Sep 30, 2014

A Matter of Fat: Tonneau


All French cheese (and foods, for that matter) have an "M.G." notice on the label. That is not the mg (milligram) marker, but rather "Matières  Grasses" ("Fat Matter", literally). Many of the delicious cheese I love are, obviously, very high in fat. Most aged or pressed cheeses are around a quarter to just under a half (25%-45%) fat by weight. Just look on the label for the "M.G." indicator, sometimes also written "M,G" or (incorrectly and confusingly) "mg" or "Taux de M.G." which means "rate of M.G."

Sep 29, 2014

It's Normal: Meule Excellence Fruitée


"C'est normal." You'll hear this phrase constantly -- constantly! -- in circumstances that don't seem, well, "normal" at all. That's because despite what it looks like, "C'est normal" does not mean "That's normal." It means "That's as it should be" which is a very different thing indeed.

Sep 28, 2014

Minnie & Mustang, A Love Story: Mourachou


Older SW&GB (Single White & Gray Female Dog) ISO SMD of any color, race, or breed, in Maine or France. Open to serious relationships, only. Contact Minnie from Maine.

Bonjour, Minnie from Maine. I am an older SW&BrMD who looks now for amour. I was struck when I see your photo -- not by a car that comes around the corner, but by your intense beauty. Is it that you will tell me more about the lovely Mademoiselle Minnie? I am called Mustang.

Dear Mustang,
I like taking long walks on the beach, especially the rocky coast of my hometown in Maine, where I leave my mark every 50 feet or so. I spend my summers here, where I enjoy both land and water. Like so many Mainers, I love the outdoors, especially with the wind in my face. Sometimes I enjoy just looking out over the ocean and thinking.


I have had no luck with males. They have all been real dogs (pardon the pun). Without meaning to be rude, you sound as if perhaps English is not your native tongue. Are you from France? Do you still live there? I spend my summers in Maine but often much of the rest of the year in Paris, which is why I am open to meeting somebody from either place.
I look forward to hearing from you,

Dear Minnie,
You have been correct. I am French. But not a French bulldog! Sacré bleu! No, and not a French poodle, who is all the time with the balls of cotton at the tail's end.

I indeed live in Paris, and I too like to taking the long walks. The most beautiful route for my promenade is on a bridge over the Seine river, and around the small islands, Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cité, in the middle of Paris. My work -- and my passion -- is in a boutique of antiques. We sell to the people paintings and earrings and many old treasures. But what sort of males could be such bad dogs to such an adorable, mini Minnie?
I send you salutations from Paris,

Dear Mustang,
Honestly, where to begin? Here is just a partial list of some of the dogs I've dealt with. There was Jean-Claude Van Bark: he too loved old painting, but mostly he was a sly old dog, and what he really loved was forging old paintings and selling them illegally.

Blaze was dapper, but he was a rake, a cad, a bounder. He especially liked bounding after tennis balls.

Montblanc was a Mama's boy. Sometimes I felt like he couldn't even stand on his own four feet.

Fanfare and Charlemagne were fine, fine specimens. Yet in the end, both were too haughty, too proud.
There was Rodolfo, who I thought was a nice compromise between high-class and down-to-earth, sometimes down-in-the-earth. Then I found out he was already married at the time he was seeing me. That dirty dog. And in his case, I mean it literally, as well as figuratively.


And let's not forget Hubert Thomas James Wilson Landon-Wittenhouse III, who was -- how shall I put this? -- simply a no, good, lazy, slimy slug.

I am afraid this list of dud relationships makes me look like high maintenance, but I'll eat just about anything from my bowl, and only need to be walked the usual two or three times per day. Perhaps I have just been unlucky. I am, genuinely, sweet natured and loving and perhaps just too trusting. So please, rather than break my little heart, just tell me if you're toying with me like a frisbee. I'd rather walk away now with my tail held high.
Hoping you're different,

Dearest Minnie,
I cannot say to you "my bark is worse than my bite", as you say in English, because, my dear Minnie, I do not bark. Or bite. Except for to chewing my food, bien sur. I howled to read of these bad dogs. Bad, bad dogs. I am a good boy, a very good boy, and I know this objectively because so many times each day I hear this when people say to me. I will only treat you with tenderness. I promise to you, a French dog knows a thing or two about love.
I lick your paw,

Dearest Mustang,
Can it be true? I feel it is too much to hope. I must ask, can you send me a photo of yourself? And when can we meet?

Dear heart Minnie, mon petit chou,
Of course. Here is several photographs. One  you will see me with the award I win for best antiques entrepreneur in Paris two years ago for my boutique on Ile St. Louis. The other pictures I take for you now in the hope that you will find me as handsome as I find you so beautiful. Please come to Paris as soon as possible, and find here where I await for you in my store.
Your loving Mustang


THE CHEESE: Mourachou

Mourachou (sometimes mis-spelled as Mourachu) is raw goats' milk cheese from Burgundy. The one I buy and taste is more specifically a farmhouse cheese from the Rizet Farm. It can come aged, like the one pictured, or very, very fresh -- soft white and mild. But where's the fun in that? I prefer the tang, power, and texture of the aged version -- several months.

