Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Frostiness in Léran

    So, it's such a gorgeous morning that, after I'd swung by the mairie, and dropped into the market (pains aux raisins all sold out. Desolé,) I wandered down to the river....

   Frost on the bushes and trees, sequins on the water...sparkle, sparkle.
   Nature can really outdo most Christmas decorations. Check out these leaves, each one outlined in white. Beyond, those hedges mark what was once the Duke of Mirepoix's potager. Sheep graze there now, and occasionally a donkey. Those dark shapes in the trees in the middle are mistletoe, which grows everywhere around here.

Frosty morning in France

     Today's date, I just realized, is 12/12/12
     That's the last of the sequence that launched 11 years ago with 01/01/01. There won't be another one for 89 years--so make the most of it. Write cheques, or letters, or the first page of a novel...
     In the meantime, here's what we've woken up to. Frost and sunshine.
     All that white stuff reminds me I'd better go and get out the icing pump to add eyes and noses to the gingerbread men I've made for tonight's carol concert.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Léran's new village library.

   One of the differences between France and North America is its sheer numbers of bookshops. Mirepoix (population around 4,000) has a good independently run one on the main square. Even the nearby SuperU has a commendable book selection. Pamiers--four times as large--has three bookshops that I know of. The departmental capital, Foix, a town of around 10,000, has the huge Majuscule store--one of a chain--and a couple more. And on it goes.... 
   And libraries are everywhere.
   (Drifting off-topic for a moment. You would think that librairie is French for "library." It's not. A librairie is a bookshop. A library, as we know it, is called a bibliothèque.)
   For the past several months, work has been underway on Léran's new library, which now occupies a brand-new space above the former mairie
   Some days ago, invitations were hand-delivered to all residents, with a request to respond if we were attending. 
   Official red-white-and-blue ribbon-cutting by our mayor, Henri Barrou, took place around 5:30 p.m., and the crowd and the queue outside all ascended the brand-new flight of stairs into the new, bright space. It's terrific with upbeat orange walls, lots of seating and books for little kids, and a collection of fiction and non-fiction that I can't wait to get my teeth into, metaphorically speaking.

   Our next-door neighbour, David Hilton (of created the official signage.
   That's our mayor giving an official welcome. Local and regional representatives, who also spoke, consistently referred to his tenacité in getting this vastly improved library up and running. Yay, Henri!

       Over to the Salle des Tilleuls for cork-popping, a spread of charcuterie, and a story-telling performance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tapas night chez nous...

   I'm so relieved. We had a serious tapas night back in the summer and I really thought I'd posted about it, but no, which means I can now.
    But first a short digression.
    One of these days, I'm going to write a doctorate length paper on food and hospitality. Hear me out, this may be a bit of a ramble.
    Some years ago, we were lucky enough to be semi-adopted by some friends from Crete who then lived in Vancouver. We visited Crete twice and, on each occasion, I became spellbound by the ease and simplicity with which people there entertained. What it came down to was this: a number of dishes meant for sharing. Serving temperature not too critical. Emphasis on simple ingredients and ballsy flavours. Lots of wine. All ages squashed around the table. And, where possible, live music.
     It's a formula that still works and I'll take it over any chef-ly multi-course menu, any time.
     So, one warm and torpid evening this past summer, we invited a bunch of friends over for tapas and it turned out to be one of the easiest dinners I'd ever cooked. I'm not saying that some chopping and sizzling didn't go on that afternoon but by the time everyone was settled out on the terrace with the first of many glasses of rosé, kitchen work was essentially done.
     Gleaming black olives, and a couple of cold (or rather room temperature) tapas as they arrived. More cold tapas as the hours went by. A couple of quick trips into the kitchen to 1) put patatas bravas in the oven and 2) to pull them out again. Fruit for dessert, I think. Can't really remember.
    A couple of days ago, I did a scaled-down version of this. Dishes so simple that you really should think about adding them to your repertoire. I've posted about tortilla before. I would have made one of those but I was short of eggs.
    What I did have were lovely shiny red peppers:

   Here they are ready to go under the grill till they blister and turn black in places. Out of the oven, in to a bowl, on with the plastic wrap...Meanwhile, I sliced plenty of garlic, added fresh thyme, a bay leaf, then made a dressing with olive oil, wine vinegar and paprika. Skin the peppers and slice into strips about as wide as a pencil. Toss with everything else, and chill. Bring to room temperature a few hours before you start eating.

