Dec 30, 2014

A Season, a Reason, Acheesin': Tomme des Aravis


'Tis the season. For certain cheeses, that is. This is the time to cozy up to a nice hard mountain cheese, cow or even sheep. Maybe you'll melt it -- raclette-style. Maybe you'll just eat it plain. Just like fruits and vegetables, cheeses have seasons when they're particularly pleasing. And there's a reason.

Dec 28, 2014

Irregular Programming: La Pétole


There are some things you assume are universal: death, taxes, and TV programs that start on the hour or half hour, with frequent, annoying commercial breaks. Then you come live in France and find out that you still have to pay taxes and, eventually, die, but that you will never figure out the French TV scheduling, because it looks nothing like in the US.

Dec 26, 2014

Regime Change: Crémeux de Carayac


Gigi and Pippa, who are in 7th and 5th grade (5ème and CM2), no longer make comments about being "too fat", which they used to, occasionally, when we lived in the States. It's not because they used to be overweight and now are not; if anything, the point at which people are considered overweight is generally lower here. It's probably more related to the fact that virtually none of the kids they see need to worry about their weight. And neither do their parents, frankly. So nobody's obsessing, or even talking, about it.

Dec 24, 2014

Caroling Down for the Count: Lingot de Chevre Cendré


I'm asked to join the choir for Christmas mass at St. Severin church, one of the handful of 800+ year old majestic churches in our neighborhood, and I sing gloriously about Jesus's birth right until the part where I walk off in the middle of the song because I am about to faint. Perhaps it's the 700 candles that are lit, or the huge rush of air going through my head as we try to fill the cavernous space with sound. Or, perhaps it's the ghost of my Jewish grandparents turning in their graves.

I feel so damsel in the 13th century as I'm about to swoon and crack my head on the marble floor. But I'm not even wearing a corset. I'm well rested, well fed, healthy as a horse, and haven't been dipping into the Christmas wine or spiked eggnog. Even with the 700 candles (a number I am making up by the way. But there are a lot...), I'm not too hot. Nor am I too cold, bundled in my scarf and turtleneck. The combination of French, Italian, and German songs might make my tongue tie a little, but generally shouldn't be responsible for the spinning head. Pippa, who is in the choir with me, does just fine, thank you.


So what could it be? I know it's not my imagination. I've fainted two times in my life and have come close a few others: I have very low blood pressure. But always before this, there was an identifiable reason, such as a medical procedure (once I fainted in the doctor's office, getting a shot). I'm not even nervous: I love performing and being up in front of people, so this makes absolutely no sense at all.

It's dramatic, and embarrassing when I walk off the stage in the middle of a song. But I know, without any doubt, that if I stand there one second longer, I will pass out. I've got the clammy sweats, and my head feels like a helium balloon.

This is the same church where my hair lit on fire during the post-Nativity scene candlelight parade a few years ago, and I'm beginning to think that either it's something about this church, specifically, or God just has an issue with me doing Christmassy stuff. Or....looking at the bright side of things, God just wants to help provide me with good Christmas-time material for my cheese blog.


THE CHEESE: Lingot de Chevre Cendré

A "lingot" is an ingot, or a bar, so it makes absolutely no sense at all that this triangular cheese is called a Lingot de Chevre Cendré. Did farmers making it get too tired to create a fourth side? Did they run out of rectangular molds? Do they not know what the word "lingot" means? For whatever reason, it's a triangle, lightly ashed, and no matter how many sides it has or should have, it's beautiful.

The Lingot de Chevre Cendré is a raw goats' milk cheese from Poitou-Charentes. As is befitting a goat cheese from the heart of goat cheese paradise, it's light and fluffy -- almost mousse-like, but somewhat denser. It's got a hearty dose of farm-flavor and a nice salty balance, while still being a creamy, mellow treat.


