Sunday, March 7, 2021

Moanings ...

 It is sad, but true, that when it comes to buying food I seem to be incapable of moderation. For Margo expressed a wish for a nice roast chicken for the Christmas feast, and with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart off I duly trotted to Maison Bertrand to get a week's worth of protein ... like chunks of pork for which the pig in question no longer has any particular requirement, tail end of beef fillet which apparently nobody but I really want, for they hock it off at - literally - half-price ie 17€/kg and I have no objection to that, rack of lamb, escalopes de veau ...

And they had some grain-fed, free-range chickens: or more to the point, chapons, and not thinking of the downside I bought one. But let it be admitted that 3kg of castrated rooster is a bit much for two ... hence Rick and Mary's presence. Still, given that the purchase was not, for once, a spur of the moment thing for that night's dinner, I had the time to brine it for a day or two and, having hoiked it out of its bath, brush the skin with molasses and leave it to dry. And very nice it was too, after a suitable amount of time in a hot oven: as tender and moist as one could wish, with crispy skin ...

The leftovers - for there were some lots - found their way into chicken and bacon pie, with decent suet pastry just as god intended, and three nights later the dogs were happy beasts because leftover leftover leftovers is just a bit too much.

One might think that this would have served as an object lesson but alas! this turns out not to be the case, for I promptly re-offended a week later, buying 1.5kg of a pork rib rack. Which also spent a few days in the fridge, having been well-rubbed beforehand with gros sel, sugar and loads of pepper ... I boned it out, as one will, before serving with slices of fried and caramelised apple and as luck would have it Caroline and Philippe were around to help demolish the meat and gnaw on the ribs - much appreciated.

... somewhat (a lot) later ...

D'you know, it's kind of hard, under the circumstances, to feel much enthusiasm for writing. Some of you lucky b'stards live in places relatively untouched by COVID: sadly, we do not. Our first lockdown started in March 2019 and lasted three months: then we got June/July off for good behaviour only to go back into another lockdown, and as I write there is still a 6pm-6am curfew which does - as you might think, and as was intended - cut down on social interaction. It is getting to the point where one might reasonably ask if it's not better to possibly die from COVID, or to almost certainly die from ennui. There are friends we've not met up with for four months.

And although I'm not a particularly sociable man - most of my experience with crowds involving the question "how do I get the fuck out of here and onto the periphery?" - let it be said that one of my simple pleasures involved heading off to the excellent boulangerie at Ferrals to pick up a few baguettes and then stopping off on the return trip at the little bar at Fontcouverte for a glass of white vitamins and a cigar on the terrace, under the brilliant blue sky and the shade of the plane trees, watching everyone else enjoy themselves. This is now a distant memory, and it hurts.

Have I mentioned that there are friends I've not seen for a long time?

Also, I've not taken the camera(s) out for yonks?

You take care ...

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Back In The Jug Agane ...

Three days into our second lockdown, and I'm already bored witless ... I also find myself with two hares and a bloody partridge in a pear tree in the freezer, and can't really invite anyone around to help eat them, which is a bugger.

Not as much of an embuggerment as trying to get used to Blogger's new interface, which is outrageously annoying and sufficiently different from the old one that I had come to know and - if not exactly love - then at least accept.

And the text formatting is broken, so it won't justify text if it doesn't think the column is wide enough, if you select some photos to upload it will indeed do this thing but when you've selected one to insert and wish to insert another it does not pop up the list of the photos you've just uploaded, oh no, you have to go into the bloody Blogger catalogue of every single photo you've ever uploaded and pick them from there ...
And sometimes, for some completely random reason, you can justify a photo left or right and a) it will not be justified hard up to the margin, unlike all the others, or b) text will not wrap around it. And I can't be arsed editing the bloody HTML - which is now, incidentally, displayed as a solid block of text rather than the halfway formatted stuff I vaguely remember from the Before times - I could go on and on, but life's too short.

We have also been more or less forced to live through the cluster-fuck of the US presidential erection, rather an unpleasant experience (like the time, some forty years ago, when I was first introduced to the business end of a colonoscope and subsequently walked uncomfortably for a day or so afterwards) but sadly, necessary, for one cannot spend all one's time watching Magnum PI on Amazon Prime. Although one can spend quite a lot of time watching Good Omens, just saying ...
On the brighter side, being in confinement does have its advantages. The autoroute is a bloody sight quieter, for one thing, without the usual constant subliminal hum of traffic, and the air is cleaner ... it makes no difference to my working day, having worked more or less exclusively from home for the past seven years or so, and as we've never taken to shopping as an Olympic sport that too doesn't really cause any problems. And let it be said that, when I do head off on the weekly outing (for one must still eat, you know), the lack of crowding is really rather appreciable.

On the down side, some little trips to quaint villages that I'd rather been planning have been postponed, and even on a glorious day such as last Wednesday I cannot pack young Moses in the car and head off for a walk somewhere else, with the enticing prospect of a bar, complete with shaded terrace, at either end ...
Oh, we have now learnt what may or may not be at the root of the arson cases and tyre slashings that have so disturbed life given us something to talk about in out peaceful little village, and as usual it seems to be Béberts fault ...
Bébert is the local mason: short, rotund and jolly, with an unfortunate penchant for nicking the mike at karaoke events and refusing to give it back until he's bellowed his way through 5 LPs-worth of la chanson française and sent half the clientèle out into the streets with wodges of Camembert stuck in their ears.