    There they are on the left. On the right is some country ham. Bread in the basket. Wine in the glass. Tea-light in the holder.
     The haricots verts dish on the left is so insanely easy that I'm almost embarrassed to write about it. Cut the stem end off the beans, and cut the beans in half. Scissors are easier than a knife. Cook in boiling water for seven minutes, just till crisp. Drain, and run cold water over them. Meanwhile...sizzle lots of chopped garlic in olive oil. Throw in the beans and stir them around so they soak up the oil. Eat at room temperature.
     On the right, a chopped onion, and more garlic, softened in olive oil. Quartered chorizo added, and cooked a bit more. A jar or a can of drained chickpeas added. Toss the mixture around and then add plenty of chopped parsley. Room temperature.
     With all of these recipes, ingredient quantities really aren't that important. Just make considerably more than you think you need.
     PS: It's just occurred to me that this is a fantastic way to feed a table-ful if it includes vegetarians.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another restaurant find in Foix,

     The Pyrenees glistened as though their peaks and slopes had been dipped in sugar, and a herd of cows ambled in leisurely fashion ahead of us on the main road as a friend and I headed for Foix in search of mince-pies. The quest was---dreadful pun alert--dried-fruitless (they won't be around for another ten days). Never mind. We did have time for a stationery trawl at Majuscule. Better still, we came on another discovery for the restaurant list, this one focussing on tapas. 
     Even though we're within an olive's throw of the Spanish border, surprisingly few tapas bars have set up shop locally. La Bodequita (25, rue des Marchands) only opened a couple of months ago. What caught our eye initially was the table outside set with a cheery yellow-and-white gingham cloth, with a crate of kakis--bright orange persimmons--set on it, free for the taking.

    Inside, a large blackboard spelled out so many choices that I envied the party sitting under it who could order with abandon.

      Albondigas, little cod cakes, escalivada-- Catalan grilled vegetables--I wanted the lot. Can you make out the prices? Apart from push-the-boat-out prawns à la plancha at 8.50, most hover around the 4 euro mark....
     While we debated, the server brought us a plate of pan con tomate on the house. Simple as anything, it's foundation is bread rubbed with garlic and tomato.
    Any time I can get my hands on patatas bravas...These were blisteringly hot, with a spicy kick to their sauce.
    Calamar rings almost as big as bracelets, the batter light, the dish straight from the fryer. Our server was surprised we could only handle two tapas between us--most people order four, she said. I will too, next time because everything that was being carted out to neighbouring tables looked awfully good.
     So did the plats du jour: salmon with mustard and fried potatoes, and a lasagne of pumpkin and blue cheese with a salad, 8.50 euros including a glass of wine and a coffee.
    Nice people, nice atmosphere. I can't remember the hours it's open--most lunchtimes and some evenings--but here's the phone number if you're in the 'hood and want to call and find out: 05-61-01-83-65.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An unexpectedly good lunch in Foix

   A week or so back, we needed to buy art and crafts supplies in Foix, which called for a trip to Majuscule, my favourite stationery shop in this part of France. We also had to be somewhere near Foix at 2:15 p.m., so doing the math meant there were two hours to occupy in the middle of the day because, around here, almost all shops close at noon.  (On the bright side, parking is almost always free between noon and 2 p.m. and you generally get 15 minutes thrown in free as well.)
   Sooooo.... what you do is have lunch. Not a swift trip into the sandwich shop for a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato on wholewheat but a proper sit-down meal in like-minded company.

