giovedì, settembre 16, 2010

The Shoddyssey Part V

Things I will miss about Belgium:

1. Raw goat milk for morning lattes

That's fucking it. This stupid fucking country. Every time I look at the Art Nouveau and the lovely view from my window and start getting tinges of thinking perhaps I'll be nostalgic one day, memories or whole new examples of functionarial retardation overwhelm me. Of course it's worst at the moment since moving is always a pain in the ass and the modalities of moving out of Belgium are overwhelmingly technocratic.

The other day I realized I was in dispute with four different government institutions, and of course it is "I", that lucky bastard the F-word being as insulated as possible due to his lack of French and the functionaries' lack of English - nonetheless he's got enough of it that he's tearing his hair out too, and he's been really emotionally hit by the way we've been forced to give Lexie away - he has lived with her, after all, for four years now; just a little bit less time than I have, and she is a fucking charmer of a cat.

Anyways, I'd say I was in dispute with the four institutions, but I think they - if the 'disputes' are on their radar at all - would call it business as usual. It is hard to see how any dealings with them at all could avoid feeling like a 'dispute' to a person like me, who's been raised in a society where civil servants perceive their jobs as a series of problems to be solved, and who is now operating in a society where functionaries - they are far too unhelpful to be called 'civil servants' - perceive their jobs as a series of procedures to be enacted.

Reading Voltaire's Bastards again as I go through all this and it's like John Ralston Saul is cheering me on in a commiserating sort of way. I read it for the first time when I was 19 or so and liked it well enough, but I only had the vaguest idea of what he was on about. Now I'm being slapped in the face with so many concurrent examples of stupid fucking cunts who have, as a society, foresworn memory and common sense in favour of 'rational' process that it's really hitting home. And it's the memory thing that is most remarkable. It's as though little fairies appear every night at the bedside of Belgian functionaries and take a shit on their brain.

The other night, as we said bye to some friends we're not likely to see again before departing, one asked what it was like to move from Canada or Australia to Francophone Europe, and obviously there are a few things to discuss in that respect, but the most striking is the difference in brains and notions of intelligence. In terms of quantities of facts we have in our heads, New World Anglos are fucking ignoramuses; our knowledge of international history and geography, maths and the sciences usually fails to come up to scratch with even a stupid Franco-european. And I'm sure our general ignorance would shock to the point of offending almost any Franco-european exposed to it.

But due to the paucity of synthetic and practical training Franco-europeans get - I know one aristocrat here who'd gone to top-crust schools all his life, studied art every year of his education, could comment on every painting in the Louvre, and who had never been taught to draw in perspective; you know, Grade 3 shit - they tend to come off as absolute helpless, incompetent idiots to us as soon as they're presented with a problem. And the thing is, life is a fucking series of problems. That's not even 'sad but true', it's just true, and I'd venture to say it isn't even a problem that life is a series of problems.

Anyways, in a bid to problem-solve myself, I'm trying something new. For my remaining weeks in Belgium, I'm going to try to deal with my problems the way I imagine a Belgian would, which feels like thinking about everything stupidly. Case in point: our neighbours' mosquito-breeding pool. Since I wasn't sure what house it belongs too, I just wrote to our commune (city hall) to tell them about the problem. But rather splendidly, the boundary between my commune and my neighbours' commune runs between our gardens, so I got an email back from the commune - full of exclamation points no less - about how they'd like to help but couldn't because it wasn't in their jurisdiction. More for a joke than anything, I wrote back explaining I wasn't capable of getting in touch with the commune that my neighbours live in because I live in a different commune, so would they please forward my concerns to their counterparts? And you know what - it worked.

mercoledì, settembre 15, 2010

Beyond the Thanksgiving pie

Pumpkin is a beautiful and generous thing, and makes a sauce with a versatility approaching tomato sauce. If I said that in front of my family, whose pumpkin techniques are limited quite strictly to casseroles or frittelle, I don't know whether they'd laugh or smack me one, but I do feel it's true. While tomato sauce can give you degrees of what I consider a feminine sharpness, acidity, and clarity, running the gamut from invigorating to heartburn, pumpkin sauce gives you a gamut I imagine as masculine, from strongly comforting and fortifying to stolid.

I suppose if God held a gun to my head and told me to choose, I'd choose tomato; pasta in tomato sauce is my eternal comfort food, and I don't think the world has ever come up with anything lacking animal flesh in it that's quite as good as gazpacho. But I'd miss the pumpkin fiercely, and part of that is because the truth is a tomato sauce or gazpacho can be ruined, while a pumpkin sauce can be poor in relation to other pumpkin sauces but it will seldom be a disaster - unless you simply don't like it.

