Thursday, 7 January 2016

226. Step forward 2016

31st January. We went to see "45 Years" this afternoon at Biarritz.. Reading the reviews (The Guardian, the New York Times and TIME) after having seen the film had me wondering if I'd seen the same film as the critics. Say no more.
I was down at the beach at Anglet again this morning - and as I approached it I could hear a constant basso profundo roar (similar to an airliner during its take-off roll). My first sight of the sea took my breath away.. it was high tide with an on-shore wind and the waves were molto spectaculare.. I wouldn't have liked to have been out in the Bay of Biscay in a yacht.. or indeed any kind of boat.

I thought I'd wind up January with a visit to a favourite restaurant of ours.. it's La Ferme Ostalapia, at Ahetze (just outside Biarritz). It's set in an old farmhouse, with an interesting menu (spoilt for choice) and the atmosphere is stylish yet relaxed. Highly recommended.  
Fortunately for you, it was featured in a programme by TV presenter Julie Andrieu. Don't worry if your French isn't up to it - just enjoy the scenery. (I'll draw a veil over the group's singing of "Hegoak" as they ascend La Rhune..) When a group of Basques get together, it's never long before Hegoak is dusted off! 

Take a look and see for yourself:

Here's Julie having a first flight in a paramotor.. This is something that's been on my "to do" list for some time.. There's a school in nearby Saint Pée sur Nivelles..

28th January. I forgot to mention that the final piece of Christmas pudding disappeared on Sunday.. I might have mentioned before that, for me, the rich taste of this peculiarly Anglo-Saxon Christmas ingredient evokes so many nostalgic memories of Christmasses past. In keeping with tradition, it was dutifully flamed (with a drop of whisky) and savoured. Lips were smacked.. and smacked again! Another 11 months to wait before your correspondent sees its like again!<sob!>
24th January. Ever wondered how to say such useful phrases in Basque such as "Please speak more slowly" or (good luck with needing this next one!☺) "This lady will pay for everything"? Look here. Actually, there is a phrase in Basque for that last one - "Gizon honek guztia ordainduko du"..

The forecast for today is for 23°C (73°F).. Apologies to readers in and around Washington DC. We went to St-Jean-de-Luz in the afternoon - it was like summer.. the car was indicating 24°.. there were people swimming and all the usual parking spaces were occupied. The town was crowded with people and the cafés were bursting at the seams. As welcome as the heat was, I find it worrying.. what's happening?

This clip I found shows Saint-Jean-de-Luz as it was earlier today.. and funnily enough, the clifftops were exactly where we were.. I think this was filmed later in the afternoon.

18th January. A favourite TV programme of ours is "Les escapades de Petitrenaud” (France 5) and yesterday's edition was set in Cahors, in the Lot, and it had our mouths watering! The programme is presented by Jean-Luc Petitrenaud (yes, I agree, he is a bit precious!) and it featured Le Balandre - a family-run restaurant (6 generations) which is now firmly penciled in on our "to visit" list. I'm including a link to the menus.. Here's the programme itself - see what you think:

And here's Jean-Luc Petitrenaud in the Pays Basque:

12th January. The other day I mentioned that we were subject to the occasional violent winter storm here. Last night, I was awakened in the wee small hours by what sounded like a bomb going off directly above the house as a thunderstorm blew in from the sea. I lay there for a few minutes listening to the crash and rumble of thunder mixed in with the west wind shrieking around the house, rattling the shutters as a deluge of water lashed down on the roof. I was glad we'd had the roof seen to not long ago - we replaced all the tiles, flashing and gutters. And so back to sleep!☺

11th January. I won't pretend to have been a massive fan of his work but here are two of his songs that I liked. He was an original.. and there are precious few of those around today. David Bowie RIP

Here he is with "Heroes" version français.. and an organ tribute here.

