The French Connection

Voila!  I have found the chocolatier's site!

Almost eight years to the day.  I've hoarded this card in my top desk drawer and once or twice a year I have searched the internet for them.

Last year when the daughter traipsed to Europe, I forgot to send her there!  What was I thinking?

Here it is!  NOW TO SPEED LEARN FRENCH--google translation here we come.

Bon soir mon ami.

Si vois plait?

The French Chocolate Exchange


Ah!  My newest discovery--the French and their chocolate. The French comes in the form of our French exchange student Florian, who brought me chocolates and came to stay three wonderful weeks.  Florian brought a refreshing life-altering view and with him came beautiful epiphanies and extraordinary chocolate.

At the airport pick-up, I was warned by my daughter (in an aside) that I was speaking with a French accent and, "that is bad."  Florian said later, “I understood not a word on ze ride home from ze plane, and I szot, Oh no!”

I may not speak French, but gifts speak the universal language and there was no doubt that Florian understood that his gift of chocolates made me happy. At the top of the box, lay a beautifully molded white chocolate horse with a dark chocolate mane, filled with a creamy milk “sho-co-lat” center, and upon experiencing the first bite I swooned.    I shared the joy, doling out tiny nibbles to all the family until it was gone. When I slapped away hands that wanted more, Florian laughed, “I perceive a sho-co-lat war in zis fam-a-lee.”

By the end of the first week, his humor  sparkled through the quiet more often. He was witty and spontaneous and began to dare to join with the other children in banter. When I asked him flat out to side with me, he averted his eyes, pursed his lips, turned back and then, trying to keep from smiling, he repeated what I want him to say, and then back to the children, he added a rejoinder and they all burst out laughing.

I wonder if all the French are so polite. I am hearing otherwise—rumors of unhappy hosts and French kids relegated to sleeping in cars. We were so blessed to be matched so perfectly. He is so quiet, cautious and polite, even when assigned by his host (the daughter) to call me on the telephone to ask permission to go eat after school.  He stops.  “Jes," he says, "I am ‘ungry,” “But first,” he asks, “ow is your day?”

My only caveat to repeating this experience next is solely because there will never be another like Florian.  But, I am feeling magnanimous as there are so many chocolates, three layers and there is no possible way I can eat all of them in the days stretching out before us before they go bad. They have to go bad right? I’m pragmatic—this experience can’t last forever.

I pass them around the second Sunday after family dinner, as dessert. Everyone gets one, but no! They eat it too quickly, so no more! Children do not savor nor appreciate. The white chocolate balls are a delicate surprise with a thin crust and a creamy, almost impossibly light filling. How can they do that? It seems impossible, just like the miracle of how quickly Florian’s language skills improve under the immersion program. He knows most words and he and I discuss word usage—like I’m an expert in English.

He still doesn’t understand me and says “your muzzer is ze 'ardest, except for your fazzer, 'e is also 'ard, but 'e speaks much less.”

On the second to last night the daughter was called in to translate. “What did you tell Florian, Mom?” He peeked around from behind her questioningly. “I told him I would have you bring the TV upstairs to him. Go do it!” As she installed the kitchen portable in his room, he apologized by saying, “You said you would 'ave her peek up ze TV. I could not see how she 'ow she could peek up ze beeg TV.”

I’m struggling to make the chocolate last. Some of the chocolates have molded dark chocolate cocoa beans set in the top. I’m leaving those until the end to eat with trepidation because I’m sure I won’t like dark chocolate. Yet, I felt the same way about the French experience—certain that there would be whole parts of it that I would be distasteful or I would flat out hate.

My newest favorite is the dark chocolate with the tart orange slice on top. It must have orange in the smooth chocolate truffle filling, but it is so subtle that it only hints to the flavor and the tart acts in such contrast to the sweet that my tongue dances ecstatic circles. The flavor is incredible and so smooth that I am rapidly realizing what apprehension has denied me.  Dark is what chocolate should be and I'm in heaven!

The boy washes his own clothes! And his socks and underwear by hand, “French cloz are frageel, and are not put in drum dryer.” He clears and stacks his own dishes, and the words, “Ow can I 'elp,” are standard at every meal. He knows how to cut straight to my heart as he says, “My frienz are jealous. Zey complain every day zat zey eat fast food or go to restaurants. I say, I’m soree, Dia’s mom cooks every night.” And our schedule for nocturnal eating—sometimes eating as late as eight—while playing havoc with our waistlines—fits perfectly with the French way of life. He says of my cooking, “zer is noszing zat I don’t like.” Maybe I could swap, four for one, (the family) straight across.

It’s nearing the end of the visit and as I watch the chocolate dwindle, I’m sad. Easter comes and goes and the novelty of coloring easter eggs is only one of the joys that are revisited as Florian’s youthful excitement is introduced to the wonders and traditions of America.

The molded half walnut, filled with chocolate and stamped on top with a nut is rolling around forlornly in the bottom of the box and I’ve spent two days searching the internet trying to speed learn French so I can order them again, but this particular glazier has no website. He is unique. These chocolates and this individual are a once in a life-time opportunity that can only be savored now.

