Monday, 30 August 2010

La regalade: un jour et une nuit à Paris

Roller blading gendarmes


8 euro vegetarian thali at one of the Indian restaurants 'Madras café' along the Rue du Faubourg St Denis next to the Gare du Nord.

Thursday I got an unexpected trip to Paris courtesy of the teen (blog post here and here). Arriving in the afternoon starving, we had a cheap quick Indian late lunch near the Gare du Nord. Exhausted, we went to the cinema. When I lived in Paris I spent all my time either eating, cooking or going to the flicks. Unfortunately, the quirky cinéphile taste of 'cahiers du cinema'-educated Parisians, sometimes leads to a mistake. We saw the execrable The Girl Hunters 1963 starring Mickey Spillane, a rare case of a writer playing his own central character. 
Chocolatier Trish Deseine, an Irish woman who has performed the miraculous feat of impressing the French with her recipe books and cooking, invited us to stay the night at her place. She made me the best polenta I've ever had; gooey and generous topped with Parmesan and home-made pesto. We sank a couple of bottles of rosé, talked of cookbooks. Around 2 am Trish produced two tightly wrapped packets of tin foil "The dark stuff is Ghanaian" she whispered opening them carefully. Once opened, I saw it was not in fact soft drugs but teensy dolls house bars of chocolate, her own product. We inhaled it, discussing texture and flavour. Trish talks about chocolate like a wine or coffee connoisseur. She should do a workshop.

 Trish Deseine's flat overlooking the rustling trees of the park.

 Trish gets out the hard stuff at the end of the meal: "Now this is 74% Tanzanian". Trish is launching her own range of chocolate at Selfridges this autumn which will roll out all over the UK. 

Crack cacao 
The next day we went to a fashionable bistro La Regalade near the Louvre (there's another in the 14th arrondissement) where 'le tout Paris' goes. The men had perfectly coiffed hair, tans and manbags, the women were after-dinner-mint thin and there was one exquisite child in a pressed cotton frock on best restaurant behaviour. The fixed menu was 33 euros and I got a bottle of Gewurztraminer at 25 euros.

 I 'papped' the chef Bruno Doucet. French men are effortlessly sexy aren't they? All utter bastards though.

 A simple and creatively presented wine menu with colour codes.

 Helmets lining the cloakroom. Even businessmen are on scooters.

 A lovely funky amuse-bouche: cornichons and onion pickles. Not home-made however. Carnivores get a big terrine of paté, we got some bread and butter. 

 I loved this: lasagne de légumes confits, mozzarella di buffala, jambon cru et basilic. Really light soft lasagne but no ham for me.

Saumon mariné par nos soins, salade de concombres et gingembre confit aux oignons nouveaux.
Home cured salmon with a cucumber, spring onion and ginger salad. (The salad was not adequately dressed but the salmon was like butter).


 The colours of the sauce with the rascasse are so pretty, worthy of Monet 'Les nymphéas'.

 Filet de rascasse à la plancha, risotto a l'encre et calamars façon pibailles: filet of scorpion fish, squid ink risotto and squid strips fried like elvers or glass eels.

 Pavé de cabillaud de Brétagne demi-sel, cuit dans un bouillon parfumé, haricots de Paimpol au basilic
Half salted cod from Brittany, cooked in a broth, with Paimpol beans in basil.

Next door's rice pudding. Which I tried. You see I simply can't behave like a normal diner in conventional restaurants anymore, I always end up talking to the tables next to me and inevitably, get to try their food. Love the presentation of this and the generous flecks of vanilla but not sure about it being cold. Bruno, my love, some like it hot!

 This water seems to be all the rage in the best restaurants.

 Choco-praliné de la Regalade. Complete with Mikado stick. Mind blowingly good said the teen.

 Grand Marnier soufflé. Believe it or not, I waited ten minutes (too busy chatting) before photographing it, so this is a slightly deflated version.

Graffitted locks on the fence of the Francois Mitterand foot bridge.

