No Flowery Dirt

French Food

My Mother is in town visiting and we are in the kitchen on her first night.  I’ve prepared some French treats and bought some of my favorite cheeses for her to try.  The first one I give her to taste is Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe (Brillat-Savarin with Truffles).

“What’s it like,” she asks me before trying it.

“Hmmm…” I ponder the best way to describe it.  “Well, Brillat-Savarin is like a breath away from being butter so it’s kind of like the best butter you’ve ever eaten with truffles in it.”

“What are the truffles like?”

She’s had truffles on multiple occasions but wants to know what these truffles are like.

“I don’t know,” I say, I can’t think of the right way to describe them.  “…truffles!”

This is a conversation that I have often and continue to fail miserably at; whether it is friends from overseas wanting to know what something tastes like or someone visiting who wants a description about what to order, I am often at a loss.  I mean, how do you describe a food to someone who has never tasted it?

You can go the literal route but that usually doesn’t get you very far:

What does fromage de tete (aka head cheese) taste like?  Pieces of skull meat in gelatin.

Not helpful?  So surprising!

There is the rico-suave way to do it where you try to sound very sophisticated…and are usually annoying and give no helpful details:

Horse meat?  Well, it’s similar to beef but with more depth of character while also having a playfulness.

Huh?  Is this horse wine we are talking about?

There is the literal comparison route:

So, frog legs do taste like chicken but then not like chicken.

What does that even mean?  Have you gleaned any greater understanding of the flavor of frog legs from this?

Then you can go the hard-core route in which you really break it down:

For example, when my sister was visiting last year, she commented on one of the cheeses we were about to try.

“Is this one of those cheeses that they like to say is “reminiscent of the farm?”  She asks this while sniffing the soft white round.  (This is the type of description that would be “rico-suave”)

“Yeah, probably, it is a super farmy one.”  I turn up my nose and she gives me a questioning look.  “MB likes them but I can’t handle it if they are too farmy.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know; if it is too farmy I feel like I’m licking a sheep that has been rolling around in hay and poo.”

Hardcore route.

So I never know exactly what to tell people.  If it is something I love I want to use the most flowery and delicious-sounding language to try to entice them to try it; I want to make them desperately excited to experience this new and exquisite flavor.  I want to impress upon them the utter amazing-ness that they are about to discover.  But is it necessary to try so hard?

I once had a friend tell me that his foie-gras tasted like buttered popcorn.  I remember looking at him and thinking “ACK – PHILISTINE!”  How could he describe the rich and magnificent flavors of foie-gras in such a pedestrian way?  …And then I tasted it.  I had to smile to myself; he had absolutely nailed it.  This particular preparation of foie-gras was definitely “reminiscent of the movie theatre”; however, my inner food-snob had been working so hard to make it sound impressive that I had missed the obvious.

Sometimes it is best to just describe things as what they are instead of trying to make them sound more sophisticated.  At the end of the day, everything comes from the same place anyway.  Why try to over-complicate it?

I turn back to my Mother in the kitchen, still struggling to think of the words to describe the majesty and the beauty of the flavor of Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe.  Words like “earthy” and “terroir” are running through my head when she takes her bite.

She turns to me with a look of excitement on her face.

“Ooooh,” she exclaims.  “It’s like really good dirt!”

I nod to myself and smile.  She is exactly right…and that sounds pretty damn tasty to me.

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To Be or Not to…wait, what was that? I got bored.

Cultural Differences

I love television shows that have to do with food because I think that food is awesome and fascinating.  I enjoy watching people use their creativity to develop dishes and concepts; I enjoy seeing new techniques and ideas; however, I do not need it in 3-hour chunks at a time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend that I have never watched 3 episodes of say…Top Chef at a time, because I have.  I have even watched a 2-hour one episode special because they usually only do that when it is action packed with disasters and people being sent home; but I do not need to see 3-hour episodes on a regular basis.  Who has the attention span for that?

Apparently, the French do.

Their episodes of Masterchef and Top Chef are 3 hours long and not because there are crazy out- of-control-fights and not because someone catches the kitchen on fire and serves raw chicken resulting in an epic outbreak of salmonella which ends up involving a spin off reality show about the CDC but just because 3 hours for a TV show is apparently normal.  It’s like watching a staging of Hamlet in which the director decides not to cut one line (ahem…Kenneth Branagh); I mean let’s face it – Hamlet can figure out whether “to be or not to be” in less than 3 hours.  Right?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

“Quoi?!”

“I’m bored!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  This is said with a wail as I fling myself across MB, obscuring his view to his computer screen.

“EH!  I’m trying to do something, huh?  I’m organizing the hard drive so that we can actually find things*.  Here I will explain it to you.”

I pretend like I am already asleep and snoring.

