Thursday Interview: Freddy Fatberg

Hello, Freddy. You know, my previous interview was with the sublime Red Velvet Cake. You’re not quite as beautiful. In fact quite the opposite, if I may say so.

Of course you may – you just have. And I’m sure you get to meet all sorts in your profession – the good, the bad and the ugly. But I don’t compete with anyone but myself, and other fatbergs of course. I’m certainly not jealous of any cake, red velvet or otherwise. They help to make me what I am.

Really? How so?

The butter smeared in the bowl after you’ve finished making the cake? That’s me. But of course it’s nothing compared to the grease in the pan when you fry your bacon. That’s me too. Everything you put down the drain is me.

And that’s what accumulates to make you so big?

Absolutely. You say I’m big, but as fatbergers go, I’m thin. However I’m very ambitious. I’d love to break the record. That was in 2013, Kingston upon Thames – fifteen tons and as long as a double-decker bus.

Wow! What’ll happen if you get that big?

I’ll be delighted. I’ll block the sewer completely so all the waste will flow out into the streets. And it’ll take a dozen men a fortnight to break me down using high-pressure hosepipes.

Why not stay as you are? No one would come and destroy you then.

I can’t. I’m too generous. Any fat that comes along wants to settle in, make itself at home, so I do all I can to make it welcome. Fats of a feather clog together, you know. There’s a wonderful sense of lipidarity here.

So if you do get really big, it’s basically our fault.

Mmm. The dust goes under the carpet, the fat down the drain. Somebody else’s problem. But I’m not complaining. If you didn’t do that, I’d be totally undernourished. I’m not too worried, though, with Christmas coming up – all that fat from the turkey soon to come my way. Delicious!

Perhaps people will be more careful this year.

I doubt it. There have been advertising campaigns to tell people to stop. Fat lot of good it does.

Ambivalence

Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.

IMG_4325

Thursday Interview: Red Velvet Cake

Pomegranate red velvet cake

I must say you look delicious, Red Velvet Cake, it’s a pleasure to have you with me. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Certainly. My full name, actually, is Pomegranate Red Velvet Cake. I come from Lili’s Cakes, and I’m delighted to have been chosen to represent her site. There was an awful lot of competition.

And what did the selection process involve?

A beauty pageant, basically. I’m not much into them myself – I’m more than just pretty icing. But obviously, looks are important, so we had to parade on the sideboard and look sweet. After a while, it was whittled down to me and Jamaican Ginger Cupcake. She’s so beautiful, I thought I didn’t stand a chance.

So what clinched it for you?

I think the jury was dazzled by the pomegranate seeds. As I said, it’s a bit annoying to be judged on appearances alone, but that’s how it is. They do ask us a few questions, but we don’t get a chance to show them how much we know. You’d be surprised how cultured many cakes are. We absorb so much. Like sponges.

You’ve been described as the Lady Gaga of cakes. What do you think of that?

Well, it’s the other way round, isn’t it? She’s the Red Velvet Cake of singers, or tries to be. Lili says I have “a delightful colour that isn’t too garish, a beautifully satisfying spongy texture and a wonderful combination of tastes with a balance between sweet and salty.” I’ll leave you to reach your own conclusion.

And what can you say about Lili herself?

Oh, she’s a goddess. And I’m not just buttering her up. But to create such delights out of a few basic ingredients – that’s my definition of divinity.

Don’t you get depressed, though? I mean, you were only made to be eaten. You don’t last more than a few days. If you were in my house, I doubt it would even be that.

Well, it’s longer than a milkshake. No sooner shaken than drunk, poor things. Besides, what counts isn’t me, I’m just the outward result. My true identity’s in the recipe. Once you’ve got that, you can have your cake and eat it – you’ve got the DNA to make clones.

That’s wonderful. Our thanks go to Lili for providing it, and of course to you, Red Velvet Cake, for coming along to talk to us. There are many other delicious cakes on Lili’s site, but I must say you take the biscuit.

Oh, I don’t know what to say. You can’t really see because I’m red already, but you’re making me blush. Crumbs!

 

Thursday Interview: Carol Calorie

Hi, Carol. Just to clear up something straightaway, when I asked your agent for a picture of you, she said she didn’t have any. Why’s that? Are you shy? Don’t like the way you look? Or you just want to cultivate the mystery?

None of those. I’m an abstract entity, that’s why. I’m just an amount of energy. Specifically the amount it takes to raise the temperature of a gram of water by one degree Celsius.

Oh. So you don’t actually look like this?  carol

Not at all. That’s just how you imagine me because you think I’m responsible for making you fat.