And since he divorced, godnose how long ago, he has had a tendency to pick up partners (serial, not parallel) who share his general tone-deafness: now as it happens, Bez - the owner of the Stelvio that got torched (which is definitely a crime) - knew of the latest girlfriend and thought it wise to warn Bébert that she had a certain - uh, reputation - in Narbonne ...

News which Bébert digested in his own fashion, and a few weeks later he decided to say that she was not really his type, thanks very much, and unfortunately mentioned the friendly little warning. And shortly afterwards, the Alfa went up in flames; some point the finger at Lionel, who also knew the woman in question.

Then the tyre-stabbing started, and a short while later the house Lionel was renting went up in flames, and the tyre-stabbing continued. But not for too much longer, because ...
... shortly after all that excitement, Bébart himself had his tyres slashed, sadly this was outside the bar (yah, back in the days when bars were actually open) and there was a witness and the gendarmerie nicked Lionel's daughter for the deed. That's about the only incontrovertible fact in the whole histoire.

For there are some, to whom I give equal credence, who say that the whole story is a pile of dog's bollocks.

Whatever, damned if I know, but it's probably the most interesting series of events to have occurred in Moux since they installed gravity.
Even when confined, some hunting is allowed: for the pests, such as wild boar and deer. Which is rather pleasant, for joining the partridge and the hares in the freezer there are now a few cotelettes de marcassin - just enough for two, which is good - and a haunch of venison got dropped off on the understanding that I should cook it and then take it and some Cumberland sauce around to José's to be eaten. (A totally illegal operation, of course, under the circumstances, but what the hell ...)

Luckily - as far as I'm concerned - the thing had thoughtfully been peeled before I got it: still had the hoof attached though. I suppose I could have kept it and got someone to make me a posh knife with a roe-deer hoof for the hilt, but as I don't go hunting I reluctantly abandoned the idea ...
Sadly, as middle age creeps up on me I seem to be falling to bits. Back in 2018 it was the muscle behind the knee that went: the other day I woke up to find that I couldn't raise my right arm. So I hied me to Lignère's surgery, and after only a two-hour wait was told that one of the tendons had torn ...

So I've an appointment on Tuesday for an X-ray and echography, and while I'm waiting I'm on horse-doctor's doses of cortisone, and a codeine all-you-can-eat buffet, which helps.

Just as an aside, I had to let Cla-Val know about this, for we'd a conference call arranged for the Friday afternoon and as I was spending most of that in the quack's waiting room we pushed it back to Tuesday and then I got the appointment for the radio and so it had to be pushed back yet again - so I felt I rather owed them the reason.

And all Karim could think of to say, in between sniggers, was to suggest that I either stop masturbating so much, or else to use my left hand: as he said, "Like that, it feels as though someone else is doing it for you ...". I found that rather hurtful.

Whatever. As I write the lockdown restrictions are being eased somewhat: we may now go out for "personal exercise" for up to three hours so long as we don't go more than 20km from home, and non-essential commerces are open again, although sadly bars and restaurants are going to stay closed for some time yet.

The point of all that is of course to give small shop-owners some respite by allowing them to profit from the Christmas season, but looking at the complete lack of crowds around the commercial centres, not to mention in the inner-city shopping streets, it all looks rather gloomy. I rather suspect that there's an awful lot that will just put the keys under the door ...
Same goes for places like our bar in Moux (who were already half-planning on taking on an affair some place else, thanks to the attitude of the driveling mouth-breathers who run the mairie), and the bar at Fontcouverte which always made for a pleasant stop for a glass of vitamins out on the terrace, in the sun, after getting some decent bread at Ferrals. I shall regret their passing.

It's a funny thing, but at the end of 2019 my friend B. decided that 2020 was going to be a year of health and happiness. We turned out to be rather mistaken, didn't we? Better luck next time, I suppose - mind how you go now, and take care.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Venez, Tentez Le Gout De Mon Blanc ...

Sometimes you have to wonder ... I mean, when you come across a headline reading "Porn star arrested for toad death" then you know that something is seriously wrong, although with what exactly I'm not entirely sure. (In the interests of total disclosure, I did not actually look at the story that would have followed, had I clicked on the link. The headline by itself was quite enough to put me off.)

Anyways, we is now out of lockdown, gatherings of up to ten persons are permitted provided that social distancing is respected, bars and restaurants have reopened. (The ones that have not closed definitively, that is.) I am not sure just how well all this is respected, given that we were numerous at the bar on Friday night and today - being the fête de mères - there were at least forty, mingling: still, you have to die of something.

As in, if you died for no reason at all, that would be rather embarrassing, I think. Just saying. (Note to self: make sure to have a good reason to drop dead. Preferably at a fiscally advantageous time.)
Much, much later ... somehow, I seem to have other things on my mind than writing, these days: you too may have found this to be the case. And to be honest, this being Moux, and our not having much inclination to get out and about these days, there's rarely much to actually write about anyway.

Let it be admitted though, the enforced seclusion does give you time to do some of those things you've been meaning to get around to for quite a while now but somehow have never found the time: like changing the spark plugs on the septic tank, or finally watching that four-hour long French art film of paint drying.

