Sunday, 9 January 2011

Skiing Fodder

Many of us like to ski. Some of us prefer, as my boyfriend does, to tear up the pistes like a hooligan on a snowboard (which did turn out to be extremely useful as a make-shift picnic table).What we all have in common is a mutual love of throwing ourselves down snow filled mountains in a search of thrills and possible broken bones.

Probably over about 50% of my excitement about the anticipation of this annual event is the food I know I will consume.  Quelle surprise.

For several years now we have travelled to the French Pyraneen resort of La Mongie  We have stayed in several places close to the resort, the most memorable by a million years of amazingness would be ‘Le Grange’. A property once owned by my Dad’s best mate Charlie. Le Grange was an interesting place, one needed a 4x4 (or a catcat as I thought it was called) to negotiate the rock and boulder infested climb up to the divine house. It had no electricity but a generator, which provided a very welcome hot showers after a day’s skiing. The best meal Charlie ever cooked us here was the magret de canard cooked over the fire, rare as you dare, followed by a nip of almangnac, accompanied by a ‘deep’ (for a 17 year old) heart to heart with Charlie about the future of one’s relationship. It’s all about crossroads apparently. I’m still with the boy a million years later so something he said must have been right.

In a kind of pilgramatic quest to re-enact that dinner, each time we go back to the area I cook duck breasts with a load of green beans and garlicky-oniony potatoes. Be it on a two ring elecric hob or comparatively luxurious 4 ring gas hob, it always somehow works. Big fat duck breasts (alarm bells ringing, they shouldn’t really be that big should they? The ones in my freezer on the duck my Dad shot last month are miniscule in comparison) pan fried for a surprisingly long time, no need for oil, rather a few mugs to pour the excess fat into (not forgetting a big splash for the potatoes). What else could you ask for?

Mention the name Eric in La Mongie, or perhaps further surrounding areas, and every local will know he is The Man. He oozes Frenchness, the most handsome beret wearer that ever there was and his wink will reduce any woman to a giggling wreck. Or me at least. Each year I return to his restaurant at the top of the mountain, petrified he won’t remember me (English are kind of frowned upon in this resort but for some reason they like us, probably because we embrace the eating and drinking piste-side like the locals). It took Eric a few minutes this year, but once I reminded him of my name it was all shouty roudy Frenchy welcomes. I felt like a mountain celebrity.

Eric. He doesn't have/need a surname.
I am getting at something here. Eric is a shepherd during the summer. The Shepherd. And during the winter we eat the fruits of his labour. His menu consists of steak frites, saucisse frites, garbure (one of my favourite French words) Agneau de Campan (Campan being the local area) and a few other things including plats of the glorious jambon noir and the mysterious garbure royal. I knew there was no point in asking what this was, I wouldn’t understand. It was the most expensive thing on the menu so I know its something life changing. Eric doesn’t mess about.

Eric does Piggies too.
So during our glorious and precious week in La Mongie this year, or last year (we went over New Year), Eric did us proud, we had dangerously rare steak (a friend asked me to request it well-done, WHATEVER!!!!) the finest sausage money could buy, lamb chops so good one literally gnawed every last morsel off the bone as if it was your last meal, and finally on new year’s day, a leg of lamb (two actually, there were 8 of us) accompanied by this gorgeous haricot blanc casserole thing with bits of lamb fat floating around in it for added carnivorous flavour (my sister actually ate a bit of said fat, and started to pretend it was on purpose, you’re not supposed to eat the fat hahahahhaa!). Plus salad and chips. And wine. Obviously. The best bit was when Eric gave us a bottle of 2007 Bordeaux. Bisous all round!

We keep saying ‘next year we’ll go somewhere else, we need to ski somewhere new, push ourselves.’ Then Eric and his crew say ‘L’annee prochaine?’. We say ‘Oui’.

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