Friday, April 23, 2010

In France, it's easy being cheesy.

Everyone knows that France is famous for its cheese. It stands right behind Wisconsin for making the best cheese the world over ;). A guy named Rick I used to know once (only half-jokingly) put on his resume: I like cheese. Well, I do too, Rick, and the cheese I like I like a lot, mostly the hard salty types, like Cantal, Comté, and Gruyere. Yet, by Frenchie standards, I like a relative few, which is deceiving considering that in France there are upwards of 500 of them (the figures vary.) Back in 1962, at a low point in his political career, Charles de Gaulle famously quipped, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheeses?"

Indeed, the best part about living here is the food culture and part of the fun is getting pretty tuned into different regions based upon their
gastronomique offerings, most notably the fromages. I appreciate how history and geography are truly manifest in a region's specialties: Normandie with its rolling hills and dairy cows gives you creamy Camembert, for example. Mmmmm... Camembert... But oh, I digress.

My in-laws are originally from Auvergne, a beautiful, if under-appreciated region in the center of France. It can be a little hard to get to, and has a hard time competing with the Atlantic or the Mediterranean as a go-to holiday destination. At its core is the industrial town Clermont Ferrand (not unlike my own hometown: big ups for Schenectady, NY!) Still, it is green and mountainous, and comprised of extinct volcanoes that produce some of the world's most minerally-of-mineral water (think: Volvic brand water- you know that little Volcano on the Volvic bottle? It's called the Puy de Dome, and my hubbie's grandparents live there.)

Maybe it's the minerals that have something to do with it, for when it comes to cheese, there are several celebrated types from the region, including Cantal and Salers. But for the locals, its all about the St. Nectaire, an uncooked, pressed cheese, made from cow's milk. It's dense and silky smooth. Delicate and aromatic. I'm no food critic, but in a word, it's scrum-delicious, with hints of hazelnut and mushrooms. As it happens, hubbie's colleague is from the very same small town in Auvergne that my MIL is from, and so he picked us up a little local love on a recent trip home. Colleague must have been trying to score some serious points, as he returned with some of the best St. Nectaire I've ever had- and so much of it that I thought for certain we couldn't work our way through it. But we made a couple meals out of it. And how:


Roman secures his grip.

Camille has a taste for only the finest

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red Fish

Last week, around midnight, I lay in bed as I often do at that hour, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab (ok, ok, yes, it's in English; and I should be listening to a French podcast, so guillotine me.) By way of introduction to their subject, a singer/musician named Juana Molina, the host mentioned that she had a gig coming up at Le Poisson Rouge in the East Village. Despite my near slumber, my eyes flicked open.

Of course!
Poisson Rouge.

But the Poisson Rouge I'm most acquainted with these days isn't a venue for hot bands. Instead, it's a free French/English bilingual website, filled with cheeky games for pre-school children, and replete with enough wink-winks to adults to keep 'em coming back for more. The imagery is charming, the content educational, the videos infective, and the music is catchy. They channel anime, have folksy or rocky riffs on popular English and French children's songs that can be downloaded as MP3s (I highly recommend their cover of Une Souris Verte). They leverage pop art from Mondrian to Warhol and in fact their content is not merely bilingual: an alphabet section contains vocabulary in French, Spanish, Greek, and both UK
and US English, and Poisson Rouge will give your kid a head-start in Chinese, too. There are no instructions, just click and discover, and its regularly updated to keep it fresh and relevant.

On April 1st, Camille said to me, "I want to do some
Poisson Rouge." (I like her choice of verb: "do some.") As she was in the middle of a nasty bout of chicken pox, I quickly indulged her, only to click on the site and find a black screen with red lettering, the same palette used by all those best selling true-crime paperbacks, saying effectively, "Sorry folks, parks closed," and "Our apologies, Poisson Rouge can no longer be maintained."

Camille getting a little stretch in before bedtime in her Poisson Rouge t-shirt

Remember Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy? "Whaaa, whaa, whaa?!" I was shocked! How do I explain "website maintenance" to a 3.5 year old, and how do I tell my pock-marked petite that Poisson Rouge is no more? I stammered. I stuttered. I contemplated a quick toggle over to, the whole while that their mea culpa was up on the screen.

About 30 seconds into it, I hear giggling. And it was coming from the computer! The black screen went away and Poisson Rouge was back as usual, indeed it had never gone away. A-ha! April Fool's! Some things really do translate.

I get the impression that the peeps behind Poisson Rouge are a bunch of creative, bilingual types who sincerely get a kick out of playing goofy jokes. But for many they caused a near panic, and even before I knew it was a joke (in those mere 30 seconds before the giggling started), I assuaged my guilt knowing I had already donated to the site. Yet still I asked myself, accusingly, "What more could I have done?"

Days later, they 'fessed up to their little joke, and sent a big merci by sharing many of the comments they received from Anglo and Franco friends alike. They promised that they were here to stay. Hope so.