Showing posts with label food and drink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food and drink. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Genetic tucker

The term "tucker" is Aussie slang, meaning food for humans.

Click to enlarge slightly

Several earlier posts in my blog have mentioned the CRISP-Cas9 system of gene editing. Click here to access a Wikipedia article on this subject. Well, for the first time ever, an edible green plant has been created by genetic editing using the CRISP-Cas9 system. It looks great. I hope it’s tasty. I’m sure it is. I’m a genetic optimist.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say cheese... with an echo

For several years, my favorite cheese has been Ossau-Iraty, produced from unpasteurized ewe’s milk in the Béarn and Pays basque region of south-west France. In 2011, at an international cheese fair in England, a cheese of this variety was awarded the prize of the World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese.

Even in France, this product is not nearly as well-known as celebrated cheeses such as Roquefort, Brie, Cantal, St-Marcellin, Comté, Gruyère, etc. Maybe the double-barrelled name is a minor stumbling-block, in that it’s slightly complicated, and many French people wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to pronounce it. At the supermarket, I’ve got into the habit of simply asking for Ossau… and the cheese lady knows immediately what I mean.

Well, that’s going to have to change, because the producers of this cheese have launched a TV campaign designed to demonstrate how the name of their product should be pronounced. And the least that can be said is that this is likely to give rise to a lot of decibels in French supermarkets. In fact, the next time I intend to request a slice of Ossau-Iraty, I should probably think about taking along a megaphone, combined with an electronic echo box.

I’ve noticed, too, that the various demonstrations of cries of “Ossau-Iraty” in the valleys are all performed by young women. I believe that this reflects the fact that barefoot nymphs used to work as shepherdesses in the valleys where this cheese is produced.

Meanwhile, the males of the villages were busy making cheese… and playing Basque pelota.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Unsafe to eat

This afternoon, at the charcuterie counter in a local supermarket, I was intrigued by the behavior of a young female client who wished to purchase a few slices of ham. She was lecturing the employee.

CLIENT: I’m counting on you to give me good-quality ham, not the nasty stuff with mixed-up DNA.

The employee was just as bewildered as I was. What was this allusion to “mixed-up DNA” ? A few extra words from the client informed me immediately what it was all about. She referred to a TV show, last night, on the subject of ham, and the dangers of certain categories of products. I had started to watch it, but I was too depressed to persevere to the end of the program… so I missed out about the “mixed-up DNA”, and can only guess what ugly facts had been divulged. But I stepped into the conversation.

WILLIAM: Did you watch the show on disgusting fish, a week ago? Personally, I’ve decided to cease eating salmon.

EMPLOYEE: I always say to myself that, if we took account of everything we see on TV, we would be afraid to eat anything at all.

By that time, two other clients joined in our conversation. All of us (except the naive supermarket employee) seemed to have seen the two TV shows: the first one on dangerous fish products, and the second one on ham. And it was clear that we were all impressed, to a certain extent, by what we had learned about the dangers of certain everyday foodstuffs.

WILLIAM: It's amazing that four random clients such as us have all been influenced by these TV shows. We should form a club, to talk together about these dangers.

CLIENT: I agree wholeheartedly, Monsieur. Please create such a club, and I’ll be the first to join.

It’s clear, in any case, that French TV is doing a fine job of making consumers aware of various unwholesome food facts. It would indeed be an excellent idea to create some kind of consumers’ club within the context of our local supermarkets (if it hasn’t been done already), but I’m not exactly the right man in the right place for such a project. On the other hand, I do intend to explore our local trout-hatchery situation, if possible, to see if everything’s as limpid as the icy water in a mountain stream.

Monday, August 5, 2013

All the food that's fit to eat

We were confronted simultaneously, the morning, with two front-page news items about food, one of which was disastrously negative, and the other, amazingly positive.

First, the bad news. The presence of a dangerous bacterium, capable of inducing botulism, has been detected in products from the New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, obliging China to reject powdered milk supplied by the French Danone company, which processes Fonterra raw milk.

Meanwhile, in London, the world's first artificial hamburger—created by the team of Professor Mark Post—was served up to two privileged tasters who had financed this astronomically expensive research project.

For the moment, I don't think it's all that important to know whether this prototype stuff was edible, and whether it did in fact taste like real beef. The thing that counts above all is that researchers have indeed imagined and started to test a process for transforming stem cells into laboratory meat. Even if it takes years before artificial hamburgers can compete effectively with the real stuff, the project is so fabulous that the time and effort will be justified in the foreseeable future.

Over the last fortnight, at Gamone, I've been experimenting with a Greek recipe for moussaka comprising ground lamb cooked with red wine and spices, grilled eggplants and zucchini, and a thick white sauce incorporating lots of shredded goat's cheese. Back in the old days, before people got around to serving up shit food, I used to appreciate this dish greatly, but I wouldn't feel comfortable about purchasing it these days, neither as a pfrepared dish in a supermarket, nor in a restaurant... because you can no longer have confidence in what you might be eating. So, the ideal solution is to learn how to prepare it myself. And I must say that the first results are totally convincing. On the other hand, in the case of a dish such as moussaka (or lasagna) in which the meat is present in the form of a thick sauce, I can imagine that a successfully-engineered variety of artificial meat would be perfectly acceptable.

