Friday, 18 July 2008

Bastille action and the Whitstable oyster glut

Last weekend was a good’un for eating. The Charles Lamb celebrated Quatorze juillet in grand style on the nearest Saturday, douze juillet. Bunting traversed Elia st, Petanque pitches flanked the pub, Ricard and Rosé abounded.
And then there was our fabulous menu Français, which, apart from using most of London’s stocks of garlic and goose fat, was in our opinion a triumph. It featured Le Grand aioli, a village tradition in Provence in which you eat a lot of things dipped into a massive pot of aioli. Yum. Elizabeth David says that aioli is ‘affectionately’ referred to as the ‘Butter of Provence’ – as far as I’m concerned, butter and Provence in the same phrase can only be a happy thing. I was most delighted to be told by a French customer that it was as good as the aioli that her Grandmere in Avignon makes at Christmas. This is probably high praise, at least I like to think so...The secret? One garlic clove to one egg yolk. (Put the picture up Camille!).
Elsewhere on the menu were merguez sausages in buckwheat gallettes, Basque fish stew, Coquilles St Jacques (we really do love the 1970's) and Camille’s famed cassoulet, which suffice it to say, did not last long. The making of the cassoulet was truly a sight to behold - Camille was quite literally up to her elbows in goose fat, there is probably still a vague aroma following her around. Pig skin, garlic peel and slicks of poultry fat filled the entire kitchen, but it was all worth it for the elusive cassoulet smell…
Sunday morning welcomed me with a special Ricard hangover, but nonetheless I duly set out for my friend’s birthday day trip to Whitstable. Scorching day actually, and after knocking back 9 amazing oysters and a large bottle of cider on the beach, only a snooze would do. The day was rounded off with masses of Champagne, crab sandwiches and potted shrimp. No one could argue with that.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Carrion Call

Back in the Auvergne the other day I was somewhat shocked when during a (slow) walk in the chestnut woods, I came suddenly across 4 cows that had been actually struck by lightning. It wasn't the carrion aspect that was disturbing - (they looked as if they'd produce a fabulous glut of steak haché in which an ethical meat eater could only delight - field kill could become the new road kill) more one's own susceptibility to being similarly struck down whilst comfortably grazing. (What is it that you have to do to avoid? Go under a tree? Don't go under a tree? Stay away from les Vaches?).
My nerves were significantly calmed by the discovery back at the house of a jar of confit duck sausages - sausages happily residing in their own fat, waiting to be fried with other things. What could be nicer. Those having been put away for lunch, I demanded that leeks be harvested from the vegetable patch for leek, tarragon and watercress soup (can't garden myself, of course), and found a jar of prunes that I'd, with great forethought/greed, immersed in some Armagnac on my last visit. They had developed a not at all unpleasant alcoholic aroma. Tarte aux Pruneaux was the inevitable result, and very nice it was too.

P.s. On consulting in drastically inneffectual French with the afflicted farmer regarding the cows I discovered that a.) 16 in total were struck, and b.) they were destined to become 'croquettes pour les chiens' - dog biscuits. Ignoble ends indeed.