Nice Knockers: Dome Nature
Adventures in cancer treatments, plastic surgery, French architecture, painting, inexplicable French policies, and cheese.
Let Them Eat Cake: Coeur de Marie
Marie Antoinette, a mistake, cuteness overload, and the Treat-y of Versailles
Then, Now, Wow!: Reblochon de Savoie
How much has Paris changed in 100 years? Both less, and more, than you'd expect.
Un-continent: Rodat de Brebis
You may consider me -- or yourself -- North American. But the French would disagree
Feb 28, 2014
Feb 27, 2014
Feb 26, 2014
This is my 100th day of A Year in Fromage, and I would like to honor it by admitting that it is very, very hard for me to count to 100. In French, that is.
For those of you that don't speak French, you should know that the number all make sense until
#69, and after that it all goes to hell.
Feb 25, 2014
Feb 24, 2014
This winter has been a mild one. In Paris, that is. While I can't say I'm jealous of the American snow this winter, I do wish we could have at least one flurry here. The past two winters have been unusual in that Paris has seen several snow falls -- some of which really stuck. I'm glad we appreciated them while they were here.
Feb 23, 2014
It's not Rockefeller Center. I think it's even more atmospheric than that: Check out the ice rink that's put up in the square of Hôtel de Ville (not a hotel, but rather City Hall) just across the bridge from Notre Dame on the Right Bank. What I love is how this square is used in such a joyful, family-friendly, modern way, when it's got such history.
Feb 22, 2014
It's been a mild winter so far, and right now it feels like premature spring. But when the thermometer dips to freezing and below in Paris, you can walk outside at any time and see women (mostly of-a-certain-age) in their fur coats and hats.
Feb 21, 2014
I've always thought honey was, well, honey colored. Silly me. It turns out that there are nearly as many varieties of honey as there are of cheese (perhaps I exaggerate). Here, a deep black Sarrasin, a soft white Fleurs de Garrigues, and a sunny golden Tournesol. They look like night, day, and the sun, and they taste as different from each other as night and day, too.
Feb 20, 2014
Gay marriage passed its last hurdle in France, as the 14th national to legalize, and well ahead of the US. The French Assembly voted in favor of legalizing by a margin of 331-225, after a disruption by a protestor in pink (which is, to the great confusion of all Americans, the color worn by the anti-gay marriage side).
Feb 19, 2014
Feb 18, 2014
Can you serve a cheese course as an appetizer? It depends: How much do you want to horrify your French guests?
Americans serve cheese before the meal as an appetizer or hors d'oeuvres course. Here that is a huge faux pas. It is acceptable well before dinner, along with your aperitif drinks, to have a few small cubes of a cheese that is either hard or self-contained, generally skewered on toothpicks. For a lower-range apéro (as it's nicknamed), you can even put out (gasp! shock! horror!) processed cheese cubes wrapped in foil.
Feb 17, 2014
Forget Edith Piaf, Cole Porter, and Maurice Chevalier. They're great, sure. Classics. But perhaps you want to add something a bit more modern to your French-themed soundtrack.
If you're only going to listen to/watch one, and you like funny, make it the Flight of the Conchords (whose accents are horrible, by the way, but all in the name of good comedy). Here they woo some ladies with the most romantic of the Romance languages in "Foux da Fa Fa":
Feb 16, 2014
Three times a week, the girls and I go 25 minutes door to door by metro to get to gymnastics in the Montparnasse neighborhood. Practice lasts for two or three hours, but a round-trip home isn't worth it, so I warm the benches with my friend Mei. She happens to be American, but believe me when I say that it's not just Americans who are flipping out about their kids' after-school activities. Most of our kids' French friends have similar schedules, making finding time for playdates nearly impossible.
Feb 15, 2014
My most recent article for the Wall Street Journal is about the best artisanal, hand-made candy makers in Europe. And while I can't repeat any information or photos that you'll find in the article, I can send you over there to read it.
As you can imagine, Anthony and the girls had a lot of fun helping me research it:
Meanwhile, I am allowed to share with you some things that didn't make the article; I could write a whole book on just this store and its contents!
The store in Paris, Bonbon au Palais (which means Candy at the Palace), is the prettiest candy store I have ever seen in my life, bar none.
It's located in the historic 5th arrondissement, just across from a park. The owner, Georges, designed everything himself and literally custom-built the interior largely with his own hands. It feels like a classroom from the 1950s -- a classroom where you learn about fine French candy. That's my kind of class!
