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Crepe on a stick

Crepe on a stick

One of the nice things about France has always been their approach to eating.   They sit, enjoy and savor finely prepared foods (even if that food is a goddamn snail).  In moderation.

I’ve seen that trend fading with the preponderance of fast food places and prepared foods at the grocery store (which I like to pretend are geared towards american tourists, even though logic tells me otherwise).

But I’m sorry, a crepe on stick?   Yes, this was at an outdoor festival of food.    I’m sure it’s lovely to be able to stroll around with one hand free while eating a crepe, but this just isn’t right.

Jeez, the next thing you know they’ll be making camembert-whiz and drinking wine out of berets.

Wine-Hatphoto of wine cap from www.likecool.com.

 

the night of a billion bubbles

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If the bottles pictured above were mid-priced champagnes, together they’d be worth over a thousand dollars.   But these are bottles of cremant, roughly valued at $250.00.   Much more my speed.

Cremant is basically a sparkling wine made in the traditional “method champenoise” manner.   The only thing that separates a cremant from champagne is the origin of the grapes  (in order to qualify as champagne, the grapes must be from the Champagne region of France).   And the price, of course.

There are all sorts of sub-categories, like “Cremant de Loire, Jura, Bourgougne, Alscace and Limoux.   Some are called Vouvrays, some are called Blanquettes.   But if it says “method traditional” on the bottle, you know you’ve got the closest thing you can get to real champagne at a fraction of the price.

So I get to thinking:  there’s got to be one or two cremants that rival fine champagne.   A cremant that, in a pinch, I can pour into an empty Dom Perignon or Kristal bottle and pass it off as the real deal.

I must find them.

There are a lot of cremants out there and I have my work cut out for me.   I begin collecting bottles of cremants.  Once I have 20, I gather a qualified international panel of experts for the first annual Degustation des Cremants, Antibes 2014.

My distinguished international panel:

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Vlad Bertin Roudenko

  Vlad hails from Paris.   He is French with Russian ancestry (nobility, of course). Vlad’s life experiences have been limited to consuming only the finer things in life. His dream is to someday eat a bucket of chicken nuggets in boxers while watching crappy television.   He considers tasting faux champagne with the bourgeoisie a step in the right direction.

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Romain E. Leloux

Elegance is Romain’s middle name. He was born in the country that REALLY brought us French fries and Hercule Poiroit (Belgium).   You know Romain possesses impeccable taste and refinement just by looking at him.   And if that’s not enough to prove it, he’s gay.

 

14896_10154303726590315_4817333573199544993_nJoc Even 

Joc owns and operates one of Antibes’ finest dining establishments, Miam Miam, 1 Rue Vauban, Antibes, Currently rated #7  out of 433 restaurants in Antibes on TripAdvisor.

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Angela Duley1604516_10104403875180714_1716919940_n  

Angela is an American from Texas.   I know what you’re thinking; how could an American from Texas (the state that brought us George Bush) have any discernment whatsoever?   To that, she answers, “shut up or I’ll blow your brains out!”   Just kidding.  Believe me, she’s a culinary explorer with very discerning tastes.   Proof?  She always orders what I do at restaurants.

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 Adam Duley

He is a brewer and connoisseur of fine beer.   I figured, beer/champagne, what’s the difference?   They’re both bubbly and get you drunk.   Clearly his input is invaluable. Also, he is the only one in attendance who knows how to open a champagne bottle.

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IMG_7127Michel Khoury

Originally from Lebanon, Michel is not a terrorist.   In fact, his background is Catholic, which means he knows his wine.  Very, very well.  On the culinary front, he can down a pound of Haribo gummy tarantulas in less than an hour.

 

 

1016647_10152926550305065_315480438_nVirginie Haziers

Virginie is French, thus her knowledge of wine-based beverages is a birthright..   She is beautiful, discerning with impossibly refined taste. Except in men.

 

 

 

WP_000727Tomislav Jonjic (the man, not the dog)

From the burgeoning Croatian food and wine destination, Istria, Tom knows his stuff.   He also claims to be an expert vinar, stručnjak za hranu, gurman, hortikulturista, renomirane hrana kritičar i srce kirurg.   We’ll just have to take his word for it.

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The tasting.  Notes, comments, scores:

Everyone gets  a list of the cremants in order to score (1-10, 10 is the best) and make comments anonymously.    My notes, the comments and scores follow.

Bottle #1:   Louis Bouillot Perle de Vigne Grand Reserve Brut Cremant de Bourgogne. 2011.

