Sunday, November 24, 2013

GASTRONOMADES


I like that word. Gastronomades.  Aside from being a travelling food show here in France, the word to me implies a group of people who travel and eat. Eat local and eat well. I do know a family.........

Small producers here in France of all things food and drink are what makes the country for me. Hundreds of regions with hundreds of products, from wine, Champagne and Spirits, baked goods, cured meats, cheeses, small batch chocolates, oils, vinegars, spices, fresh sausages, really no matter what you use in your kitchen, you are bound to have access to an artisan in France who makes it. With pride and passion (Unlike plumbers). 

Some of them go on the road throughout France once or twice a year to create a name for themselves and of course try selling some products outside their own region. Some of the bigger shows hand out "Best in show" and other accolades that may propel an artisan into the next Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, or getting access to some of the major retailers in Europe. 

The show has grown since last year, more exhibitors, an extra tent for more cooking demonstration, which actually had the local TV station broadcast it all and lots and lots of buying consumers. Imagine a travelling Farmers' market sort of. We don't drink much in this house, but where else can you taste your way through half a dozen Champagne producers and then buy a case for under 17.00/bottle? Twenty bucks for a really really good bubbly. I like it.

This time around we bought Walnut flour from a mill near Angouleme, Espelette powder from the Basque region and some other fine things to fill the fridge and pantry.



THEY HANDED OUT THESE STICKERS.


THE LOCAL TENT


ALL THINGS WALNUT

GOLD MEDAL WINNING BLUE CHEESE


NOT SURE WHAT HE WAS DOING. FONDUE MAYBE?

REALLY GOOD CANTAL

BAKERS. A VERY PROTECTED PROFESSION IN FRANCE

A WINE FROM THE SW PYRENEES REGION

LA BELLE PROVENCE

OUR DEPARTMENT. FULL OF ARTISANS

BASQUE NOUGAT

I BOUGHT SOME ESPELETTE. A DISTANT RELATIVE TO CHIPOTLE PEPPERS

THE BEST JAMBON

EXCELLENT CHRISTMAS GIFTS

AN OLIVE OIL PRODUCER BROUGHT HIS OLIVE VARIETIES

BUTCHER'S DOZEN......

COOKING DEMO



ANOTHER DEMONSTRATION OF A TRADE

THE ANGOULEME MARKET IS RIGHT NEXT DOOR

WITH A MARKET RESTAURANT

  A GOAT CHEESE ARTISAN

LA VACHE QUI RIT PAS

A LOCAL BREED NAMED BARBEZIEUX

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

FOIE GRAS TERRINE



Foie Gras, due to it's perceived animal cruelty factor, is currently a dicey food item. Banned in California now, celebrity chefs changing suppliers and yet not even discussed in the country where it's originating from. 
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all I have my own, I can't stand the preaching that goes along with it. 

Anyway. All it takes are usually three ingredients, four if you want to add some extra aroma, and some patience. Foie Gras Terrine is not something you make in the morning and eat for dinner. 
My process starts on Tuesday for a Saturday appetizer. On Tuesday I get the liver and let it marinate in Salt, Pepper and Pineau (sub with any flavor you like), Wednesday a short cooking process before the pressed Terrine goes into the fridge for a three day "cure" to let all flavors develop. 

When you buy Foie Gras, my suggestions are to go for a deveined lobe (it's a messy process) and the best quality you are willing to pay for. The second one this year I purchased at a supermarket, not at the butcher and as you can see from the after cooking result, it lost too much fat in the process. 
But the taste is still very very good.


