Monday, 31 January 2011

Baguette News - The Viroflaysienne

Boulangeries offer a pretty dizzying selection of goods to say that they are chiefly concerned with the sale of bread. I suppose it's the same in the UK, and the difference here is that I'm just less familiar with the offerings. I'm not talking so much about cakes, as actual bread.

In a pub, you couldn't really get away with asking for a "A beer", you need to specify what type, or more commonly the brand. But, I've had no problems with literally asking for a baguette. Some, some of these long loaves of bread are baguettes and the rest are other things entirely.

The bread in the photo is not a baguette. Ask for a baguette and you get something similar but different. Today, there was somebody ahead of me in the closer of the two boulangeries (usually, I go for the distant one, as it's both cheaper and better, but the last baguette I had from there was not fantastic by any stretch, so I mixed things up).

Pictured, is what is known as a viroflaysienne. I would have ignored it, had the old man in front of me not requested two and a half of them. I wasn't actually aware you could have halves. That is something else I've learnt. The end if missing, this is because tasting the bread is crucial. It is much better than a traditional baguette, but I could not tell you how it is different. It is,. however, more expensive, stepping over the dangerous one euro line by a whole ten cents.

As a measure of currency, I feel disgruntled by paying over a unit of the local money for bread. It's bread. It should be sub-euro. Eighty-give cents is fine, but this is a whole quarter of a euro more and it goes over this critical threshold.

Still, it's the dawn of a new era of asking for the other types of bread, assuming I can spot their labels and prices prior to getting served. We don't want a repeat episode of the twenty-five euros it cost for a sausage and some cured ham. Delicious though they are.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The results are in

Two coffees. Two distinctly different coffees. You can even see the difference in the photo (which once again features the delightful cups which are most likely older than myself, like a lot of our crockery, which I am very prone to breaking).

So which looks better? Lefty or Righty?

Which is the "pirate coffee"?

Which tastes better?

This was a genuine blind test. Or as rigorous as I could manage early in the morning. One cup had a small piece of sticky tape on the bottom to mark out the non-official coffee. We then tasted. Opinions were split, I preferred the darker coffee, finding the other slightly weaker. My girlfriend preferred the right. We both agreed, however, that the coffee on the right was the official Nespresso "Indriya". Possibly it was not the best choice to compare against the Maison Du Cafe's more balanced Splendente. Regardless, we were right.

So the verdict was an event split in coffee quality, which was unexpected.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Taste the Difference

Pod coffee. Some is good. Some is bad. Luckily, I'm not an idiot, so I have a coffee machine that makes the good kind. Nespresso, I had my machine before George Clooney, so I think that makes me cool, right?

One of the strange things about Nespresso, is that they really try hard to promote their brand as not for the common folk. Only recently are there physical stores, and they are staffed by people in suits looking down at you (or, if you're my friend Tom, by gay gentleman offering cappuccinos for phone numbers). Keeps the riff-raff out. Aside from these stores, if you want to buy some pods, so you can, you know, actually drink coffee, then you have to do it through a website.

Your pods are then despatched by the best delivery service I've ever encountered. So good, that I actually feel comfortable giving them my home address. The next day, or perhaps the one after if something terrible happens and BAM, you have your coffee. Not a card, saying that they got all the way to your door and just gave up, but you have your coffee. Perhaps receipt of goods should be the standard for delivery services?

There's a downside here, you have to plan ahead and you have to buy a fair amount of the stuff at once (once you order over something like 250capsules, they give you half price shipping). So, there is actually a gap in the market for a company to step in and start selling their own knock-offs.

And somebody has. That is a knock-off there on the right. Maison Du Cafe's "L'or espresso". In fact, that there is their excellently titled Splendente range. What is not excellent, is that each is individually wrapped. Pod coffee's critical problem is that it generates a lot more waste than having a proper espresso machine (which just produces soil). Nespresso have recently started some kind of recycling scheme that I need to look into. Regardless, one black mark for extra wrapping.

Second, is price. I would've thought that selling an alternative type of pod, you'd gun for value. Maison Du Cafe simply do not roll that way. 3.05 for ten caps. which at today's exchange rate is around £2.60, which is the same as what Nespresso charge (minus shipping, which is a flat £2). So, approximately the same price.

Quality? You can see in the photo that the MdC cap is actually smaller. It's not a perfect fit, and this, I feel, is reflected in the coffee itself, but I'll need to have a blind taste test.

And yes, this is much more fun than writing my thesis. Much more.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Redspresso #1

A long time ago I came across a website pushing a product. A product which was just a new way of brewing the increasingly popular tea known as rooibos. That website is here.

In reality you don't really need to buy it from them. After all, I am 90% sure it's just tea.

Sunday was a strange little day. It was gloriously sunny. This is not so unusual for January. You get those crisp, sunny winter days but this was not at all one of those. It was warm. As in, just wearing a t-shirt (& trousers) sitting outside in the garden, warm. Global warming. Literally. It'll be minus two again later this week. Having a temperature variance of around twenty degrees in five days is not right at any time of year.

