Banana, Comté, toastie…

Rennes, Capital of Brittany, February 1992. For the last year or so, I found myself crossing the city, heading towards my favourite hitchhiking spot on National 24, just outside the Citroën car assembly point; yes, plenty of room there, nice and safe for the generous soul that would bring me closer to Vannes and my Rock’n’Roll mates from the Cactus bar and like the chorus of a song I once wrote, looking forward to “ walk down Butcher Street, with my black leather jacket”; I was just 20, leaving behind for a couple of days my life as a musician for the “Smoking Dogs” theater company, swimming in a pool of doubt and uncertainty like most of my peers, dark, fun and life loving, hopeful. I am always hopeful, even in my most pessimistic days. The anxiety of a young adult then, now and to be… I don’t really know why I was making that weekly journey, partly because I wanted to see some of my friends who weren’t really friends, partly feeling guilty for moving to “The Big City”, afraid of being judged and secretly weaning myself off the provincial town that saw me grow, unfriendly to our lost kinds, “them Rockers”with long hair and short ideas, guys and gals who had to hide in the back streets of this self proclaimed pseudo bourgeois town,  to entertain our love and hunger for rebellion, music, identity and art… We were beautiful, we didn’t care… Rennes fed us and nurtured us in a way our home towns and villages couldn’t anymore.

My friend Rozenn

Every week or so, I did my pilgrimage to the Citroën place, and like a false joy I always fell for an unmarked beige Peugeot car that stopped for me. “No lift for me this time” I thought, the first time them three large guys came out of the vehicle, heading for me and flashing badges in front of my nose… I had nothing, I couldn’t reproach myself of anything, I was “clean”; yet my left leg was dancing the gig on the sidewalk, to the sound of heavy traffic passing by me… Probably because I had too much coffee and was under nourished, more likely because I was hoping to avoid this encounter.

The Smocking Dogs…. Some of the crew 🙂

“French Customs, show me your I.D and empty your pockets on the boot of the car please!”

“Sure” I said, freaking out inside. I opened my wallet and gave my I.D card to the older officer scrutinising my every moves which were very little apart from my dancing leg.

“Empty your pockets here” as his index finger pointed at the top of the “unmarked” car boot. Since Renault car company collaborated with the Germans during the war, cops used Peugeot vehicles as per tradition, or something like that; always beige in colour for an unmarked car and the last number plate “35” was a dead giveaway as it was the number for the region’s district code. Still… I emptied my pockets and stated that I wasn’t a Marijuana smoker despite my long hair or even my black leather jacket. In France, it’s called the “wrong face crime”, as if you look it, you must be it. Don’t judge a book by its cover I always thought in these moments of deep solitude… Futile really! I emptied the lot on the back of the squad car, few coins ( I was broke, hence the hitchhiking… Dah!!!), a packet of Gitanes cigarettes, a couple of condoms and a small tear gas canister. I thought I was done for when he saw that; my cousin gave it to me, just in case as there are a lot of weirdos when one thumbs the road. I never had to use it, but the officer didn’t care as it was legal enough in France. He was more concerned by the amount of cigarette buds I had in my pocket.

And so we were..


“Why and what is that?” he said genuinely puzzled.

“ Well, I smoke, but I don’t smoke if you get me? So when I smoke cigarettes, I don’t throw the buds in the streets, I find it disgusting when people do that! So I wait until I get home, burn them or dispose of them correctly, I have an environmental conscious  you know!” I said with a bit of humour.

The main custom officer looked at me, the scruples from his eyes had gone and he tried to control his smile while handing me back my I.D card. I put my miserable belongings back in the pockets of “my black leather jacket” and hoped for a lift. This episode happened a few times after, and we built a certain level of trust to the point that when they stopped, I only had to show my I.D and that glorious day when they drove by and the three officers just waved at me from their passing car… One even gave me a “thumb up”. I must say, and looking back, those guys were alright… Right until that day in February.

Yes, it was a beautiful day, February 1992 and my old pal Sergio was with me; we had to head back to our own town, for the reasons I have explained earlier. It was bitterly cold outside, and Sergio gave me a sleeveless fleece he got in India, to put under my thin jacket. I saw him put some grass in a roll of film canister.

A classic sight then ( relax it’s green tea)

“What are you doing?” I said.

“It’s cool, I have it well hidden”.

“For fuck sake Sergio! I hate when you do that! I get checked by the “Gabloux” (French slang for custom officers) every other week!

Sergio in Dublin

“It’s cool, let’s go!” Sergio said, ignoring my plea.

