I could start this little story – listening to the news I have now decided to turn off- with the words of Bob Dylan “Hard Rain”, how appropriate as another year is about to roll over this week for me, “The same old story” Billie would whisper, so hell with that I say, and decided to pay a little tribute to an old friend of mine, and how we ended up, my Mother, sister, Harvey his brother and I in a Russian restaurant on my last birthday in my “cosy-cushy” hometown of Vannes…
But first, let me draw you a portrait of my old pal Harvey, a tall black haired guy with a deep gravelly voice and often finishing his stories by spasms of laughter. We were all on the left side of things, unimaginable to be anything else! Harvey was more on the left of the left, not quite a sub-cultural Redskin but near enough, implacable in history, a great musician and song writer…
I wanted to pick a couple of anecdotes and I must say, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. Yet, two kept on coming back, like the night of “National Music Day” when he got arrested by the local police. The owner of our favourite watering hole, rightly named “The Cactus”, had decided to be kind to his neighbours and despite a derogation allowing businesses to stay open late, we stopped the music at midnight and we were all happy to leave at 1 am, only to be welcomed by a squad of cops and a “salad basket” ( Paddy Wagon). You see, the then chief of Police had convinced himself that our bar was the “Lazy Susan” of drug trafficking in town! Seriously? It couldn’t have been further from the truth and we often slagged the owner and laughed about it. The provocation didn’t really fail and after what seemed to be a very very long anti-fascist rant at our local policemen, they let him finished and Harvey got nicked. Maybe it was the beer talking, or the Dutch in it pumping our courage, but we all decided to march to the station, Harvey’s accommodation for the night, chanting and banging “Free our comrade, free our comrade”. Let’s just say it didn’t go down well, Harvey got away with a fine I think, but our beloved “Cactus” got served and had to close for a week as punishment… Man… C’mon!
But I think the funniest is when we walked into an Irish pub outside the town to go watch a concert of the “Barking Dogs” until we discovered that it had also dragged a few Skinheads out of their holes. I still don’t quite understand why, but hey, there they were and things were about to get volatile. One of them spotted Harvey, his hair to be fair, was a bit short to say the least and his black bomber jacket probably didn’t help. He stood off his bar stool and started “Nazi saluting” our friend. I thought the whole situation was about to get worse when Harvey and his imposing frame stood in front of the “Skin”, his fist in the air and started to sing and shout “The International” : ” This is the final struggle, Let us group together, and tomorrow The Internationale, Will be the human race”. Boom! What a victory! No fist fight but victorious! We even got stopped by the cops and our favourite Police chief on the way home but the driver, Harvey’s brother, was sober as a judge. He just yelled to turn the music down; I guess he was not a Led Zepplin fan… What a night!
So April and the day of my birthday came and my mother wanted to invite me and a couple of friends to a new Russian restaurant that had just opened. For her, it was going to be as close as visiting the country itself and I thought it was quite sweet. I didn’t really hesitate on who I was going to invite: Harvey and his brother, I knew they would enjoy the experience and that my mother would appreciate their company. It was a wonderful evening, my last birthday in Brittany as I was to leave six months later. I found out a few years ago when I reconnected with my old friend, that he had blamed himself and others for my departure, for my “running away”, that he felt he had been a bad friend. I was very touched about this, and reassured him that it was my decision and that I had to do this. My good auld pal, good hearted “Red Harvey”, almost as red as the delicious Borscht stew we had for our main course, somewhere in the mid 90’s, in the heart of our “Goodie two shoes” town, “Chez Goulia” I think it was… Yes, that’s it!
- 2 large organic beetroots
- 1 large organic carrots
- 3 small organic red onions
- 150 g of Beluga lentils
- 2 cloves of organic garlic
- 4 cabbage organic leaves
- 1 tbsp of organic tomato puree
- 1 tsp of organic dried dill
- 1 bunch of fresh organic tarragon
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil to start
- Goat’s brie ( Gort na Mona)
- Buckwheat honey ( or just honey)
I know that this is not the real Bortsch, I just wanted to make my own version. That said, they are so many versions, some looking more like a soup, some more like a stew. I first chopped the roots in small enough cubes and started to sweat them with the onions and garlic cloves that I roughly chopped. I then added the beluga lentils, and the stalks of the beetroots…
Then the chopped cabbage leaves, thin enough. Let the lot sweat before adding the rest of the ingredients, tomato purée, herbs and water. Let it simmer gently for at least an hour…
Bortsch is traditionally served with a dollop sour cream and also works very well with thick pro-biotic yogurt. In my case, I grilled some “Gort na Mona” goat’s brie type with buckwheat honey, almost as dark as caramel. It worked really well with the dish, and a way to link the two cultures that are actually quite close in some ways…
Keep Well and Eat Happy