Sunday, 14 August 2011

Fromage sur le pain grillé

It had been a cloudy morning; cool and with occasional rather half-hearted attempts at rain. So we had stayed put on our little terrace, coffee and tobacco at hand, reading.

Not that we were the only ones. A group of Young People in a nearby house also stayed in. They sounded female and, between fits of giggling, were attempting, somewhat flatly, to sing a range of classics, such as Let I Be accompanied by a guitar that was attempting to outdo them for flatness.

All of which may - or may not - have had something to do with the two plant pots that are living on a low roof at their abode.

They eventually went quiet, presumably having got the munchies and gone in search of Mars bars.

I was reading Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything, a collection of this lawyer-turned-food-writer's columns, which had been recommended to me over a business lunch a couple of months ago.

The initial thing to bear in mind with Steingarten is that he is American, that his readers are American and that the target of his dry and withering comments are primarily and frequently the faddiness and hysteria of the US food world in particular.

That morning, I had been particularly reading a section of pieces about dieting and the hysterical fear of all fats.

Steingarten appears to have been one of the first people to use the phrase, the 'French paradox', and is consistent in pointing out the appallingly bad and often entirely misinformed advice not just of quack nutritionists, but the US government's own health bodies.

One of his techniques is to write as though genuinely excited by, for instance, the news that a company has produced a new fat - Olestra - that will replace all real fats and leave no impact on the body, not being absorbed, but passing right through.

He describes one low-fat cookery book that, even by the general low standard of such things seemed utterly dismal. Butter Busters was a best seller, but seemed almost entirely constructed of recipes made of the most hideous-sounding artificial, processed foodstuffs that you could imagine.

One assumes that the individual who wrote such trash wasn't intelligent enough to comprehend the links between processed foods and ill health, plus obesity. But then she clearly didn't know - or care - that her ideas of cutting out all fats was downright unhealthy in itself.

Still, where there's money to be made - and the diet industry Is a huge money spinner ...

If one were really cynical, one could imagine that the bosses of the processed/junk/snack food industries and the diet industries sit down to a celebratory feast together every year (with proper food, of course) and toasting their mutual aid in boosting each others already massive profits, as the poor plebs continue on the treadmill of weight worry, diet, weight gain, weight worry, diet, weight gain etc.

Perhaps they're even joined by luminaries from the fitness industries, who presumably find a place like France to be a disaster, since it has never adopted the gym culture with the same frantic, fearful passion as have the US and UK.

Steingarten is very funny, in an extremely dry way and about important issues (the are also plenty of other pieces simply about the joys of food). I had been laughing out load and quoting at The Other Half, who had been very tolerant of this.

But by the time it was around 1.15pm, I was in need not simply of food myself, but specifically, of something that would have offended the so-called 'health' gurus.

Since we had not planned to spend such time at the house, there were limited foodstuffs around. and by now, it was French lunch time, so the local shop would not be open.

There was plenty of food around, but it wasn't what I craved.

The solution, when it presented itself, seemed obvious.

I took two slabs of the day before's leftover campagne gris and popped them on a foil-lined roasting tin under a hot grill. While they toasted, I cut slices from a huge hunk of fantastically mature Cantal that I'd bought the previous day from Caroline at the market.

Mustard ... mustard: there had to be mustard somewhere. A small pot of the grainy stuff was hiding in the fridge.

Underneath the cheese or on top?

I opted for neither, but put layers of the cheese on the toast and popped it back under the grill, deciding that I'd have mustard on the side, which was a good idea, since it turned out to be rather dry.

The Cantal bubbled beautifully and just caught a hint of golden brown before I slid the pieces onto a plate for rapid consumption.

Take that, you joyless, puritanical diet fundamentalists! And if this is anything like our previous sojourns in France, both The Other Half and I will have lost weight by the time we return home. A paradox indeed!

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