Did I mention that I love to cook?

Well I do and  I have for  as long as I can remember.  In particular, at around the age of three, I recall mixing and mixing a sickly sweet cake mixture.  With my fat little arms,  stiff from stirring the gloop with a  wooden spoon and a little trace of cake moustache around my mouth I was more than pleased with my efforts. What heaven! And lo and behold an hour or so later, I was invited back in to the kitchen to see the finished creation – a perfectly rectangular, iced chocolate cake.

The penny did not drop  immediately, that there had been no chocolate involved in my sticky mixture but after all I was only little and everything was possible.  I have no idea when ,but my mother did finally confess that she had binned the cement cake mixture and bought the chocolate cake from the milkman.  It was a time when milkmen still delivered and offered little extras too (nothing to be read into this please- orange juice, potatoes and the odd chocolate cake!!). Nevertheless, to tiny me it was magic.

My journey with cooking continued although I am not sure quite why. Perhaps I should explain that my father was English and my mother still is (93) very Italian. I believe that my father was very excited at the prospect of having an Italian wife  who would be able to prepare him wonderful meals but alas he married a woman from Italian aristocracy who didn’t even know how to boil an egg. Apparently she ‘fessed up on their wedding night but nonetheless, I was born nine months later…

So food in our household was interesting but often erratic. My mother did learn to cook  although her heart was never really in it, yet it introduced European cuisine to us in the 60’s – a little ahead of it’s time. Lasagne, vitello tonnato, risotto, scallopine alla milanese….what wonders alongside fish fingers and sausages. When my father cooked it was traditional British fare – roasts – wonderful beef on the bone* – lovely and rare, leg of lamb ( I always used to be given that wonderful sweet bits at the end- “smakerels”). But who made the best Yorkshire pudding to go with the beef – my mother! Perhaps they were a perfect match…. to be continued cos I am tired and might just waffle…bear with if you want too

 * yorkshire pudding will have to feature at some point!

 

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Marseille is under a cloud – literally

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Three huge fires today around the Marseille area and I mean huge. Whipped up, snarling and blazing full force with the angry mistral coaxing the flames and distruction.  Even in the city, the skies hang low part red and part grey and the air is acrid. A dirty barbeque without meat.

This almost describes the city itself: a total mixture of what is half beautiful, achingly beautiful but right now it is in self destruct mode.  My very first impressions of Marseille around 5 years ago  was that it was (and is in parts),  a wonderful city but with such shocking negatives that I would have  never considered living here. The ugly graffiti  is almost everywhere and I am not talking about artistic graffitti which does exist and is beautiful.  The two are not linked. The fact that most shops feel the need to have heavy metal shutters when closed to avoid vandalism, was an eye opener and something that I was not really used to ,coming more recently from a leafy London suburb.

Yet, I am not totally naive, I recall the Tottenham riots, the Brixton riots- a London constantly under threat.  I have lived in slighly dodgier parts of London before they too became more gentrified: Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith and between Wandsorth Common and Tooting Bec. Ok, I was closer to the Common but I used to run down to Tooting. I grew up having to use the Tube with the threat of IRA bombs.  Difficult times everywhere, then, now and forever I guess…

And so back to Marseille… the underbelly of this city is rotten, it’s dirty, it’s corrupt.  There is no respect.  People throw their rubbish in the streets, let their dogs poo without collecting, dump sofas, mattresses, wherever! There is no sense of service in many bars, restaurants or shops. One time, at the check out in a local supermarket, a product I had was lacking it’s barcode – the reaction from the person at the till was – do you really need this anyway? Really, really?? Would this happen in Waitrose- hmm, I don’t think so!

Solution time. It needs the equivalent of Rudy Guiliani to clean up this town as he did in NYC. It needs angels.  It needs a new mayor who is not surrounded by people chosen by  nepotism rather than merit (hopefully they are all about to retire). It’s too much of a melting pot, too many poor immigrants and angry drugged, armed people. A melting pot can bring wonderful  things but this is just water thin soup with no flavour.  It makes me sad. It could be grand. It could be magnificent. On Sunday, there was a shooting and two dead , 5 minutes from our flat..

Enough is enough but am still happy with Frog.

 

How the supper party nearly got scuppered…but then I learned a lesson!

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More musings from Marseille

So we finally got a date in the diary for a couple of friends of ours to come for supper last weekend. I had planned to do a delicious Moroccan tagine – chicken, olives and preserved lemons which is second to none apparantly.  I don’t like to boast but Frog lived In Marrakesh for 5 years, so he should know.

 

We met Frog’s brother by chance on Thursday at a local bar where we arrived for just one drink, get some fresh air and  to catch up on the week- just the two of us. Frog’s brother ( I have nothing against him) but he has the tact and sensitivity of a bull in a china shop or as they say in France “comme un elephant dans un magasin de porcelaine”.  I think that this image is actually  much more forgiving.

