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

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Antipodean adventures

People imagine that the great island continent of Australia is far away from everywhere. In fact, as the following map indicates, the northern tip of Queensland is only a few hundred kilometers from two foreign lands: Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua.

A few weeks ago, five Australians decided that it would be fun to take off from Australia—more precisely, from Queensland's Horn Island in the Torres Strait—in a light plane and drop in at Mopah airport. They thought naively that, once they touched down on Indonesian soil, it would be easy for them to obtain tourist visas enabling them to do a bit of sightseeing before flying back home. Well, the latest news is that they've been fined several thousand dollars, and they're still in jail. In this context, my sister Susan Skyvington has been interviewed in The Australian:

Susan Skyvington, whose son Saul Dalton was detained in Papua for six months in 1999, said the similarities with her son's case were chilling.

"In the first few days he was under house arrest in a hotel and (we were told) we were going to be able to get him out in a few days ... when the documents were sorted out.

"Then they were saying he was not going to be released, they were going to put him through a trial and he was moved to a military police outstation in the jungle."

Mr Dalton, then 25, had gone to East Timor to hand out how-to-vote cards during the referendum on independence from Jakarta. Indonesian-backed militias were intimidating independence supporters at the time and took a dim view of foreigners participating in the political process.

Ms Skyvington said that when violence erupted her son boarded a ferry to Papua to escape, and was told he could sort out his documentation when he arrived. In Papua, he was put to trial and given 10 months' jail, which was reduced for good behaviour. He ended up spending six months in detention.

Ms Skyvington said that her son had never fully recovered from the experience, and now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another affair. In the above map, I've highlighted a magnificent place in northern Queensland called Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River, where the navigator James Cook berthed his vessel for a few weeks in 1770, to carry out repairs and replenish their stocks of water and food.

Today, tourists are warned that it's crocodile country, and that they must be constantly "crocwise".

[Click the banner to visit the Cooktown website, which lets you download a
page of survival instructions that should help you to avoid getting eaten alive.]


A few days ago, a 62-year-old Brisbane man who had been camping there with his wife strolled down to the edge of the water to retrieve his crab pots before driving off home. His wife never saw him again, but police discovered the man's camera on the river bank, along with his wristwatch and a sandal. There were track marks of a crocodile, and the line to the crab pots was cut.

Another local animal, the kangaroo, is in the front-page news. An Australian specialist on climate change, Ross Garnaut, has just suggested that people should give up eating beef and lamb and change to kangaroo meat, since our marsupials have the advantage of farting in a less noxious fashion than conventional livestock.

When I observe the quantity and variety of Oriental herbs, spices and Thai fish sauce that are recommended by chefs, to make kangaroo dishes tender and tasty, I'm wary about the possibility of a new source of urban flatulence pollution. Before implementing a change to local mammal meat, Aussie authorities might carry out comparative methane-rejection tests on humans who eat spicy kangaroo dishes as opposed to the ordinary farting of old-fashioned beef eaters.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Smoothie season

The most exotic smoothies incorporate tropical products such as bananas, mangoes, passion fruit and prickly pears. Many typical French fruit, such as melons, contain too much water (in my humble opinion) to be integrated into smoothies. So, when I speak of the "smoothie season", what I really mean is the time of the year when ideal imported fruit start to appear, at cheap prices, in local supermarkets. And that time, in France, is now. A purely-French smoothies ingredient, on the other hand, is top-quality yogurt.

Today's smoothie is an elegant variation on the celebrated milk shakes of my Anglo-Saxon youth in Grafton. Once upon a time, my adolescent girlfriend invited me around to her place, unexpectedly, so that I could taste a drink she had just concocted, in her mother's Grafton pub, with another girl. It was a kind of super milk shake incorporating ice cream, chocolate, malt and crushed macadamia nuts. It was divine. My Aphrodite had served me up the nectar of gods and goddesses. A rival classmate once drew my attention to the interesting fact that the initials of my earthly blond divinity, written as Ag, were the symbol of silver... which was surely, in the case of such a creature, the least of things. I think of her constantly, especially when I get around to making smoothies.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walnut wine

This afternoon, I started to prepare this year's walnut wine.

According to the traditional recipe for walnut wine, one should start to gather green walnuts after the feast-day of Saint John, which falls on June 24. Up here on the slopes of the Vercors, the fruit mature more slowly than down in the Isère valley. Today was the limit, though, because the wood of the future nut shell is starting to form.