Or, in my case, framing and hanging something like 60 photos: I bought the frames over a year ago but always had something better to do - no longer a valid excuse, so I pulled finger and did it.

Three times, in fact, because about halfway through the job I actually looked at the framed photos and said to myself something along the lines of "Bloody hell, those look really washed out! Don't tell me I shall have to get new glass ..." and then as I got the next one ready realised that there was, in fact, a sheet of protective film on the glass.

So I turned back to the pile, opened up the frames, pulled the glass out and stripped the film off, then put everything back together again - only to see that they were still washed out - at which point I repeated the whole damned exercise, taking care this time to remove the film from the other side of the glass ...

And oddly enough there was no excuse for it, because I'd bought the same frames before and I knew bloody well that they had this film on them - and had I bothered to read the packaging I would have been reminded of this simple fact.

Whatever, it's done - took, admittedly, rather longer than absolutely necessary - but I seem to have temporarily run out of wall space so there's still twenty or so waiting to be hung.

But just occasionally things do happen: the open-air markets have reopened (wearing a mask is, of course, mandatory) which is always a pleasure, although sadly we've now arrived at that dread time of year when there's only dull, boring produce available, the nectarines and apricots and luscious peaches and melons having disappeared.

(Not entirely true, for a short while there'll still be pears to remind me of what fruit tastes like, and if you search long enough you can find the odd tomato that hasn't fallen off the back of a lorry from the Netherlands, and consequently doesn't taste of the cotton wool it grew on.)

Still, while the weather's fine I shall continue to head off and buy what I can, and sit out at a suitably socially-distanced table at a bar and inhale a few vitamins in the sun.

And speaking of the sun, just at the moment that's in pretty short supply. Less than a week ago we were still enjoying temperatures up in the 30s, too hot to take the dogs off for a long walk: at this very instant it's all of 12° out there (not counting the wind chill, for the Cers is gusting up to 50kph) and hence too damn cold.

But if I can trust the long-range forecasts (about which I'm always somewhat dubious) this is but transitory, and we shall soon enough find ourselves back in the 20s, with the normal Indian summer lasting through October ...

At least, whilst it was still sweltering a few weeks ago, I found myself in the Ariège with my piratical friend Philippe, checking out a vintage car auction. For several months ago he bought himself a 1934 Fiat Belilla roadster as a restoration project - destined, no doubt, to end up in the air-conditioned garage in Versailles next to the Sizaire Torpedo and others - and as they happened to have a chassis for sale, which he wanted for parts, that is where we went. ("We" for he does not currently have a car, due to an unfortunate incident involving the rear end of a heavy lorry ...)

I left the autoroute at Castelnaudary, possibly an error for Goofle Maps binged frantically at me as she hastily recalculated and took me along roads that in other circumstances I would not have wished to find myself on, but no matter, we made it ... spent a happy few hours looking at some of the lots on offer before heading off to find a decent restaurant, then back for the actual vente.

Rather to my surprise the Lamborghini GT2+2 stayed at the reserve, 450K, whilst the Spitfire went for 17K, double the low estimate, and a TR4 went for about 26K, also way over the odds. Don't ask about the Rolls. And Philippe's chassis went for a thousand - estimate 200 - which saddened him, but too bad. A fun boy's day out, anyway. And good food - once we found a restaurant that was actually open.

Otherwise, we are wondering if there is not a secret pyromaniac in Moux, for but recently a car was torched in rue de la Pompe, and I found myself dragged from innocent slumber about 2:30 Friday morning by the pompiers, who had learned that I have the keys to Nicole's place on rue de la Paix while she's away: as the house next door to hers was blazing merrily away, getting the keys at least meant that they could check her place out without going in mob-handed and bashing the front door down. (Very thoughtful of them, really ...)

So, as you might imagine, there is some speculation in the village as to whether or not these incidents are linked. My personal hypothesis is that it's Antony and Sarah Jane, trying to maintain property values by flushing the undesirables out of the quartier, but no-one takes me seriously.

Just in case anyone's wondering, the title is of course a contrepetèrie, the French equivalent of a spoonerism but obligatoirement obscène, or at least somewhat vulgar. (Or grivoise, although what a thrush has to do with it I've no idea ...) Once you've swapped letters and flipped a few it comes to "tentez le bout de mon gland", and of course you know that a gland is a penis ... thanks for that, François. I should really go rinse my brain. With bleach.

Also, "j'aime vachement ton frangin": as is the custom I shall leave that as an exercise for you, dear readers. Mind how you go, now ...

Monday, June 1, 2020

Love In The Time Of COVID19 ...

Wouldn't that make a good title for some dreary Spanish novel?

As you may have noticed, over here in Ole Yurrup we has been somewhat preoccupied with various matters of late, which goes some way to explaining my general laxity. However, finding myself with better things to do and no particular wish to do them just at the moment, now seems a good time to catch up ...

Before you feel obliged to ask, we are all - this being us, various dogs and cat - well. To be quite honest the lockdown hasn't much affected us: I've worked from home for the past seven years and we don't really practice shopping as an Olympic sport, so being confined to home and village is not that much of a hassle.

But more on that later.

