Quotes

Jun 23, 2017

A Pox On You: Vacher Vendéen

THE STORY:

When Pippa erupts with a few itchy bumps on her face, just days before she's supposed to go visit a friend, we worry. Could it be chicken pox? In the US, that may sound unlikely and rare. But in France, it's really rather common. While there is no noticeable rabid, vocal, defiant anti-vaxxer movement here in France (in the same way that it's a traditionally very Catholic country, yet every school teaches evolution -- they simply accept scientific truths), the one thing they don't believe in vaccinating for is the chicken pox.


Jun 16, 2017

Pull up a Chair: Pottok

THE STORY:

At the Jardin du Luxembourg, Luxembourg Park, in the heart of Paris, the first thing you generally notice is the Senat building. That's pretty natural, considering the park is the grounds of the former palace of Marie de Medici, King Henry IV's widow, which is now used as the French Senate building. But the more time you spend here, in and out of seasons, the more you discover the park's hidden treasures.



Jun 9, 2017

Crazy, Not Crazy: Le Gratte Paille

THE STORY:

This is a story about Puy du Fou, which seems like it would mean "Water Well of the Crazy Person" except that in this case "fou" does not mean "crazy". Puy du Fou, in the old local Vendée dialect, means "Hill of the Beech Tree." It is neither a hill, nor a tree. It's a theme park, with no rides. An amusement park, for education. Many people, especially non-French, might think we're crazy for wanting to go an educational theme park that has no rides. And we are crazy. Crazy for history.


Jun 2, 2017

Wine Not?: Tomme Alsace Affinée aux Fleurs

THE STORY:

When you are invited to a French person's house for a dinner party, you should not show up empty handed. I'm here to tell you that there is a reason there are so many gorgeous florists all around France, in cities, in the country, and at markets. It's because flowers are the hostess gift of choice. If you're American, you may want to show up with a bottle of wine in hand: Don't.


May 26, 2017

All My Boozy Cheeses: Petit Pont Cidre

THE STORY:

For something new and fun, I'm writing about cheese...and getting paid for it. But there was just one thing about my article in Wine Enthusiast about alcohol-rubbed cheeses that rubbed me the wrong way: I couldn't include all the cheeses I wanted! The French have always been a little inventive with their liquor (and their cheese).


May 19, 2017

Priced Out in Paris: Tomme Caussenarde

THE STORY:

In a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, I read that it is more expensive to live in Paris (#5 on the list) than in London (#6), New York (#7), and San Francisco (not even in the top ten, though Los Angeles is tied for #8 with Seoul and Copenhagen).





May 12, 2017

Wild Elephants Couldn't Make Me: Sauvaget Cendré

THE STORY:

And now, for part II of the story of Les Machines de L'Ile, I present you the biggest part of the story, in every sense of the word. Three story-high roving mechanical elephants. Did you know such things existed? Could you ever have imagined seeing -- or riding in -- one of these?



May 5, 2017

Wildly Imaginative: Sauvaget

THE STORY:

You know those moments (and election seasons) that make you simply despair for humanity? Well, a visit to Les Machines de l'Ile in Nantes is the antidote to that. It's a testament to the best in humanity: creativity, wonder, joy, innovation.


Plus, now I get to say that I've actually seen with my own two eyes my baby being flown to be in a stork's basket (OK, it's a heron, but still).

Apr 28, 2017

Tastes Like Chicken: Palouze des Aravis

THE STORY:

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In this story, it's the egg, but not a regular egg. Then it's the chicken, which isn't real chicken. So when is an egg not just a regular egg? When your French friend serves you quails' eggs for breakfast. They taste pretty much just like chicken eggs, though the shells are a whole lot prettier.


And as for that chicken: the French enjoy not merely chicken but rather a plethora of poultry; they feast on fowl; they binge on birds. Yes, they mostly taste like chicken.

If you're squeamish about your meats, then menus here are a minefield of chickens that are not chicken. You'll often see "volaille" used interchangeably as "chicken", though it really means "poultry." So be on the lookout for "Suprême de Volaille" on a menu, which is chicken breast, plain and simple. But probably not plain, because this is France. So almost certainly served in a sauce. When you buy chicken breasts raw, they are called "blanc de poulet" (literally "white of chicken").


You can also get nice, plump chicken breasts as part of your poularde, that is, fattened chicken.



There's duck of course: both confit de canard (essentially fried duck leg and thigh) or magret de canard (sliced duck breast). You will also see "canette" (duckling) on the menu and in the regular poultry isle of the grocery store. "Canette" also means a drink can, so you might see it on the menu in the beverages section, too. But you'll never see "Suprême de canard". Only chicken breasts reign supreme.


They do sell turkey (dinde) here in France, which is always nice for Americans as we come up on Thanksgiving. But more often than turkey, you'll find "caille" or "pintade" on menus, at butchers, and even in Picard, the frozen food store.