And when they are gone, I am realizing that they will have changed me forever. My life has known this joy and I will never be the same.

I’m mourning already.

VOILA!  Eight Years Later!  Almost to the Day.  I have kept the card and I have found their site!  Now to speed learn French!



Boys 2 Men

I take every opportunity to involve my children in physical work. Not only is it one of my important family values, but because more work for them means less work for me. I also have the vision in a far distant future of a daughter-in-law voicing appreciation that my diligence was not all futile.

But for now, my base motivation is sharing the drudgery!

I once thought I could state the problem, "The walk needs shoveled." and that would be it. It would magically be complete. Not long after, I realized that with literal-minded children, there must be further direction, so I added, "Start as soon as you get home."

I defuse the obvious incoming bomb by assuring that the task is universal, "and involve your brother when he gets home."

This will at least assure that some sort of sibling altercation will ensue, and with luck, the anger and frustration will be expended on the icy walk.

When I get home an hour later and see no progress, I advance the process, "Off the computer, back outside, and no coming in until it's finished."

Really, the only way to effect change is to join the masses as an example. It stinks, but it seems to be the only thing that works. It is much easier to do it myself, but that's not an option.

So I join them and begin the subtle manipulation. Chop, chop, chop. I echo their frustration, "I wish we didn't have to do this." Scrape, scrape, as I move to encouragement, "I'm surprised this is coming off this easy. " I express cooperation, "You lift and I think I can slide this under." And I move to competition, "I'm impressed that you have done so much." I expend more enthusiasm, "Way to go! Wow, look what we've done! And as we finish, the ultimate pay-off, "So what do you think this is worth, in monetary terms?"

Unfortunately, I don't expect that employers will expend this kind of energy to extract my level of work ethic, so I will begin the weaning... and someday soon, I hope that the words, "The walk needs work," will be enough.

Meanwhile, I reaffirm the comment I yelled across to the neighbor, "We're not chopping ice, We're raising men."



Oh, the Marathon! What a run. I never let the minor detail that I don’t "run" marathons, keep me from thinking that I'm not completely and totally immersed in the marathon action and participating in one of my own.

My marathon starts before the first racer come in, as I’m stationed, bright and early at the finish line while a mere 26.2 miles away, the race is just beginning. I’m well hydrated, carbo loaded and poised to cheer for the wheelchair racer, who can average 45 miles an hour on the downhill (and I marvel at his pecs). I’m mentally trained for the six hours that I will be standing on my feet at the sidelines, clapping my hands until they ache, shedding tears for every participant that wrenches my heart as they limp, stumble, and sometime crawl over the finish line. I sob out loud as I watch them running past the pain of bloody nipples, torn off toenails, and wrenched ankles, I marvel as these people lose control of minor bodily functions at the end of the race and fall into the arms of volunteers poised there to catch them.

For the most part, I myself have escaped permanent injury, only once falling off the curb and being ambulanced by overeager medics to the race hospital. While I was in the emergency room getting taped up, I could hear the comments of the personnel next door regarding the runner brought in from crashing and hitting the wall at mile 23, “Oh, he coding again, shock him. . .” I did that day, feel a tiny hint of a fraud.

But back out on the bleachers, my voice grows hoarse as I yell my marathon mantra, “Good race, Way to Go, You’re Awesome!” I cheer my heart out for the runner who is walking the last few feet so dehydrated that he is cramping up on one side, so dry that his head is being drawn down toward one shoulder which makes him veer off in the opposite direction and he has to keep overcorrecting as he flops one foot in front of the other, eyes never veering from the finish. Soon, I’m so exhausted that it comes out, “Good to Go, Race to Way!” But, in their state, they probably don’t notice.

Total emotional breakdown and tears at the finish line are not uncommon and I sob in anguish when a racer falls 100 feet short and on his knees, forces his arms to lift his leg manually one at a time to place them in front of himself because if he gets any outside help, even this close to the finish, he will be disqualified.

At one marathon, I sit near the same three women every year, sisters who always have "someone" running and they camp out early, and stay until the last racer drags in—long past the final six hour cutoff. They say the last ones need the encouragement most. I have participated in some thirty odd marathons, anguished and sweating, wondering if I will have the mental stamina and willpower to put mind over body and make it to the finish. I still marvel about the genesis of the sport, about those days when the messenger raced to King Darius of Persia after the Battle of Marathon and then keeled over and died. I want to know who looked down at the body and said, “I think that would make a great sport.”



What is that … and is it edible?

This was a vital question during my first visit to the tropical island of Hawaii as an over-forty child in a land of enchantment—the world of beautiful mysteries, of sights, of smells and flavors.

In over my head and covered in seawater and sand, I soaked in its salt, listened to its rhythm and feasted exultantly on its intrinsic joy. Life is good in Hawaii. It is an alluring place to discover so much food, flowers and happiness.

On the first island, Oahu, we found the attitude of the locals was that all tourists have overstayed their welcome. Like fish, tourists have been there over three days and we stink. The locals are tired, the island roads are worn out and even the coral and sea life in the bays are exhausted. They are all sick to death of tourists.

