Monday, September 1, 2014

Pub Lunch

How many ways can I procrastinate before facing the now-monthly problem of fitting all of my crap back into two suitcases and a waterproof stuff sack? I'm sure I'll find some more. I have all of these pictures to post, and a book to finish so that I don't have to find room for that somewhere, and of course now that I'm not technically housesitting, the family having very kindly allowed me to stay an extra day as a houseguest, I'm trying to stay out of their way, so instead of making lunch, I went to the church on the corner for lunch.

It was a church at one time, anyway. Now it's an Irish-in-quotes pub, one of four dozen O'Neill's scattered around the UK, though not in Northern Ireland, and nowhere in Ireland itself. As it's a chain owned by a huge pub conglomerate, it's definitely not the place to go for homemade food, but for less than five pounds their meal deal isn't bad, and even if it did come out of big plastic buckets, it was quite tasty. I opted for a jacket potato and of the eight or ten fillings I could choose, picked barbecued pulled pork and a really nice apple and celeriac slaw. My contribution to the Labor Day festivities, from the other side of the Atlantic, though I've been wishing I were wandering around the Cascades with the Shirleys, this weekend ...

Tomorrow: Salisbury!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Kind Of Town

Much of my genetic makeup can be traced to various places in the UK, which is perhaps why I find it so easy to fit in here. And then of course there's the fact that everyone speaks English, which is often a nice change from the stimulating yet exhausting daily communication in French I've been having the last two years. I still pronounce place names as the French would, which sometimes confuses the English-speaking people I'm talking to, and I am only now breaking my habit of answering the phone with oui, allo? A few times when people have asked what I did in France, I found it hard to answer in English; sometimes only French vocabulary will describe French experiences.

And then of course there's the fact that my namesake is the titular ruler of this country, and no one has problems spelling or pronouncing my last name, although they do pronounce it differently (and more authentically) the further north I go.

This blog is jumping around in place and time as I try to catch up with the last bit of France and my first weeks in London; there are still things I want to write about that took place over a year ago, in fact. "Why do you have to catch up on your blogging?" my friend Pascoe asked me at lunch two weeks ago. A good question, especially since this takes a lot of time and energy that I don't get paid for, and most people who are trying to make a living with their own business tie their blogs somehow to that business, to attract new customers and advertise and generally bring themselves to the attention of a wider audience. Maybe the problem is that I haven't settled on a "business" yet, though I am now committed to the freelance writer/editor work, and enjoying it. The series of cookbooks I have planned would definitely benefit from a blog, but since they're on French cooking and French recipes, would that really work if I'm not in France? I'm traveling around and seeing interesting things, and in many respects this is a travel blog, but I'm not writing articles for travel magazines. Maybe I'll be able to turn all of these photos and notes into a book some day, but while I enjoy looking back through the posts and remembering the joys and the difficulties and the everyday same-but-different-ness of living in Oregon, in France, in England, in who knows where next (though I hope it's Norway and Italy, in that order) would anyone else find it interesting enough to buy a book about it?

Probably not. I haven't gone through any major epiphanies, haven't renovated a Tuscan farmhouse, haven't sought or achieved enlightenment, haven't had a string of virile European lovers (damn it anyway). I've just had a life. Done what I wanted to. Sought and taken advantage of and created opportunities. Made friends (and one enemy) and learned new things. It has been enough for me - it has been more than enough, and I have only an increasing sense of wonder and gratitude that I'm living this life - but so far I have not spent any time thinking how to translate that into income.

The nice thing about housesitting though, even though I'm not asking for or receiving money (yet) for it, is that I don't have to pay rent or utilities or internet bills, which leaves me money to go out to eat occasionally. Since I'm in England, that means fish and chips. The last time I was here I had fish and chips in Plymouth but had to peel the coating off, as I was already gluten-free back then, and back then no one was offering non-gluten alternatives. Now there are several places in London that cater to gluten- and allergy-sensitive diets, and two places which offer GF fish and chips once or twice a week, with dedicated fryers and everything. I'm not coeliac, so I don't have to worry about cross-contamination, but the owner of Oliver's Fish and Chips is very aware of the possibilities of trouble for those who are, and makes sure that on gluten-free days there's nothing that will cause problems. I talked to the owner for a bit (that's him in the mirror, and I have totally failed as a journalist because I do not remember his name) about his family who started the business - they came from Turkey 30 years ago or so - and about his efforts to try to find gluten-free desserts to serve. I suggested sorbet and fresh fruit, as he mentioned how worried he was about the possibility of cross-contamination if they made anything in house, though he did try to do an apple crumble at one point.