I've already pointed out in my blog that I consume a large quantity of pizzas, which I prepare and bake here at home. There again, I would no longer think of purchasing any kind of commercially-available pizza, except maybe in a reputed Italian restaurant. A recent TV program explained all the cheap and nasty shortcuts that the pizza industry employs in order to minimize the cost price of this product, including the use of some kind of fake "cheese". When I make a delicious pizza at home, I'm aware that the price of my raw ingredients (without attempting to evaluate the costs of my cooking operations) is already at least twice as much as what I would pay for a take-away pizza. So, there's a mystery somewhere along the line...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Home-made candied ginger

In my childhood recollections, candied ginger is a Proustian madeleine. [If you don't know what I mean, look up the last pair of words in Google.] This delicious foodstuff is associated, in my memories, with Xmas celebrations in the house of my paternal grandparents in Oliver Street, Grafton.

Anne, Don and me at our grandparents' home in Oliver Street

Often, when I drop in at an organic-foods store in St-Marcellin, I buy a bag of candied ginger... and I generally end up eating it all before I get home. You see, I really seem to be addicted to candied ginger. Recently, my Choranche neighbor Tineke gave me a jar of fine candied ginger in syrup from the Netherlands. Recipes on the Internet suggest that it's quite easy to prepare. So, I gave it a try. First, you peel the ginger roots and chop them into pieces.

From that point on, it's basically just a matter of boiling the pieces, three or four times, in a sugar syrup. Here's the end result:

My home-made candied ginger is delicious... but there won't be much of it left by the time this blog post is published. The chunks are soft and tasty, but they're slightly stringy, which simply indicates that the raw ginger rhizomes (roots) that I purchased in a local fruit and vegetables store were not quite as fresh as I would have hoped. If the rhizomes had been younger (as seems to be the case for the abopve-mentioned Dutch product), there would have been no stringiness whatsoever, and the boiling operations would have rendered the chunks quite transparent.

Incidentally, when I drained the ginger chunks, I set aside the precious syrup in which they had been cooked. I then used this syrup to flavor chilled Perrier, obtaining a liquid madeleine from my childhood in South Grafton: ginger ale.

Maybe the ideal way of obtaining fresh ginger rhizomes would be to actually grow the plant here in my vegetable garden at Gamone. For me, though, there's a problem. Experts state that the ideal constant temperature for ginger plants is around 25 degrees Centigrade. That more-or-less rules out Gamone... unless, of course, I were to install a small greenhouse. And, to heat it in winter, I could use a solar panel. Now, that sounds like a pretty complex project aimed at resurrecting my madeleine. Maybe I should choose the relatively simple strategy adopted by Marcel Proust, and write a book on the subject.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adding spice to my existence

This looks like a quite ordinary fruit salad, composed of sliced apples, pears, oranges, strawberries and kiwifruit.

The photo doesn't reveal what's special about my fruit salad: the succulent spicy brown syrup in which the fruit fragments are bathing. So, let me explain how I came to develop (almost by chance) this delicious dessert.

My blog post of 26 July 2012 entitled Roast pork "Bangkok-en-Royans" [display] extolled the merits of a seasoning powder produced by a firm in the port of Samut Sakhon (Thailand), a few dozen kilometers south-west of Bangkok. This piece of pork shoulder, prepared this morning using this product, will be left to marinate until tomorrow, when I'll bake it slowly at a relatively low temperature.

A few days ago, when I dropped in at the small shop in Romans where I purchase Asian foodstuffs, I ended up chatting with the lady in charge about the principal ingredients in this powder: cinnamon and anise. I was particularly interested in the exotic fruit known as star anise (badiane in French).

The pharmaceutical industry had found that this everyday Chinese product (also grown in southern NSW) could be used to manufacture the Tamiflu anti-influenza drug. In the context of the swine flu outbreak in 2009, the price of star anise soared astronomically. Happily, since then, researchers have learned how to use bacteria instead of the Illicium verum flowers to produce the anti-influenza drug, and packets of star anise (either as dried flowers or ground into powder) are, once again, quite cheap.

I bought a big packet of ground star anise. At home, I started looking around on the Internet for interesting ways of using this fragrant product... and that's how I came upon the recipe for my fruit salad. Besides, the weather had become exceptionally warm, and the idea of eating fruit with a flavor of pastis liquor attracted me. First, I needed another ingredient: brown cane sugar.

The syrup is made by dissolving a large quantity of sugar in boiling water. (With a sense of guilt, I prefer to employ the fuzzy adjective "large", since we know already that even the smallest quantity of sugar used to make syrup is excessive from a health viewpoint.) To spice up the syrup, I mixed in a teaspoon of star anise, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of cloves, a few drops of vanilla essence and the zest of an orange and a lemon. After the syrup had been bubbling for a few minutes, I poured it onto my fragments of fruit, which tended to cook them slightly. When the mixture had cooled down, I covered the bowl in cellophane, and left the salad in the refrigerator overnight. This salad is delicious with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happily addicted to pumpkin scones

I don't know whether it's grave from a health viewpoint, but I'm forced to admit that I've become totally addicted to my pumpkin scones, which are not only tasty (crammed with sultanas and walnuts) but lovely to look at.

