Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cookbook: Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin

There are, dear reader, at large in this wayward and overcrowded world of ours, all sorts of very weird people. There are such who walk with a chip on their shoulder. There are those who wrap yellow ribbons around their neck to remember a loved one, or weave green willow boughs around their hats to spite one who has spurned them. Others yet again have bats in the belfry; buns in the oven; or walk around with a fried egg on their head (although, as the inimitable Ms Bette Midler observed: ‘The ladies with the fried eggs on their heads don’t generally come out until September or October…’)

Ah yes: it takes all kinds, and we really ought to be tolerant to every folly which the Good Lord has put onto this earth to amuse us…

It becomes, however, extraordinarily hard to muster the necessary lenience when such madness strikes a close friend, who deserves better, whom one would like to protect from his more irrational antics, and with whom one is regularly seen in public, with all the inevitable consequences for one’s own immaculate reputation.

And one such lamentable case unfortunately is mine…

My dear friend Colin Davies, born in Liverpool (need I say more?) but lately of the charming Spanish town of Pontevedra, a while ago fell victim to a serious ailment: columbidaephobia, that is: the subclass of ornithophobia in which one experiences a deep, murderous, blood-thirsty hatred of pigeons. Don’t ask me why. He can’t stand the sight of the beasts. He would tear them to pieces with his teeth… And of course they are all over his home town, so that one wonders why he ever decided to live in an old historical Spanish city full of decrepit stone buildings, which are a perfect breeding ground for these charming little birds. Why not move to the Kalahari Desert, where pigeons are rare, or the North Pole, where there are none? Oh well… To each his own, I say, with all the leniency I can muster.

A harmless pigeon

But worse than this innocuous loathing itself, is that the good man has decided to do something about it. You see, he next fell victim to the completely ludicrous conviction that one could scare pigeons away by sculptural means. Believe it or not, but the fellow started walking around the pleasant old town of Pontevedra, which never did him no harm, with a huge, shockingly painted, hollow plastic owl tugged in the hollow of his elbow, from café terrace to café terrace, from restaurant to classical concert, from doctor’s consultancy to modern art museum, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the depth of night… and only too often in my embarrassed company…

Did it work? What do you think? Just take a look at the picture on this here blog, and you will see for yourself how well a hideous plastic owl scares city pigeons away… The only result the polypropylene monstrosity effected was that passers-by stared at us weirdly, and whispered dank phrase at each other, followed by hilarious laughter… 

This is he.
The red face is the result of Albariño wine and Pontevedra sunshine.
The hideous colors on the owl are paint.

I have therefore declared War on Owls, dear reader. On all owls. Flesh and blood, feather and kapok, plastic, stone, wood and even celluloid. I want them gone. I want them out of this world. If, I say, we managed to exterminate the Dodo (which never did us no wrong either) and the Elephant (which is on the way out) and the Platypus (which will soon fall victim to its lack of looks and cuddliness…), then why can’t we do something about a vicious night stalker that plays parasite to small rodents and little kittens and babies left momentarily unattended in their prams by their smartphony mamas??

Yes, it is high time that something be done about it! And I shall start with the flesh & blood variety, as they are the origin of all the trouble. Therefore I have whipped up this delicious recipe, which is so very irresistible that soon house wives, caterers and restaurants will wish to serve nothing else; demand for dead food owls will surge like an eagle in the sky; and poachers will put a quick and efficient stop to the whole despicable breed!

So here we go with

Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin (for two people)

Get 1 plucked and cleaned bird.

The bird may be any class or species of owl, but preferably it should be a very young one. These tend to be more tender, and they have the tremendous additional advantage that – if only their neck is wrung early enough – they get no chance to procreate (which is the whole point of this delicious recipe, after all…)

If you have really tried hard, and got a categorical No from every supermarket, delicatessen, poulterer, zoo and volière in a 20 mile radius, you may also make this dish with a small free range spring chicken or cornish hen or whatever, as long you DO NOT use pigeon! Pigeons are a harmless, innocent symbol of peace that deserve to enjoy life and liberty until God calls them to His side!

Once you have your bird, pour yourself a sparkly glass of white wine, and enjoy the sight of that dead owl for a sweet, contemplative moment. Then flavour the bird with a mixture of salt, pepper, some curry and some mustard powder (if you can get it) and let it sit for at least an hour. 

Put a few drops of oil into a deep casserole, and fry a tiny slice of common lard until it is brown and shrivelled. Take the slice out of the pan and throw it away. We only need the fat, which lends this fried owl its particular aromatic flavour.

Toss a generous chunk of sweet butter into the casserole and allow it to melt over a slow fire. Make sure it does not burn.

