Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sunny randonnée to Pointe de Pelluaz

I decided to attack an ambition long held in my quest to climb, randonnée, some of the most beautiful mountains in this part of France.

When I awoke I found the skies blue, the air cold and crisp and a perfect day to set off and ski up to the Pointe de Pelluaz, and gaze from the top across the mountains to Mont Blanc in the not too far off distance.

The village of Bernex I expected to be busy but I hadn't expected pandemonium such as I found where various owners and occupants appeared to leave their vehicles wherever they wished, regardless of others and disappear. I continued to the nearby Relais de la Chevrette, a delightful little savoyard restaurant near to the Dent d'Oche to park and get my Gecko-skinned skis ready, check my pack contents and start my climb. It was about -3C and the snow lying about me was dry and powdery still.

I crossed the Dranse streaming down towards Lac Léman and slid my skis uphill towards the main climb, using the small enclosed steep meadow under deep snow below a shuttered chalet to join the main piste.

After about 50 minutes I reached Pré-Richard and continued to ski through the swell of people milling about around the Ski School Meeting place, and dodging the young skiers and snowboarders descending to this same spot at a speed far above their competence. Once out of this area it became a little more peaceful although I was being passed almost constantly by skiers as they descended whooping, shouting and laughing on their way down.

I reached the spot I had skied to with Bob at the end of December when we cooked up some noodles before our freezing descent and continued upward as the same skiers whizzed past, took the lift back up and whizzed down once more. Like this they passed me time and time again.

At about the 2 hour mark I found a lone ski lying on the snow at the edge of the piste. I stopped and looked around to see if i could see anyone who might have fallen. Only much later having stood the ski upright in the snow and continuing onward and upward did I see the reason for that lone ski.

Accidents wherever they happen are, for the sufferers, often awful experiences. This was evident now. A man of indeterminate age, was lying in the middle of the piste, an icy and snow covered rough 4x4 track to the mountain ridge above and surrounded by a half dozen people attempting to give assistance. He lay in the recovery position his face covered in blood that was staining the snow, waiting for medical help and as I passed and continued upward, for there was nothing I could do to help, I heard the distant helicopter approach.

And now on my final climb I wondered if I might complete it in under 3 hours. Need to push and in the event I reached the Pointe de Pelluaz in 2 hours 54 minutes. The view - stunning.
The lungs heaving, the stomach empty, the thirst needing more than juice to quench it.
And so 15 minutes later having skied down I was at the bottom. Pulling off ski boots, brushing off snow from the skis and as I did so another group of skiers arrived having skied from a different peak and route. We acknowledged each other's ascent and descent and off I drove with an incredible sense of achievement, elation and exhaustion. A beer was needed.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Poulet Béarnais - cooked on a bed of garlic.

Yesterday was a perfect Sunday for a Sunday Chicken roast... I sat up in bed with me mug of tea and perused a few cookery books while the rain beat upon the Velux window above our bed and then, looking through the triangular window at the bedroom's other end I could not make out the shore of Switzerland through the lake's covering of mist. At least it will be snowing a little higher up I thought.

I turned of course to Elizabeth David's 'French Country Cooking'. I found her quotation of Ford Madox Ford's recount of a London mannequin cooking garlic and Poulet Béarnais in his piece entitled 'Provence' and published in 1938.

I then turned to the internet and a quick Google click threw up a few references to this and it occurred to me that some bloggers miss the point for some reason. One had written, Poulet Béarnaise from Provence. And then went on to say "glamorous young woman from London who was reputed to be one of the best chefs in the city." This is not what Ford writes at all. She was, in the 1930's, a mannequin. What was that then? A model! Not though the kind of model we are used to seeing à la Kate Moss on the catwalk. Usually a débutante, a young woman who had been well and expensively educated. Would she get a job in a bank? Not in 1930's London even if the Bank concerned was Daddy's! But could she cook? Of course she could. That was what being a débutante at the time was all about so indeed she may indeed have been one of the best cooks in London, but she sure wasn't a chef.

So, 'Béarnaise from Provence'. Hmmm. Béarn is in the Pyrénees between Bayonne and Pau. Quite some distance from Provence. Apart from giving it's name to an entire province it also gives it's name to the well known sauce of, basically, 'egg & melted butter'. People from Béarn are either Béarnais or Béarnaise dependent upon their gender. Collectively they are known as les Béarnais.

But this dish is not from Provence in which case it would be known as something like Poulet Provençale which means it would be cooked in or nappé in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions and of course, garlic. The usual suspects.

Another blogger would seem to have fallen into the very same trap, twice. If the article was called, 'Provence' it is merely including in that writing this recipe; not suggesting that the recipe is from that beautiful area.
So; take a few heads of garlic, and break them up, peel them (and I gave up when I got to about 470 grams of them) and put them in an oiled Le Creuset type oven pan. Next clean one grain fed open air reared small chicken, and rub olive oil over it, season it and place it onto the bed of garlic.

Heat an oven, I chose 'traditionnel' rather than'pulsé' - fan assisted, and set it to 180C. I left it to cook for an hour and a half and it was perfect.

I'd have loved to have met Elizabeth David. I'd have loved to have cooked this for her too...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Frozen Evian-les-Bains...

At the end of January as it turned colder, snow fell and lay deep and crisp and even, upon the neighbouring gardens, and paths and roofs, except that down at the lae front the Bise started to blow, and with the wind the temperatures plummeted, ice formed in the most beautiful shapes and formations upon everyday objects that became for a short time magical, but vicious; stunningly surreal, and unreal, but mesmerising all at the same time. Evian, February 2012.

The normally people filled promenade at Evian-les-Bains, deserted during the wild weather casued by the Bise, the northerly wind that blows over Switzerland, across Lac Léman and hits France with a freezing force of frozen fume... the water being at about 5 or 6 degrees Celsius seems to smoke when small waves break and the spray meets the air temperature which is well below zero...

As boats, anchored, rise and fall in the calmer parts of the port, the water around the anchor chain freezes into beautiful galettes that grow as they come into contact with sub-zero air temperatures.

Galettes of ice...

A bench, normally welcoming, becomes less so in such a hostile environment.

A surreal vision, someone said to me, Narnia?