Just Desserts

There are some French shows where dessert is the only thing on the menu.  These shows are at a higher level than what we’re used to seeing from other countries, because, well, IT’S FRANCE!

More to the point, little morsels of gastronomic delight can teach us more than making our saliva glands go into overdrive.

Here’s the short form:

  • Quality ingredients,
  • High standards in all areas,
  • Mastery of technique in everything,
  • Pride in one’s profession, knowing how to work as a team member, knowing how to be a leader, knowing how to handle stress, and always being supportive of others whether they are your competitor or teammate,
  • Either having the best tool for the job, or knowing how to compensate
  • Paying attention to all the senses, in visual aesthetics, variety of textures, the impact of flavors upon the tongue and the nose, and perhaps the most important,
  • Knowing how to savor all this work in small amounts.

 

How can all of this come about from one small tasty morsel?

Strangely enough, it does.  It’s all a matter of looking deep into the eyes of your culinary delight, understanding everything that goes into it, closing your eyes, and…

… letting your palate do the rest.

Bon Appétit

 

Pastry Insights

Look into my eyes.  Can you see my soul?

Now listen carefully, can you hear my stomach?

If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second, then you’re on your way to becoming a good skeptical inquirer of human behavior.

We’re not even sure if we can define the soul.  Someday I’ll get around to it, but now there’s more important work to be done.

For I love dessert.  And there’s a good chance that you do, too.

The best desserts in the world come from France.  Have a problem with that statement?  Let’s fight it out.  Preferably over cafe and a mont blanc.

Here’s some of my best evidence, a French contest for the best pastry chef in that country.  We’ve watched three seasons so far.  It’s incredible.

This is a culture that puts a high priority on quality ingredients in small amounts.  They prioritize taste first, technique second, and aesthetics third.  But their standards in all those areas are much higher than, say, in the USA.

They have fun in the area of competition.  There is respect shown in the arena among competitors, and much greater respect shown to judges.  Judges not only act as the experts who are not challenged, but also as mentors; they help the contestants during the shows.

Finally, these contestants have dignity in work ethic and chosen profession.  These are people who may only be 21 years old, yet have 7 years of experience working in a restaurant or pastry shop.  They are proud to be in the profession.  It’s a profession that they can make a decent living, raise a decent family, and have a decent life.  There is no “get rich quick” scheme, and no “exit strategy” to go along.  Just hard work and good products.

I can remember a time when the USA had many of the same ethical standards, but they seem to be lacking today.  I haven’t watched a US based cooking contest for some time, but they don’t seem to breath the same air as these French programs.

Watch if you dare, they are guaranteed to make you hungry.  Warning: No English subtitles.  It’s more fun if you understand the French, but it’s not necessary.

Bon appetit!

 

Foster Parenting for Fun and Profit

Want to drive a social biologist crazy?  Look them in the eye and ask them to explain “altruism” in 25 words or less.  It’s fun to watch them stammer and melt.  Have a drink handy, they’ll need it.

Altruism means helping others even though it hurts you.  It’s love in its most extended form, because sometimes those you help aren’t related to you.  Heck, you may never even meet them.  They might not even be alive yet!  I call this long-distance altruism.

People who practice long-distance altruism are the kind of people who believe that being good today has great effects on all of society down the road.  An economist could argue that this is ultimately selfish, because if you are part of society this means that you or your offspring will ultimately profit.  Economists are big on selfishness.

I’ve recently met several people who are very active foster parents.  In one case he and his wife had 4 of their own children, have adopted four others (youngest is only 12), and have fostered over 20.  Incredible dedication and investment on their part.  Yet they are not revered by society, heck we hardly even notice them.  And there is a tragically large backlog of children of all ages who need a safe haven from their current conditions.  Foster parents are in short supply.  What are we to do?  From the perspective of a great nation that staunchly believes in profit,

Let’s open up the profit gates!  Let’s calculate the cost to society for abusing and tormenting children today, because tomorrow they may have to be retaught, or worse, simply caught and put away.  Let’s pay these wonderful people a significant fraction of what we think the long term cost is, and let them use the money as they see fit.  Of course there will be oversight, but let’s bring this out in the open!  Let’s have a reality show featuring the best and worst of these foster homes.  Let’s make it a competition of sorts.  Why not?  We’re a competitive society, let’s see if it can’t be entertaining?  After all, if we enjoy watching families swap their wives, what’s wrong with swapping out a few kids?

Not enough praise can be given to today’s foster parents.  They do it for themselves, with only a small amount of help from the government.  But as a society we leave them alone, and as a result many children “fall through the cracks.”

Anyone want to join me in patching up the cracks?

