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.