 Lipsticked Kir Au Pére Tranquille café at Les Halles

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Douwe Egberts cups


Food bloggers often get contacted by food and beverage PRs asking if we can promote their product. Last year quite a few bloggers ran videos and information from Douwe Egberts. However I'm in a different position from many food bloggers in that I actually make/sell food and drink. I'm also always on the lookout for products that my guests will enjoy. So I had the genius business idea of asking Douwe Egberts to sponsor the coffee course at my dinners. They have a variety of good tasting coffees and I'm still getting to know them. I think my favourites so far are 'velvet' and 'vintage'.
Recently they send me some beautiful porcelain cups which means that guests no longer have to drink their coffee from a variety of glasses, cups, bowls and even tea light holders! Chapped and split lips will in future be caressed by the gorgeous creamy porcelain edges of these elegant vessels. Noses will savour the smoky aromas wafting up from these perfectly proportioned demitasses.
Egbert Douwes started in Holland in 1753 and the design of these cups reflect the vintage of the brand with a nod to the blue and white beauty of Dutch Delft pottery. They also match the European shabby chic style of The Underground Restaurant.
I love the raised 'seal' logo in the middle of the saucer, also on the cup.

Cote

We met at the bouledrome, open only during the season, cheapest drinks on the Cote d'Azure. As old men and young played boules, the Mistral kicked up and blew sand in our eyes. We had to hold onto our plastic cups so that the yellow aniseed liquid didn't spill. Behind the bar, shelves were crammed with trophies, enormous, some with gold figurines crouched low in a bowling stance. 'Bienvenue au bouledrome plantourienne' said the notice on the wall. Turns out Plan de la tour is one of France's top villages when it comes to boules; competitions are sometimes televised. They've even done well in the 'world cup'... 'coupe mondiale de petanque'. Plantourienne, I didn't know a village name could become an adjective. But of course: Tropezienne, Grimaldine, Maximois, Cogolais... the inhabitants of the local towns had names. 

Si had broken up with Sarah since I last saw him. I didn't much care, I didn't much like her. Typical French bird: didn't like other women, slim-hipped with a smile like a shark, a face full of European teeth and smoker's wrinkles. But she'd clearly suffered in the relationship, propping up Si. As a woman I knew.  
He told us the story: 
"I was in the middle of France, one of those nowhere towns with nothing to do. She was working in a chain hotel: Formule 1 or one of them, on an industrial estate. We worked different shifts. She worked days, I worked nights. We never saw each other except Sundays. And then she'd want to walk. I don't mind a walk. One hour, an hour and a half maybe. But she could walk all day. She loved it, had the boots and everything. One day on our day off she took me for a walk round a lake. After a couple of hours I could see we were only half way round. That was it. 
I left, I had very little money. I bunked on local trains to get back down to Provence. I progressed stop by stop. It was November, freezing. I'd arrived in Limoges. I was sitting outside a cafe having a smoke. This old woman comes up to me, hunched over, with dyed red hair, in her 70s. She asked me for a light, heard my accent and talked to me in English. After a bit she asked me where I was staying. I said 'In the station, if the police don't move me on'. 
'Why don't you stay at mine?' she said."
Si broke off for a minute to say to us 'How nice is that?' in his dry Mancunian accent. We all agreed.
'"Great I'd love to' Si replied to her.
'That'll be 150 euros for the night' the woman whipped back. 'But you must wear a condom'.
Si almost choked. 
'Yes I am a prostituée' said the woman.
'No thanks love' managed Si. The woman shrugged and went into the bar. A while later, Si saw her leaving with a man in his 50s. "
We all laughed and wondered out loud. Does she do this every night? In her 70s why does she care about condoms? Isn't she scared? Talk about entrepeneurial!
We moved up to Bar de la Poste. In the touristy world of the Cote d'Azure, Bar de la Poste stood out as the real thing, a proper neighbourhood bar. Ordinary, even though Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis live in the village. Men would enter and kiss each other. When I lived in the South, I went regularly, nursed a kir while the teen was doing her drum lesson. After a few weeks they kissed me too.
Si had got the 'copain du village' act down pat. Every few metres he'd slap someone on the back and boom 'Salut mon pote'. They'd probably discovered him in a few ditches over the years.
Si was a golden boy; tall, handsome, blond, square shouldered and jawed. He had pretensions to write.  Every so often he'd shyly pull out a few scribbled pages; mostly about waking up drunk with a mysterious girl. We rowed frequently. He didn't read women writers. So I can name him in this post in complete confidence that he will never read it. But the idea that someone apparently interested in literature would avoid the output of an entire gender shocked me. 
Si drank all the time. I accused him of drinking like Bukowski or Hemingway but not writing like them. He annoyed me. All that privilege and looks and blowing it away on drink.
 "It's not like becoming an alcoholic will automatically turn you into a talented writer you know" I'd say irritably.
He had a new girlfriend I'd heard, from the village.
'Tell me about her?'
'We've split up' he grinned.
'When?'
'Last night'
'What happened?'
'I was a naughty boy.'
'Who with?'
'Another girl from the village'
We looked at each other. The village is small.
'So you shat on your own doorstep' I said.
An older woman came up to the table then and started to shake her head and wag her finger at Si.
He ordered another pint.