I've figured out that, inside my plastic cask, there should be room for the walnuts in the wire basket and about three dozen liters of red wine. In fact, I use a volumetric ratio of 7:2:1 for wine, walnuts and (later) alcohol. More precisely, my intention is to macerate ten liters of walnuts in 35 liters of wine.

To measure out the chopped-up walnuts, I used an aluminium jug (in fact, a Greek implement for serving a liter of retsina wine). I had a rubber glove on my left hand, to hold the walnut while I was cutting it into four or five fragments, but my right hand, holding the knife, remained bare. Consequently, it soon looked like this:

These ugly brown stains won't disappear for a week or so. Throughout the region, one can easily recognize fellow walnut-wine makers.

[Anecdote: The first thing I did this morning, before even thinking about making walnut wine, was to lodge an application at the mayoral office in Choranche for my first French identity card. As required by law, the secretary took my fingerprint. She would have been surprised, I imagine, to encounter the fingers of a walnut-wine producer. Maybe such fingers are so cruddy that they can't even be printed!]

Tomorrow morning, I'll drive to St-Marcellin with the cask containing the chopped-up walnuts, and I'll purchase the required coarse 12-degree wine from a specialized bulk-wine dealer. Then it's simply a matter of allowing the maceration process to take place in my cellar at Gamone for at least three months.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kitchen implements

Intending to visit Grenoble, I called in this morning at the pretty little railway station of St-Marcellin. But they haven't got their act together yet. More precisely, their ticket window was closed, and their ticket machines expected me to have twenty or so euro coins on hand to pay for a return ticket to Grenoble. Impossible. So, failing this, I got back into my automobile and drove off towards the capital of the Alps.

Why was I intent upon visiting Grenoble? In the context of my ongoing research about Gamone, Natacha had advised me, this weekend, to try to ascend the various notarial affairs concerning sales of the property. Why not? A great idea... So, I set off for Grenoble, to the departmental archives. They informed me that the early 20th-century affair concerning Gamone, handled by a notary public named Gaston Mollet at Pont-en-Royans, had been taken over by Taulier at St-Romans... whom I happened to know personally. So, the classical upwards-research process (from known documents to conjectures) is now in full swing.

Finding myself in Grenoble on a lazy Monday, I purchased a few extraordinary but all-important cooking objects, which you may or may not discover in the usual suburban kitchen:

The big nylon skimmer is designed for pizzas in a pan, or omelettes. The bulky stainless-steel thing in the lower left corner is for flattening meat such as veal scalopinas. And the stainless-steel rings with handles (manufactured in Spain) are for frying eggs neatly.

French cry, requesting that people sit down to eat : A table !

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Paris restaurants

On Sunday, we had lunch at the charming Café Louis Philippe on the Right Bank, just a hundred meters east of the Hôtel de Ville, opposite the Ile St Louis.

It's a delightful setting, with interior decor dating from 1810. The food is traditional, so Christine and I chose a dish that we would not normally cook at home: veal blanquette.

On Monday, just before leaving Paris, we had lunch in a quite different but equally charming place: the restaurant Le Bourgogne, near the St-Martin canal.

François and his friend Stéphane often go there, and it's a great address. As its name suggests, if it weren't located in the heart of Paris, you might refer to it as a typical provincial restaurant.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cooking blunders

The kitchen expression "serve up the leftovers" is even more ugly in French: "accommoder les restes". It sounds like darning an old holey sock. Insofar as I cook for myself, many of my preparations stretch out over two or three meals. Consider the case of roast chicken. Since I purchase sturdy farm poultry, a plump chicken is always a three-mealer. As everybody knows, many dishes are better the second time round, when they've been heated up after a day or so in the refrigerator. That's particularly true in the case of curried turkey, for example.

Often, I set out with the intention of producing such-and-such a dish, but everything goes wrong, and I end up using the ingredients for a quite different purpose. A week ago, for example, I had a sudden urge to prepare Israeli falafels: essentially fried balls of mashed chickpeas and herbs stuffed, along with tomato and lettuce salad, into the circular bread product called pita in Greek. Everything was coming along fine up until I got around to opening up a pita from the local supermarket.

It crumbled into fragments like a fragile piece of cake. Not exactly the same texture and quality as countless falafels that I've munched in Israel. So, I instantly forgot about trying to prepare falafels, and decided to toast the remaining pitas, to make cheese sandwiches with Greek feta. They were excellent.