Now fry the owl on all four sides as you would do with a normal chicken. Once it has turned golden brown, lower the fire to the minimum and let it simmer for 5 minutes more. In the meanwhile, warm up at least half a bottle of dry white wine in a saucepan. As this dish is dedicated to Colin Davies, I suggest a quality Albariño, of which he is fond.

Pour the wine into the casserole, and bring to a cautious boil. The Fowl au Vin will come out best if the entire bird is submerged in the liquid; but do not add water. Doing so spoils the taste.

Close the casserole and let the bird simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Then toss in a very tiny sprig of rosemary, a teaspoon of sugar, and – if you want to be adventurous – a spoonful of soft green peppers. Let it simmer a few minutes longer, and take the pan off the stove. It is a good idea to let it cool off just a little before carving and serving. Sprinkle some dry parsley on top, for the colourful effect.

Nota Bene: if the sauce comes out too greasy to the taste (which sometimes happens when you use too big a slice of lard), mix a spoonful of corn flour with some water, toss it in, and let the sauce simmer for another five minutes. This will absorb the grease, and the meat only comes out more tender.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crush them evil Greeks again !!!

Back in the year 2012, our Beloved Brussels Masters, they who run the EU show, were horrified to learn that the Greek government, a decade before at the time of the introduction of the Divine €uro, had cooked the books and lied through their teeth on their application forms, so as to be allowed to join the single European currency. Oh shocked shocked shocked our Masters were! How could such a thing ever have happened? How could any governing official be so very unscrupulous as to tell a profitable untruth? No, they had had no idea, our witless Beurocrats; and no little red warning light had lit up in any of the well-educated, well-groomed technocratic skulls when it turned out that the wealthy, well-run, highly responsible and accountable country of Sweden, who had likewise applied, did not meet the criteria for joining, while good old Mediterranean Greece, never famous for its probity and fiscal morals, passed the test with honors…

With Great Helmsmen like these, who needs cliffs and tempests??

No, they had not seen it coming. It took them completely by surprise. And they were very very VERY angry… So annoyed were they, that they swore to get even. Oh yes! An evil affront like this, sprung on a blameless, innocent Empire-in-the-making, they wouldn’t let that pass unpunished!

Recently, Tim Geithner, the then US Treasury Secretary, described in his memoirs the mood of the EU bigwigs whom he met at the time during a G7 conclave in Canada. In a tone of sheer disbelief, he writes: ‘The Europeans came into that meeting saying: “We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us. They suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole thing and we’re going to crush them.” [That] was their basic attitude, [of] all of them.’

One can only gape and flabbergast, dear reader, at such incredible infantility lurking in the minds of supposedly adult and responsible public servants who pretend to be the best and the brightest that our poor old continent has to offer. Their behaviour resembles that of a schoolboy romantically spurned by a classmate, who swears vengeance by twittering embarrassing nude snapshots of his obscure-objet-de-repugnance.

But that toddler mind-set is not even the most awful thing about this episode. The true horror lies elsewhere: in – and this may surprise you – the use of pronouns. Yes! For, when these hollow men in silk suits said that ‘they had lied to us, and we are going to crush them’, they meant two completely different third person plurals, and two very different sets of Greeks. The first ‘they’ referred to the corrupt, nepotistic, self-serving old elite, consisting of the right wing Nea Democratia party and the socialist PASOK. Those were the ones who had lied. But the others, the ‘them’ whom they were going to crush mercilessly, were the Greek people. The children, the elderly, the infirm, the unemployed, the disadvantaged and the weak. (I wrote on that little theme before, as in this here article…)

And who do you think would do the ‘crushing’ of that second ‘them’ at the bidding of our Brussels Masters? Yes, you guessed it: the old corrupt, self-serving, nepotistic, elite of PASOK and ND, who were more than willing to obey the Brussels dictates and apply the salubrious austerity medicine of the Abominable Troika, as long as they would be allowed to remain in power. Astonishingly, these two old oligarchic parties, who for over half a century had made a marvellous show of how they bitterly hated and despised one another like rabid dogs and vicious cats (while they snugly alternated in power and took turns at robbing the till), now welded themselves into a Grand Patriotic Coalition, under the pretence of saving the Motherland! (1) And Brussels saw it, and Brussels saw that it was good; for Brussels needed obedient elected lackeys in Athens power, so as to administer a healthy, satisfying dose of Crushing of Greeks.

