I’ve finally turned in my manuscript and off it goes back to my editor to check over everything I did. And so I’m turning my attention to cleaning up some of the stuff I have sitting on my computer.
I have this big, massive, overloaded file staring at me on my desktop, called ‘Blog Entries’. Living between two cultures often presents a lot of challenges, some good some bad, that’s the way it us, but it gives me plenty of opportunities for reflection and observation. Often I’ll be out and about, something will happen or an idea will come to me, and I’ll race home and start writing, only to never go back and pick it up again. Or I lose interest in it and move on.
Since I’m hopelessly frugal and can’t let anything go to waste, here’s a few of the entries that I started but never got around to finishing. Please note, they haven’t been polished, or in many cases, even finished. Some may be slightly off-beat, or off-putting, or slightly offensive.
And for that, dear readers, I can only beg your utmost forgiveness, and to please be easy on me…
A Day on The Beach In Brittany
Don’t you just hate when you’re relaxing at the beach, enjoying the warm sunshine, and some asshole starts playing his bagpipe?
(I was at the beach in Brittany this summer, and started hearing this odd whining noise. And no, that was not me. This dude starts playing his bagpipes in the dunes behind us. That was a first. It was funny and I loved it, since normally it’s someone with a radio at the beach, blasting away driving everyone else nuts. It was pretty funny at the time, but I couldn’t get past the first line.
Ice Ain’t Nice?
(This was written awhile back when I was on book tour in the US, and everywhere I ate, they kept refilling and refilling and refilling my glass of over-iced water when all I wanted to do was just a plain glass of water, and to be left alone for 30 seconds in peace and quiet to eat my dinner. It was driving me nuts!
I thought it would be fun to get a real, honest-to-goodness French person to co-write it with me, since a lot of Americans don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t share our fascination with a huge glass filled with ice and a teaspoon of liquid barely suspended in it. But then the weather changed, and I never followed up.)
I don’t need the busboy to sprint across the dining room every time I take a sip from my glass.
(That was as far as I got. I guess the subject’s not all that interesting…)
(Some thoughts that came into my mind for a few days. Then mysteriously vanished.)
Why do people beg for money around ATM machines?
What is the likelihood of someone peeling off a twenty for them?
Why do people walk on my mat at yoga?
(Is that bad karma?)
Why does that bother me?
(Is that bad karma?)
Why do people think spending $20 for a bottle of olive oil is outrageous, but think spending $20 bottle for a bottle of wine at a restaurant is a bargain?
Why do people think $12 for a glass of wine at a restaurant is okay, but spending $5 for a bag of hand-harvested salt is outrageous?
Did the 50% of Americans who re-elected the current US President think that things were going to truly get better, rather than worse?
Why doesn’t someone come up with a flat chapstick that fits in your pocket?
Why don’t people pluck those long hairs hanging out of their nose or ears?
Why do people still think it’s still funny to correct you when you mention the store Target, with Tar-jay?
Why are so many American against universal health coverage when there are 47 million Americans without any sort of health coverage at all?
Why do Americans keep asking me if the French are worried about bird flu?
Why aren’t Americans worried about bird flu?
Why can’t the bird flu just attack he pigeons that sit on my windowsill?
Why do so many French people complain about their cholesterol while simultaneously puffing on a cigarette?
Why do companies have email addresses on their web sites for customers questions but don’t bother answering the emails?
Why do the phone always ring when I just start cutting up a chicken?
Why do I always suddenly have the urge to go to the bathroom with I just start to tackle the sinkful of dishes?
Why do objects always fall just out of reach if I drop them behind the oven?
Why do people smoke while other people are eating dinner?
Why do public swimming pools in Paris make men wear the briefest-cut, tiniest Speedo-like swim suits?
Why do people talk so loudly on their cell phones in airports in America?
Why is Italian coffee so much better than anywhere else on earth?
Why do people think they have to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day?
Why do people keep saying over and over, “Fat is flavor”?
(Is Crisco “flavor”? Is Oscar Meyer Olive Loaf flavor?”)
Why didn’t America switch to the metric system when it should have?
Why do French people keep asking me why America didn’t switch to the metric system?