   It's a while since we last ate at Le Jeu de l'Oie (named after a kids' game) but I think they've changed ownership. Where meals here were always reliable, they weren't especially surprising. You did sort of know that the entrée would always be pâté or something else, and I could recite the dessert choice from memory.
  When I say this was "unexpectedly good"(see title of this post) I don't just mean for what we paid. Not that entrée and plat du jour or plat du jour and dessert with a glass of wine or a coffee, and the usual basket of bread, all for 9.80 euros isn't a bargain--and that's including taxes and tip.
   What was unusual was the care and thought that had gone into it.
   In the open kitchen, we could see two young guys working seamlessly and at ferocious speed, with the occasional blaze of flame from the stove. It was incredible teamwork that was a joy to watch. 
   Medals all round too for the wisely-chosen menu du jour. They served a single entrée--potage Crécy--vegetable soup, which was clever. You could make it ahead, reheat it, and garnish, as needed.
    Two plats to choose from, one of them tartiflette with a little salad. The ingredients in tartiflette are Reblochon cheese, bacon, potatoes and onions. Does that sound good? It is. Delicious, satisfying, tummy-comforting and available everywhere, including at local markets where you can buy it dolloped into take-away containers. 
   So you could pick familiar comfort food, or...

    I'm a huge fan of squid and its relatives. On the menu today were tiny seiches, cooked for just the right amount of time so that they cut like butter. These were seriously good, and topped with what the menu said was "persillade". Normally this translates as a mixture of garlic, parsley and olive oil. This version was several rungs up the culinary ladder with the addition of tiny cubes of courgette and red pepper. Linguini dressed with pesto on the side. All in all, very satisfying.

    For dessert, there was familiar tarte tatin or a milles feuilles, the pastry topped with a commendably crackly caramel, and sandwiching a mousse combining whipped cream and puréed starfruit. We could see the one serveuse pause briefly between kitchen and table to scribble some raspberry coulis on the plate. She was also taking care of tables one floor above too, racing up the stairs with three plates balanced on her arm.
    Meanwhile, the little room hummed happily with people eating, drinking and talking. Judging from all the bisou-ing going on, all are regulars. You can see why.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Make Christmas Shortbread Mice.

     "Cute" doesn't begin to describe these festive little creatures and "onerous" doesn't start to describe the work involved in making them. Do you really want to hear the entire step-by-step process? Right, you asked for it.
      The night before.... mouse-making, the recipe told me to make my shortbread dough. Easy-peasy. Whack some butter into the Cuisinart, add flour, vanilla and egg, and it all turns into a single perfect ball of dough, ready to rest in the fridge overnight. 
      Except that it didn't. 
     It was more like fine shingle on a Norfolk beach. Gravelly anyway. My fault entirely. Mea culpa, ten times over. I'd only seen the word "butter" in the recipe, and not the term "softened." This had come straight from the freezer. Thinking fast but not very sensibly, I beat up another egg, and threw about half of it into the dough, which appeared to help. 
     Except that it didn't, as I found out the next evening. 
     Initially the dough felt alright. Though a bit sticky, I could still shape it into mice. I indented the eye sockets, stuck in two delicate pieces of almond for ears, did that 20 times and placed the baking sheet in the preheated oven. I the warmth hit them....they slowly spread into primeval flattish shapes. Mouse roadkill. 
      We ate them. I didn't bother with applying ickle chocolate eyes and noses (melt a chocolate bar; use a toothpick) but I did use the first batch to practice my tail insertion skills. (Poke skewer up mouse's derrière while it's still warm and insert length of licorice.)
      Made with properly softened butter, the second batch went better...

    Still not sure if I'd make them again. But it's seeded the idea for a separate post on how the world is divided into those who bake and those who don't. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thinking about veggies at the market

   Now that the tourist season is well and truly over, the locals have repossessed Mirepoix market--and we don't feel that we must be there before 9 a.m. Besides, we know at least three secret parking spots. One is by the canal, the other is opposite the tax office and I'm not telling you the other one.
   So, I've probably posted before about my habitual trawl around the stalls, the amazing smells from the paella and couscous stands, and the fleshy delights of the butchers' trucks (sorry, vegetarians, but I'm unrepentant).
   Eventually, I always end up here.

