Category Archives: Fun With Food

Burial At Sea – Southern France, Part II

When I think about France, I’m reminded of my daughter, the consummate Francophile. It makes setting foot on French soil without Laura difficult, fostering, as it does, a bout of nostalgia. I visited her several times while she lived there, and we had many adventures, some that revolved around the wonderful cheeses of the Savoy – specifically, Reblochon. Our favorite.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog will recall Reblochon from an earlier post, and the adventures with that cheese continue here.

Laura loves France; in many ways it’s like home to her – and France has Reblochon, one of the best things France has going for it. It’s impossible to get state-side as it’s unpasteurized and forbidden entry into the U.S. because of its “unsanitized” state. So when we are in France, it’s the first thing we buy. That and French baguettes, chocolate, and croissants, of course, and let’s not forget French wine. Who could want for anything with these gracing one’s table?

Because Laura and France are inextricably linked in my mind, when I spotted a small wheel of Reblochon in a local French market last month, I had to have it.

One thing you need to know about Reblochon is that it smells. Most cheeses do, I know, but this is offensive to the max – trite but true. When you step into a small cheese shop there, the mingling of cheese smells can be overwhelming at first, but Reblochon engenders the same affect all by itself. Bill is genteel in his description of it, saying “It stinks!” But one taste erases that unpleasantness. Reblochon spread on a fresh baguette – there is nothing better.

So when I found some in the market, I snapped a picture of it on my iPhone for Laura, then purchased the whole wheel (maybe 6 inches in diameter). If Laura had been there, we likely would have consumed the whole thing at one sitting. Instead, Bill and I put it in the mini-fridge in our stateroom so we could share our cache with Joe and Mary Jane a little at a time. In the first two days, we’d eaten close to three-quarters of it and then, being off the ship more than on, forgot about it for a couple of days.

Who knew the mini-fridge in our room wasn’t working as well as it should have been?

When we remembered it and opened the fridge, the stench knocked Bill back on his heels and permeated everything in the room. It stank worse than ever. It was SO bad. I knew the bad smell that was good and the difference between that and the bad smell that was not good, and that’s what this was, bad to the bone. Even I was afraid to eat it. It had to go, no question about it. But where? How?

It’s safe to l say Laura would have been appalled at this waste of one of the finest cheeses France has to offer.

We considered unceremonious disposal in a public trash bin, but people might have wondered what had died in there. And the smell would creep all over the ship, something we couldn’t risk – couldn’t have people jumping overboard to escape the smell, could we? That would never do. If we put it in the wastebasket in our room, we’d have to sleep elsewhere – and it was too cold to curl up in a deck chair on the balcony or on the upper deck. I envisioned Stefan, our cabin attendant, refusing to clean our room; we didn’t want that either. We even considered asking Stefan to dispose of it for us, but we saw ourselves the talk of the Downton Abbey’s downstairs staff pointing at us in the hallways and whispering asides in the dining room. We’d be ostracized, singled out by crew and passengers alike. Perhaps even set ashore, bags in hand.

The only thing left was burial at sea. Bodies – Cheese: same thing, sort of. Quietly lowering our coveted cheese over the side of the balcony, sheathed in white, we would let it slip quietly into the water and sink to the bottom of the Rhone River. You see it in the movies all the time, with bodies, that is. So that’s what we did.

The mistake we made was this…

We had already tied it up in a plastic bag to cut down the smell before we’d decided on the more traditional, if not outmoded, sea burial idea. We’d twisted the bag around tying a knot near the middle thinking of that beloved cheese as garbage now. Garbage sitting in the bottom of a white plastic bag from which I’d not extruded all the residual air. It was still dark, so tying a second knot close to the top, I hung myself over the side as far as I could safely manage so it wouldn’t splash when it landed in the water. But we weren’t connecting the dots well. We didn’t think “plastic bag” and how one tied the way this one was would behave when lowered into the water.

It would float – as our own Reblochon did, adopting the statuesque pose of a swan moving just off the side of the ship on its way toward the Mediterranean Sea, its head held high and proud.