In my deep freezer, there's still a sizeable stock of the essential ingredient: packets of my homemade pumpkin purée, alongside piles of frozen pieces of uncooked pumpkin. Besides, I've even noticed that a French manufacturer of frozen foodstuffs (Picard) proposes cubes of pumpkin purée. So, I should be able to survive up until next autumn's backyard pumpkin harvest.

I've been wondering seriously whether pumpkin molecules might have a direct impact upon the part of my DNA that produces dopamine. Meanwhile, I spoke on the phone with a female geneticist in a big laboratory in Lyon about the possibility of learning whether my COMT gene makes me met/met, val/val or val/met. She was kind enough not to laugh at me... which brought about such a huge and happy surge of dopamine in my body that droplets of the precious pleasure-giving stuff were soon exuded through my skin, and I had to change my damp underclothes.

Incidentally, I've been lucky enough to avoid being infected by the current epidemics of flu and diarrhea that have hit France. Although I would be incapable of justifying my opinions with scientific arguments, I'm convinced that the pumpkin scones have been protecting me in a mysterious way that brings to mind the miracles of homeopathy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin scones

In the middle of a hot summer, life's not easy for pumpkins, which crave for water.

But they survive, and perk up—as sprightly as ever—as soon as the sun goes down. Then, in autumn, the harvest is so impressive that you end up wandering what you might do with all your glorious pumpkins. Well, here's my well-tested suggestion: Make pumpkin scones !

First, you need to produce pumpkin purée. Slice the pumpkin into big pieces. Remove the seeds, but don't touch the skin. Place the pieces on a non-stick tray (called Tefal in France) and bake at 200 degrees for an hour and a quarter. Let the baked pieces cool, then detach the soft pumpkin from the skin and place the fragments in a big bowl.

To transform the baked pumpkin into a purée, the ideal solution is a a gadget such as you see in the above photo. (My daughter Emmanuelle first informed me of the existence of this inexpensive soup-making device, many years ago, and told me that it would change my life... and she was spot on.) I soon had a pile of pumpkin purée.

Pumpkin purée is great stuff in that you can ladle it into plastic bags, each bag holding a cupful of purée, and deep-freeze it for your winter scones. Now, let's look at the recipe for pumpkin scones. At one stage, you'll need an essential ingredient that Americans (world champions in the domain of pumpkin scones) designate as pumpkin pie spice. In France, this product is obtained by mixing together four familiar spices, shown here:

Here's the precise recipe:

— a tablespoon of cinnamon (cannelle)

— a teaspoon of ginger (gingembre moulu)

— half a teaspoon of nutmeg (muscade moulue)

— half a teaspoon of ground cloves (girofle moulue)

Add a pinch of salt and mix. Keep the mixture in a sealed jar. For each batch of pumpkin scones based upon the preparation I'm about to describe, you'll only use a teaspoon of the mixed spices.

Here in France, people who would like to try out superb Anglo-Saxon recipes such as scones are often mystified unnecessarily by the names of three basic ingredients, whose French equivalents are shown here:

For French readers of my blog, here are the explanations:

— So-called buttermilk is simply fermented milk: a Breton product designated as lait Ribot.

— Anglo-Saxon baking powder is simply the French stuff known as levure chimique alsacienne, sold in its familiar little pink paper packets.

— Anglo-Saxon baking soda is simply the French product designated as bicarbonate alimentaire.

In France, these products can be found in your local supermarket. Once you've got everything in place, the preparation of pumpkin scones is quite simple.

Dry ingredients. In a big bowl, mix together 2 cups (260 grams) of flour, a third of a cup (75 grams) of sugar, a teaspoon of spices (as described above), a teaspoon of baking powder (levure chimique), a half-teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate alimentaire) and a dose of genuine vanilla.

As far as the vanilla is concerned, a convenient solution is the sachet of powdered vanilla sugar. If you resort to the liquid extract, then a few drops should be added to the moist ingredients (described below). The nec-plus-ultra solution that consists of grinding dried vanilla beans from Madagascar is applicable if you happen to have a son such as my François who visits all kinds of exotic places on his archaic moped.

In the usual pastry-making manner, use a pastry-blender device or a pair of knives to insert 125 grams of unsalted butter (beurre doux) into the flour. Here's a photo of a pastry-blender:

Stir in a generous quantity of raisins (I prefer the soft white variety) and walnuts (from Gamone, of course).

Moist ingredients. In a small bowl, mix half a cup (an 8th of a liter) of pumpkin purée with the same volume of buttermilk (lait Ribot). Stir well.