 

Altruism, for fun and profit

July is a great month for birthdays; birthdays of Democracy, that is.

The US of A was effectively born at the beginning of the month, and the next great democratic experiment was born in the middle.  That second country was France, and we here in the US owe the French a bit of a debt for our birthday.  They were sort of a midwife, helping us into the world.

From there our paths quickly split; France got an emperor and had lots of middle age nonsense to deal with.  Even today they are pretty big on letting the central government decide everything (not always a bad idea) while here in the US we try to go to the other extreme.  Keep decision making local, because many times it’s the person closest to the problem that knows what to do, and how best to do it (also not always a bad idea).

Another way the US and France differed back then is what we consider the best motivation.  The US went the way of laissez faire – free enterprise.  The French pretty much stayed back in the middle ages, telling people what to do and letting them grow into their professions through family associations or apprenticeships.  The fact that today’s France fully embraces the idea of profit and risk means that they also think it’s a good idea to run a society.  Let’s make money!  That get’s a whole lot of us motivated.

But there’s a lot of things that go on in our society that don’t really lend themselves to this whole “making money” thing.  Like giving women the vote.  Or trying to prevent child abuse.  Or cutting back on residential drug use.  Or reducing our carbon footprint.  So what’s a good modern society to do?

Let’s get creative!  It is one of the best things in our nation that we are allowed to get creative.  And it’s about time all citizens start exercising that right.  Tomorrow, I’m going to exercise my right and see if we can’t take a behavior that is very hard, very much in demand, and yet imposes a heavy load upon those who perform it.  Foster parenting.

Got any ideas?  Let’s hear them!

 

French Purse

What of it?  So what?  Really?  No way!  I don’t believe it!  OMG.

Imagine if there were some way to roll all of this sentiment into one handy little gesture.  Not only this sentiment, but the mild form of this sentiment.  Like, if your best friend came to you and said “Look I just bought this fancy designer-brand purse from the store for an ungodly amount of money!”

You are slightly jealous (only slightly!) and disgusted (what terrible taste your friend is showing) and affronted (why didn’t she ask me BEFORE making such a silly decision) and perhaps even a bit antagonized (why didn’t she ask me to go shopping!).

If you are American you would say something like “No way!”  And your tone of voice would indicate that it was a very mild form of rebuff.

But if you are French! and you want to say all of this in one simple gesture while still maintaining your (constantly on) French coolness, then you will do this.

Step one.  Purse your lips.  That’s it, put them together like you’re going to whistle.  Gently.  Like you don’t care.  Because you don’t.  You’re French!

Step two.  Fill your cheeks with air.  Not too much.  You’re not a fish!

Step three.  Push the air out with your cheeks.  Your lips will hold in the pressure for an instant, then quickly open in an “ah” shape.  The sound you make is a gentle “puh” as in “puff.”

There.  You’ve done it.  The French purse.  Next time you’re with a Frenchie, check it out, especially in Paris.  I don’t know if they do it more there, or if they simply don’t care there more than elsewhere.  But there’s a good chance that if you’re having more than a few minute’s of conversation, you’re going to get at least one purse.  Maybe two.

And if you want to be French, try it yourself.  It comes in kind of handy.

And that’s a purse that’s a true fashion statement.

 

French Signatures

True confession first: I like France.  It’s got incredible food, wine, cheese, and an adherence to a quality of living that no other country seems to match.  They also have some art, some architecture, and, oh yes, did I mention the food?  Yes, I love to eat.

Now that’s over with, there is one big downside to the French.  It’s that, well, THEY’RE FRENCH!  Every time we visit there’s at least one strike going on.  There’s always the dog poop in the streets, and I swear they enjoy seeing how frustrating they can be over some of the most mundane events.

“Waiter, I’d like to sit over there,” says I.

“You can not,” he says, in his thick accent.

“But why?  There is no one else in this cafe.  It’s well after lunch, and no one is coming in.  May I sit there?”

“Very sorry, Sir, you can not.”  And away he goes.  He doesn’t care if I go or stay.  He’s French!

More fun observations on the French later.  For now, I came across a signature today that reminds me one one interesting aspect of the culture.  I may be wrong, so please jump in and correct me if I am.  Here it is.

The French take great pride in developing signatures that are absolutely nothing like their name.  Seriously.  Take the name, Frederic.  Now, make a straight line, put a squiggle at the top, loop it down and around and then squiggle it again off to the right.

That’s his name.  I don’t understand it, and if you can find a single letter inside that ideogram you’re a better person than I.  I asked him what the story was and he explained that all great French (which means all of them) sign their names so that they have no relationship to the letters.

I need a good cafe.  Adieu.