Sunday, October 22, 2017

Unashamedly Fat ...

So here we are, as Autumn comes in and I'm another year closer to getting my OAP card and joining the masses of totterers and the feeble-minded shuffling witlessly about the aisles at Carrefour, looking for the adult incontinence pads.

Apart from that it's a wonderful season: crisp and bright in the moaning, when the dogs and I go out for our respective bowel motions, and then in the afternoon when the low sun lights up the old stonework and a few rays filter through the leaves, and the sky is vast and the colour of lapis lazuli, it is almost too beautiful for words. Luckily, we've got used to it, and are no longer surprised.

Whatever, I celebrated with a two-hour walk out on the plaine de l'Alaric - without the dogs, for once, as I wished to take the camera and have at least a sporting chance of getting a few photos - and then when I got back, as it's the foire au gras around these parts I found myself with a foie gras de canard which is even now bathing in milk until I season it and dose it with cognac before wrapping it in a tea-towel and poaching for an honest-to-god foie gras au torchon, also four duck legs which are macerating in gin, salt and allspice before reaching apotheosis as confit de canard.

But not tonight - it being Monday now - as chez Réné, our itinerant drinking session, had organised lunch at le Gallois, a little gîte/restaurant at Capendu, all of 4km from here. We turned up, all seventeen of us, around midday, and the last of us rolled out some time around 16h. It's a bit too soon to start on the obituary: announcements of the death of the good long French lunch are somewhat premature.

But as you can probably guess, I am not particularly hungry just at the moment, and the concept of confit de canard with potatoes fried in duck fat on the side is not as enticing as it would be under other circumstances, so I rather suspect it'll be an omelette tonight.

I am planning on cooking that duck liver au torchon, which in fact (according to the excellent Mssrs Ruhlman and Polcyn, of Charcuterie fame) means not really cooking at all, given that it just involves poaching the thing, wrapped tightly in a tea-towel (hence the name) in barely simmering water for all of 90 seconds. As he says, you're basically just softening the fat (and a hypertrophied duck liver is, mostly, fat) so you can make it into a nice shape: also, it'll have been salted and soaked in alcohol and most bacteria do not really thrive in fat (you are starting to see the common point here?) so that's fine. Just keep it in the fridge, and eat within a week.

Ten Twelve tiny toes ...
It will make a change from my usual terrine, cooked in a bain-marie - which is always a bit of a hiss-and-mit affair because the temperature regulation on my oven is neither precise, nor repetitive, nor does the scale actually go down to 140° which is what I really want: this is yet another incentive for me to go off and buy a new oven. Let's face it, the one I have has given ten years at least of good and faithful service, but I choose not to repeat what the guy said about the grill on it when he came around a year or so back to change a gas tap on one of the burners (from memory, "public menace" and "incendiary" were some of the words he uttered), and anyway I am a complete slut when it comes to cooking gear.

I have my eyes on a very nice replacement, same five gas burners including the ridiculous 4 KW one for the wok, and the same huge oven only electric rather than gas (which is actually better for patisserie and stuff like that): I have but to convince myself that I really want it.

That, and I shall have to get used to having something in my kitchen with the brand name SMEG. Which always sounds like one of those gross runny skin diseases to me.

That can wait. For a bit, anyway. Before that I have to go buy a couple of old-school dumb phones, of the kind with a cord that you just plug into a wall socket, in order that I may, in fact, just plug them into some of the phone jacks around here in The Shamblings™. This is because, in common with many, we have two phone numbers: good old POTS, and the VoIP number that comes with the Livebox that provides us with essential things like Internet and kitty porn. In principle one plugs one's Livebox into a phone jack and the phone into the Livebox, and whether someone calls on the POTS number or on the new-fangled VoIP number the phone will ring.

Sadly, this turns out not to be the case - at least, not reliably.

