13/1/11 Eating Small Birds

Post date: 13-Jan-2011 19:33:31

I’m in France at the moment and yesterday I barely ventured out of the house apart from to chop some firewood. Today, however, I had a spring clean ahead of my friends arriving. I swept and waxed the ancient terracotta floors and took out the rubbish. My rubbish bin is not far away. Just the other side of the small square in fact., so I wasn’t expecting it to take very long. However, in the event, it took me over half an hour to get home. I bumped into the son of my old neighbour. Not a good friend, but you need to say hello and politeness’s. Plus it’s useful to know what they intend to do with their house which is currently rented to a family with a 3 year old doing marathons in the room above my bedroom. Watch out for him in about 3 Olympics time, he‘s in training already.

On from there I bumped into George, the Armenian whose family came here in the pogroms and stayed - he’s in charge of the Mediaeval festival in our village so there’s much to talk about there.

By the fountain, another neighbour was washing his car. He is a spice dealer, and supplies spices (not sure about herbs, haven’t clarified that bit yet) to restaurants and even “The Palace“ (remember France is a republic so I guess this is something to do with Sarkozy?). I was telling him about my supper club, and swapped some experimental Georgian dessert in exchange for an obscenely large box of marrons glaces, local to the region. I suggested he might come to dinner with some other good friends and neighbours, G + E. Apparently he’s not speaking to them! Pigeon Wars. He feeds the pigeons incessantly, attracting them to their little cul-de-sac, where they crap everywhere and roost on their windowsills, and E has gone to the Mairie and complained. I guess the upshot is he can’t do it anymore. Oops. Mentioned the wrong people then. Quick, change subject onto… um… pigeons. My it’s amazing what you can find to talk about pigeons. I cast around desperately and remembered some article about the pigeons being cleared from Trafalgar Square. Is that true? I just saw the headline. I started telling him that and then petered out as I realised I didn‘t really know anything about it.

Makes a change from petering out because I don't have the vocabulary. Pigeons is easy - pee-johns. He started telling me about how all the old houses were designed to have pigeons roost in the attic (not mine luckily, I don‘t fancy 300 years of pigeon crap in my roof, thank you very much), and at night you used to creep upstairs and capture one or two for dinner. Apparently young ones are quite tasty. He also started telling me about another small bird that they shoot that is very tasty when roasted whole in the fire. I couldn’t translate the name, but knowing the French, it’s probably song thrush or nightingale, or perhaps even robin. Definitely small, cute and fluffy, I wouldn’t put it past them. Shoot anything that moves, the French will.

Finally, Maria yelled to me out of the window. Maria is originally Italian (we are very cosmopolitan in this village), and lives opposite me. She is elderly and infirm but extremely garrulous, and it‘s a delight to see how integrated she is into the village even now. She invited me for lunch, so I said I’d stop by. I grabbed some more of “test Georgian dessert” (very nice!) and some salad and went over. She had prepared a courgette omelette. More of a frittata, it was incredibly tasty, and had an interesting twist - rosemary. I’d never have thought of pairing that with eggs but it worked brilliantly. However, some of my enthusiasm may have been due to the fact that she gave me a half-tumbler of whisky as an aperitif. I hate pastis, the other option, so took the whisky. Goodness me she must think I’m a lush. She had wine on offer too - but after all that whisky there was no chance. I just held my breath and gulped.

I enjoyed a light-headed lunch (as opposed to a light lunch), watching the Italian equivalent of Ready Steady Cook. They even have a tomato kitchen! The format seems to be cooking demonstration combined with Ready Steady Cook. Despite my limited Italian, I was interested in the size of the chefs (they all seem to be quite large), the fact that, as usual, all the female presenters on Italian TV are blonde (seems to be a prerequisite; I noted that the entire audience in the background were brunettes), and the frankly quite sexual delight of the interviewer when tasting the dish. They actually cut all the noise, put music, and just showed her face in slow motion as she ate this cake they made. I tell you, it made me want to cook that recipe! Plus there was a really interesting demonstration of roast pork. They took a fillet of pork and wrapped it up in belly to get great crackling, then tied the whole lot up with string. What a great idea - best of both worlds! They seasoned and herbed the meaty side of the belly before rolling it around the fillet. I must test that.

Anyway, after my lovely lunch (and the opportunity to unload more test Georgian dessert on Maria), I stumbled home. I was quite tipsy! Only to nearly skid over on my newly-waxed floors. I can tell you, waxed floors and half a tumbler of whisky do not mix one little bit. Gives a whole new meaning to “Slip-sliding away”. I came home to an e-mail from my sister. “Mummy’s been given a pheasant and doesn’t know what to do with it“. I’m not surprised, my Chinese mother wouldn’t have a clue what to do with an English game bird like a pheasant. I remember when I was young, going camping and finding one whose head had been rolled over by a car. I’d never had pheasant before but I’d read about it - to me, having grown up abroad, it was the epitome of the heights of English cuisine (I didn’t really realise about the heights of English “cuisine” in those days, forgive me). I thought it must be absolutely delicious. So, aged about 14 - I was clearly an intrepid chef even then - I picked it up and we took it to camp. I plucked and gutted it, panfried the legs, and spit-roasted the body. And it was tough as old boots. I had no idea why anyone ate this stuff. Fast forward a few weeks later, when someone explained about hanging it till it was maggoty…. I think maybe at that point I learnt about the “heights of English cuisine”.

So there I was, criticising the French for shooting everything that moves. Apparently Uncle Jerrard shot it. He’s my dad’s mad school friend who lives in the Outer Hebrides or somewhere, that sounds about par for the course. 1) he‘d shoot it and 2) he‘d be silly enough to give it to Mummy. Apparently Mummy’s put it in the freezer pending some bright ideas. I wonder if it had maggots. Perhaps I won’t tell her about that bit.