I came across this next one by accident.. it was always a favourite of mine.. It's the Edwin Hawkins Singers with their great no-holds-barred gospel version of "Oh Happy Day" from 1969. 1969! 47 years ago.. (how did that happen?)
The chattering classes have picked up on the black pudding story ('flavour of the month' news story) mentioned below and are now running with the ball.. (more here and here) Over the last few years, I think a major imbalance has grown up between the amount of rolling news media coverage we have versus the amount of news available to fill it.

I'm told that the forecast for the week after next weekend is for sub zero cold..

9th January. Up early this morning and down to the river for the first time in 4 months. I went out in a double sculler and pushed myself a bit to see if I'd have any after-effects around the base of my thumbs.. (I've had a nagging twinge there for months) We did 14km more or less non-stop. If there had been, then that would have been the end of my rowing days. Fortunately, there was no reaction and so next week I'll pay my subs for the remainder of the year. I have to admit to being relieved to see the clubhouse again! (added later: Creaking a bit this evening!)

It was a misty morning on the river with no more than 100 yards visibility - plus we had to keep an eye open for the occasional dead tree that was stuck in the river bed. Colliding with one of these is not fun. The low sun was directly behind us in our wake and it dazzled like liquid gold.

I came across some photos taken by a drone (not today) above the Nive.. The Nive is one of the most beautiful rivers I've ever rowed on - with the added bonus of the Pyrenees as a backdrop.. It's right up there with the Dee at Chester. I think it's worth clicking on these photos to see them at their best.
Ladies VIII
A "yolette"

A "pair oar" in the foreground

8th January. In case anyone imagines that it's all one jolly round of lotus-eating down here, in winter we are often at the wet end of violent storms that blow in from the Golfe de Gascogne (Bay of Biscay). At times like that, I like to get down to the coast to watch things as they unfurl..

Just a few kilometers south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, an underwater reef causes this monster wave known as Belharra to be thrown up..
Meanwhile, here's a view of what it means to be Basque from "l'autre côté"..(across the border)

7th January. I see that black pudding (left) is now being touted by the chattering classes in the UK media as a "superfood".. I've long been a black pudding fan but all this "flavour of the month" hype leaves me cold.

The equivalent here is boudin noir - aka a dark-hued blood sausage (above). I can't speak for the rest of France but I find the boudin noir in the Pays Basque to be less appetising than its Lancashire (UK) counterpart. There's something about the consistency and texture of the Basque variety that makes me suspect that it contains more blood and less cereal than its Lancashire equivalent that, according to Wiki, "is generally made from pork fat or beef suet, pork blood and a relatively high proportion of oatmeal, in some recipes mixed with grits (oat groats) and sometimes even barley groats." We've had boudin noir several times in the Pays Basque but there's something about its high "wobble factor" (a technical term, m'lud) that I find off-putting. By contrast, your correspondent finds the firmer Lancashire variety infinitely preferable. I suppose it all depends on what you are used to.

All this talk of the boudin noir leads us neatly on to the boudin blanc - a completely different animal entirely. France being France, each region has its own local variation on the theme - as here:

Avranches: Onions, lard, chicken breast, cream, bread crumbs, pork, eggs, salt, pepper. 
(Avranches is in the Manche department, Normandy, on the Mont St-Michel Bay)
Castres, Tarn: Half lean pork, half egg panade flavoured with herbs, wrapped in caul, baked in oven.
Catalan or Pyrénées: Greyish white, added eggs and a good deal of herbs
Classic (made throughout France): White lean meat from pork and veal or chicken, pork fat, milk, eggs, sometimes truffles, in pork intestines, 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 cm) long.
Havre and Normandy style: Light yellow, lots of pork fat with no lean, very fatty, often milk, eggs, bread crumbs, a starch of some kind or rice flour
Mazamet, Tarn: Half pork rind and half panade mixture based on egg, poached in water.
Rethel, Ardennes: Lean meat, pork fat, milk, eggs, no starch or bread crumbs. Has IGP status since October 2001. A "boudin blanc" festival is held each April in Rethel.
Richelieu (made throughout France): Chicken. Sometimes truffles. rich, formed into balls, wrapped in caul fat.
South-West: Pork, breadcrumbs, starch, eggs, a good deal of herbs, beef intestines. about 1½ inches in diameter.

