Monday, 12 August 2013

Back to basics and a spot of deduction

A very small kitchen for very tall people
Arriving in new holiday rental accommodation is always an intriguing prospect – not least when you have important questions in mind such as: ‘what is the kitchen like?’ and ‘will the knives be sharp enough to fillet a fish?’

The kitchen this year is small but very nicely designed. Except that it was clearly designed for the Scandanavians who own the house and not for a shortarse like me, who would require a step ladder to get to anything more than the front of the bottom shelves of the cupboards above the sink, cooker etc.

And then there’s the electric bin. Yes, that’s right – a battery-powered bin. With no batteries in it. So it doesn’t work. I have, therefore, had to leave the bin bag inside it – because I am most certainly not going out and buying batteries to power an effing bin – but with the top training out through the lid, which at least means I can open the lid manually, rather than have to pull the entire top section off every time I want to throw something away.

There is also no cafetière, but one of those rather old-fashioned machines that requires a paper filter each and every time you wish to make coffee.

The important stuff
And there’s an over-complex orange squeezer, which will probably not be moved from its spot while we’re here.

The other big question on arrival is what provisions or basics you need to buy to get going.

In this case, there were some loo rolls and some kitchen paper, but no decent oil or vinegar (unless it’s hidden at the back of a cupboard way above my head), only the sort of salt that has additives to make it run, two eggs in the kitchen fridge and two and a half small bottles of tonic in the wine fridge on the third floor, next to the roof terrace.

The terrace bit is, incidentally, a key reason we picked this particular address this year.

Not just any old tonic, but Carrefour tonic. Which was pretty flat, so we watered the geraniums with it. Cut flowers love crappy lemonade, after all.

The Other Half, employing a modicum of Holmsian deduction, reasoned that the previous residents had therefore been Brits, whose idea of rooftop boozing involved gin.

More important stuff
I, perhaps a tad cynically, observed that the lack of any decent condiments or cooking items and the dominance of Carrefour’s cheapest label on anything that was still around rather bore this out.

Indeed, when The Other Half later checked the computer to see if he could work out whether the router was on, it was to find that the most recent internet pages that had been opened had been for used car dealers in Essex.

Perhaps our cynicism was not far off the mark.

We sat down and debated the best approach. It was mid-afternoon and, after a morning on the beach, we’d enjoyed a pleasant lunch at Fort St Elme – a traditional start to our holiday. In my case, calamari. It was advertised as coming with rice, but I asked for, and received, frites and aîoli instead.

All quiet as I head to Sunday's market
Once the unpacking was done, we headed into the centre of the village.

My plan was to pick up a small can of the very best virgin olive oil that (in my opinion) is to be found in the area.

It’s made not far from Collioure, from olives grown in the region. And one of the pressings is made with the stones still in it, adding a particularly pepper quality to the green, grassy oil. Absolutely gorgeous stuff.

Memory served me well and we found the shop easily (not that you can get lost here). We bought a small can that will do us well for dipping bread and for dressings over the coming weeks.

Not far away is Barry Blend’s gallery, so we nipped in to say hello to his wife and make a date: I’m interviewing Barry later this week – so watch out for that.

Now these are what I call tomatoes
A rapidly necked cola light by the beach was followed by a far more leisurely sangria, and then a wander back to the alimentation near the house, where we did a substantial stock up, and finally the boulangerie for a freshly-baked loaf.

Coffee, water, wine and bread – how much more basic can it get?

Some fruit too, some patés, a piece of cheese and a little pre-packed saucisson; some pamplemousse rosé (pink grapefruit juice, but isn’t pamplemousse’ a wonderful word?), a few cherry tomatoes and a cucumber.

Nothing complicated at all. And a repast that was quick, easy and entirely adequate to our needs.

Sunday morning saw this year’s first visit to the market and the chance to get even more essentials.

Fish for this evening – confusingly, it was labeled ‘sar du pays’, which is not easily translatable via Google, but which seems to be something along the lines of ‘regional fish’.

It looked very like dorade to me, but what was certain was that it was immaculately fresh.

Supper gives me the eye
More tomatoes – glorious, misshapen organic ones in a multitude of colours and sizes: the ones I dream of for the rest of the year; the ones that taste of the sun.

More cheese and then some serious charcuterie from a stall where I almost breakfasted on the samples the man there hands to customers to try.

Additional bread and a croissant for The Other Half went in the bag from a very good boulangerie in that part of the village, plus a quick visit to the little Carrefour provided bin liners and a big pot of yogurt for my breakfasts.

Or not yogurt this time, but fromage frais, which is a little like the German quark, and will be consumed with rhubarb compote, which was found in a large jar in the same shop.

The fish didn’t prove too difficult to fillet – if I do this once or twice the rest of the year, it would be a miracle: in other words, I’m far from well practiced.

And I also need to remember to scrape of scales before doing anything else – even if just with a knife.

As simple as it gets
And it was another of the episodes that made me really consider bringing over a fish knife and my pin-boning pliars next time. There’s no knife sharpener either.

Anyway, the fish, once filleted, went skin side up under a hot grill, on a lightly-oiled, foil-lined grill tray.

It took around eight minutes before I turned it and gave it another three.

Having forgotten to pick up a lemon, it was served with a ‘salad’ of sliced tomatoes, salted, and bread, with Balsamico and oil to dip.

Food like this is pretty much as basic as it gets. But when the ingredients are this good, who needs anything more complicated?

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