Le Foie Gras a Encore Frappé

Le débat sur l’interdiction de la fabrication de foie gras et de sa consommation dans les restaurants californiens délie les langues. Et même celle de M. Hollande.

“Le foie gras quand même on voudrait tellement le consommer ici en France et parfois par manque de pouvoir d’achat nous ne le pouvons pas, je ne voudrais pas en priver les Américains! S’il le faut, j’en apporterai aux autorités de ce pays autant qu’il sera nécessaire, ce sera pour leur plus grand plaisir”, a affirmé le chef de l’Etat tout en reconnaissant ne disposer que de sa force de “conviction” pour faire plier les Américains.
Moi aussi, M. Hollande, j’aime le foie gras; et si je ne mange jamais que du foie gras français que m’envoient mes parents pour les fêtes de fin d’année, c’est par tradition et fidélité à mon pays natal.
Mais le foie gras, vous savez, c’est un peu comme avec le vin. Les américains ont appris à en faire.  Tout comme les vins, le foie gras consommé en Californie ne vient pas de France mais du Sonoma County, au nord de San Francisco. Les activistes qui ont réussi à en interdire la vente dans l’état de Californie depuis le 1er juillet, ont visé les éleveurs et les restaurateurs californiens plus que la France.
Je dois aussi vous avouer que comme j’adore le foie gras, j’ai essayé de le faire apprécier à certains de mes amis américains, francophiles et toujours curieux de découvrir ce qui vient de mon pays d’origine. Je ne veux pas de nouveau vous décevoir, mais pour eux c’est un pâté qu’on étale sur du pain de mie ou des biscuits secs d’apéritif. C’est tout! J’avoue avoir été choquée et dorénavant je garde jalousement mon foie gras pour quelques initiés. 
Et puis enfin, pourquoi penser qu’un mets national doit faire l’unanimité ailleurs? Pourquoi assumer qu’un peuple est privé d’une spécialité gastronomique qui lui est quasiment inconnue? Chaque pays a ses recettes et ses traditions culinaires qui lui sont chères. Cela reste aux américains de décider si le boycott du foie gras améliorera vraiment la condition des animaux et surtout des volailles destinées à la consommation en Californie.
Quant à moi, j’espére que mon foie gras parental m’arrivera sans encombre pour fêter la fin d’année à la française.

The Smell of Books

In a world made of tweets, texts and wall posts, and of disappearing bookstores, it is a rare experience to enter a shop where used and rare books line endless walls.
I borrowed my first library books in an old castle transformed in a public library. I don’t need to close my eyes to visualize the shelves crowded with them.
Merrill’s bookshop in Hallowell, Maine holds more than 100 000 books, according to the proprietor John Merrill. A cavern to get lost, surrounded by books and stories from the imagination of writers from all over the world. A dream and also a nightmare for a book lover.
In the library/castle of my childhood, I often wished to remain after-hours and to be locked, so I could read all night long. At the same time, I also realized with panic that I would never be able to read each and every book published. Even though I read as much as I could, books caught up with me.
The same overwhelming feeling made me dizzy this morning when I took in the rooms packed with books from floor to ceiling.
No Kindle, iPad or Nook has ever spun my head.
And the smell…
I don’t need to inhale to remember the smell of the books housed in the library of my childhood. My young mind imagined that this smell held the world’s most important secrets.
The smell of books is still as mesmerizing. On a rainy Maine day where humidity saturates the air, it is even more tantalizing.

 

Kindles, iPads, Nooks, and future reading tablets, you are wonderful airplane companions. Your sleek appearance attracts the modern eye. You take little space compared to books and bookshelves. You are tight, light, and practical.
But come on, who are you compared to towering shelves topped with books and books? And to the smell of paper, ink, and leather?
Mr. Merrill doesn’t have a website for his bookshop. He is not on AbeBooks. He offers you a classic business card when you leave. I’m not even sure he has a computer. He wrote down the titles of the books my family purchased on a piece of paper. “For my inventory,” he said. But he knew every book he owned.
I climbed down the narrow stairs, my teenage kids tagging along, hoping that Mr. Merrill would never get old so their own kids would someday see such a magical place.
Back home, I added my new acquisition – an old John Irving – to the pile of books my husband and I have bought this summer, either in France or in the US.
His iPad and my Kindle looked as sleek and cool, light and practical on the table.
But they didn’t smell anything.

