Thursday, April 27, 2006

Begging bowl

Interesting moment the other day: staying with some relatives, in London, who I'd forgotten to tell about the adventures of Culinary Mike, I sat down to be confronted by a plate of smoked salmon. So I made a decision: the Buddha didn't spurn the food that was placed in his begging bowl, even when the finger of the person offering it dropped into the bowl!

After not eating meat for a few weeks, I have to say I found the salmon not so appetising, which was interesting.

So, back to Paris: tonight was falafels from the amazing Ace of Falafel (L'As du Falafel)... in the Marais. Get the speciale with extra aubergines.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spring rolls are in the air

Tralalala spring very definitely was here, and has momentarily gone again. Warming food is on the agenda - tonight raclette, that melty French / Swiss number oozing out over the potatoes. Irene had ham and I stuck to the broccoli. No caving yet!

However, I should mention I did FLAKE a couple of things (see previous posts) - namely cooking in the left over fat that I had done some bacon for Irene in. I'm not at the stage I remember, from being veggie before, where you get revolted by such things. I did promise not to let dead flesh pass my lips, so probably blood and guts should be included in that commitment.

I do believe the food you eat gets more interesting when you make a conscious effort to cut things out. My main experience is with meat, but probably that holds good for other things - like caffeine maybe?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mikey's Veggie Manifesto

Okay, so we're in week 2 of being veggie. I'm going to try and get to 52, and blog about it.

First things first: what kind of meat-eating am I leaving, albeit possibly temporarily, behind?

I have in the past, along with my partner Irene, defined myself as a "flexitarian". To me this means that I don't particularly go out of my way to consume animals: I don't stock up on routine processed cuts of meat at the local supermarket. However, on the other side, if a nice piece of traditionally cured sausage finds its way into our kitchen (and with Irene it often does!) then I'm probably - WAS probably - going to partake.

Secondly, I have had an interesting time developing my own little food writing gig, which really is more a restaurant-reviewing gig. Since I was about 10, I've spent time in a family where we would give each other feedback on restaurants. Eventually, I found I could create demand among magazines and the like for this, so that's where I'm at. When I go to a place - and I recognise it's a choice to be there, for writing purposes - I don't feel comfortable saying 'well, I'm here to review your restaurant, and talk about the menu' but I won't eat most of what's on it.

Dilemma. :-)

For the record, I personally (and still) believe that French cooking achieves things which are imitated everywhere to better or worse effect, including at some places in France. I had a meal on a cruise ship which was in part an imitation of the great Joel Robuchon, for example. Was it as good? No, you need the right kind of butter if you're gonna try and do his famous mashed spuds.

So, accepting that the noble French tradition probably comes from somewhere else originally - Renaissance Italy, perhaps - you have to work with what you've got, and what we've got here is a whole culinary resource of sauces developed over generations, and subtly matched in my opinion with the meats they accompany. The French can and do innovate - I supposed I mean French chefs - and things are lighter, more produce-based these days. They've even invented a horrible word, or two: "sourcing" and "fooding" which sound vile to me in a French accent. French is the language of gastronomy. Come on guys!

My point, though, is that they can try this because, like Picasso, they can do all the classical stuff too. I for one regret that I will probably now never get to taste a meal largely based on sauces and cooked by Robuchon at the height of his powers, which are still formidable. He does compromise and serve out the potatoes, but his current restaurants are not doing classic cuisine. Then again, they are great.

Still, there ARE others working today in the grand style: Passard, Ducasse....

The first of these is (almost) a born again veggie. (More on this topic later, hopefully.)

So, that's the kind of vegetarianising meat-eater I have been. Today, I am trying not to let dead flesh pass my lips, and so here - anticipating that I may adopt a middle-way, flexitarian approach at some point over the next year (I do live in France!), I have invented some categories for possible recidivism. If any one is reading and sees the following, they'll know what happened!

CAVED! - This will mean I deliberately and consciously partook in a meat dish, where the meat was the main or a substantial ingredient.

FLAKED - This means I knew something did contain or was VERY likely to contain some meat, and ate it anyway.

WINGED IT - This means I ate something which I couldn't in conscience be sure had no meat, and would have to agree it goes on my research list. Living where I do, and not knowing much about food preparation, this list could quickly become very long indeed. For example, cheeses are not listed typically as vegetarian in supermarkets, even when they are.

Tanya, over at Mostly Nonsense, who's doing a great job listing cool places for veggies - called "FLAKE" the other day, when we were all at Le Basilic...but this was an accident, as I was trying to taste some of Irene's pumpkin soup. Then I was reminded it contained lardons. I should strictly have eaten Tanya's veggie version of the same, but I say it's the intention that counts!!! So no flaking yet. I HAVE however winged it on the cheese front, like my mother who's a full-time, label-reading UK vegetarian but eats cheese, no questions asked in France.
Is it just me or are there more sirens to be heard in this corner of the city, day by day? We've lived here for five years, and heard about two police cars in that time. Just this morning, walking the dog, I saw another one cornering the winding roads where we are at breakneck speed. Must be the CPE.

So back to things veggie. It's been a few days now, and here are my thoughts on not eating meat. I notice that when I try to subsist without eating animals, two things happen. First, I just feel lighter in some strange, not entirely bad, way. Second the food I eat gets more interesting.

Two days ago, Irene and I had an errand to run, and decided to grab some food on the way home. I HAD thought about downing a sandwich with some bacon left over from a recent shopping trip, but kept to the regulations of this blog and had a cup of tea or something instead.

As we made our way back from the Gare du Nord, we popped in at one of the cheapest and, for me, best dining experiences to be had in this city: the Indian restaurant 'New Pondicherry'.

In one of my lines of work, I've had to eat at some of the most talked about places in the city, and report back for everyone from chefs to tourists. But the tasty food at NP - we ate veggie as we always do there - takes some beating. Now if I'd had that bacon sandwich, I either wouldn't have gone, or had a meal that was less looked forward to, possibly less enjoyed.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The CPE is definitely the topic of the moment round here. In the metro, on the way back from rollerblading with Tanya, a couple of guys were discussing it. I read in The (very economically liberal) Economist that the 'French elite' haven’t explained the need for change well enough to the populace (!) and that there’s no more risk to the CPE than exists for the populace, anyway, these days. I think there may be some truth in the latter, but that doesn’t make people any happier round here about increasing liberalization in the workplace.

As it happens, the guy I work for and I are actually hiring at the moment - I get to see what a real French boss thinks of the whole deal, in these troubled times. His approach seems to have shifted – with the prevailing mood? So, whereas a month or so ago, he was remarking how it would be easier and more flexible working with someone new, now he says 'oh yeah, we wouldn't get very good people that way....'

Lots of people think 'the streets' are going to win, and I think it looks like it.

On a side note, this same boss just accepted the resignation of one of my colleagues. He's talented and leaving at a crucial moment, but there was - when I witnessed the exchange - no hostility whatsoever, when it came to negotiating leaving bonuses. I can imagine in an Anglo-Saxon context lots of recrimination at such a critical moment, with us being left 'in the lurch'. I just don't think these two guys, business-minded as they are, bother to see it that way. So things will continue, with or without the the CPE.