Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Which We Stop a Leak and Roast A Turnip

Just to give you an idea how exciting things can get at The Slum, the highlights of the week have been a visit from a plumber and the event I'm going to document below.

The plumber thing was odd. One day, the African guy who lives downstairs knocked on my door. Between his accent, which was gently slurred, and the speed at which he talked (I'm convinced that French people speak French faster than English-speakers can speak English), I wasn't able to make out much, but I did get "water" and "coming from above" and "the floor of my apartment." I invited him to take a look here, but he declined; apparently I hadn't understood what he'd said.

I hadn't: the next morning I got an e-mail (rare event) from a guy at the property management firm to whom I pay my rent informing me that I was flooding the apartment downstairs, and that he and the plumber would arrive that afternoon. In quick succession, I then got a phone call from him saying the same thing, and my neighbor appeared at the door with a business card from the same guy saying he'd be by at...was it 14h or 16h? French handwriting is hard to decipher, even when it's fairly neat. No matter; I wasn't going anywhere.

Well, at exactly 2, I heard him buzz downstairs and get let in. Moments later, he and the plumber were at my door. They went into the bathroom and tut-tutted about the way the plumbing there was set up (and rightfully so: it's a horror) but there was nothing going on there, so they went into the kitchen and determined that the faucet on the kitchen sink was leaking like crazy at the wall and the entire line needed to be replaced. The plumber stayed to make measurements, and the guy from the property managers' went into the living room/office with me and gingerly approached a topic I was kind of hoping wasn't his department, ie, the back rent. I explained to him that I paid when I could, but before I could get into the I'm-hoping-to-sell-a-book tapdance, he said he was more curious about how I was paying it. I told him that it was in cash: I withdrew from the ATM and took the cash to their bank and paid. I didn't mention that four banks here had told me early on that French banks are for French people only, which they had. (I now know how to get around this, but I don't think I'll be here long enough to make it worth my while). He seemed satisfied with this, which is a huge relief, but after he left I reflected that I live in a place with 25% unemployment, so I might not be the biggest problem his firm has to deal with just at the moment.

The plumber left next, explaining that he had to go to the plumbing supply store to get some parts, and when he returned, he jiggled around for a while and soon I had my kitchen back. For the first time since I've lived here, the faucet doesn't flop around. It's now firmly anchored to the sink and the water pressure is better.

* * * 

So that was the first bit of big excitement. I've gotten to enjoy it when something actually happens around here, because I spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for one thing or another, and things have been moving very, very slowly. I did, however, manage to get a little depressed when Thanksgiving came along. I can't really cook in this place, and I definitely can't have people over. There simply isn't the room. And so I found myself at the market on Saturday, with a very little bit of cash on hand (I'm still paying for last month's adventure in San Francisco, and if I'm very, very careful, I can make it til my next check and get the phone bill paid, but it means no culinary extravagances and no wine at all). But I'm also quite bored with what I've been cooking recently, and it's like I've fallen into a rut. Now, the change of seasons means that some of that rut will be taken care of by new products appearing and old ones disappearing, but I have a winter rut, too, and I'm hoping to avoid that. The money problem, though, means I've had to fall back on the tried and true, and that's not fun.

But all of a sudden, there it was. A very small table with a guy with two cardboard boxes filled with turnips. I've had this challenge before, but I haven't done much with it. See, these aren't just turnips. They're (apparently) very famous turnips, turnips with their own website! Pardailhan turnips! Why, I've asked myself before, do people make such a big deal out of them? I bought a couple a year or two back, but they went soft before I could deal with them. But now, during the very small time during which they're available, I could try again. So I bought one.

Yes, one. At €3.98 a kilo, this cost me one euro, which means it's about a half pound. They're big. And they clean up nicely, although this one shed enough dirt to start a small potato farm.

Nice blue-black color with greenish stuff showing through. So I set the oven at 450º F, and cut the turnip into coins. These I threw into a bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and tossed until they were coated.

Remarkable colors these things have. If the flavor is half as good... Anyway, I then slapped them into a roasting dish and stuck them into the oven, covered with aluminum foil.

Fifteen minutes later, I took the foil off. The odor was amazing: nutty and sweet.

They were beginning to get soft, too. I put them back in for another fifteen, at which point they were mostly done. A quick flip after this picture and back in for a few minutes while I cooked the steack haché and made a salad of bitter winter greens with my balsamic dressing (which is over here) and then it was dinnertime.

The only thing wrong was a tiny bit of undersalting and the fact that there wasn't enough. My nose didn't deceive me: they were nutty and just a little bit sweet. No bitterness, which is something I always associated with turnips, and a texture not unlike perfectly cooked zucchini. I'm definitely on the lookout for some more of these while they're in season, and someone suggested they might pair well with carrots, which, since dirty carrots are now showing up in the market, sounds like a fantastic idea.

As for those of you who don't live within 113 km of Pardailhan, as I do (I see it's just northwest of St. Chinian, which explains why I was wanting a bottle of something from there to go with this meal), I have no idea if anything local to you will fit this bill. But I do know that decades of considering turnips to be mushy, bitter roots got laid to rest last night, so it's worth looking into. Now bring on the dirty carrots!

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