Drapeaux en Berne

Paris et la France ne sont déjà plus que de beaux et doux souvenirs dans ma mémoire.
Les drapeaux en berne jusqu’à hier après la tuerie d’Aurora m’ont remise dans les rails. Revenue sur la terre américaine cet évènement brutal fait la une des journaux. Et les commentaires des deux cotés de l’Atlantique sont représentatifs de ce qui sépare mes deux pays préférés.
Les armes et la violence définissent les USA pour beaucoup de français alors que la majorité des américains défend le sacro saint droit à la possession d’armes autorisée par leur constitution.
Si je n’ai aucune attraction pour les armes et que je m’oppose aux arsenaux que certains particuliers ouvrent à domicile, je ne suis cependant pas certaine que l’interdiction et même les restrictions de vente d’armes supprimeront le problème du malade mental qui décidera de tirer dans une école ou dans un cinéma.
Cyniquement, il y plus de 30 000 personnes qui perdent la vie dans un accident de voiture aux USA chaque année et personne ne songerait pour autant à supprimer les ventes de voitures ou même à être plus strict quand un permis de conduire est délivré.
Repérer celui ou celle qui ne fonctionne pas au sein d’une communauté et l’aider avant la tragédie serait sans doute plus efficace.  Une société où l’on peut acquérir des armes plus facilement qu’obtenir un crédit auprès d’une banque ou accéder à des soins médicaux spécialisés a de sérieux problèmes.
Il est temps de traiter les désordres mentaux avec la même détermination que le monde médical met à lutter contre le cancer ou le sida. 

Colorado on my Mind

Colorado is on my mind since the horrific shooting of last Friday.
It is not the first time that a disturbed man shoots innocent people in the US.
A movie theater yet is a first.
Somehow, reading and listening to people’s comments, this highly unsettling event seems even more terrifying than a school shooting.
No doubt because going to the movie is a decision associated with fun and relaxing time where only good things can happen, while a business or a school building are filled with challenges.
I cannot imagine what the family and friends’ victims are going through, neither can I imagine what the shooter’s family’s is going through.
Two questions on my mind:
Isn’t it alarming to realize that a man has been able to purchase so many ammunitions without a blinking eye while our banks call us as soon as we make an unusual purchase or start using our credit cards abroad?
It is obvious that James Holmes is mentally instable and dangerous. The question now is not if we should or not stop selling guns – although I believe we should have a serious national debate on the issue –  but how we should care for our mentally ill fellow Americans before they get their hands on weapons and shoot randomly on our streets, in our schools and movie theaters. 

Tao Maine

Good stories and good food make for memorable summers. This year I’ve been lucky.  Summer 2012 will be remembered because of a few books and restaurants.
Canada from Richard Ford, Home from Toni Morrison, Unsaid from Neil Abramson and Monument 14 from Emmy Laybourne are so far my favorites.
In terms of food it is hard since I spent some time in France. Food there was of course au rendezvous.
Sometimes however amazing food comes unexpectedly. Tonight my eighteen-year-old daughter, her father and I spent the day raking leaves in our yard. Since we are in Maine only in the summer, it means that fall yard work happens in July. The weather was gorgeous and we got the work done just in time for dinner. A long day of work deserves a reward. The three of us love food and although we are faithful to a few favorites, we enjoy new places. I was told of an Asian fusion restaurant in Brunswick, twenty minutes away from our summer home.
Brunswick is home to Bowdoin, the renowned liberal art college, to Gelato Fiasco, a cool ice cream/coffee place, to Seadog, a brasserie style restaurant on the river dam, to Henry and Marty, a relaxed and yet refined restaurant with an interesting array of entrees that can satisfy the meat lover and the vegetarian alike, to a variety of small shops and boutiques, to the largest main street in the state, called Maine Street, and to Tao restaurant.
Being from France and living in California, Asian food is one of our favorite cuisines. When we are in Maine, we favor lobster, clams and mussels, cornbread, clam or lobster bisque, blueberries and strawberry shortcakes to Asian food. 
Who would expect a Maine restaurant that offers Asian food to top a Californian restaurant?
And yet, Tao, located a block off Maine Street, only a few blocks away from the College, is one of the best new places I tried in a long time.
The restaurant is housed in a former house.  The décor is sleek with a distinct elegant Asian touch,  Painted screens separate the bar and the sitting area from the main dining room. Black chopsticks, small votives, green and white dishes, water glasses, which look like antique glass yogurt containers and a water carafe, sit on each table.  The young waitress was welcoming and attentive. The dining room where we sat was empty and I only hoped that it didn’t hint for trouble. Our last culinary experience in Brunswick hadn’t been exactly successful. We had an 8 o’clock reservation at Clemetine, the hot spot in town. But by 8:30 we were asked to wait some more for a hypothetical table. We ended up across the street at good old Henry and Marty where food and service never disappointed us. 
But the empty dining room at Tao wasn’t synonym of disaster. Au contraire! 
The menu, elegantly printed on beige paper, suggests picking three to four dishes per person between a selection of cold and hot entrees so guests can share.
We each chose three dishes; and between the tuna tartar, the turnip cakes, the bean buns, the grilled goat cheese, the red fruit pane cotta, the flourless chocolate cake and the excellent coffee, we enjoyed one of the best meals of our summer, and definitely the best Asian food in ages. Flavors matched the impeccable presentation.
The restaurant opened less than two months ago and the chef, a local native, has been trained n Paris at Le Cordon Bleu.  We spoke before dessert and she shared her plans for a green house so she can grow her greens and herbs year long in a state where summer is sometimes only a brief pause before winter.
She carried poise and unusual professionalism for someone so young.
We can only root for her and whisk the gourmets, tired of waiting for a table at Clementine, toward Tao, nestled near the post office and library, to get ready for a memorable culinary journey. 
As for us, we’ve already made the promise to return when my son’s summer camp is over. The only bad news is that we will have to share more dishes. and at the cost of about six dollars each, we better keep raking our fall leaves on our own before hiring some help.
Ah! What would the French do for good food! 

