Dec 20, 2014

Twinkle, Twinkle: Le Lunaire


Paris: City of Light. But City of Christmas Lights? Not so much. Paris is not a city that screams "Christmas!" -- it barely even whispers it. I'd say the city looks 95% unchanged for the holidays (the upside of this is I don't have Jingle Bells burnout), but still, we find our niches for holiday cheer. As good luck would have it, one of the few Christmassy and twinkly places in the city each year is right outside our window.

Dec 18, 2014

Ye Olde Yule Log: Bûche Fermier


Coming from a Jewish background and a country that's just a baby in scheme of things, I don't always have the deepest sense of Christmas tradition. But a tradition as delicious, pretty, and easy as the Bûche de Noël (literally "Christmas Log", or the Yule Log) is one I can get behind wholeheartedly. Easy, of course, because I can buy it at every single patisserie or grocery store in France. No fuss, no muss, no need to break out the baking pans.

Dec 16, 2014

Pounds of Cups, Spoons, and Dirty Dishes: Le Rocaillou des Cabasses


Volunteering to teach Pippa's class how to make American oatmeal chocolate chip cookies this morning, the kids at one table are extremely confused about how to measure out 1 1/2 cups of oats. I give them my 1/2 cup measure, but they can't work it out. Finally, we realize it's not actually a problem of math or fractions, but rather a cultural misunderstanding of cups: i.e. the concept that it's a 1/2 cup measure, and therefore that 1/2 cup is filled up to the top (instead of half-way).

Dec 14, 2014

Hands-on Teaching: Le Malvault


The first time my friend Mei, another American gym mom, and I see a coach taking turns lying on the ground with our little girls on top of him, with his hands high on their inner thighs, stretching open their legs, we pause for a moment. We are, after all, American, and we're pretty sure this scene would be taboo in 100 different ways over there. But then, after a few seconds, we remember we live in France: we shrug, remark "That'll stretch 'em out," and walk away, non-plussed.

Dec 12, 2014

Spice of Life: Brebis au Piment d'Espelette


It's Faujita night at our house. That's not a typo: it's Faux-jitas. Fajitas, made in a Parisian kitchen with Parisian ingredients, that is. Not to toot my own horn, but I do a bang-up job, and it's one of our family's single favorite home-made meals. Especially here in France, where we are starved for spice.

Dec 10, 2014

Anticipation is Making Me Wait: Baratte de Chèvre


For the past month, it's been difficult to have friends come visit, because our doorbell has been broken. I contact the landlord immediately, who contacts the building manager immediately. Then it goes all French-style on us. The building manager gets back to us about 2 weeks later, with an appointment for the following week. The repairman comes at 8am, looks at it for 20 minutes, and tells us "It's broken," which we already knew.

He orders a new doorbell-intercom phone which takes about 2 more weeks to arrive, and the installation goes smoothly. A mere 6 or so weeks from start to finish, we have a functioning doorbell. If this is the most boring photo I've ever published on A Year in Fromage, that's because it's the most boring thing in the world to wait, and wait, and wait for something that you know would take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours in the United States.

"Patientez, s'il vous plaît" is a phrase you hear and see constantly in France. It's the screen saver for all electronic transactions, and what you're supposed to do when the metro is stuck in the middle of a tunnel. It doesn't just mean, "Wait, please." That would be "Attendez, s'il vous plaît." Rather, it means "Wait patiently, please." And so we do, whether we want to or not.

There is an upside to French patience, when it comes to the careful aging of wine and cheese: You need to wait till just the right moment. But for other aspects of life...not so much. When I sign up for an online membership number, I am immediately given a response that my request has been successfully generated. And that the membership number will be mailed to me, in approximately 6-8 weeks. Excuse me, but aren't I sitting at a functioning computer, and don't they know that by the fact that I've just signed up online? You learn to just wait patiently. You simply cannot fight it.

One of the reasons we happily pay our utilities in a lump sum to our landlords, whose names stay on the bills, is that we know it can takes many months to establish a landline and internet connection. And forget about a driver's license, which is at least a half year process.

As you know, I have to wait around  four months for a mastectomy I kind of need and very much want, and we'd have to wait four months for a tubal ligation or vasectomy if we actually wanted one. Four months, it turns out, is the waiting period for legal "self-mutilation", which requires you be a patient of psychological counseling while you're waiting, patiently of course.

I just learned (as part of random dinner party chit-chat, not out of any personal research, mind you...) that to get divorced in France, you must wait 9 months, not coincidentally the length of an average pregnancy. Assuming that the impending arrival of a baby might change either the wife's or husband's opinion on the marriage or divorce, this allows time to make sure the wife is not pregnant. (Yes, of course with modern medicine, that number could be lower. But it's not.) I assume that's true even for post-menopausal and sterile couples, as well as -- now that it's legal -- marriages between two men, in which, presumably, neither of them would be pregnant.

But don't let's let logic get in the way of bureaucracy. Wait on!

THE CHEESE: Baratte de Chèvre

The tiny bell-shaped Baratte de Chèvre is made from raw goat's milk. It's about the size of a cherry, and even comes on its very own little stick -- a dried grape-vine twig. Mostly, that's because it's so tiny, they move it without the stick and also because it's an apéritif-sized cheese. It's made in Burgundy and, to be more specific, the Mâconnais region; hence it's somewhat related in taste and texture to the goat cheese that is actually called Mâconnais.

It can be eaten young and fresh, or you can wait patiently till it's more aged, at which point it develops both a stronger taste and a deepening blue-gray mold. It's a firm, creamy bite of a cheese, and though the size it tiny, it has a big nutty, salty, and goaty flavor.


I choose Baratte de Chèvre because it's in the shape of a bell, which reminds me of the time it takes to fix our doorbell ring. [Random aside: as I type the words "doorbell ring", the doorbell actually rings. Which feels like the kind of thing that would only happen in a very bad sitcom.] Of course, the upside to having to wait, patiently or not, is that, having waited over a month for the doorbell, the fact that it functions now feels ten times as sweet.


Dec 8, 2014

Above and Below: T'chiot Biloute


The one thing I do in French that drives my girls crazy, and embarrasses them too, is occasionally say "oo" when I should say "u" and vice versa. Most of the time, it's easy enough to figure out my meaning by context, even if I say the wrong sound: "Ile Saint Lui" is obviously "Ile Saint Louis" and "tout" ("all") and "tu" ("you") or "vous" ("you") and "vu" ("seen") are different parts of speech. But nowhere does it make more of a difference than when saying "dessus" ("over") and "dessous" ("under").


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