Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Cheese Can Kill You

Look at that golden cheese.  It's nearly glowing, no?

It's warm and melty and begging to be spread on some bread.
I can assure you that it's even better than it looks.  It's nutty and earthy and... smacks of... whatsthatnow... oh yes, it's danger.  Do you know what danger tastes like?  Well, I tell you it's delicious.

If you are in the United States, however, you will never taste this particular danger. (Though we both know that you've got dangers of your own.)

Let me tell you the fateful story of our golden cheese here.  France is a big country, and its cuisine varies greatly by region so that the regions bordering other countries (say, Spain, Germany, Italy or Switzerland) share the food culture of the neighboring country.  This cheese is from the Jura region of France, which borders Switerland. 

And so I realize that I haven't even told you the name of our cheese yet.  That, friends, is part of the controversy.  It is called Mont d'Or or Vacherin du Haut Doubs in France, while it's called Vacherin Mont d'Or in Switzerland.  So now we've got that out of the way, back to our story...

Things started out fine for our little cheese.  It was being happily produced in both France and Switzerland using raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk until the early '80s.  Because raw milk soft cheeses are more succeptible to the rare (but deadly) bacteria Listeria, the Swiss decided to start pasteurizing their version of the cheese.  This was in 1983.  And wouldn't you know it that the same year, there was a outbreak of Listeria, killing over 30 people.  (In the US, 1983 also brought an outbreak of McNuggets, but unfortunately this threat remains.)

Of course it was the French cheese!  Long Swiss fingers pointed across the border at the unsafe French cheese!  They had pasturized their cheese just in time to show the French who was smarter!  They had beat them at their own cheesy game!

Except that it was actually the SWISS cheese that had caused the deaths.  Yes, the pasteurized nancy-cheese was actually the one killing people.

But by the time they figured out whose cheese was the cause, both cheeses were pretty much villainized.  I mean, would you want to take your chances?  Though there has not been a Listeria outbreak since 1987, the US still has both the Swiss and the French cheeses on the no-fly list.  A bastardization is available in the US (it's called Edel de Cleron, and I've read that it's just about as good, albeit pasteurized), but I've also read that a well-stocked cheesemonger in the US will have some raw Mont d'Or, though you will probably pay dearly for it.

In case I haven't gone on enough about this cheese, besides its deliciously nutty and woodsy flavor it is one of the softest cheeses I have encountered, running all over the plate when it's at room temperature.  To wit:  if you buy a whole wheel at the fromagerie, they give you a spoon.  You can either eat it at room temp, or really live and HEAT IT UP.  To do this, keep it in the spruce box it comes in, cut off the top rind, pop it in the oven, and when it's bubbling your name, dip your bread and meat and potatoes and fingers right in.  And call on the bacterial gods to stave off the listeriosis, though with a mouthful of warm Mont d'Or, you'll no doubt be willing to make a deal with the devil.

China Clean-Up

So I don't know if you heard, but I was a smidge under the weather in Shanghai.  I'll spare you the details, but let's just say I have a newfound respect for congee.  What had previously repulsed me (the bland flavor, the porridgey texture, the aged and pickled condiments), became my saving grace.  (Except for the condiments, however.  There was no way I was going to let a black egg or other mysteriously pickled thing drop a bomb in my digestive tract.)

I was sick enough to visit a doctor while I was there.  After repeatedly hearing people say that they were going to the "hospital" or asking me if I needed to go to the "hospital" (which I would always respond to by changing "hospital" to "doctor" with a smugness I am not proud of), I finally made an appointment with an English-speaking doctor, only to find that I had to go to the HOSPITAL to see him.  And here I thought they were just being overly dramatic with "hospital".  You win that one, Shanghai vernacular! 

My visit to the doctor... er, hospital was smooth, efficient, and quick.  They even did a test and I got the results back from the lab in 10 minutes.  And the pharmacy was on-site, so I got some meds and was right on my way.  It did cost upwards of $250, however.  But it was worth it.  Plus, I should be able to expense it.

The flight home was pretty miserable.  I was disheartened and crabby that my Christmas dinner of oysters and boudin blanc and mont d'or and caviar and foie gras and champagne was hanging in the balance.  I was hungry (but not taking any chances to put anything besides water down my throat) and angry at everyone on the plane who was enjoying his free bubbly and what smelled like the most delicious meal ever.  I wanted to smack the grab-hand of every Chinese guy I saw lift a roll off the rolly cart when the attendant wasn't looking.  So I finally put on my sleep mask and tried to find some tummy rumbling peace. 

I made it home, tired and hungry... but feeling optimistic.  I took it slow for another day, but by Christmas Day, I was pretty much back on solid (and indulgent) food.  But I'll save that for the next post.

Stepping off the elevator onto the floor of my company's sourcing office is stepping into a hot pink hell.  I don't know why the lights burn pink, as it is not sexy or seductive or whatever else they might have been hoping for.  It is merely disorienting.    

I wish this car was a Rolls or something.  Then this photo would be way more ballin'.

