Sunday, June 29, 2014

Durian Durian

All the photographs from Paris are still waiting to be blogged but they'll have to wait just a little bit longer. Tomorrow morning I've got the jury presentation for my final project paper and although I'm not nervous about it, I keep thinking about it, and can't concentrate on anything else. And I still have to throw some slides together for that part of the presentation. After that, I no doubt will wake up to the fact that I leave in two weeks and therefore need to get all of my things organized and folded back into suitcases, which is easier said than done, and I'll still be working at the pig farm on a regular basis, so I don't know how much time I'll feel like devoting to the blog before I get resettled - temporarily - in mid-July.

While I was in Paris I happened to wander past a large Asian market in the Belleville district that Sunday, and though I hadn't planned on buying anything, I did. I found a brand of wasabi peas that was SO much better than any others I've had; the wasabi was a light coating, not the thick shell you usually get, and the peas were crisper. I wish I'd saved the bag to get the brand, but on the other hand not even the label was in English (or French) so it probably wouldn't have helped. I bought some instant dashi mix that I've been cooking my rice in, and some black sesami mochi balls, and some jasmine tea for Florence's birthday present.

I would have bought more (seasoned seaweed paste! white miso! pickled radish and soy-braised sprats!) but I didn't want to carry kilos of groceries around the next day.

But I just had to buy the freeze-dried durian. Many years ago I took a fresh durian to Mom and John's house (in Packwood, Washington at the time) that I'd bought at Uwajimaya shortly after they opened up their first store in the Portland area. Unfortunately by the time I got there it wasn't all that fresh, and its signature rotten smell was overpowered by the actual rot. Not even the raccoons would eat it. So the next time I took some durian candy along, because I was still curious about the flavor of this famous fruit. After the olfactory assault they'd received from the fresh/rotten durian, Mom and John were dubious. "Oh, come on," I said. "It's candy!" I unwrapped one [crinkle crinkle] and popped it in my mouth ...

"Bleagh! (ptoo)"

... and spit it out immediately. "Here, let me try one," said Mom.

[crinkle crinkle] "Bleagh! (ptoo)"

"It can't be THAT bad," said John.

[crinkle crinkle] "Bleagh! (ptoo)"

I suggested they save the rest of the candy to hand out at Hallowe'en to children they didn't particularly like. The bag was probably tossed out, uneaten except for the three we tried, a year or two later when they moved back to southern Oregon.

Understandably cautious, I opened this box of Tasty Top freeze-dried durian and then cut open the foil pouch inside, ready to back away quickly and go running for a trash bag to wrap everything up in before tossing it away.

But there was no overwhelming reek, and when I took a cautious sniff of the light golden chunks inside, only a faint fragrance that reminded me of truffles and peaches and the way a thick layer of rose petals smells when it's been crushed underfoot. I nibbled one piece and felt the freeze-dried flesh turn to cream on my tongue, with a truffle-peach-rosepetal-umami-wow! flavor that was really quite addictive. Apparently something in the freeze-drying process removes or subdues the volatile compounds that attack the senses in the fresh fruit, leaving a gentle musky taste/smell I really liked. It's possible that the type of durian used for this product is one that isn't as stinky; apparently there are several varieties, some more overwhelming than others.

Durian production peaks in June and July and the markets in Singapore and Malaysia and Thailand are probably full of the spiky fruits right now. The Penang Durian Fair offers two months worth of odoriferous fun - maybe I'll get there some day. Like a lot of other tropical fruits, the durian is probably best eaten IN the tropics. I've never found a papaya sweeter than the ones I had in Hawai'i, and the clean clear taste of green coconut is never better than when it's been freshly cut under the tree it came off of. I have more traveling to do in Western Europe, but I'm starting to look east these days ...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Du Fond du Coeur

All good things come to an end, and yesterday was my last official day as a stagiaire at Ferme Bergeras. While at first I was disappointed that I couldn't find a cheesemaker to work with over these last nine months, I quickly realized how lucky I am that I connected with Florence and Frédéric. They are a delight to work with, and I've felt incredibly welcomed by the entire family, having been invited to Christmas celebrations and Easter feasts and Sunday teatimes, and Florence has taken the time to show me around southwest France and even indulged me with a trip to Spain. I will eventually write up an "official" blog post about the stage - another one on my cheesemaking stage last August is still in draft form, so no promises on when it will actually appear - but I just wanted to say how thankful I am that I had the chance to live and work with the Bergeras family, and I wish them all success in the years to come! Merci beaucoup pour tout, Florence et Frédéric et Jeanne et Eloi, et n'oubliez pas que si quelqu'un a besoin de vacances dans l'avenir, vous avez mon adresse e-mail ...

