Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Horrors

It's getting to be that time of year again.
October 31st, All Hallows Eve when ghosts, ghouls and small children in fright masks stalk the streets.

The French throw themselves into it with gusto Considering their natural abhorrence of anything that might have blown in from the direction of the New World it's quite surprising. The gift shops are full of witches hats, Edward Scissor hands finger nails, and inflatable pumpkins. The fancy dress shops are doing a brisk trade as well. And come Friday evening the village trick or treaters will be out. Probably.In our village nothing follows a particular pattern.

The first year we arrived we were still in the process of unpacking when Halloween was unleashed on us.There was a timid knock on the door, and there stood one small boy with a sheet over his head emitting half-hearted wailing noises. I reacted splendidly, uttering multitudinous 'ooh-la-las' whilst racking my brains as to what to offer a pint-sized ghoul.

No sweets are consciously kept in our house,for reasons which will be revealed later, but I remembered that eldest and wisest daughter had driven down from the UK to help us move and had cleared out her drive-time sugar ration before the journey home. Somewhere in the wreckage of our move was a bag of jettisoned sweets.

When I eventually located them, during which time Captain Sensible was entertaining our young spectre on the doorstep, I discovered, in amongst the scruffy-looking sticks of chewing gum and half-empty boxes of Tic-Tacs, a five finger bar of KitKat.That would do splendidly.

Our little visitor looked suitably impressed and with many 'mercis' he scuttled off as fast as the sheet would allow.

'I bet that's the best treat he'll get all night' the Captain remarked. 'he's probably gone roaring off to tell all his friends to get off down to the new Anglaises. They're giving away English chocolate bars,'

Horrified, I realised I hadn't anything else to give anyone, apart from the manky looking Wrigleys and a few TicTacs. I spent the rest of the evening twitching like a startled rabbit every time I heard anyone walk past But all was well. Either our little ghost was Billy-no-mates' or what friends he had were too scared to knock on the door of Les Anglaises.

Next year I was better prepared. I bought a 'geant' sized bag of mixed chocolate bars.Individually wrapped I could dole them out to whoever came (as come they would) without fear of running out. After all we had been in residence for a year, people called out 'Bonjour. Ca va?' wherever we went, and unknown,unrecognisable hands waved from passing cars and vans.We were on the village calender.

I saw a large group from my kitchen window as they scampered down the back lane to my neighbours. I opened the bag of bars in eager anticipation and rehearsed my lines. The French equivalent of ...Goodness, what have we here? ...and other suitable expressions. I heard the click of Madame's gate and 'au'voirs' and 'bon nuits' being exchanged and then...silence. The 'Maison Anglais' was too terrifying a place on a night like this. We had been missed out. Quelle dommage!

So - I had a large bag of bite sized choccy bars to dispose of. What a problem. Now, put me in a room with Dawn French and a chocolate fountain and I promise you there will be blood on the carpet. I decided that if the bag was out of sight I would forget about them . Eventually. And anyway, I reasoned, they were probably quite revolting. I like the dark, sensuous, Belgian stuff...for grown-ups. Unfortunately a few weeks later I was struggling to complete an article on Antonio Gaudi and the Sagrada Famillia. It was destined to be like the building itself...unfinished. A deadline was approaching... desperate measures were called for. Like a chocolate rush.

The fact that the bars were bite sized may have been the problem. And the fact that one wasn't enough.I don't know how many I munched my way through before the article was completed, I just know I felt extremely queasy, spent the rest of the day haunted by Puritan guilt, and three years later I reckon I'm still wearing every last damned bar on my hips.

The next year a minuscule pumpkin and a equally tiny Spider Man materialised on the door step, and were suitably rewarded for outstanding bravery when confronted by foreigners. I bought a bag of Haribos on this occasion. I was pretty well guaranteed not to touch those should there be any left over.

So, recalling the indecision's of previous years I have bought a packet of individually wrapped 'Petit Sacripants' which is a very exotic title for what is basically a plain biscuit with a layer of sweetened cream,and a covering of milk chocolate on top of that. I notice that the calorie count is 519 per 100 grms, which I have worked out is 103.8 calories per sacripant. I shall bear that in mind, should they still be hovering about after the weekend.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Being a First Time Granny

I've been a bit inactive with my blogging of late, but I have a really good excuse.

Last week, well Monday to be precise, my very first grandchild made his grand entrance into the world.

Was it because we knew he was on the way from last January, or was it because we knew from May onwards that the embryonic blob was actually a boy? Either way the waiting seemed endless, and as the expected date grew nearer my patience was on the point of running out. What it was like for his poor parents I can't imagine. Then of course he decided to keep us all waiting that little bit longer, although it was only a few days it seemed like a whole extra month to me. Then I had to wait to find out how much he weighed (always a vital piece of information for the waiting public), then I had to wait for the photos, but at least we have email these days.If I'd had to have waited for snail mail I'd have gone mad.