On Sunday we made our way to les plages d'embarquement near La Croix Valmer. There are some beach front restaurants serving moules and frites. It being the season, loud eurodisco tumbled across the tanning bodies, tall blue africans wearing higgedly towers of pink cowboy hats loped from group to group selling beach kaftans, doughnut sellers, boys with summer jobs winked at girls and sung about hot beignets. A little further up the street a bar chugged with rock n roll music. Where do old session musicians retire? The south of France naturellement. A synth player with a long white Zappa moustache, a portly guitar player ripped licks worthy of Bowie and the Stones, no surprise, he'd played for them all. The sax player wore red sneakers and blew until his face was the same colour. A gaunt blue eyed grey-haired man twanged on the double bass player. They reminded me of The Faces live, Spinal Tap on their holidays, dirty hot bluesy rock n roll. An English guy wearing head to toe black and proper shoes, not sandals, sang Jimi Hendrix and Van Morrison. Old girls wore mini dresses with the insouciance of dolly birds from the sixties, varicose veins be damned. A man with long white hair and a red headband nodded. I remembered that the Gypsy Kings were discovered around here by Brigitte Bardot.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

A vibrant August dinner


The colours of Italy: slow roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine


Menu: 
Cocktail: The Bitter Underground (1 measure Suze, 1 measure gin, tonic, ice, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of sugar) the perfect drink for a sultry stormy summer night
Palmiers
Home made cheese stuffed tortelloni with garden mushroom and cream sauce garnished with courgette tagliatelli
Salmon en papillotte
Slow roasted cherry tomatoes
Rosemary salt roasted new potatoes
Cheeses
Giant pavlova with strawberries (a record 21 egg whites)


Red pepper tapenade 

Palmier


Lepiota mushrooms from my garden. I found these growing in the morning. I know they are safe as I checked them during mushroom walks with Andy Overall, an ex 80s pop star who is now an eyeliner wearing ranger on Hampstead heath.


Courgette tagliatelli


...shaved finely on my vintage French mandoline


Saumon en papillotte, garnished with basil and chervil






Don't forget The Underground Farmers & Craft Market is on September 19th. I will be blogging soon about the stalls and demos.
Tickets for future dinners at The Underground Restaurant can be found here

Monday, 16 August 2010

Fishes and loaves: feast of the assumption

Vintage christening menus found in France

Black, green tapenade, paté de poivron on communion hosts




Rosemary walnuts, roasted with brown sugar and smoked salt to accompany hearty Bloody Marys (after Mary Tudor, the Catholic queen who killed so many protestants) with freshly grated horseradish root and organic celery salt. 


Rigatoni Puttanesca: whores pasta

Marinated fennel, roasted apricot, parsley and pomegranate salad

The fishes were so big I had to shut the tails in the door of the Aga.

Red snapper covered in sel grise and stuffed with chervil and lemon

Ollie can serve seven plates at a time. They learn this at catering school and breed mutant waiters with enormous flat wrist bones.


Salt encrusted roasted new potatoes

Cathare cross cheese: stunning

A selection of cheeses made by religious communities with the communion host and my home made breads: pain d'epi and almonds and whisky soaked sultana rye. And my rhubarb compote!

Roasted figs with almonds (very Marian), lavender chocolate and mascarpone.

Route Nationale


Sisteron, the first night.