Suddenly our cosy evening for four, turned into a barbeque soirée, in the garden of one of their sisters, for nine people. I made mutterings about it how it might just be a tad rude to alter things especially since we had cancelled our friends last time when another sister was in town.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the way this family has welcomed me with open arms and I love spending time with them. There is always lots of laughter, great food, rivers of wine and a sense of belonging. I just didn’t want our evening to be hijacked. Our contribution was to be all the meat and some salads. No comment.  Frog said how lovely it would be to all eat outside.  Don’t forget that we have neither a garden nor a balcony attached to our teeny weeny pepperpot sized flat.  So I stopped making a fuss and just decided to go with the flow, not without, however, stamping my foot first by saying that I would not be preparing any food.

Needless to say, I spent Saturday afternoon preparing baby aubergine beignets (delicious) and Portuguese style carrots ( good but not the same as I used to eat in the Algarve.)  I gave in as we were stuck waiting for our new oven to arrive and thought that I might as well do something useful.  Oven never did arrive and do you know what ? I was  not even surprised, I felt it in my bones from the moment I woke up (inspite of an alloted time slot).  Thank you DARTY- it’s the last time you mess with me.  Oven hasn’t even arrived at the warehouse yet! For goodness sake – service, service? Happy to take money but not deliver…

However, the evening was great fun in the end. It was lovely and warm and for once I wasn’t attacked by mosquitos- are they getting used to my blood? Lesson learned: just stop trying to control everthing and get on with life….Still not sure why we had to provide all the meat though!

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aubergine beignets

 

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Photo I sent to Frog’s sister saying what a nice evening we had in her garden during her absence.  She laughed.

Thoughts please….

 

 

August in a ghost town

More musings from Marseille

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August is here again and after the excitement of the annual jazz festival at Palais Longchamp the city has become eerily quiet.

The Seal concert that we went to  last Friday  at Palais Longchamp was just brilliant. It was a balmy night and the setting  was stunning.  Seal did not disappoint either: a mixture of old and new delivered with energy and real passion. I have been listening to his music all week ever since; in the gym as I have pounded away  and at also at home – full blast!  Frog, I sense, is becoming slightly bored and has resorted to wearing his headphones most of the time.  Maybe it’s just to drown out my off key warbling.  I never really know the words to songs anyway, which I admit,  must be totally annoying.   Just as well he has a good quality headset that drowns out both my “singing” and my talking.   I know, however, I know that he is listening to Shakira and Selena Gomez.  Perhaps I shall dedicate next week to singing along to Justin Beiber and then he will be sorry…

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Seal sang for a blissful 2 hours

Anyhow,” I seem to have digressed”, a nod to the late Ronnie Corbett  as I push my glasses back up my nose.  Marseille is particularly quiet in August, like so many cities in Europe, everything shuts for the holidays. So those that stay tend to be office workers, tramps and pigeons. I don’t think I fall into any of these categories but then I never did (forgive what I’m about to write next as it’s truly dreadful) like to be pigeon-holed . Yuk- get a grip!

So on Thursday morning, I set off for one of the local flower markets to find a replacement for the extraordinally beautiful orange lillies that had lasted me a whole week – 5 stems for 5 euros – a snip! No market. On holiday!

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I did find some wonderful mini aubergines that will serve as a replacement for flowers until I cook them

Next stop -my favourite butchers that has a walk around counter with wonderfully presented cuts of meat. Unlike most of it’s competitors, not a feathered chicken,or rabbit head in sight. That  makes me heave and  I could almost consider the idea of becoming vegetarian.  The whole place is spotlessly clean and the  jovial staff are usually discussing recipes. Alas, they too were shut.  Ditto the fishmongers. Are we meant to fast this month? Luckily the supermarkets stay open and some until quite late but it’s not the same. They are even open now on Sunday mornings for those that aren’t organised enough to plan the weekend’s food on Saturday i.e. me!

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Closed metal shutters with “annual  holidays” to be found all over town.

Will I ever get used to shop hours here anyway? Like much of Europe, they tend to open late ( after 10.00am), shut for a longish or really long lunch and stay open until about 7ish or whenever they fancy. This includes La Poste. I should be greatful that proper post offices still exist here, unlike the UK but the timing just doesn’t suit me . I am not on holiday and I need to get things done.*

As the month rolls on in this blistering heat, only interrupted by the rather angry Mistral wind (it plays havoc with my already unruly hair) , I know that I shall get used to the emptiness around  and by September when people return to town, back to work and back to school, I shall feel a slight resentment for this noisy invasion.  Well there is no pleasing some…..!

*For those of you that read my previous blog – The Rant part 2 ” and are anyway interested, I did finally got my toothbrush charger but mysteriously I found a slip in my post box to say that the postie had tried to deliver my package on Tuesday. Yet this slip did not appear until Saturday.  Très bizarre! So another trip to La Poste to collect it, that is when they reopened after lunch.