Moules Gratiné; the Saga, Part III

As long as I an in the US, visiting family and having a wee holiday, I thought I would entertain you by reprinting:

The Saga of the Titre de Sejour, French Paperwork in 4-parts 

Part III April 7, 2006

It’s an 8-hour drive to Andorra. 

Did I mention that this was February? 

And Andorra is in the mountains? 

It’s a big ski area? 

Lots of snow? 

Did I mention that we stupidly believed the weather forecast that it was going to be sunny and warm? 

We got to Andorra about six in the evening.  It started snowing about seven.  We have an SUV and we can drive around the high passes so we're not worried. 

First thing the next morning we slip and slide up the mountain to the consulate, get our visas stamped in our passports and start the trek home, the long way, down through Spain to avoid the snow.

It’s raining at the lower elevations so no problem.

About an hour out of Andorra, it turns to snow again.

As we enter a roundabout just before Puigcerdá, a small town on the French-Spanish border, we hear a loud ‘clunk’ and our car refuses to move. 

It is now snowing in earnest.

I get out my trusty mobile and call the auto club. 

After several calls back and forth, (me struggling to speak French, them struggling to understand the Yank with the bad accent) we are informed that the tow truck is on its way.

Meanwhile we manage to back the car out of the roundabout and sit back to enjoy the snow.

About an hour later, we see a tow truck go by heading towards Andorra.  Must be ours, we think, at last. 

It was ours but he was confused by the directions and went all the way to Andorra. 

Two hours later he goes by again. 

Finally, just after dark, he goes by a third time, stops, backs up and asks if we are the ones needing a tow.

He has now gone past our car, sitting in the same spot by the side of the road with hazard triangles out, 3 times in 4 hours…..

Yes, please, we need a tow.

He loads up our truck, we climb into his cab and head up the mountain (yes, up, into the heavy snow) to wherever he came from.

An hour later, we are in Saillagouse.

We, and our car, are dropped off at a tiny, little garage. 

We are told to spend the night at the (not 'a', 'the') hotel and check back in the morning.

We head off to the village in the snow on foot, no boots, no gloves, no scarves (it was going to be warm, remember?) looking for the hotel.

We found it; it was warm; it had wine; we stayed.

The next morning we were supposed to call the auto club to find out how to get home.

The battery on my mobile was dead after all of the calls, (naturally, I had forgotten the charger) and the phone in our room wasn't working.

We head off to the bar to use the phone – that day, and that day only, the hotel would have no phone service anywhere as they were installing a new system.

No worries, there is a phone booth (remember them?) just down the street. 

They were correct.

We found it right where they said it was.

Unfortunately, it didn't work.

Neither did the next one we were directed to by the tourist office.

The third one was a charm….and, it finally quit snowing.

Finally, we were taken on a 2-hour drive through the mountains to the airport at Perpignan where we rented a car and headed home.

10 days later we came back and got our car. 

The problem? A screw came loose in the brake.

The cost? 34 euros.                       

Stay-tuned for Part IV 

If you have access to fresh mussels, this is delicious:

Moules Gratiné

Moules Gratiné

1 lb mussels – preferably cleaned
1 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs chopped parsley
1 can whole tomatoes, or 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Dump the mussels into a dry sink and look at them. Any idea what to do with them? I didn't the first time, but we learn.
First thing, after the clattering in the sink (I meant 'dump' literally) they should all be closed. Any that aren't, tap lightly on the shell – if they do not close throw them away – they are already dead and we don't want them.
If they are not cleaned (ask the fishmonger – lovely word, that) – they probably are where you live – not for me) they need the barnacles scrubbed off with a brush and the beards – the stringy bit hanging out of the shell that they use to attach themselves, pulled off – just grab and pull toward the hinge.
Once they are cleaned sort through them tossing any that are very tiny (not worth the effort) or seem heavier than they should be (probably full of sand). Set mussels aside – well done!

Heat wine, bay leaf, thyme and 2 whole garlic cloves in large pot with a tight-fitting lid over high heat. When wine is boiling dump in the mussels and cover. Reduce the heat to medium and give the pan a shake every minute or two. Uncover after 3 minutes – if most of the mussels are open remove from heat. If not, cover and give them another minute. When done, pour mussels into a colander over a large bowl to catch the cooking liquids. Strain cooking liquid and set aside.
Chop onion and garlic. Sauté over medium heat in 1 tbs olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until transparent. Drain tomatoes and roughly chop. Add to skillet and sauté 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid, reduce heat and simmer until it becomes a bit thick – sauce-like Add parsley.

Back to the mussels: using only the open mussels, break off half of the shell and place the mussel in its half-shell in a baking dish, 8 X 10 (20 X 25cm), 9 X 13 (22 X 30cm), whatever works; they should just fit. Spoon tomato sauce evenly over the mussels, sprinkle with bread crumbs and drizzle with remaining tbs olive oil. Bake at 400 F (200C) for 10 minutes. Serve

3 thoughts on “Moules Gratiné; the Saga, Part III”

  1. What an adventure! I love your entertaining stories Katie – and mussels are to die for, just wish I was not allergic – every once in a while I cave and have them anyways…but it is not a pretty sight in the morning, let me tell you!

  2. I have to say, driving in the mountains (or even across Spain) with a screw loose in my brakes would not make me a happy camper. So glad you made it safely home, but what an adventure to get there!

  3. Ina, being allergic to anything is such a pain…. Thanks for the kind words,
    Laurie, it was terrifying to think about it after the fact….

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