Why does everyone ask me why America didn’t switch to the metric system?
Why I am obsessed with trying to freak-out the GoogleAds, on the side of this site, which scan content looking for themes in my crazy blog?
Why do readers always think I’m moving back to the US when I say that I’m going back to the US for a visit?
Why would I ever leave here?
Ten Things I Never Want To Hear Again
(This is obviously stuck in my craw)
(Anyone who thinks that’s funny needs to have their head examined.)
3. “David, have you read that book by David Sedaris?”
(Yes, I have.)
4. “David, have you heard that radio interview with David Sedaris?”
(Yes, I have.)
5. “David, do you know David Sedaris?”
(Yes, we’ve met.)
6. “Don’t the French hate Americans?”
(I can only speak for myself, and yes, they hate me and are viscous and cruel and everynight I cry myself to sleep.)
7. “Do you know those guys from Chez Panisse who do dinner parties in Paris?”
(Yes, their link is on my site. Please stop asking.)
8. “Have you read that book about French women staying so thin?”
(No. Please don’t make me.)
The Perfect Fruitcake
(I was writing about fruitcakes, planning to do a post with a recipe. As you may remember, that experiment ended rather, er, badly. But I found a much better substitute for cheesecloth than I ever could have imagined.)
When I wrote my first book, Room For Dessert, people innundated my web site with recipe requests for fruitcake. Every day I would flip on my computer and find another message begging for recipes. It was driving me nuts! So I put not one, but two recipes in my next book.
One of the hardest things living in another country is it’s hard to find things that we take for granted. I spent two weeks looking for mineral oil before finally stumbling across some at Ikea. And cheesecloth seems to be as all-American as using steroids has become for baseball players. You can’t get it here, and I wasn’t willing to patch together little bits of gauze from the pharmacy.
But being France, of course, they have something far more beautiful; they have étamine or toile au beurre, which is the most lovely, gauze-like fabric you can imagine. I found mine at the Marché St. Pierre at the foot of Montmarte, the multi-leveled fabric emporium which is so old-fashioned, they still have an elevator man!
The first time I went there, I was looking for light-blocking fabric. Since Parisians like to sleep in, I figured there’s be spools of it everywhere. After bringing my measurements in, no one would help me, until I cornered a surly saleman. When he growled in my direction, I replied, “J’éspere que si vous vous installez dans un autre paye, vous ne recontreriez pas les personnes comme vous.”
(“I hope that when you move to another country, you don’t meet anyone like yourself, asswipe.“)
Anyhow, fruitcakes can be quite good if you make a nice one. My Chocolate Cherry recipe is extraordinarily good and is a great all-around chocolate cake no matter what time of the year. But since it’s date season around here and I bought some wonderful Algerian dates that cost practially nothing, I set out to make my Date, Ginger, and Candied Pineapple Fruitcake. This is a great rum-soaked cake, loaded up with a treasure trove of fruits and nuts. I used pecans instead of the macadamia nuts (which are understandably outrageously expensive in Paris), as well as pistachios, candied orange peel (that I made last year), candied ginger and pineapple and a touch of honey.
Marché St. Pierre/Dreyfus
2, rue Charles Nodier
Métro: Barbes-Rochechouart or Anvers
Tél: 01 46 06 92 25
Sampling Capitalism/A Taste of Capitalism
(I never knew which title to use, but I wanted to talk about why French merchants and shopkeepers don’t offer samples. And yes, I didn’t put the backward accent on the ‘tres’ because, once again, I didn’t feel like getting up and checking what the HTML for it.
If it bothers you, take out a Sharpie and write one on your computer screen.)
They don’t typically offer samples in shops in Paris.
Sampling in Paris is not the normal activity it is in shops in the US, especially in cheese shops where in America they give you a zillion samples. In France, you’re expected to rely on the expertise of the fromager to help you make a decision. (Which is probably why they don’t use French people to hand out samples out at Costco.) And many French cheeses are rounds, which makes cutting a sample out difficult. In my talking to French people about sampling, it’s a cultural difference, which I think may stem from that opinion that in France, the shopkeeper is expected to select the finest for their clients. And if you’re a tourist passing through, you’re not likely to buy anything anyways.
