Archive | October, 2010

Frenchie and the American Media Distortion of Information

20 Oct

It almost looks like the 2 journalists attended different events in different countries.

LA Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-france-protests-20101020,0,5832853.story

France24

http://www.france24.com/en/20101020-france-violent-protests-unions-retirement-sarkozy-pension-hortefeux-petrol

Frenchie and the Mini Chocolate Lava Cakes – with Blueberry-Merlot Sorbet

18 Oct

Once in a while, you just gotta have chocolate. This will fix any chocolate cravings. Remember to prepare the sorbet one day ahead at least.

Blueberry-Merlot Sorbet

2 cups (250 g) of fresh blueberries

3/4 cup (180 ml) of water

1 cup (250 g) of sugar

1 cup (250 ml) of red wine (Merlot)

1 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice

In a heavy saucepan, combine the blueberries, the sugar and water. Bring to a boil stirring constantly to help the sugar dissolve. Reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, let stand aside until completely cool.

When cool, transfer to a mixer or food processor and combine the blueberry mixture with the wine and the lemon juice. Process until smooth. Cover and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Pour the mixture in an ice cream maker and process until frozen depending on the machine and manufacturer. Put the ice cream in a container and freeze. Make the ice cream 1 day ahead of possible before serving.

Mini Chocolate Lava Cakes

4 eggs

5.3 oz (150 g) 72% dark baking chocolate

6 Tbsp of butter (80 g)

1/2 cup (90 g) of sugar

2 big spoons of flour

Another flavored chocolate bar (ginger or mint or lavender or hazelnut & currant)

Fleur de sel

Preheat the oven to 475 ° F (240 ° C or Th 8-9) and grease 6 small silicone baking cups.

Break the 5.3 oz of chocolate in small pieces and melt them with the butter in a small saucepan until smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until completely dissolved. Slowly add the 2 big spoonfuls of flour and mix well. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and mix.

To pour the batter in the baking cups, start by filling them half way only. Break the flavored chocolate bar into small squares and put 1 square in each of the cups on the batter. Finish the operation by pouring the rest of the batter in the cups and filling them to the top.

Cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes (10 minutes for a real lava experience – 12 minutes for a slightly more cooked mini cake but still lava-ish as seen on the pictures). Let them stand for 15 minutes in the baking cups before removing and serving them.

Finish off by sprinkling a small amount of fleur de sel on top of the cakes so it sits in the chocolate cracks.

Mini Chocolate Lave Cakes – with Blueberry-Merlot Sorbet

Frenchie and the Curse of the Buttery Croissant

16 Oct

On a recent trip to Iceland, I overheard a French couple staying at the same hotel complaining about the fact that there was no croissant served at breakfast. The food available for this free breakfast, since it was included with the room, was made up of regular Continental items as well as a variety of local breakfast foods such as herrings, some other pickled fish and veggies, smoked salmon etc. While I am not used to eating herring early in the morning, I jumped on the occasion to try mixing the flavors of fish with a bitter orange jelly toast on the side: when in Rome, eat as the Romans do.

The French couple probably thought they were the only French-speaking tourists in the breakfast room since most of the languages spoken around were Danish, Swedish, Icelandic sounding as well as English. They freely discussed and argued that it was un scandale that there were no bakery items available to eat and that it was absolutely dégoûtant to eat fish for breakfast.

It got me to think about this article I had read from Time Magazine about a recent poll on the World’s worst tourists. Europeans and the French especially love to call out Americans as being the worst tourists: they’re so loud, they’re so uncultured, they’re so demanding etc. But for the third year in a row, the French won the title again for worst tourists! Now how about that?? Not just elected worst tourists… re-elected for the third time. Now that’s a title you don’t want to win over and over again.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1909526,00.html

http://voyages.liberation.fr/actualite/les-francais-reelus-pires-touristes-au-monde

So what did the French couple do in light of their croissant disappointment? They called the manager in charge and asked why there was no bakery available and if such items could be available the next morning. With a strong Icelandic accent, the poor manager tried to find his most polite English words and clearly explained that this was not something they were accustomed to serve and he pointed out the various toasts and small breakfast rolls. The French couple unable to come to terms with the idea that they would have to wait to land at CDG to smell the deliciousness of buttery croissants huffed and puffed – so French, I loved it… and yes, I do that too! – and said under their breath: “Let’s make sure next time we book a trip in a non-poor country”. Ouch!

