Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Welcome To 2016 ...

So once again the bells stuttered into tone-deaf life at some ungodly hour this moaning, welcoming the peripatetic curé back to the church. Don't know why they don't just nail him to the pulpit to stop him escaping, would save a good deal of bother all round.

For the entire month of January, the French will rush around wishing everyone they meet good health - quite literally, "Bonne année, meilleurs voeux, à la santé". After the thirty-seventh time this gets a bit tiring. The Swiss do the same, but cruel tongues tell me that they change the words somewhat: "Bonne année, à l'intelligence - la santé, on l'a déjà". (Lit. "Happy New Year, wish you we were smarter - we're already healthy enough.") I am not entirely sure that this is in fact true.

As is the tradition, January 1st did not so much dawn as sidle: grey, damp and chilly. Well, "chilly" is a relative term: it was still about 13° even with the clammy fog, which is not too bad. It will still be extremely pleasant when the nice man comes past to finally fire up the poele à granulés, because then we will basically be able to turn off the central heating except for the top floor, but even so ... one of the psychotic fruit trees down the road is already in blossom, and even the tiny potted lemon tree that we've dragged around with us for years has flower buds just waiting to pop out.

It'll all end in tears, I know, when we get a cold snap in the next month or two - but just maybe if I shift the tree into the verandah I shall be having slices of lemon in my gin and tonic this summer. Mind you, that does rather depend on the bees doing their part, and at the moment they are rather few and far between. And I cannot be arsed going out there with a fine camelhair paintbrush and indulging in some plant pimping activity - especially as I'd be doing it with flowers on the same plant, which probably counts as some sort of vegetal masturbation.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Microsoft is indulging in a little discreet product placement these days? And no, I'm not talking about their ham-fisted efforts to get all and sundry to "upgrade" to Windows 10 - as far as I can see they're doing everything short of coming round to your house and threatening to eat and kill your adorable puppies if you don't do it. But I will have to buy another couple of laptops this year, for all three of them are on their third year, and I can see that at least one of them (for the other will get Linux on it - must see if I can buy a system without an OS as I do not wish to pay for something I am going to get rid of straight away) will be coming with Windows 10 and I shall just have to deal with that. Unless Dell are still offering systems with Win7 pre-loaded ...

No, I am talking about the segment in one of the latest Hawaii 5-0 episodes where Chin Ho (whoever) is asked for some information and he casually replies "I binged it, and ..." - that has to be one of the most self-effacing, and possibly one of the least effective, attempts I've come across to shoehorn a new verb into the language. I mean, "to google" got in there because it was spontaneously used by just about everyone to describe what they were actually doing. So sorry lads, but I rather doubt that you'll get anyone to use "to bing" instead. The horse has bolted, the chickens flown, and the ship has sunk in the coop: might as well try to get people to say "I'm just going to dyson" instead of "I'll go hoover the carpet". Not going to happen.

(Incidentally, he "binged" it on his internets using a Mac. It's hard not to notice, 'cos just about everyone using a laptop on a TV series these days has a smug expression and a big glowing apple on the lid of the damn thing. Not to mention a turd-spurt about hacking around the firewall, going in through the perimeter defences with an MITM attack and then decrypting the entire SSD using only unicorn farts and a homebrew decryption suite written in BASIC. But I digress.)

One of the more convenient aspects to being down here in the south is that, thanks to the rather large foreign population, English delicacies (don't laugh, that's not actually an oxymoron) are relatively easy to come by. OK, I can quite happily live without Marmite or Bovril or Horlicks (or wobbly jelly, come to that), but I have to admit that when I come upon grated suet I tend to buy as much as I can carry. For with suet you can make proper suet pastry which is - as well as being one of the two pastries we can both agree on, the other being filo - the only right and proper container for a decent meat pie. Bugger yore soggy-bottomed flaky pastry enclosing sad grey mince that's 90% carrots in watery gravy, and accept no substitutes.

No, just use suet instead of butter and make the pastry as you would a bastard puff (go bing it, I'll wait) and roll two thirds out to line your pie dish (me, I use a 9" cake mould with a removable bottom: makes a high pie, and so much easier to get the damn thing out) and then line that with thin slices of smoked jambon cru. (Try to make sure that it's got a decent amount of fat in it, it's better that way.) Fill with the chopped leftover meat from last night's roast chicken mixed with sliced fried mushrooms and onions, all bound with a decent thick bechamel (with cream) flavoured with some decent chicken stock (add the congealed juices from the roast while you're at it, it gets rid of them and it'll taste better for it).

