Harvey’s Borscht Ballad

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Borscht and Gort na mona goat’s cheese with buckwheat honey

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…

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The Canteen

Choice 1
“The Canteen” 1987/ 1988

The great thing about schooling in France has to be the canteen. No lunch box here, I am talking proper refectory, with chefs, commis and a couple of lovely dinner ladies. Believe me; I have eaten in worse restaurants, with worse service! The head chef, Mr Raymond, was a big brash colourful character, quite partial to kids who acknowledged and complemented on his trade; as a reward, he would look at you with a doubtful pouting frown and a raised eyebrow, before topping your plate with extra sauce or roasted potatoes.

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The Sirens of “Jerry Cod”

Choice 11
Cod Meuniere

Every Wednesday, and like a lot of towns around France, we were treated to an alert horn. An old tradition from the Second World War, when powerful sirens were tested at noon; the urban legend said that one was just a test, two an accident, three casualties and of course 10 or 12 meant nuclear fallout, post cold war obliging. The sirens were hooked on top of high non residential buildings, or water towers that coloured the urban landscape, in all their glorious ugliness, reminding  tax payers how much they were going to get screwed. If you think water charges is an Irish problem, you should ask a French family how much they are paying!

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Marie Lou’s Paupiettes

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Chicken Paupiette

My mother passed away in 1997 this month, only three years after I had moved to Ireland, an untimely and very quick November harvest as she was only three weeks in her 50th birthday. In these short years, I visited a couple of times, in the summer of 96 and April 97. I would always ring a couple of days before sailing, to build up the excitement on both sides I guess and the question from the Gallic side of the channel, and like a good French mother, was always the same: “ What would you like to eat?”… The answer came out bizarrely honest that it even surprised me: “Paupiettes please!” a dish made of sausage meat wrapped in a thin layer of veal or chicken escalope. It is stewed in a mushrooms, white wine and tomato sauce and served with rice. A comforting classic in our house; it wasn’t “cupboard love”, I was never that kind of a young lad, too proud maybe? But my friends, when your Ma asks you what do you want to eat, you better think fast and tell her nice, as I think in the 25 years we’ve known each other, she only popped the question twice…

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Butcher Street

Choice 12
Beaujolais Nouveau Night

I can’t recall anything scarier than being twenty… Seriously, it has to be the most over rated age apart from the fact that you are pretty much completely free from any commitments, bills, jobs… You’re broke, but you’re free. You need to find a place to exercise this freedom, a place of paradox, where one can reflect on ideals, but yet requires the company of similar frightened comrades putting on a brave face, a safe house for your music gigs, a place to drink a few beers at the weekend, a waiting room to that big ugly world out there, and it’s you and your likes that will make a difference, that will change all of this, you know it… Just maybe not right now, perhaps after another coffee at the bar…

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Couscous Express

Couscous by Hungry Breton
Couscous by Hungry Breton

In my family, we had a funny tradition. For as long as I can remember, and almost religiously, Saturday night was “Couscous Night”; when 6pm came a ringing, my Dad would drive down town to his friend, proud owner of a “zinc” ( small French bar) in a corner of Marechal Leclerc Street. “The Duke’s Mill” if I remember well, with a Formica counter, a couple of tables and a pin ball machine near the toilets. Downstairs, right underneath the bar, was an impeccably dressed dining room only used at weekends, where Joel’s wife would cook only one dish: Couscous. When the days of take away food didn’t really exist yet, at least in my town – or so I thought – Dad would drop a big pot with its couscous steamer and collect it at the beginning of the evening, full to the bream.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Spaghetti

Carbonara
Carbonara

September 1991, it was a beautiful morning over the Breton Capital. I had left behind the hills of Glenveagh National Park, my first real summer job, for another, scarier adventure: independence and freedom. So long mother and father, I am 18 now and your evil powers have no effect on me anymore… Cutting at last the proverbial umbilical cord, living the dream! I was meeting my olf friend “The Hero” in the Ozone Bar, two years older, kinda wiser too; he felt that it was his duty, as a big brother figure, to welcome and show me the ropes, places to hang out and other music venues to be part of. “You are staying with us until you get sorted, you hear?” His statement came as a relief, I hadn’t planned that far, and sure, I knew Rennes, very well even, but only as a child with the eyes of innocence. I was a man now see, free in the big city at last! I quickly finished my skinny glass of Maes Pils and followed my compadre toward the giant spaceship like building that was the Judiciary precinct; “Galion Street”, my new quarter, my new home… And how appropriately named for my new voyage!

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