Saturday, June 21, 2014


The first official meal of summer: tomatoes from Haute-Bretagne, radishes from somewhere around here in southwest France, padrón peppers from just over the border in Spain, and snow peas from ... um, Kenya. Not even Morocco, which would have been just over the border and then just over the next one too, with much less of a carbon footprint (perhaps), but I snapped because I haven't had snap peas, or snow peas, or any kind of fresh peas this spring, and it's already summer. There are shelling peas at the greengrocer's but they don't look very fresh, and they're also selling for nearly 6 euro a kilo, which after shelling would be even more expensive. So airfreighted African produce it is.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tourbillon de Foin

As we were finishing up lunch on Thursday we were watching the 1pm (13h) news, with some scary photos of tornado damage across the United States. While tornadoes aren't unknown in France, they're fairly uncommon, and according to a tornado-tracking site I found, there were fewer than two dozen in 2013, with only one of them level 3. The weather's getting wilder over here, too - golf-ball-sized hail in Paris a few weeks ago, along with storms that shut down much of the city - and there's been more rain and more storms, leading to increased erosion along the beaches in the southwest and the destruction of vineyards and orchards. But there's nothing like the vast churning storms that devastate the eastern half of the USA regularly, the tornadoes and thunderstorms spinning west to east, the tropical storms and hurricanes east to west. There have been storms crashing through the Pyrénées here now and again, but they only make the lights flicker. The last time I was in Indiana my grandmother teased me about how nervous I was getting at the approach of a tornado-watch-level storm front headed towards South Bend, but I was ready to head to the basement just watching the flashing reds and yellows on the weather forecaster's screen. I still remember sitting in a dark basement, waiting for a tornado to pass by, one green-grey afternoon in Louisville.

And Thursday after lunch, as we walked out the front door, there was a tourbillon in the freshly-mown field across the road, swirling the hay high into the air where it caught on tree branches and power lines. The dry grass rose like a flock of birds up across the road and over the grange, stretching out into an airy line before falling back to earth. Florence and Frédo got a pair of pushbrooms and went out to clean off the road and the driveway and the parking lot in front of the store, and I drove back to Agnos after dropping Lilou off at her school, Lilou who reminded me that when I posted the pictures of the whirlwind I was to be sure to say that we saw it at Saint-Pée, in front of Ferme Bergeras. And so I have.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

So Little Time

I've a huge backlog of photographs and posts and stories and thoughts to put on this blog. Pamplona. Paris. Pigs.


If the due date hadn't been offset by a week, I'd be frantically pulling together my final paper to mail out on Monday. As it is, I'm frantically pulling it together anyway, since I also have a huge backlog of tasks to complete in order to finish the paper. Would you like to hear about how to calculate the price of a pot of pâté? I'll send you a copy of the rapport de stage if you like. You can even have it in English, because I write in English and then translate to French (it's quicker that way).

Anyway, that's why you'll have to wait for the details of my birthday weekend in Paris, assuming you were waiting, that is. This weekend is devoted to the paper, and the upcoming week as well, except for the hours (and hours) at the pig farm; Jeannette and Éloi set off this morning for a week's vacation, which means two fewer people to cut up and process the carcasses, which means instead of two or three 12-hour days, there will likely be four or five. And no home-cooked lunches, either, unless I cook them myself! Life is rough.

But it's also wonderful, and getting better all the time, and full of lovely memories of the past. I like to go back through my years of photos sometimes, just to smile and remember, and feel grateful for what has been, is, will be. So today it's a look at what I was doing and where I was on (or around) June 15 back to 2006, one year before the inauguration of Global Wind Day, which I'm celebrating today with a long-winded introduction to what was supposed to be a short blog post, because I really, really need to focus on my paper now ...

2013: A rainy walk through the Jardin Botanique in Tours, France.

2012: A day trip with Gwen and Dick Carlson around San Francisco Bay.

2011: A sunny walk through SE Portland.

2010: Traveling by bike in Portland, and one of the last blurry photos taken with my old camera.

2009: Gay Pride parade in downtown Portland.

2008: Play date with Leah and Morgan, Holladay Park, NE Portland.

2007: Double throwback picture of Queen Elizabeth II reviewing the troops, which I watched on television in Ashburton, England, while remembering being part of the crowd watching Queen Elizabeth II reviewing the troops on my high school trip to England in 1980.

2006: Dreaming of taking flight, as the first pieces of this world-travel lifestyle plan started to come together, helped by sunshine and the sound of the ocean in Gold Beach, Oregon.