Thursday, September 29, 2005

October is the beginning of the season for Vacherin, which in some books is described as a "strong winter cheese." To my palate, it is sweet. And, in fact, it is often served in restaurants at room temperature, with a spoon, as a dessert cheese. Made in the Jura region of eastern France, Vacherin requires weeks of aging before it is wrapped in a thin layer of spruce or cedar bark and shipped to market.

Cheese shops throughout the city are anticipating the arrival of Vacherin. When I ask (prematurely) for Vacherin at Barthelemy, a quaint cheese shop off the Boulevard St-Germain, I am told rather brusquely by the woman behind the counter that the Vacherin isn't expected until the third or fourth week of October. "It needs WEEKS to ripen," she tells me. I explain that we'll be in the city until the end of October, at which point, she softens and smiles at me. "Well," she says, "you should have said so before. While you're waiting for the Vacherin, why don't you come again on the eighth? We're having a little degustation, and you can try some other excellent cheeses, some pain d'epices, and some port." Thus the city awaits the arrival of one of its finest cheeses.
I came to Paris with an undignified condition--warts. Unsightly warts on the bottom of my left foot that require a treatment as undignified as the warts themselves. The treatment involves applying a fixative cream, that, in the words of the dermatologist himself, kills everything on contact. However, given that my warts are deep, I must apply the fixative for weeks, spreading a small amount of the cream on each wart every night. Then, in the morning in the shower, a small grater--which looks exactly like a miniature cheese grater--is applied to the warts with swift, abrasive strokes. In theory, I should be wart-free by the end of the year.

When I unpacked this morning in the apartment (the first full day in the city with a good night's sleep under my belt), I discovered to my chagrin that I had left the wart grater at home. So, my father and I set off in search of a replacement. At the pharmacy around the corner, I began to describe what I was looking for to the gentleman behind the counter, and I realized that, while I knew all the vocabulary for describing warts and calluses and fixative creams, I had no idea what the word for "grater" is. The pharmacist gallantly pulled out every anti-callus device he could think of, soliciting a regretful "no, that's not it, I'm afraid" from me. Finally in a desperate stroke of genius, I told the pharmacist that the device essentially resembled a small cheese grater. At which point, he lit up with obvious delight and relief and pulled out the exact tool for the job. "It was the cheese that did it," he crooned. And now I know that the French word for "grater"--cheese or otherwise--is "la rape."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I just printed out my boarding pass, so the trip is getting more real by the minute! And, La Chef has emailed to wish us an excellent trip and to confirm the first class together. I feel breathless.

Yesterday, colleagues had a sendoff for me and two other colleagues--one of whom is heading off to open a satellite office in New York, the other to continue her work as a cofffee-shop mogul. We were presented with a cinnamon flavored chocolate cake decorated with icons for each of us: the Empire State Building on one side of the cake, the Eiffel Tower on the other, and a steaming hot cup of coffee in the middle!

In the spirit of sharing good food and good wishes, here's my first posted recipe. It seems fitting that it should be an American recipe for an American standby: chocolate cake!

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup cocoa
2 eggs
1 stick soft butter
2 cups boiling water

Combine all ingredients except the hot water. Gradually mix in the water, stirring to a thin batter. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

2 sticks soft butter
2 cups powdered sugar
4 packets Nestle soft chocolate

Mix the ingredients together with a beater til smooth. Spread over cooled cake. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Larousse Gastronomique
This venerable French dictionary of culinary terms and recipes has evolved, in the twenty-first century, into a handy, three-volume paperback set that, in my home, bookends a small but well used collection of cookbooks in the kitchen. In thinking about the upcoming culinary trip to Paris, I again read through the short introduction by the Larousse gastronomic oversight committee (led by French chef and restauranteur Joel Robuchon)and run across the observation that, without its roots, without reference to the traditions of the past, the culinary arts have no soul.

This sentiment is, in part, what draws me to cooking in Paris, where reference to the culinary traditions of the past are all around, and where La Chef has scoffed at my desire to pair a salmon mousse entree with chocolate truffles for dessert. "That simply isn't done!" she comments. I see that, as an American, I am not consciously bound to the rules and traditions of the past, and yet it creeps up to shape us in ways overlooked. Certainly my love of the culinary arts comes from a long tradition of cooking women in the family's past, with recipes scrawled in a grandmother's pencilled script or committed to memory through the oral tradition of the less literary side of the family. So, with this trip, I move forward into the future, to meet the past.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Francesca and I are sitting outside in the yard, setting up my blog in preparation for a trip to Paris at the end of the month. I'm taking a chance, following Freya Stark's notion that, to avoid turning corners in life, is not to live life at all. So, I'm off to turn a corner in life--Paris for the month of October, to cook with my Paris cooking teacher, to whom I will refer as La Chef. I'm not sure what I'll find round my corner, but I'm ready to find out!