Christmas in England after the usual crazy endless build up, hectic hype and fuss is now history phew and with 2019 now rapidly approaching, I’m pondering on what I can resolutely relinquish at the start of this forthcoming fresh new year. Though I will be a tad sad to see the gradual decline in brussel sprouts
from the supermarket shelves over the next few months as they head towards the end of their season...
Roddy and I usually set ourselves challenges every January, though mostly for fun just to see how far we can take any newly introduced beneficial changes into our lives. Like a detox - be it detoxing our body’s, minds or the clutter of numerous years worth of collecting crap sitting aimlessly around the house.
Over the past six January’s we have given up meat, diary - well almost, apart from the odd dash of milk in a cup of tea for me at someone else’s house - chocolate, bag's (me) coffee (him) - I don’t drink the stuff myself, but he loves his strong caffeine intake.
We have a pod coffee machine in our kitchen in france plus another one in the gîte.
Honestly, I have tried every single bean crushed powdered flavour in every single one of those cute coruscating coloured pods they sell these days and absolutely hate the taste of them all. The taste on my coffee richter scale ranges from unsightly screwed up facial features to borderline projectile vomiting leaving my stomach quaking in response to the taste.
I'm not sure I will ever be a coffee drinker, I've even tried that one with chocolate thrown in... what's it called? café mocha? or is it a caffè latte. Confession - had to google that. It's another language to me so why the different accents on the spelling then? is one Italian and one French?
Yet a hidden twinkle of rising jealousy in the pit of my stomach causes a stir when I see a group of cyclists sitting outside a quaint little village café in france for their coffee stop adrenaline injection, chatting and sipping their espressos from those dinky little cups their big fingers can barely hold.
Roddy is one of those cyclists who enjoys the warmth, flavour and strength from the liquid I call treacle that he devours from these diddy little drinking vessels.
When he demands his early morning 'leave for work peck on the lips' I desperately try and wriggle from his clutches, but he is too strong so I get coffee stamped on my lips leaving the lasting stench of double espresso glued there for the next two hours. However, I do pay him back sometimes with Marmite kisses.
His morning starts with 2 double espressos. He is, in fact somewhat persnickety about his coffee.
Here in the UK he has a different coffee machine, it’s not a pod one, it’s a Rancilio made in Italy of course, I saw a second hand one on eBay recently for £670... hmm, I’m sure Roddy told me his only cost a couple of hundred new.)
When we moved to this house last year and gutted the original 1970’s turquoise painted fitted kitchen, we had to then design the new kitchen - around the best place for his coffee machine to sit, like we had to arrange the living room around his electronic speakers for the best aerodynamic vibrating sound-waves for music - that’s another story in itself. Anyway, whatever price his precious coffee machine was, I am not allowed to touch it. Why? Because I can’t make a decent double espresso apparently. When I work from home, I always offer my clients a nice hot brew...
"Would you like a nice cup of tea?" I say, in desperate hope offering my varied selection box of healthy herbal's. "Or I have Earl grey? Builders?"
"Ooh.. could I have a coffee please?"
"Instant?" I suggest but catch them salivating as they eye up Roddy's coffee machine.
"Could I have a proper one please?"
Proper?! Damn - actually the instant has possibly been in the cupboard since we moved over a year ago and has probably gone rock hard.
So my messy process begins... and after my struggle, I feel very proud of the fact that I have achieved a 'proper' coffee, with that little skim of tiny foaming bubbles bit on top. But you know what? After all my efforts, they never drink it all up! They always leave about half a cup full so it can't be that great. Or maybe it's me. Perhaps Roddy's right, the machine makes good coffee but I don't. I can’t even seem to get the long black plastic handled dish thing into where it’s supposed to attach to and sit properly, it just doesn’t fit for me and the damn machine bursts and splutters hot gloopy looking tar everywhere, preferring to aim at my nice pale kitchen surface rather than the cup. Oh, and with Roddy's, I forget to warm up the coffee cup.
Yes, I did say warm up the cup.