The bumpy, mottled crust is a three-dimensional, slightly furry mix of grays, blacks, whites, and reddish-browns. Yes, it's edible, and yes I actually "ed" it. It's delicious. I love the toothy bite as it mixes in with the creamy white interior. The cheese is indeed creamy, but in a way that's very thick and firm. The taste is a perfect balance of nuttiness, salt, sweet, and floral notes. Mourachou is a sophisticated country cheese.


Oh, mon petit chou, my little darling, my love, my honeybunch, my snookums! Not only is there a "chou" in the name of the cheese, but the cheese also starts with an M, like Minnie & Mustang. Like these two gorgeous Shih Tzus, the Mourachou is a mottled gray, white, and brown and is easy to love.


Sep 27, 2014

The Art of the Shath: Le Brebiou


You know you're really French when you have fully mastered the art of the shath -- the inexplicably difficult squatting shower. It turns out, I am not really French.

Sep 26, 2014

Room With a View: Pavé de Larzac


As if living in Paris isn't inspiration enough, one of the things that really gets my creative juices flowing is the view out my apartment window. It's unusual in that we look out over the Seine, a bridge over the Seine, street performers, the tips of the Notre Dame towers and spire, and garden space, along with some classic Parisian architecture. It's a view that's golden, in this case quite literally.

Sep 25, 2014

Paris-flavored: Petit Bée


I live a very secular life and generally forget about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, then realize only after the fact that I was coincidentally eating honey and/or apples just at the right time. In my DNA, perhaps? Or just in my kitchen, and a reflection of seasonal abundance?

One Jewish New Year, which happens to fall over Patrimoine weekend, Anthony is out of town on a business trip (coincidentally, in China, so that the one completely non-Jewish member of my family is doing the most Jewish thing of all: spending a Jewish holiday eating Chinese food). While he's gone, the girls and I find ourselves at the13th century College des Bernardins, for a special visit by an apiculturist -- beekeeper, that is.


He offers tastings of about half a dozen kinds of honey. In a shocking turn of events, Pippa declares them all too sweet, and asks for a cheese snack. Gigi's favorite is the chestnut honey, which is dark and intense. My favorite is the honey made by the bees from the College des Bernardins' own ruche (bee-hive). Since the nectar is collected from whatever flowers can be found in the city, I guess you'd call it officially Paris-flavored. In any event, the beekeeper and I discuss it rapturously, because it has a fruity, acidic tang to it that cuts the pure sweetness. Too bad the bees can't make enough for them to sell it, because I'd buy it in vats.

This is not the only place in Paris where bees make honey. There are over 300 hives around, including on the roofs of the Opéra Garnier and the Grand PalaisThe mairie (town hall) of the 4th arrondissement has over a quarter million bees on it that produce award-winning "Miel de Paris" ("Paris Honey").

But almost certainly the most famous are the beehives at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Every year, they sell their honey at the fête du miel (honey festival) during Open Garden weekend, which is the last weekend in September. I would love to tell you how it tastes, but I've never gotten there early enough in the morning to get a jar. I always end up with the honeys that are sort-of-local but not actually from the Jardin. I'm all in favor of the honey, but as somebody who once almost died from an attack by a swarm of wasps, this is not my favorite part of the park.

Among the many interesting factoids about what goes into just one of these small jars of Parisian honey:

-about 7,000 bee hours
-enough distance flown that if you added it together, it would circle the Earth's equator
-accidental pollination of several million flowers (bees pollinate about 80% of the world's flora, including fruits and vegetables!)
-less pollution (from Paris' air) than when bees fly over farmland (from pesticides)

One year on Rosh Hashanah, I am preparing an after-school snack for Gigi and a friend when I realize I've got all the makings for a thematic treat. I break out two kinds of honey and three kinds of apples to mix-and-match. The interesting coincidence, too, is that Gigi's friend is half-Moroccan, and her mother and I had just been talking about how amazing Morocco was in World War II to not have lost or deported even one single Jew (the King's famous quote when asked by occupied France to denounce the country's Jews: "We don't have any Jews; we have only Moroccans.") It may be one of the best examples ever of Jews and Muslims living together harmoniously.

So, we are very happy to share this treat with our Moroccan friend and to wish you all -- whether it's your New Year's or not -- as they write in French, Chana Tovah (a Happy New Year)!
Petit Bée is a raw sheeps' milk cheese from Tarn, in southern France. But to be more specific, it's from the department of the Midi-Pyrénées, named after the river that cuts through it. And to be more specific still, it comes from the farm of Chantal et Dragan Teotski. The farm is called La Ginestarié, which explains the connection between this cheese and its near-cousin called Ginestarié. Both are bricks of creamy, lumpy, delicious brebis, sheep cheese.