Now I can't wait to see him in real life, but it'll be another five weeks before that happens. By which time he will have 'fluffed-up' nicely, will have grown into his first-size baby-grows and will hopefully be adopting a sociable sleeping pattern. Visiting grannies expect no less.

I remember when his mother was born, an elderly friend took a look at her, agreed she was a lovely baby but remarked gloomily that he despaired for the world she had been born into. I find myself echoing his words, but I suppose that's something everyone has thought about a new life and the state of the world since time began.
Recessions, credit crunches,redundancies, repossessions - I'm quite sure my daughter will be worrying about just the same things in twenty or so years when she takes a first look at a new grandchild.

History has a strange habit of repeating itself, like an endless loop. The new baby's grandfather was born on the verge of the last big Wall Street crash in the late twenties of the last century, and he's survived a world war, a three day week, boom and bust... the full works !

So welcome to the world, with all it's faults, William .

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food for Thought

Like thousands of others I'm following the fortunes of the 'Restaurant' wannabees. I watch the programme with a mixture of disbelief and embarrassment. Why, in God's name aren't they better prepared and better organised? And above all what on earth drives them to submit themselves to the scrutiny of several thousand viewers, their poor, starving customers, two of the most humourless adjudicators and the eagle eye of the great Raymond Blanc ? Are they mad?

It must be the lure of the prize, their own restaurant. The idea that they will be running their own restaurant is somewhat fanciful, as the prize winners will still be working for someone other than themselves ....Raymond himself. And sweet, kind, charmingly Gallic as he may seem, he'll be like every other successful entrepreneur when you actually work for him. A very, very hard taskmaster. How do the hopeful contestants think he got to be where he is today?

Observing the shenanigans of the contestants from a distance is quite enlightening. I've been away from the UK for so long, I've actually forgotten that a decent bottle of wine can cost twenty quid from an off-licence.And I've also forgotten that British restaurants 'turn tables'.

What a philistine habit that is. It's almost unheard of here, certainly in rural eating places. When we first came to France I would ring up to book a table, and then wonder why they didn't ask me what time I wanted it for. They weren't interested in my carefully rehearsed time-telling. If I wanted a table for lunch, well they opened at 12...why should I stipulate a time? No-one else would be taking our table...it was ours for as long as we wanted.

Being asked to vacate your table would be tantamount to committing catering hari-kari. No-one would ever patronise the place again. That's one of the joys of eating out in France. There's no whisking away of plates, or suggestions that you take coffee in 'the lounge'. Ninety-nine percent of restaurants don't possess a sitting area anyway. And that's something I really like. In the UK nothing would annoy me more than being 'stacked' in a restaurant bar for half an hour or so, while waiters try to chivvy on the diners occupying our booked table. Being shovelled into the same bar for coffee afterwards was even worse. In France meals are to be enjoyed, lingered over, chatted over...even at times argued over.

Whilst on this epicurean subject,I thought an A -Z to some of the more obscure items you might find on a French restaurant menu. might be useful.
So here's:


abats : offal

agrumes : citrus fruit

aïgo bouido : Provençal garlic soup served over pieces of bread

aigre : sour

aigre-doux : sweet-and-sour

à aigrir : soured - wine or milk

ail : garlic :

gousse d'ail = clove of garlic

ail semoule : garlic salt

aïoli : a Provencal garlic mayonaise sauce,

airelle : cranberry
alevin : white bait

amuse-gueule , amuse-bouche : cocktail snack

anchoyade : Provençal purée made with anchovy, garlic and olive oil

babeurre buttermilk :

barbouillade : stuffed eggplant or eggplant stew (Provençal)

bavette (steak) : minute steak; the top or skirt of beef

bécasse woodcock

becassine snipe

beignet : doughnut : (beignet, doughnut, fritter)

betterave : beetroot

blé : wheat (useful if anyone has a wheat allergy) :

- germe de blé = wheatgerm

blé noir : buckwheat

blette: Swiss chard

bouchonné : corked = wine that's gone off, with the taste of its cork

bourride : Provençal fish soup, prepared with tomatoes, garlic, onions, herbs and olive oil, and served with aïoli sauce.

brebis : ewe as in fromage de brebis

brouillade : a Provençal type of scrambled eggs

broyé : crushed


cabillaud fesh cod ..... salt cod : morue

cacahouète : peanut

calmar : squid

câpres : capers

capucine : nasturtium

cardoon: an edible thistle, related to the artichoke, with edible root and leafstalks which resemble overgrown celery.