These are not considered exotic foods but rather other, perfectly acceptable, normal versions of poultry to enjoy. Pigeon is a little rarer (I mean less common, not less cooked) but still available in fine restaurants.

The finest French restaurants used to serve the infamous dish "ortolan" (a bunting), a tiny songbird that one ate cooked -- bones, beak, head and all -- until it was banned because the species was becoming endangered. When I say "one ate" I mean someone else ate, because it may taste like chicken, but you wouldn't catch me near it. I'll stick with chicken.


Even among chickens, you can get it right, or you can cock it up. You know that famous French dish "Coq au Vin"? We usually translate it as "chicken in wine sauce," but in fact the word "coq" means "rooster" and it used to indeed be made with rooster -- tougher and darker but supposedly more flavorful than the hens we usually eat. And that is one of the reasons it was stewed slowly in wine sauce, to break down the tough meat.

Older French people, especially those who grew up on farms eating true Coq au Vin lament that the stuff we eat nowadays doesn't come close for flavor. It's hard to imagine how different one chicken could be from another chicken, given that all the birds that aren't even chicken at all taste a lot like...chicken.

Your guide to volaille (poultry):

caille = quail
canard = duck
canette = duckling
coq = rooster
coquelet = young cockerel, baby rooster
dinde = Turkey (so a Turkey from India would be a dinde d'Inde)
orolon = bunting / song bird (now illegal to eat in France)
pigeon = pigeon
pintade = guinea fowl
poularde = fattened chicken
poule = hen
poulet = chicken
poulet de Cornouailles (or poulet Cornish) = Cornish game hen, which you'll never find in France
volaille = poultry, but often used synonymously with chicken

THE CHEESE: Palouze des Aravis

Palouze des Aravis is a farmhouse, raw cows' milk cheese that comes from the Aravis area of the Alps. In the local, traditional dialect, "palouze" is a hard disk, which sums up the shape pretty well. In fact, the particular specimen I find is a slightly fatter disk than usual. Usually, the disks are the height of a focaccia, whereas mine is almost fluffy like a two-layer cake. But the outside is pure Palouse des Aravis: gray, thick, dried-out crust that looks like a boulder.



It's a summer cheese, meaning the milk comes from the cows who are spending their summers grazing on the green hills in the mountains. You can certainly buy it beyond the summer season, however, because it's aged at least 5-6 months. This a great example of how historically cheese was a way of preserving milk and summer flavors for the cold winter months. You can imagine milking the cows in the July, getting all sorts of grass, herb, and flower flavors in the milk, then enjoying the cheese in the freezing cold of February.

The milk is uncooked, then the cheese is pressed to eliminate a lot of the liquids. That beautiful crust is washed only once at the beginning of the aging process, then allowed to dry out, toughen up, and develop natural molds.


The exterior belies what's inside. While a Palouze des Aravis certainly can be super aged and dried out (getting thinner as it goes, generally), mine is still plump and moist. For a hard cheese, that is. There's a hint of creaminess as it warms up in the mouth. The flavor is buttery and sunny, with some of those classic sweet, nutty, grassy hints of a good mountain cow cheese. It's got character but is by no means a super powerful or stinky cheese.

THE CONNECTION:

This connection is a very big stretch, because this cheese tastes nothing like chicken. But at the very least, in a kind of anagram-ish way, you can at least use the letters of Palouze to spell out "poule" meaning "hen". Yes, that's honestly the reason I chose this cheese. Desperate times call for desperate measures.


Apr 21, 2017

Smells Good: Carré de Vinage

THE STORY:

Sometimes, something can be right under your nose, and you won't even notice: for example, the Fragonard perfume museum in Paris, on a gorgeous little alley right near the Opera, where I've been countless times.Yet my path to get to this museum was circuitous, in that it took a young Princeton alumni moving to Paris to study perfumery, reading my blog, and contacting me in order for me to hear about it. But now that I do know, Paris (and my world) will never quite smell the same.



Apr 14, 2017

Keeping It in the Family: Belle-Mère

THE STORY:

I think it's Albanian language in which a brother-in-law that is your sister's husband is not the same word as a brother-in-law who is your husband's brother. That makes sense to me, because they're different relationships, so why should they have the same name? English always seems to have a deficit of relationship names. Well, it turns out, French is even worse.


Mar 31, 2017

Shield Your Family: Gueule d'Amour

THE STORY:

The Chateau Fontaine-Henry is really into their family crests, and a visit there gets me thinking. What would our family crest be? The tradition of blazons -- heraldry, shields, crests, coats of arms -- goes back to medieval ages, and possibly beyond. Each color, symbol, and even sometimes the shape has meaning. It's like a language you just haven't learned.



Mar 24, 2017

Curiosity (Almost) Killed the Castle: Le Bajocasse

THE STORY:

This is really part 3 of a series on superlative castles: deepest moat (Breze), tallest castle (Brissac), and now the tallest roof in France at Fontaine-Henry. It doesn't seem like it would be a real statistic, but when you see the building, you'll understand. It's like a Mansard roof on steroids. The roof takes up half the building, height-wise. It's not the only charming thing about this castle, which is called a Normand "jewel". And yes, curiosity almost killed this castle.