Well, you are, aren’t you? If I didn’t have so many of you, my abs would be more like abs.

So it’s my fault if they aren’t? Don’t forget I’m also responsible for keeping you alive. You can’t manage without me, you know. Just not quite so many of me, I’d say. Especially if all you do is sit in front of a computer. But whether you go for a chocolate diet or an apple is entirely up to you. I’m neutral in all this. I’m not even restricted to food – I’m everywhere. There are 7,004,684,512 of me in a ton of coal.

Wow! Explains why I felt so bloated after eating that sack of anthracite.

Ha, ha! The good news is that even a sedentary writer gets rid of about 70% of me just by breathing and thinking. Assuming you do think, that is.

Oh, yes, never stop. That’s cool. But what do I do about the other 30%?

Exercise. A lot of it. Eat a banana  and you’ll need to walk a mile. As for a big mac, I suggest you start training for the triathlon.

Mmm, think I’d rather forego the burger, thank you. Or maybe go on a diet?

Waste of time. Just eat a bit less and move a bit more. 90% of people who go on a diet put their weight back on within three months. Plus some, in fact, so it’s fair to say a diet makes you fatter. Still, that doesn’t stop people in the UK spending £2 billion a year on diet books, pills and magazines.

We’re not all equal, though – it’s easier for some than for others. Hardly very fair, is it?

Life’s not fair, I’m afraid. But whining burns up even less calories than writing.

Very true. I’d better get back to my novel. Thanks for sharing!

All a bit fishy

The name intrigued me: poutargue. As a brand name, it would have the marketing team holding their heads in despair. When I asked a couple of French people what it evoked, one said, ‘Quaint and old-fashioned.’ The other said, ‘Disgusting.’

So I went to the Caronte Channel in Port de Bouc, some 20 miles west of Marseille, where every Friday this summer they opened the calen fishing to visitors. Calen refers to the net that stretches from one side of the channel to the other, and when the fishermen raise it, they’ve caught thousands of mullet come to spawn. Well, that’s how it used to be anyway – these days the mullet are more in the hundreds, and calen fishing is very much on the decline. But the ones they do catch suffer the same fate: sliced open for the roe to be extracted, salted and dried. The end result is poutargue, also known as the caviar of Provence.

Unfortunately, we saw none of this, because a boat was due to pass and the nets couldn’t be raised. Instead we saw Raymond, a silver-haired fisherman who explained how it’s done and showed us lots of photos. Rather a swizz, I thought, a bit like going to a concert and being shown a slide show instead. Still, being a good-natured group, none of us complained and those of us who understood what Raymond was saying listened enthusiastically. I too was enthusiastic, but apart from his accent he spoke a bit as if he had a hard-boiled egg lodged in his throat. All the same, I managed to get the gist.

The reason the mullet are waning is not due to overfishing but the water. What they like is brackish water, typically found where an estuary meets the sea, providing just the right level of salt. But in the 1960s, the balance was altered when the Durance Canal was built to bring fresh water to a hydroelectric plant nearby. As a result, there are only five calen fishing outfits left.

It may be, then, that the days of poutargue are numbered. Raymond didn’t appear too bothered, but then there’s not a lot he can do about it. In the meantime, he makes a decent living, as demand for poutargue is very strong. I think some of the visitors had come along expecting to taste some, in which case they were disappointed. If you want poutargue, you’ll have to place your order several months before and pay almost 200 euros a kilo. That’s still a long way from truffle territory, but it’s three times the price of foie gras. It seemed almost hard to believe, as we huddled on the tiny platform where the mullet are brought ashore, but poutargue is sent all over the world, notably Japan (where they know a thing or two about fish).

So what does it taste like? Well, according to Raymond, anchovies. Basically, in other words, just very salty and fishy. I couldn’t help thinking there had to be something else, a je ne sais quoi that Raymond wasn’t revealing. After all, anchovies can be bought for a quarter of the price. But Raymond wasn’t there to give a sales pitch. He was happy enough knowing that the mullet roe he prepares in Port de Bouc will end up pleasing the taste buds of a few connoisseurs in Tokyo. As for me, I made do with a couple of bream sold by some fishermen nearby. They were delicious.


This post is part of Phoebe’s All About France link up, as well as TJ Paris’s French Friday feature.

Lou Messugo

Fruit bonanza

What greater joy can there be than eating the deliciously succulent fruit and veg that grow in one’s own garden? It’s not just the taste but the satisfaction of knowing that one is self-reliant. If ever there’s a calamity that keeps us trapped at home, we won’t suffer in the slightest. No need to trudge down to the local shops and cough up a fortune for a few bland mouthfuls of pesticide. Of course, it does require a bit of work, but I’m not called Green Fingers for nothing. It was therefore with great eagerness that we awaited the results of our tomato patch – and as I’m sure you’ll agree, a simple glance is enough to see that there’s absolutely no comparison.

tomatoes                 IMG_0149

Ambivalence

Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.