There's a triple connection actually, which is appropriate for a three-sided cheese. And the first connection is, in fact, because it is three-sided, representing the Father-Son-Holy Ghost Trinity that's so important to the Catholic Church and Christmas story. The second is that it's a light cheese -- fluffy and light -- just like my head feels like when I'm about to faint. And finally, it's cendré, or ashed, which is appropriate as part of the Christmas Eve mass in St. Severin Church where not only does somebody light approximately 700 candles, but once, at least (and once only, I hope), somebody also lights my hair on fire.

And wait! There's a funny fourth connection, representing the missing fourth side of a lingot! and possibly explaining why I seem cursed in this church: Uploading the photo, I notice that the file number for the cheese photo happens to be....666.

Dec 22, 2014

Shoes and Stockings: Brézain Fumé au Feu de Bois


We move here with a shipment of approximately 41 packages, but we're fairly convinced it should've been 42. There seems to be one box that got lost in the transition, containing (we've noticed over the years) a paper cutter, cup and teaspoon measures, and Christmas stockings. So we do what any self-respecting parents would do, short of figuring out where to buy new Christmas stockings in a country that doesn't have the Christmas-stocking-hanging tradition: We MacGyver the situation with Christmas hats, a laundry rack, and clothespins.

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 with his hands on our daughters' inner thighs, pushing open their legs for the middle splits, we pause for a moment. We are, after all, American, and we're pretty sure this scene would be t*b00 in 100 different ways in the US. But then, after a few seconds, we remember we live in France: so we shrug, remark "That'll stretch 'em out," and walk away, nonplussed. The coaches are very hands-on, literally.

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").


Dec 6, 2014

Regular Rules are Suspended: Hirel Vieux


One of the great things about being an ex-pat is that the regular rules of life seem suspended. If you've ever lived overseas, you know what I mean. It's especially true in a country where a language foreign to your own is spoken, and even more true if you become part of an obvious, ethnic minority. Having lived in Japan and Asia for so long, I know what that's like, but I'm surprised to find that despite blending in more than I could in Tokyo, regular rules of life are a little suspended for me here, too.

Dec 4, 2014

Four Follow-ups: Tomme Ariégeoise


Do you ever wonder what happens after the credits roll? We deviate from "new" stories for a moment to take a look at four follow-ups and a cheese, of course, for things that could've, should've, would've been included the first time around if either a) they had happened yet or b) I knew about them at the time.

Dec 2, 2014

Before & After (Part II, After): Meule Belmontoise


Besides being small, I sometimes think my body is just not made like other peoples'. I am told two things about my mastectomy surgery: that I will be groggy for a couple hours and then can call my husband to tell him I'm OK. And that I'll be needing lots of pain killer. They are wrong on both counts. I am out for around 13 hours after surgery (which takes place from around noon-3pm)  -- too drugged to eat, get up, or pee, let alone make a coherent phone call. This is not the fault of French medicine; I'm always like this when it comes to anesthesia (and no, for this level of anesthesia, it's not bring-your-own).

I am just coherent enough during this period for two important things: I register when my surgeon comes into my room and tells me the good great superfantastic news that both my lymph nodes and the cells behind my nipple are clean and cancer-free. And when Anthony finally gets worried because I haven't called 6 hours post-surgery (I am simply too groggy to reach for my phone, which is right next to my bed), he calls the nurse station, they bring a phone in to me, and I manage to drunkenly slur the great results before crashing back into my drugged stupor.

On the other hand, I bounce back after surgery like a superhero. When I finally wake up the next morning, after emerging from the anesthesia-haze around 4am, I eat normally, take half-hour walks around the hospital, and later that day, add in 10 flights of steps up and down.

I feel fabulous. I don't need pain killers, except for a few over the counter Doliprane (acetaminophen) when -- essentially -- forced by the nurse: "Just take one on this first day. Just take one before you sleep." But honestly, I'm not in pain. I mean, I feel it, obviously; it tugs and can be a bit annoying (like a mild case of sunburn, or a pulled muscle), and I can't roll around and sleep too well the first few nights, but that's about it.