 

Mar 17, 2017

Hot Tin Roof: Tomme de Carayac

THE STORY:

The city of Paris has asked for its rooftops to be considered a Unesco World Heritage site. And why not? They certainly are something special. Between the Mansard roofs, the tin roofs, the orange chimneys/vents, the dormer windows, the slate tiles, and the oddball shapes and angles, it's hard to mistake this cityscape for anywhere but Paris.



Mar 10, 2017

All Aboard the Bike Train: Brie à la Truffe

THE STORY:

Instead of dismantling those old train tracks, why not put them to good use? Thanks to an amazingly vast train network -- and one that has been consistently modernized -- there are old tracks around France that have been turned into Vélorail ("vélo" meaning "bike"). Ours departs from the Pont de Coudray in the Calvados area of Normandy and arrives at the Pont de Brie.



Mar 3, 2017

The Shiny Belly of Paris: Peralous

THE STORY:

This is what Les Halles used to be: a market with every food of the season brought into the heart of Paris sold to a seething mass of humanity. Emile Zola famously described is as the belly of Paris, because it was know for all the dirt and vermin that come with a huge old market, and all the vice and crime that come with seething masses of humanity. Zola did not, evidently, have high regard for bellies.


Feb 24, 2017

The Highest Heights: Laïous

THE STORY:

After going down, down, down to the deepest moat in Europe, now I take you up to the tallest castle in France: the Château de Brissac. It also happens to be Gigi's favorite castle in Europe, and that's really saying something, because she's generally claims to suffer from a serious case of castle burn-out. In this case, it's not actually the height that impresses her, it's the history.



Feb 17, 2017

Deep Moat: Le P'tit Azay

THE STORY:

Château de Brézé could be just another castle except for one profound difference, literally profound. It's a medieval castle with what is purported to be the deepest dry moat in Europe. And the moat is not just a channel dug around the castle; it's its own labyrinthine fortress with caverns, tunnels, staircases, bridges, ovens, wine presses, horse stables, and living quarters. It has at one time been a wine cellar, silk work farm, bakery, and military barracks.  Its tagline: Château de Brézé, A Château under a Château.



Feb 10, 2017

Can't Beat That Sweet Treat: Kaïkou

THE STORY:

Fluffy sugary things. You can't beat that. Or, rather, not only can you beat that, you must beat that, because that's how sugar gets so fluffy in the first place. The French make their sugar go further, stretching it (sometimes literally) with egg whites and other ingredients to come up with three very French, very sweet treats: guimauves (like marshmallows), nougat, and meringue. Just so you know, I don't love any of them.




Feb 3, 2017

Libraries vs. Librairies: Bouca

THE STORY:

The rest of the world can go on their Kindles and iPhones, but the French still like good, old-fashioned books. Sometimes old-fashioned to the point of antique.



The French celebrate books and writers and poets and philosopher-poets and philosopher-writers like Americans honor athletes and war heroes. As somebody who loves a good book, it just makes me love the French more. A chicken in every pot? More like a bookstore on every corner.



Jan 27, 2017

Five A's that I Give an F: Pommeau

THE STORY:

The Friendly Association of Authentic Andouillette Lovers (known in French as the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique -- or better yet, AAAAA or 5A) will clearly beg to differ with me, but authentic 5A andouillette is the closest thing to a teenage boy's gym sock that I ever want to smell or eat. And I'm a person who eats maggot-covered stinky French cheese for fun.


Jan 20, 2017

They Got Us Covered: Chavroux

THE STORY:

It takes so little for my daughters to be punk and rebellious here in France: a little temporary dye in their hair, ripped jeans, a cropped top that shows a belly button. Sacré bleu! So racy! Let's play a game: How many French school dress-code violations can you spot in this photo?


Jan 13, 2017

The Pagentry of Tapestry: Le Petit Saint Roch

THE STORY:

By pure accident, I have now seen several of the most famous, most beautiful tapestries in the world. Is it any wonder that France created and houses so many of these treasures? It seems like a fancy tapestry kind of place. Or, more accurately, places: several of the great houses for manufacturing tapestries in history were Aubusson, Beauvais (where you can still have tapestries made today), and the most famous of all, right around the corner from me in Paris, Manufacture des Gobelins.



Jan 6, 2017

In a Lather About Lather: Le Causse Méjean

THE STORY:

The city of Aleppo's good name has been dragged through the mud recently, which is ironic because this formerly-beautiful city is closely connection with something that cleans mud really well. It's where one of the sweetest-smelling, cleanest French traditions arose: savon de Marseille, or Marseille soap. This French classic is based on Aleppo soap, an ancient tradition of olive oil, laurels, water, and ash.



 
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