The tourist bureau has adopted the Vegas tactic of lipsticking pigs and has cloaked the worn out dancehall girl under the hollow shell of glamour and glitz. The night life has also been Vegasized and the police are seen well in force on the Waikiki strip.

On the second island, Maui, the tourists adapt to the islanders instead of the reverse. Their world has only mildly evolved to suit the interlopers, and we’re encouraged to adopt their lifestyle … which is how we truly want it when we vacate our humdrum lives to discover the culture and mystery of elsewhere.
We didn’t even make it to the third island. It was a choice of one last day at the beach or a plane ride. The beach won and the week wound down while we curiously explored the option of selling here and buying there. John Travolta’s house on the beach in Maui just sold last week. It was the same size as our house and it went for three million … so maybe not.

I’d get there and never be able to afford to leave, or even to live in a house. Yet, the thought of being homeless on the beach in Hawaii is more appealing than living in the states during the dregs of winter.

I’m back home and I’m wondering “What is that? And must I eat it?” Somehow it’s just not the same here.

Reality Bite: Laid-back oblivion is a good thing. Feb 2005

...extreme cuisine

I am consumed with life. I never dreamed anything could give such a rush. Each day pushes me beyond my human capacity—it’s a thrill a minute. Whee! Cooking again, T.D.

I'm reading on the internet that not too many years ago, humans lived dangerously, in untamed wilderness, used sharp saws, and pointy tools, hunted wild animals, and worked without unionization. We were edgy, risk-taking daredevils!

Seat belts, safety harnesses, earplugs, and consumer advocates have driven us out into the world to seek the adrenaline rush of our ancestors through other death-defying thrills. It’s in our genes to live dangerously. We cannot be expected to tame that inborn urge after only a mere century of refinement.

Instead we bungee jump, rappel off cliffs, skydive, drive in rush hour, and watch extreme television—all the while, seeking that exhilaration, the buzz, that ultimate excitement that our progenitors got by just living life.


We Americans thirst for challenge. And so as I consider my life, and what I spend the majority of my day consumed excitement and thrill must be food. Just the wonder, anticipation and thrill of hunting, gathering and preparation. It's definitely the exciting point of my life.

...does anyone else hear the sarcasm? T.


…eccentric eaters

Underneath the flabby hide of Americans, flows the blue blood bred for excitement. If you need more proof, look at our diets. We relish dangerous food and consume it in huge quantities. The fake stuff[1] in our soft drinks craters our pancreas, and prepares our arteries for the onslaught of dangerous synthetic fat.[2]

I’m starting to think the kids show up to dinner solely for the danger… and the entertainment. I soaked white beans on Monday,, cooking them with ham in the crock pot all night on low.

Tuesday, it was good soup, but I hadn’t invited the army to dinner. So on Wednesday I dragged them back out and added tomatoes, taco seasoning, and a can of green chilis. I served them with cheese and chips. Voila! Tortilla soup!. Delicious!

The next night, I fixed chicken burritos with Mexican rice and refried beans smothered with… you guessed it, thickened, blended soup. How exciting, YUM!

Back to risk: We live to eat with the constant threat of disease, the hysteria over lysteria and nitrates in bologna, steroids and hormones in red meat, crazy cow disease, e-coli, and even allergic reactions from antibiotics in ground beef.[3]

We are willing to gobble fast food with genetically altered, hydroponic and irradiated vegetables, but then we cringe when we hear that our ancestors feasted on blood pudding?

The world should never disparage American’s courage based on our wimpy attitude about smoking. We are edgy, risk-taking eaters who setting ourselves up for a miserable, horrible death! But, we don’t let that consume us too much, because we’re looking forward to the new and disturbing diseases we get as we age. These will feed our urge for the adrenalin rush of greater life challenges!

On Friday, I dumped all the leftovers together, soup and rice, beans, chicken and then poured corn bread batter over the top. Then I baked it and called it Tamale Pie. Once again, delicious!
Then, the husband came in singing, “It is the soup that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend. Some people started cooking it not knowing what it was, and we’ll continue eating it forever just because…”
[4] Very punny, love me.

That’s why I cook the way I do. It has a dual purpose, aside from building strong bones and teeth,[5] my family learns that they can face any challenge, anywhere in the world… if only they can conquer the gastric horrors Mom dreams up.

It takes imagination to identify what’s for dinner and then a complicated mathmatical formula challenges them to connect it to what we had last night. It’s like our own personal game show. Guess the goulash and identify its genetic history. Hey, whatever brings them home to dinner, I say!

It is for these reasons that I strive to provide home cooking every night, and that’s rare in this day and age. I’m running a success ratio of five to one, but I allow for occasional resistance as the turncoats are spotted under the golden arches wolfing up everything in sight.

I have a fervent wish of the perfect family at home, around the dinner table eating healthier, and a bungie-jumping, Velcro-covered, climbing wall in the kitchen. I’m willing.

[1] High fructose corn syrup, twice as sweet, three times as cheap.
[2] Trans-fat in 40,000 of our processed foods.
[3] My true story.
[4] My apologies to Julie Lewis
[5] Extra raw or overcooked…either way it’s tough.