I feel like going home almost immediately because there's nothing to do in these rooms; there's nowhere interesting to walk; there's no place comfortable to sit; there's no Wifi; there are no cute freckly kids or helpful husbands; and, of course, there's the food.

I have heard from some Americans who've had surgery in France (including my husband) that their hospital fare was markedly better than what they would get in the US. And for French baby deliveries, I hear it's downright gourmet. Well, clearly, they weren't being treated at the Insitut Curie. I'd rather have a hospital that deals competently with my own breast than with my chicken breast, but really, sometimes it looks like the sinister subtext of this hospital is, "If the cancer doesn't kill you, we're going to finish you off with our food."

Everything is extremely bland, and either very dry, or very wet, indeed. I like the idea of salmon swimming, but not in pools of butter. All of the vegetables are seriously overcooked and utterly devoid of flavor and texture (and, probably, fiber and nutritive value).

For breakfast, there is a bowl of tea or coffee, and a yogurt, and -- as you can see -- the ubiquitous white roll, French-style.

By the second day, I'm allowed to start choosing my own food (happy day!), and I choose every option that includes raw fruits or veggies. Even still, I'm longing for airplane food. Really.

Not optional: the cheese course. Of course. Every meal has cheese among the dessert choices, whether it's an aged cheese or a yogurt-y Fromage Blanc. And most of the meals, including every breakfast and every official 4pm goûter (snack), include plain yogurt, along with a packet of white sugar. For my cheeses, I am treated to pasteurized Fourme d'Ambert blue and an industrial, pasteurized Camembert.


The food is bad enough that Anthony brings by persimmons, and my friend Meagan takes pity on me and stops by for a visit with raw fruits, salads, a sandwich, and -- most importantly, and I quote, "the pastry that looked the most like a boob that I could find." It turns out, boob-pastry is delicious, filled with blackberry and coated with lots of whipped cream, all on a cookie crust. If she didn't want one that looks like a breast, she could've chosen one that sounds like it, the Paris Brest, but I have to say that I appreciate the blackberry. At this point, I'll take fruit in any form, especially delicious.

I don't want to be accused of being falsely chipper. As I told the psychologist, in the move that finally convinced her to sign off on my sanity and my mastectomy, "I'm not stupid, and I'm not crazy. If I could choose not to have cancer, obviously I would. But since I can't choose, and I do have cancer, I'm just grateful it's such an easy version caught so early. Plus, if I do end up needing chemo, and I lose my hair, I will cry. I will survive, but I will cry." But thanks to my clean lymph nodes, I don't need chemo, and because I did the mastectomy, I don't need radiation, either!

Also, I do get teary-eyed once, on the first day after the surgery, having just seen my boob, which was not only black and blue at the time but basically looked like somebody had tried to antique it with a hammer, then run over it with a truck. It probably didn't help that I was in the middle of a Bridget Jones Diary movie marathon, dubbed in French and subtitled (mysteriously, in a different French translation than the dubbing), and basically all Renee Zellweger does in the movie is show off a whopping pair of natural breasts. But my self-pity doesn't last long, because it's hard to take anything too seriously when you are watching Bridget Jones.

In case this makes you feel better if you were worrying about me, or about your own possibly-someday date with breast cancer and/or mastectomy/reconstruction, here is some photographic proof that it really is all going well. Here's me the morning of my surgery (Monday) and back home again (Thursday) pointing to my new boob. As you can see, there's not much difference, other than the bra under the tank top gets uglier.


I come home with tubes still attached to me, which isn't news to anybody who's ever had the procedure. But what is different is that a nurse comes to my house twice a day -- morning and afternoon -- to check on me. This is fully paid by insurance, here in France, and is simply a wonderful way of getting you out of the hospital and back home more quickly and comfortably. In the US, people have to deal with their own tubes and figure out how to nurse themselves. I like this approach better, seeing how squeamish I am. Even the taxi home is covered by insurance, once the hospital gives me the prescription (and depending on how kind my insurance company wants to be).