Insert the moist ingredients into the big bowl of dry ingredients, and stir lazily until everything is humid: just enough, but no more. On a floured board, pat the dough into a flat slab, and cut out eight fragments. Place them in small non-stick pie cups of the Tefal kind: a must for pie-makers.

Flatten each scone in its tray, then brush the top surface with a mixture of an egg beaten with cream. Sprinkle the top of each scone with chunks of pistachio nuts or sesame seeds. Place the Tefal cups on a large Tefal tray, so that the underside of the scones won't be scorched. Bake at 200 degrees C for some 20 minutes. Here's the result:

In all modesty, I have to admit that these are surely the finest scones I've ever tasted. To be eaten with a glass of cool Sauvignon.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Raw fish

Supermarkets of the French Intermarché group have a good reputation for their fish, based upon the fact that their Scapêche subsidiary operates a fleet of 17 fishing boats, employing 220 officers and sailors. Their website [here] describes the vessels, their activities and their ecological fishing principles. Most of the fleet is composed of trawlers: 5 small boats and 8 deep-sea trawlers based in the Breton port of Lorient. Two dragnet vessels harvest fish such as sardines, and they also operate a crab boat. The flower of their fleet is a vessel for longline fishing, the Ile de la Réunion, which operates in Antarctic oceans in the vicinity of the Kerguelen and Crozet islands.

Thanks to the activities of this Intermarché fleet, we can purchase all kinds of excellent fish products in the local stores. At the Intermarché store in St-Jean-en-Royans, the friendly woman in charge of their fish counter knows that I'm an aficionado of fresh fish that can be eaten raw, in the Japanese sushi fashion. Here's a dish of espadon (swordfish) that I prepared yesterday.

The green stuff is ultra-hot wasabi paste, and the rice is sprinkled with sesame seeds and Kikkoman soy sauce. Purists will be shocked to learn that I've put a dab of Indian lime chutney on top of the rice.

The Scapêche fleet also provides us with red tuna (not exactly cheap), which is surely the king of sushi-style products.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quick and easy dessert

Tiramisu is a great Italian invention. To make this tasty dessert, you need little more than a 250 gram packet of mascarpone cheese, a few eggs and a packet of ladyfinger biscuits. In the variety of tiramisu I made for this evening's dinner, I incorporated fresh strawberries and sprinkled cocoa powder and sliced almonds on top.

I've always thought of tiramisu as a dessert that appears to be more sophisticated than what it really is. Admittedly, a lot depends on the nature and quality of your ladyfinger biscuits. In this evening's preparation, I used traditional Italian crackly sapori biscuits that I came upon by chance, a few days ago, in our local supermarket.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Our daily bread

A month ago, well after 10 o'clock in the evening on the state-owned TV channel that specializes in documentaries (France 5), a program about bread utterly enthralled me. I was dismayed that such a fascinating and fundamental subject should be dealt with, late in the evening, on a relatively secondary media platform. A few days later, however, I learned that I had been far from alone in watching this wonderful celebration of our daily bread. Over three-quarters of a million viewers had been intrigued and subjugated, like me, by this subject.

Funnily enough, one of the stars of the show was a French-speaking US academic who explained that he had been searching doggedly for a concrete theme enabling him to tackle a vast research subject: the marvelous specificity of French culture. Then suddenly, the ideal subject hit him in the face, as it were: French bread! In fact, the bread theme hit him simultaneously in the nose, the eyes and even the ears… prior to the mouth. (When freshly-baked baguettes are taken out of the oven, the cooling crust makes a gentle crackling sound for a few minutes. Bakers say that their bread is "singing".) A correctly-prepared and perfectly-baked French baguette is indeed an exotic masterpiece of everyday gastronomy that deserves admiration and universal respect.

A few days after watching this TV program, I dropped in at a ceramics store on the outskirts of Valence to make inquiries about their wood-burning stone bread ovens. I said jokingly to the lady who was giving me documentation: "Can you guess what made me think about the idea of installing a bread oven?" She answered immediately: "I suppose you watched the marvelous TV program on bread, a few nights ago." I had the impression that I had been drawn into some kind of bread fraternity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of what they refer to as the English Channel (which the French call la Manche), look at this ugly tasteless stuff—devoid of structure and texture—that they refer to as "bread":

Apparently the Brits invented this kind of foodstuff about half-a-century ago (which is really weird, when you think about it, since they're located just across the water from France), and they're as proud as hell, today, to be able to claim that they've exported the recipe to faraway places such as Australia, South Africa and South America.

I've just been reading an article in the UK press which reveals that the invention of this stuff was the work of "research bakers at Chorleywood". I have the impression that many British folk who've grown accustomed to this product would be most upset if they heard me saying that I find this "bread" utterly insipid. Maybe there are British bread-eaters who would be nauseated and physically ill if they were forced to sit down at an outdoor café table and eat a crisp fragment of a freshly-baked baguette with a chunk of Camembert cheese. Besides, I can already hear the whine of members of the Aussie community telling me that there's no better stuff on the planet than white cotton-wool factory-made sliced bread from Sydney smeared with yucky Vegemite. Thankfully, I don't need to get involved in discussions on questions of that kind. I have the good fortune of living in France.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bug Mac and beetle sauce, please!

