Jun 30, 2014

Spectacle Debacle, Part III: La Feuille du Limousin


It is nearing the end of the school year (July 4th for French primary schools), and that can only mean one thing: a seemingly endless string of performances for which we are ill-prepared. Of course, I love every second of the half dozen 3-hour shows in which my children appear for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds, which I see from behind a wall of other people's view screens.

Spectacle Debacle Part I: Our first spring, the hip-hop teacher regularly fails to notify us about the end of year show until, well, the end of the year. I am too late for tickets and end up having to sneak in to the dress rehearsal. I'm so grateful for the free, outdoor performances that are unexpectedly tacked on to the schedule at the last minute.

The girls' Tahitian dance end-of-year show is uncharacteristically extremely well organized. They inform us of the June 23 date months ahead of time, with multiple written reminders and links to buy tickets. Unfortunately, they forget to confirm the rental of the theater with the theater itself, and we are informed at the last moment that the show has been canceled. Here is a Tahitian dance practice video (but remember, this is from two years ago, so Pippa looks particularly young). I can hardly stand the cutie-patootie level of the hip-shaking. You will notice that Gigi spends the entire video gabbing with her neighbor. Classic.

You might assume this lackadaisical approach to scheduling is because it's hip-hop or Tahitian dancing, two cultures not exactly known for their Swiss-like precision. But the girls also rehearse all year in French after-school theater classes for a show whose date is announced only at the beginning of June, when we all believed the show was supposed to be in early June. As we have scheduled a vacation around the supposed Tahitian show date, we end up being out of town during the French show for which the girls have practiced all year; Pippa cries.

Spectacle Debacle Part II: Despite all vows to make the end-of-year here better the second time around, Gigi realizes she needs to provide costumes for herself and two friends for their performance the next day, for which they've rehearsed for three months. You would be amazed at how difficult/impossible it is to find plain white T-shirts for kids in Paris, once it is "officially" tank top season. We are told "all the children who need them for end-of-year costumes have bought them out." Yes. Those would be the families who did not wait till the last second. Thanks for rubbing that in.

At the school performance, Anthony gets an extra special show when the mother sitting right in front of him holds up her smartphone in camera mode to take pictures, but accidentally clicks on an album of naked photos of her crotch. After the unwanted groinal exposure (in a Catholic school no less), he goes on to enjoy Gigi and her classmates in a West Side Story medley, my particular favorite being "I Want to Live in  America" sung in real French accents with fake Puerto Rican accents.


And, if you've ever had the thought while watching the Jets fight the Sharks that a bunch of theater boys dancing and singing is not the most terrifying of gang conflicts, you should see the entire thing staged by a bunch of fifth graders, including four in glasses, one on crutches, and one in a wheelchair.

At kermesse -- the end of year school carnival, I do face painting for the kids, interspersed with watching the girls' class performances, and then we all literally run from the school over to their gymnastics gala, sweating and shouting. Pippa barely gets to eat and is both hungry and stressed out that she will miss her team's time slot. Pippa cries. We get there in time, and her group does a tango number which uses plastic roses I searched for in a panic days earlier and finally found at a local funeral home.

We feel like we've learned our lesson from Spectacle Debacle (why doesn't that rhyme?) Parts I and II in years past. However...

Spectacle Debacle Part III: This year, we buy tickets to see Gigi's show at the Théâtre du Châtelet well in advance. A week before the show opens, we are told that they have exchanged the children's groups in the cast, so that Cast A (performing half of the shows) will now be Cast B (performing the other half) and vice versa. We must exchange our tickets at the last minute.

On Saturday, Gigi has her last performance of The King & I. She is devastated it's over; Gigi cries. Pippa is in five shows, spanning three hours, at her school. Even I am in a show here, as part of a parent's choir. Besides singing, I am also supposed to be helping with face painting, but I manage to catch the most important four of Pippa's five performances. In one of them, the choir director accidentally skips over the song in which Pippa has her solo. Pippa cries.