Comically, not one of the visiting nurses ever has a thermometer, yet they always want my temperature, so we use the one here in the house and convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius. And they never even do the checking; they just trust me to tell them the number. However, I think it's pretty obvious that I'm not feverish and that I'm feeling fine.

Most unbelievable to me, and my American friends and family, is that they take the final tubes out (on Sunday morning, 6 days after surgery) here at home. Pippa is not sure if she wants to watch (it is, after all, an unusually interesting sight) or run away (if it gets too gross), so she's hedging her bets by hanging out at the door.

It's one of the more unpleasant aspects of my whole breast cancer -- and that's telling you something about how easy I've had it -- but not unbearable. Don't worry about me; I just tend to make overly dramatic faces (see lice treatment photos). It's not my best look; perhaps I should just learn to take yucky things more placidly (especially when being photographed). Perhaps I should have sung a Hawaiian chant.

I've felt basically good since the moment the drugs wore off. And one week out, I feel really great. I can stretch my arm, gently, nearly all the way up. I can even roll around a bit when I sleep. About the only complaint you'll hear from me is that I have to wear that annoying compression bra (like a sports/running top, but much tighter) for a month -- day and night. But honestly, that is a really miniscule price to pay for getting rid of the cancer and letting my fabulous new boob heal -- and it is quickly looking more and more fabulous, and less and less like a traffic accident casualty.

Of course, I'll have to go through this all again in a few months, or whenever "they" let me do the mastectomy on my other breast. Which is the price I pay for living in France during this episode in my life, I suppose. But at least for the next time I know a) that it won't be so bad and b) to smuggle in fruits, veggies, and take-out meals to the hospital.

Sometimes people use their horrific cancer stories to scare/inspire other people to be vigilant. I feel like my approach is somewhat different: I'm like an evangelist for checking often and finding it early, because then you could have a breast cancer as fantastic as mine. Truly it is the Breast Cancer of My Dreams, the Lottery-Winning Cancer. I walk around with the thought constantly popping into my head, "How on Earth did I get this lucky?!"

So now, I make sure to wave and smile big to the women who are scared by the idea of the mammogram, diagnosis, or surgery. I'll show just about anybody who's curious and at this point have flashed my new boob more than if I were in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I'm putting Skype to good use. A couple days after surgery, when I was checking myself out in a cute outfit in the mirror, Gigi cocked her head and said, "You know, Mom, I'm not even scared to get breast cancer." That's my girl. I want everyone to know that if it has to happen, it's possible for it to all turn out for the breast.

THE CHEESE: Meule Belmontoise

Meule Belmontoise is a pasteurized cows' milk, industrial cheese, made by Etoile d'Or (Gold Star). It's aged at least 6 months, and is a simple, fine, but unexceptional example of a cow cheese. If you taste it with a connoisseur's mouth, I think you'll agree that it tastes, predominantly, like cheese.

It has a little of that sweetness you expect from a mountain cheese, with a bit of salt. It's like every unremarkable, undistinguishable, unidentifiable cheese you've ever tried on a sandwich or on an appetizer tray. The texture holds up well for an appetizer tray, coincidentally, and is soft and creamy, for a hard cheese.


Not only is this cheese pricked and poked, with things sticking out of it in the photo, as I am for days after my surgery, I am reminded of my fabulous, fancy-schmancy, new-and-improved, cancer-free fake boob in many ways: The name "Belmontoise" roughly translates as "Of the Beautiful Mountains." At the moment, my beautiful mountains are a bit lopsided, but that will sort itself out once I get the other mountain re-landscaped, as it were. Also, like my new boob, the cheese is industrial and rubbery.

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