Category Archives: News

Fromage Friday: Comté

I bought another cheese book, Eyewitness Companions’ French Cheeses. It’s in English, lists all the specifics for how every cheese is made, and even the best times of year to buy it. I’ve even been threatening to teach my French friends about cheese by using it. Is it time to admit that I have a serious problem yet?

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The Slow Death of Saint Nicholas

In Northeast France, the region of Alsace gets all the credit for being the cool, individual kid. Lorraine is overlooked by tourist books because it has fewer half-timber houses, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it chock-full of fascinating area specialties, and other customs absorbed from bordering Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. The biggest shocker was that Lorraine  celebrates Saint Nicolas–the only region of 27 in France that does.

A very child-friendly depiction.

The problem is, Saint Nicolas is swiftly going the way of handwritten letters and Zazz seltzer.

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The Problem with Home

The United States is a long way from France, and extra far from the Vosges, where the biggest city has fewer 40,000 people, some of whom have never left the region. I spend a lot of time trying to explain the United States and Americans in a truthful and honest manner. And while most people are kind to me, I also have to spend a lot of time debunking unsavory myths about the American psyche and lifestyle.

This makes it extra hard when I have to face the fact that some of those myths are true. Most people only know Baltimore from “The Wire” or “Hairspray.” I’ve started rewatching “The Wire” from season one because of this, and while I know the show only depicts part of the truth, it turns the screw because I know it’s not false. If you watch too many episodes in a row, you start to feel like your world is burning down.

And for every Fourth of July picnic, family trip to the National Christmas tree, and intelligent conversation I’ve been part of, there always manages to be some gristle in the soup. Today there two people were shot in the head outside of the local outlet mall where I used to see movies. Last night there were politicians who laugh at their own inadequacy. Last year a man from a homeless tent city stabbed his “neighbor” in a fast-food parking lot near the light rail!

How could this be my birthplace, country I owe my allegiance to, and my home? I don’t need America to be full of rainbows and s’mores and shiny, happy people holding hands, but I do need it to be a place I can be proud to call home. And when it’s not, I guess there’s only one thing left to do: go for a long, long run.

When You’re Not Homesick

A few weeks ago I ran across my friend Meghan’s blog post about her desire to be more adventurous being hindered by homesickness, even during short business trips. This week, I read about a recently published book, Homesickness: An American History by Susan J. Matt.

The book (which I haven’t read yet), other reviews and Meghan’s blog post both discuss the idea that homesickness is negative, and even weak. I don’t really agree with this idea. Everyone has felt homesick at some point, myself included, and I would say that’s sign that you love a people and a place. That’s POSITIVE, especially if you don’t let it consume you. I’ve only been out of the States for six weeks and Christmas is looming, but so far I have only dealt with minor moments of loneliness. This has actually caused some twinges of guilt: shouldn’t I be pining for crab feasts, peanut butter and dance parties? Continue reading

Mark Bittman: Genius

I don’t own any Mark Bittman cookbooks, but every time I’ve used someone else’s, I am always confused by how easy the recipes are. Put salmon in a pan with butter and spices? Sounds too simple; turns out to be totally delicious.

I’d been running out of ideas and energy for veggies and salads when I came across an old Bittman article: Recipes for 101 Simple Salads for the Season.


Tonight I will give this bad boy a shot:

27. Cook whole, unpeeled eggplant in a dry, hot skillet or on a grill, turning occasionally, until completely collapsed and soft. Chop and toss with toasted pita, toasted pine nuts, cooked white beans and halved cherry tomatoes. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice and lots of black pepper. Or a (non-vegan) yogurt dressing is good, especially one laced with tahini.

Other salads I bookmarked for later:

Fall Favorites
16. Slice fennel and crisp apple about the same thickness (your choice). Combine, then dress with mustardy vinaigrette and chopped parsley. Come fall, this will be even better.

81. Soak sliced prune plums or figs in balsamic vinegar for a few minutes, then add olive oil, chopped celery and red onion, shreds of roasted or grilled chicken, chopped fresh marjoram or oregano and chopped almonds. Serve on top of or toss with greens. So good.

Combinations I Never Considered
92. Simmer a cup of bulgur and some roughly chopped cauliflower florets until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Toss with chopped tarragon, roughly chopped hazelnuts, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, olive oil and lemon juice.

I Love Avocado
21. Dice cucumbers (if they’re fat and old, peel and seed them first) and toss with cubes of avocado, a little mirin (or honey), rice vinegar and soy sauce. (You could mix in a little lump crab meat, even rice, and call it a California roll salad.)

44. Make a crisp grilled cheese sandwich, with good bread and not too much good cheese. Let it cool, then cut into croutons. Put them on anything, but especially tomato and basil salad. This you will do forever.

Speaking of “from scratch”

After I titled the last post, I decided to go find out the origin of the phrase. Apparently it used to mean “start with no advantage,” which is nearly the opposite of how we use it now. Who knew?

But more importantly, I found a podcast from This American Life where Ira Glass talks to several different people and authors on starting over new on purpose or by force. It’s from 2003, but I feel like a lot of people could identify with the stories after the last few years.

Listen here: This American Life, Starting from Scratch