On the other hand, we barely need to break into a jog to make it to the gymnastics gala this year, at which Pippa absolutely rocks her team's Charleston routine (which is about 6 minutes long, but if you really like gymnastics and/or want to see what Pippa can do, you can check it out below). And, we are treated to a demonstration by the Brazilian team who will be practicing at this gym for the upcoming Acrobatic Gymnastics World Championships.


Despite any lessons learns in rounds I and II and III, we can rest assured that there is bound to be conflict, running, sweating, and panicking next year for Spectacle Debacle IV. And that at least one of our daughters will cry.

THE CHEESE: La Feuille du Limousin

La Feuille du Limousin, "The Leaf from Limousin", is a reference to the symbol of the Limousin region, a land known for chestnut trees. Both the cheese and the French chestnut leaf upon which it is modeled are teardrop-shaped.

Whether it's a leaf or a teardrop, it's a cute shape, a pleasant reference, a poetic name, and a delicious cheese. And with the mold, it is as least a little green. When aged, as with this example, it's a firm goat's cheese that crumbles yet is creamy in the mouth. It has a tang to it but is only medium-strength in the power of the goat flavor.

It's a relatively recent cheese, made only since the 1990s, with raw goat's milk in a region not historically known for goats. This lactic cheese evolved through trial and error, until the cheesemakers of the area came upon a winning formula and decided, very methodically and purposefully, to give it both a form and name that would be memorably linked to the area. The cheese can be sold and eaten very young, demi-sec (half-dry), and more fully aged. It's currently made by a dozen farmhouse producers who, as of 2003, had 850 goats among them, providing 460,000 liters of milk, ending up with 98,000 cheeses.

Once the several day manufacture process is complete, the cheese is aged from eight to twenty days (not 1-3 weeks, mind you, but precisely 8-20).


Technically, the connection is a leaf. As in: every year, I tell myself I will turn over a new leaf and be really calm, really organized, and really prepared for the end-of-year show season, only to realize that much of it is beyond my control, and that I am neither calm, organized, nor prepared.

Practically, however, the connection is teardrop-shaped. As in: every year, one (or both) of our children end up in tears, and Anthony and I practically do, too, as we try to run around and make it through three weeks of grueling and unpredictable performance scheduling, including a half dozen shows in three locations for three different family members on one single day.

Jun 29, 2014

Pride and Joy: Tomme Corse


With the Gay Pride parade marching right by my island and coming on the heels (often very high heels) of the legalization of gay marriage here in France, other countries, and various American states over the past couple years, I simply cannot resist bringing you Paris Pride.

Jun 28, 2014

Flower Power: Tommette de Provence aux Baies (et aux Fleurs)


Traveling at the beginning of summer, we are treated to the full glory of two of the most iconic flowers of Provence: lavender and sunflowers. It's so breathtaking, it's almost dangerous; driving along the road, one or another of us is apt to scream "STOP!" for a photo op.

The Abbaye de Sénanque is probably the most famous destination for seeing the lavender fields, since you also have the benefit of the background of the beautiful 12th century abbey.

The inside is almost as picturesque as the outside. Almost. In any other season, it might even be lovelier.

But if there's one thing that just takes your breath away here in Provence, it's the fields of sunflowers. When you see a big field like this gleaming in the sun, you really must pull over and celebrate the moment. My friend Trina knows how to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Each and every field of gleaming, golden flowers makes us feel as if we are in a Van Gogh painting.

At one roadside photo op, Trina's husband James goes and makes a joke about me cavorting topless among the sunflowers. And, well, perhaps you know how much I love to titillate (pardon the pun) and how little I care about modesty. So I actually do it. Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist. James graciously returns to the car and Trina's the one who takes the photo, even though, frankly, we're all such old and good friends, I can't imagine any of us would really have cared. Nice sunflowers, eh?