Comments:   “fruity but dry”, “really quite good”   “excellent, fruite” “buttery sparkling chardonnay” “This pleases me” “not bad for less than 10 Euro”

Scores:  from 8.5-10

Bottle #2:  Arthur Metz Brut Millesime 2011 Cremant d’Alsace

My notes:   This bottle exploded all over the place when Adam opened it. I didn’t shake it, I swear!.  We already hate this bottle

Comments:   “appley”   “bitter, flat,” “meh,”  The name sounds like an accountant:   Arthur Metz CPA.  flat and lifeless.    Less bubbly (said one kind soul).   “Sans ebulliance. Triste.”

Scores:  from 3-8 (8????? Wtf)

Bottle #3:  Patriarche Pere & Fils Brut Cremant de Bourgogne

Comments:  “Average”, ” “c’est normal” “comme ci comme ca,”   “I’ve already forgotten it” “You call this cremant?”, ” Not the worst thing I’ve ever tasted”.  “a bubbly glass of hope that dissolves into disappointment.”

Scores:   5-6.5

Bottle #4: Bouvet Saphir Saumer Brut Vintage 2011

My notes:  Vlad says he has crossed from tipsy to drunk.

Comments: “Hey, this is pretty good!”, “She, she, she!!!” , “deeeeeeeelish!”, “why yes, I’ll have another”, light with just the right balance of fruit and dry”

Scores:   7-8.5

Bottle #5: Veuve d’Argent Chardonay Brut

My notes: Talking about Lebanon and the Middle East.   Michel says some people only know Lebanon for hummus and terrorism,

Comments:   “deeeeelish!”   “Fraiche,”   “Dry with a nice hint of berry,” “subtle, refreshing, nice lively bubbles”, “I don’t even LIKE hummus. fuck them!”

Scores:   From 6-8.5

Bottle #6: La Cave de Reine Jeanne Brut Cremant de Jura

My notes:    Joc tells us that Jura is the region where Comte cheese comes from.

Comments:   “comte, wine>crap”, ” Puppies!!!!! ”   “Deeelish!”   What is this shit?”  “She, she she!”, “they should stick to cheese”, “tastes like loneliness.”

Scores:  2-5

Bottle #7:  Wolfberger Brut, Cremant d’Alsace

Comments:   “appley, average”   “mushymushymush,” “deeelish!”, “bitter. Like me,”    “promising dry appley start with a bitter aftertaste.”  ” Milk, coffee, toilet paper” and something in Arabic.

Scores: 5-33

Bottle #8:  Wllm Brut, Cremant d’Alsace.

My notes:   Michel! Pants!

There are only two comments on this one:   “huh?” and “deeeeeeeeelish!”

Scores:   yaaaaaaaaaah!-k

 

my new french teacher is a bitch

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Professor Iota

Up until now, the only person I felt comfortable conversing entirely in French with was my cat.

I babble away endlessly and she never corrects me, never judges, always understands.   However, like me, her primary language is English, so it’s really not much of a challenge and I’m probably not learning much.

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Romain, Iota, Vlad

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely, young French whippet.   Her name is Iota (pronounced e-yoh-ta, almost like “Yoda” with a “t” instead of “d”). She’s the daughter of my friends Romain and Vlad who are Belgian and French.   French is Iota’s mother tongue, so to speak, but being only seven months old, she’s still learning.

She impressed me immediately with her intelligence.   When Romain told her to assis, she sat.   And when he told her to debout, she stood up (and I learned a new word!).

Turns out, our French skills are very similar (okay, she’s a little better than I am).   We both know some words, but neither of us can conjugate or string together a sentence to save our lives.

While I’m still not good enough to confidently conduct an intelligent conversation in French with French humans, I think I’m ready to graduate from English speaking cat to French speaking dog.  The beauty of dogs is they totally live in the present, so I won’t have to deal with that pesky conjugation problem.

Today is our first session.  I’m taking her for a walk.

iota bisousI release her from her bedroom and she bursts out, happy to see me.   After the obligatory bisous are exchanged, I nervously speak.

“Bonjour Iota, Ca va?   Oui, tres bien!   Tres, tres bien!   Tres, tres, TRES bien!   Ou’est la…. Hmmm, quel est le mot pour “leash” en Francais?”

She’s too excited to answer, but she doesn’t roll her eyes or snigger at my accent. I consider that a minor victory.   I find her leash, attach it to her collar and she pulls me out the door.   This is going to be a piece of cake.

When we get to the sidewalk, I start to worry. Do I address Iota in the formal or familiar.? Do I tell her to viens, or venez? I don’t want to offend her right off the bat.   She’s pedigreed, so perhaps she demands formality.