Early morning when Roddy is up before me and I hear the familiar noise of our kettle starting to boil, I wait in anticipation for my nice large mug of Assam tea brought up to me in bed. But I am not first in line, his little empty espresso cup takes priority and while it sits on the side receiving its rejuvenating hot shower from the kettle, Roddy busily grinds the beans from the re-sealable vacuum packet into fresh dark powder (I hate his messy grinder too.) So I patiently sit in bed getting increasingly inpatient, picturing a scene from Macbeth whilst ‘Hecate’ downstairs is eagerly rubbing his hands and muttering under his breath as he casts his coffee spell in anticipation, a thin layer of smokey coffee mist circulating above his head whilst he conjures up the precious dark potion...
His current favourite chosen bean is a Colombian mix purchased from Finca with a somewhat interesting profile incorporating the flavours of cherry, raisin and dark chocolate. Personally, I don’t get it. But you think all that’s fastidious? No - you need to meet Roddy’s cycle mate ‘Smithy’. I don’t think I would be allowed to go anywhere within a metre of that sacred coffee machine if he knew what I was like with Roddy’s... yes, that £6,800 worth of sanctified silver gleaming, precision generating coffee ‘machine’. Mike ‘Smithy’ is the type of coffee connoisseur who after having attended a coffee making course (I never knew such a course existed) now has actual coffee bean ‘recipes’ to work with.
His meticulous ritual starts by weighing the long black plastic handle thing - except his isn’t plastic, I think it’s mahogany or possibly walnut with this beautiful grain running through - I wonder if the metal bit is real silver stating the official teeny stamp of 925...
So next is making sure the machine is topped up with chilled water, filtered courtesy of Britax. Now to grind the beans.
In £1,000 worth of SECOND HAND grinder. Then the tamping... the process of compressing the loose powder so it’s evenly dispersed within the silver bit of the portafilter - I have just learnt it’s name! and you can even let it rest before tamping it again with around a recommended 8lb's of force!! Get that!
Next, Mike weighs his coffee cup... I expect you're realising now that Mike must really be fond of his coffee.
Then he pre-infuses for 10 seconds (have you noted the pressure gage?) There is also a ‘shot timer’ for weighing out the exact amount of liquid! Mike then give this ingenious piece of engineering equipment a cleansing wipe over.
Milk next... well don’t you just pour it?
He uses organic full fat, because it produces a decent froth. So milk in jug, then a steam shot to clean the milk spout. That's my favourite bit.
Oh did I mention? - Mike's an engineer.
Hmm... I think there is more of an art to just pouring the milk in the cup, look at the beautiful cappuccino Smithy's made! You can't do that with tea.
And I thought Roddy was a tad particular!
You may be relieved to hear that Roddy will be taking his Rancilio out to the house next year so I can guarantee you will receive a decent cup of coffee in Moutardon. I can also guarantee that Roddy will make it for you and not me.
So, if I haven't lost you yet, the six thing we gave up was alcohol. We decided to do dry January and betted each other how far past January we could go... that was four years ago now and we are still going strong, enjoying life with clearer heads and the freedom to jump in the car whenever we want. The New Year’s Eve’s dilemma of ‘who’s turn is it to drive home’ isn’t an issue anymore.
This year however, we are treating ourselves to a restaurant supper and staying away for the night in a hotel after meeting up with friends for a drink. So I’ll be drinking this instead of Prosecco. It’s still nice and sparkly but not too sickly sweet.
In many of the major supermarkets in France you can also get a decent bottle of non-alcoholic ‘wine’ and there are also plenty of good imitation beers for you non drinking healthy’s out there too.
However we will be happy to offer the real stuff by the bottle if you find the fancy of an evening and feel far too complaisant in complete relaxed reverie to venture out into town. After all it is france, and france isn’t france without wine. We house a big selection in our wine rack for you to choose from.
So what will we give up in 2019? I will try omitting as much sugar from my diet as possible. We have both decided to give up chocolate again for January. Perhaps when I'm over my sugar cravings, my tastes buds may change. Maybe I will finally acquire the taste for coffee! Whoopee!
What I intend to bring into my life instead will be more reading, and my first book for 2019 has just been delivered. It will be added to my ever growing library of Yoga books. I think this one will be extremely worthy of a prime place on the shelf.
Thanks, Lexie Williamson for writing it. This is going to be a great ai