I was intrigued by an article in the French press revealing that Dutch food researchers are advancing rapidly in the domain of new foodstuffs based upon edible insects.

According to this fascinating article, crunchy baked insects often have a taste reminiscent of hazelnuts. As foodstuff, they're rich in proteins, low in fat, and insect maladies cannot be transmitted to humans who might eat afflicted insects. Unlike cattle, insects don't fart methane. Unlike pigs, insects don't produce piles of filthy manure that can harm the environment (as in Brittany today). You might say that the only negative aspect of the idea of insects being envisaged as food for humans is our cultural aversion to eating creepy-crawly things. Still, we've overcome that reaction in the case of lobsters, prawns and crabs. Besides, people who've gotten over the hurdle of consuming oysters, snails and frogs' legs shouldn't have much trouble in gobbling down, say, grilled grasshoppers or raw witchetty grubs. It's a pity that many videos of people being introduced to bush tucker in Australia, say, include images of screaming females looking as if they're about to puke.

Efficient promotional work will have to be carried out, to convince future consumers that insects are not, somehow, dirty and disgusting.

Buggy lollipops might be a good idea for kids, but I've got a better suggestion for selling such food to adults. The insects should be pulverized (so that their recognizable attributes disappear) and transformed into a surimi-like paste. This could then be aromatized, colored, enhanced with natural herbs and then packaged like ready-to-grill barbecue rissoles… maybe under a nice new market-oriented name: Insex steak. Producers could even start rumors about the powerful aphrodisiac effects of this stuff, and its extraordinary results in the case of sporting champions. Maybe they could hire the great Lance (now that he's about to retire) to launch a planetary promotional campaign with the buzzword InsexStrong

The figures are eloquent. To produce a kilogram of traditional meat, farmers need to supply ten kilograms of vegetal fodder. This same quantity of plant resources could produce between six and eight kilograms of insects. And it's now known that at least 1400 insect species could be consumed safely by humans. So, when do we sit down for lunch?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Over the years, I've acquired a taste for jasmin-flavored tea. I try to remember, on the rare occasions when I happen to be shopping in a big city (such as Valence), to buy this expensive product in a teashop. Meanwhile, I buy tea bags of jasmin tea in the supermarkets. But they often seem to run out of this stuff. Maybe jasmin is becoming a rare commodity in the industrial world. Yesterday, frustrated by the total absence of any variety of jasmin tea at the local supermarket, I came upon the shelves that propose products in the category known as "commerce équitable" (fair trade). Besides, their teas are certified as "agriculture biologique" (organic farming).

I immediately bought two of the most exotic specimens I could find, flavored with bergamot, hibiscus and ginger. OK, it's not jasmin tea, and I don't know whether I'm simply a sucker for pretty packaging… but these varieties of tea are quite delicious.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

French food

It's funny but understandable (indeed predictable) that Unesco should choose to honor French cooking by considering it as part of the cultural heritage of humanity. This morning, downing my humble breakfast (South American coffee, English muffins and French butter and jam), I felt as if I were eating inside a great museum. But I wonder why France was chosen… rather than, say, England.

I've always been impressed by Hogarth's depiction of a grossly overweight monk caressing simultaneously the hunk of beef and his own fat tummy, while salivating around his protruding tongue. Meanwhile, behind him, a priest is officiating at a burial: maybe (we wonder) that of an underfed laborer or child. Besides, the lean man clothed in white (like the priest at the burial), carrying the weighty beef, could surely do with a decent feed. Clearly, between the corpse being buried and the carcass being carried, the fat monk has made his spiritual choice.

Yesterday afternoon, I phoned Madeleine (as I often do) to inquire about a former inhabitant of Pont-en-Royans whose name had just been revealed to me, by chance, in the course of my conversation with another old-timer in a neighboring village. The man about whom I sought information had been a grocer in Pont-en-Royans, like Madeleine herself, for many years. So I figured that she would surely be able to supply me with some interesting facts. (Readers will have gathered, quite correctly, that my dear neighbor Madeleine is my living encyclopedia concerning the people of Pont-en-Royans.) Well, that's where my trivial anecdote takes on, as it were, a universal dimension. In a nutshell: How does somebody (like Madeleine) suddenly describe, in a few spontaneous words, a personage from the past who had probably almost disappeared from her everyday memory? Isn't this the ultimate challenge of human Memory (with a capital M)? What in fact do we recall immediately about an ordinary individual who was once alongside us, in flesh and blood? Personally, when I meditate upon this rhetorical question, I find myself in the same kind of situation as all those zealous well-intentioned Mormon researchers who seek data about ancient births, marriages and deaths in order to attribute entry passes to the Kingdom of Heaven. Except that there's nothing abstract in my operations, since I'm talking with real folk such as Madeleine and the above-mentioned old-timer, who were once in contact with the ghost.