Frankly their portions are so big I wouldn't have had room for dessert anyway. The day's special looked really very good, but since I had come specifically for the fish and chips, that's what I had. Though I might go back, for that dish or the dish of the day, because everyone is really very nice, and the food is really very good.

I wish Mom were here to enjoy the food with me.

I wish Morgan were here, because some of my best memories are of taking him to different ethnic restaurants in Portland and introducing him (starting at the age of five or six, at least) to the flavors of wasabi and berbere and fish sauce and coconut milk and coriander. I'd like to spend some time traveling with him, talking about anything and everything, and maybe geohashing the European graticules.

I wish Leah were here, meeting her, um, second cousins twice removed? Something like that. I think she and Alexandra would have a lot to talk about. I know I would like to take her up to Buckie to see the house where Papa was born, though now that both Catherine and Kathleen are dead, the old rope-and-wood swing in the attic where he use to play is probably gone. But we still have distant relatives there, and we could go to Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and maybe up into the highlands, following the heather and the pipes.

I wish Mom and John were here, because there are so many places we didn't have time to go back in 2007, and I wish all my friends could be here having fun with me, because travels are more fun when shared.

And I suppose that's why I want to catch up on my blogging, because that's how I feel that everyone is here with me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Missing Portland Food

The draft of this post dates back to September 2013, when I was just starting my second year in France, getting the runaround from various school administrators, and missing my friends and family. I happened to pick up a copy of that month's Saveurs magazine, where there was an article titled "Portland: Capital of Cool and Fresh [Food]" and it made me really miss Portland suddenly, and the food scene there. I'm still subscribed to the Portland Monthly e-mails, and usually check out the news of new restaurants, new chefs, new dishes, and all of the various exciting options that a diner has in that city. Tours was less than exciting. There were a lot of French restaurants that mostly served things I couldn't eat, or things I could perfectly well make for myself for much less money. There were ethnic restaurants that were okay, but not exciting, as most of the cuisine was modified to suit the French tastebuds - as it is in the United States, generally, I have to admit. Japanese restaurants were really pretty bad in the Tours region, with no-flavor rice and fromage frais or cream cheese in most rolls, or everything tempura-fried - well, that's the same as in the States, I suppose. And eating out is so expensive, even though prices for meat and produce can sometimes be surprisingly low. I cooked for myself all year in Tours, and though I was a regular client of the magic meat truck that came by every Friday, indulging myself with rillettes and rabbit in aspic, I rarely went out to eat.

The Portland Monthly newsletter has tempted me with memories of Portland Dining Month, and new restaurants where I could feast on gluten-free pies and pastries and gluten-free sandwiches and all of the things that are hard to find in France, though Paris has more and more places that serve them, as well as non-French restaurants that stay true to their original flavors. But in general, in my experience, while the ingredients are good, restaurant food is not all that great, and there is not a lot of variation in the dishes offered, even regionally. Of course there are specialties that are highlighted - crêpes and galettes in Brittany, duck confit in the southwest, things made with melted mountain cheese in the Jura and the Alps, seafood and rosé in Provence. But even then, finding a restaurant where you can get those specialties, done well and for a reasonable price, isn't always easy.

Home cooking in France is still good if you're lucky enough to live with a family, as I was this last year, chez Bergeras. A family who cooks, that is - it's a dying art in a way, as families scatter and people move from farm to city and parents get too busy to cook for their children, who then don't grow up with a tradition of cooking at home, and fall into the fast food and frozen entrée routine. Again, as has happened in the United States, speaking in general terms. Where people still cook, it's usually very traditional, although new cuisines and flavors are popular with the younger generation, who seem to be more willing to experiment. Tradition is the strength of French cooking as well as its weakness, and for many people if something isn't made like their mother makes it, it's not right, and people are sometimes reluctant to try new things. I noticed this 25 years ago when I lived with Lilian and tried to introduce him and his family to things like gnocchi and hamburgers and clam chowder, none of which were well known at the time. I doubt clam chowder is on any menu in France today, in fact, though le hamburger is everywhere these days, with a few restaurants in Paris that only serve gourmet burgers, and even a food truck that circles the Paris streets serving burgers and fries. Kristin Frederick came from California to go to cooking school in Paris, and ending up opening Paris' first food truck a few years ago. Others have followed, and I just read about a taco truck called Cantine California which recently opened a brick-and-mortar location.