The candies are all artisanal specialties -- each is the finest signature candy of a small, regional candy maker. These, for example, are candied hot peppers from the Vaucluse in southern France. Yes, they are real hot peppers, but as they are carefully de-veined and de-seeded before being intensely candied, they are sweet and not spicy.
Or these, clémentines confites (candied whole clementines) from Bouches-du-Rhône, the Marseilles area in southern France.
THE CHEESE: Petit Valentin
This tiny, hard cheese is made from raw goat's milk by Madame Valentin from a farm called "Grande Terre" in Poitou-Charente on the French Atlantic coast. It's sold very hard and the farmer recommends we eat it with fig or pear jam. This to me is just an invitation to put nearly any sweet accompaniment on it, including honey, pâte de coing (quince gel), dried fruit, or jams.
This Petit Valentin is very firm, especially because I buy one that's fairly aged. And this turns out to be a good thing. Like any good Valentine, it's got a little spicy kick to it -- one that comes from the aging process and the intensified natural pepper flavors in the milk. Absolutely delicious, and for those who like a bite with some oomph.
Sure, yesterday was actually Valentine's Day. But this is close enough, and I don't want to be predictable. But the connection? Artisanal cheese, artisanal candies. The Petit Valentin even looks like a guimauve, and it's about the same size: Just another, fabulous bite-sized French treat!
Feb 14, 2014
Feb 13, 2014
One morning last May, I need to cross in front of the Jardin des Plantes where one last-gasp anti-gay marriage march is grouping. Pippa spots a trove of rainbow flags and, assuming it's a counter-protest booth, we ask if we can have one. "Gladly!" Well, then I unfurl the flag and discover that they have actually spray-painted their anti-gay marriage symbol (heterosexual family holding hands) across the rainbow.
Feb 12, 2014
Last year, when President Hollande announced that France would move forward with legalizing same-sex marriage, we learned about an anti-gay marriage protest in which a few of Gigi's good friends would march with their families. I get a bee in my bonnet, and the girls and I create placards and decide we will protest the protest.
Feb 11, 2014
Feb 10, 2014
In preparation for Valentine's Day, I thought you might need some terms of endearment to call your honey, lovebug, or sweetie-pie something with a French twist.
I don't want to give you the same old list, including many I don't hear in use. So, these are the ones I actually hear, on a day-to-day basis, especially from parents talking to their children. Let's face it, I'm at school drop-off/pick-up where people greet their kids far more than I'm at some seductively-lit hip restaurant/bar overhearing lovers murmuring sweet nothings.
Feb 9, 2014
Anthony can't make it through the year without skiing in the Alps at least once. The first year, he went for a long weekend to Tignes, which is attached to Val d'Isere in the French Alps, chosen because of the high altitude for spring skiing: base elevations 2100m (6890ft), and 1850m (6070ft) respectively. The second year, he went to Les Arcs with work friends, as well as Gressoney (Italy) with college friends and Zermatt (Switzerland) with the girls and me. He's currently at Les Karellis (France) with his work friends -- where it's predicted he'll get from 10-25cm of fresh powder for the first four days -- and later this month will join us in a family week at Villars-sur-Ollon (Switzerland).
Feb 8, 2014
Gigi informs me that there are six continents on this planet. She swears this is what she learned in geography class. "What?!," I say. "Don't the French consider Antarctica a continent?"
I tell my French friends Béatrice and H-O that in the US, we learn that there are seven continents. "Comment?!," they say. "Do the Americans consider the Arctic a continent?"
It turns out the French consider the Americas to be one continent. I find this shocking, but no less shocking than Béatrice and H-O find it that we consider North America and South America to be separate continents. They correctly point out that the Americas are connected by the isthmus of Central America -- an argument I rebut by pointing out that Europe and Asia are one enormous landmass arbitrarily divided at the Ural Mountains.
Their rebuttal of my rebuttal -- one that is very à propos at the moment -- is that the Olympic symbol is five rings representing all five of the inhabited continents: Africa, Europe, Australia/Oceania, Asia, and the Americas. However, my rebuttal to their rebuttal of my rebuttal is that the Olympic symbol was conceived by....a Frenchman. Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the father of the modern Olympic movement and designed the symbol based on what he had learned at school.