It failed to sink like I thought it would. In my haste to get it into the water unseen before dawn broke, I neglected to poke a hole or two in the plastic so it could fill with water. Instead of sinking, it sailed away silently like a symbolic lantern in the Japanese Lantern Festival guiding the souls of the dead to their homes and then back to their resting places – the floating paper lanterns creating a vision of peacefulness and harmony as they commemorate the dead.

It was a beacon unto itself.

Our ceremony for the dead Reblochon, cast as a singular, lost, plastic swan, was heading out in search of its family, too. A silent swan, set adrift alone on the high seas – the Rhone River substituting for the ocean. I doubt it knew the difference. No fanfare for a legendary cheese well-made. No salute to the Savoy. Bill noted: “We sent her off into the sunset (or rather, sunrise) masquerading as a swan.”

When we got home, I saw a brief article on the internet about the “10 Foods You Should Never Eat Overseas.” Guess what was on it.

According to the FDA, drinking unpasteurized milk or eating unpasteurized dairy products like cheese or ice cream is 150 times more likely to cause a food-borne illness than pasteurized dairy products, it said. Pasteurization (or irradiation, in some countries) kills a myriad of nasty little suckers like salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and other harmful bacteria that can be found in raw milk.

Though it was difficult to part with knowing I wouldn’t be having any for a long time to come, it was probably a good thing we didn’t try to eat it. On reflection, Laura would surely have agreed…maybe.

Who’s in Charge Here?

They’re sitting down to breakfast on a Tuesday morning at Eat ‘n Park. Eat ‘n Park, its name a misnomer to be sure, serves a senior buffet on Tuesday mornings that costs less than on other days of the week. Many elderly couples take advantage of the savings, but younger people come, too, (though they don’t get the discount) and on this morning there is a reasonable mix of young and old.

Buffet at a christening

Buffet at a christening (Photo credit: Wiki

One elderly woman nods at her husband, sitting opposite her, indicating he should look at the family two booths back on the opposite side of the aisle. The look on her face says everything she’s not giving voice to – at least until they get into their car.

Seated in that window booth is a young couple in their late teens, maybe early twenties, looking like they just got out of bed. Their hair is uncombed, his stuffed under a baseball cap, its brim facing backwards and hers, carelessly pulled back and loosely secured in a ponytail with an elastic band. Scraggily dark strands hang in her eyes. They’re both wearing stained sweatpants and baggy shirts large enough to hide a host of sins. Their toddler is maybe 16 months old.

Mom and Dad are engrossed in their food. They don’t commune with each other the entire time and only occasionally toss a word or two in the general direction of their toddler who is jumping up and down on the bench seat, stopping now and then to grab food off his plate and stuff it into his mouth with the palm of his hand. It doesn’t all get where it’s supposed to go.

The waitresses walk back and forth, pretending not to notice.

“Isn’t the restaurant liable for accidents?” another woman asks the waitress pouring her coffee.

“Yeah, supposed to be, should be,” she says, rolling her eyes.

How many of us have witnessed servers, loaded with dinner plates and trays full of food and even pots of hot coffee, nearly tripped up by little kids running around from one table to another? And their parents? They watch, laughing and beaming at other customers, waiting for someone to say how cute their little darlings are.

It happens all the time.

This waitress comes back with more coffee, confiding that if she says something to the parents, they are likely to take offense, to stop coming in, and to tell their friends and family not to as well. They threaten to complain to management – who will not “have her back.” Why? Because it’s all about dollars-in versus dollars-out. So she could be subject to reprimand, possibly even fired.

It’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt and sues the restaurant. Regardless, they must remain family-friendly, the risk of lawsuits notwithstanding.

 

Those parents (and I use the term loosely) don’t look at or speak to their child, their faces are buried in plates piled high with sticky buns and biscuits and gravy. Then the toddler slips to the floor (which may see a vacuum at the end of each day but has probably not been shampooed in years) and crawls on his hands and knees across the carpet to the opposite side of the bench where his father sits.