Madeleine talked to me about food. French food. About a certain craving for good old-fashioned French food. Madeleine's grocer colleague was a certain Lucien. He was excessively fat, which was not necessarily an obstacle for a grocer. Madeleine, on the other hand, has always been rather slim. Well, Lucien and his wife Lucette happened to be strolling around in Pont-en-Royans on a Sunday afternoon when they decided to drop in on Madeleine, at home, just to say hello. A sort of contact between business colleagues, you might say. Now, it so happened that Madeleine had spent the morning cooking a delicious regional delicacy called bugnes (pronounced boon-yeuh), which earn the cook cholesterol-based Brownie points in Heaven.

You make a mixture of flour, yeast, eggs and sugar. Then you spread it out thin, cut it up into moon-shaped slices, and fry them in oil. Getting back to Madeleine, and the Sunday-afternoon visit of Lucien and Lucette, the bugnes were accompanied by hot chocolate, in fine cups.

The fat grocer Lucien devoured those bugnes with hot chocolate as if his survival as a mortal on the planet Earth might depend upon this subsistence. The summit of Madeleine's recollection of this Sunday-afternoon encounter was the moment of their separation.

LUCETTE: We really must get going, Madeleine. Thanks so much for those bugnes and the hot chocolate. Lucien and I hadn't intended to disturb you this afternoon.

LUCIEN: Yes, Lucette has to prepare dinner. Then the gluttonous grocer turned towards his wife Lucette. What do think, my dear, about a dish of fried sardines and turnips?

After all those bugnes and hot chocolate on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Pont-en-Royans, and the gastronomical promise of an evening meal of sardines and turnips for Lucien, Madeleine has remained a little disgusted (maybe a milder word would be appropriate) for the last half-century. Meanwhile, we are the champions of the world of food.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You don't have to gulp it down immediately

The expression "fast food" suggests that you're expected to gulp it down rapidly. A US photographer, Sally Davies, has conducted an interesting experiment that seems to prove, on the contrary, that fast food is capable of standing by patiently, like a faithful robotic dog, until you decide that the right moment has come to savor it. She purchased a simple meal on 10 April 2010 (from a celebrated chain of fast-food outlets), and she promptly took a photo of it:

She then decided not to eat it straight away. Instead, she took further photos of it, periodically, to see how the food reacted to the passage of time. Here, for example, is the meal as it appeared on the 137th day:

As you can see, it's pristine, as if it had just been dished up. Now, this experiment would appear to prove something… but it's hard to say what. I was intrigued, above all, to learn that no bugs or insects of any kind had moved in for a tiny fast snack. If I understand correctly, even run-of-the-mill bacteria didn't appear to be very keen on this food… which is probably the most disturbing discovery of all. An observer can't help wondering if the daring bacteria that had moved in first actually succumbed to their tasting… like the tasters employed by medieval despots who were afraid of being poisoned. There are many pressing questions. For example: Has the meat retained its delicate barbecue texture? Are the French fries just as crisp today as when they emerged from the fry-pan? Another interesting question: Could food with such exceptional qualities of durability maybe play a vital role in lengthy space voyages?

The only thing that seems to be missing (for the moment) from this fascinating experiment is an in-depth gastronomical description of what the food actually tastes like at the end of that lengthy period.

POST SCRIPTUM: The latest French publicity for a celebrated fast-food outlet looks like this:

I'm a little annoyed to realize that French viewers are expected to understand that the English expression Big Tasty means "grand et savoureux". Does the US McDonald's corporation dare to consider that they're on a cultural mission aimed at teaching the French to speak English? No doubt yes. The thing that most intrigues me in this ad is the unexpected statement DURÉE LIMITÉE in the lower left-hand corner, meaning "limited duration"... which contradicts completely the above-mentioned idea, gleaned from the experiment of Sally Davies, that these fast foodstuffs might be astonishingly durable, if not eternal.

Having spoken thus, I'm confident that French cultural authorities will not tolerate this sort of linguistic bullying… in spite of the fact that they're faced with countless silly young French idiots who might think it smart to be brainwashed by a foreign force. In a Darwinian perspective, I'm convinced that the defenders of French linguistic culture will nevertheless emerge victorious, because all the young idiots who are tempted to eat that big tasty shit will surely die young, leaving little or no progeniture. Unless, of course, the US marketing geniuses hit upon the idea of launching a fabulous MacDarwin burger... whose exact evolutionary contents remain to be specified!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Staple Aussie food

Emmanuelle, my daughter, has the impression that there exists a characteristic Australian cuisine. I have no idea where she got this strange idea. She often asks me whether, apart from steak and kidney pie, and crumbed lamb cutlets, etc, I can recollect any other typical Aussie dishes. I often tell her that my staple diet, as a lad in South Grafton, was peanut butter sandwiches. A few days ago, for the first time ever since I've been in France, I bought a jar of Nicaraguan peanut butter at the local supermarket.

With my home-made walnut bread and Norman butter, the sandwiches are as good as (probably better than) anything from my childhood.

