Thursday, May 31, 2007

This makes no sense!

According to findings reported in the British Journal of Psychology:

The length of children's fingers may hint at their natural abilities in math and language, a new study suggests.
. . .

Specifically, boys whose index fingers were short compared with their ring fingers tended to excel at numbers and girls with index and ring fingers of similar length tended to do better on the verbal portion of the test.

. . .
Full article available on (Emphasis added.)

My ring and index fingers are practically twins. I'm gifted! Why is my fat little hand resting on a "Débutant" level book then? Leave it to me to be the aberration - a freak of nature! I bet the length between the ring finger and pinky correlates to motivation and attention span.

[p.s. Laura, perhaps you were on to something with your "Show And Tell" toes!]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Slam Dunk!

I just realized why there are no grocery baggers in France; nobody is qualified to do it. My groceries piled up on the left side of the bin as they passed over the scanner while the two customers in front of me attempted to bag theirs. The man on the left only had one item (a six pack of little boxed milks), but couldn't manage to get the bag over the corners. The other resembled an under developed monkey trying to fit a round peg into a square hole (he too had a single bag to pack). I still feel guilty when my groceries aren't bagged and the person in front of me has to wait. I don't mean to brag, but I've become quite good at bagging groceries now. After watching An Inconvenient Truth, I started using my recyclable grocery tote (something I had from my San Francisco days, but I'm ashamed to say I rarely used) and my grandma cart. I unload heavy items onto the conveyor belt first so they are the first to be packed. The rest I throw on top and I'm out of there. I have to admit this time I did it even faster than most to make a point. The American Spirit of competitiveness, alive and well in France. Hey, I'll take my victories where I can get them these days! Touché!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

vin246: Camembert and Tome de Chèvre

[Please click here if you'd like background information on this entry. Thank you!]

Fred and I have been somewhat lazy when it comes to grocery shopping. Instead of taking advantage of the many marchés and independent shops in our neighborhood, we often find ourselves at Picard or Monoprix out of convenience.

On Saturday we took a short walk to rue Daguerre and purchased the cheeses for this tasting at: Fromagerie Vacroux, 5 rue Daguerre, 75014 Paris, 01 43 22 09 04.

The fromager was extremely helpful and didn't even laugh at me when I stood gazing at his offerings and flipping through my cheese encyclopedia. I'm more open to striking up conversations when Fred is there as he can swoop in and save me and my victim when the going gets rough. (It's also a good tactic to use when we're lost and he refuses to ask for directions. I'll stop a stranger and start stuttering in French, leaving him no choice but to jump in and do clean-up. It's a little humiliating, but it saves time looking at a map.) The fromager recommended some very nice cheeses and offered us a tasting prior to purchase. He also suggested a bottle of sparkling cider, which he carried, to go with one of our choices.

The wine shop across the alley wasn't as accommodating (La Cave Péret, 6 rue Daguerre 75014 Paris, 01 43 22 08 64). We've been there a few times and I don't find the owner helpful. If you know what you're looking for, it's easy to pop in and out. But if you'd like some guidance, forget it. She always seems rushed and inconvenienced. Next time, I think we'll go to Nicolas a few doors down. Although it's a chain, we've had good luck with other locations in Paris.

So, here is what we ended up with:

On the left:

Cheese: Camembert de Normandie – Isigny Sainte-Mère
Milk: Cow's milk, raw
Cost: 3.15€ (demi wheel)

Estate: Ferme de L’Hermitiere
Region: Normandie
Type: Cru de L’Hermitiere - Cidre Bouché Fermier (Farm-made Sparkling Cider)
Cost: 3.90€ (from fromagerie); 2.50€ (from producer)

The Camembert and cider come from the same region: Normandie; yes, we are back to one of our favorites! The Camembert was coated in chapelure (bread crumbs) that had been parfumed with Calvados (an apple brandy also from Normandie). It's a neat concept as you can serve this cheese without bread. We found it difficult to taste the Calvados, Amy sensed it in waves, but over all it was faint. Regardless, the chapelure was a nice touch as it made the generally strong Camembert a bit milder.

The cider is produced by a small family-run business, which is usually a good sign for quality products. This cider was no exception. Clearly made from real apples, it was opaque and had a good smell. It wasn't too sweet or acidic, just right! Amy felt that it had a barnyard odor, which makes sense as it is a fermier (farm-made) product, but the "strong" smell didn't stop her from finishing half the bottle.

I recommend enjoying this combination during a warm afternoon under the shade of a tree. I know, this is cheesy but this is an entry about wine and cheese after all. It might also be nice served in small wedges before a meal with an apéritif, such as champagne, for example. Amy agrees. This is the perfect picnic combo as the breaded Camembert is easy to handle and the cider is light and refreshing, and if you drink it outdoors (near a stable) the farm smell will be insignificant.