Besides the iconic lavender and sunflowers, we're treated to poppies, rhododendron, and a host of other flowers I can't name.


The neighboring Abbaye de Silvacane is less interesting inside and out than the rather more purple Abbaye de Sénanque. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its charming flower power to add, with the lovely water lilies.


The Tommette de Provence is not so much a cheese as a blank canvas for all of Provence's herbs and flowers. It is generally sold as a Tommette de Provence aux Baies (bay leaves and berries), but it can just as easily (and more colorfully) be topped with edible flowers and flower petals, especially lavendar. Or, for more zing, herbes de Provences, shallots, or peppercorn. It is a fresh cheese and is made, sold, and eaten rapidly (within a week or two, at the most). If you buy the petal covered cheeses, make sure you eat them just as rapidly: Picked flower petals don't age as well as cheese.

The cheese originated in the Alpes Côte d'Azur area of Provence, and has a summery lightness about it, both in texture and flavor. It's fluffy and fresh, almost like a mousse. And the taste is simple, creamy, a little lemony, and only mildly goaty. But of course, with the herbs on it, the flavor is much, much more intense.

This it not just a smaller version of a Tomme de Provence. Unlike that cheese, Tommette de Provence  has no crust and is not aged. The texture is very different, like the contrast between butter and a light, creamy mousse. Okay, it's not that different. But still, it's not the same cheese on paper, nor is it the same by sight or taste.


I see and taste these gorgeous cheeses at one of the many Provence markets we stumble upon. Not only have I never seen a tray of cheeses so floral and gorgeous, I've never even imagined it. It's like the breathtaking, beautiful fields: I just have to scream "STOP!" and take a minute to smell (and taste, and photograph) the flowers. And with that, I say au revoir to Provenceneyland™: land of lavender, sunflowers, flower-covered markets, flower-covered old villages, flower-covered fields, and even flower-covered cheese.

Jun 27, 2014

Water to the People: Tomme Provence Ancienne


Two thousand years ago, while gladiators were battling it out in the arena, the Romans also built this amazing aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. The engineering is impressive for any era: It is the highest of all existing Roman aqueducts. The bridge was built to bring water to the people, but two millennia later, it's bringing people to the water.

Besides boatloads of kayakers -- both literally and figuratively -- there are also swimmers and cliff-jumpers. It's hard to beat this as a backdrop for a place to cool off in a heat wave. I wonder what the Romans would think of it all?


The engineering is just as awe-inspiring as the view: It drops 2.5cm, or just under one inch, over the span of the bridge, and just 17m (56ft) over the entire span from neighboring village Uzès to its ultimate goal in Nîmes about 50km (31 miles) away.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Provence Ancienne

Though it looks somewhat like a naked Tommette de Provence..... and is clearly a related cheese in terms of size, shape, production method, and terroir, there are some subtle -- and not so subtle -- differences. A Tommette de Provence is a fresh cheese, almost the texture of a pressed cottage-cheese patty. Whereas Tomme Provence Ancienne is an aged cheese (albeit briefly, 10-21 days) that develops a crust (albeit thin) and a more pronounced and complex flavor.

This raw goat's milk cheese has been made by traditional methods since, literally, time immemorial.  It is considered the original cheese of the region. Traces of this sort of cheese have been attributed by archeologists to the Neolithic period, as far back as 5000 B.C.

To say it's creamy seems, well, like an understatement. It's oozy, wet, and you can practically pour it on your bread. Frankly, it needs the crust just to hold it together. It's got a lovely tang and a pronounced salty, buttery flavor. It's the kind of cheese that will have you licking your fingers (and the paper wrapper) to get every last drop.


At 2000 years old, the Pont du Gard in Provence is about as ancient as it gets. The Tomme Provence Ancienne is not only the perfect name for a cheese to go with this story, it's quite likely the Romans were eating something very like this cheese when they built the Pont du Gard and, that, possibly, the cheese was already an ancient one even then.

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