Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pristine waters of Annecy

April, 2011 : Mitra finished his courses for the year and had about a couple of weeks off before starting his internship. It was also the week of Easter, though in France the public celebrations for it is rather quiet. Easter is generally spend with family and friends over roasted lamb and decorated eggs. We had just returned from our vacation in the Loire valley, the day before. The trip was pleasant but not satiating enough for our first Easter in France. It was a Saturday and like any other Saturday we woke up late and Mitra was busy pressing random keys on his laptop. Suddenly I saw him animated and the expression he had on his face meant he had found a new plan for our next vacation. Little did I expect that it was for a vacation, for which we would be leaving with just a Sunday in between to spare for preparation. 

In France the trains are operated by "Société nationale des chemins de fer " or SNCF and they are the most convenient and comfortable and thus not a very cheap method to travel. But from time to time, and mainly during the vacation periods they offer certain reductions on the fares. Mitra's exhilaration was caused, because he bumped upon one such "dernier (last) minute" offer. A round-trip of €120 per person for a four hours journey to the French alps was quite a deal and thus we were on our way to the quaint Alpine town of Annecy. When boarding the train at Gare de Lyon of Paris we realized that our ticket was for 1st class. This was enough to assure us that this trip was going to be perfect to wrap up our first year in Paris. 

Within two hours our train had crossed Lyon and we had the first sight of the alpine foothills. We had already covered 3/4th of the distance and we started to wonder if the 4 hours travel time was an error on the part of SNCF. The train changed directions at the little town of Aix-le-Bains, on the alpine lake of Bourget, and we realized that an uphill climb is neither easy nor quick. There was also a minor delay on the train due to an unfortunate passenger who had to be transported to a hospital for some reason, which may have been announced on the train but we hardly understood (our level of French in those days was limited to just supermarkets and google translator). So in just around 4 hours and a few minutes we finally arrived in Annecy. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Improvised Porc à la Bourguignonne on a rainy Saturday

Today was just like any other Saturday and most of our Saturdays are like this. A bit unplanned, a bit of innovation but finally quite pleasurable. We are "late risers" and on weekends our day begins well after the sun passes the zenith (except when we are going on a vacation, and this exception does happen often). But today was a "lève-tard" (translates to "rise-late") weekend. We had our usual brunch of fruits, yogurt and bread for me and sausages with smelly french cheese for Mitra (yes he prefers to break rules when it comes to eating habits). Then it was time for some activity. Going for a Hemingway type aimless walk around Paris was out of the question for today. Early autumn in Paris is often gloomy with the sun rarely peeping out from behind the clouds. But today the weather decided to remind us of the Indian monsoons by unleashing upon us a torrential tropical-like rain. Though heavy downpours never last long in this part of the world, but it was enough to prevent us from venturing out for a stroll in the by-lanes of Paris and restrict us to our neighborhood in the southern suburb of 'la ville de l'amour'.

Now it was time to do something so that my Saturday would not be wasted. The only option left, to make it pleasurable was to do that which I like best- Cooking, but what? Something that I have never tried before, something new, may be even something no one has probably ever tried before !!! Soon without prevision we found ourselves in the local supermarket, Carrefour, looking for random ingredients for some new dish.

First to choose the meat. Chicken is too common-place, Mitra loves duck, but me, I prefer them alive and quacking, beef would take too long to cook and it was already around 6 P.M. when we decided to give cooking a go for tonight. So we chose pork. Now for a little detail about the types of pork meat available here in France. Basically here in France almost every part of the pig is eaten. As a common french saying goes "dans le cochon, tout est bon" or "In a pig, everything is good". The jambon or ham is a specialty. But since we arrived late, the butcher had few options that he could offer. "Carré de cotes" or rib chops was available that is used for pork chops or côtelette. But such dishes need atleast 4-5 hours of marination and we were in no mood for a past-midnight dinner. So we decided on the boneless "filet mignon" (french for cute filet) which is the most tender part of the pork and thus needs the least cooking time. In other parts of the world, filet mignon can also refer to a similar cut of beef, but here in France it denotes exclusively to the most tender (and the most expensive) cut of pork. We took around 500 grams which cost us roughly around €6.50.