Monday, 20 August 2018

Showing off

"That night I met up with some Colombian friends and we went to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate.

'Are you ready to order?' the waiter asked. He clearly didn't like the look of us.

'We'd all like beans, rice and eggs,' I said.

The dish wasn't on the menu. He pointed this out, testily. 'This is a Mexican restaurant - you must eat Mexican food.' All I could do was remind him that what we'd ordered was all most Mexicans ever ate. He couldn't deny this and went to order the food."

Nick Danziger, Danziger's Travels (1987)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

First meal in Corsica

Our flight to Bastia had been heavily delayed. We were hungry, and wanting something rather less plastic than the disappointing burgers we had eaten in Stansted Airport (the only compensation being that when I asked for mustard, wholegrain was produced).

The hotel receptionist sounded optimistic when we asked him whether there would be anywhere open. But we were told to be quick. It was about twenty to midnight.

And so we wandered along the edge of the sea, towards the old port. There were still people eating in many of the canopy-covered restaurants but, whenever we asked, “Fermé” or “Terminé” was the response.

The place we ended up in was in the old port itself, called O Sud. In the last restaurant we had tried, the waiter had told us of its existence and where it was, but warned us in strongly accented English, “It is not fine dining”. We headed there expecting burgers and Club sandwiches.

A man behind the bar told us we could eat and we found ourselves a table near the marina but were hastily moved further inside. Pop videos played on a wide screen; we must have lifted the average age considerably. My father would have hated it.

Menus arrived and we were told we could choose from the items with blue spots. There WERE burgers and club sandwiches on offer, but, to our relief, plenty more. Liz plumped got tomatoes and mozzarella and I had a Corsican plank. Liz’s salad came with a whole ball of mozzarella capped with another slice, on top of thick slices of tomato coated in pine nuts and pesto. My plank had salami, coppa and mountain ham. There was sweet butter and something which I thought at first was honey but the man serving it told us, having made us guess, that it was home made fig jam. We drank Pastis and were back in the Midi.

Friday, 22 June 2018


I must have been about twelve: on the cusp of being old enough to know better. It was about 1983. I was staying with my uncle and aunt in Kent. There were two cousins: Christopher, aged four, and his brother, Edward, younger still.

We were downstairs early one morning, in the kitchen and there were no adults about. There was enough of an age gap to give me a sense of superiority. But it was Christopher who was the more self-assured. He announced that he was going to make jelly, whipped a saucepan from a cupboard, and found a packet of jelly cubes. I seem to recall expressing doubt about his proposed course of action, but was assured that “Mummy lets me”.

Standing on a chair but still barely able to reach, Christopher stood over the hot stove, stirring the melting jelly cubes frantically with a wooden spoon, his brother Edward watching solemnly. I felt a vague sense of unease. There had been some recent episode when young Christopher had set fire to something, hadn’t there?

Suddenly, my aunt, his mother, whisked into the kitchen, in her dressing gown. No doubt she had smelt fumes emerging from the kitchen and come to investigate. Before I could say a word, start apologising for my inadequate supervision of small children, Christopher said sheepishly: “Mummy, I made some jelly by accident.”

Monday, 18 June 2018


Walking on my way home past an outdoor branch of Côte, I had this sudden urge to pinch the last remaining slice of succulent duck breast from the board that sat between two people sitting at the table minding their own business. But fortunately for me, I resisted that urge.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Wartime rationing

“Charlotte had pushed the jagged grey pyramid of oyster shells to one side and was cutting into a plump Bresse chicken. She had ordered a while one and was undaunted by its size, or by the steaming pot of fresh parsley sauce. From the mound of mashed potatoes on her plate a narrow trickle of butter ran into the margins of the oily vinaigrette that dressed the mountainous green salad...”

And then she woke up and it was all a dream.

From “Charlotte Gray” by Sebastian Faulks.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Steak sandwiches

The walk had supposed to last twenty minutes, ten there and ten back. Before we were out of the village, it had been upped to forty. It took us three hours. Almond trees. A walnut tree. And cherry trees. Most of the cherries - on lower branches - had been taken. There were a few left, small and sour. But foraged so worth eating. Cornflowers. A bank of wild thyme, with two pink orchids blowing nearby A wild flower meadow. Someone in his seventies said it reminded him of his childhood.

Having boasted about my homemade mayonnaise, I was told that some would go very well with the planned steak sandwiches for lunch. So I made some in a too small mortar. Others sliced the beef into small chunks, found other things. We made our sandwiches similarly, buttering our bread with mayonnaise then adding mustard, beef, salt, pepper, gherkins, capers and sliced tomato. Delicious. The conversation, though, was impolite: this was a boys’ weekend.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Long lunch

Buxy, after a cycle ride along a disused railway, converted into a cycle path. Poppies, vines and the sound of insects. After the wine tasting, we were invited to lunch on the terrasse. Three round white metal tables, pulled together. Little shade where I was sitting. We were offered appetisers. Duck and lamb pate. Brown bread. A dip brought in a mug, consisting of cream, spices and garlic. Snails, not in their shells but in little hard pastry cases. The usual parsley and garlic butter. A green salad with sesame seeds, tiny yellow cherry tomatoes, cress, and thick yellow dressing. Our main courses were, somebody said, not traditionally Burgundian: I had a bowl of veal with potatoes in thick sauce and topped with paprika. The sauce mopped up with the bread. We were reminded by the waitress of the unusual salt and pepper - different ones on each table. Finally, pain perdu - spiced warm bread, with crime chantilly and ice cream. The cream was topped with sugar crystals. We had a conversation about the absence of fresh cream in France - except M & S in Paris.

Towards the end of the meal, someone had the idea of our crushing peppercorns between our fingers. Definitely flavours of grapefruit.