And now there are elections in Greece, and the chicken are coming home to roost. For you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people most of the time, but let it simmer long enough, and people will recognize what is really going on. They will see, and suffer, the harm done by the old political mafia in tandem and cahoots with the plastic foreign technocrats who possess neither conscience nor human feeling. And then they will be fooled no longer, and vote in an outsider who is NOT willing to do the bidding of Brussels Apparatchiks building a Byzantine Empire. Enter Syriza…

Of course, this does not go down well in the corridors of Brussels power. And so out they come, the Commissars, the Bankers, the Chancellors and the Foreign Ministers, to warn the Greeks of the consequences if they vote for ‘the wrong party’ (Mr Juncker came up with that phrase…). Your banks will fail. Your economy will collapse. Your international credit will evaporate. There will be no more money for medicine, or petrol, or milks for the dear little Greek children. You may have to leave the warm and comfortable Euro zone, and the EU paradise… We may not help you…

The message is clear… If, in spite of our friendly, warm-hearted, paternal warnings, the Greek electorate has the shameless audacity to vote for the wrong party, one that is no EU lapdog and will play no Troika hangman, Brussels will not only allow the country to leave the Eurozone and even the Union… No, it will, once again crush them. It will do what it can to make the Grexit punitive, disastrous, calamitous and an economic massacre. An example will be set, pour decourager les autres. For Brussels does not accept disobedience. And worse: it will not allow anyone to escape unscathed from its heavenly project of Bringing Democracy and Prosperity to Europe

So brace yourselves, ye descendants of Solon, Pericles and Demostenes! The days of Democracy are over, and you vote, not with a show of hands, nor even with your feet, but with your blood!

So be wise, and think twice, before you sign pacts that you will rue in the future…

(1)       This supposed enmity was always pretty fake. I just learned that the leader of Nea Democratia, Antonis Samaras, used to share a room, back in his students day, with the long-time leader of PASOK, George Papandreu…!! Will you believe it? One does wonder how GREEK their relationship really was??

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lettuce Enjoy !! (1)

Is there a more modest, humble, self-effacing, yes - … even saintly vegetable than ordinary lettuce, dear reader? Oh, I know: lettuce does not have many admirers. It has no fan club, no Royal Amateur Society, it has not been declared Immaterial World Heritage by the United Nations (one of the very few human accomplishments which does NOT enjoy that honour by now). Sadly, lettuce is the wallflower of the pantry and the fridge! It is so common, so taken for granted, that even gets looked down upon. It is the butt of jokes. It gets abused for the making of nasty metaphors. What to think, for instance, of this jibe shot by Tom Holt (Flying Dutch, chapter 1) at some insignificant personality in the past of an even more insignificant country:

His role in history was rather like that of lettuce in the average salad:
 it achieves no useful purpose, but there's always a lot of it.

Oh, this certainly is a phrase well coined, and I have no doubt that the nincompoop whom it describes was a veritable epitome of irrelevance. But…. did poor Lettuce really deserve such denigrating treatment? Have we not all eaten her with relish and radish, with pleasure and potato? Has not every family gorged itself at least once a week on her fresh and lush young leaves? So there is a lot of lettuce on the menu and in the average salad… What of it? There is a lot of air and water in the world as well - yet is that a reason to spit on breathing and drinking and washing and airplanes?

No, dear reader! That is not how one should treat the humble, the lowly, the little leaf vegetables and the pawns of the plate! Instead we ought to revere a plant that has given us so much and asked for so very little in return! Lettuce Enjoy! I therefore cry with many master chefs of this world. And just to show you what miracles this marvellous Lactuca Sativa may perform, I will give you two splendid recipes that excel in both taste and simple sophistication. Today the first one, which I baptise:

Laitue aux fines herbes

Take a head of lettuce. Remove the stems and clean the leaves with fresh water. Once they have dried, break the leaves with your (clean) bare hands into reasonably sized parts (do not use a knife!) Put these in a bowl.

 Chop and add:
            Half a medium sized onion
            One hard-boiled egg
            Half a tomato
            A small spoonful of capers

Sprinkle on top – while you listen to this classic Simon & Garfunkel song - the following green herbs (either fresh or dried):
            Dill (much)
            Oregano (to taste)
            Tarragon (some)
            Basil (some)
            Parsley (much)
            Sage (if you cannot resist…)
            Rosemary (if you must…)
            and Thyme (cautiously)

Add salt and black pepper to taste

Finally, toss in a small splash of olive oil and a little lemon juice; then put in one or two generous spoonfuls of your preferred quality Mayonnaise (bottled Mayo works just fine).
Just before serving, toss the salad well until all the ingredients are properly mixed, but with Debonairetee, if you please (see the endof Colin Davies’s blog for this gorgeous word…)