   And you know something? I'm seriously thinking of writing/drawing a bande dessinée (comic book in America but it sounds so much better in French) about the thought processes I go through when I'm faced with the Great Wall of Vegetables.
   Closeup of Ange, wide-eyed as she scans the greens. Over her head appears a thought bubble..."Oh my, that roquette looks incredible and would go so well with those walnuts we've got at home."
   Series of drawings of beautiful Savoy cabbage, strange, demonic black radishes and beetroot/beets/silverbeet (depending if you're Brit, American or Australian), wrinkled and dark, like something rather nasty in a pathology lab. The thing is, they're cooked, and how sensible is that. How many of us, raise your hands, have bought beetroot/beets/silverbeet and never got round to doing anything with them until they grew hair and/or became suspiciously squashy and ended up in the compost bucket.
    So, anyway, cooked beetroot/beets/silverbeet. A brilliant idea. Although, to be truthful, I didn't actually buy any last week.
  You help yourself to a round plastic basket and pile it high. In mine this week was a wedge of pumpkin, which ended up in soup, some frisée, earmarked for a salade Lyonnaise (that's the one with lardons and poached egg) but, for whatever reason, that never happened so it's showed up as part of the nightly green salad instead, some potatoes that just looked too tasty to turn down (not a sentence I'd ever thought I'd write), a red onion or two and, as usual, a big bunch of parsley.
   The only decision after that, after it's weighed, is whether to have everything tipped directly into your basket or to have it packed in plastic bags.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Celebrating new wine and chestnuts.

   A couple of hours ago, we came home from a community event that lasted most of the day. Billed as castanhas e vin novèl  ("chestnuts and new wine" in the Occitan language) and announced by leaflets hand-delivered to our post-boxes, it was organized by L'Amicale des Léranais (the Association of people who live in Léran) whose goal is to gather together Léranais and their friends to share memories, experiences, local culture and--inevitably--good food and wine. If you read French, you can follow our adventures at
   Shortly after the church bells rang ten o'clock, we met up in the Salle des Tilleuls (one of our village halls) for a quick coffee before we set off on a balade. More amble or saunter than serious hike, this one took us along the river bank and up to the little road that runs from the crossroads just beyond the chateau.
     I'm always delighted by how deeply many Léranais are immersed in their village's history. We learning that grapes have grown locally for over a thousand years. Some people revealed that they remembered wine being made around here too.
    Even though the day was cloudy, as we ambled down through the forest and back to the village, we still had excellent views of the Pyrenees and the glorious autumn colours. Love those russets and browns against the blue-greys.

    By 12:30 or so, we were back at the Salle des Tilleuls where a table was already set with bottles and snacks (including the lethally good fritons, basically unctuous morsels of deep-fried duck skin sprinkled with salt). We all set out the food we'd brought--chestnut inclusion was a good idea, we'd heard--and got stuck into the aperos.

    I'd brought along a pork, chestnut and apple pie that I'd made yesterday. The recipe's so easy that I'll give it to you right now: 250 g each of ground pork, crumbled cooked chestnuts and finely chopped apple plus a beaten egg, 100 ml of Madeira, salt and pepper. Mix that all together and pat it into a 24 or 25 cm flan tin that you've previously buttered and lined with pastry (that you've pricked with a fork). Dollop in the pork mixture, top with another circle of pastry, crimp the edges and brush with beaten egg. Cut a small hole in the middle and bake at 190°C/375°F for 45 minutes. The recipe said to serve it warm but it was fine cold, with curried apple chutney.
    Platters were passed up and down the table. Chicken with squash and chestnuts, chestnut and pork patties, a chicken recipe that originated in the French island of Réunion, endive leaves filled with creamed Roquefort, and much, much, much, much more. Many bottles of "new" wine were opened. Everyone shared everything. At some point, an oozingly ripe Brie was passed around, then chestnut cake, marrons glacés, clementines....and finally coffee.