THE FOIE, SALT, PEPPER AND SOME PINEAU

MARINATE TO YOUR TASTE

LET IT SIT IN THE FRIDGE FOR A DAY

PREPARE A BAIN MARIE (WATER BATH)

COOK AT 160c FOR ABOUT 25 MINUTES

SPOON OFF SOME  FAT AND COMPRESS THE LIVER WITH A HEAVY SOMETHING

AFTER ONE DAY, MELT THE EXCESS FAT

POUR OVER THE TERRINE AND LET IT SIT FOR A FEW DAYS

THE TERRINE LASTS FOR A WHILE IN THE FRIDGE, BUT IT NEVER DOES AROUND HERE....GONE FAST

Sunday, November 17, 2013

100 COUNTRIES




If you scroll to the very bottom of this page, you will find my Blog counter. It shows the flags of countries from where people have visited this almost five year old place of dribbles.
Fiji, an island nation in the pacific, made it to be the 100th country to come here for one reason or the other. 
Geography was my favorite subject in school, so it's a perfect fit to have a flag collecting stats counter. The US, Canada and UK are the top three countries to bring visitors here, while alphabetically I had visitors from Albania to Zambia. 

The counter itself is not as detailed as it could be, such as what people look for when they come here, or how many pages they read. But that's OK. I am much more intrigued by how the Web has shrunk the world. If you wanted to find out anything that's trivial, yet important to research a very short 20 years ago, you had the choice of your own 400 pounds of books (encyclopedia), or you went to the library to find out.
Today? You are able to get any info anywhere on your 5oz smartphone.  That's shrinkage!






FIJI. COUNTRY 100 TO VISIT

Thursday, November 14, 2013

LES SACRIFIÉS


THE SACRIFICED.
Virtually overnight throughout town inside the windows of most small businesses, these flyers appeared. 
My french is not good enough to fully understanding what the petition is all about, so I took a few pictures and with the generous help of Google Translate it became clear that the flyer is about the tax burden on small business here in France. 

The different  Chambers of Commerce (this is France,  one Chamber is not enough for all the  fonctionnaires....) banded together in an attempt to save small businesses across the countries from over taxation and regulation. 
A well worth effort, since these micro enterprises do make up a small town's life in France. 
Sarkozy, the previous big boss of France initiated a business scheme called Auto Entrepreneur, basically a one man business show, to create a less regulated and less taxed pro business idea.

When the socialists came to power, one of the first things they did was to cap income and time limits on that popular scheme. Shit storm followed.  Rightfully so, maybe, maybe not. Apparently that new scheme took a lot of business away from established small businesses (with their own Chambers and civil servants to support?).

 If you are passionate about your business and willing to work at it, no matter what it is and where it's located, you will succeed.
If you open a shoe store and your inventory is from the 1980's,  no petition will save your butt.

Check out the website:










Monday, November 11, 2013

IT'S COMPLICATED


What  really should be a couple of posts, one about plumbing issues and another about how french style socialism is making people less wanting to succeed,  ended up as one mash up. If the context is not clear or too abstract, I am sorry. Blogging is not journalism and as of this morning, Pierre Omidyar has not purchased my Blog to turn it into the next Huffington Post. 

I wrote FRENCH style socialism on purpose, since I am aware that my own political view is left of center having grown up in socialist Austria. But while I was able to see that country's ruling politicians veer towards the center and a more market orientated society while  not completely foregoing a social safety net for those in need,  my host country is still stuck in the far left field. Cradle to grave socialism. Abused by citizens and politicians alike.
 Held hostage by obscenely powerful labor unions, the socialist leaders in France worry too much about their own job benefits or reputation and not enough about the greater good of a once great nation.  
Unions, while socialist in concept, are really the worst example of capitalism if you think about it.  An army of lemmings paying their monthly dues for a false sense of job security and misrepresentation on most levels, while a handful of Union bosses are getting rich beyond their wildest dreams. Either by massive overcompensation in relation to their talent or achievements and if that is not enough for them, by embezzlement and theft.  

When I had a discussion about all this with an American expat living here and how come France is in the top five nations worldwide measured by their GDP, his opinion was that maybe because everything is so massively overpriced and taxed in France that their GDP really is skewed and they should rank closer to Greece (#34) than to Germany.  While we had a good laugh about that comment, but what if it's true? Look at the last picture belowof a lunch bill in Paris. That has to move the GDP needle in their favor..... (the picture needs to be credited to a GFP Facebook friend, Jenny).

