Grapes

I know, it seems like an odd thing to write about, but this year seems to really be a banner year for grapes.

Unlike most people in our area, I really think about grapes first as something to eat and only secondarily as something that becomes wine. That’s because although I do have the occasional glass of Blanquette Methode Ancestrale, I’m not really much of a drinker. I never have been, to be honest, not out of any moral or other conviction, but because I don’t really like the taste of alcohol. Methode Ancestrale has only about 6% alcohol, so it is light, sweet and not particularly alcoholic, really right down my street to be honest.

But grapes as an edible fruit are something else.

Like so many other things, I had started to lose the taste for grapes when I lived in L.A. We had beautiful looking grapes pretty much all year round, but most of the time they were… well, tasteless. Their main attribute was that most of them were seedless, which makes eating a grape a simpler thing.

When we moved here, the first thing I noticed about grapes was that we had a lot more varieties of them other than mostly Thompson Green Seedless and Red Flame, with the occasional Concord thrown in. Here, at grape season there are Italias, Chasselas, Danla, Muscat and more. The seedless variety is almost an afterthought and we don’t see that many of those in most places.

This year, my grape of choice is the Muscat. Muscats are dark purple, with small to medium fruits and mostly tiny seeds that you almost don’t notice when you eat them. But what really sets a Muscat grape above the pack is the taste. They’re always delicious, but this year they are truly divine. It’s hard to even express the full, sweet, heavenly flavor that the hot dry summer seems to have given them. Suffice it to say that if I have to choose between eating a dessert and eating a handful of Muscat grapes, this year the Muscats win over just about anything else I can name.

They are so good, that as soon as I run out of a batch, I immediately run out to the store to buy more. Indeed, I think I have developed a previously unknown condition called Grape Addiction, and it has nothing to do with alcohol. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when grape season is over, because there will be nothing that can replace the pure awesomeness of the Muscat.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Summer, Summer, GO AWAY

I just can’t stand it anymore; way too hot! It’s going to be in the upper 90s today and even hotter tomorrow! Supposedly, according to Meteo France, the heat is set to break Thursday night/Friday morning. I hope they’re right, but wish it would come sooner.

Even the stone walls of our house are now heating up, so instead of staying at 22 C (72 F) inside, last night it was 26 or 27 C, so close to 80 F. It makes sleeping very uncomfortable. I get up at 6:30 to try to open all the shutters and windows so that we can cool off as much as possible until I have to close everything back up again by 9:00.

We HAD to do a big grocery shopping yesterday, because I was out of everything. When we walked into the Carrefour in Pamiers at just before 11:00, we thought it was not too hot. By the time we came out at noon, it was a furnace.

I do take cold bags to put anything perishable in for the journey home, then put those bags inside the car and blast the a/c until we get home. Even with those, the ice cream I bought resembled soft serve by the time we got here. Still, nothing actually went bad.

To make matters worse, I spent most of Sunday and part of yesterday COOKING, because my kind and generous neighbors have been loading us down with gorgeous, ripe tomatoes and zucchinis. But, since there is only so much we can eat fresh, I’ve had to freeze or cook it and then freeze it. I know that this winter I’ll be happy to have it all, but it is really not fun standing in front of a hot stove when it’s this hot out.

I think for the first time ever, my freezer AND the freezer on the fridge are both totally full! I can’t even find anything without digging inside like an archeological expedition. Still, we’re not going to go hungry anytime soon.

I hope that all of you, wherever you are, are keeping cool. You are perfectly free to remind me of this little rant in the depths of winter when I complain about the cold, rain and snow.

Ciao for now.

Randy

It must be the heat

Our dear friends Conchita and Mariano gave me a ton of courgettes this morning, so I spent the afternoon making ratatouille. While standing there stirring and sweating I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of summer produce.

Right now the temperature is about 34 C outside (93 F), precisely the type of temperature where you do NOT want to be standing over a hot stove. And yet, this is when all the wonderful produce appears in our gardens and markets. Since we can’t eat it all fresh, the obvious thing is to find a way to preserve it and that usually means heat.

