Sunday, 31 July 2011

Après le déluge ...

... les papillons.

Two days after my last post, the sun came out. Incontrovertible proof that anti-cyclones not only can read, but read this blog. (Delusions? Moi?).

And with the sun came literally hundreds of butterflies, all making a - um - bee-line for the big buddleia bush next to our top terrace. I've never before seen so many in the same place at the same time. We have several buddleia bushes, some wild, some planted, and all attract scores of butterflies when the flowers are out; what we're seeing at the moment though is a first. (I wish I could take a decent photo but all you get to see are flying blobs ...). Scarce swallowtails, commas, painted ladies, peacocks, red admirals, white admirals, southern white admirals, tortoiseshells, small coppers, swallowtails, several different fritillaries, marbled whites, purple emperors, ringlets, various blues, large whites, small whites, plus a few unidentified little brown jobs are all jostling for position through most of the day. Wonderful.

And reason number 687 for planning a trip to Grillou next summer ..... :-)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Ark wanted. Must be waterproof and in good condition

This is seriously not funny. It has now been raining most of the time for three weeks, and all of the time for three days. And it's cold. People are lighting wood burners and putting on heating.

Hello? This is, if I'm not mistaken, July. We call that summer, in the trade. Holiday time. Is someone having a laugh?

According to Metéo France it's all because the Azores anti-cyclone has settled in 'the wrong place'. Well, if you happen to be reading this, Azores anti-cyclone, would you like to get off your backside and move? Like, now? Please?

Must go. Off to weed the paddy fields.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Three-times cooked chips

So, by popular request, the nuts and bolts of frites maison Grillou:

1. Cut some floury potatoes into chips - I reckon mine were somewhere between half to three quarters of a centimetre thick.

2 .Put the chips into cold water with a teaspoon of salt, and bring to the boil. Simmer for one minute until they're just tender to the point of a knife. Drain, spread them out on a tea towel to dry, then chill in the fridge.

3. Heat the oil - mine's two thirds colza (rapeseed) plus one third sunflower - to 130 degrees and cook the chips for 6 minutes. They should be slightly dry on the surface but not browned at all. The idea of this stage is to cook them inside so that they end up fluffy. Drain, and if you have time cool/chill them again  (I cooled them but didn't have time to chill them).

4. Heat the oil again to 180 degrees and cook the chips for two to three minutes, until they're golden but not brown. Drain on kitchen paper and salt while really hot.


Sunday, 24 July 2011

A frite on my shoulder

Yesterday I did something that I would never, in a million years, have imagined myself doing. (Yes, I will tell you what it was. But you'll have to read on ....).

Rewind - ahem - several years. Let me just say that whereas my mother may have had many good qualities, cooking was not among them. We subsisted largely on a diet of tough grey meat, soggy potatoes, greens that managed to be grey, tough and soggy at the same time, and convenience foods. It was so bad that I thought school dinners were gourmet extravaganzas; my dad, meanwhile, got his fix of food with taste by lunching every day at various Italian, Bangladeshi and Caribbean greasy spoons in London's East End. What we never had at home was anything deep-fried. Deep-fried food was deemed to be - how can I put it? - a bit common (probably a small mercy given that mum would almost certainly have set fire to the kitchen). Visiting the fish and chip shop was acceptable - once - whilst on holiday; otherwise, never.

I first encountered proper frites while working as a student in a hotel in the Swiss Alps. Every morning M. le Patron would cut - by hand - a veritable Alp of chips; he'd blanch them in boiling water, then dry and chill them before frying them at a low temperature for five minutes or so. After that they'd be drained and refrigerated, to await the lunch service when they'd be cooked again, to order, at a high temperature. They were fantastic - soft and fluffy on the inside, crisp and golden on the outside. No wonder diners came from far and wide to eat them.

A few years later my then partner had a habit of cooking up pans of late-night chips in the house we shared with our somewhat outrageous friends Bob and Mike. The house would miraculously fill up with Acton's weird and wonderful, who would stay until the early hours while John (that one, not this one) would produce bowl after bowl of frites to accompany the endless bottles of bad wine we drank while sewing women's knickers (don't ask). I was much too terrified to go anywhere near the kitchen, the idea of a saucepan full of boiling oil  - we had no mod cons like chip baskets - on a gas hob being just t o o o o far outside my comfort zone. And then with the end of that relationship came the end of my eating frites maison for 20 odd years ...

... until last night. Because what I did yesterday was ... buy a deep fryer.

It's posh. It's from Lidl. That is not a contradiction in terms. So before you - as I would have done until recently - pour scorn on my choice of shop, let me tell you that in the last couple of years I've bought from Lidl (amongst other things): an orbital sander and a detail sander, both of which clearly come out of the Bosch factory; an espresso machine that is indistinguishable from the Moulinex model; an SDS drill of indeterminate provenance but as functional and robust as anything you could find; plus various kettles, toasters, kitchen scales, bagless vacuum cleaners, hand blenders, parasols, garden chairs and other stuff, all at around a third of the price of proper 'branded' goods and all with a three year warranty. Still laughing?