carvi : caraway

cassis :blackcurrant

cassis, creme de : blackcurrant liqueur

chapelure : bread crumbs

chapon : crust rubbed with garlic

chapon : capon a young castrated and fattened chicken

chevreau de lait : milk goat (kid)

chicorée frisée : chicory lettuce

ciboule : spring onion

ciboulette : chives

citrouille : pumpkin

coco rose : small bean, white with pink veins

coing: quince

confit : preserved, confit de canard is duck joints cooked and preserved in its own fat

confit de [fruit] : candied, jellied or crystallized fruit.

confiture : jam

counne : rind, skin : example: "couenne de porc" is porc rind

courge : squash

crème chantilly : whipped cream

crème èpaisse : thick cream

crème fleurette : light cream : a low-fat cream used in cooking, in place of crème fraîche; also "crème liquide"

crème fraîche : cream, full-fat : used for making butter, sauces, etc.

cuire au four : bake in the oven


daube beef stew

dinde : turkey :

dindonneau: young turkey

dorade : sea-bream

doux mild or sweet


ecorce : rind

écrasé: crushed or flattened

écrevisse : crayfish, crawfish

en poudre : powder

encornet : squid

endive : chicory.

entrecôte (steak) : ribsteak

entremets : sweet desserts and sweet side dishes.
épicé : hot, spicy

épinard : spinach

à éplucher : to peel


farci : stuffed = légumes farcis

farine : flour :

farine de sarrasin :buckwheat flour

faux-filet (steak) : sirloin steak

fenouil : fennel

fève : broad bean

filet (steak) : tenderloin steak

filet mignon : small tender end of tenderloin of beef (or of veal or pork)

fondu : melted

fougasse : a type of flattened Provencal bread often stuffed with olives

four : oven

fourré : filled ,stuffed, creamed

fromage blanc : a soft white cheese like a thick yogurt

fromage de chèvre : goat cheese

fromage rapé : grated cheese


germe de blé : wheatgerm (Again useful for those with a wheat allergy)

gibier : game - pheasant, boar, etc.

gigot: : Leg of lamb or leg of mutton, or kid usually roasted

girofle clove : "clous de girofle" are whole cloves, and "girofle moulu" or "girofle en poudre" are powdered cloves. ).

gousse clove, pod : clove (of garlic); pod (of bean or pea)

goût taste : (arôme = aroma; goût = taste; parfum = flavor of ice cream;

à goûter : to taste

grenade : pomegranate

grondin : gurnard,

gros sel: rock, or coarse salt

haricot : bean

haricot blanc : white beans

haricot coco rose d'Eyragues : small white bean with pink veins

haricot rouge : kidney beans

haricot vert : green beans

Next Time : I to P

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Explosive Way to Celebrate a Birthday

It was my birthday on Tuesday. As one gets older birthdays tend to be less celebratory. And past a certain age one wishes one could ignore them altogether.

So there would be no popping of champagne corks, and in these belt-tightening times, dinner 'a deux' in a local restaurant wasn't even mooted. A trip to the shops would have to provide my birthday treat. I could hardly wait. A mooch around Aldi and then to Lidls on the way home. But first we would call in on the doctor for our drug fix(atenolol, not amphetamines I hasten to add) So I was in for an action-packed day.

It began well. We had our usual banter with the doctor, and asked him to sign our forms for our free flu jabs. He was in a chatty mood as we were the only ones in the surgery and I reflected again on how fortunate we are to be in the French health system. I was even more cheered when I went into the pharmacy in Lannemezan and the lady who was serving me wished me (in nervous English) an 'Appy Birthday.

At Aldi Captain Sensible reversed the car carefully to take advantage of some shade (it has been really warm these last few days). We had already been across the road at another cheapo supermarket and although we had a cool box he's paranoid about food going off if the boot gets warm.

So we did our shopping, went out to the car and I stood at the back, with the trolley, ready to load it all in the boot. The Captain decides it's going to be better to move the car a foot or so forward to make it easier for me to get to the tailgate. So far, so good.

So he gets half in the car...ie he gets his left cheek on the seat and as his right leg is still outside he attempts to engage the clutch with his left. Unfortunately he hits the accelerator instead and covers me, the shopping trolley, and the tree under which we're parked,with a layer of oily soot as he accidentally performs what is known in some circles as an 'Italian Service.' When I could eventually see, and had stopped coughing, I attempted to see the funny side of it. It was difficult. As is the way with some men, Captain Sensible thought it was hilarious.

As the groceries were also covered in fine soot I managed to get it all over my hands as I packed them away. I had bought some cheap perfume in Aldi, and like a child I couldn't wait to try it, so I'd just sprayed my neck liberally with it seconds before the volcano erupted. So my neck was wet, and acted like a soot magnet.

Most people would have gone home at this point, but we still had another supermarket to blitz so if anyone saw a black and white minstrel shopping in the Lannemezan Lidls it was me.