So, sitting outside, enjoying a cold beer, doing a spot of reading and suddenly I remember this website. I remember the concept. And I realise that I have both loose leaf rooibos and an Italian-style stovetop espresso pot. So, off I go and the result is as above.

Now, there's no crema (the light brown, slightly foamy top that an espresso has). Although, that is a problem that I have noticed with the pot itself. I'm sure I've had stovetops in the past that have made a proper espresso, but this one doesn't seem to manage it. I'll have to delve through the hell of online coffee snobbery and check on that.

Rooibos espresso, the taste is different, if only very slightly. But then, you might expect this as it has only "infused" very briefly, but at increased pressure. I'm not sure it's the way forwards. But it's interesting. And I want to try again.

Friday, 14 January 2011

My key complaint with this country

Zebra crossings. While not take as they are in some countries (Japan, I'm looking at you), nor are they a designated place where pedestrians can cross without getting run over. Instead, they are just offer a reasonable probability than an approaching car might slow down or stop.

And I do not like this.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Determining the King of January

On the twelfth day of Christmas we all go to the boulangerie. And once there you buy a "Galette des Rois". Now despite the name, this is not a cake made from Kings. It is almond flavoured, frangipane to be exact. Although the cake itself bears a resemblance to the pastry you might get from a Greggs Ham and Filth slice. Regardless, it is delicious. This is not the point.

So you have your cake, nice and warm. You have your knife, deadly and sharp. You have your audience, hungry and drinking cider (cider that the boulangerie included for "free". When you pay 10euros for a four person cake, it is the least they could do). You have your table, laid and ready.

The youngest of the group must now climb under the table. I am not making this up. This is a true recounting of events. With the youngest safely under the table, you slice the take into the same number of pieces as there are people. You then take each piece and ask the unseen youth who it is for, doling them as told. Then the youngest is allowed out, their task complete.

All have a piece of cake. All begin eating. And at some point, somebody will break a tooth as they encounter some hard little object (I believe it was originally a coin) within their slice. This means that they have won. They are the King (or Queen). In my case it was a small plastic figurine of one of the chefs from Ratatouille, the Pixar film with the rat.

Upon winning the King must choose his Queen, or vice versa. He also has to wear his crown. Yes, the friendly boulanger will include a cardboard crown with this special cake. The King and Queen kiss. The cake is finished.

(I am the King for this year)

Monday, 10 January 2011

Civilisation - Now Available in France for the low, low price of 4 Euros a cup

The French enjoy their coffee. This is good, it shows that they are not entirely devoid of human emotion. The bad news is that, like the vast majority of mainland Europe, they do not enjoy lingering over coffee. Go into a café and ask for a coffee and you will be presented with a shot of espresso. This takes almost sixty seconds to drink, any longer and it will be cold. So whoosh, the coffee is gone.

Sometimes, you've bought the international edition of The Guardian and you want to do the crossword. And you'd like to do this with an occasional sip of coffee. So, what is the solution? Drink lots of espressos? Never sleep again? Die of a heartattack in the café?

OR you can go to Starbucks*. Here, you can spend a vast sum of money (between 4 and 5 euros for a medium drink) for a coffee which you can enjoy over the course of half an hour. However, nothing in this world is perfect and such coffees are always presented in paper takeaway cups. I don't know why. The French don't know why.

Until last Saturday, when approaching the bar and asking in my best French for some coffee and a muffin, the girl at the encounter replied, in much better English, with a question: Would I like "cups like this", pointing at the takeaway ones, or "cups like that", pointing at the stack of fresh, new porcelain mugs. I was overwhelmed. A tear came to my eye.

Coffee. In an actual cup. Civilisation. At last.

Oh, and I managed to opened a French rules bank account. A far more complicated process than it aught to be, involving a meeting with a bank manager, a questionnaire about my investment habits and the commitment to one day actually be earning money. All, this and they will only be charging me the cost of a coffee per month

*If you live in or around Paris, because they only exist in Paris and Versailles right now. I believe there is a store opening in Lyon soon, and perhaps one in Marseilles.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thoughts about pies

So I was going to do a Shepherd's pie for dinner, turns out that minced lamb doesn't exist in France, however. So we'll be cottaging it up instead.

Amazingly, I did find a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. All is not lost.

On the other hand, I have attempted to use the washing machine for the first time. It was a weird device. Took me forever just to gain access to the drum.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Really, I wish I had taken this yesterday

...because yesterday this was a full blown winter wonderland. Today though, it had mostly melted, meaning I was jogging over lovely slippery mud. It's still quite pretty though. Even if it is a maze. The trees are occasionally numbered, but the numbers sometimes repeat. So the tree 123 that I thought marked the spot I arrived turned out to be a different tree 123 altogether.

Luckily, I did not die cold and alone though.

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Year's Seafood

We couldn't figure out the crab. It seemed to just be filled with evil (except the delicious claws).

It's not actually a crab, it's a tourteau. I've not found a direct translation, but it seems to refer to some kind of very large species. The fishmonger even declared it "magnifique!" when he sliced it in twain, so I'm not really sure what we missed.