For the past week it was a wonderment to us that we had had no phone calls, and I tried ringing us, and lo! there was a great silence in the Force, for the phone did not ring. So I called the Orange support-drones (give them their due, they are actually available 24/24, 7/7 like it says on the tin) and I was led through the process of disabling the ring on POTS calls, saving that, then re-enabling it and saving that. Upon which, it all started working again.

"Admit it", I said to the anonymous "technician", "this is not optimal. True, I now know that the software in your frikkin Livebox is brain-dead and has hissy-fits, and I know what to do about it, but I ask you how I can know when it has had a hissy-fit, given that we do not know that we have missed a possibly life-or-death phone call?"

"Ah", it mumbled back at me. "Sir has two options. You may do this every evening, just in case. Or, my personal preference, buy a really cheap phone and plug it into the phone jack. Like that, if your really cheap phone rings but not the others, you will know that your Livebox has deconned, and you may repeat what I have taught you."

I put it to him that this too, although admittedly a solution, was one which required me paying about ten baguettes-worth of my own money to fix a problem which was, in theory, their responsibility, and was also unaesthetic in the extreme; but I could tell he'd lost interest. So we exchanged civilities, hung up, and I resolved to do as he had suggested whilst waiting for Orange to stick out a patch: which'll probably bugger something else, but that would be par for the course.

Hell, with the brand-new Livebox they recently sent me (and which I foolishly installed, believing their blandishments when they said it was necessary to take full advantage of the refurbished network that will be coming our way Real Soon Now), I can't even change the interface language, nor can I pick my preferred DNS provider ... I suppose this is progress, of a sort. Should be inured to that sort of thing by now.

Anyway, like I said earlier it is now autumn and the dogs' walks are necessarily somewhat curtailed during the day, for that means it is hunting season. And around these parts lots of people go hunting. We prefer not to go up into the pinède, for there the hunter's vision - already blurred by heroic quantities of cheap plonk - will be even further obscured by the pine forests; and down amongst the vines where some go for rabbits it is no better. I suppose I should take some comfort from the fact that hunters usually kill other hunters rather than innocent passers-by (hunters tend to wear hi-vis vests along with their ridiculous little deer-stalker hats, which makes for a better target), but I would prefer not to become one of the exceptions to this general rule.

On the bright side, there are huge cèpes at the market, and bright yellow/orange girolles (or chanterelles, if you prefer) at a price which, on the "eye-watering" scale, is at least closer to "a kick in the kneecap" than "a knee in the balls". Also, huge and deformed pumpkins, but the less said about them the better.

Also, we've just arrived back from a weekend in Spain with José and Guillain. I don't think I've eaten - and drunk - so much in the space of 36 hours for quite some time. We left home at some ungodly hour on Saturday to get down to Empuriabrava in time for the market which was the ostensible reason for going, and had an apéro. Then we ambled up and down the market, headed back to the bar, and had another apéro. Then as it was getting on for 14:00 and thus lunch-time, we found a restaurant, had an apéro and a full lunch, with wine.

(Incidentally, the Spanish will have no truck with your wimpy Frog 13cl glass. The white wine you take as apéro comes in a copa, which holds rather more.) Then we went off to another village, where José won a couple of hundred at the casino, then had an apéro before going off to another village for yet another apéro: then up into the foothills above the coast for an apéro at the local bar des chasseurs. Back to the hotel they'd booked for the night, and an apéro before dinner, which we were forced to wash down with wine.

There was a disco for the over-fifties, so we hung around there for a bit and José insisted on a little digestif, which in my case turned out to be about 4 inches of whisky in a highball glass: as a reward for being so good we were then allowed to go to bed. And after a final apéro with breakfast this moaning (you ever tried chocolate-filled churros?) we stopped off briefly at La Jonquera to pick up a few essential and otherwise unobtainable supplies - such as dry sherry, dry Martini and queso manchego - before heading home to find that Rafaelo had neither burnt the house down nor been slobbered to death by the dogs in our absence. Which has to be good news, I guess.

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