    The age range spanned single figures to mid-80s. There was dancing, singing and, at some point, someone brought out a small trampoline from another room and jumped on it. It was that kind of afternoon.
    And let's not forget the poetry. Going back to that initial also included an invitation to contribute a poem or story. So, when I phoned Mauricette (one of the organizers) to RSVP, I added that I would bring a French.
     And I did. "Châtaigne" is another word for "chestnut."

Elle est belle, elle est ronde, elle est bonne à manger
Avec un verre de vin ou un verre de Champagne
Elle est si delicieuse, ce beau fruit d’hiver
Je parle naturellement de la châtaigne

On peux faire un farce pour un poulet ou un dinde
On peux faire une bonne tarte pour la famille
On peux l’utiliser dans une daube ou une soupe
Je parle naturellement de la châtaigne

Elle commence avec une fleur de printemps
Qui décore l’arbre comme une chandelle
Et après elle porte un manteau verte
Toujours la châtaigne est belle

Mais la châtaigne est une mixe des humeurs
A l’exterieur elle est dure, épineuse
Mais apprendre à la connaitre et vous decouvrez
A sa coeur, elle est douce, delicieuse

Quand il fait froid en hiver, en Decembre
C’est plaisant de s’asseoir au coin du feu sain
Et là, de rotir les belles fruits du saison
Je parle naturellement des châtaignes.

   It fills me with pride to boast that this was judged adequate enough to win me a lovely bar of soap.      What a thoroughly pleasurable day.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

200 diamonds, 40 gift tags, and how to devein a foie gras.

    The magazines I buy in France often come with a little freebie attached, a small cadeau stuck to their cover with some magical sticky substance that you can peel off and roll into a ball.
   In the spirit of the approaching season, this month's issue of Modes et Travaux has two giveaways: a small booklet of 40 quite good-looking gift tags, and a petit sachet of 200 "diamonds" to sprinkle on your festive table. This photo doesn't do them justice. These are very sparkly indeed to the point that I think I'd want to save them rather than throwing them out at the end of the meal, (except that the thought of sorting them out from the baguette crumbs doesn't thrill me).
   I suppose I'd define Modes et Travaux as a women's general interest magazine, assuming her interests are fashion, home décor, crafts, gardening, travel and food. At this point I can see I've wandered far off-piste and am going to have to cut straight to the topic I planned to write about in the first place, which is...
   How different the recipes are in French magazines.
   I'll pass briefly over the one for poularde au champagne, which calls for an entire bottle and is snuck in with an article on decorating, and move to the main event: seven fabuleux menus to make for Christmas.
    One begins with a soup of wild mushrooms and foie gras, and moves on to filet mignon en croûte. Dessert is a quick assembly of hazelnut, and chocolate, ice creams, marrons glacés and cream. A "black and white" menu kicks off with a carpaccio of black radish and scallops. "Noël So British" is nothing like any Christmas meal I've ever had in the motherland. Not when you start with a truffled pea soup and the main course--leg of lamb--calls for a great deal of whisky and Asian spices. Dessert is a traditional Christmas pudding topped with sparklers rather than the usual blue flames. Thank you, and God save the Queen.
    The points I'm trying to make here is that a) Christmas in France is more about the food than anything else, b) that what elsewhere in the world are thought of as luxury ingredients may not be cheap here but they're definitely within the realm of possibility--and finally, c) that you'd better have your methods down pat.
    In case you don't, Modes et Travaux's monthly "Masterclass" this time around describes, in words and pictures, four basic techniques that, at this time of year, everyone should have at their fingertips:
     How to fillet a salmon.
     How to open oysters.
     How to carve a capon.
     And...wait for it...
     How to devein a fresh foie gras
(P.S.  I'm dying to make the recipe on the next page. A "shepherd's pie" of duck with wild morilles.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cool weather means coriander.