Recently, I had a guest tell me, “But if you get a sample, you’re more likely to buy.” which is true, I suppose. But people here aren’t necessarily interesting in you buying something like they are elsewhere (which may explain their economic woes.) But there’s something refreshing to me about people that are more interested in being ‘correct’ and developing a relationship with their clients rather than simply making money.
France is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Apple over iTunes, since the songs aren’t available to people who use music players other than iPods. When I was explaining that to a French friend, he replied, Well yes, they should be available to everyone.
I then replied that Pple spent a lot of money and time developing their platform, so why shouldn’t they be proprietary about it? Why do they have to share what they developed?
He told me that was très capilatalistic.
(Anyhow, the whole thing kind of helped me learn something about the French, and Americans, and our diverse cultural programmaning. Americans tend to think that if something is commercially-viable or economically successfull, it’s better. Whereas that’s not necessarily an attitude shared around the world. Whether we like it or not. It’s things like that which make living in a foreign country so thought-provoking. Even though readers don’t always agree with my thoughts. *sigh*)
One thing that separates the Parisians from the tourists is their uncanny ability to escape from stepping in dog doo. It’s a real mark of achievement that I’ve only had that honor once, which for some reason, means ‘good luck’ in Paris (although I think the dog’s owner is the lucky one, since if they were there when I stepped in it, they’d get an American-style smack down.)
Parisians are very defensive about many things and don’t take kindly to criticism from the outside, and if you mention the dog droppings left everywhere, they’ll never apologize or offer an excuse (how can you?). They’ll simply change the subject to something they can defend.
So why it is okay to let your dog poo wherever it wants and not clean it up? Even though there’s a 183€ fine for letting things sit ‘n stink, I’ve never seen anyone give or get a ticket. I think it has something to do with a culture that’s used to the government taking care of things for them. “Ce n’est pas mon faute” (“It’s not my fault.”)
Berlin has a similar problem, I hear, and I found this quote from a resident from awhile back form that non doody-free city, reacting to a proposed law to make dog owners pick up after their pets:
“I am a resident of Berlin. That city’s smeared sidewalks testify to the inadvisability of delegating to another the responsibility of cleaning up one’s own mess. Although Berlin has a scooper law similar to New York’s, it is virtually unenforced and generally disregarded.
A recent court ruling determined that in Germany it is unreasonable to expect a citizen to remove his or her dog’s waste from public areas. Teams of street sweepers are there to do that….”
So if someone can tell me why it’s okay to leave your doggie’s doo on the sidewalk for someone else to step in, please let me know. Good luck…
The Perfect Pan
(I have this really crummy pan, a real cheap piece of crap cookware. It looks like it’s been through World War V. One day it dawned on me with all the fancy cookware I have, it’s the pan I use the most. I was going to write an ode to it, then The Food Whore wrote something about how fancy cookware ain’t the bees-knees (try explaining that expression to a French person!), although she didn’t use those particular words, so I dropped it.)
A roast chicken fits perfectly in the pan, as do 6 ramekins if I’m making a custard. And it’s cheap. And I don’t care if I ruin it. What’s not to like?
Staying In Shape
(This I wrote since it’s the most common question I get asked. I decided not to post it because it’s all rather obvious stuff and kinda boring. I added an odd note, which I first thought was funny. Then I didn’t think it was funny anymore. But I never trashed the list. I used a swear word too, which I don’t normally do…and I’m not proud of it.)
People are constantly, and I mean all the frigging time, asking me, “How do you stay so thin?”
Here’s the Top Ten Ways I Keep in Shape:
1. I only eat when I’m hungry.
2. I exercise about 3 times a week doing yoga for an hour.
3. I don’t eat junk food. I don’t eat at fast-food restaurants or buy pre-prepared foods.
4. I try to sit down and have a real meal rather than eating on the run.
5. I eat fresh foods as much as possible and eat things closest to their natural form. Butter instead of margarine, plain yogurt with good honey instead of all the fruit-flavor and sugar-added varieties.