It’s completely crazy, of course. We would really all much rather be doing anything other than cooking in this weather, but if we don’t cook it then it is wasted and we won’t have it available for use during the winter.

We’re lucky, of course, because we have the assistance of our wonderful modern appliances. If you live in a modern house in America you probably have your air conditioning on, but here in our far from modern house the thick stone walls, the double-glazed windows and extra insulation in the attic and the special heat reflecting curtain on the front door keep the house extremely comfortable But think about our ancestors; they were doing all  their preserving on wood burning stoves with no real insulation to speak of. Certainly nothing like a/c existed. But they managed and fed their families through the lean times on all that they were able to store over these hot summer months.

I’ll try to reflect on that next time I’m standing in the kitchen wishing I was anywhere else; we’re lucky in today’s world and should think about that more often.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Don’t Mess with Me!

We’ve had a friend staying for the last few days (Possum World reader Mnemosyne!)

I woke up this morning with the most horrible cramps but we had decided to go to the coast, so we just plowed on. It was raining, which I suppose made it less hot, so maybe that was a good thing. We had the same problem in Collioure that we had when we tried to visit with our friend Cheryl; not a single place to park in the whole town, so we drove on to Port Vendres. I don’t think we’re meant to visit Colliure, at least not during the summer.

In Port Vendres we specifically tracked down the same restaurant where we had eaten last time, but this time we had one of the WORST restaurant experiences ever. JM and Mnemosyne ordered steak/frites and I ordered an omelette. Their steaks came and I sat there and sat there and sat there. After 20 minutes I told the waiter to cancel my order, but almost 15 minutes later he brought it anyway! JM and Mnemosyne had finished eating by then so I told him I no longer wanted it. There was some excuse about having had a problem with a burner on the stove, but honestly if there was a problem why didn’t he just tell me 30 minutes earlier?  Anyway, there was a woman there (probably the owner) and she was really pissed at me!  But so what? I was the injured party!

It took them another 15 minutes to bring JM a single crepe and 20 minutes to bring Mnemosyne a fruit salad! I had asked for coffee at the same time that they ordered their desserts and it never came, then the waiter came and asked if we WANTED coffee! I said no just the bill and we got the hell out of Dodge.

This is NOT the way you treat a woman who has just gotten her period; at least not if you want to live!

Of course, Shmoo would not poop anywhere we stopped because it wasn’t “his” place! By the time we got back he was desperate to go. Someone had blocked the parking in front of our house, so I let JM and Mnemosyne off then drove up to the railroad tracks to take him for a quick potty break. As soon as we got on the path he went into the bushes and did what he needed to do. Then, instead of trying to keep walking, he turned around and dragged me back to the car to come home! He’s such a silly dog.

I guess this goes to prove that you shouldn’t try to repeat experiences, because nothing is ever the same twice.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Introducing: Deep-Fried Possum

I’ve noticed that people really like it when I post about food, and I haven’t done that for a while. So, as with the new Chateau-Shmoo category here, I’m going to start this new one called Deep-Fried Possum which will be about food, cooking and enjoying the two.

Recently, I’ve found a truly wonderful and revolutionary cookbook. It’s called RATIO: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. The author is Michael Ruhlman. I have rarely felt myself as inspired as I am by this book. It is NOT a recipe book, per se, but it is a book that explains the ratios of ingredients that make up the basics of recipes. By knowing these, we can easily create our own recipes for just about every category of cooking without needing a library of cookbooks.

I don’t know when I’ve read a cookbook cover to cover this way, as if it was a novel and not a cookbook at all. Perhaps it speaks to the geek in me who strives to understand why things are the way they are; but for whatever reason it has become my new food bible. Each section makes me want to get into the kitchen and just start creating.

If you’re of a “need to know” mindset, you really need to check this book out. It will open your eyes.