Then just roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid, pop that on top and brush with more cream before sticking it in the oven for a bit. (An alternative would be to use raw chicken meat - a mix of leg and breast - and some minced pork: mix it all up with some thyme, white wine and a shot of cognac and let it sit in the fridge for twelve hours before proceeding. I am rarely sufficiently organised for that, but I almost always have leftover roast chicken.) The only problem with the whole procedure is that the leftovers, which would comfortably have fed two, will now feed four with some left over. It will get to the point where I never have to buy meat again.

And whilst I'm on the subject, can I just say that one thing that really gets up my nose, or on my wick, or whatever, is the French habit of salting. I agree, when I cook I tend to put a minimum of salt in on the grounds that you can always add more later but once it's in you can't get it out - but still, I swear that you could stir half a cup in so that your stew has morsels of meat bobbing around as though they were swimming in the Dead Sea, and once your French-person has been served their first action will be to reach for the salt.

Without tasting. Then they'll go for the pepper, and gods help you if you've put mustard on the table because that'll get slathered on as well. It's completely automatic and stronger than they are, some sort of conditioned reflex ("See food! Bell rings in head! Must put salt on!") but hell it can be annoying. Jeremy - oddly enough, for a chef - does exactly the same. Must be something in the water.

I has sads. Not because the skies cleared and went all bright and blue this afternoon, with the temperature hovering around 16° - which is pretty impressive, for the middle of winter. Nor is it because I have all the ingredients for a decent choucroute for tomorrow night, for I have not yet come across a choucroute I did not like. (Except once, in Annecy of all places, where they had a seafood version on the menu. This strikes me as a crime against nature.) And it is not because tonight I am preparing a couple of decent burgers, using very finely-minced wild Spanish pig patties from - who else? - the Frozen Butcher.

Incidentally, "The Frozen Butcher" turns out not to be some horny-handed son of the soil, tilling his pigs (or whatever it is you do, I'm hazy on the details) and hand-feeding them plump Spanish acorns up in Iberia before slaughtering them in the sub-zero winter temperatures whilst his wife (not necessarily horny-handed) grinds the meat in the ancient meat-grinder bolted onto the wooden table in the freezing kitchen and his numerous children form them into patties (mousie-poo looks just like caraway seeds. Or vice-versa) and put them into cute boxes which then get stuck out into the snow until the spring thaws allow the delivery truck to pass, at which point a vanishingly small amount of money changes hands and everyone is happy, as the peasant thinks he has royally screwed the truck driver and the truckie, in turn, is convinced that he has once again put one over on the peasant.

If you read the label, under the legalese about EU-permitted additives and colorants you will find out that he is in fact a Dutch multi-national with a dotcom domain operating out of an under-construction carpark in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Rotterdam. Romance is so sadly lacking in my life.

No, the sads is because our poele does not work. The guy duly turned up - upon the appointed hour, which is kind of rare in these parts - and amused himself for an hour forcing tubes down the chimney (which gave me an opportunity to look at Moux from another angle, ie our rooftop, and I shall take some photos of that) and then we went down and personhandled the poele into place and hooked it up, and pushed on the button that says "GO!" and it did not. Given the symptoms I am inclined to believe that it thinks that the exhaust temperature is about 900° (which would not be good) and I am trying to work out with the manufacturer (who is of course in Alsace) just what I can do about it. Whatever.

My dotage is upon me, and I am losing it. But this very afternoon the telephone rang, and the butler here at The Shamblings™ brought it to me (carefully wiped clean, with a soft lint-free cloth, of fingerprints, blood, and other bodily fluids) upon a silver tray, and I unhooked the earpiece and listened. In my experience most people hang up after about five minutes of silence, and as I am not paying for it I do not mind, but the robo-droid on the other end obviously wasn't paying for it either for after an uncomfortable pause it spoke.

I couldn't understand a word, and said as much, and much the same incomprehensible buzz came out in answer, and then it came to me that if perhaps I removed the cotton-wool from my ears some sort of mutual understanding could be reached: at which point I realised that the robo-droid had the voice of a woman, and it was asking me what my mutuelle was. "Since you wish to know", I answered, "it is the MAAF, and much good may it do you."

"Thank you sir, and what is your age?" An apparently innocent question, but still having a bit of cynicism about my person (I buy in bulk: ordered online, it comes in small handy boxes about the size of a packet of tissues, and I always have one in my jacket pocket and a couple in the car, for those occasions when I am obliged to deal with a garagiste) I answered "May I ask just why you wish to know?" At which point the line went dead, and I had to summon the butler, to remove the telephone, and to wipe it clean - with the soft, lint-free cloth, which I hope he eventually washes - of fingerprints, blood, and spittle.

There goes another promising long-distance relationship.

In other news, next Sunday at Ferrals we are promised a foire mediaeval, one of the highlights of which is to be "a flaming spectacle, with musicians". It seems rather unkind to set the poor things alight, although if they were mime artists I could understand the urge.

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