As a rule, I always assume a certain level of familiarity with anyone who has already licked my face, so I opt for viens.  She seems okay with it.   On the other hand, she doesn’t viens, either. In fact, she kind of ignores me in favor of the much more interesting cigarette butt she finds on the grass. I chalk her reaction up to being French.

I speak to her sternly.

“Non!”

She looks at me and puts down the cigarette.   Ahhhhh, communication!

I pet her lavishly and shower her with compliments.

“C’est bien.   C’est tres, tres, tres bien.   Tu est une tres, tres bonne chien!”

She’s proud and very excited to be acknowledged.  I’m thrilled at the effortless exchange and meeting of the minds.

We walk along the beach, Iota occasionally pulling me towards bushes, picnics, cigarette butts and where ever the possibility of treasure lies.   When she does, I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind.

“Pas tirer!”

She slows down and walks with me.   Success!   I’m starting to feel like the dog whisperer…The FRENCH dog whisperer!

I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional language barrier. At one point, no amount of “NONs” and “pas tirers” can stop her from dragging me off towards a family picnic, forcing me to converse with actual French humans. But even this turns out to be a positive–it gives me the opportunity to try out a whole new French phrase: “Monsieur, je suis tres desole que ma chien a mange votre repas.”

After we say our au revoirs, I walk home alone along the ramparts. I’m feeling pretty good about my afternoon with Iota.   It was a lovely walk and I think it was tres beneficial.  Unlike my last French teacher, she doesn’t make me feel stupid.  I’m not living in dread of the next time I see her.   I’m looking forward to it.

I light a cigarette and look out over the bay at Nice and Cap Ferrat.   A child shrieks and shouts “NON” in the distance.   I reflexively drop my cigarette.

See?   I already learned something!

my name is lesley stern and I am an addict

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My first taste was during the Menton Citrus Festival in February.   Some pusher on the street was handing out samples. I guess you could say it was peer pressure…I was trying to be agreeable. I generally pass on samples because I’m afraid they’ll make me buy something. That was the least of my worries.

The substance? Mille et un miels, Delice au miel au Citron de Menton (Honey with essence of the coveted Menton lemon). I’m pretty sure whatever they put in Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos (a habit I had to move to France to break), is also in this honey.   Something evil and irresistible.

I remember the flood of pure bliss when the honey first hit my lips.   My body was unprepared for the seratonin surge of lemony-honey goodness.   I think I blacked out for a few moments.  My friend Angela found me dazed on the sidewalk with a huge smile on my face and the plastic spoon still in my mouth.

I talked her into trying the honey (please don’t judge me, my intentions were good—I just wanted her to experience the pleasure, I swear!). The next thing you know we were both in the store buying a couple of jars each.

Since then, all my thoughts and actions have revolved around this nectar of the Gods.

Honey paraphernalia

Honey paraphernalia

I’ve been stocking up on honey paraphernalia.   I’ve googled the health benefits of honey.   The side effects.  Honey recipes.  The dangers of eating too much honey.   The history of honey.   Honey as medicine.  Signs of an overdose.  You name it.  Sometimes I have to rush home and indulge when the vague thought of a baguette, goat cheese and lemon honey has me jonesing for a hit.

Two jars don’t even last me through the following week. Granted, the jars are small (about 2/3 of a cup per jar) but it’s clear this is going to be a problem.   Especially since the minute I opened the second jar, I began to worry about how to get more.   As the jar empties, my worry rises to panic. The voice in my head becomes shriller:   Gotta get more.   Gotta get more.   GOTTA GET MORE!   QUICKLY, BEFORE I RUN OUT!    The mere thought of facing a morning without lemon honey slathered on toast/yogurt/fruit/ricecake/oatmeal/baguette/croissant/my hand… fills me with despair. I long for simpler days, when a cup of coffee was enough.

I make the 50 minute train ride to Menton a few days later under the pretext of visiting the Cocteau museum on the waterfront. It’s very nice; a glaringly modern (yet elegant) building that stands out with Menton as its charming old-world background.   It seems entirely fitting. There’s a lot of art, ceramics and stuff.   But enough about Cocteau!

I buy four more jars of honey and head on home.   On the train, I begin to worry that four jars isn’t enough. I’m already giving a jar to a friend as a thank you gift.   Oh jeez.   That only leaves me three jars.   And I will probably give another jar as a birthday gift.   Two measly jars?   That won’t last two weeks!   They need to make these jars in a large economy size!

I consider getting off in Monaco and going back for more, but I’m tired and the four jars of honey are pretty heavy.   And then there’s the embarrassment of going back in and buying more jars the same day. The shop girl will judge me.

Then I notice the flyer in my shopping bag.   There’s a website .   Maybe they sell this stuff a little closer to Antibes.