And there we were, sitting ducks hitchhiking off the N24, attracting as much attention as one wouldn’t really like… Sergio was cool and confident, I was nervous and realistic. And of course, like a perfectly timed and predictable French administration, the “Three Wise Men” turned up in their beige Peugeot…

“Well Franck, how are you today? I see you have a friend with you this time?”

“Ah yes, that’s my buddy Sergio”

We were just by the “Horizon Towers”, Sergio looked cool, with his usual placid Poker face. The boss of the squad asked me to empty my pockets… Again. Same old story, no sweat… Then he pointed his finger at the inside jacket I was wearing, it had a wee pocket on the right side. I didn’t even know… I put my hand in the pocket and felt some cigarettes buds. Sergio had the same philosophy as I did; we were Greenpeace Wanabees once and after all! Unfortunately, as I opened my hand to prove my honesty, Sergio forgot to tell me about the giant spliff hiding in there, in a zigzag amongst the wasted tobacco… My face turned to disbelief, the officer’s face to anger and deception…

Rennes market and the “Horizon Towers” on the right

“ C’mon now! You’ve been fucking us about for all that time?”

“ Sir, I swear, it’s not mine, a friend lent me that jacket, I didn’t know it was there”… Lame excuse, but in this case true. And No one wants to grass one’s best friend especially if that friend is being frisk searched right next to you! The younger officer found Sergio’s dope, who just replied: “ Hey, it’s only 2g of grass, no need to go “Starsky and Hutch” on me! And the spliff there is mine too, Franck doesn’t smoke…” I got away with it, and Sergio too, with just a fine and lighter of a beautifully crisp 200 Francs note ( £20 then).

We continued our journey, in silence this time; real friends don’t need to be told “I told you so”. We made it to Sergio’s house, for his “Toastie Special”, involving sourdough bread, banana and Comté cheese… It had saved us in the past after sneaking out for late concerts and it sure repaired our souls from a day where we were just made of happy youth and careful carelessness, when cops and customs interfered in our plans, just wanted to be… Us!

Sergio’s Toastie Special
Banana, Comté, butter, cumin seeds toastie special!

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall






Breton Cranberry Cookies

Breton Cake Cookies with Cranberries

I traveled a bit today, while staying in the comfort of the cottage; that said, it wasn’t that far either. I rang my friend Gráinne, a girl from Connemara; some call it Furbo, I call it Na Forbacha as it should be, and I don’t say Connemara either, just Conamara, the folks of the sea… Rebel from a battered land, a beacon of love when all you have left is a phone number you can call at anytime, when all is lost, when all seems dark. She would give everything to you, before herself; I felt ashamed to share or even compare my hardship and problems to hers, but it was good; good to hear that western accent, the humour smiling at the face of destiny. I feel quite blessed to know her and having shared those precious moments that makes our special selves “philanthropists”  … This one is for you mo chara…

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Beluga lentils Warm Salad

Beluga Lentils Warm Salad

I live in a very interesting place, far enough from my Breton homeland full of Menhirs (standing stones) and Tumulus (cairns), another 800 kms apart. Humbling and interesting thought one might say; descendant of Neolithic tribes, this Breton found himself a comforting home among other far fetched cousins. I guess a lot can happen in 5000 years, but still, it sometimes makes me smile when I contemplate the irony. Not far from where I am writing these words, and in full view – if I was to stand on the roof of my 100 years old cottage that is – proud and time defying are the hills of Loughcrew, better known as “Sliabh na Cailleach” or “Slieve na Caillaigh”, the Hill of the Witch… Full of legends, Loch Craobh named after a hidden lake snugged somewhere in its footstep; the home of St Oliver the martyr, so much blood spilled on a land wrongly taken and yet [ also wrongly] given by Cromwell to some of his Lieutenant… Funny word “Lieutenant”; meaning in French “the keeper of a place” or something like that. But let’s not dwell about this head case. Folks around here call the area “The Stones”, in a walking distance of the house – if you are brave enough- a passage grave, gateway from one world to another; the inside chamber gets illuminated by the sun twice a year, during the autumnal and spring equinoxes, revealing amazing petroglyphs of sun cycles  … Like I said, a magical place, a portal to the “Hereafter”…

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Cajun Veggie Stew

Cajun Veggie Stew

It has been a very sad week I must say. I am not going to extrapolate or elaborate out of respect for the directly concerned, plenty of tears and some kind laughter while reminiscing a memory for the love of a loved one, the unimaginable loss of a good soul now lost. Yes, it’s been a sad week… And a cold one too! It went right through me and believe it or not, I can take cold… To be honest, I have no choice. I remember the words my geography teacher once said to us, reliving his memories with us in a bitterly cold classroom, January 1985… While doing his military service in Germany ( if you were a bit of a hot head, they sent you to cool down there, or in Brest, either or, extremes from East and West, destinations with reputations…), he told us about different types of “cold”. Us pupils, listened to every word, his chattering misdemeanor, master of the banter and the unmistakable Corsican hand gestures, punctuating each sentence.