When we renovated our property some 18 month ago, the plumbing bill came to 20,000.00 Euros. That's 27,000.00 US$, or a few more if you read this in Canada. Granted, we did not have to foot the bill all by ourselves, a deep freeze a month prior to taking possession made parts of the bill an insurance deal. Nevertheless, a hefty price. 
The comprehensive works were performed by a very reputable local plumbing outfit that came recommended by the real estate agent and seemed competent in their explanations as to what types of works needed to be done to mitigate the damages from the deep freeze. 

A rough 18 month it has been. From the smallest replacement radiator ending up in the largest room with three outside walls and the largest radiator in a much smaller room with one outside wall, a handful of leaks in newly installed pipes and so on and so on.
Not until last month is the pressure in our Chaudiere holding steady, a sign that all leaks have been plugged. 
And last month' plumber experience is what led me to the conclusion that french socialism is dumbing people down.  Makes them loose all professional pride, working a 9 to 5   10 to 3 job, waiting to reach eligibility for old age pension at an advanced age of 49. 
To then sit in their local Bar and bitch about the very Socialists who enabled them to reach those low expectations of life in the first place and how Front National's Le Pen would make everything better by kicking out all foreigners. The same foreigners by the way, who are still willing to work and not go on strike for loosing a Union mandated ten minute cigarette break at 8.45. 
And you are not better off if you are willing to work hard in France, open your own business and wanting to  get ahead in life. The very same government takes away all the incentive from that by burdening Enterprise not only with taxation of up to 75%, but regulations so complicated, you have to go back to University to understand it all. I looked into opening a wine bar in our commercial space. Oh boy. Glad I didn't. 
There are inspectors who inspect inspectors who's job it is to inspect inspectors for food safety. And yet, most french food establishments would fail inspection were they to be located in North America. That they handle my Croissants and money without tools, gloves or washing their hands inbetween does actually not bother me, but having to pay civil servants who seem to be OK with it, does.

Back to the plumber. Victoria kept telling me in late spring (about one year after renovations were completed) that she suspects a leak behind a kitchen wall as the floorboard seems wet. Dutifully I called the plumbing company, who's receptionist starts with a deep sigh (and not the good kind of sighing....) whenever she hears my voice. To her benefit, she did send out plumber #1 the same day. Who proceeded to cut a tiny hole into the drywall far right of the suspected location of a dripping pipe. 
All dry, no leak. I sort of look like the expat idiot to these guys. And not the first time. Victoria would not let up for a couple of month (see my avoiding the problem tactic here?), I relented, called my favorite receptionist, who actually answered this time with a "Oh la la, C'est vous encore?" And this time after all those calls, she sent out the big boss. The owner.  Or let's call him Plumber #2. 
He looked in the same hole cut out by plumber #1, confirmed no leak, but nevertheless he is willing to send out plumber#3 to cut a bigger hole to prove my wife wrong. 
He also proceeds to tell me that on this renovation, after salaries and taxes he made no profit as the insurance company was asking him to cut corners to keep the bill low. 
Ehm. Wow. I am not sure what shocked me more, being rectally penetrated with a screwdriver by the insurance company, or that 20K did not produce any profits on a two week plumbing job.

Onwards. Plumber #3 arrives a few days later. Determined, professional and somewhat in a hurry. Must be close to coffee break. By this time, Victoria has taken initiative with Isabella's rubber ruler and a butter knife, removed a larger piece of floorboard  and pulled out some wet mud from behind the drywall......
Plumber #3 however is not convinced, but goes ahead and cuts a sizeable hole at the bottom of the wall. He kneels down, sees the watery mess, wipes it away and sticks his arm inside, as deep as his elbow will allow. Please stop reading and take a look at your arm. Yes, from your fingers to your elbow . About 15" That's how far he reached inside to solve the problem. Sorry, there are no pipes behind here, the water is coming through the outside wall. Hence, it is not his problem and leaves. Coffee break. Call a stone mason he said on his way out, he will fix the leaky wall. 