6. I avoid foods with sauce, which tend to mask flavors and destroy textures. I like crispy, rather than soft foods.
7. I stick my finger down my throat after eating.
8. I walk as much as possible. Going to the gym may work for most people, but I detest treadmills. But just walking to and from places is great exercise. Did you know the average New Yorker walks 5 miles a day?
9. Although a cliché, I go for quality, not quantity. I never turn down great chocolates or a fabulous morsel of cheese, but I don’t eat nachos with processed-cheese ‘product’ or the famed, deep-fried onion blossom (which has 3000 calories!)
10. I cook for myself a lot. People wonder why restaurant food tastes so good: it’s because they add butter and oil with reckless abandon. It makes the food taste richer and people complain if they leave restaurants not feeling over-the-top full.
Fat is NOT Flavor
There seems to be this mantra floating around, “Fat is flavor.”
I’ve watched people castigate others who cut off the wide, thick strip of gunky fat from their meat, whining, “But that’s the best part!”
And I just say, “Okay, here you go!”
And pass it over.
(I abandoned this one when Adam picked up the topic.)
(I never got around to writing anything, but one day I realized that no one in France would know what an ‘asswipe’ meant, so I could call someone an asswipe and they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.)
Culinary Confessions, Part II
(I started this after my first post, which is one of my favorites, became popular. I guess I got most of ’em out of my system the first time around, since I didn’t find much to say for part II.)
1. I once ate a cinnamon-raisin bagel. And I’m not proud of it.
How To Eat a Wedge of Cheese
(There’s a whole etiquette to eating cheese in France. To me, it’s kinda fun to learn about it since I am totally enamored of all-things-cheese. But I was invited to a cheese tasting here, and someone, a chef from American, reached over and started taking a slice off the side off a round of cheese. Imagine someone slicing a cake like that!
The cheesemakers eyes kinda widened, and I could feel a lot of sphincters tightening in that room as she desecrated that round of cheese.)
If you’re the first person presented with a wedge of cheese, taking the pointed end, or the ‘nose’ off the cheese is like grabbing the blue-icing roses first off a birthday cake if it’s not your birthday.
(Anyhow, I never finished. But here’s a rather simple guide.)
Top Ten Questions Europeans Have About Visiting America
(This came about during the student demonstrations last summer when, due to the overblown US media, it apparently looked like Paris was burning. People were emailing me right-and-left about the riot-torn streets since for some reason the headlines in the US were proclaiming, “Paris Is Burning!”.
Since there’s so little violence in America, I suppose it was a bit of a shock to see it elsewhere, though. Curiously, the immigrant ‘riots’ in America were not shown to similar effect here.)
So I thought it might be fun to show Americans how a French person might view America, or the questions they might have.)
1. Is the water in America safe to drink?
2. With all the unrest and demonstrations we see on the news in America, is it safe to visit?
3. How do Americans not stay so thin?
4. With all the shootings on the news, is it safe to walk the streets?
5. Aren’t Americans rude?
6. Will the waiters try to understand us if we don’t speak their language? Will there be menus in French? Will there be French-speaking people at the front desk at our hotel?
7. Will we get sued?
8. Is it safe to eat chicken and beef?
8. If we get sick, how many months is the pre-approval process before we can get treatment?
9. Why do we need three different kinds of insurance to rent a car?
So anyhow…that’s it.
I feel like I’ve cleaned off my desktop and got another blog entry under my belt. And perhaps offended a few people in the process. Apologies if I did, but I do feel better, and am ready to make a fresh start here.
In upcoming posts I’ll have feature profiles of the food producers that I met on my trip to a rural farm that makes terrific artisanal apple cider, a visit to the birthplace of Kouing Aman (not to be confused with Idi Amin, who was not so sweet), and a trip to a gelateria in Bologna.
There will be more interviews with notables in the food community, including another studly chocolate-maker and an interview with master baker Nick Malgieri and recipes from his new book.
There’ll be a story about the secret French, single-finger lathering-up-in-the-shower technique, plus a post on the most disgusting, vile, filthy objects you’re likely to find anywhere. (And I’m not talking about in the US House of Representatives.)
But yes, there will be pictures.
And of course, there’s likely to be a few surprises…
…like the lost chicken carcass in my apartment.
Which I hope to find soon!