I miss the food trucks in Portland, and my almost-weekly treat of a takeout lunch from the pod at 10th and Washington. Thai this week? How about Cuban (gluten-free!) or Ethiopian or Greek Brazilian Japanese Szechuan Indian Russian Paleo Grilled Cheese Only? I ate once or twice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai, and was interested to see the recipe for her famous poulet et riz à la Nong in the magazine article. I heard that she opened up a restaurant as well, last year I think? and that she just won $10,000 on Food Network's "Chopped." It was odd to read the recipe for her iconic dish, while sitting on a train in France.

I don't know how long I'll be in Portland when I go back next year - yes, I do plan on returning now! Look for me in early July - but I do know that I will enjoy exploring old favorites and new arrivals around town, food trucks and restaurants alike. I will of course need money to pay for my meals, so if anyone knows of short-term contract work that needs to be done next summer, do keep me in mind, please. Six months, I think, maybe? I might look for a technical writing gig; I can deal with day-long computer sessions (I've spent my last 10 days like that in fact) if it gets me the funds I will need to take off on another global adventure afterwards. But I will - and I do - miss things I could find in France, food-related and otherwise.

I miss being able to go into almost any corner store and find duck confit in plastic pouches ready to heat and serve, fresh quail eggs, jars of peeled and roasted chestnuts, and miles and miles of cheeses that I cannot eat. I miss walking by bakeries and yearning after the marvelous breads and pastries, and I miss the coffee - or at least the experience of drinking coffee in a Paris café. I miss the mobile meat truck in Tours, and I miss Jeannette's roast chicken with fried piper béarnais and plenty of salt. I miss the cheap wine, though it's probably quite a good thing that I do.

There were a few amazing meals in France, and the eternal fun of going to the farmers' markets and following the seasons through the produce for sale. And there are so many regions whose specialties I haven't yet tried, wines I haven't tasted, cheeses I haven't nibbled the very tiniest portions of, people I haven't met or worked with or interviewed, places I haven't walked or hiked or taken pictures. I will definitely be going back to France some day, but I am enjoying being in England now (though it is really NOT August weather, even for this latitude) and sampling its delights: fish and chips, oatcakes, cider, and of course food from every place that Britain once colonized. I am happy being where I am, remembering where I've been, and looking forward to the next adventure!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Walking The Moor

MOOR, 20th July .... It is quiet here, sleepy, rather—a farm is never quiet; the sea, too, is only a quarter of a mile away, and when it's windy, the sound of it travels up the combe; for distraction, you must go four miles to Brixham or five to Kingswear, and you won't find much then. The farm lies in a sheltered spot, scooped, so to speak, high up the combe side—behind is a rise of fields, and beyond, a sweep of down. You have the feeling of being able to see quite far, which is misleading, as you soon find out if you walk. It is true Devon country-hills, hollows, hedge-banks, lanes dipping down into the earth or going up like the sides of houses, coppices, cornfields, and little streams wherever there's a place for one; but the downs along the cliff, all gorse and ferns, are wild. The combe ends in a sandy cove with black rock on one side, pinkish cliffs away to the headland on the other, and a coastguard station. Just now, with the harvest coming on, everything looks its richest, the apples ripening, the trees almost too green. It's very hot, still weather; the country and the sea seem to sleep in the sun. In front of the farm are half-a-dozen pines that look as if they had stepped out of another land, but all round the back is orchard as lush, and gnarled, and orthodox as any one could wish.

- John Galsworthy, "A Man of Devon" (1901)

Two main roads cross the moor, one between Exeter and Plymouth, and the other between Ashburton and Tavistock, intersecting at Two Bridges. Both avoid the higher part of the moor, which, for the rest, is traversed only in part by a few rough tracks. The central part of Dartmoor was a royal forest from a date unknown, but apparently anterior to the Conquest. Its woods were formerly more extensive than now, but a few small tracts in which dwarf oaks are characteristic remain in the lower parts. Previous to 1337, the forest had been granted to Richard, earl of Cornwall, by Henry III., and from that time onward it has belonged to the duchy of Cornwall.