Are the French forever cursed by the Ghost of Breakfast Past, Present and Future? Is the Mighty Croissant something we after all cannot live without? Or is it just that we’re so inflexible and so not ready to adapt that we do indeed deserve the Worst Tourist Trophy?

Croissant-Free Zone

Frenchie and the Dark Side of the Force – aka the Letter C

14 Oct

You know those t-shirts that read I’m Huge in Japan or I’m Famous in Bollywood? Well, mine should read I’m NMI in the U.S.!! Yes, I am NMI or No Middle Initial – as seen on certain formal documents. The truth is that I never questioned not having a middle name until I moved here.

Americans are very proud of their middle names. So proud, in fact, they’re featured everywhere: business cards, resumes, e-mail signatures, Facebook names, checks, credit cards, online order forms etc. It is especially strange for the French when announcing the birth of a baby: “Kelly Michelle was born on April 16″. The first time I saw this I thought “wow, Kelly Michelle is a bit of an odd name and it’s a long one too!” until I was explained that Michelle is the middle name. Not a second name like in France. A middle name.

After much reflection over the years on my middle-name-challenged persona, I came to the conclusion that a middle name must be like a second self; an entity that does not exist but follows you all your life. Almost like a twin for that matter! Gasp! Could it be one’s evil twin? An evil twin you will never get to interact with, touch or see. It only lurks in the dark side of your name by peeking its initial for the whole world to see and waiting to pounce at you like a monster during meet and greets. We all know the Force has a dark side – so could the all-powerful middle initial be that dark side of the Force? Are Jedis of the U.S. just bound to always fight their dark side creeping up their very own names?

Americans like to use their middle names in any situations especially when being introduced. “Hi my name is Jack M. Smith, nice to meet you.” I always wondered why people like to introduce themselves this way and why emphasize one’s chopped-up-evil-twin? I was really left panicked, sweaty and paralyzed when one day I met a man who told me: “Hi, I’m S. James Knox.” My eyes opened as wide as they could and I thought “OMG, his evil twin took over, it won. Set the Force free!”. I was ready to grab my lightsaber until I realized I was holding a glass of wine and thought that for once I might have had too much. I still don’t have an explanation as to why one would make mention of an initial, especially when it’s meant for a first name. If you have decided to use your middle name as your first, why still include your first initial during introductions?

Now don’t get me wrong, the French also have several names. They’re just not middle names. They are second – and sometimes third – names. As a young child, when I found out that my grandparents had several names, first I couldn’t understand what they were for, and second, I got instantly jealous. It is not rare for a child to receive his parents or grandparents first names as second or third or fourth names – all separated with a comma. These names are not mentioned anywhere other than on official documents, passports or driver’s licenses. Someone with three names like Carole, Madeleine, Marie is not uncommon. Now this person would never introduce herself other than “Carole” and would never use an initial between her first and last name. While second, third or fourth names are rarely mentioned and are possibly even unimportant in the French society, these names hold great sentimental family values for the people who wear them because of the ancestors they channel.

What’s most common in France is to give a baby a compound name. Depending on the family, city where you live, social status etc. compound names are popular. Such names are made up of two first names separated by a dash. However, strange and ugly ideas can happen to the best of us and children end up with creations like: Marie-Charline or Charles-Edouard. I’ll just leave it at that, I think we all agree here.