On the right:

Estate: Château Carbon d’Artigues
Vintage: 2004
Region: Bordeaux
Appellation: Graves
Color: Red
Cost: 10.40€

Cheese: Tome* de chèvre des Pyrénées-Orientales
Milk: Goat's milk, raw
Cost: 5.39€ / 26.95kg

The Tome de chèvre is from the East side of the Pyrénées, les Pyrénées-Orientales, close to the Mediterranean sea. Tomes de chèvre come from many regions, usually Savoie. This cheese was excellent. It's a semi-hard cheese, a bit creamy and not as hard as a parmesan so it didn't crumble between our teeth. The first bite delivers a slight pique (prick), but the cheese mellows with each chew. Towards the end, you can feel some grit or chalkiness. We were amazed at how many tastes and textures appeared in one little bite. Like the Camembert, this cheese would be great served in slivers with a before dinner drink or at the end of a meal in a traditional cheese course.

We paired this wine with a Château Carbon d’Artigues from the Graves region, the Southern wine region of Bordeaux (allez Bordeaux!). It is recommended to let this wine breathe before drinking. The color is like a medium-dark ruby, the smell not too powerful and the taste is that of oak and red fruits. The initial impression is strong, but the wine settled into a nice smooth taste.

The pairing of the two was decent as the strong young wine offered some balance to the Tome de chèvre. Next time, we'll probably try a white wine from Limoux as recommended in our cheese encyclopedia. However, the wine shop didn't carry any so we went with the suggestion of the fromager, a red Graves.

Cutting the cheese:

During my first meal with Fred's family I made the rookie mistake of cutting the nose off the cheese. His family didn't care, of course, and I didn't even realize that there was a protocol until I read about it in a book later. I still remember the giant cheese platter making its way down the table to me. Being polite, they wanted me, their guest, to go first. It would have been less awkward had I figuratively cut the cheese; over in a quick second and I could have blamed it on Fred. Literally cutting the cheese is a different story. There were several of them and I didn't know how many or much to take. A giant chunk of Comté haunted me. I felt like I was sawing away at its thick rind for hours with the family watching on. Flopping it on it's side and cutting it in to alternating triangles (like the Tome in this picture) is much easier to manage and still accomplishes the goal of allowing everybody the opportunity to taste the cheese from the center to the rind. So nice of the French to assign Geometry homework with their meals.

Going there:

The Camembert and sparkling cider can be found on the Northern half of the map, and the Tome and Graves in the Southern half.

*FYI: The fromagerie spelled it tome, but we've also seen it spelled tomme.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


"Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" *

"How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?"*

- Charles de Gaulle, Les Mots du Général, Ernest Mignon (1962)

After reading a few of my past blog entries, I realized that I often give the impression that I dislike France and the French. This is not the case at all. But writing about nice encounters isn't cathartic. I subscribe to the lesser known adage: If you can't say something mean, don't say anything at all. Hence, on the days that I haven't written anything, it's safe to assume that les parisiens were indifferent to me and sometimes even nice!

In an effort to convey a more positive image, however, I've decided to start writing about some French things that I absolutely love: wine and cheese. My favorite thing French (Monsieur Frédéric, who prefers to be called "Fred" because he didn't grow up watching Sanford & Son) will be contributing to this segment as well.

Like many of you, we enjoy food and wine and have decided to learn more about it by trying to taste a new pairing each weekend every so often (we're lazier than I could have imagined). We figured if we wrote about it here, we could keep a record of our impressions and hear about your experiences as well. At the moment, we are far from being experts (me being even further away than Fred). But, we look forward to sharing our thoughts with you as we make our way.


* While more cheeses may exist in France today, we dare not mess with a quote from General de Gaulle.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Ears Have Eyes

I dressed like a lady today and wore wedged sandals to work. I can’t stand heels, evidenced by the Aerosoles label on the insoles. But it's getting muggy and my office is turning into a sauna. The air conditioning apparatus attached to the ceiling refuses to pump out any cool air. I’d call maintenance, but they speak French. Wearing my only pair of sandals for ventilation seemed like the more comfortable option.

My feet were stepped on twice in the crowded metro car a mere 10 minutes into my commute. I was already regretting my decision. But then the cute Frenchmen started joking with me telling me it was my fault because my feet were too big. They were really sweet and endured my horrible French for the remainder of the ride. By the time I reached my stop, I really felt as if I were walking on air. My sandals had made me two new friends. I guess I didn’t hate heels after all, or the French . . . until 3:30 p.m.

I was enjoying a coffee in the break room with a French colleague when a woman entered the tiny space. While she was waiting for the vending machine to prepare her drink, I felt that familiar stare (please refer to the following entry) - a stare which again was returned by me with a little smile saying “please stop before I do something we’ll both regret”. Body language apparently doesn’t translate well because she continued and even added a hovering lurk outside the doorway for good measure.