For reasons which need not concern you, I had occasion to go off to Carcassonne a while back and, on the way back home, found myself spending some fifteen minutes staring at the rear end of a plumber's van in front of me which, for some reason, obstinately refused to drive off the road and into the ditch. All very well, but what I mostly remember - apart from the pressing need to push him off the road and then eat his liver raw using only a plastic spoon for the operation - was the URL that was proudly blazoned on the back of the van:

There was also a phone number, which - somewhat to my credit, I feel - I have not yet been tempted to ring, having no immediate need to purchase an ass.

And then, feeling desperate and in sore need of a salad, at the beginning of January I went off and bought a string bag of tomatoes - or at least, tomato-shaped red balls from Holland's finest hydroponics plants. Seven weeks later they still have no flavour (apart from a slight hint of cotton wool) and, rather to my surprise, they show no signs of wanting to rot either.

Not really being able to get out and about (apart from the totally authorised one-hour dog walk each day, which we choose to interpret to mean an hour par day per dog) we don't meet very many people, so fascinating anecdotes are not easy to find. But for reasons which escape me I recalled one of Philippe's, which he told me over a couple of (bottles of) gins a while back, and so now seems as good a time as any to dust it off ...

I think it started when we were telling tall tales about our past adventures, which for my part involved a couple of sadly unforgettable hotels in the Parisian banlieue and a number in Cameroon, which reminded him of his time in Wallis and Fotuna - when the wife of the French military attaché fell in love with him, and he would get back to his beach-side bungalow (think "Death In Paradise" here) to discover the locals sitting on his sofa watching "Les Chiffres et le Lettres" on his wide-screen TV, having emptied his fridge of beer and tinned tuna, leaving a few kilos of freshly caught lobster in exchange.

But as he said, "You can only eat lobster so many times a week before getting bored, and anyway they hardly ever left the really good stuff that they ate themselves ...".

Anyways, this was a while after that, when he had occasion to head up to Libourne, on the Gironde, and had to stay the night. Found a hotel that seemed reasonable, explained his needs and booked in. At which point the young woman behind the desk asked "OK, single bed, do you require a couverture?".

At which, he told me, he thought "what the hell? Of course I want a blanket on my bed" and promptly said so.

To be (he swore) surprised when there came a knock at the door around 11pm, and a somewhat under-dressed young woman standing outside it. She, it seems, was the "couverture".

Being in lockdown does mean that there are certain things you just cannot do, such as - for instance - head off to Carcassonne or Narbonne to buy new jeans. Let it be admitted that this is not really a major problem all things considered but it still annoys me unreasonably, because I still have an honest 28" waist and no hips to speak of, and there are very few shops that sell such things ...

And on top of that, when I do find them, I find that they're "comfort fit" ie made for fat people who'd like to believe that they're thin: 2% elastomer in the fabric so that the bloody things stretch out an extra two inches or so and after a few hours I find the waistline dangling somewhere around mid-thigh.

OK, it's a minor annoyance, but I take it personally ...

And there's another thing - back in my doubtless mis-spent youth, as some sort of testament to the urge to continue the species but not tonight thanks very much, one would occasionally often find condoms lying limp and sad in the gutters.

I am not entirely sure that finding disposable latex gloves in their place is actually an improvement, but I'm willing to admit that I may be wrong.

Whatever, lockdown = social distancing (and somewhat to my surprise, the French actually respect this, by and large, very well) = no markets, so no fresh fruit or veg. Wailies! Luckily the market gardener at Puicheric has been allowed to remain open so some of my wants have been assuaged, but frankly there's only so much asparagus I can eat ... luckily, some markets have now reopened, although your options are somewhat limited.

Of course the supermarkets are still open, with varying rigour as to how many people are allowed in at a time and under what circumstances, but I do not like supermarket vegetables at the best of times (for flaccid greens thinking wistfully of days weeks ago when they were fresh and erect do nothing for me) and in any case until recently you could find neither yeast nor flour for love nor money - godnose why, were people really planning on spending three months locked up doing baking?

Because that would rather surprise me, if true.

Also, despite being gloved and masked, every time I head boldly off to get some of the pure necessities of life I come back home with an admittedly purely psychosomatic dry nose and itchy throat, which is annoying.

But mostly, bars are closed ... but at the time of writing it is June 1st, and so tomorrow I may be able to enjoy a glass of rosé after the (small) market at Olonzac before repeating the experience with Philippe, here at Moux.

Mind how you go, now.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Joy Of Printing ...

... in which, amongst other things, The Shamblings acquires a new, networked printer. Margo decided that it would be nice to have a colour laser printer about the haüs, and preferably one that was connected to the network so that we didn't have to trudge about the place, and so anyone foolish enough to come here as guests could just print stuff off from their phones or whatever, so - "make it so".

It is a shame indeed that HP apparently does not have a team, completely separate from the actual printer development team, that writes the manuals for these things. Because - as usual - the documentation is pretty crap. For one thing, it is assumed - given that the writers use the stuff every day - that the user interface is "self-evident", and that there is no need to explain that you need to use the left and right arrow buttons to navigate through a list of options, and that depending on the option you must either press "OK" to select a sub-list of further options, or use the up and down arrow buttons to change the option value (before pressing "OK" to confirm) ... talk about consistency, they've heard of the concept.