My Paris

One of the most frequent questions my American friends ask me when they plan a trip to Paris is, “What is the best food to eat there and where to eat?”
If you are a professional of the food like Michael Bauer, this is what you can eat and where you can eat. 
If you are Evelyne Holingue, born and raised in France, this is what you eat and where you eat in Paris.
Small neighborhood cafés are perfect for breakfast a la parisienne. This summer I really liked the café on Boulevard Raspail, right across the Marché Raspail, open on Tuesday and Friday morning with regular market products and on Sunday morning for the organic products called biofor biologiques in French.
This kind of café is what makes Paris so distinctive across Europe and the world. A café or café crème, orange pressée (freshly squeezed orange), a croissant or brioche and voila! A gloomy Parisian morning looks alluring. The patronne at the café was gracious and typical Parisians on their way to work, either reading the morning paper or chatting with their neighbor crowded the counter. In addition, I heard that at the Marché Raspail you could spot celebrities. The French love their people too, even though they act blasé. It was too early to see any famous face. Too bad I became an early bird in America!
For lunch I have a weakness for the new restaurants that are a mix between traditional cafés and cantinas. Most owners and waiters are young and friendly, no offense to anyone, but I find the younger French generation more open and less judgmental than their elders. 
This summer I especially enjoyed two lunch spots in the 11th and 12th.  I’ve lived in both arrondissements, and although they are more populated and trendier than they were in the late 80s, they’ve kept a low- key feel that lacks in more upscale and wealthier left-bank arrondissements. Here you eat near people on their lunch break, young parents with babies in tow – never too soon to learn the café and the art of food in France – and copines(girlfriends) who took the day off because of the annual summer soldes(sales).
Le Pause Café on rue de Charonne in the 11th offers a menu and a daily variety of plats du jour. I had a Carpaccio of fish and a slice of peach pie. I never drink at lunchtime but my husband had some white wine and I got a sip. Ah! The small local French wines so light in taste and alcohol! No wonder the French all had a carafe on their table.

Service was quick and friendly. Our waiter had studied and worked in New York City so it created a bond, yet all servers were as cool and professional.

In the 12th, the day of my departure, on a sentimental pilgrimage, a few feet away from my last Parisian apartment, I had lunch at the Bistrot Champenois on rue Crozatier. The weather was finally beautiful. The air smelled like a day in the countryside and the terrace made you forget that you were in the middle of Paris. My flight for Boston was late afternoon and I was filled with nostalgia for this part of Paris I had loved so much. 

My goat cheese salad and my slice of lemon meringue pie would be my last ones before long. On the menu, filets de hareng, boudin noir and puree, steak tartare and cote de boeuf with frites. French cooking, French wine can’t be compared to anything. More than the food and the wine, there is around them a unique appreciation for these basic pleasures of life that both servers and customers share. 