Meanwhile, if Australian readers were to supply my daughter with the recipes of authentic Australian dishes, I'm sure she would be delighted (since I believe she's putting together some kind of a document in this domain). Following my last visit to Australia, I've attempted to obtain the recipe of traditional meat pies of the so-called "humble pie" variety (this could well be a trademark), but nobody has ever replied to my inquiries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sacred bread

I hesitate before employing the adjective "sacred", in the case of bread, because its Christian overtones are overpowering. But it's surely the word I need. Bread has always been a vital substance in the most noble sanctuary that has ever existed: the home in which parents strive to feed their children and themselves. There were times and places (such as in early 19th-century Ireland) when bread was replaced by potatoes. There had even been a terrible period during which infected rye bread became the Devil's arm for torturing innocent peasants with the ghastly affliction known as Saint Anthony's Fire, depicted in this fragment of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch [1450-1516]:

This disease was finally conquered by clever monks whose hospitals and abbey were located in a lovely Dauphiné village not far from where I live. Their cure consisted simply of prohibiting the consumption of foul rye bread, and feeding their patients with pork broth.

In France, certain persistent superstitions (which I won't enumerate) remind us that we shouldn't fuck around with bread. After all, there are still hordes of magicians who claim that, with mysterious incantations, they're capable of transforming this archaic foodstuff into human flesh. Maybe I should speak rather of superhuman flesh, or even divine flesh. You know what I'm talking about: all that so-called transubstantiation bullshit, in which many otherwise sane folk claim to believe. In fact, I don't imagine for a second that they're really gobbling down cannibalistically a tasty little bit of Jesus's flesh. Besides, if pious folk all over the world have been consuming the Savior for so long, how come there's still a bit of him left? Is his flesh perpetually regenerated, like the missing tail of a lizard? What utter nonsense… and to think that people say they believe in that hogwash.

Let me get back to the "sacred bread" (inverted commas intended to remove all possible religious ambiguities) that I bake regularly at Gamone. It might or might not be religious, Christian, orthodox, Christ's transubstantiated body, or what the fucking hell… but my Gamone bread's bloody tasty. Just ask Sophia!

It's funny to admit that the initial phase of making Gamone bread consists in fact of my getting down on my hands and knees… but not to pray. I simply have to use a carpenter's hammer and a hunk of local tuff rock to break open a bowl of walnuts.

The recipe and the role of the bread machine are straightforward. Meanwhile, my dear dog is entitled to a few stray walnuts.

This photo is lovely. Sophia has put on white gloves (metaphorically, as it were) to handle that walnut, as if it were a rare delicacy, a treasure… which it is, of course, in Sophia's noble and generous mind (akin to that of an ancient Greek philosopher such as Socrates). At that instant, if my dog were a poet (which she surely is, in a way), she would be contemplating the opening stanzas of an ode to a walnut...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Health-giving drugs

Here's the gist of a trivial personal health problem that arose almost five years ago, which I've often described. My huge ram had escaped from Gamone. A neighbor phoned to inform me that the animal had apparently fallen down an embankment alongside the Rouillard bridge over the Bourne, and was now stranded, in a state of shock, on a narrow ledge about three meters above the surface of the river. I finally decided to walk into the water, throw a rope around the ram, and simply make him topple down into the water. Once he was next to me in the running river, I attached the rope securely, then we half-scrambled and half-swum to a spot some twenty meters downstream, where I made a superhuman effort (the sort of thing you can do in emergency situations) to drag him up onto dry earth. Unfortunately, the ram had apparently received internal wounds, maybe through being hit by a motor vehicle, and he died at Gamone a week later. Meanwhile, I woke up the next morning with a strange numbness at the tips of my right-hand thumb and index finger. A few weeks later, a brain scan revealed the presence of a tiny white dot, sign of a vascular accident. The brain specialist with eyes sharp enough to detect the spot told me that the national health research institute would be thrilled if I were to help them as a guinea pig in their testing of a new treatment based upon a mixture of omega 3 (fish oil) and vitamins (folates and vitamins B6 and B12). I agreed to join up. This meant taking two tablets a day for a period of several years, and having a detailed checkup, once a year, with a visiting nurse.

I took this stuff assiduously, even when I went out to Australia for a month in 2006. Their dietetic advice was always sound, and vaguely helpful, and their annual checkups confirmed that I was in perfect shape. The only thing I regretted concerning this entire experience was that I forgot to ask for the name and phone number of the splendid African girl who received me for the first visit at the hospital in Romans. (She was replaced by a dull guy.) In my mind, there was no doubt whatsoever that all this omega 3 and vitamins was truly doing me a hell of a lot of good. It made me feel in fine form. Inversely, if ever I forgot to take the tablets in the morning, I would soon be overcome by an unpleasant sensation of nausea, and the only solution was to rush into my bathroom and gulp down the precious tablets, whereupon I would perk up almost instantly. Not long after starting the treatment, I decided to create this blog, and I'm convinced that the omega 3 and vitamins actually affected me positively at a cerebral level, and were indirectly responsible for many of my best blog articles. There's no doubt whatsoever that these miracle drugs provided me with the energy enabling me to build my rose pergola and prepare the garden (which is now emerging cautiously but splendidly from winter). Although I can't actually swear to it, I have the impression that the daily dose of omega 3 and vitamins has produced another unexpected consequence (which the research institute never mentioned): they've increased the length of my penis by two or three centimeters.

