So. After four months of exam-and-frolic-based neglect, I decided it’s about time I resurrected my poor dusty blog before it got relegated to the back of the shelf like an out-of-date packet of cup-a-soup.
It wasn’t an entirely unprompted decision – as usual, it had something to do with cheese, and quite a lot to do with coffee.
Last week, I reluctantly returned from France. The reluctance was twofold. Firstly, it was a 4am ferry, so every follicle and molecule was urging me to sleep. But secondly, and much more importantly, I was leaving behind not so much the land of milk and honey, as the land of wine and cheese, where each day was spent in the warm embrace of a soft chevre, a speciality of the Loire Valley, and a glass of cool red.
Coming back to the wonders of a Shell garage somewhere on the M4 didn’t really help. Somehow we’d swapped cafes selling salads which sang with yesterday’s plastic sandwiches, glowing with E numbers.
It’s not as cheap now anymore, of course, and skipping round a supermarket knocking about 2 euros off the prices is a thing of the past. Plus now Milka and Mikados are available in the UK, part of the joy I always used to have on school exchanges has gone.
But – the coffee! No more decaf-half-fat-frappe-latte-milkshakes masquerading as coffee – in France, it’s either white, or black, small or big, in delicate cups. Strong and smooth, it goes hand in hand with a ladylike glass of Stella (no wifebeater jokes here) and should send shivers of fear through Starbucks.
And I’d forgotten about the bread. Forgotten how a 70 cent baguette from the baker’s in the square manages to be better than the poshest, posing-as-artisan bread here. The crust crispy but chewy, the inside white, fluffy, verging on sourdough as it stretches gently when you pull it apart.
And of course bread, and a jug of water, come with everything, almost without asking. And salads aren’t relegated to the bottom of the menu and doused in Caesar dressing – they are bright and bold, with delicate vinaigrettes, sizzling lardons, molten cheese, generous slices of cured ham…
They cost virtually nothing in labour, and at 8 euros is probably a bit cheeky, but it’s so much nicer to see maybe three or four salads on a menu, with perhaps a quiche and a croque, than a whole litany of ‘and chips’, chosen by the not-so-discerning hands of the freezer and microwave.
But the most striking thing of all were the two lonely shelves in the supermarket selling British food. I will defend custard and HP and Marmite and all the rest to the hilt, but Loyd Grossman, really? And Batchelors’ Pasta ‘n’ Sauce? And Tiptree jam at four times the price of rhubarb Bonne Maman?
Is dried pasta in powder really the best we can do?
Of course not. But good food is taken for granted in France – it’s still a 50/50 gamble here.
Commonplace rant over. I’m going to go and bake a (frozen) pain au chocolat, and pretend I’m not really in Suffolk.