English-language map of the world:
French-language map of the world:
The three things we all agree on: the Antarctic is a continent, the Arctic is not, and we don't want to live in either one of them.
A Rodat de Brebis -- also spelled Roda de Brebis (at the same store, even) -- is as the name suggests, a sheep cheese. It's made from unpasteurized milk and is soft -- very soft. Creamy to the point of oozy, in fact. I think the picture of the interior of this cheese is worth a thousand words. Unlike the ashed, blackened, moldy donut cheeses, this cheese has a fine, white-bloom, moldy crust. It's flavor is similarly lighter -- hints of sheep, of course, but not strongly gamey or savory.
Rodat de Brebis is very difficult to find in the stores and virtually impossible to find online or in print. It hails from Tarn, a southern department near Toulouse, and is a farmhouse cheese made in just one place: at the Teoski farm.
This cheese looks like an Olympic ring.
I think to myself that If I had more people to feed, or more money to spend on cheese, I would buy five of them and stage a photo of the Olympic rings. But luckily I go back another day, and the store display does it for me, completely by accident. Here you go: the five populated continents from the French perspective, represented by cheese rings.
Feb 7, 2014
I wish that everybody who says how much healthier the French diet is could see what they eat for the most important meal of the day.
When Gigi was eight and we had just moved to Paris, her teacher once asked in class what all the children eat for breakfast. Only Gigi raised her hand to say "croissants." The teacher found it funny that only the American child eats the traditional, stereotypical French breakfast.
Feb 6, 2014
As I've said, there are twenty arrondissements of Paris. Today, our hosts Christine & Loïc take us to three lovely coastal Normandy towns: Honfleur, Trouville and Deauville, the last of which is jokingly referred to as "the 21st arrondissment" of Paris because so many Parisians weekend and summer here.
Because it is almost Paris, I don't feel too badly when I buy a souvenir here of...an Eiffel Tower. It is exactly the Eiffel Tower I've been looking for, just the right size and made with thin enough wires and large enough holes that it will make the perfect earring holder. I don't know why, but even before we moved here, I knew I was destined to get my earrings out of a jammed jewelry box and onto an Eiffel Tower. While it's certainly easy to find an Eiffel Tower souvenir in vrai Paris, it's been surprisingly hard to find one I like, so instead this will be my souvenir from Deauville.
Deauville has been put on the world map by the American Film Festival held here each year since 1975. Once the festival started giving out awards in 1995, it became even more prestigious. Because of this, the changing rooms on the boardwalk are marked by railings with the names of movie stars on them. To me, this is a lot like the Hollywood Walk of Fame hand-prints outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in L.A. but, frankly, a lot more picturesque.
We are compelled to take the above picture of Gigi because when she was a little baby, our Chinese neighbor George, who speaks minimal English and with a very thick accent, stopped me several times to lavish praise on the baby. Each one of the compliments was funnier than the last:
1) "Your baby so beautiful. Much prettier than you."
2) "The baby so beautiful -- even whiter than white man."
3) And once, he said, "The eyes so beautiful. Like a little potato."
I thought it must be some pun on how potatoes have eyes. But I didn't get how it was a compliment. "A little potato?," I asked.
"A little potato! A little potato!" He could see from the look on my face that I was still bewildered. "The famous actress...A little potato!"
At this, the lightbulb went on. "Oh, Elizabeth Taylor!"
"Yes, yes," he said, clearly exasperated by my thick-headedness. "A little potato!"
And so, this photo's for George.
THE CHEESE: Deauville
Deauville is a raw cow's milk cheese made in and around -- where else? -- Deauville, Normandie. The cheese is created and made by Monsieur Lechevalier. It's in the same family (and same region) as the much more famous and common Pont-l'Evêque. Deauville is a creamy, salty soft cheese with a washed rind, about 6" or 15cm in diameter.
Deauville cheese is made by just a few cheesemakers, so it's hard to find. When you do, expect a cheese with a hefty gym sock stink to it. Despite the knock-your-gym-socks-off aroma, the taste is not considered super strong. That's the official line, at least, but I think it packs a wallop. The texture is not just creamy but actually silky. It's got a salty, nutty aftertaste that suggests anchovy (and, yes, I know this will not be a popular description) and will stick with you for hours. I wouldn't plan on kissing somebody immediately after, unless they've also been eating Deauville.
Deauville, of course.