And there's another thing: let's say you want to set the IP address for the beast. The documentation happily tells you to "press the little button with a picture of a spanner on it, navigate to the 'Network' option, then navigate to the 'IP Address' option, select 'Fixed', and type in the required value". All very well once you've worked out how this navigation stuff works, but the thing is - and why this should be, I have absolutely no idea - many of these options are not in fact available if there's no paper loaded.

And why it should be the case that a printer which is "network-ready" with wired Ethernet and Wifi interfaces, and more computing power than the first mainframes I used to work on, should only be capable of using either Ethernet or Wifi, but not both, I simply do not know. Let it be admitted that this fact is at least disclosed in the manual (bottom of page 17, 6-point type, upside-down) but still I put it to you that this is an unnecessary and somewhat frustrating limitation.

Never mind, it does actually do the job once set up: both our phones found it all by themselves (OK, it's not using Wifi but it is on the home network which, of course, has a Wifi router so same difference) and it worked, and somewhat to my surprise my Linux development system also found it with no prompting from me. It would probably have been too much to expect for it to have chosen the correct driver on its own, rather than forcing me through the sort of procedure that I'd thought died out around the Windows 95 era, but it makes me feel useful ...

On to the obligatory "cute puppy" section: I try to take young Moses off for at least a 10km walk in the weekends, he enjoys it and it's got to be good for me (the exercise is probably the only thing that has so far kept me - despite my best efforts - technically alive) and a while back I took him off along the Canal du Midi, heading from Puicheric to Marseillette. Bit of a shame really, it being a fine Autumn day and all, that when I heard gunshots not too far off I recalled having read an article that very morning concerning the death toll from hunting (8 so far, and doubtless counting), and how there were those who'd like to see a mandatory breath-test be done before the hunters go out.

(Having come across hunters in the wild, sitting down enjoying a very liquid lunch with an unbroken gun on the ground or leaning up against a tree, I am not personally against that.)

Anyways, I'm extremely glad that the bridle-path along the canal is some 3m lower than the surrounding countryside. Makes me feel a bit more at ease.

And while we're on the subject of hunters, José turned up the other day with a fine young pheasant, shot recently enough that it was still warm inside when I pulled its insides out ... sadly, the breast had been somewhat massacred and in any case Margo doesn't really like either roast or casseroled pheasant, so I did what any sensible person would do under the circumstances, and gave our old friend Jacques a call. He being a master of these dark arts, I am now in a position to tell you what you may do should you, like me, find yourself with a spare pheasant on your hands:

For about 400gm of actual pheasant meat (some are scrawny beasts, mine was pleasantly plump but your mileage may vary), take the same weight of pork shoulder chops and fresh poitrine, a couple of shallots (the real échalote, not a bloody spring onion - that is, according to Larousse, a Québecois thing), two cloves of garlic, four or five slices of stale bread dunked in milk and then wrung out, and 100gm of chicken livers (in addition, of course, to the liver of the bird itself).

Note that you may not be able to buy only 100gm of liver - I know I couldn't - but never fear, the cat will probably appreciate the surplus and if not you could always just sear them exceedingly rapidly in butter and maybe flambé them with cognac before adding them to a green salad, just saying.

Chop the lot into smallish chunks, stick into a bowl and sprinkle with decent salt (you may need more than you think you will, 8-10 gm should be OK but you may not think so), freshly ground pepper and grated nutmeg, then mix well. Let me emphasize at this point that you really do not want it to be under-seasoned. Put all that though the coarse grill of a mincer (8mm holes are correct, according to Jacques, but it depends how chunky-textured you like your terrine, really) and back into the bowl. (Do not try this with a kitchen whizz, you'll only wind up with an unappetising paste.)

Add two eggs and as much cognac as you like and mix well: at this point, if you're paranoid or perfectionist you can actually take a teaspoon of the stuff and poach it, to check for seasoning. But life is too short, so I didn't bother.

Then you will need a terrine: if you're lucky you'll have one of those nice porcelain or ceramic oval lidded jobs sitting around somewhere. If not (I do, but they were too small) one of those oblong Pyrex cake moulds does the job perfectly well, using tinfoil to lid it. You may or may not line the thing with thin bacon - that's up to you - but you should definitely fill it with the mixture, stick a couple of bay leaves and a healthy sprig of rosemary on top, seal it and cook in a bain-marie in the oven: 20 minutes at 240°, then up to 60 minutes more at 200°. It's cooked when a skewer comes out clean and the juices are clear ...

But don't leave right now, because you're not done yet. To get the correct texture, once it's out of the oven you should weight the terrine: place something flat atop the paté (I used a smaller cake mould) and put a kilo's worth of tinned fruit or whatever onto that. I used a large preserving jar full of expensive organic biodegradable rice, which let me note that the stuff was no longer entirely vegan, as the rice itself was crawling with those bloody foul little moths and caterpillars. Not impressed, never mind, chucked the lot later on.

After maybe four hours of that just stick it in the fridge and forget about it overnight, or for a day or two: it will thank you for this. All that delicious juice around it will probably not gel into a firm aspic, so personally I'd avoid hassle by serving it from the cooking vessel. But if you want to unmould it feel free, just don't come complaining to me when it all ends in tears and meat juice all over the floor.