IMG_4325

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazing New Cake Diet

dscf5836

Lychee, rose and raspberry meringue nests

I’m amazed that Jamie Oliver and Co. still sell as many cookbooks as they do. Now I’ve nothing against Jamie, who’s likeable, down to earth and does what he can to tackle obesity, but why buy a cookbook when everything you need is online? Enter the name of any recipe or ingredient and up come a million responses. And when it comes to cakes, cookbooks are even more irrelevant because there’s Lili.

There are two reasons why I haven’t yet made any of her cakes. One, we’re in Mayotte, where not only are ingredients hard to come by but our oven’s an absolute nightmare. But that’s temporary. Back in the Metropole, I’ll have no excuse (I’ve been drooling over the strawberry tres leches cake for the past week). Except, of course, my BMI, because how can you add such delights to your diet without it going off the scale?

Well, I’ve thought about this and it so happens there’s a very simple answer. I remember reading once that the great eccentric (and even greater novelist) Evelyn Waugh lived his days backwards for a while – brandy and cigar first thing in the morning, Corn Flakes before bed. Without going that far, I suggest that instead of having Ginger and Mint American Lime Pie at the end of the meal, you put it at the beginning. Because obviously, you’ll still guzzle something like that when you’re already full to bursting, but you wouldn’t feel the same about minestrone, would you? Result? Basically you eat nothing but Lili’s cakes. Sounds like a great diet to me (no kidding – many of Lili’s recipes are healthy).

I offer this dietary advice entirely free, but if anyone wants to turn it into a book, they have my blessing. If you do, you’ll be even richer, I’m sure, than the woman who made a fortune with the book based on her revolutionary diet, Get Thin – Eat Less.

Words, more or less

In this week’s Izzy May I: The Write on the topic of word counts in fiction, Izzy does a great job of discussing word counts by genre, allowing me to see that One Green Bottle is at the upper limit for mystery / suspense. Maybe a little pruning is in order. Her post is so thorough, I was left with little to do but wonder about the number of words, not in a book, but in a sentence. The shortest, obviously is one, but what’s the longest? Well, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Taneční hodiny pro starší a pokročilé, if you prefer) by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal has a good claim, being a single 130 page sentence. Jonathan Coe was inspired by this to write a sentence of 13,955 words in his excellent novel The Rotters Club. In comparison, Molly Bloom’s monologue in Ulysses comes in at a piddling 4,391 words. Huh!

All of which leads me on to TheBookBloggers Flash Fiction Foray, which asks for a story in 100 words at most, based on the title of a song. Last week’s prompt was American Pie.

ussrdumplinguspie

And the rest is history…

‘Everything.’ Anton handed over the roll of film. ‘Anti-missile sites, nuclear codes – the lot.’

‘Well done.’ Ivan glanced round. The car was waiting. Diplomatic plates. Chauffeur. All according to plan. Soon he’d be boarding at JFK, the future of the USSR guaranteed. He slipped the film into his pocket. ‘Operation Dumpling is a success.’ He walked to the car, where the chauffeur opened the door.

‘What the…?’ Ivan yelped as the door slammed shut on his arm. A pistol came to rest against his head.

‘Dumpling?’ The chauffeur chuckled. ‘Tasty, I’m sure. But nowhere near as good as American Pie.’

The voulé

IMG_3666 voulé

Mayotte being tiny, and affording few of the attractions of city life (for lack of sustenance, shopaholics simply wither away), the main weekend activity is the beach. The Mahorais tradition is to flock there for a voulé, which is basically a giant barbecue. Branches are cut, fires lit, pans of food prepared. The main staple is chicken wings and breadfruit. The chicken is bought in supermarkets by the carton: origin Brazil, 3 euros a kilo. Not exactly free range organic. The breadfruit is healthier, picked straight from the tree and either deep fried or tossed in the embers and baked.

IMG_3796 breafruit

Allah, of course, disapproves of alcohol, but appears to turn a blind eye at the voulé. Perhaps this explains why a couple of weeks ago, a young boy, whose parents were busy with the chicken and breadfruit, wandered off on his own and nearly drowned. One of the party later complained vociferously. “Beaches should be supervised! How can parents be expected to keep an eye on their children when the voulé is in full swing?” A voulé in Mayotte is a serious affair.