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Flamed Tart Swirls

Flamed Tart Swirls

I finally woke up, sometimes this week, between two storms, to the sound of silence. It was like opening my eyes after a bad hangover but the pain and the noise were absent, gone. December is a demanding and merciless mistress if you let her have her ways. It wasn’t the tantrums of “Caroline” or the caprices of “Eleanor”, never mind “Dylan” I looked at bemused – yet entertained- from my shelter. For over a month, I woke up, showered, shaved, turned on the lights, raising the curtain while others raised their glasses to “what a great year it has been” and a confused elephant in the room murmuring ” why are we doing this again?” … The pre-show cacophony before sending the overly made up clowns, controlled stage fright and a clap from the ringmaster with a slap on the shoulder for another great performance. Then it was dark again, I could still smell the burning dust from the stage lights, feeling and touching the quietude and tranquility of my room… It felt good. I took some vitamin B and D this year, to face the squalls of the cheery season and it worked like the charm of a good friendship; the reassuring words from my busy cooking years’ colleague “right behind you buddy” resonating in a synchronised tempo, or that girl from Indiana, stranger that I will (hopefully not) never meet, from shores I will (probably) never see… Your words and time have been my lighthouse, my “Ar Men”, three blinks of light in the darkness of night… As a thank you Stephanie for your kind “Amistad” and time, I want to dedicate this recipe to you.

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Celeriac soup with Cashel Blue cheese and roasted chestnuts buckwheat crêpe

Choice 6

I Finally managed to find a little bit of time to post this recipe I did a few weeks ago. Now entering the final week of utter madness at work, this will help me to take my mind off for a bit, and for those who read my previous story, I am getting my car back today, which I hope will leave me worry free for a while. After a cold spell, the Isle of Ireland is enjoying milder temperatures, it is Monday morning, a touch of frost and a few rays of sunshine are piercing through the sash windows. The fog has lifted and I’ve just finished playing “Gallows Pole” on the guitar.The head is clear now, I can welcome today…

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Planned Obsolescence

Cashel Blue roasted chestnuts buckwheat crepe and celeriac soup

It has been a bit of a strange week, with mixed feelings. It started last Sunday December 3rd; I was on my way to Dublin for a very special evening, my last day out, a night to remember or rather help me forget how busy the next 21 days are going to be. I was listening to P.J Harvey, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”, already looking forward to a rare evening with my friend Domi, and a much older friend that I didn’t see in 20 years, Mr Robert Plant himself, former frontman of the legendary band Led Zeppelin; well, he’s not really my friend, but he is the same age as my Dad and was part of our musical family since I was a very little boy… My rambling mind, smiling face and tapping index finger on the stirring wheel got suddenly interrupted by a rattling noise coming from the engine. I remember saying something like “Fuck!”, four letters that basically resumed what was about to come… No car? No concert?No Domi?No Robert? All was normal, temperature was steady, there was oil in the car as I always make sure all is good before I do a decent journey. Then all hell broke loose, red lights and alarm blaring, I thought “this is my Sully moment” as I made a crash landing to my own Hudson River, aka the hard shoulder between Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne. So close… Yet ( all in unison) so far… I breathed out another “Fuck!”, this time, it was acceptance. On the bright side, and since I was a young boy, I have always wondered what those orange S.O.S phones looked like and since I managed to safely taxi my vehicle close to one, I was about to find out! Well, it’s just a green button and a giant speaker. The chap was very helpful, letting them know I was there; I had insurance to get picked up, but that would mean no concert. Tried the car again, gone, full engine failure. My last resort was “my guy”, the owner of a garage/ shop a mile or so from the house, 80 kms away… Sunday at 4:10 pm. I rang Mr “M” and he just said: ” hey buddy, where are you? Ok, I’ll be there in 40 minutes ( yeah right, but I wasn’t in a negotiating position here), you said you are on the Dublin side? Ok, I’d better bring you a car as well so…”. One hour and 15 minutes later, there he was, bright orange flashing lights, a car on top of the rescue truck, out it went, mine went on, here are the keys and “I’ll see you tomorrow”. I would be able to meet my friend in good time, and see my auld pal “Robert”. As I sat in the “new” car, trying to figure out where the wipers and lights commands were, I just whispered a very respectful “fuck”, this one was more admiration and relief…

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