Long ago, I remember my first unsuccessful attempts at preparing mayonnaise. Christine and I were newly wedded, and we were awaiting a lunch visit from a delightful Breton ecclesiastic, Abbé Chéruel. Failing to produce genuine mayonnaise, I decided to mix the eggy/oily liquid with minced pork, as stuffing for tomatoes to be roasted in the oven. The outcome was delicious. For ages, I used to repeat this dish whenever we had guests. The recipe started out: Screw up an attempt at making mayonnaise...

That anecdote reminds me of the alleged discovery of roast pork. In ancient China, pigs were sacred animals that roamed around farm houses like dogs or donkeys. One day, a house was destroyed by fire, along with the farm animals. The farmer stroked sadly the scorched carcass of one of his dear departed pigs. His fingers were burnt. Automatically, to ease the pain, he put his fingers in his mouth... whereupon he tasted, for the first time ever, an unknown delicacy: roast pork. After that accidental incident, roast pork became an instant craze in China. The recipe started out: Burn down a farm house along with all the domestic animals...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Walnut wine

Yesterday, I finally got around to bottling and labeling the remainder of my walnut wine. I had almost forgotten the existence of this stock of green walnuts macerated in strong red wine, which had been sitting for several years in an airtight plastic cask. It has aged remarkably well, and the resulting liquor is mellow with a delightful aroma of walnuts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New brand of ready-made pastry

I've noticed that the quality of uncooked pastry, sold in supermarkets, changes considerably from one brand to another. Some are good, while others are poor. Obviously, none of them are as good as home-made pastry, but I find it convenient to use the commercial stuff whenever I want to make a tart quickly. The other day, I noticed a new brand of pastry at the supermarket. A test, last night, revealed that it's excellent for my traditional 20-minute apple tart recipe.

The topping is simply a whipped mixture of an egg yolk and thick cream. [It's amusing to see that the color of my cooking blends in well with that of the old pine family table from our former Parisian residence at 16 rue Rambuteau.]

The only hitch is the brand-name of this new pastry:

In French, it's OK, because "crousti" evokes the English adjective "crusty", whereas "pate" is French for "pastry". But I'm incapable of glimpsing this term (on packets in my refrigerator) without imagining that I've seen the word "constipate"... which is not exactly appetizing for the name of a foodstuff.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Non-standard food product

These days, consumers are accustomed to highly-standardized food products. If you make two quite separate purchases of a foodstuff X, at two different stores, on two different dates, you generally expect to obtain quasi-identical products... except, maybe, in the case of fresh fruit and vegetables. That being the case, I find it almost an exciting privilege to discover that my favorite everyday cheese—a local variety of Saint-Marcellin—appears to be quite different from one week to the next, even though its name, packaging and price remain constant.

One week, it's soft and creamy [as in the above photo]. A week later, it can be hard and chunky. The taste, too, evolves slightly, while remaining essentially constant. [Fortunately, my Saint Marcellin never gets around to tasting like Norman camembert or Swiss gruyère!] I like to think that these variations reflect in fact the changing seasons and weather, which influence naturally the quality of the fodder on which the local cows are grazing.

It's funny to think that, while industrialists in most fields make huge investments in order to produce standardized goods, consumers can look upon the surprises offered by non-standard products, such as my cheese, as a latter-day luxury.

I'm reminded of an anecdote in a quite different domain: hand-weaving. Many years ago, a fashionable Parisian department store had decided to employ Breton craftsmen with their spinning wheels and handlooms for a marketing gimmick. After a day or so, however, the manager realized that there was an unexpected problem concerning a charming old fellow who spent his time carding wool from a greasy fleece in a wicker basket on the floor, and then spinning it into a fine regular thread. In fact, his woolen threads were so regular that they looked as if they might have been produced by a modern machine... and that, of course, was not what the customers were expecting. They wanted hand-spun wool to look as if it had been produced by hand... with lumps, knots and all the irregularities that you expect to find in this kind of old-fashioned production. When the manager asked the old guy whether he could maybe work a little more carelessly and roughly, the craftsman was rightly offended. He had spent all his adult life mastering the art of wool spinning, so that the quality of his work was now impeccable, and now he found himself face-to-face with an employer who was asking him to work deliberately in a sloppy manner!

I hope they don't get around to introducing sophisticated quality control, one of these days, at the local cheese factory.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Truffle story (continued)

Sunday's yield of truffles from my lawn amounted to 67 grams, but even this small quantity would cost a hundred euros or so if I purchased them at a truffles market. I stacked most of them in rice (to eliminate moisture) and put them in the freezer.