 

On the Grands Boulevards, there is a place where Parisians and tourists alike elbow their way.  Le Bouillon Chartier or Chez Chartier, as we say in Paris, is located on Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. A classic I especially loved when I was a student and didn’t have much money.  Established since 1896, the spacious and filled with light dining room is packed from lunch to dinner. The decor is grandiose and brings you back to the 19th century. Although the prices are slightly higher than they were in the 80s, they remain below Parisian standards. This is not a place to seek sophisticated cuisine, but to discover or remember what food is to the French. Leeks with vinaigrette, grated carrots, hard boiled egg with a homemade mayonnaise, salad with Roquefort, chestnut cream with plain yogurt: this is French food like I ate at my parents’, food that all French have eaten and still revere because they taste like our childhood.
And the servers are admirable in their black vests and long white aprons. They swerve cleverly between the tables, arms loaded with heavy trays, as if they were dancing a ballet that nobody can imitate. Where else but in Paris do you see such class and such disdain at the same time?
I was so busy all day long that dinner came late. Only the Plateau Prestige at La Coupole is worth mentioning. La Coupole on Boulevard Montparnasse is perfect for an after theater or movie dinner. Oysters, clams, shrimps, lobster and crab on an ice bed with a bottle of white wine, bread and demi-sel (slightly salted) butter; this is paradise within reach. La Coupole can be a great or terrible experience depending on the host and servers’ mood. Lucky night! Both were agreeable, cocky but still professional. 
This is my Paris, away from the renowned cafés and restaurants. Both cohabite harmoniously, and this is why the city of light and the French cuisine still incarnate some of the most sensual sought-after experiences.

One Branch at a Time, One Page a Day



One of the biggest branches of a two-hundred-year-old oak tree fell in my yard.
“It’s about three hundred feet,” the arborist I called told me.
It is heartbreaking to agree that it is time to cut an old tall tree. After all this oak was still covered with huge leaves, which shimmered under the Maine summer sun.
“It is a magnificent tree,” the arborist said. “But it is dying and needs to go.”
It was decided that his crew would saw the tree down to its massive base, chop the branches and haul everything away from the yard.

This is when I thought of my pile of wood down the hill, on the lakeshore.
I was too busy with my four kids when the first oak fell six years ago to take care of the debris. I let the pile of wood accumulate, hoping it would quickly rot and make compost. I found out that wood takes its time to decay. I quit looking at the pile, embarrassed and discouraged, hoping for a day where I would finally tackle the task. Or have enough money to hire someone to do it for me. In my dreams.
“A branch at a time,” the arborist told me when he evaluated the mess clogging the cove. “You clean a branch at a time. It will take hours and a lot of energy but it’s doable.” He paused, taking the huge trunks and the intertwined branches. “I will chop the biggest branches ones for you,” he added. “You will have to haul them up, though.”
Now that I had a plan, I had no more excuses. It took me two days and a half to gather the branches and haul them from the shore to the top of the hill. It is a small distance but there is no flat path and my calves got their workout as I trudged uphill, arms loaded with branches of all sizes and weight.
As I dug through the cove, pulling a branch here, digging for another one there, moving through layers of leaves, I rediscovered this part of the yard, bordered by the lake on one side and a small woodsy area on the other.  As hours went by, I reclaimed the cove, shaped it to its original appearance, the one I knew sixteen years ago when the house entered our family.
The big rock my oldest daughter loved to climb on to read The Boxcar Children is now uncluttered. The path, she and her two sisters, traced to build their own houses in the woods, is much shorter than I remembered. My girls were little and their distances were mine too.  Mosquitoes are still ferocious in the shadier areas, but left me in peace as I worked along the water. My son caught his first bass here.  
The arborist was right; the work was doable.  Actually his exact words were, “Every job is doable.  If you do it a branch at a time.”
I heard once a prolific writer tell someone who wished for more time to write, “One page a day for a year is a 365 pages book.”
One page a day.  One branch at a time.
Yes, every job is doable. 
If only I could always listen to wise advice. 

