Posts from the “Uncategorized” Category

Olympic Retrospective: Surya Bonaly of France

Posted on February 12, 2014



Last fall, I did a bit of academic research on my Facebook page. Because I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” beginning next week, I asked my Facebook friends “If you could learn about any French person, who would it be?” Some of the answers were downright hilarious (Pepe Le Peu, cartoon skunk), but others painted a lively portrait of France’s history with people from all walks of life. One of the trickier categories to pin down in this discussion: French athletic figures. Some argued for basketball player (and Eva Longoria spouse) Tony Parker, but for me, he feels like he’s become very American, very Hollywood. Soccer player Zinedine Zidane surged forward in my mind as the best, most tragic (for a time), and most modern example for the category.

But how could I forget figure skater Surya Bonaly, with her backflips and bad-ass attitude? This week, Jezebel ran a piece called “Surya Bonaly is the biggest badass in Winter Olympics History,” a headline so true that I have no choice but to add a part about her to my class at the eleventh hour. Bonaly is a three time World silver medalist, a five-time European champion and a nine-time French national champion. Although she gained American citizenship in 2004, she is almost considered to be one of the greatest figure skaters to have never won a medal in the Olympics and because she was the most exciting athlete in France in the 1990s, I feel she can’t be ignored.

Is there any other French athlete I should consider? If so, who is it and why should I include them? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.


Work Bench

Posted on October 30, 2012


Everyone needs a quiet place to work, whether it’s a comfortable room full of books and just the right music, or this handy work bench that’s tucked away in a shady spot. The bench has a shelf below the tabletop that’s perfect for storing clay pots, assorted bags of dirt and random gardening doo-dads.  The tabletop itself is just the right height for jotting notes in a gardening journal, starting seeds, and scheming next steps for one’s little backyard plot.

Today’s lesson from my neatly arranged square foot oasis: Knowing when to hold ’em, and knowing when to fold ’em. For all the good intentions, for all the elbow grease, for all the pretty pictures you take of this or that plant that seemed to flourish, things go wrong. Sometimes you can fix it with a nip here or a squirt of an organic spray there.  Sometimes you recognize that if you don’t yank that plant right down to its roots and soon, you could be in a lot of trouble. That’s where we are today: root yanking, knowing when we’re licked, quietly accepting that starting fresh is a must, scheming next steps.

Pumpkin Patch

Posted on October 29, 2012


Wednesday is Halloween. So I’m going to delve into my archives and aggregate a little something-something about pumpkins. See the above gourd? It’s blue on the outside, but standard issue orange on the inside. Furthermore, it is good for making all manner of foodstuffs, as I did three years ago when my mother-in-law gifted me this beast.

It was a gift that kept on giving.

What follows are links to the pumpkin odyssey of 2009. It’s a five-day trip through sweet and savory recipes, all of them worth trying.

We begin on day one, where I break down the pumpkin, roast its seeds and make a puree.

Then we head to day two, where I use some of the aforementioned puree in a holiday classic: pumpkin pie.

After that, day three, where I make Patricia Wells’ delicious pumpkin soup.

Day four, I continue the pumpkin porn with out-of-this-world pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

And finally, day five: I prove that I’m not quite sick of pumpkin by making a creamy pumpkin risotto.

Some lagniappe: Last week, mi amiga Danny Bonvissuto interviewed James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan about her stuffed pumpkin recipe. It’s stuffed with bread, cream, cheese, garlic and bacon. If loving it is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Macaron Madness: Baby Steps

Posted on June 8, 2012


See these? These are macaron cookies from Laduree in Paris. Laduree was founded 150 years ago during a massive economic boom that transformed the city. It became known as a tea room where ladies could visit with each other (sans male companions) without being considered, as Edith Piaf once put it in the song “Milord,” ombres de la rue (translated: shadows of the street, or prostitutes). The folks at Laduree didn’t make macarons in those days, but by the twentieth century they had this bright idea that maybe they could take light-as-air cookies that had been around for centuries and sandwich them together with a thin layer of ganache.

It was a good idea and it became the way to make macarons. Just ask any fashionista who has been in Paris for Fashion Week, or any Franco-geek like me who has attempted to recreate them Stateside after having religious experiences with boxes like the one  pictured above. The cookies are delicate, not overly sweet, and a bit of a scientific marvel, if you ask me. On the face of it, macarons should be easy to make. They have few ingredients and their recipes are fairly straightforward. How hard can it be?  Well, even he admits it’s not so simple, that making picture-perfect macarons is more about technique than it is following a recipe. After reading his The Sweet Life in Paris and staring at the very technical Les Petits Macarons, I decided to venture into this pastel land of no return, hoping that something edible might result from my efforts. The method to my madness: Use Lebovitz’s chocolate macaron recipe (because who hates chocolate?) and refer to Les Petits Macarons in case of trouble (which was sure to come).

Here’s what happened:

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Posted on May 8, 2012

Sometime during my first year of graduate school, I sat up late one night wondering whether I had it in me to cross the finish line. I was tired. I was uncertain. I missed my usual level of contact with family and friends. I dreaded another week of 1,000+ pages of reading. I could not bear the thought of another paper that analyzed a book’s argument. I questioned why the hell I ever left Atlanta, moved to Louisiana and did this to myself and family too.

All of this over a dead Frenchman, but we’ll get to him at another time…

Across town, one of my classmates was suffering a similar bout of existential blues. That night, we exchanged inspirational You Tube videos featuring a battery of knockout punches, rah-rah speeches and the like, anything to spur each other on and remind each other that we could do it. One of the videos I sent him was the 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. War Admiral was a Triple Crown winner and the odds-on favorite to win. Seabiscuit was a plucky little pony from the West Coast, a horse whose never-say-die style inspired Americans during the Great Depression.

Here’s that race:

There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit, drop out, say “enough is enough,” but I’ve kept going. I had faith that down the stretch I could make it across the finish line if I just kept digging. Some people have stuck by me throughout this process and cheered me on when I’ve fallen behind. For that I am grateful. Others have proven themselves to be less understanding. And you know what? That’s okay too. The finish line is so close I can taste it and as hard as this race has been, I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and excited about what lies ahead.

I still have a final and a thesis defense before me, but I’ll take everything one length at a time.

In the meantime, I’ll be inspired by I’ll Have Another, a pony with Seabiscuit’s heart (and Left Coast successes), who took speedy Bodemeister by surprise this past weekend at the Kentucky Derby:

Jules Massenet

Posted on April 18, 2012


I spent two weeks in France this past January, gathering research for my master’s thesis in the Paris Opera’s Library. I haven’t written about that experience here and am not ready to do so just yet, but it is safe to say that those two weeks of sifting through a nineteenth century opera house’s treasures were a special, unforgettable time.

While I was there, I saw an exhibit on the composer Jules Massenet that will be on display until May 12. Considered one of the greatest melodists of the late nineteenth century, Massenet was known for operas such as Manon, Roi du Lahore and Werther.

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