Yesterday, I cooked myself an excellent truffle omelette, and today I used a couple of small truffles in a pâté made from grilled fowl livers and onions fried in goose fat (Jewish recipe).

There are no spices or condiments whatsoever in this pâté, merely the truffles. I've just tasted it. Absolutely delicious! All in all, I eat very well here at Gamone... in spite of the fact that I don't have a loving little wife to prepare my meals.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't eat red tuna!

The WWF [World Wildlife Foundation] has demanded that the sale of red Mediterranean tuna be halted, so that fish colonies have time to get back to a satisfactory level. It was a reassuring surprise to learn that several European supermarkets have agreed to enforce this recommendation: Auchan (France), Carrefour (Italy), Coop (Italy and Switzerland) and ICA (Norway). European supermarkets are not however the major outlet for this product, which is a basic ingredient in Japanese sushi.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cake contest

In a recent article [display], I mentioned my first steps in the preparation of the Italian cake called tiramisù. My daughter and I had planned that one of the highlights of her Xmas excursion to Gamone would be a tiramisù contest, with each of us producing a specimen of our current skills in this creative domain. My cake was classic, and Emmanuelle was kind enough to give me good marks. But my daughter's tiramisù blew me out of the contest.

Basically, it was [past tense of the verb to be] a multi-layered specimen of plain mascarpone and egg cream with interspersed raspberries, both solid and mashed. I was startled to discover that my daughter adheres to a puristic tiramisù school whose elitist members don't dunk the biscuits in coffee, and don't even sprinkle cocoa on the surface of their creations. Besides, when I asked Emmanuelle if she needed my bottle of Sicilian Marsala wine, she declined my offer with a polite sneer of the kind that no doubt characterizes senior members of the caste of tiramisù creators. In any case, motivated rather than discouraged by the shock of this contest, I'm determined to continue my research in this field. I have a vision of a tiramisù that incorporates a natural product from Gamone: walnuts. Maybe it's too early to let the cat out of the bag, and maybe I'm dreaming, but I've even been wondering whether it might not be possible to produce my own walnut-based biscuits for an ethereal tiramisù of a totally revolutionary kind.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My first tiramisù

Ever since my Italian friend Ezio demonstrated his skills in this domain, in his tavern in the nearby village of Presles [website], I've been tempted to see if I could prepare a tiramisù cake. Well, the truth of the matter is that it's not too difficult, particularly since you can now find several excellent books on this art, written for dummies like me. The most amusing aspect of preparing this celebrated cake, invented in the Veneto province of Italy, is that you don't even have to do any cooking. You simply mix together the ingredients and, presto, you've got your cake, ready to be cooled in the refrigerator and eaten a couple of hours later. OK, you need a magic Italian cream-cheese ingredient named mascarpone, which you can find it in French supermarkets.

When I started to browse through the recipes, I quickly realized that tiramisù belongs to the category of preparations that don't really necessitate precise recipes. You merely have to understand the basic principle, which is most simple: Beat up egg yokes and sugar, then add the cream cheese. Beat up egg whites, and add them to the first mixture. Ladle the mixture over a bed of light biscuits called boudoirs in French. [They're known in English, I seem to recall, as lady fingers.] Before being laid in the dish, each biscuit is bathed rapidly in strong black café with a touch of Marsala wine. Sprinkle cocoa over the surface of the resulting "cake", and cool for a few hours in the refrigerator. For observers who aren't familiar with the secret art of tiramisù preparation (like me, up until yesterday), this delicacy is both tasty and mysterious.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Bad pizzas

Just as a glass of wine can be envisaged as either half-full or rather half-empty, there are two ways of reacting to the following news item concerning products of the US company General Mills:

— On the one hand, a positive-minded observer would say that it's great to see that a big company is prepared to accept publicly the onus of recalling all that bad food.

— On the other hand, a negative-minded observer [such as me] would say that it's alarming to discover that such an astronomical quantity of shit can be produced and distributed to buyers. In other words, it would have been far more reassuring if the factory had discovered all these bad pizzas while they were still sitting in their Ohio warehouse, well before their shipment to stores.

