Sunday, December 3, 2017

Mostly, Food ...

Once again the mighty organ deep in the bowels of the mairie farts into tremulous life: stunned sparrows drop from the speakers and Jerôme's voice is completely lost under the recorded noise of bugles, blown out their arses by a squad of jodphured twits with two bottles too many under their belts.

Still, a red-letter day in Moux, as the mayor's idiot nephew and his henchmen load up the municipal white van and careen merrily through the vines and fields in the plaine d'Alaric, flinging bewildered pheasants left and right from the tailgate as they go. For today it is the "lacher des faisans" for the benefit and pleasure of those "hunters" too elderly, too senile or too obese to go and actually hunt their own bloody prey. I have this mental image of some retarded bird standing in the middle of a circle of some fifty-odd red-nosed men with rifles, and the thought of what could happen were it to be wearing a suicide belt warms the cockles of my wizened grimy heart.

The suicide belt would probably be unnecessary, truth to tell, as the circle of hunters would be firing at one another ...

Seems only overnight that the platanes, the plane trees that you find in every French town worthy of the name, have gone from green to brown, and our very own St. Régis is shivering up on his pedestal as the brittle leaves scurry about the place with every gust of wind.

In Carcassonne, les inconditionels of Chez Félix sit out huddled in their greatcoats as they sip coffee at the terrace tables and smoke their weedy rollups but we don't care, for we are in our house, and warm. Not only because of the central heating, also because David, Yotam and Nigel turned up together in the letterbox the other day and so I have been inspired to cook and even - in the case of Ottolenghi's beetroot cake - bake. Which means that the oven has been working overtime, and my little kitchen is warm and cosy. And smells that way. Coriander and cumin and pumpkin and garlic in the couscous, beetroot and orange in the cake (and, incidentally, in the meat patties for the couscous), duck fat and pig products in the cassoulet from the other night ...

Slater has another beetroot cake recipe, involving chocolate and an unhealthy number of eggs: I shall doubtless get around to trying that, maybe when my new oven arrives?

For I took the plunge, and ordered a new 90cm wide stove with five gas hobs and three electric ovens, despite the fact that the manufacturer - in their quaint, totally incompetent English fashion - were completely unable to supply me with any more documentation than was available on RueDuCommerce: you know, those interesting little details such as the volume of each of the ovens? Shit like that, which is possibly boring to most people but which excites me.

OK, it's a model destined for the French market, but even so I was not expecting this as a reply: "Unfortunately I only have access to the information on UK models and therefore it would be best to contact a local retailer or search online for a user manual for the appliance" when I contacted customer disservice. (Incidentally, is it just me or does the phrase "reached out to" in lieu of the honest "contacted" drive other people to distraction too?) But frankly, I mean you actually make the damn things, and the best you can do is suggest that I "search online"? If England is indeed a nation of shopkeepers, they're the ones from "The League of Gentlemen". A local shop, for local people, who don't have to say what they want.

But I bought it anyway, despite not being able to kick the tires (one thing I dislike about online shopping for stuff like that, but there's no way I'm driving up to the Paris showroom to look at a stove) because it smiled at me.

There is one glaringly obvious problem with it (I have not yet dared tell Margo) which is that there is no warming drawer/storage space with it, all of that room being taken up by actual oven, so I shall have to find somewhere else to store all my roasting pans and baking dishes ... cross that bridge when we come to it, I reckon. Also, maybe she won't notice for a while. Godnose we've other things to occupy us. For now our newly refurbished living-room is (mostly) full of boxes of books and bric-à-brac that we've not - after four years, yet - got around to unpacking, so that we can go in and get all mediaeval in the dining room.

It will be lovely when it is done - and we're planning, perhaps optimistically, for Christmas - but as I've said, it is going to require quite a bit of demolition work on patches of the existing plaster: also, me learning how to plaster correctly. What the hell, I have all the required tools, what can possibly go wrong?