Well, the experiment is now terminated, and I'm left with a small stock of unconsumed tablets.

People who know me are aware that I'm a good Christian, oozing with altruism and constantly trying to imagine charitable deeds that would render the lives of my fellow men more happy, or at least less horrible. I said to myself that I've received my fair share of these wonder drugs, and there's no reason why I shouldn't offer the left-over tablets to a less fortunate soul than me. Normally, they should be kept in a refrigerator. So, it might not be a good idea to send them to a distant land such as Australia. I was thinking that, maybe, among my blog readers, there's somebody who's planning a trip to the North Pole. There would be no problem about keeping the tablets cold. At the normal rate of two tablets a day, the available stock would be more than ample to provide the necessary energy supplement for reaching the North Pole and then getting back home again.

This morning, I received a final letter from the research institute. It's in French, but you'll recognize the Latin name of the miracle molecule upon which this treatment is based.

If you click the above image, you can see the entire letter. The female director of the laboratory was kind enough to point out in this letter that, if I want to receive a genuine dose of vitamins and omega 3, then I should eat cereals, fruit, vegetables and fish such as salmon, mackerels and sardines. Truly, those folk just can't stop doing me good.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life after M

You'll have to forgive me. My August 2009 was a harsh month, which I'm not likely to forget in the near future. To maintain minimal Internet contacts with the outside world, I was obliged to set foot almost daily, for weeks on end, in places of Purgatory (a little less nasty than Hell) that are intent upon reducing the peoples of the Earth to gut-level subservience: a slow and nasty kind of alimentary intoxication, not unlike subtle poisoning carried out in the context of the Accursed Kings of France, or in Agatha Christie novels.

Attention: I'm not suggesting for a moment that any fast-food outlet is deliberately trying to execute any kind of malicious poisoning plan. It's not at all deliberate. It just happens to be falling out that way. The saddest and most dramatic experience of all, when you're dining in this kind of place, is to lift your eyes (from your hamburger or from your computer screen) and take a quick look at your neighbors. There's a distinctly fast-food customer profile, a customer outline, a customer model, a customer contour... And it's not nice. It's a big, bulky, flabby, two-handed hamburger-guzzling shape, constantly asking for more fast fuel, like a diesel engine that starts to splutter as soon as the fuel gauge runs low. It's hard to nurture an admiration for one's humankind when you observe them devouring rubbish in a fast-food place.

But stop! I can't be totally sure that my Antipodes blog would emerge unscathed if such and such a corporation were to attack me for being verbally unkind to them. (What fabulous publicity!) My title proclaims: There is life after M. I'm here today as a survivor, to spread the Good News about our earthly sustenance.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Work of art signed Tineke

I often mention my friends and Choranche neighbors Tineke Bot and Serge Bellier, creators of the magnificent Rochemuse floral park. Here's a photo of the couple that I took ten days ago, when they invited me to a delightful restaurant, Chez Brun, on the banks of the Isère:

I'm so backward from a social viewpoint that I wasn't even aware that this fine restaurant existed on the river bank, just alongside the road to Romans. The outdoor terrace, shaded by a pair of huge trees—a lime and a plane—is so close to the bottle green waters of the Isère that you could almost go fishing between dishes. And there's a lovely old-fashioned suspension bridge just a few meters upstream, with the Vercors mountains in the background.

Let me get around to a visual presentation of Tineke's latest work of art: a plate of home-made French macaroons.

You might ask: How come this celebrated Dutch sculptress is baking cookies, and offering them to you as a gift?

Well, it all started a fortnight ago when I showed Tineke an irresistible book I had just bought, with "easy" recipes for making macaroons. When I say "irresistible", what I mean is that everybody in France loves macaroons, and everybody knows that they're terribly expensive to buy in top-quality cake shops. So, it's naturally very tempting to discover a nice little book that claims to provide you with the secret of making macaroons in a few easy lessons.

The truth of the matter is that, even with the magic book and all the right ingredients and kitchen devices (including an electronic thermometer), making macaroons remains a highly difficult challenge. My initial results, a month ago, were edible, but not exactly glorious: not sufficiently spectacular, in any case, to merit a blog article. But Tineke's macaroons are a different kettle of fish. She seems to have cracked the secret. As far as I'm concerned, the basic secret is clear: Authors who write books claiming to tell you how "easy" it is to bake macaroons are basically fabulists who should try their hand at writing fairy-tales for kids. Well, no, they shouldn't... because they're no doubt already earning a fortune (enough to purchase gastronomical macaroons in an expensive cake shop) through their recipe books.

Tineke claims that she detected a malicious gleam in my eye, a fortnight ago, when I said to her: "Tineke, you're an artist. Why don't you read this little book and try your hand at making macaroons?" The difference between the artist and me, needless to say, is that Tineke succeeded... and the outcome is truly delicious.