    In North America, you buy cilantro or Chinese parsley. In the UK, Coriandrum sativum is known as coriander, and in France, it's called coriandre.
    Whatever the name, up until recently, you rarely saw it in rural France. Now I know two sources in Mirepoix market and one in Lavelanet's but I'm not sure that I've ever been able to buy it in any of our local supermarkets. Like a lot of produce around here, fresh coriander is only available in season. Fine by me. It's surprising how interesting your food life becomes, and how imaginative your cooking gets, when you don't have endless access to the full buffet table
     Which is why I'm so pleased that, now that the summer heat is long gone, I can grow coriander again. And God knows, I need it.
    I need it for those fresh punchy Asian salads that you sometimes crave in the winter as a break from rib-sticking daubes and bean dishes. I need it for soups, especially those lovely, light broth-based ones that you punch up with fistfuls of fresh herbs.
    I need a large handful of fresh coriander for the Portuguese dish of pork with clams, and for samosa pie.
    Anyone remember the fusion food that swept through restaurants in the 80s? Some was more collision than fusion but one dish that did stand out was linguine with chicken (or shrimp) and black bean sauce.
    No recipe. Just slice and brown onions, red and/or green peppers, garlic and chicken breast. Add a mixture of black bean sauce, hot chili sauce and chicken stock or water. Cover the pan and let this all simmer while you cook your pasta. Drain, top with the sauce and toss in lots of chopped coriander.
    The last couple of years I've grown my own in pots, planting more every couple of weeks so the supply never runs out. Here's the latest crop.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Harvesting the Cayennes

    I can't get over how my cayenne pepper plant flourished this summer. Digging two vegetable beds in the middle of the lawn turned out to be a bright idea. There it's stood for the past few months, the peppers ripening to a glorious stinging shiny scarlet. A few have been given away for eating or for seeds for next year. We've only sampled one, and that was a couple of months ago.
    A Korean friend was staying and, as you probably know, Korean cuisine is known for its use of blisteringly hot peppers. She merrily chopped up a couple of inches of fresh cayenne pepper and sprinkled it over her salad. Meanwhile, I'd just tried the fork test where you touch the end of a prong to the cut side of the pepper--and taste--and suggested she did the same.
    She did, and carefully winkled out all the pepper morsels from her salad and moved them to the side of her plate. These super-strength cayennes won't go to waste but I'll definitely be careful how I use them.
  Here they are as of yesterday, harvested, threaded on string and hung beside the stove to dry.
       As a nation, French people are not too keen on piquant food. Out of curiosity, I Googled piment de cayenne and recettes. Lots exist but, in most cases, the instructions are to add a tiny pinch of dried cayenne pepper, and that's all.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Walnuts are a Cracking Good Idea

  I'm sitting here in the kitchen with a pot of chicken soup for lunch simmering on the stove. It's nippy outside, drizzling, and most of the delicate annual plants have withered and flopped because of the frost we had the night before last. Pleasant to be here in the warm, and think about walnuts.
   Walnuts--or noix as they're known here--hang in a bag in the storeroom, and fill the bottom layer of the hanging vegetable rack in the kitchen. Some were a present from friends lucky enough to have a walnut tree in their garden. Others, the ones still in their black, fleshy skin, I've picked up from the street that runs along by the presbytery.
    I crack a jarful at a time, and keep them in a drawer beside the matching Bonne Maman jars of raisins and currants.
    Dismantling yet another batch this morning, made me think about what useful little things they are.
    They go into salads of spinach, clementine segments and avocado chunks.
    And salads of beetroot and goat cheese.
     I add them, in fairly small morceaux, to tinned tuna tarted up with celery and preserved lemon, both finely chopped, and loosened with mayonnaise. Spread it thickly in a split baguette or scoop it over lettuce leaves. Lunch.
     Walnuts boost the nut content in the granola that goes over the morning yogurt and fruit.
     They love to get together with raw endives especially with goat cheese crumbled over.
     And I haven't even got to the sweet stuff....yet.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Flashback Thursdays: Bastille Day Fireworks in Paris

   July found us in Paris for a week that included the 14th. Let's see if I can do this in suitably sized and coloured type:

