe in this new-fangled concept of stripping wallpaper before putting the next layer on. You just kept slapping the stuff up, year after year, and imperceptibly the rooms got smaller ... to add insult to injury, not content with slapping up some particularly ugly textured paper they went on to paint over it with acrylic paint at some later date.

All this makes stripping back an archaeological adventure in bad taste, not to mention hard work. We borrowed a wallpaper stripper from Peter - it's kind of like an oversized stream iron - and a handy little device that I think is called a scarificator which just puts zillions of pinpricks in the paper so that the steam can actually penetrate, but even so with all the layers and the paint it all needs going over at least twice.

Also, I know I've mentioned it before but those people were absolutely paranoid about gravity, and things falling down. Shelving was put up with huge bolts and screws every ten centimeters, so I guess that in case of a nuclear blast in the vicinity the house might be vaporised but the shelving would still be standing. They were also apparently afraid that the skirting boards might fall to the floor, so rather than do as normal people do and just glue the things in place they attached them, more or less definitively, with 8x80mm screws at frequent intervals.

I did not know this initially, and tried to remove them with a crowbar. Not one of my finer moments.

May is, as you might have noticed, upon us: it's not officially summer but it feels that way, especially as we get loads of public holidays. The 1st (Labour Day), then the 8th (some war or another); jeudi d'Ascension and then lundi de Pentecôte, both of which are celebrated religiously in this secular country. True to form, it was bright and sunny, and I found myself inside doing more tiling (last bathroom floor done, yay!) and grouting.

There is evidently a correlation between these things - "fine weather" and "inside working on the house rather then enjoying the weather" - but I am having a few problems trying to work out the causality. It seems unlikely that the mere fact that I am inside doing something I detest could cause the sun to shine so munificently, and the sky to be so blue, but it also beggars belief to hold that I feel obliged to go lay tiles just because it's sunny.

In NooZild you have the katipo, whose bite is apparently capable of causing a painful state of priapism (although not, obviously enough, in female-gendered persons): in the West Island there are redbacks, coral snakes, crocodiles, rabid wombats and Tony Abbott. Around these parts we are blessed with scorpions.

No, I am not joking. Only little buggers - the one I saw crawling down the (outside) wall was only about 3cm long and looked kind of fragile - but quite definitely a scorpion. Another reason to wear boots when out walking up in the pinède. (Only joking. Euscorpius flavicaudis is a shy creature, and rather less venomous then a bee. Or so it seems. Yes, I did look it up.)

Would be better with MS Comic Sans
I think this is the first time I have ever taken a photo with my phone. I had occasion to head up to Chambery the other day and found myself with time to kill until Beckham became available, so I duly slaughtered it by wandering around in the FNAC and sneering at the music that the young folk are listening to these days, then down in the basement at Monoprix, where they have a very small selection of foreign wines. Is it just me, or does this look like shit wine?

Anyway, another weekend is drawing to its close but I do not care, I am smug and happy because there's another bathroom with the walls all tiled and ready to be finished - always assuming we can get André around to do this, preferably before next year. Only two to go now, and then I can ceremoniously dispose - hopefully forever - of various trowels, glue combs, and other tiling-related paraphernalia. And if I never see another 25kg sack of colle à carreler it will still be too soon.

Be that as it may, and always looking on the bright side and assuming that it is not in fact a train wreck coming in the opposite direction, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, there's still plenty to be done but it's mostly up to us now: apart from having the poele (which has been sitting in our garage for over a year now) installed in the living room - which will involve a lot of mess and dust - there's nowt major left.

The walls are up, plastered and sanded: cables poke enticingly out of holes (and the electricians are supposed to be turning up in a day or two to do something about that, and maybe even hook it all up so that we are no longer reliant on a single power point for the first floor, which is not exactly convenient), and the hot-water pipes for the central heating are all ready, just waiting for us to paint or wallpaper behind before the radiators go back up.

So although we know damn well that the chances of our actual receiving paying guests this summer are precisely zero, we are getting there. Maybe next year - assuming our progress is not asymptotic.

In any case, it's difficult to be gloomy: there's still plenty of asparagus about (never thought that there would come a time when I could seriously ask myself whether or not to buy some, on the grounds that we've had so damn much recently), and the first stone fruit of the year were out at the market yesterday.

Okay, I'm willing to admit that the pêches blanches didn't actually taste that exciting (and were much better off halved, stoned, stuffed with mashed-up butter and sugar and speculoos biscuits before being baked in the oven with orange juice) but hey! it's a start. And anyway, the apricots were fine.

Whatever, mind how you go now.

1 comment:

  1. Is it just me, or does this look like shit wine
    That second letter is clearly the a-e diphthong 'aesc' but written in some floofy post-Futura font.