Friday, November 28, 2008

Cheese Cellar Haiku

Wheel of Cheese

Your edges--hard, rough,
pitted, yellow, cracked--recall
a foot's calloused heel

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Technicolor Potatoes

Hope everyone is enjoying food, family, football, and/or a paid holiday from work!

I'm not sure how to translate "Thanksgiving" into French, but I tried to spruce up our normal midday meal, American style.

First, I attempted to make my family's brownie recipe. 'Twas a bit harder than normal, given the lack of US measuring cups and spoons. Ended up using a drinking glass that looked to be approximately eight ounces for my "cup," and filled it to whatever fraction of a cup the recipe called for.

The baking was further hindered by a lack of highly-processed food products in the pantry. Couldn't find semi-sweet chocolate--does it even exist here?--or baking chocolate, so used dark. The sugar in the house is weird, organic cane sugar. The baking powder substitute is a little packet of mysterious pastry leavening stuff. French butter comes in much huger hunks than American, so I guestimated. The vanilla, in a little jar, appeared to be real, dried vanilla beans! What in the world does one do with real vanilla?! I sliced off a little bit and tried to mince it and throw it in with the melted chocolate.

I used the handy ruler page of my little Moleskine calendar to approximate the square inches of Vincent's mom's baking pan, compared it to my usual pan, and decided to multiply the recipe by 1.5. When the batter was finished, but didn't taste quite chocolately enough, I threw in some organic hot cocoa powder. It could very well have come out disastrously.

The brownies were in the oven and starting to smell good when someone knocked on the back door. It was a neighbor who was defying the normal cheese-selling schedule, and had to get her hands on some fromage, pronto. Vincent had disappeared and Florian was up to his triceps in curds and whey, so I weighed out the cheese, wrapped it really awkwardly in paper, and wrote out a faux invoice on a farmer's market flyer. Returned to the house just in time to rescue the brownies from crisping. They weren't quite the same as usual, but certainly passed muster.

French farms don't seem to keep a lot of dead birds around they way they keep cow and pig parts. Sausages would have to do in place of a turkey. Cranberries weren't to be found either, and without a turkey, one can't make proper stuffing. So, I settled on some potatoes and strange-looking little orange squashes. The potatoes had lovely, dark purple skin, and, to my delight, brilliant purple flesh! And, by some miracle, the water that they cooked in turned green. Yes, green. This organic agriculture shit is weird. Check out the resulting mashed spuds:

Enough about real food; how about some saccharin? I've much to be thankful for this year. Here's a start:

  1. My family and extended family, expecially for being so supportive of my vagabond yearnings
  2. Friends: best friends, Chicago friends who will be there when I come back, very old friends who surprise me with an email every now and then, friends who keep in touch even though I'm away, new friends
  3. My girlfriend. I still can't figure out why she likes me.
  4. Health and sanity. Zyrtec and French socialized medicine.
  5. Undeserved hospitality. Farmers, couchsurfing hosts, family, and friends who feed and house me and (advertently or not) teach me
  6. My grandma's brownie recipe
  7. Technicolor potatoes
  8. Bag balm
  9. Public libraries
  10. Point-and-shoot digital cameras

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Moderately Incompetent

Control freak? There's a cure. Live in a new country for awhile. Doesn't matter if you speak the language; you won't know what's going on three-quarters of the time either way.

I keep wanting to tell my farmer hosts that I am not an idiot; I'm just a city girl who doesn't know French. Somehow, I don't think I will win the argument. "No, really, I'm not a moron...but would you mind talking to me slower than you speak to your four-year-old? Thanks."

Thumb update:
It grew back! (Mostly.) It's a hair thinner than before on one side, and it is somehow simultaneously sensitive and numb. That is, it hurts if I whack it even lightly, but I can't really feel anything well with it. I'm happy to be in one piece.

Happy bird-eating!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Better than singing in the shower singing in the cheese cave. It is cool, completely sealed off from the world, and echoes. Yesterday, I got to bathe all 310 wheels of cheese with a cloth dipped in salt water. It took nearly three hours. "Sugar Daddy" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch is my current favorite to sing on a loop. Fortunately, I was not found out by Vincent or Florian (the farmers), because the song requires a few abrupt octave changes to accommodate my narrow vocal range. It works well on solo bike rides, too.