Climbing onto that bench seat and, once again, getting to his feet, he parades back and forth, grabbing at the hair of a customer whose booth abuts the one behind them before plucking some bacon from Daddy’s plate. And let’s not forget where those dirty little hands have just been.

The older woman, looking up from her scrambled eggs, opens her eyes wide and points, jabbing her finger in the air, telling her husband to turn around.

“What’s he doing now?” he asks.

The toddler is hoisting his diapered self onto the table, rising to a standing position, and begins walking back and forth on top of it. He is lovin’ it. As he stands at the edge of his mother’s plate, she looks up and says sweetly “Whatcha doin’?

We’ve all witnessed something similar to this at one time or another. Kids running up and down the aisles. Kids throwing food on the floor. Kids standing on the booth or the chair, and kids going from one table to another for attention. All the while their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters say nothing.

At buffets, children too little to comfortably navigate through the line are permitted to handle full plates of food on their own. They sneeze or cough across the contents of the breakfast bar because, as so many of them say, “I can do it myself.” And their parents let them. I’ve seen children who can’t manage the tongs just pick up the food they want with their fingers, some of which have recently been on that dirty carpet or been intimately involved in their noses. I kid you not.

Too many parents push their kids to center stage. That way everyone can gush over them and say how cute there are. Do we really need more narcissists than we already have? The sad thing is, it’s not the child’s fault, yet they are often blamed. It’s the parents and often other adults in their lives that are encourage this, that teach those kids – by not teaching them – that the world revolves around them.

It’s a lot of work to be the responsible parent – and parenting is probably the toughest job there is, one that requires the most attention you’ll ever give anything.

 

When are restaurants and the responsible adults who patronize them going to stand up and say “Enough Already” – kids don’t belong in restaurants if they can’t behave while they are there. Only the irresponsible adults will complain but, hey, that’s just too bad. Kids, just like anything else in life, come with responsibilities and consequences.

 

A few months ago there was a news story about a restaurant that rewards parents of well-behaved children by giving them a discount if they don’t stand on the seat, if they don’t bother other patrons, if they don’t throw food on the floor, if they don’t get up and walk around. Following the rules doesn’t just happen, you know. These are learned behaviors which parents must model and teach.  And for the parents of children who do, there awaits a $4 discount on their bill at the cash register.

What a great idea. All restaurants should do the same.

When I’m out, I make a point to congratulate people whose small charges are well-behaved. I tell them, and their little ones, how nice it is to see children who are respectful and well-mannered because, today, that’s the exception rather than the rule. The elderly couple watching this family scene across the aisle recall a time when children were respectful and well-mannered – and that was the rule, not the exception.

It’s a lot of work, but real parenting is work. Real children are work – not just dolls to play with or trophies to display.


What I fail to understand is how management can respond so miserably to potentially lawsuit-inducing behaviors for which they could be held liable. And don’t get me wrong. I love kids, and I know how hard it can be to take them anywhere when they’re small. But we are their guardians, their teachers, and we must do what it takes to raise good citizens and good role models for the next generation.

The day will come when the restaurant industry will address this problem – but why does is always take an accident, a tragedy, or a lawsuit to get us to do what we should have been doing all along?

 

Waste Not, Want Not – Part II

I’m not so different from most people. I eat with a knife and fork and even know how to use them whether I’m at home, in France, or wherever I happen to be. I keep my elbows off the table (at least in restaurants or at other people’s homes), sit with my back straight, and keep my feet on the floor. I do not rock back on my chair’s back two legs either. I chew with my mouth closed – always (and that also applies to chewing gum) and never talk with my mouth full – the person I know who does shall remain nameless. I make eye contact with my companions and engage in conversation where we take turns – a seemingly forgotten point of etiquette these days – rather than drown each other out with a barrage of words that flow in an endless stream from both sides. And with decidedly few exceptions, I’m as ladylike a woman as you’d ever meet. The same is true of my daughter, Laura.