I'm sure you all think my life is one long glamorous shimmering trail of good food, media interviews, visiting fantastic restaurants and artfully decorating my shabby chic residence. In reality I've been living on peanuts for years. Most of my furniture has been found on the street, all of the lovely retro French bits and pieces on my tables and shelves have been sourced at car boot sales, I have few clothes or toiletries and my Citroen C15 van was bought for £350 after the previous white van was totalled on the way to a disastrous blind date. Probably food is my biggest extravagance: I've always spent as much as I could afford and for The Underground Restaurant I frequently spend more than the recommended third on ingredients.
Monday to Thursday last week I drove back from the south of France via route nationale: no autoroutes (motorways with tolls) at all. It was slow but interesting, avoiding the deadening sameness of the motorway. My teen and I slept in the back of the van on a piece of hardboard and foam layered over my 'buys'. The van was perfumed with bushes of fresh bay leaves and rain water grown rosemary, a gift from my mother, and, later in the journey, with pungent cheeses, a fresh cows milk made by monks in the Bourgogne, and Maroilles from the country of the ch'tis, the northern French.
The radio stopped working so the teen read me stories as I drove from a short volume of the work of Philip K Dick; it was surreal, lulled by the scenery into his claustrophobic schizophrenic world view, so obviously a product of the cold war. The stories are laugh out loud funny, often accurate predictions of the future with the odd lapse such as "he put a new carbon paper in his typewriter".
On the way to Arras, I stopped at a relais routier restaurant. I wedged the door open with difficulty to be confronted by a grumpy old lady with black hairy chin moles and a cotton pinafore. The tables were set with red tablecloths, white paper napkins and duralex glasses.
"What do you want?" the lady growled.
"Er to eat lunch" I said adding "obviously".
"How many are you?" she barked.
"Two"
Her eyes narrowed. "Alright" she consented.
"Can I see today's menu?"
She opened a large sticky plastic backed tome at the bar. Inside were two pieces of paper containing shaky painstaking old person's handwriting. The menu was pure country French: rognons (kidneys) in red wine being one example. I knew the teen wouldn't go for the selection so I left. I wish I had eaten there though. In ten years or less I doubt places like that will exist anymore. It occurred to me that the demise of French cooking coincided with the rise of the autoroute. All those small roads with tiny restaurants, where the chefs are often mothers and grandmothers, are now neglected. On the autoroute the view is bland and so is the food. The authenticity and character has been ripped out of travelling for the sake of those great modern destroyers: convenience and speed.


iphone and rose sweets, travel sweets, you gotta have travel sweets... pic:siennamarla

Shopping bought in the parc de Morvan, another little known area for British tourists. In a small Spa supermarket I bought local fresh cheese, a bottle of rose vinegar, a bottle of stinging nettle vinegar, some local Auxerre burgundy.
We decided to camp wild in the Morvan forest. We made dinner. As it grew dark there were cracking sounds in the woods, coming closer. We knew there were wild pigs and deer. "Something is definitely watching us" said the teen. We quickly packed and moved to a proper campsite.


We passed through one village where all the local kids had made scarecrows from different materials, lining the route nationale. pic: siennamarla

 pic: the teen

At Vezelay, beautiful shop signs. pic: siennamarla


Vezelay is on the pilgrim's route to Santiago hence the shells.


A cross of peace carried by German ex soldiers interned near Vezelay after the second world war. In 1946 there was an international pilgrimage to Vezelay to celebrate 800 years since St. Bernard iniatiated the second crusade from Vezelay. 14 crosses from the UK, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium were carried to Vezelay and the German soldiers insisted on joining. A fifteenth cross was hastily made for them to carry, becoming a powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation.

A basket full of prayers sent to Mary Magdalene, positioned below a shrine of her bones. Mary Magdalene represents prisoners.


A local shop, run by nuns, sells food, drinks and products made by religious christian orders.

Another shop sells beautiful blackboards (above) and crockery (below) pic: siennamarla


The 3rd night we camped near Laon, I fried up quenelles with a jar of northern african spicy aubergine salad. 

The back of the van filling up throughout the journey.

An old fashioned post office. pic: siennamarla