I bought it with fantasies of making panisse and briks and courgette flower fritters and tempura and churros and felafel and pakora and bhajis and accras de morue and puris and whitebait et al. And I shall. But last night there was only one thing to cook.

Frites, M. le Patron style. And oh my god, they were good.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Just another French national holiday ...

Thursday (the day on which the Bastille was stormed 222 years ago, now the Fête Nationale).

A vide-greniers in La Bastide de Sérou ....

followed by a 10km walk along the voie verte to Cadarcet and back ...

followed by a fiesta. Pamiers Fiesta, to be precise. Along with more than 50,000 others we tapas'd and salsa'd and kizomba'd and carnavale'd and oohed and aahed at fireworks until 3 in the morning ...


More fiesta ... this is the Compagnie Fuente Flamenca who produced some awesomely earthy and passionate flamenco: according to their 'blurb' they aim to "present a flamenco which is as close as possible to its source, without pretension or needless chatter; the artists sing, play and dance because they remember, with the element of mysterious, magical power - el duende - that arouses the memory of things not lived by themselves, but by those who created this art". One definition of duende: "duende is an inner spirit, which is released as a result of a performer's intense emotional involvement with the music, song and dance. If you experience a shiver of recognition, even for an instant, it means the duende has successfully transferred a lifetime's worth of joy and pain from the performer to you". 

I shivered.

And a feast. We ate ....

Accras de morue
Salade exotique
Velouté de tomate-citron vert epicé
Daurade grillé au gingembre frais
Poulet yassa
Mafé de bœuf
Porc à la cannelle et à la coriandre
Coupe glacée noix de coco, chocolat, mangue et passion.

Er, yes (ahem). I do mean all of it.


Catching up with friends at a birthday lunch, in the sun in the garden, and the Tour de France whizzing through their village. On the way home:

Celtic music at the Celtied'Oc festival.


Rain stopped play.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Help - there's an elephant under my sink ....

Finally, the plumber returns. Not without a degree of trauma: a phone call at 8.30pm to say he'd arrive the next morning - impossible, as I have clients booked in here and other arrangements for the afternoon. Little room for negotiation: it appears to be then or ... October. Hmm. Trying to discuss the fact that we do both have work commitments and lives and needed a little thing called a tad of notice leads only to my being told that "I'm not more important than his other clients" (where oh where do I find these people?). Eventually, in the interests of hot water, I agree that we'll re-jig our afternoon plans so that he can come after lunch.

I have to go out (no, honestly, I do) so I leave him to John's tender mercies. When I get home there's good news and bad. The good news: the water heater has been successfully pressure-tested and wired in, and all the water and waste is connected. The bad news: there's an elephant in the cupboard under the sink.

Not the prettiest bit of plomberie you've ever seen, quoi? Ugly-and-out-of-sight we can live with (sort of), but there's a problem: this is not just a sink unit, it's an all-singing all-dancing double-drawered small-mortgageable dooflop thingie that holds not only all the usual under-sink stuff but also a special system for sorting three types of recycling. And there is no space to get either drawer in, let alone both. This has of course been delicately raised in my absence with the plumber, who pronounces that "it cannot be done". "Okay", says John, "do what you can", this usually, in the land where 'it's impossible' means no such thing, being quite enough to turn no into yes.

But not this time. "Okay" says John with a sigh, "put it back together in elephant fashion so that we can test the whole system and then I'll re-do it myself". "Hrrrrummppphhhh" says plumber. "If I can't do it, you certainly won't be able to". (That's the most he's said all afternoon). And leaves.

A couple of days pass. John girds his loins and his spanners. Two hours plus a length of flexible waste pipe and the job's done. As it happens, it's a piece of the proverbial. The elephant has gone, and both drawers fit.

Tonight. A phone call to the plumber to report the missing elephant and hope, perhaps, for a small consideration on his eye-popping (wish I could get away with charging 58 euros an hour ...) bill. No such luck. Within moments, and without even mentioning a reduction, John is being told that his bill is his bill and that's that and we WILL pay it, and that (and here I quote) we are "nothing but trouble and are a pair of wa*&ers". For once, words fail me.

And so, dear plumber, if you should happen to be reading this: I don't ask for the earth from those who work here with (please note that word) us - a little respect, a little pleasantness, and a willingness to understand and do what's needed, well. Anything more is a bonus - nice, but not essential. You will get your cheque, because it's not important enough to fight over. What you won't get with along it, however, is my good grace, or any form of recommendation. Nor, naturally, an invitation to return.

PS ... if anyone is confused about yesterday's missing post, I did indeed post this yesterday but in the process it was somehow, and rather bizarrely, 'invaded' by something malicious that kept navigating away, to a spam-type site (no, I don't understand it either). I had no alternative but to delete, and rewrite, it. So no, you haven't lost the plot .....