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Abricot Barquettes Review
Great to see one of my childhood favourites being reviewed on your site. I have many a fond memory of the 'boat biscuits from France'. Please note however that it's best to eat all the sponge first, saving the jam/centre for that special last bite. I prefer the strawberry ones to apricot, and you can also get chocolate ones now, taste like nutella, yummy.
||Esteemed Mr Nicey:|
Yesterday I had a nice cup of coffee at a small place called The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf ®. First of all, though, I had to explain to the nice young lady what "black coffee" is.
It was served in a not-nice styrofoam sort of cup thingy, on which was printed a message about how one could recycle the cardboard thingy which surrounded the cup thingy, to protect one's hands from the heat. And a lot of information about how they brought the finest coffee and tea to the USA (a foreign country on the other side of the Pacific Ocean) in 1963.
I'm not interested in how they brought the finest tea and coffee to the USA in 1963, and I'd rather drink my coffee (and tea) from a proper cup and saucer or mug. You know, the ceramic containers we use in civilized countries.
Nicely printed leaflets told me about buying coffee and tea in pounds, and ounces, and measuring it in fluid ounces, too. Alongside that, we have another nice American chain offering "footlong" and six inch long food. In this country, we haven't used pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, feet or inches since last century.
It seems that they also rush their fresh roasted coffee to their stores in a fleet of trucks. As the "store" I visited is in Australia, I wonder what sort of trucks can navigate the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis?
Perhaps these people think Australia is a colony of the USA? Do you have the same problem in Britain?
I remain, dear Sir, ever your 'umble
|Nicey replies: A Merry Christmas to you Mr Barratt,
Yes we too are treated to much the same sort of level of localisation. I think its terrific that the Americans still use feet and inches and pounds and pints etc. Imagine just how far the western world could have advanced if American scientists were allowed to work out their sums using nice sensible metric units which all behave themselves well in sums. Instead they are trying to work out how to send spaceships to Mars using a system of units based on the distance between Henry I's nose and his thumb. You have to admire them for that as it makes all their sums much more difficult and fiendishly complex. Perhaps the French could lend them their reference meter, a platinum/iridium bar exactly 1 meter long, and the Americans could try it out for a few days and see if they liked it. Actually maybe it's best if we got it off the French first and then lent it to the Americans. We could tell them that whilst it wasn't strictly ours we are allowed to have it at weekends, on account of inventing the word 'weekend'. Of course the French have borrowed that word off of us for years with out so much as a thank you. Still c'est la vie.
Apparently when the metric unit of length was described as the number of wavelengths of light from a coherent source the American's were delighted as now they could properly measure how long an inch really was. To be fair the Americans resolved to adopting the metric system in 1972 at some point in the future when they get round to it.
When visiting San Francisco a few years ago I thought it was odd how people were going out to buy coffee and then wandering around the streets with it in paper cups. What sort of place was it where people seemed unable to make coffee in their own home, and having bought it why wander around instead of drinking it? Compare this to France where in a farmhouse in deepest Perigord I was treated to black coffee made using a saucepan and a filter pot by a lovely old French lady Mdm Mouliner, and slices of homemade Walnut Gâteaux. The walnuts were from her own tree and the eggs from her chickens. A single small cup of the coffee provided about three days worth of caffeine. I maybe trying to make a point here, but given the late hour I'm not sure what it is.
Your fascinating site reminded me of a biscuit-related enigma which has haunted me since childhood days: the phrase "ship's biscuit". Despite this strikingly anomalous use of the singular, I have always liked to picture generously plural stocks of biscuits stowed in tins, or possibly crates, deep in the hold. Fig rolls would be a healthy choice for a long voyage, although perhaps custard creams might be more comforting. Garibaldi would fit the bill too. Somehow, the more effete chocolate varieties seem ill-suited to a life of rum, sodomy and the lash.
But what exactly was ship's biscuit? Since I am too bone idle to go away and research the whole thing on Google, I wondered what light you might be able to cast on the world of tea-time confectionery in a historical maritime setting.
|Nicey replies: Mary,
A ships biscuit is in fact the ancestral biscuit from which all others sprang and even gave rise to the very word 'biscuit'. As we mention from time to time biscuit comes from two french words 'bis' for twice 'cuit' for cooked. They were so named because biscuit were baked twice a first quick bake to cook then biscuit then a long slow drying bake to preserve it for use as ships rations. Made from simply flour, salt and water, they are not something you want to dunk into your cuppa. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a ships biscuit earlier in the year although I had to give it back to its owner. It really wasn't very appetising and looked uncannily like one of those fake doggy turd things. The biscuits are as hard and rock, and it was not uncommon for sailors to break their teeth on them.
I am a new visitor to your site but felt compelled to write on the following subject....
Having lived and worked in France for 6 years I would like to impart what knowledge I have on the subject of tea and the French. As already mentioned by Steve Rapaport the very mention of tea in any French establishment is bound to bring about sniggers and tittering but should you go so far as to ask for, heaven forbid, milk, with aforementioned tea you are sure to greeted by looks of sheer contempt.
The other major problem with French tea is it's weakness. Ask a Frenchman to make a cup of tea and he will bring some water to the temperature of a new born baby's bath and pour it into a cup. He will then proceed to get his tea bag and show it to the warm water then pronouce the tea brewed. This proved to be such a problem that in the six years I was there I took to importing Tetley teabags and carrying with me wherever I went - now, you can buy Tetley in France but they are quite frankly rubbish - although marginally better than the 'Lipton Yellow' brand favoured by the French themselves.
(The slight diping of a teabag into the cup and pronouncing it brewed is also a problem which severly afflicts the Dutch)
So my tip to anyone planning a trip to France would be take your own tea bags and prepared to be ridiculed if you dare to ask for milk in a cafe or bistro.
|Nicey replies: Yes we would always advise travelers to take appropriate precautions when traveling abroad and bring a supply of their own tea bags.
||Thanks to this site, I now have a place to tell my frightful French story.|
It was 1989 and I was a little nervous, being 24-ish and on a solo business trip to France, and then a bit rattled from the drive through the "Etoile Charles de Gaulle" on the way into the office in Paris. But I was still pretty confident in my competence, my professionalism, and my masculinity. Until someone offered me coffee....
I politely asked if they had any tea. In Canada where I hail from, this is a fairly usual question after coffee is offered. In France, it produced horror and shock, followed by a round of sneers and supercilious little laughs.
After a suitably intimidating silence, my host replied "No, we don't have any, but perhaps you wish to ask one of the *women*. " This last word contained unspoken volumes regarding my evident lack of masculinity, naivete, and general unsuitability for the rigors of a serious business meeting in France between men. The women, it need hardly be said, were all clerical staff, in a separate room from the real men.
Bloodied but unbowed, I actually did beg a teabag from a friendly female clerk before proceeding to the meeting, where nobody took me at all seriously thereafter and mostly they all spoke french over my head.
From this humiliation I concluded that only women (and perhaps foreign poofters) drink tea in France. Or at least that this was the case in 1989. I think that this deserves further study, perhaps on this very Webzine...