Still on the culinary note, but bringing Moses back into it, a little while back I foolishly left open the doggy gate that bars access from the living room to the rest of the house (not exactly the Black Gates of Mordor, but you get the idea) and on returning not even 30 seconds later found that he'd discovered garlic (most of a head) and dried red-hot chili peppers (over half of one of Mary's finest). I suppose I should give thanks that he'd not found the root ginger ... surprisingly enough, none of that seemed to worry him (nor his digestive system) one little bit.

Nor, as it happens, did the Imperial Meatloaf I'd left on the kitchen bench for a while before popping it into the oven: a mince/egg/breadcrumb/herb mix rolled up around a stuffing of fried poivrons, onion, carrots, curry powder and plum sauce. I looked gloomily at the wreckage, made an executive decision that the little that was left could not plausibly be cooked anyway and its odd appearance passed off as a "kitchen incident", and so we ate kebabs that night. A shame, I was really looking forward to that meatloaf.

Whatever, I shall spare you details of the incidents involving indoor gymnastics and Margo's new best-friend coffee mug, also the third pair of glasses, not to mention a wooden shoe-rack. He really is a lovely puppy, I promise!

I am, as usual, overdue with all this: please forgive me, the end of 2019 turned out to be pretty much shite. Here's hoping that 2020 goes better.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me - Again ...

Just recently I have discovered in myself a rather unexpected talent. Our friend José, the hunter who won't touch game, turned up one fine day with a plastic bag containing a large hare in the wild state - apart from being dead, that is. I managed to hide it in the fridge for a couple of days but this is not a situation which can go on indefinitely, so I eventually got out a few rubbish bags and what I thought to be the appropriate knives, resorted - as one will - to YouTube, and set to work.

It took me longer that it would have done for someone raised in the art, but I can now peel, empty and dismember a bunny. Might be a good party trick ... but still I find myself with a certain quantity of hare in the freezer. Shall have to organise a stew, or something.

Waily waily, all is wailies - for the bar has once more rolled down its shutters for the last time. Not, I feel, from any lack of custom, more because of Lionel and Magali's unwillingness to do the work. I do recall going in there once and asking how the day had been ... "Terrible, mon Trevor, absolument terrible ... rushed off our feet, not a moment to ourselves, we normally have eight to ten in for lunch and today we had over twenty." I'm sure that many would be happy to have such problems.

And whilst I'm all in favour of a chatty bartender, I do rather draw the line when said bartender natters away for five minutes with someone that happens to be propping up the bar, all the while studiously ignoring the queue of punters lining up for a drink, some of whom are obviously dying of thirst.

Now the mairie owns the bar and - more importantly - the licence, so they get to pick from those who want to try and make a go of it: according to Dominic - maire-adjoint - the deliberations should be ended before the end of the year and the lucky candidate(s) chosen. Which'd mean that the place could reopen sometime in January - OK, this is France so let's be honest, more like end of February. Old Jean-Claude - who pootles about on an elderly quad when he's not driving the Porsche, and who is also in with the mairie establishment, is somewhat less sanguine. "There are still" he said, "another three couples to be interviewé, and then there must be a décision made which is not likely before Noël - luckily, I no longer drink ..."

Fortunately the bar at Fontcouverte, which had been closed for years, reopened - as we discovered thanks to Nicole G. - mid-June. It's been nicely done up inside - although the déco is not really on a par with that of the Grand Café at Fabrézan, but never mind - and is rather nicely situated on the square, well-hidden from the main road.

And it has a terrace, with the inevitable plane trees. It also has the advantage of being only 4km from here, for while the bar at Siran is equally nice it is - sad to say - rather further away, and accessible only through some rather twisty, narrow roads.

Which doesn't stop me going there on a Widdlesday afternoon after puppy school if the weather's fine, for it is but a hop, skip and a jump from Azille, and of an afternoon the ditches have less of a tendency to leap out at one.

Although you still occasionally happen upon some hopped-up Polish driver at the wheel of an articulated lorry coming the other way, a situation which involves dextrous driving and decent sphincter control.

Whatever, we has found our backup solution and no longer have to play at our itinerant "Chez Réné" of a Friday night, which is good.

And speaking of puppy school, much to my surprise and pleasure Moses and I shall soon move up to the "advanced learners" stream. What exactly that involves I do not know, but I suppose I shall find out soon enough. Now if only I could get the little bugger to remember how to walk correctly on a leash ... (Also, tomorrow moaning I take him off to the vet to get his testicles ablated. I do hope that won't dent the rapport that we seem to have established between us too much.)

In other news, the garage has been more or less emptied of all the junk that came down with us from Savoie all those years ago: to celebrate we promptly filled one corner of it up with a one-tonne pallet of granulés for the stove, and Margo took delivery of her potter's wheel. The kiln is yet to come. So anyway, prospective visitors are duly warned: pottery may be performed. (Along with shoe-making, but that's another story.)

Anticipating a disastrous Brexit, our friends John and Ann decided to apply for French nationality a while back. They successfully navigated the administrative minefields and - on the fifth of October, coincidentally the day I'd chose to celebrate my bththda - actually became official Frog-persons! So now they're allowed to complain properly, along with all the other French.