Pudong was absolutely DEAD when I arrived around 8 pm on Christmas-eve eve.

To kill time, I had to peruse all of the gift shops... just to look at things that would have made me wretchedly ill upon ingestion.  Check out these prawn rolls I found;  a "MANLY" China memory, indeed.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, someone called "GLADIATOR" moved into my building.  I am half-afraid, half-comforted.  Either way, I'm sure "TRUB" would be no match for his new neighbor, should it come to a stand-off in the air shaft or something.

The nugget was so happy to have me home.  She has not left me alone since I arrived.  Nothing like a tea and some kitty lovins to celebrate your return.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shanghai Update

I want to tell you all I had to go through to get these pictures posted, but I don't want to bore you with the details.  So, celebrate!  There are photos at the bottom for your viewing pleasure.

So far, this probably counts as my least-favorite trip to Shanghai.  It is cold here.  Like, eye-wateringly cold.  It's been cold enough to kill the wanderlust that usually has me walking all over.  And then, I'm only in the office this time.  Usually, I go visit suppliers in and outside of Shanghai, so my days are varied.  But this time I just cross the street (which I am amazed I have survived at doing thusfar... these drivers be cray-cray!) to our office, set up my laptop, and get to work.  Ho-HUM. 

But the worst of it is, I've been under the weather.  We're talking in bed all day yesterday with fevery-freezing fun!  (Open note to the housekeeping staff at the Pullman Hotel:  If the DO NOT DISTURB button is lit, please mind it!  After the first and second times of me getting out of bed to tell you that the room will not be cleaned today, please go away.  And also, I heard you when you slipped the form under my door stating that the room could not be cleaned that day.  Give it up already!)  I am hoping it's just a 24-hour thing, because I have dinner plans tomorrow.  Food bugs need to be gone!

What else this trip? 

There is Christmas music everywhere.  It's like the whole city is one big American mall with the holiday tunes.  So it's sorta "homey" in a way. 

The dogs are all dressed up like crazy!  (And it's also popular to put color in your dog's hair, as well.)  Even my favorite pink-eared poodle has been outfitted in a santa suit.  (Gender roles be damned.)  I passed up the photo opp of a lifetime this morning when three different dogs in three different outfits were standing around, having a sniff.  I knew I wasn't feeling well when I couldn't even be bothered to get out my camera.  One of the girls I work with told me that the dogs are all dressed up for the cold.  This was after showing me a photo of her cutie-patootie dog in a polo shirt.  I don't know how much a polo shirt will stave off the cold, but no one could argue that it's not adorable.

The food at this hotel is terrible.  I mean, really bad.  Even at the "fancy" "French" restaurant on the top floor (which is always suspiciously empty... now I know why), where the ingredients and the prices are more dear.  Most of the room service or menu items (at the regular restaurant) are also either the breakfast buffet or the dinner buffet--or both. 

My theory has always been to order something that doesn't appear on the buffet, so that I knew they had to make it special for my order.  (My theory has also been that the sushi, noodles, and fried rice on the breakfast buffet are total has-beens.  Yeah, I see you trying to get rid of your leftover sushi... gross.)  But this theory was disproved the other night when I opted for the "sweet and sour chicken", which I hadn't noticed on any buffet... so it *must* be made fresh!  Bad move.  This chicken was smothered in the thickest, sweetest, pastiest, reddest s&s sauce I'd ever seen.  Like if you left a bottle of s&s sauce to age for years in the back of a pantry, this might happen.  Basically, my chicken was covered in ketchup.  Sick.  And... I was.

I guess that's it from me for now.  I have been trying to watch the 5Monde channel at night, so that I am still getting some French in my ears.  But really, I have been flying through books on my Kindle (OBSESSED) and watching more Parks and Recreation than you can imagine.  (Boy, is that show funny!)

So I leave you with some photos, hard-earned up on the blog...

Hotel lobby.

My meal partner.

Yawrrr!  It's Caribbean Pirate Pizza!

Chinese gluhwein?  With these temperatures, sure I would!

This guy is threatening to replace the pink-earred poodle as my favorite Shanghai dog.  I have seen him in two different outfits now (the one pictured is a teddy bear, the other one was a ladybug) and he sleeps up high on the stack of soda cartons.  He pretty much rules the convenience store next to my office.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Back to China

At least it's Shanghai, sure.

But still.

Tomorrow I leave for a last-minute trip to China.  I am looking forward to my 11-hour economy flight with no lounge access or priority seating and flying with what remains of this dastardly cold.  I am also looking forward to limited internet access, working with a certain difficult member of the team in our Shanghai office, lonely evenings in the hotel room (I will go to the gym, I will go to the gym...), and not being able to practice my French.

In fact, I am looking forward to none of that.  China, I am not in the mood for you right now.  Especially because I won't be back until Christmas eve, which means spending the holiday nice and jetlagged.  At least Biro will be here, if there is no issue with his turboprop flight from Lithuania.  (Seriously, how much money did he save taking a layover in Lithuania?  I hope it's gone directly into my present fund.)  There is talk of pizza on xmas day.  I am into it.