So here we are, in 2000, as I am getting ready to send applications for Master’s programs all over the U.S. All applications were filled the same: middle initial and/or name left blank. Answer letters from the various Colleges started to arrive and oh! surprise… someone created a middle initial for me! Holy Jamie Lee Curtis, what’s going on? I was left astonished in my apartment complex lobby, letter in hand, unopened, staring at my own name on the envelope with its evil dark side sneaking up on it. A big capital C. Christopher, Connor, Carson, Chase, Cain… what is it? Could it be Clarence? I was dying to know what had been entered in the Northwestern University computer that was apparently too old to handle moi! It was a big hit to my middle-name-therapy I was undertaking with myself at the time. Does one have to have a middle name to be accepted? Will computers in the future assign random middle names to people like me? Worst, are we all doomed to get an evil twin grafted without putting up a fight? I expressly requested from Northwestern to remove the big scary C to which they replied that their computer could not handle such a request and that they were updating their system. In any case, the letter was a refusal letter and I was very happy to oblige after all.

If you’d like to help with my middle name C search, all bets are on. For now, it shall be C-3PO.

Stuck in the Middle

Frenchie and the King of the Family

12 Oct

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/world/europe/12iht-fffrance.html

Frenchie and the Rhubarb Cobbler With a Twist

9 Oct

Most French lack complete awareness about American cuisine and its wonderful flavors, tastes and creativity. Here is an oldie but a goodie: the cobbler. I would like for my fellow French to know that there is more to American desserts than just cookies and brownies – I am looking at you American Bakery in Paris on rue Notre Dame des Champs!!  (Evil Eye!) Seriously, bring out the cobblers, the coffee cakes, the pies… show us more than that. Surprise us!

For all the Frenchies out there craving American tastes in their kitchens, here is a rhubarb cobbler with a twist. A cobbler is an old-fashioned speciality where the fruit filling is traditionally poured into the dish and covered with a biscuit-like pastry dough. Here the twist is that the dough is not placed over the fruit filling as the traditional recipes call for. It’s delicious!

Ingredients:

3 cups (540 g) of chopped rhubarb – about 10 long stalks

3/4 cup (150 g) of brown sugar

4 Tbsp (60 g) of melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup (120 ml) of milk

1/2 cup (50g) of flour

2 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 cup (190 g) of white sugar

1 tsp of melted butter

Preheat your oven to 350° F (180° C – Th 4).

Mix the rhubarb with the brown sugar in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

In a different bowl, mix 3 Tbsp of the melted butter (keep the last Tbsp for the end) with the eggs, the flour, the baking powder, the vanilla and the sugar. Use a whisk to beat the batter until smooth and consistent.

Use 1 tsp of butter to grease a pan (9″ x 11″ or 23 x 28 cm) and pour in the batter. Spread the rhubarb mix over the batter. Smooth and press it down so the top is even. Use a baking brush to delicately brush the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter over the top to get a nice brownish crust.

Bake for 60 min.

Rhubarb Cobbler with a Twist

Frenchie and the Over-Stimulated Bag Culture

6 Oct

Have you ever noticed how the French always – and I mean it here… always! – carry a bag? It’s easy for me to say this, I used to carry a bag all the time as well. My bag syndrome is long gone now that I live in the U.S. but it still lingers deep inside of me. I guess you could say I have non-stimulated dormant bag tendencies; a bit like a virus but not as itchy.

Let’s take a look at this bag culture more closely. Next time you’re in France, or in Europe for that matter because I bet it’s similar elsewhere, stand still in the middle of a busy métro station or on a busy street or sit down at a café and watch – watch what happens, watch people and their bags. Start counting people carrying bags. Actually an easier exercise if you don’t like counting much would be to count those without bags… much easier! Isn’t it funny? I can safely bet that the ratio is 1 in every 15 does not carry a bag. Now if you observe attentively people in this country, you will find that women carry bags – although not all the time – and men absolutely almost never carry bags. What I mean by bags here is anything from a back-pack, a plastic bag, a shopping bag and even, if I can dare say it… a man-purse. So why is that the French hold on dearly to their bags wherever they go giving this feeling that they carry their homes with them like strange turtles on a mission? And why didn’t Americans catch this bag virus over time? Surprisingly, American men found an alternative to the bag issue, which will be explained below. And most importantly, one might wonder about the French… what do you carry in your freaking bags?