To this day I am not sure if in that moment I was gutted by having them called for an issue that did not seem to be  theirs, or if I was devastated by a problem that could cost thousands to repair. Victoria at that point has left the kitchen, while I was feeling sorry for myself.  I brought out our largest ladder to inspect the wall outside for potential damage and how to fix it. Only I could not find any loose joints, holes or anything.
When I went back inside our kitchen I realized something. How does the water get to the radiator to the right of the fridge if there are no pipes?  I am not a plumber, but the situation made me so desperate, I wanted to find the problem. 
I stuck my hand inside the drywall hole left open by the plumber and I did not detect any pipes either. But what if? I went to get Victoria's make up mirror and a flashlight. Guess what. FOUR PIPES, clearly visible. New ones, two of them leaking. A triumph in trying. 

 Through the mirror with the flashlight I took a couple of images and emailed them to my girlfriend at the plumbing outfit and called at the same time asking politely to check her email. I can only imagine how she rolled her eyes at this point and even when she saw the images she still asked what she is looking at.  I told her these are leaking pipes her professional plumber did not find, but I did, inquiring if she could please send back Genius Plumber #3. 
Only to be told that he is on his way to lunch. At 11.30. She'll send him around after eating his well deserved meal.
He shows up well fed at 2pm which not only gave him enough time for a traditional french lunch, but he came prepared with a logic explanation how he was unable to find the pipes. Straight faced  he tells me that he did not work on the renovations and he does not carry a mirror in his van. But of course, he can fix it. 

His first question was, if I knew where to empty the pipes in my system. After all it's not the first leak, no?I am doomed, this is not a plumber. This is an imposter.  Ehm, how about asking your colleagues who fixed the last four leaks here? Maybe they know and can assist better than me? Ah, some don't work there anymore and one is not picking up his phone? Probably still at lunch. 
Then Plumber #3 proceeds to tell me that maybe he will not have enough time that afternoon to fix the leaks. Empty the system (at a point unknown to him), bring up the welding equipment, fix it, fill up the radiators, test it, carry back the equipment to his van, all that before 5pm, probably not. 
Well, I asked, maybe work late? Not possible. Never work past five.
He started anyway and I knew he would not get it done. He rushes the whole thing, not completely emptying the pipes, running his welding equipment through the window from the outside which made the hose too short, to only curse two hours later, as one pipe kept leaking.
He would come back in the morning he said.  And he did. With plumber #4 who helped him find the right location where to empty the water (AGAIN), helped him carrying the equipment up to the first floor and basically knew what he was doing. Not even one hour later, well before coffee break they were done. 

How can I blame this on french style socialism? I don't, it's just one example how I personally view this country falling behind because of the political system. A system that will take care of you no matter how much you suck at what you do. Four professionals to fix a leak they all believed was a figment of Victoria's imagination. Though the work was performed under warranty, usually the company bills labor at 50.00/hour. No surprise there was no profit.
 In France you can collect up to 75% of your last paycheck on unemployment for  two years. Three years if you are over 50......
Say a plumber makes 1300.00 net a month, if he gets fired or has a valid excuse why he left the job, he is able to collect 975.00 a month for doing nothing. It may not sound like much, but if he decides to work under the table a few hours and a spouse brings in some income, he can live very well here in rural France. Why go to work? 
He can even take courses to learn a new gig, not they ever do pursue the new trade they trained for, but they all go and take endless courses.

And if you think this is just a one off, think again. I could tell you about the drywall guy who billed me for insulation, only to not put any in and now claims to have no idea how that could have happened. AND refuses a refund.
Or how about the doctor who misdiagnosed a stroke with Vertigo.  There is no incentive for any professional in a system that does not reward excellence. 
How about this. 9 out of 10 sales jobs in France are salaried. Which in fact then makes them order takers and not sales people. 
You may now say that french people seem content and happy. Well, get them talking the next time you visit. Find out for yourself.








VISIBLE PIPES DURING RENOVATIONS

ALL COVERED UP

CLEARLY, A LEAK


ALSO FOUND OUT ABOUT MISSING INSULATION

LEAKY PIPES AS SEEN THROUGH A MAKE UP MIRROR

DRIPPING ALRIGHT

A FRENCH SOCIALIST


A GERMAN SOCIALIST (WITH BRASS BALLS)

A DEFINITE CONTRIBUTION TO FRANCE'S GDP
(Credit: Jenny J. Jenny)