THE NEW YORK TIMES has for many years been the more Europhile of US newspapers. Nevertheless, I detected a certain sheepishness with a recent article in its international edition. The problem? French culinary habits; don’t look so surprised.
Four chefs from the south-west of France want to reintroduce, for one weekend a year, the ‘ortolan’, a tiny songbird. It goes well with toasted pigs’ feet and smoked eel — so I’m told. When I lived in Paris I don’t recall seeing ortolan on the menu. It was, in fact, officially taken off restaurant menus in 1999 although even by the mid-2000s it was still being supplied illegally at up to €150 (£102) a ‘tweet’.
And my point is? Well …Christmas is creeping up on us (and consider the Biblical story literally; surely the earliest recorded example of ‘artificial insemination’) and the overwhelming number of families up and down this archipelago will be eating pretty much the same as everyone else. Predictable and boring. No! I’m not about to suggest readers/visitors dash off to catch their local songbird to grace the dinner table. In Leicester we are probably spoilt; in the weeks leading up to Christmas Diwali takes centre-stage. The food is less predictable, and it is a great deal spicier which I like.
What has often intrigued me is how easy it is to slip into routines as if there is some unwritten law that decrees that I can only celebrate on certain days of the year. Of course routines spread their tentacles far; Christmas lunches, cards … The latter can be particularly irksome. Imagine, if you can, that you have two half-brothers who you haven’t seen or had any contact with for 10 years or more but what do you do? At this time of year you send the miserable sods a card. What’s that all about? (I’d quite like to stick a meat-skewer through their foreheads but, of course, you have not just read that. I suspect the feeling is mutual.)
Assumptions, presumptions … “Are you spending Christmas with family?”, asks a neighbour. “No”, I reply. “I don’t have any family.” (Ok, that’s not entirely true but for various reasons I don’t have the spare ‘dosh’ to get myself to Brussels. Lucky for me there’s Skype although if you were to accidentally catch me talking to my 13-year old son in a combination of broken English, French and Flemish you might think you’d stumbled upon some weird late-night Antonin Artaud inspired cable arts channel. If you did I might consider offering you a cut-price subscription.
Have I put a tree up yet? No. Will I? Perhaps … Perhaps not ✪
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