I've been tempted to try out supermarket pizzas two or three times, but they're invariably either hard or rubbery, and generally tasteless. To my mind, feasting on a pizza should be a special eating event, of an almost solemn nature: quite the opposite of stuffing down rubbish to avoid feeling hungry. That's why I recall many of my most memorable pizzas. For example, one of the latest delicious pizzas that comes to mind was served up in an Italian restaurant in South Kensington last August. Down in Marseille, Natacha's parents have found an outstanding pizza delivery service. Once upon a time, my friend Georges used to prepare fine pizzas in the wood oven of his restaurant Le Jorjane in Choranche. Last but not least, some of the best pizzas I've ever eaten were made in my kitchen at Gamone. Hey, it'll soon be lunch time, and I happened to buy a cube of yeast yesterday at Nathalie's bakery in Pont-en-Royans. Thanks to the pretext of that article about shit food in Ohio, I've just found an answer to the trivial but pleasant question of deciding what to eat for my next meal.

PS Since finishing this article, I've seen that another US company, Cargill Inc, is voluntarily recalling more than 840,000 pounds [381,360 kilograms] of ground beef patties, after four children who ate their product developed an E. coli affliction. Recently, another US company, Topps Meat, recalled 21.7 million pounds [9,851,800 kilograms] of ground beef amid E. coli concerns, which caused the company to announce that it's going out of business. These figures are monstrous: literally, enough to make you sick.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Home produce

Most people are enticed by the mythical concept of consuming their own homegrown produce. As the mentally-retarded big guy named Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men put it: "... live off the fatta the lan'." The idea of homegrown fruit and vegetables appeals to almost everybody... except maybe people who can't be bothered to cut an apple in half, before biting into it, to make sure it doesn't conceal a worm. Maybe meat is an exception. I'm not sure that everybody likes the idea of slaughtering lambs, or even chickens. I think tomatoes are a fine example of the merits of homegrown stuff. I have the impression that every tomato I've ever grown at Gamone has tasted better than any other tomatoes I've ever eaten. But I don't know to what extent this judgment might be purely psychological.

This year, at Gamone, the walnuts are exceptionally big, but the harvest is relatively small. The same might be said for my apple tree.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Slow food

As a sane reaction against the abominable American phenomenon of fast food, the "slow food" concept was invented in 1986 by an Italian sociologist, Carlo Petrini, dismayed to find a McDonald's outlet erected near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Three years later, the international Slow Food movement was founded in Paris [click here to visit their website], with Petrini as president [a position he still holds], and it now counts 80,000 members throughout the world. The movement's mission is clear and precise: Slow Food works to defend biodiversity in our food supply, spread taste education and connect producers of excellent foods with co-producers through events and initiatives.

While reading the news this evening, I learned that the movement had chosen September 15 to organize its first national Slow Food Day in France. Unintentionally, I happened to respect the spirit of this event. For lunch, I prepared myself one of my favorite simple cold dishes: king prawns, mayonnaise [home-made, of course], Provençal olives, Gamone lettuce, tomatoes and pickled walnuts.

Local chapters of Slow Food are designated by a lovely old Latin word: convivium. Apparently, the theme of French conviviums today was one of the planet's most ancient and noble foodstuffs: the potato.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Unhealthy compatriots

At a medical level, you might say, I would have thought it enough that Australian Internet news [my immediate informational contact with my land of birth] should reveal that equine flu had stopped the NSW spring racing carnival. But there seems to be worse news, of human kind.

There would appear to be what is referred to, in The Australian, as a "growing obesity epidemic". Now, this doesn't really surprise me in the sense that my French children and I first discovered the McDonald's phenomenon in Sydney, many years ago. Last year, during my brief excursion to Australia, I was shocked by specimens of obesity encountered everywhere, including my birthplace. In a South Grafton club, I witnessed a family of overweight monsters who appeared to be regarded as normal by the locals. At the place in Grafton where my dear departed father once sold spare parts for Ford automobiles, there is now a cake shop that distributes unbelievably heavy-weight luncheon stuff for workers. But my brief observations have little weight... you might say. So let me quote directly The Australian:

Almost all Australians are either eating poorly or exercising inadequately, while only five per cent meet national lifestyle guidelines, a new report shows. The landmark study of more than 16,000 Australians has painted a grim picture of a slothful, unhealthy nation falling short of its own recommendations for exercise and nutrition.

One in four—25 per cent—meet physical activity guidelines, while 55 per cent eat enough fruit and 15 per cent eat enough vegetables.

But an alarmingly small number—fewer than five per cent—met the criteria for all three guidelines, a statistic the University of Sydney and Deakin University researchers say is "extremely concerning".

At a personal level, I'm not directly involved in the problem to which I allude. I'm no longer directly concerned by Australia in general, because I've moved on. But I still react as if it were my birthplace [which it is] and my homeland [which it hasn't been, for ages].