A very, very big event all over France--and especially in Paris.
   We'd have had to be up at first light to find a space on the Champs Elysées to watch the big parade. Instead we went over to the Marais and watched a fly-past from the terrace of a friend's apartment.
   Traditionally, the day winds up with what is said to be a mind-blowing fireworks display. We rode a bus along the Seine, hoping it would drop us off near the Eiffel Tower. It didn't. All traffic was stopped at a certain point. so we joined the steadily thickening crowd.
   This was as close as we wanted to get, knowing that getting away afterwards would be a massive scrum. We stood around, sat on convenient walls, and ate French fries. Barring the informal sale of bottles of wine and beer, it was a booze-free event.
    Around 11 p.m. the Eiffel Tower's lights went out, and massive chrysanthemum-like fireworks lit up the sky. Bang, bang. Flash, flash. Twinkle twinkle. Bangbangbangbangbang. Sparkle sparkle. That's the thing with fireworks, one picture--especially a moving one--is definitely worth a thousand words.

     When it all ended, we joined the massive crowd making its way back along beside the river. Finding a bus or taxi was impossible and the Metro didn't bear thinking about. So we walked and walked and walked, stopping at 1 a.m. for savagely overpriced, but very welcome. mugs of hot chocolate.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

3-minute meals: 2) Omelette, tomato salad, baguette

   One of the hanging racks in our kitchen with one of the most used items second from the right. An omelette pan. It's heavy, beautifully balanced and I bought it for about 11 euros in De Hillerin in Paris several years ago.
    It is only ever used for omelettes so it's built up a slippery surface than means omelettes slide around like a five-year-old on a patch of ice.
    Three eggs each, because we were hungry, no salt and pepper added because we like to add our own. Cheese broken into pieces (faster than grating). Parsley chopped with scissors (faster than a knife). A salad of tomatoes with a sprig of basil for decoration and a drizzle of olive oil. A baguette ready to cut. Butter should be here too, a piece about the size of a small walnut for each omelette.
     Melt it over medium-high heat until it starts to brown but before that, watch some YouTube videos to see how easy the process is. I know I'm copping out here but it really is a case of one moving picture is worth several hundred words.
    Taking photos while making an omelette is impossible so take it on trust that each one took well under a minute to get from this to the table.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Flashback Thursdays: David Hockney and the Flower Puppy

    Doesn't that sound like the title of kids' book? It's art, actually. Art with a capital "A".
    While it was bookended by the twin delights of San Sebastián and--a post is in the works--St. Jean de Luz, the main reason for our trip to the Basque country was to visit Bilbao, specifically the Guggenheim Museum. We could have gone any time. We went in June because of the massive David Hockney exhibit on there.
     Designed by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim's eye-popping architecture is enough of a draw in itself. Saying that the museum has given this town a new lease on life is no exaggeration. Pre-Guggenheim, it was a not-too-glamourous port on the Bay of Biscay but, since 1997, when the museum opened, literally millions have come to gaze at it.
    It's exceptionally gazeworthy too, curvaceous, gleaming, sheathed in titanium, it looks like some colossal metallic flower.

   Around the museum are water features, walkways--and this astounding sculpture called Maman--a mother spider around 10 metres high. Bet that gives little kids nightmares.

Far friendlier, and even taller, American artist .Jeff Koons's "Puppy" stands in the forecourt of the museum.
Completely covered with flowers, it's watered by an internal system.
 Inside the Guggenheim, the sense of lightness and space is phenomenal.
Everything is on a colossal scale, including these works by David Hockney. He used traditional methods for the works in this room, but elsewhere his "paintings" had been done on an iPad.
     Best to let him tell you about them himself.
     We spent the whole of Saturday afternoon there and all of Sunday, often having rooms completely to ourselves. Before we leave Bilbao, a plug for the museum restaurant....
  ...where we had a terrific breakfast of tortilla, bread filled with scrambled egg and chorizo.
 Back there for lunch, I began with fresh sardines on a bed of...can't remember but it was good.
 Pork, but what pork. I think it had been roasted, then sliced then packed with its juices into a pan, then cut into oblongs and seared on all sides to create a deeply flavoured crust. Pumpkin purée was a good match.

Raspberry ice cream on a thick cream with cubes of licorice jelly. Delicious from start to finish even if the chef did go overboard with the edible smears.