I feel that I’m considerate when speaking in public places because I know that Americans have a reputation amongst the French for being loud talkers. Something I’ve witnessed while out and about in Paris. And a few months after my arrival my drunk American girlfriends and I were in a café when we were told to “Shut the F*ck Up” by an angry French woman. Needless to say, I’ve been berated into a state of self-consciousness which responds in the form of disproportionate and uncontrollable defensiveness.

I told my coffee buddy that I was sick of being stared at like an animal in a zoo when speaking English. Given the diversity of Paris, I’m shocked when people continue to gawk as if I was speaking an ancient dialect of a West African tribe. She must have been wearing a Miracle Ear because she was up in my face in no time.

She was staring, she said, because she wanted to know if I was British or American. I understand curiosity and would have happily told her had she just asked me. I sometimes ask Fred if he can distinguish between Nordic languages. And I occasionally listen to French conversations to see if I’ve made any progress. But what I don’t do is bore holes into peoples faces while I’m listening to their conversations because I don’t hear with my eyes!

Having missed the opportunity to hand the man my flash cards the other day, I stupidly failed to let this moment pass. I told her that I was American. She said she was compelled to come explain herself because I was "so shocked". Impressive recitation skills. I told her it is shocking when a stranger stares at you for two minutes and that if she does that she shouldn’t be shocked when people are offended.

She further “explained” that her husband is American so that’s why she wanted to know. Really? My husband is French and I don't stare at French people. Further, if her husband is American then she shouldn’t have to engage in hardcore eavesdropping to identify said accent. Two weeks ago Fred and I were in London and he could barely understand the Brits. Moreover, other Europeans and Asians working with Fred in English can detect within seconds that he speaks with an American accent. Unless her husband is from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, she should have been able to recognize my accent with ease. Perhaps her glasses distorted her hearing.

When I quit my telecommuting job for the company in San Francisco, it was to get myself out of the house so I could interact with people and, hopefully, make some new friends. But my big mouth has gotten me into trouble again. Not only did I miss the opportunity to strike up a friendship with a French woman who is open to fraternizing with Americans, but I have created an uncomfortable working environment. It would have been nice to have her as a friend to call maintenance for me!

By 6:30 it was finally time to go home. I exited the lobby into the central atrium to find a crowd of eager commuters looking up at the sky. A massive lightening storm was beating down on La Defense.

And there I stood in my high-heeled sandals.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

See Amy Learn

I’m not fit to live in society. I’m not sure why I reside in a city as I can’t stand being around other people. I imagine nice people going about their lives feeling less stressed and happier because they aren’t thinking about how much they can’t stand the person sitting in the metro seat next to them. I make myself look at the Eiffel Tower as I take the 6 line to work willing it to give me the power to be nice that day. Alas, today was like any other day, except it was worse because the man next to me was reading along as I studied my flash cards. Yes, I know that I’m in public thus they’re fair game, but only to an extent. It’s uncomfortable to have another adult monitor my low-level learning. I looked at him once and smiled to let him know that I knew I was being observed and that it was awkward. He offered a knowing smile in return, but continued. I had to fight the urge to tap the flash cards into a nice neat pile and hand them over. If an adult Frenchman needs to learn how to conjugate “re” verbs in the present then he needs them more than me. And, yes, I know he was French and not just an eager learner because he smelled of BO and yelled “Allo? Allo? Je n’entends rien!” when he answered his cell phone in a tunnel.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

March of the Turtles

An inordinate amount of people wear backpacks in Paris. And I'm not referring to students and tourists. I'm talking about adults riding the metro during rush hour in business attire. While I expect more from the "fashionably chic" Parisiens (the ones that ridicule American for wearing Bermudas and knee-highs), it's not the assault on my eyes that I find irritating. It's the assault on my face.

I have been the victim of backpack burn many a times as an oblivious commuter drags his dirty Eastpak across my cheek because he is too clueless to realize that the canvas mess on his back moves with him. My instinct is to reach up and grab the handle at the top of his shell and pull him to his knees so he can beg for my forgiveness. The very handle that is intended to be used as a carrying device when it’s not practical to wear the backpack! Of course I don’t have the language skills or the balls to do this so instead I just push the backpack out of my face and look the other way when the culprit turns around.

This issue is taken very seriously in San Francisco. Public service posters appear in BART trains reminding commuters to remove their backpacks as a courtesy to fellow travelers (just in case someone forgot to pack their common sense that morning). Perhaps we are a little too nice in California. I’m going to need to toughen up if I’m going to make it in the Big City. A daily dose of sandpaper canvas to the face during my morning commute is a good start.