About, for instance, the mairie having taken on four new employés municipaux. Let it be admitted that apart from the initial outlay it won't cost us too much: I don't think that they have a pension plan or anything along those lines, nor are they even paid. For Moux now has four municipal sheep, currently grazing on the sports ground and - I note - being fed baguette ends and other unhealthy shit: is a bit of a bitch, as I can no longer take Indra up there to run after the ball, as she is way too interested in the sheep. And let's face it, the sheep are very interested in her.

Still, when summer comes and there's no more grass for them to keep down, there's always an upside: I rather suspect that they'll wind up as a mechoui for July 14. Rather them than the actual human employees, most of whom are a bit too tubby to make pleasant eating ...

Finally, as weeks go the last one of October turned out to be complete and utter shite. Cash and Terry, friends and neighbours of ours, decided to sell their house and move back to the UK: I even went round there ten days before and helped load a lorry with most of their worldly goods. They were planning on following them a few days later. But before that could happen Terry got rushed to hospital with paralysis from the waist down: they had planned on operating but apparently the surgeon took a look at the scans and said that there seemed little point in it.

And while we're waiting for him to die, got the sad news that my old uni friend Ross had just gone and done so. Now given my lifestyle, which involves a diet of cigars, duck fat, and heroic (yah, I'm talking Norse sagas here) quantities of alcohol, I had rather expected to predecease just about everyone I know. This turns out not to be the case, which is kind of sad because I was actually rather looking forward to my wake. Not that I'll actually be there for it, but still ... a brown paper bag full of ashes in the middle of the table, surrounded by food, bottles of rosé and N° 5 Whisky paintstripper.

Cancer really is a bitch. Do not like.

On the other hand, found myself pointed to a little poem by Dorothy Parker, two verses of which I shall now reproduce (with permission - tacit, because she's long dead now):

"Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiousity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne."

Mind how you go, now.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Packaging, Puppies ...

One of the many pet peeves I seem to have acquired as I get older and grumpier is - TADA! - packaging. I mean, I got a couple of parcels today full of picture frames, and each was fuller of crumpled kraft paper than it was of actual merchandise - but that's alright, after smoothing it out a bit we'll supply a few sheets at a time to Moses so that he can piss on it (and then he will try to turn it into papier maché, but that's another problem) ... no, what gets to me is things like coffee, where a 250gm foil packet is, for some strange reason, wrapped and glued into something that resembles Kevlar rather more than paper, and then two of these packets are wrapped and glued together in even more Kevlar. I spend more time trying to get to the actual coffee without getting half of it over the floor, and not too many knife wounds to my thighs, than I do waiting for it to brew.

But my most recent favourite has to be Petit Brun biscuits. (Which are kind of like a rectangular tea biscuit, if you really want to know - anyways, I like them.) Back in the day, these used to come as a packet of 48 in a filmed corrugated cardboard sleeve for protection (for nothing is worse than trying to pull one out of the packet and finding it to be broken into minuscule shards) and that was fine by me. Open the packet, pull out a few to nibble on, and by the end of the week they're all gone.

But this is no longer sufficient - maybe there really are people who just can't manage 48 smallish biscuits in a week - and now the packaging contains eight cellophaned packs, each containing six biscuits. So while you've not opened a pack, it's going to stay fresh and not go all soggy, isn't it?

Apparently, some marketing 'droid thinks not, because the external packing is now proudly marked "Emballage refermable pour garder le fraicheur" (aka "New! Improved! Resealable packaging for more freshness and no damp bikkies!") which seems a) pointless and b) totally sodding pointless, because the thing is, you can't actually open the bloody package. Not without resorting to scissors at least, at which point you've cut the sticky resealable bit of packaging away ...

The next phase, I imagine, will be to have each individual biscuit machine-wrapped and heat-sealed in 0.25mm non-recyclable stainless steel: much like airplane "meals", really. (Anyone else old enough to remember the precious little snacks they used to dish out on ANZ internal flights? No, I thought not, and I've tried hard to scrub it from my memory too.) Rather like that passage from Pynchon, by the time you eventually get to the contents you've lost all interest.

Come to that, at long last I got around to ordering a nice bit of wood to stick up on trestles in my office, replacing the serviceable but sagging folding plastic workbench that I've been using as a temporary measure for the last seven years. So a week back a random delivery guy turned up at the gate with a slab of beech, 180 x 80 x 4 and weighing about 50kg - and guess what, that was heavily packaged too! Polystyrene foam around all the edges, bubble-wrap all over, corrugated cardboard around that, and then the whole lot had been filmed onto a palette for transport.

OK, there I can sort of see the point, having actually paid for something nice (to be kept out of the reach of puppies, so that it stays nice) you really don't want to have it dinged up by the tender ministrations of the transporter ... and the foam did come in useful as Rick and I manhandled the unwieldy thing up the two flights of narrow, twisty stairs to the top floor.

And I have discovered another thing that you should take care to keep out of the reach of puppies - I mean, apart from sandals, sneakers, and other items of clothing that you'd rather stayed in a semi-presentable state - and that's credit cards. I suppose it gives Mo something to chew on, but by the time I discovered the wreckage there was no way I was going to be able to slide it into an ATM. Not without seriously jamming it, anyway. (Luckily it was the old one, which is why it wasn't in my wallet but awaiting its rendezvous with a pair of scissors - and there's another thing, would you believe it took me three phone calls explaining that Chambéry was not on my travel plans any time soon and could they please, please, just send it to me in the post?)