Du Minitel à DSK

 Aux Etats Unis, la plus grande et belle nouvelle de ce début d’été, c’est la décision de la cour suprême de justice de ne pas considérer l’obligation (sous peine d’amende) à une couverture de santé pour chaque américain anti constitutionnelle.
Bravo, Justice Roberts pour votre vote courageux qui vous fait entrer dans l’histoire en même temps que cette décision humaine et indispensable aux américains.
Pour les français que j’ai rencontrés et qui ont applaudi M. Obama, je voudrais dire que Nancy Pelosi est aussi la raison pour ce changement. Sans elle et son travail de fonds, rien ne serait arrivé.
En France le même jour on cliquait 3615 code Fin. La rumeur dit que Steve Jobs aurait acquis un minitel et l’aurait décortiqué pour étudier de plus près cette merveille made in France. A Paris, un minitel trônait sur le bureau de mon mari. A coté du premier Macintosh. Quand je vous dis que les français et les américains ont beaucoup plus en commun qu’on ne le pense.
Aux Etats Unis je n’ai jamais croisé de personnalités politiques ou célébrités du monde des arts. Les people se cachent du commun des mortels.
A Paris, Jean Rochefort attend un taxi au coin du boulevard Montparnasse et Valérie Trierweiler assiste aux obsèques du député des Bouches du Rhône à l’église Saint Sulpice en compagnie des grands noms du parti socialiste français.
Et DSK boit un verre au Lutetia. Si si, je vous jure, c’est vrai. Pendant que la pluie tombait sur les toits argentés de Paris, et que je buvais un café, il était assis en face d’un homme sur lequel je n’ai pas pu mettre de nom, même si son visage me disait quelque chose.
Assis sur la banquette confortable, DSK semblait plutôt bien dans sa peau, un rien bronzé et souriant. Debout il s’est appuyé sur une cane pour quitter le salon de l’hôtel au passé sulfureux. Personne, à part deux copines qui buvaient un verre en parlant des soldes et deux franco américains qui n’en croyaient pas leurs yeux, ne l’a regardé.
Ah, le charme de la discrétion française. 

Alien

In France I spoke with a chef who had worked abroad for twenty years before returning to his native country. It was obvious that, like his cuisine, his heart belonged to France, yet he was torn and wondered if he would have better opportunities somewhere else. Perhaps he meant being happier away from France.
A few days later, at a Parisian hotel, I spotted a family of Americans. A sudden affection for them burst inside me. These total strangers were closer to me than the French were. It was the first time since I left France that my allegiance was shifting so distinctively.
Yet my last lunch in the 12th arrondissement, home until I moved to the United States, left me sad and homesick.  I dreaded the definite moment when I would be back in the US for good.
A few hours after I landed, I attended my son’s music camp’s summer concert. I was jet lagged and still under the French influence.  Several times over the night, I was aware of disconnect between the audience and me. Parents spoke to each other, laughed and exchanged news related to their kids. For many, like myself, this camp is a place where older siblings came as well. Memories create bonds between people who otherwise wouldn’t know each other. But last night, I was observing, unable to share anything or even to talk to anyone.
Over a piece of tiramisu that my husband and I spilt, we spoke about our two worlds and how shockingly different they were.
We thought of the Parisian hotel valets parking and concierges, the café waiters, the bakers and the merchants at the fresh street market and imagined them in this room, surrounded by American parents and kids, in this Maine small lake town. They would, we were sure, believe they had landed in an alien world.
We decided that it would a shock for them to be here with us tonight.
Then, we finished our tiramisu in silence.  What was there to add?
That we were as foreign tonight as these French characters would be, but that we would eventually blend again within a few days?
Until another trip to France would make us aliens in our native land.
Like the chef, I will forever be this woman whose heart is divided in two.
An alien.

Survival Tips

A few tips from a French native to an American tourist visiting France:
11- Never apologize too profusely. A nod and a quick “Excusez moi” will do.
22- Every woman in France is a “Madame.” A new law banishes the “Mademoiselle,” which the French consider offensive since it targets single status versus marital status.
33-  Never say “Bonjour” in the street but always greet everyone properly when entering any kind of business relationship. “Bonjour Madame or bonjour Monsieur” is too formal in the US but is expected in France regardless of social status.
44- Waiting in line is not French. Even though all public institutions coral customers, shortcuts remain a way of life. Be prepared and watch your turn if you don’t want to be stuck in line.
55- Dishes are smaller in France and you are expected to eat a little bit of everything. Always order an entrée or appetizer. If you don’t, then make sure to order dessert. Order coffee after dessert. Ask for the check when you are finished.
66- Tax and tips are included at the café or restaurant, but tip taxi drivers, hair stylists, valets parking, concierges, luggage carriers…
77- The French don’t eat, drink, read or phone when they drive. Be focused and assertive and you will be fine. Be distracted and hesitant and you will be in danger.
88- Less is better. Big hair, too much make-up and heavy jewelry is tacky for the French.
99- Food and wine remain the cement of France. The French live in anticipation or in the memory of a good meal. Let food be a pleasure and not a drag.
110- Witt is the best way to win a French’s heart. It will diffuse tension and will provide a table in the most sought-after café or restaurant and a taxi at the busiest hotel. It will bring a smile from a tight waiter or boutique owner, and of course from any French woman.

1
%d bloggers like this: