The Mystery of Fromage Blanc

Classic first phrase in french:  Qu'est-ce que cést?

"What is it?

The fromage (cheese) of France is world famous, and we've been learning some about it here in France.  For instance, certain cheeses have propriety names.  One cannot call your cheese Roquefort, unless the sheep who gave the milk for it ate from grass within a hundred miles of a certain group of caves, or something like that.  It's largely the same way with french wines.  We have several local proprietary cheeses, and we have enjoyed trying them out.  They aren't really cheap, but they are less expensive than if we would buy them in the US (which we never would, because of their expense).

But this is not about those cheeses.  This is about "fromage blanc", of which you can get a small bucket-full at a local store here for less than two euros.  It's literally "white cheese", but what does that mean?  We had heard that it could supplant yogurt, sour cream, whipping cream, ricotta cheese, and maybe some others.  So we had to try it.

We bought a mini-bucket yesterday and today added into some chili.  It is halfway between plain yogurt and sour cream, but thicker than either, and a bit cheesier than either.  Oh, the versatility!  Fromage blanc, you will be seeing more of us.

Which brings me to two somewhat random associations:

1.  Andrew Peterson's song of the Alien Cheese Juice.  This was found as a live version on his "Appendix A" where he sings that the queso at little mexican taquerias is really a mystery mind control device.  He sings "Mexico remembers the Alamo... In the temple of the Incas, there is a fountain flowing cheese dip.  Then they smuggle it to Texas, and they trick us with the free chips... What is that white stuff on my nachos?  It's too thin to be just cheese.  It's too thick to be just milk, in its sublime consistency."  (not exact quote)

2.  In high school, I once did a school project with a few friends where we filmed an advertisement for a product called "Creamy Cool Shave".  It was an aerosol cream that you could shave your face, shave your legs, spread on your toast, or just enjoy straight out of the can.  Who knew it was in France all this time?



A pair of french experiences:

I played guitar for our local church service last Sunday.  It was a mix of Francophone songs as well as English songs translated into French.  And as in all cultures of the world that I have experienced, they seemed to like their translation of "Shine Jesus Shine" quite a bit.  I understood some of the words and was particularly struck by the line in the chorus "brûler, Esprit, brûler", which is the translation of "Blaze, Spirit, Blaze".  Where have I seen that word before?

The prior Tuesday our family went shopping at the local Lidl store, which is within a 20 minute walk from our house, and is akin to its European cousin, Aldi.  It's fun to search around and see what you find.  Perhaps the best find of that trip was this:

That's right.  Crème brûlée for home consumption, for use "avec au sans" the acetylene torch.  These two little desserts were sold for a grand total of 1.29 euros.  They came in their own glass ramekins (I guess you can't torch plastic), and each with their own little sachet of sugar.  We were excited.

Next challenge, our oven has two knobs, and this took us a little bit of work.  The settings are #1-9, and (as we have learned) the timer has to be on in order for the oven to kick in.  The French instructions seemed to be asking us to "brûlée" the oven, which probably meant broil, but maybe just cook.

The result is here.  It didn't have the burned class of a true crème brûlée, but that may have just been as a result of us not broiling, or maybe not cooking it long enough.  Oh well, it was truly tasty, and now we have two little glass ramekins on our shelves. 



Language school classes started today, our two week anniversary of arriving in France.  It promises to be a busy year in many ways.  But before classes started, we had a lot of time to get settled in and enjoy exploring the surrounding area.  So last week, we decided to take a bus day trip to Annecy, a scenic town about 1 1/2 hrs away by bus.

We were initially thinking that we could take trains around to the local villages but it seems that most people use the train system to get farther away (Lyon, Paris, Geneva) and the bus system, kind of like Grayhounds, to travel within an hour or two.  The kids were REALLY excited to get on the big bus (but not quite as excited as they'll be, I'm sure, when we take our first train trip since they are big Thomas fans).  The drive was rather winding but pretty, stopping in a lot of small towns before arriving at the lake on which Annecy sits.  It's a medieval style town with old buildings, cobblestone streets, canals, and tons of window boxes full of flowers!

First order of business was finding some lunch.  Our teammate Sarah came with us and it was great to get to know her better.  She ordered apparently the world's biggest hamburger.  Eric and I "adventurously" tried the menu du jour and plate du jour (can you guess what that means?  Menu and plate of the day...French lesson #1).  He got a salad nicoise, salmon tartare, and a yummy pear tart.  I got the roast beef, quite good.  French cuisine seems to be expensive, but we are determined to try a little bit this year!

Then we walked around the streets, full of shops and cafes.  There are two main canals running through the town, giving everything a very scenic look.

Then we walked to the lake.  There were boats to rent (motor or paddle), tours, etc, and a few areas outside of the main part of town where you can swim, but we just enjoyed the view (while Ben slept in his stroller) and Maggie played on the playground.

Her FAVORITE activity of the day was finding a carousel in the park.  Of COURSE she didn't need me to stand next to her, big girl. :)

There is also a castle up on the hill overlooking the city (most French towns seem to have castles, an awesome feature of France I must say). We walked up a very steep hill to take a look.  We didn't go in, since admission is charged, but enjoyed the view of the city from the hilltop.

In all, a very successful and fun day!  It started raining just as we got to the bus stop to head home, and I think it rained for the next 5 days or something, so we are glad we went when we did.  Just one of the many sites to see when you come visit us. :)


Bon Vue

For several days (after the initial heat), it has been chilly and raining.  Clouds covered the mountains, making for some nice views as seen below.  (Note: Conflans, mentioned in the last post, is seen up the hill between the tall pine and the shorter pine on its left.)

 This morning, the clouds cleared just enough to see the effect of those clouds on the rain:  Snow-capped peaked.  This one is taken right out our window.  There are two other sets of snow caps on the left and right.  Click on the images to get a bit bigger shot.