Speaking of puppies, Margo thought it would be a Good Idea if at least one of our pack was properly trained, so starting in October I, Moses, and a large bag of doggy treats head off on Widdlesdays to Puppy School, at Azille. I shall be interested to see how that works out: shan't get my hopes up too high for, as the suspiciously cheerful woman said on the phone, "He is a hunting dog after all, and sometimes you will just have to accept that he's going to follow his nose regardless ...". We shall see, at least it'll get me out of the house.

Which in turn reminds me that a lot of our French friends and acquaintances are in fact chasseurs, and each has taken great pleasure in informing me that Moses was going to be a great hunter. In fact one of them - Gilles, the ex-motorcycle cop from the Ariège - invited Moses and I off with them the next time the go out after wild boar. I have no objection whatsoever to eating côtelettes de marcassin, and said so, but I can do without spending a couple of uncomfortable hours up in the pinède, getting pissed on cheap rouge out of a plastic cubie and trying to avoid getting shot myself.

Been a while hasn't it ... sorry about that. I am now certifiably 61, have discovered a number of decent little restaurants around the area, and am learning how to become a puppy., Also, as if anyone actually cared, Brexit is going to happen in about three weeks time and that will be fun, now won't it?

And thanks to having had a bththda, I also have a new camera. Well, when I say "new" I actually mean "old", for it is an Agfa Optima-Parat dating back to 1963. A lovely piece of work, all stainless steel and aluminium: 35mm but half-frame, and automatic exposure/shutter speed, thanks to a handy little selenium cell. (Yep, no batteries!) I shall have to get used to the rather odd format, and the fact that it's a viewfinder model as opposed to the SLRs I've been using pretty much all my life: 200 ISO film is still easily available (if you do Amazon, that is - your mileage may vary with the local photo shop) but to actually get prints done is going to require a chat with a photo lab, and the nearest is in Toulouse ...

It may be a hand-me-down, for Birgit had it given to her by a great-aunt or something, hoping that she would take up photography, back in 1968 or thereabouts: but I think that I shall have fun with it.

Did a fair bit of touring around with Sarah in the Herault over the summer, what with it actually being summer and having Cla-Val take their staggered holidays and not decided what exactly they wanted done before heading off to wherever it is that the Swiss go on holiday: so I felt no guilt about heading off with the trusty old Olympus to places like Azillanet, La Livinière, Siran, Agel, Aigne, St-Chinian ... and it is not really a coincidence that there is good wine around these places.

And as these things do rather tend to go together, there is also good food ... having been there once with B., looking at this place in Azillanet, took Margo off one very fine day to lunch at la Table d'Azillanet, which is, should ever you happen to be in the area, a very pleasant little restaurant which sources pretty much everything locally (insofar as possible), and the menu changes daily: Mme cooks in the spanking-new kitchen, and Mossieu handles the service. (But avoid the beef until they've got the hang of it: the meat is of excellent quality but the steaks are cut too thin and grilled over too low a heat. Just saying. They'll learn.)

Sadly, they were closed for some reason or another, so instead we took the back roads and wound up eating at one of the two restaurants in La Livinière (both are, incidentally, excellent): rather copious but that's just me, in any case they know how to cook lamb chops correctly, and very pleasant it was out on the terrace under the shade of the platanes. Such moments as these remind us why we now live here ... but I had slight sads to find out that there were no more lobsters in the tank inside. Not that the lobsters were complaining.

I can also whole-heartedly recommend La Luciole, at Luc-sur-Orbieu: a family affair, where the daughter - who I'm told trained in one of the rather better restaurant schools in France - cooks, mother does service, and father does unspecified but doubtless necessary things out back. Once again, locally sourced, and the food is imaginative without being pretentious: it being lunch, when I don't really eat that much, I settled for the foie gras poelé avec réduction de griottine (this latter being a rather old-fashioned cherry apéro) and was extremely glad that I did. Quite delicious, but any more would have been too much.

Also, Luc-sur-Orbieu is in the Boutenac region, which just happens to be where some of the outstanding Languedoc wines are made. Odd, that.

You can also eat quite acceptably at Bize-Minervois, especially now that most of the tourists have disappeared, or - closer to home - at Puicheric and even Lézignan, if you know where to go.

Somewhat to my surprise, the puppy training is getting on very well. Young Moses is intelligent and extremely eager to please, and bribery does - as it will - work wonders, so "come", "sit", "coucher" are more or less done and dusted already: where I can see that I may have to be somewhat more patient is in the walkies department, and this concept of "heel". Whatever, I shall buy a 20kg sack of doggy treats, and we shall get there.

And in a last bit of puppy-related news, we managed to avoid getting two new dogs the other day. We'd loaded up little Suzy with junk from the garage (yes! After six years or more, we're finally clearing it out) and headed off to the tip to see two dogs erring along the roadside, and coming back they were all over the place, so to avoid road-kill we stopped to see if we could pick them up.

Which we quite literally did: the poor buggers were exhausted, filthily matted and very happy to see someone, so we in fact picked them up, put them in the boot, and made an unscheduled trip to the vet. And I hardened my heart, because four is enough, and we left them there in good hands.