Wednesday 26 May 2010

I still blame Hannah III- The Mona Vale Haul

It's only been a few short months since the lovely Hannah upset my tepid suburban world. It seems particulary unfair that one so young should have such a developed palate, and a wealth of experience. Trying to replicate it from the rural heartland of NSW is pretty tricky. Every trip to the supermarket is now a disappointment. But I've given it a crack. I'm sure Paris will change this. Till I get to Paris, I shall have to make do with Mona Vale and Canberra. Pretty exotic.

Travelling to Mona Vale on a day trip for work I of course, made use of the time and checked out the providores shop that I remembered at the top of the shopping centre. And it paid dividends. Variable dividends, but there was still the thrill of the chase. And I managed to bag three chocolates from three different countries- France, Belgium and the USA.

Firstly to France. And actually to the Perigord. We went there on our travels in 1998 and it was an amazing area. The home of truffles, foie gras and magnificent scenery. And also home to Bovetti. There were a few of the companies products to choose from (I can't remember what now, my blogging is so slow that this trip was actually a few months ago, and disappearing into the mists of time). I chose the Premium Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Fleur de Sel. I do love Caramel, and may well have picked this one without Hannah's undue, subversive influence. We had Salted butter caramels in France, and they live on in my memory as an extraordinary experience. But all that talk of salt and chocolate was too much to bear. It had to be done.

Sadly it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

It wasn't bad by any stretch- that is still to come, but the caramel flavour lingered longer than that of the chocolate and sadly the salt made a barely perceptible contribution. Perhaps that is the point and I just don't know enough to appreciate it. Perhaps my palate isn't educated enough to appreciate it. With correctly seasoned food you don't taste the salt, you just taste more of the food. Is this supposed to be the same? Hopefully France will hold all the answers next month.

The second bar I tried was a Ghirardelli 60% Intense Dark Evening Dream. A famous American chocolate company based in San Francisco I believe. At least I think I remember it from there, many many years ago.

And this was nice. It had a mild snap, and was too soft, but was glossy and smooth, with a hint of madagascan vanilla. The taste lingered reasonably well in the mouth. Mr Wicker and I both enjoyed this but thought that $8.95 was a bit much for what was an essentially nice, but not particularly memorable chocolate. Not worth the food miles on the whole.

Lastly, but by no means least was the experience of Dolfin. A Belgian Milk chocolate flavoured with Green Tea from Japan. I wondered about this pairing. Is it a mistake? Surely it must be really nice if they're going to put two rather obviously odd flavours together like this? I know Green Tea is Big Right Now, does that excuse everything? Is my non-tea-drinker status clouding my vision? Is it ridiculous to pay $4.50 for 30 grams of chocolate?

YES as it turns out. I Really Didn't Like this chocolate. Not quite as much as the 100% debacle from Canberra. I didn't have to spit it out. But awful nonetheless. It sits half eaten in our cupboard to this day. I find it rather ironic that a company that subtitles its product with The Art of Blending should have created this. There is no blending of the tea. I guess I was expecting that it would be green tea powder mixed in with the bar to create a smooth product. Instead this had grassy, dry bits of tea, indeed more reminiscent of chaff that brought memories of my teenage girl horsey stage flooding back. It makes a rather unpalatable mouth feel. The green tea was overpowering, not a subtle flavour note at all. Mr Wicker couldn't eat his piece. I soldiered on through my one piece in the name of scientific research and endeavour. The dogs liked it without reservation.

I am now uncertain as to how much green tea stuff I should try in France. I'd been presuming that I would try a green tea macaron. David Leibovitz somewhat sensibly advises to avoid the new and trendy flavours, he feels that they are hit and miss, and prefers to chose the classic flavours. It certainly is true that classics are often classics for a reason isn't it? We shall see.

Friday 21 May 2010

Flaubert's Parrot

I came to this book at the perfect time. I had just recently read and enjoyed Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary gave me my first introduction to 19th century French literature, and wow, Flaubert certainly wasn't anything like Jane Austen or The Brontes! I am now rather intrigued by Flaubert, son of a doctor, who clearly learnt a lot of contemporary medicine growing up at the Hotel- Dieu.

In Madame Bovary there's an amazing chapter describing the tenotomy that Charles Bovary performs on Hippolyte, the village stable hand who has been getting around perfectly well with his club foot. Sadly, Charles isn't much of a surgeon and the operation does not go well. The account of his further surgery is harrowing. In that chapter Flaubert makes mention of Ambroise Pare and Guillaume Dupuytren.

Flaubert's fascinating tale of Madame Bovary combined with the tantalising glimpses into the history of medicine made it almost compulsory for me to fall into the thrall of Flaubert. I'd heard of Flaubert's Parrot but never been particularly interested because I've read one Julian Barnes book before, the incredibly awful England, England which was somehow shortlisted for the Booker in 1998. So it was with some considerable trepidation that I borrowed this book from the library. Only to learn that it was based around the parrot that featured in A Simple Heart (Un Coeur Simple). So, I read that too before embarking on Flaubert's Parrot. Turns out I didn't really need to. Barnes' gives a two paragraph summary early on to explain why Flaubert needed to borrow a parrot from the Museum of Rouen to help in his writing of Un Coeur Simple.

Flaubert's Parrot has perhaps the most bizzare structure that I've ever come across in a novel. Indeed, it makes one wonder if this really is a novel. Barnes himself said that he wanted to mix of fact and fiction, elastic and capacious, and expected a small audience.

A great article from the Guardian.

Flaubert's Parrot makes us ponder why we should chase the writer? Because it's so damn interesting is my basic response I suppose. And Flaubert is a perfect case in point. I so wish that our upcoming trip to France could include Rouen. I would take Flaubert's Parrot with me to reread, and to walk the locations of the book, to gaze at the Hotel Dieu, to find the pictures of Flaubert. Last months Good Reading had a great article on the Flaubert trail in Rouen.

Writers are interesting in a way that actors for example can never be, IMHO. I can't understand why week after week newspapers are filled with articles about actors. When almost any other profession is more interesting in and of itself. And most of the magazines that fill the supermarkets one week and then landfills the next are choc full of articles about actors.

I think it was in this book that Braithwaite said that he was going to "save Virginia Woolf til he was dead". Sage advice, think I'll take that on board too. I fact I already have. Perhaps it should be one of my daily affirmations just in case I feel my resolve slipping.