Other cheese cave revelations: 1)I don't think I will ever need another allergy shot for mold. 2)Those folks who thought the moon was made of cheese weren't so loopy after all.

Procrastination, old friend

I am at the cheese farm! There's too much to update everyone on, so I'm putting it off until tomorrow. The good news is that they have real, non-dial-up internet here. Please entertain yourself with some long-overdue photos in the meantime. More pics and news coming soon!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mrs. White, in the conservatory, with the wrench

Tailed to the library

Am I safe nowhere? I was hidden away in the town library, which is open for exactly six hours a week, using the dial-up internet on its one computer, when in walked Sophie and the two kids. Of course, she didn't actually say anything to me, but she did speak for the entire five minutes she was here! That's more words than I've heard her say cumulatively since I arrived. At least now I know she is not mute or stupid.

Other farm inhabitants

Valentin- four years old, brown eyes, blond hair. Feisty. Intensely dislikes onions and mushrooms--often hallucinates that they are in his dinner. Wears a napkin tied around his neck as a bib, which he loses daily, mid-meal.

Victor- eight months old, mostly bald, toothless, hazel eyes. Wears striped rompers. Smiles and laughs easily. Drops hard plastic toys from his high chair every ninety seconds or so while the rest of the family is eating.

Brice- sixteen years old, farmhand/student. Shaggy, wavy brown hair, large nose. Speaks only to ask if he can retrieve the ketchup from the refrigerator at lunch. Good-for-nothing, according to Etienne and Nans.

Nans- nineteen years old, farmhand. Blond hair buzzed very short, tall, yellow teeth. Mumbles. Often seen smoking a cigarette while driving a tractor. Lives in a tiny cottage next to the farmhouse. Works for Etienne half the week and for another farmer, elsewhere, the other half.

Mystery solved

As of last weekend, Etienne and Sophie are breaking up! While I'm not pleased at their unhappiness, I do feel satisfied to know that they are splitting: it lends explanation to everything that has happened since my arrival. Since this announcement, two things have changed for the better: Etienne puts on music at lunch, and Sophie plays with the kids. (Seriously, one would have to be inhuman not to play with them; they are too adorable to scowl at all the time.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

In case of emergency

(or if you are just bored at work and can make international calls from your desk)

here's my French cell #: (33) 6 67 06 7150

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Quick! Where can one get an American flag pin in frog country? I haven't felt this patriotic since I was a grade-schooler at the fourth of July parade.

A round-up of the lovely folk who live at the cattle farm, part I:

Etienne- Farmer. Mid-forties. Receding hair at the temples. Remaining hair (grey on the sides and black on the top) cut short. Salt-and-pepper soul patch. Smile wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Spry with a slight build. Teases Laura for eating slowly and farmhand Brice for wanting ketchup with everything. Does all the family's cooking; bakes tarts and sweet breads. Eats his beef rare. Likes kids. Produces only male offspring. Smokes cigarettes indoors at the fireplace.

Sophie- Farmer's wife (or perhaps non-legally-committed long-term partner). Mid-thirties. Skinny. Chin-length, thin, layered, light brown hair. Wears neutral colors and wire-rimmed glasses. Keeps her lips pursed as if she were dragging on a cigarette even when she is not smoking by the fireplace. Speaks with her mouth full to tell her four-year-old to eat. Has a five-word vocabulary consisting of "mange!" ("eat"), "oh, Valentin!" (the kid's name), "arret" ("stop") and "stop" ("stop"). Has a full-time office job in communications.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quick hello from a nervous American abroad

...nervous because I haven't perfected my Canadian accent yet, and I may end up needing it depending on how things go at home today...

The past week and a half have been filled with rain and bad French television, which I can justify as being educational because I am still learning the language. The farmer's wife is still a bitch. My cottage-mate still says "oh, la vache," but we've managed to have some excellent, slightly one-sided conversations.

Tuesday and Wednesday, my dad and his girlfriend came to visit! We toured the thrilling city of Bourges and stuffed ourselves with French food. Mmm.

On Thursday, it snowed huge, fat snowflakes all morning.

Friday, Laura and I finally did some real farm work: we started digging up some very clumpy, hard soil so that we could later plant a row of trees.

~~~~Oops, I'm getting the boot from the library again! To be continued.....