Category Archives: Mike’s Posts

THE INCOMPETENT TRAVELIR … ‘le rube’ eats out

I have several Grand Theories about things and one of them is that wherever the French have been in the world they transform the cuisine.  I have been to a few of those places:  Vietnam and Laos, the old French Indochina.   Thailand by association.  French Polynesia.  Montreal.   Even New Orleans.   All great places for food  …  and bread.   I would bet that if the French had invaded your home town a hundred years ago and then they were inevitably driven out by say, the local PTA,  you would nevertheless be left with three French restaurants and, for the next century, all the townsfolk would be walking around carrying baguettes under their arms.

I had high expectations of dining out in Paris.  It is true that every restaurant in which we dined was loaded with charm and ambience;  but really, anytime all the people sitting around you are speaking French while you eat, that’s ambience,  n’est-il pas ?

Here’s the thing about the food though,  if you’ve cleaned up your diet brace yourself to be confronted with the likes of  …  ‘confit’, duck preserved in it’s own fat then cooked in its own fat and served with potatoes cooked in the same fat;  or terrine, a cross between fruitcake and spam;  or cassoulet, a casserole stuffed with white beans and the meat of whatever on two or four legs happens to be wandering around the backyard.  And don’t even talk to my wife about foie gras and the latest outrage among foodies,  The Goose Inquisition.  This is Crusader food.   You actually are introduced to forcemeats.

The first French cookbook dates back to Louis XIV …. Le Cuisinier Royal so that you know I actually researched this.   Its revelation was the joy of cooking with pork fat.  It was then updated in 1712.  Not since apparently.

Lest you think I am le rube,   I know I am being flip and ignoring the refinements that followed from the influences of iconic French chefs like Marie-Antoine Caremel,  Escoffier  and, later, the nouvelle cuisine of Paul Bocuse.  The evolution was away from heavy sauces and more reliance on the natural flavors.   Americans like me, who keep on-hand an arsenal of stuff in bottles and shakers to dump on food before I taste it,  find nouvelle cuisine dishes …well, subtle.

“Hows your meal”.

“I don’t know  it tastes like … fish.”

“It is fish”

“How do you say    ‘Got any lemon pepper’ ?”

When you studied American history did you learn who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s chef’s were  ?  The French know this kind of thing.


This is just the salad (yes, we started with the salad).  Looking closely you will see  two rounds of warm goat cheese (le chevre) , only slightly smaller than hockey pucks,  but much tastier  …  but then I ever eaten a hockey puck prepared by a French chef.


This is of course les escargot.  Notice anything missing ?  There are no pools of creamy garlic butter to sop up with your french bread.   Sacre bleu !  C’est un scandale !  My Aunt Helen (again) had a plastic tube of snail shells exactly like the ones pictured and she made her escargot just like this  …  with little spring loaded clippers to hold the shell,  but no butter.


Here’s a helpful phrase when you get your first look at the calorie-laden food as it arrives.

“Oh what the hell. We’re in Paris !”

You can also use this phrase when the bill arrives –  right after    “Holy Crap!”

THE INCOMPETENT TRAVELIR … I don’t know about you, but I never thought that much of the Eiffel Tower

From my luggage, recently back from Ibezia, I sprung my faux oil-skin belted trench coat inspired by the Pink Panther movies, which I will wear to the Eiffel Tower with my new pencil-thin moustache.

I don’t know about you, but I never thought that much of the Eiffel Tower. I actually grew up with the Eiffel Tower in my living room. When I was a kid my Aunt Helen brought back an Eiffel Tower statuette from Paris where she lived in the 1930’s, a time when the Nazis were in town. They hadn’t invaded yet, but they did come to shop, alongside, apparently, my Aunt Helen. Her mini-Eiffel Tower gift to us kids was silvery so right away the wrong color and it sat forever on our nic-nac shelf, tacky even to a six-year old. It was also boring and not fun to play with, so I never thought much of the Eiffel Tower. I should quickly mention here that my Aunt Helen was not herself a Nazi. Anyway it always looked to me like a big radio tower.

Now I have a somewhat different opinion. La Tour Eiffel is tall, elegant and beautifully proportioned; and while it’s a mass of iron, it appears light and almost delicate. From a distance the mesh of steelwork looks like ? I have to say it … fine lace and frill. Mssr Eiffel was evidently inspired by French Lingerie. The way the Tower gracefully flares at the bottom, it looks like it could stick out a leg and toss its head back. Kind of like … a Parisian woman .

This has to be the last of my posts on Parisian women. Next we move onto the Inquisition.

Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.

Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.

The Incompetent Travelir … in which I am censored

I am not allowed to write any more about the Parisian women. This is because I have been in Paris for three days and, because of my lack of focus on street signs and landmarks, I still can’t find the way back to our apartment on my own. I have to follow my wife. If you were watching us from behind I would be the guy who’s jacket sleeve is constantly being yanked to the right or left. I have to be steered on streets of Paris because they are populated with long-legged, skirt-wearing, flouncy-haired, shopping bag-swinging belles femmes. It’s not that I have been expressly forbidden from expounding on this topic, it’s just that my wife has this way of rolling her eyes that suggest I should reconsider a thing. This restriction makes it tough to go on here because Parisian women are pretty much all I have noticed since we arrived in Paris. Add to that, they’re everywhere.

Okay. I did notice Notre Dame Cathedral today and that was nice. Built from 12th to 14th century, it was a remarkable feat of construction because that was a time before power tools and after slave labor. The work of medieval society, unlike the ancient world, was done by its own people. This of course required money,  so to preserve the reverent experience of visiting Notre Dame and all the other magnificent churches you encounter throughout southern France,  you might not want to delve too deeply into the history of cash flow in the medieval Church.

I’ll do it for you.

Yes, it was a time of the kindly preachings of St Augustine, but also of nefarious fund-raising by, for example, church-commissioned ‘pardoners’. Check your old Cliff Notes for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner was the despicable guy.   Dispycable guye ?   Here’s a new word, or actually an old word lost in time:   SIMONY .    Simony is the selling of ecclesiastical favors like pardons for everything from gluttony to homicide … or the mother-of-all-pardons, salvation.   Heaven, you see, had a Treasury of Merit, according the robed snake-oilers of the period,  into which you could make deposits. Upon payment these pardons were reduced to writing, like receipts, assuring the ‘pardoned’ better seating in the hereafter.   Mendicant monks would sell you a feather from the wing of the Angel Gabriel or a piece of Moses ‘burning bush’.                              ‘Step right up !  Your legion of sins … the travesties visited upon the poor and downtrodden …  are herein forgiven.  Just show this parchment at the Gate”.

Mendicant. There is another good word you can use if you want to sound ‘medieval’. No one will know you don’t know what it means.

I dygresse. Unlike our Notre Dame, which is a football team and inflicts far less mayhem on its opponents than the medieval church did to its adversaries, the Paris Notre Dame was in particularly reverent form the day we visited. There was a Mass underway led by a younger priest, not a day over 80, who happened to be a mellifluous chanter. Standing under the same roof and on the same floor tiles as Kings, Popes and Crusaders, listening to the priest’s ethereal chant, I was so moved I almost jumped in line to receive Holy Communion. That would have been my first HC in 40 years, but then I remembered you are supposed to go to Confession first, which for me would go like this:

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 40 years since my last confession. You got a couple of weeks ? … and, actually, why don’t you go first ?”

I whispered my Communion idea to the rest of the group and I got this ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ look from my more catholicized sister. I passed on Holy Communion so as not commit blasphemy in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

In conclusion, Notre Dame is a good place to take a break from watching Parisian women