Hi my name is XXX and I used to carry a bag for most of my life. That was me 11 years ago. Going to the movies? Let’s take a bag. Going to dinner? I need my bag. Going to a friend’s house? Hold on, let me prepare my bag. At the dentist? Shoot, I forgot my bag! Yes, it is like a disease and it is already much spread out throughout France. I hear your questions, why take a bag to go to the movies? Back then, my answer would have been: “Well, I like to carry my backpack because I might need a book in case the previews are too long. I also have my glasses and their case. I have a special case for my glasses cleaning tissue. I need my Paris map in case we decide to go somewhere afterwards and we get lost. I also have my CD player with me. And I took my checkbook, just in case… you never know. Oh and I carry this magazine with me I bought last week, I did not finish reading it yet.” Yes, that was my answer back in the days. Did I need all this to go to the movies? Of course not. I could have worn my glasses, leave the house and call it a day. But the security of a bag makes it all of a sudden so much better.

Leaving aside students and their needs to transport books, travelers and their suitcases and businessmen with their briefcases, the rest of the French population is addicted to carrying a bag.  There are truly 3 types of bag carriers:

1. The Concealed-Flat-Bag Carrier: You can easily tell they’re empty – meaning they don’t need one – yet they will carry one.  Mostly men with backpacks, the bag is so flat it can only truly contain a thin brochure of some sort just by looking at it. Maybe a book? Possibly some other mundane items at the bottom. Always kept flat and glued to the back, you can almost never spot it but it’s really there!

2. The Over-Fed-Bag Carrier: These bags look like they’re ready to pop! Anything goes here. But as a true French person, you can be sure you will find a warm sweater (“In case it gets cold. You know, it gets down to 65 degrees these days.”) and of course, you guessed it, the famous French scarf needed and worn throughout the year.

3. The Faux-Shopping-Bag Carrier: Here, it is meant for any shopping bags used as a regular bag, so as not to carry a real bag, and filled with little things we don’t need but may need just in case.

Despite the fashionable aspect of a bag – being attached to your body and holding on to it like a precious item – the concept of a bag represents everything we don’t want to let go: keeping everything close at all time and being so proactive about carrying things we might need one day that it becomes almost humorous. Recently I was asked by a French person visiting me as we were leaving the house why I wouldn’t bring a bag. “So you just leave the house like that, cell phone in hand and no coat? You look like a tourist. Don’t you need a bag?” Here we are, the old fear of “looking like a tourist”, looking like you’re not part of the crowd, setting yourself apart from others by not carrying a bag – being an outsider! Gasp! We wouldn’t want that to happen, right?

Americans on the other hand are not victims of this bag virus. A lot of women can be seen in the street not carrying a hand bag. And almost all American men do not carry one. Not even a backpack. Men have found the greatest trick of them all, which is to carry “stuff” in their pockets therefore creating an army of people with overstuffed pockets: ladies and gents, here are the cargo pants maniacs! Cargo pants or shorts are the solutions to the European bag addiction. Winter or summer, you too can overstuff your pockets with the freedom and liberty of not carrying anything in your hands or on your shoulders. Unfortunately, this smart solution is not without saying a true fashion disaster for Europeans. Carrying “stuff” on the side of your legs? Over-stuffed pockets dangling on the side? I can hear the French say “no thanks”. And yet, American men love their cargo pants. Yes, indeed, they look like they have legs 4 times bigger than their actual size. And of course, it looks like they’re getting ready for a moon trip wearing some sort of astronaut jumpsuit. But who cares, right? As long as we’re not bogged down with a bag… because bags are for women.

So what’s better? Having to worry about always carrying a bag everywhere you go even if you don’t need one? Or almost looking bloated from the waist down with a big wallet on the left and an iPhone on the right in your jeans pockets? Or is it just simply that we are all materialistic people with a desperate need to always bring “stuff” with us when we leave the house when in reality all we need are keys, an ID and a bit of cash?

Hmmm makes we wonder… fanny pack anyone?

Bag Nation

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