The only good thing is that I will be in the office every day during this trip.  Which means I will have plenty of opportunities to see my favorite pink-eared poodle in the newsstand in front of our building.  If there is one good thing about China, it is her.

This Just Happened

Look!  I am doing things and blogging about them!  In a timely fashion!

Fran was in town this weekend, and we went to all the haunts.  It was great having a good friend in town to pal all around with.  We shopped for jewelry and minimalist/age-appropriate dresses and xmas presents, and then went to Aesop and had the most glorious experience with tea and cookies and creams and elixirs.  Fancy ladies, we were.

Last night, we had dinner at Le Dauphin, which is basically my favorite place here.  It never fails to inspire and satisfy.  When we walked up, Aizpitarte was outside having a smoke and a glass of red.  That guy just exudes cool.  And his food ain't bad, either!  We were promptly seated (!, at 9 pm on a Saturday night??!) and enjoyed such yum-yums as sea urchin over cabbage, mixed mushrooms and polenta, shrimp risotto, tandoori octopus, some "special edition" anchovies, and the biggest oyster I have ever laid eyes on.

I remember one of the waitresses back at the Oyster House in Philly telling me that they grow 'em big in France.  Like, knife-and-fork big.  And that's just how we ate Oyster-the-Gigantor last night.

This is a pied de cheval (horse's hoof) oyster.  It's a wild oyster and can grow to be up to 3 lbs!  We paid 9 euros for this one, and I'll politely say that I liked it more than my dinner partner, though she looks so pretty with it.  I took it straight up (well, in bites) and it was plenty briney with a distinct metallic finish.  I could have eaten another.  Me and bivalves, we're the best of friends.

Here's a random shot from the subway last night.  I really like the lone yellow chair.  And the mouth that wants to eat it.

The Maje windows on Rue du Saintonge currently feature the cutest pug balloons with crimped paper legs.  I need some of these for my apartment, for my life.

Last Weekend in Brussels

Last weekend was an extravaganza!

B was in town from Suede (I love that in French:  Sweden = Suede).  Friday night, we had a stellar dinner at Frenchie, wherein we opted for the 38 euro tasting with entree + plat + dessert, but did it with wine pairings... boo-ya!  (But really, 38 euros for a 3-course fancytimes meal is pretty darn reasonable.)  You may remember my experience at the Frenchie Bar a Vins earlier this year, but we were pleasantly surprised to be seemingly the only native English speakers at the restaurant proper.  We booked our table way back in August (yes, for a December seating), and we were sure to book another table for February (during PV week) before we left.

Saturday, we Thalys-ed to Brussels for the main event of Jamie and Frida's leaving party.  We walked around that afternoon in Brussels, and it felt strange to no longer have an apartment or a home base there.  We realized that it would probably be our last time in Brussels for a long time, and it made us a little sentimental... and maybe even a little sad.

The leaving do was a full-on partytacular, with good eats and "sippin' tequila" and dancing and a lot of shenanigans (including swim caps, kilts, blonde wigs, and men wearing lipstick...)  Brussels is going to miss Jamie and Frida, that's for sure.  But London is lucky to get them.

Here are some scenes from our last 24 hours in BXL.

Creepy brides off Dansaert.



And don't you worry, we managed to hit up our old stompin' grounds, the winter market.  It was nice to see that the booths were just about the same as last year, and our old favorites "Snails Guy" and "Gothy Arrow Enthusiast-slash-Raindeer Pelt Peddler" were there.  But the tartiflette booth gets us every time.  There are few ills that a steaming bowl of cheesy potato and ham goodness can't conquer.

This is the only picture I have from the party, and it's not even from the party, but from the morning after.  Nothing like a cryptic yellow sticky note to prove that a good time was had.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Here I go again, forsaking my blog.

Sure, I've been busy.

I went to the States for Thanksgiving, came back to a shitshow at work, friends in town, another cold (seriously tonsils, you are about to GO!), and a boyfriend here for the weekend.  (Oh, if you aren't up-to-date, my boyfriend took a job in Stockholm and has been there since October.)

But I guess really I've been feeling less-than-inspired.

Blogging regularly is hard work.  Props to all those who do it on the daily (and especially to those who do it on top of a regular job or "real life").  It's similar to my theory on celebrity:  virtually anyone could have a hot bod if it was all you had to do.  If you were "famous" (you know, for being an heiress or making a sex video or whatever other behaviors we are rewarding with celebrity status these days) and your 9-to-5 was simply working out and eating healthy or having your meals delivered?  Sure, you'd look... like a celebrity.  When I was blogging full-time, it was easier in that it was all I did.  I had enough time during the day to wait for the inspiration to hit, for the words to flow easily.  But now, my blogging window is smaller--or less open, as it were.  I'll find myself with a few free minutes, but even if I get as far as opening my laptop, I find inspiration isn't hitting me over the head.

I guess inspiration just hasn't been carrying his stick lately.  Let's hope he brings it along soon.