I hurry home and peruse the website over a refreshing cup of iced honey.   I discover there’s an online boutique and immediately order five more jars which will be delivered in two days.

The e confirmation arrives.   For the first time in weeks, I have this overwhelming sense of peace and that all is right with the world.

 

Postscript: I gave one jar to Michel, who called me immediately after trying it and told me his mouth had an orgasm and he was about to smoke a cigarette and take a nap.   I gave another jar to my friend Joc.   The following day, she chased me down the street holding out wads of cash, asking me to get her more next time I go to Menton.   Hmmmm, this might be a good way to support my habit.

the sharks of monaco

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I’m just going to say it:   I don’t like Monaco.  I mean, look at it.    It doesn’t exactly ooze charm, does it?

It’s a shame, because it’s actually an excellent piece of real estate, nestled in among dramatic cliffs and the Mediterranean.   The views are spectacular, as are the famed Monte Carlo Casino and gardens. Even the old town of Monaco would be cute and picturesque if it functioned as anything other than a tourist trap.   There’s no butcher or baker, so dont expect to see locals picking up groceries and a baguette.  A Chinese family buying “royal” key chains and tee shirts, well, that’s another story.

Monaco is separate from France; its own little  0.7 mile country (hell, I’ve been to bigger parking lots).   It’s not only the most densely populated country in the world, but also has the most millionaires and billionaires per capita.   I’m not sure if they’re attracted by Monaco’s natural beauty or her status as an international tax haven (I kid).  At any rate, I should probably spend more time here if I want to marry a billionaire.

The Grimaldi family have ruled the principality since 1297AD.   Like most royal families these days, they’re pretty much the European version of our very own royal family, the Kardashians (with smaller asses, of course). We’re not sure exactly what they do, but whatever it is seems to be front page news.

Prince Albert, the son of Prince Ranier and Princess Grace (as in Grace Kelly) is running things right now.   His sisters Caroline and Stephanie used to be glamorous Euro playgirls and he was always a bit of a schlub (hmmm, this Kardashian analogy works on so many levels).   He’s not my idea of a fairy-tale prince, but he is a prince.

So, what brings me to this god-forsaken tax-free monarchy?  I’m visiting the residents of the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco.

The building is stunning on it’s own, perched on a cliff with the sea churning below.   Inside, there are over 4000 fish and 200 species of invertebrates (sea creatures with spimusée océan261010nes).   There’s also a museum of sea exploration upstairs and a roof that overlooks groddy old Monaco on one side and the sea on the other.   It’s a nice aquarium, but probably wouldn’t be anything to write home about except for one thing…well, dozens.

10364471_10152361994966928_1813794450_nBefore exiting into the obligatory museum shop, there’s a darkened room with a large shallow pool of water surrounded by people.   Bobbing in and out of the water are the heads of baby sharks (requins), no bigger than a foot long each. The way they pop their heads up and open their mouths reminds me of baby birds. But here’s the piece de resistance: YOU CAN PET THEM!!!!!!!!

10362667_10152361995386928_1623031024_nThis is almost as good as swimming with dolphins.   Better, because I don’t have to put on a bathing suit.

I ascertain that nobody is screaming and bleeding from the wrist and nervously dip my hand in the water.   The little sharkies kind of butt against your hand like a cat and swim by, rubbing against your palm.   As one would expect, they feel pretty slimy.   But damn, these future ruthless man-eating machines are sooooooooo cute.

After petting every shark in the pool, we head out through the gift shop.   We stop to admire/laugh at some ridiculously expensive bejeweled swim goggles.   Then we both feel it …danger. I can almost hear the Jaws music. We’ve got to get out of here. There are Russian tourists circling and we’re pretty sure they’ll rip us from limb to limb for these goggles.

 

 

 More pictures of Monaco

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trouble in paradise


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I have a small balcony. Well, actually, I have three tiny balconies.  There’s not a ton you can do with them.   There’s a small table, two chairs and a plantation growing on them.

IMG_5257To me, plants are like added decor–they add color and warmth inside and out.   And in many cases, they also provide handy kitchen necessities, like basil, chives, mint, etc.     In fact, I think my little garden ups the real estate value of the apartments facing mine; maybe the whole street.  I’ve been to the apartment across the street and my balcony is a joy to behold.   It’s tres freaking charmant, I tell ya!   It’s like the hanging gardens of Babylon on Rue Vauban.   My own private Idaho.

It’s spring and everything is blooming.   Including this yellow flowering plant that smells pretty nice.   This is the time of year I love my tiny balconies.   It’s not too hot to sit and have a cup of coffee out there in the morning, smell the flowers and look across the port at the still snow-capped alps.