Here's the process, it's basically the same as the process for pumpkin soup, and applies to most varieties of pumpkin I've came across.

1. Fry your base (onions, garlic, the white part of leeks, celery, maybe some seedy herbs, like cumin or coriander seeds, or peppercorns, or whatever your taste runs to). Pumpkin takes kindly to a base fried in butter if you're not averse to heavier flavours.

2a. Once the base is sizzling enthusiastically add chunks of peeled, diced pumpkin and fry them for awhile (do yourself a favour and bake the pumpkin for ten minutes ahead of time, and then the skin lifts off quite easily with a normal veggie peeler.)

2b.You also have the option of splitting the pumpkin down the middle, roasting it at high heat face-down in an oiled tray, and then scooping out the cooked flesh after about half an hour. I like doing that because I think it makes it rather sweeter, but it depends on your tastes; it also tends to make it heavier.

3. Once the chunks have fried for awhile, or immediately if you have used roasted pumpkin flesh, add water or something else wet, translucent and inoffensive, just enough to cover. Anything from a rich meat broth through a veg broth back to water. Once again it's a question of your tastes.

4a. If you have used raw pumpkin chunks, cover and boil at medium heat until the chunks are tender, and puree - then you're fundamentally done.

4b. If you have used roasted pumpkin, you can puree immediately, but I suggest leaving it on low heat for ten minutes or so to make sure it's all melded, if that makes sense.

And there you go. More liquid gets you a pumpkin soup, less gets you a highly goopy sauce that is very nice for pizzas, especially paired with stinky cheese. Whether soup or sauce, this base also takes very kindly to the addition of curry paste to taste. It is also lovely with roasted red pepper pureed into it towards the end of the cooking; you can stick one or two in to roast at the same time as the pumpkin halves, if you go the roasting route. Green herbs should go in at the end, after removing it from the heat.

It also takes well to the addition of cheese, but to avoid clumps and ugliness mix in the cheese in the form of a bechamel-based cheese sauce.

As a soup, it works well either on its own or with the addition of other features, like (pre-cooked!) chick peas, or chunks of potato, shrimp, or white fish cooked directly in it. During this last shitty winter, I made a big batch of it every other week, in alternation with tomato sauce, and then froze it in jars that were just big enough to serve as a base for a quick but hearty and delicious soup for two in the evenings, so long as one or the other of us remembered to take out a jar to defrost in the mornings.

Finally it can be enriched either with cream out of cows or goats, or with milk out of coconuts. In either case it should be added after the soup or sauce has been pureed and taken off the heat, or, if you freeze it in batches, after it has been defrosted and re-heated.

martedì, settembre 14, 2010

Good morning to me

The F-word made me breakfast this morning, before work. Considering he makes the vast majority of dinners I stick down my face I could understand that it would seem strange to be so touched, touched to the point of schmoopiness, over that, but I am. Part of that is that I've always been the breakfast top. As a morning person, I do all the work mostly because I can, as I'm typically clear of head by 8, once the espresso hits my tummy.

But after a turbulent red-eye back to London, pleasantly but blearily wandering around Kew Gardens for a few hours, missing my family and talking with colleagues in Singapore about colleagues in the States, and then the last Eurostar back to Brussels where my attempts to nod off where stymied by three fat Flemish chicks who DID NOT SHUT UP the whole fucking trip - seriously, if they weren't talking they were singing beastly Dutch pop music, and the pain of that language (besides its expectorant hectoring quality) is that I can understand just enough of it to understand they were talking about reality television - ARRGH! - followed by the realization I'm in this stinking mold-hole of a country for another month - well, coming home to the F-word was splendid and the fact that he, a non-morning person, spontaneously made me the lazy brekkers bottom this morning melts my heart.

The other thing that touches me about it is that it was awesome, and since he realized he's not the only person in the world who does this awesome thing, I can share the awesomeness with you: eggs poached in tomato sauce. They are fucking delicious. Part of that is that we get farm-fresh eggs and make our own awesome tomato sauce, but the concept is bigger than we are. So easy. And so fucking delicious. Obviously it doesn't need to be a tomato sauce, I've done it with pumpkin sauce and various cheese sauces, and it's lovely - especially the cheese sauces - but the marriage of the egg with a tomato sauce is a very harmonious, gendered, romantic one; or in more prosaic terms, the contrast of the thick, neutral egg flavour with the inevitable acidity of the tomato sauce is just right.

Anyways, try it, unless you're dating a fucknard, vegan, someone with an egg allergy or someone without a crotch it will get you morning sex.