I love a fat brown country...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ordinary omelette

If I decided to take a photo of this perfectly ordinary ham and cheese omelette I cooked for lunch, it's simply because it's a beautiful sunny day at Gamone, the tiny eggs come from Madeleine's hens, the parsley and chives are from my garden, and I take pleasure in preparing and eating omelettes. If it weren't for the bad cholesterol reputation of eggs, not to mention the big blob of butter in the cooking, I would be happy to survive on an omelette a day.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Food talk between males

Yesterday evening, my Bastille Day ended on a friendly European note. A pair of young Swiss guys stopped at Gamone in a massive silver automobile and asked me in broken English [I don't speak a word of German, and they knew no French] if there was some place where they might pitch their tent for the night. I invited them to settle in under the big linden tree alongside the road. They were well-equipped, with an elegant high-tech tent and folding chairs. After congratulating me on my having found such a splendid place to spend my holidays, they were a little surprised to learn that I actually lived here all year round. This morning, they told me their night was peaceful, apart from a visit by a giant toad. Before driving off, they even wanted to pay me, but I told them I wasn't a professional camping operator.

During my morning walk with Sophia up towards Bob's place, I noticed that their white mare was leaning through the strands of the electric fence and eating grass on the roadside, which simply meant that the current wasn't turned on. Later on, Bob himself dropped in. He now stays with his girlfriend in a neighboring village. As for his daughter, she has gone away to the south of France to look into finding a school enabling her to become a horse-training professional.

Bob: It's lucky I dropped in, because my daughter forgot to turn on the electric fence, and the white mare was outside the paddock.

Me: Bob, let me be frank with you concerning your daughter. In my opinion, there's no way in the world she'll ever become a competent horse-trainer, because she doesn't pay attention to simple things such as turning on the current to an electric fence.

Bob: It's true that she often forgets to lock the house. But she's young: only eighteen.

Me: I have a "theory" that somebody who doesn't pay attention to details cannot usually be looked upon as a practical person. Among other things, I wonder how such a person could possibly prepare a meal. Is your daughter a competent cook?

I won't quote Bob's hilarious reply, but it suffices to say that he provided me with excellent evidence to support my theory. Now, you might say that the question of whether or not my neighbor's lovely daughter is a practical person, who knows how to cook, is none of my business. On the contrary. I've already inherited their stray donkey, but I don't want to find their two huge mares prancing—once again—over my lawn.

As far as food preparation is concerned, Bob assured me that he himself is a competent cook. That's how he has remained fit and happy. I've sensed for ages that my neighbor, who's a big solid former rugby-player, didn't find it comfortable to live in a vegetarian environment. This morning, our friendly conversation culminated in an interesting rhetorical question (introduced spontaneously and unexpectedly by Bob, not me): Is it an easy matter for an attractive young girl to find a future husband when young men discover that she survives basically on vegetables? I must admit that, when I was a young man, I never thought much about this kind of question, because I was delighted to have discovered a wife with a fine sense of basic French cooking. I guess you could say I was lucky.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Final bottles of walnut wine

In an earlier article, I mentioned my production of walnut wine and my use of a siphon device. [Click here to see this article.] Today, I've been preparing the final bottles, using the wine in the lower half of the plastic cask. The closer I get to the bottom of the barrel, the more the raw wine looks like sludge. Concerning the last five or six soupy liters in the cask, I had in mind the advice of a colleague, who told me he simply discards them. After this afternoon's experiments, I accept his advice. I tried several techniques in an attempt to extract clear wine from the sludge: siphoning, paper filters and straining through a cloth that I was obliged to wash constantly. There's a delightful old saying in French, applied to things that aren't worth doing: Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle. Literally, this means that the outcome of an operation does not cover the cost of the candles you need to light up the scene where the operation is carried out.

The sludge is heavier than the clear walnut wine, so it remains at the bottom of the barrel. But it remains suspended in the liquid, and never settles as a solid sediment. This suggests that there is no doubt a certain presence of solid matter — remnants of the green walnuts — even in the wine that seems to be relatively clear. And this is probably why the imbiber of a small glass of this beverage has the impression that it's a little like bitter medicine.

Funnily enough, here in the Napoleonic atmosphere of France where most matters are tightly controlled, the production of walnut wine remains a kind of do-it-yourself rural art, akin to gathering medicinal herbs to prepare archaic unctions instead of relying upon the local pharmacist. In any case, for those of us who live in the countryside of the Dauphiné region, surrounded by walnut trees, offering a glass of walnut wine is a traditional gesture of friendship towards visitors.