“You are ridiculous,” he says to me.

“Whaa-?  Oh, I’m sorry, I feel asleep because that explanation was SO uninteresting.”  I grin at him impishly…it’s super cute and not at all annoying…probably…maybe…ehhhhhhh…don’t know.

He leans me back against him so that we are both facing the computer and puts his arms around me.

“I don’t know if I have ever met a person with less patience than you in my entire life,” he says before giving me two quick pats on my leg meaning “get up” (which by the way, always cracks me up because it is like I am a dog…wait, should I be offended?)

This little scene is a normal everyday occurrence in our household.   I need to be entertained, I need to be moving around, I need to be doing something fun all the time; even when I clean the house I listen to books on tape with my IPod .  NO TASK SHALL EVER BE BORING!

I can’t watch a 3-hour finale of Masterchef in which only 2 people cook…especially 2 people who are super polite to each other.  Give me some drama, some action, keep me enthralled!

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

So where does this desire for constant entertainment come from?  Why do I have an inability to sit at a dinner table for more than 2 hours without getting itchy or watch a 3-hour episode of a show that I enjoy because there isn’t enough “action”?  Is this an American trait or is this a “me” trait?

I tend to think that Americans, in general, are action people/busybees/whatever you want to call it.  We don’t like to remain still…we take our coffee to go, we eat our lunches while walking back to the office, we tend to stand at bars instead of sitting at tables to converse.  And sure, we all know that Americans watch tons of TV but each episode better be no more than an hour and action-packed in order to keep our attention spans.

Europeans, on the other hand, are still slow to embrace the take-away coffee trend and McDonalds and other fast food restaurants are always packed with people because the drive-thru isn’t as popular as sitting in the restaurant to stop and enjoy your meal (as much as on can enjoy fast food…yeah, that’s right, I said it, I’m judging).  A 3-hour dinner in Europe might even be considered short by some standards.

So which is the better method?  Is it preferable to relax and take time and soak things in…you know, smell roses, contemplate life.  Or is it better to have high energy and be constantly engaged, cutting the roses and putting them in an arrangement to be smelled and enjoyed at a more convenient time?  MB would probably like it if I could slow down and sit still some of the time (something that he considers relaxing and I consider stressful); I would occasionally like it if he had some more frenetic energy.  I don’t know whether this is a French and American thing or just our own personalities.  And I don’t know if one method of living is better than the other.

So I’ll leave it to the wiser mind of Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  A mature philosophy, the philosophy of a reasonable and patient person, a person who thinks things through, a person who is not distracted easily…wait a minute…you know, he also wrote: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Meh…what can I say, kids?

“This above all: to thine own self be true”

 

*My computer is a disorganized nightmare that MB is constantly trying to take in hand.  I think it is a deep secret fantasy of his to get my files organized.  Oooh la la!

*Special shout-out to my old friend Billy Shakes…thanks for letting me steal so many of your lines – your words ever delight my brain!*

Of Hospitals and Cheese Courses

Cultural Differences, French Food, Uncategorized

Yes, I am being a slacker this week.  MB is having some health issues and afternoons at the hospital have proved to be uninspiring…except for the meals.

Now granted, I haven’t been in the hospital in the U.S. since the 80’s so my information isn’t at all up to date but what I remember of the food was pizza and jello (I was also 8 years old which might account for what stands out in my mind).  At the hospital here in Grenoble, however, MB’s meals are somewhat more sophisticated.  There is a potato soup, there is a tuna pasta, a freshly baked roll, fromage blanc.  These may show up all at the same time but this is basically a 3 course meal…in the hospital.  Yesterday he had saucisson…how is that a healthy choice?

Pfff…it is not healthy, it is good, you philistine; I am sick, not dead, eh?”   This is what I imagine France saying in this scenario.

Basically, what this means to me is that the French never surrender when it comes to food.

“You may take my life but you will never take my cheese course!”

It is a charming quality that I love.  I’ll never forget MB telling me how their school lunches consisted of three parts: a salad of some sort, a main dish, and then a bit of cheese.

“You had cheese courses in elementary school,” I asked him, incredulous.

“Mais oui,” he says as though it is the most normal thing in the world.  “What did you eat?”

Hmmmm…deep fried burritos?  Butter cookies that had so much butter that they would soak through the wax paper.

“We didn’t have cheese courses,” is the only response I can muster.

He looks at me baffled.

So, with these thoughts in mind I invite you, fair reader, to give me your favorite food moment involving France (I say involving because I don’t think you need to be IN France to have had a French food moment).  Whether it be your first French cheese or trying calf brains or just your first time at a French restaurant – let’s take the day to think about France’s most charming quality…their love of food.

*If you would like updates on when I am going to post each week please join my facebook page – I usually post a few little notes throughout the week!  🙂