But never mind, the little guy with the Peruvian bonnet is back at the market, selling persimmons and, in hidden crates reserved for the more discerning clientèle, feijoas. It would be nice to have some anonymous benefactor just drop a 5kg bag of the things off at the front door from time to time but that's not going to happen, so I have to actually pay money to get my fix; but they are so good, and so worth it.

And once we get over the pleasure of just eating them like that, as they come, there are apple and feijoa crumbles, feijoa bretonne (there's another one from The Listener, on a torn-out, yellowing page of tatty newsprint which is towards the top of my precious Pile), and then there's a recipe for lemon and feijoa ice cream which I really ought to try ... better take advantage of them while I can, come Christmas they'll be gone.

I ordered my new stove on Saturday, and on Tuesday I got an email from the supplier to tell me that it had been shipped and should arrive within six to eight working days; I would get an email to say it was ready to be dropped off at the door and the driver would give me a call to check up on the exact time that was convenient to me.

"No problem", I thought, "it'll arrive sometime next week, have plenty of time to clean the old one before it goes off to a worthy cause, also to get the back entrance to the house ready so that we have room to get the new stove in ..."

Of course it came as a surprise, and an embuggerment, when the doorbell (which is actually working again, godsnose how or why but I guess they move in ineffable ways) rang and the dogs barked enthusiastically this moaning (Thursday) and there was a guy in a small lorry who said "party name of Bimler?"

"That would be me, yes."

"Waiting for a stove?"

"Yes", I said, "but wasn't there something about a bit of actual warning?"

"Well strictly speaking yerss, but it turned up in the depot so I thought I'd just bring it over on the off-chance ..."

On the bright side, he actually hauled it on the little transpal 50m up hill and down dale from the place to the back door, and was extremely cheerful about it: on the downside, it meant emptying the pantry extremely rapidly so we could bring the thing in before someone nicked it off the street, and then I spent the rest of the day swapping in the injectors for butane and rewiring a wall plug which had phase and neutral swapped around (good thing I checked, and only one wire - neutral, as it happens - broke off in my fingers and anyway it gave me the opportunity to actually wire up the earth) and generally installing the beast. Another upside: cleaning out the pantry we managed to get rid of about a cubic metre of old plastic ice-cream tubs and such that've been following us about like a bad smell for years. Which has to be good, right?

Whatever, it is now there in pride of place in my little kitchen, and we'll be either eating out or having microwaved dinners for the next few months because it is too new! sparkly! to actually be used. But I have checked, and all my baking trays and dishes will fit. So that's good, then.

I tell a lie. Down these parts we are "enjoying" a cold snap, and when it gets cold in the south of France it gets bitterly chilly; although the sun is shining brightly in that clear deep-blue sky the wind-chill from the tramontane takes it down to the double-digit negatives, which is not what we signed up for. (Note to self: complain angrily to someone about that.) Be that as it may, it is therefore the time of year when hearty dishes like cassoulet and such come into their own, so my stove got baptised with a largeish choucroute for eight. And although I do have form in that area, I was pleasantly surprised to find that once we'd all finished, there weren't really any leftovers to speak of. Makes a change: mind you, the weather does give one an appetite, and not for salads.

Come to that, in the vegetable drawer there are some brussels sprouts lurking, waiting to be parboiled and then go under the grill with lashings of blue cheese sauce with crispy bacon chunks; there is branched broccoli which should go rather nicely, stems and all, in a stir-fry with soy sauce, a bit of hoi sin and garlic and maybe some ginger, with a few sliced peppers; there are also some topinambours (the Jerusalem artichoke, to you) and I am damned if I know what I shall do with them, might involve parboiling and frying in lashings of butter (assuming I can still buy some), or maybe roasting. These are the problems with which I am confronted on a daily basis.

In other news, our neighbour Rory from the bottom of the place came over and very competently filled the massive holes my enthusiastic efforts had left in the walls of the dining room, so that rather than spending my day thigh-deep in plaster droppings I had time to bog up some of the more glaring cracks in the ceiling : this means that I shall spend tomorrow thigh-deep in plaster dust, as I sand everything back so that it's a rough approximation of flat. For a given set of values for "flat" which just happens to include "kind of wavy".

No comments:

Post a Comment