Laura has lived in France at different times and places: Faverges, Strasbourg, and Paris. A true Francophile, she incorporated some eating habits of the French while she was there. If you cut meat with your right hand while steadying it with a fork in your left, you eat from the fork using your left hand, rather than wasting energy switching hands, something the French consider pointless. When the greens in your salad have not been cut into bite-sized pieces (something they never seem to be wherever you are), you use your fork to fold over the romaine, escarole, or whatever in a tidy little envelope (a delicate operation that takes some practice) so you can raise the singular package to your mouth without unhinging your jaw like a boa constrictor to get it all in. Very French – very lady-like.

What Laura and I are remembered for, however, are our not-so-stellar moments.

My mother makes a dish we all simply call “sauerkraut” which bears a close resemblance to pigs in a blanket, but Mom’s is the version that accompanied her and my grandmother on their journey to American shores in the 1930s. And yes, we think hers is the better version, made in a thickened gravy-like sauce.  And as Mom always has, she makes a huge pot of it, dividing it between those of us with our hands waving in the air.

A few weeks ago, I took Tupperware containers for Laura and my son, Jeff, and one for me, and scooped out as much as Mom allowed from the large roaster she uses to cook it.

When I gave Laura hers, she tossed it in the microwave almost before I could set it on the counter. When it was ready, she dug into it with her fork, pulling out an errant strand of hair that turned up in her first forkful. Normally, words like “gross” and “disgusting” would have quickly followed and might have stopped her from eating it. I hadn’t made it, so she couldn’t blame me for being negligent with regard to keeping my hair back, though I have occasionally been guilty of that a time or two (okay, maybe three). More importantly, this was sauerkraut. She pulled out the hair, held it up for examination, then tossed it aside. I was shocked by the deadened sensibility she showed, her almost careless acceptance of this foreign object, its unwelcome presence in the midst of her food, and her seeming disregard for its ability to contaminate her dinner. To taint what she was about to put into her mouth.

A rationale she could live with quickly developed. A reason not to get rid of the meal she wanted to eat. The meal Mom did not make often enough to suit either of us.

“It has my DNA,” she said.

This was something I could sink my teeth into. And really, I had no room to say anything to Laura anyway, given my penchant for rationales with regard to where food had come from, or been.

My defining moment came on a train zipping along between France and Switzerland. Laura and I had stocked up at a quaint French cheese shop before we crossed the border and filled our travel larder with the usual specialty chocolates, intending to wash everything down with some superior Germany beer. The thing was, the cache of cheese we were so thoroughly engaged in enjoying was Reblochon – our absolute

English: Reblochon is a French cow's-milk labe...

English: Reblochon is a French cow’s-milk labelled Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese, made in the Alps region of Haute-Savoie and Savoie. Français : Le reblochon est est un fromage français au lait de vache, bénéficiant d’une appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) et fabriqué en Haute-Savoie et en Savoie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

favorite – and one we can’t get here in the states because it’s made from raw milk. Reblochon is made on farms in the mountains of the Haute Savoie and is, to use a well-deserved cliché, to die for. Absolutely.

Throw food away? Are you kidding?

We started in on the cheese and got to laughing; maybe it was the beer. Whatever the case, we were having a great time when I accidentally dropped the last piece of cheese on the floor between our feet.

Mountains flew past in one long blur. Time slowed. Nothing moved but our eyes. We both looked at the cheese, then at each other, and in less than five seconds (assuming you’re familiar with the five-second rule) I snatched up the cheese, brushed it off with my fingers, and popped it into my mouth.

Mom!” she cried, then proceeded to lecture me on the filthy floors of train cars, like she was my mother or something. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“I couldn’t waste it,” I said, defending myself like a 15-year-old. “No way. I can’t get this at home, and besides, it’s way too good to throw away over a few specs of dirt.”

Justification, pure and simple.

Waste not, want not. Not merely a good axiom to live by, but mighty tasty, too – the questionable source of its DNA notwithstanding.