The cheese is creamy, but firm, with a thin, delicate crust. It's got a mildly earthy flavor, with hints of nuts and herbs and a nice balance of salty and milky. The word "bée", by the way, means "speechless" or "widely open/agape", and usually follows the word "bouche" ("mouth"), as in, "The approaching swarm of wasps was so huge, she stood there with her jaw hanging."

Sure, you know and I know that the word "bée" does not mean "bee" (which would be "abeille"). But I can't resist the cross-language faux-ami. Plus, it happens to be a delicious cheese drizzled with honey.

Sep 24, 2014

Though the Snip is a Snap: Dôme d'Antoine


The French have one of the highest birth rates in Europe, partly because of the subsidies in place to encourage families to expand. But that's not the only reason. The French have such a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of vasectomies -- which have only been legal in France since 2001 -- that they generally won't even consider neutering their male dogs. And no, I'm not exaggerating or joking.

Sep 23, 2014

Fabulous Foot Fungus: Pierre Qui Vire Affiné


My favorite color is orange. Maybe because it's my university color. Or maybe because I'm a sucker for mangoes, cantaloupes, oranges, sweet potatoes, papayas, and pumpkins -- pretty much all orange produce. But though I love cheese, and I love orange, I would have to put orange cheeses at the bottom of my list. Even scientists recognize a similarity in bacteria and odor between orange-rind cheeses and "toe-cheese" -- the dirty, reeking sweat between unwashed toes.

Sep 22, 2014

Déjà-tu: U Capraltu


One of the first things any student of French learns is that there are two ways to say "you" -- "tu" and "vous". "Vous" is the "you" used both for plural and also for a more formal "you" -- the "you" who is older, higher in status, or less familiar. So you'll understand my confusion for the first couple years here, when I hear all the young elementary school children addressing their teachers as "tu".

Sep 21, 2014

Surviving Patrimony: Brie de Meaux


Patrimony: It sounds either like alimony you pay to your father, or getting along harmoniously with your father. In fact, "patrimoine" is a word used frequently in French, and it means "national heritage". "Patrimoine" actually comes from the same root as "patriotic" (and yes, both come from the same root as "father". Think "Fatherland", but not in a horrific World War II German language way). And every year, the 3rd weekend of September, the entire continent of Europe celebrates national heritage with special events, guided visits, and the opening of historical sites often closed to the public.

Sep 20, 2014

Those Wacky French: Fol Epi

In general, French people and Parisians in particular appear to take themselves pretty seriously. But don't fear. Don't fret. And don't do anything that's forbidden on these signs. Or do, but just don't forget to take keep your sense of humor about it. The warnings range from ironic to inexplicable:

Sep 19, 2014

Gourmand vs. Gourmet: Mini-Clac


If, like me, you suffer from Menu Anxiety, where you just can't decide what to order, you will appreciate the French tradition of the Café Gourmand. I love it, and I don't even drink coffee. It is basically everybody's favorite dessert to order, and that's because you get not just one dessert, but many. It's the dessert for people who can't decide which dessert they want.

Sep 18, 2014

Where There's a Will: Tomme du Larzac


If Anthony and I were to die together in a horrible car accident (and in Paris, that sometimes doesn't seem so far-fetched), all you'd need to do would be to check our will to find out will happen with our money, our children, our house. and our belongings -- including the collection of single socks that are perfect for all your dusting needs. In France, that is extremely unusual (and by "that", I don't mean the collection of single socks, I mean the last will and testament).

Sep 17, 2014

Service With a Sneer: Le Pavin

France, and Paris in particular, are fairly famous for bad customer service -- service with a sneer. 
My friend recently moved to Paris for the year, and he tells me that something I said helps him appreciate that, frankly, this simply isn't true: Customer service is not bad here, but it might seem that way to an American, because it operates under a completely different paradigm.

Sep 16, 2014

Show Us Your Stripes: Bleu d'Emeraude


The little Breton town of Dinard, France, on the Emerald Coast of Bretagne looks like a picture postcard of an old-timey beach, with its blue striped tents. I feel like all you'd need to do is add bloomers to make the retro look complete. It's a magical place, and made even more so by this classic nautical motif called Breton stripes.

Sep 15, 2014

Let There Be Light: Fromage de Montagne


I think I might be disinherited if I failed to write about the Lumière brothers, the inventors of cinematography and -- more importantly in my family -- great pioneers in photography. On the coast walk in Dinard is a spot called La Grotte de la Goule aux Fées; it means something like "the Cave of the Ghoul Witches" ("fée" means fairy, also). It's an unassuming spot but a must-see pilgrimage destination for serious photography and movie enthusiasts who just happen to be taking a coastal walk in Bretagne.

Sep 14, 2014

Mainely French: Ty-Pavez


There's a lot about Dinard and the Breton coast that reminds me of our near-annual family trips to visit my sister's family in Maine. And it's not just the cold water. The craggy coast has a lot to do with it. Dotted with tiny offshore rocky outposts, it's the kind of coastline that lends itself more to contemplation, art, and fresh air than to sunbathing and snorkeling.

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