But today, as I sit out here with my coffee, I hear buzzing.   I don’t think much about it, until I notice an inordinate number of bees out here.   Usually, there’s one or two.   This morning there’s more like six.  Or 10.   Or a hundred.   I scurry back inside and make sure all the doors are shut and locked before I investigate.

There’s a freaking cloud of bees circling my balcony that houses the nice-smelling yellow plant.   The yellow flowers are dripping with bees suckling on it.   Meanwhile, the air is thick with bees circling the plant and balcony waiting their turn.   It reminds me of the sky above Kennedy Airport on a busy day.   Or The Birds, if the birds were bees.

I’ve never seen so many bees in one place.  I don’t know what the hell is going on.   It can’t be the yellow flowering plant, it’s been blooming for a few weeks now.   Why are they suddenly attracted to it now?   Is this the only plant bees like in France?   Maybe they’ve conducted a pilgrimage here and have just arrived.   It’s like the hajj for bees and this one yellow plant is the bee equivalent of the black box.   Or maybe they bees are after me.   I have been eating a lot of honey lately.   Maybe they’re pissed.

What I do know is I can’t live with a gazillion bees circling my sanctuary.   Hell, what if they build a nest?   What if they have already?   Do they have bee exterminators?

But wait, I don’t want to kill them.  As my mother constantly reminds me, “Bees are good.  And they’re disappearing” (I beg to differ).  “The vanishing bee population is a sign of the end of the world.  Or the decline of civilization as we know it.   Or something really, really bad.”

Don’t worry, mom, I won’t kill them.   I just want them to go worship some other plant.  Preferably one in Italy.   Oh my God, they’re practically covering the glass on the door.   KILL THEM!

I Google bee repellant and discover that orange essence keeps them away.   But even if I had orange essence, I’d be afraid to go out there and spray it.   What am I gonna do?

I weigh my options.   Find a new apartment?   Marry a bee shoe-er?  Get rid of the pretty yellow flowering plant?   Never go out on the balcony (or open the doors) again?  Start making honey?

I close the curtains, because if I don’t see them they don’t exist.   But as I try to distract myself by writing something deep, meaningful and/or arty, a heavy feeling of doom settles over me.   I try to shake it off, but it keeps sneaking back in there.   It’s the bees.   They’re going to ruin everything!

beekeeper-clothing

my new outfit

I go over to check if they’re still out there and I don’t even have to open the curtain. I can hear them buzzing.   Now I’m cowering and whining pathetically to the heavens ‘Why me?   Why me? Why me?’   Worse, now I’m full of self-loathing because I just un-ironically sounded just like Nancy Kerrigan.

I need to do something that will totally get my mind of this whole bee situation.   Just forget about it.   Maybe it’s just some passing seasonal thing and will pass as quickly as it arrived.

So I go shopping for a few spring fashion necessities and buy a whole new outfit.

I feel better already.

a little lesson in french law

law_ebay_french_courtThere are somethings that just aren’t covered in the books on living in France and can be only learned from experience.

A friend of mine, who I’ll call Michel, learned something new just last Friday night.   This is his story.

What he remembers:   He went to a friend’s house, drank a bottle of champagne, a bottle of rose followed by ¾ of a bottle of Jack Daniels. He headed home around 3AM.

His final memory of the evening was singing Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” while performing an awesome air drum solo as he walked home.

He woke up the next morning in his bed with a bad hangover, which was to be expected. What he didn’t expect was to find himself wearing a pair of boxer shorts that he had never seen before. They were definitely not his.

Clearly, there were a few blank spots, so he called the friend he spent the evening with to find out what he missed.

Turns out, somewhere between the drum solo and home, he was arrested.   He was quite incoherent, but managed to give the cops the name and number of the friend who he had spent the evening with (merci a dieu it wasn’t me).   The cops called him and asked him to pick up Michel and to bring some pants.

His friend went to the police station and found Michel quietly playing poker with imaginary cards and opponent.  He also happened to be buck-naked from the waist down.   As near as Michel can figure it, he must have seen the bus station which is very close to his apartment, figured he was almost home and started taking his clothes off.

Apparently, the neighbors complained about the noise and the cops came to investigate and found Michel singing, without his pants on.   They brought him in, not because he was half naked, but because he was loud, and very, very drunk. They were worried he was a threat to himself.

As you might imagine, Michel was feeling pretty crummy as he told me all this.   Being the pain in the ass I am, I asked him if he learned anything from the experience.

He thought about it for a moment and I could see see the sparkle of realization in his eyes.

“Yes!   It’s legal to walk down the street naked in France!”

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