Watch it being made.. (look away if you're of a nervous disposition!☺)
(NB There's no sound with this)
Of course, where there's a great food product in France, it's a fair bet that a Confrérie won't be far behind.. Enter la Confrérie des Compagnons du Boudin Blanc..

Montauzer at Biarritz
Montauzer, Bayonne
The best local exponent of the boudin blanc (in my opinion) is Maison Montauzer. There's a shop in the centre of Bayonne and also a stand at the indoor market at Biarritz.

Former President Sarkozy
Here's former President Nicolas Sarkozy enjoying himself (left) at the small Montauzer shop in Bayonne with MAM. For reasons that are unclear to me, the boudin blanc is only available at Montauzer around Christmas time. We had some on Christmas Eve served with sautéed apple.. (recipe here) A simple dish but one that's incredibly tasty.. maybe because Monsieur Montauzer adds some black truffle to his boudins. Yes, you can find 'industrial' boudin blanc in the supermarkets all through the year, but those of Maison Montauzer are worth waiting for. This dish is one of the gastronomic highlights of the year as far as your scribe is concerned.

4th January 2016First of all, a Happy New Year / Bonne année / Urte berri on to all my reader(s).. I'm about to commit my New Year's resolutions to print. To be honest, my list has a familiar look about it!
1. Improve my French..
2. Practice my banjo..
3. Use my bike more.
4. Keep my desk tidy (or failing that - tidier)
5. Improve my French..
(file these under 'Fiction')


Anonymous said...

Boudin noir not a favourite and I/we will always leave it if on a plate of meats, however I do eat the little 'cocktail' sized version if a slice of apple is wth it. Changes the taste and texture somehow.
Bowie died having had his birthday and was 69. Great entertainer and will be remembered. 1947 was a good year and this was the cause of much more discussion about young people pegging out. Lesley

Pipérade said...

Funny how, like Marmite, there's no middle ground with black pudding.. Definitely a love-it or hate-it food. Think the fact that one of its prime constituents is blood has something to do with it. I know it's a question of what you're used to but I find the English version enjoyable but not the French.
Was "substance abuse" a factor in Bowie's early demise? I don't think the life of a pop star is a particularly healthy one. Few seem to live on to a ripe old age - and of those who do, I wish some of them hadn't..! (an ungenerous thought maybe.. but you can probably guess who I'm thinking of)

Anonymous said...

Here we go again with the wonderful Alan Rickman. Aged 69.
We will be showing a tribute season this week of Galaxy Quest and the Harry Potters in our home cinema (DVD & TV). Lesley

Pipérade said...

Ouch.. yes, I spotted that too..
He was spookily good in this production with Juliet Stevenson:

Anonymous said...

Cahors is a favourite 'long day out' for us now (and when on holiday before the move) and many photos have been taken of the doghead fountain. The hotel only charges €5 / night for the dog so that's a plus.
My French is not up to the film - lots of chat about truffles and the usual terroir stuff. 6 generations, that's quite something. Lesley

Pipérade said...

I looked at the website for that restaurant and it's well out of our usual price range. However, I'm always willing to sacrifice myself for the common good, especially if it's a worthy cause. Le Balendre looks very much like a worthy cause to me - so, reluctantly, one of these days I might step in there and throw myself at the tender mercies of the chef.
I think every now and again, you have to treat yourself to something special, whether it's a meal, a bottle of wine or whatever. Otherwise life can be flat - with the excitement factor like a drive across the prairies..
Places like this restaurant are slowly disappearing.. and once they've gone..that's it!

Anonymous said...

Enya was very pleasant as well. Was that a Pyrenean Mountain Hound or a polar bear with a false tail? Lesley

Pipérade said...

That was one big dog wasn't it..!
It was an idyllic afternoon on that headland overlooking the bay. We left before the glassy-eyed post-Sunday lunch crowd arrived!
It really was like a summer's afternoon there.