The districts immediately surrounding the moor are called the Venville or Fenfield districts. The origin of this name is not clear. The holders of land by Venville tenure under the duchy have rights of pasture, fishing, &c. in the forest, and their main duty is to “drive” the moor at certain times in order to ascertain what head of cattle are pastured thereon, and to prevent trespassing. The antiquarian remains of Dartmoor are considered among those of Devonshire.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)

"The tors—Nature's towers—are huge masses of granite on the top of the hills, which are not high enough to be called mountains, piled one upon another in Nature's own fantastic way. There may be a tor, or a group of tors, crowning an eminence, but the effect, either near or afar, is to give the hilltop a grand and imposing look. These large blocks of granite, poised on one another, some appearing as if they must fall, others piled with curious regularity—considering they are Nature's work—are the prominent features in a Dartmoor landscape, and, wild as parts of Dartmoor are, the tors add a notable picturesque effect to the scene. There are very fine tors on the western side of the moor. Those on the east and south are not so fine as those on the north and west. In the centre of the moor there are also fine tors. They are, in fact, very numerous, for nearly every little hill has its granite cap, which is a tor, and every tor has its name. Some of the high hills that are torless are called beacons, and were doubtless used as signal beacons in times gone by. As the tors are not grouped or built with any design by Nature to attract the eye of man, they are the more attractive on that account, and one of their consequent peculiarities is that from different points of view they never appear the same. There can be no sameness in a landscape of tors when every tor changes its features according to the point of view from which you look at it. Every tor also has its heap of rock at its feet, some of them very striking jumbles of blocks of granite scattered in great confusion between the tor and the foot of the hill. Fur Tor, which is in the very wildest spot on Dartmoor, and is one of the leading tors, has a clitter of rocks on its western side as remarkable as the tor itself; Mis Tor, also on its western side, has a very fine clitter of granite; Leather Tor stands on the top of a mass of granite rocks on its east and south sides; and Hen Tor, on the south quarter, is surrounded with blocks of granite, with a hollow like the crater of a volcano, as if they had been thrown up by a great convulsion of Nature. Hen Tor is remarkable chiefly for this wonderful mass of granite blocks strewn around it. All the moor has granite boulders scattered about, but they accumulate at the feet of the tors as if for their support."

- Sabine Baring-Gould, "A Book of Dartmoor" (1900)

Up on the downs the red-eyed kestrels hover,
Eyeing the grass.
The field mouse flits like a shadow into cover
As their shadows pass.

Men are burning the gorse on the down's shoulder;
A drift of smoke
Glitters with fire and hangs, and the skies smoulder,
And the lungs choke.

Once the tribe did thus on the downs, on these downs burning
Men in the frame,
Crying to the gods of the downs till their brains were turning
And the gods came.

And to-day on the downs, in the wind, the hawks, the grasses,
In blood and air,
Something passes me and cries as it passes,
On the chalk downland bare.

- John Masefield, "Up on the Downs" (1917)
Where be ye going, you Devon maid?
And what have ye there i' the basket?
Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy,
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

I love your meads, and I love your flowers,
And I love your junkets mainly,
But 'hind the door, I love kissing more,
O look not so disdainly!

I love your hills, and I love your dales,
And I love your flocks a-bleating;
But O, on the heather to lie together,
With both our hearts a-beating!

I'll put your basket all safe in a nook,
Your shawl I'll hang up on this willow,
And we will sigh in the daisy's eye,
And kiss on a grass-green pillow.

- John Keats (1795–1821)

There are still plenty of white witches in Devonshire, but one died a few years ago in the village of Bovey Tracey, who, unless she were greatly maligned, by no means deserved so favourable a designation. She was accused of “overlooking” her neighbours’ pigs, so that her son, if ever betrayed into a quarrel with her, used always to say before they parted, “Mother, mother, spare my pigs.” This son, a farm-labourer living in the adjoining parish of Hennock, came to a very remarkable end. While leading a cart through the river Teign, he stopped to rest his horse, and while arranging something about the cart it turned over upon him, so that he was imprisoned in the water and drowned.

One of the most common misdeeds of witches is to hinder the dairymaid in butter-making. When the butter fails to come in the churn as usual, it is at once set down as bewitched, and, curiously enough, this belief extends to Devonshire, though butter is there made without churning. A gentleman of that county informs me that he perfectly remembers how, when he was a child, the dairymaid would run to his mother and say, “Please, ma’am, to send somebody else to make the butter; I’ve been stirring the cream ever so long, and the butter won’t come, and I know it’s bewitched.”

- William Henderson, "Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders" (1879)