HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Author: Arnaud De Grave (Page 1 of 3)

Potuguese Food Road Trip

Portuguese Food Road Trip

Portuguese Food Road Trip

Days 3-4-5 – South of Lisbon, Portugal

I sort of specialize in border crossing, even triple border point. One of the highlights of my career in border-crossing was between Hungary and Slovakia, in a rented car. Epic. The one on foot at the triple border point between Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland still gives me the shivers. The one here and now was quite good, as it is a tiny tiny border, basically crossing a bridge. No custom station. Just a bridge and a guy with goats. Some goats had their legs hindered by rope, for, you see, “these buggers like to escape, especially this smelly one”, that was the old shepherd guy speaking, in a mixture of French (a little), Spanish (some) and Portuguese (a lot). And yes, it did smell like goat, even from inside the car.

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Spanish Food Road Trip - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Spanish Food Road Trip – The Good The Bad The Ugly

Spanish Food Road Trip – The Good The Bad  The Ugly

Day 1­-2 – Driving through Spain, not Portugal yet, so not the fastest way to get there, but still rushing, go figure…So the whole idea about the first part of the trip is to get to the south of Portugal as fast as possible. Then go up slowly and then get to France via Bilbao or so, then rush back. Therefore (and this is funny, you’ll see), I’m going to go north of Madrid via Contreras, which is a very very very small and lost village close by Barbadillo del Mercado, already far away from it all… You see, it’s to go to a fake cemetery. You don’t see? Alright, first things first, a recollection on how we got there, where we slept and, of course, what we ate.

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Pouring Across the Iberian Peninsula

Iberian Road Trip Preamble

Above is the tentative itinerary now (after chatting with Tiffany and my ladyfriend), although I need to have The Mom’s take on it but the general direction is there. I’d like to maximize time in Portugal so i’ll probably rush the part in Spain or at least try to. Here is the general direction of the itinerary:

Iberian Road Trip Preamble

  • Wine (Tiffany has a contact for me to get close to the production)
  • The good the bad and the ugly
  • Craft beer (if i can, not as many as in other parts of europe of course)
  • Tiffany in Lisboa
  • The ocean shore
  • Actual balls (because “les rognons” are not actual balls, they are kidneys basically, and i do love rognons)
  • Maybe some dancing/music because the ladyfriend would kill me if i do not see/shoot some
  • Porto! (with the port wine of course)
  • Gugenheim in Bilbao
  • Sausage in Toulouse with some cassoulet if we are not dead by too much food by then!
  • and more… and possibly not what is mentioned ahah…madness.

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Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

One of the best thing in the countryside are the encounters with ladies carrying around an amazing amount of stuff (often on their head), some of them do it with very curious and beautiful (if not totally outdated fashion wise) outfits. She had a smile to warm up a dead body

What is race? How does it work? For example, what does humanity’s racist tendencies of the past have to do with current economic world order? Ethnology assumes that race and racism are extremely powerful social and cultural forces at work everywhere in the world. And that we, as humans, seek lessons for generalizing about modern society and the contemporary global order. But specific questions need to be asked too: what are the structural dimensions of race and racism (social, political, and economic inequality) and what are the cultural dimensions (artistic forms of humanistic expression, as well as politics)? How do they differ from country to country? If one were to take two island nations–Japan and Madagascar–and compare their societies, it would seem that the Malagasy would come in a far second to one of the most powerful economies as rich in cultural history as the Japanese. But why? Unfortunately the answers are never easy. But with effort and experience we hope to gain insight. Though the following article is not a comparison nor a study of two separate, unrelated countries, but rather about research and communication, we place a special focus on an old practice with a new name: ethno-photography. It will be described as an analog and digital bridge for science and communication; as a platform for resource users to showcase their points of view; and as an amplifier to research for development.

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

–by Arnaud De Grave & Patrick O. Waeber

A brief glance at Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

This little dude is a Gentle lemur (also known locally as bandro, or under his scientific name Hapalemur alaotrensis) from Lake Alaotra; it seems not so sure whether to enjoy the sun and breeze while softly rocking on the top of a reed stem, or rather be concerned about the pirogue lurking in closest vicinity.

Madagascar, renowned for its unique flora and fauna, one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots on earth, has a lot to carry in terms of suffering. The nation has been through five years of a transitional administration under the leadership of a former DJ, during which economic disorder and international isolation has weighed heavily on its people. Presidential and legislative elections finally took place in Madagascar in December 2013. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, according to the New York Times the president with the longest surname in history, assumed his role on 25 January 2013. Immediately thereafter, the African Union and Southern African Development Community lifted their suspensions, followed by the European Union’s development program; monetary institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reinstated their development funds. Hope for better times?

According to some, the power shift was merely a cosmetic make-over. The political situation remains fragile, and the new government has to deal with a lot of “challenges”, to say the least, which have been ongoing for long times, and will likely and unfortunately continue to carry on: Highest poverty rates, highest birth rates, highest school drop-outs, increasing in-transparency in governance, increasing illegal exportations of precious natural resources. Nevertheless, the new government started to take action by creating more presence in previously neglected regions in Madagascar, and according to Rajaonarimampianina’s speech on 25 September 2014 in front of the UN General Assembly in New York, declared that “Our primary goal is to bring our people out of their precarious situation” (…) “the aim…is to transform Madagascar into a food hub in the region” referring to increased investments into agriculture.

Inside Madagascar’s Bread Basket: Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Local marshlands are at risk to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it

In terms of rice and inland-fish production the Alaotra-Mangoro region, one of 22 in Madagascar, is the country’s current food hub. Constituting the largest wetland system, the Lake Alaotra wetland’s surrounding marshlands deliver crucial cultural and ecosystem services such as water, medicinal plants, fish stock, while hosting unique wildlife such as the Alaotra gentle lemur, a primate species living constantly in marshlands. The wetland is the third out of currently nine Ramsar sites in Madagascar since 2003 (The Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources). The Malagasy government added further importance to the conservation and biodiversity values of the region by inscribing the system as new Protected Area in 2007. To be ratified as a Protected Area (the marshlands are risking to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it…), a management plan, currently in the making, is badly needed.

Forests? Of course, there are also some beautiful forests full of biodiversity (more than 80% of all described animal species in Madagascar depend on forests), but they are largely locked up in parks and reserves. The rest of the landscape is dominated by agricultural production (a significant portion is also for self-subsistence, with a majority of the 550,000+ people engaging in small-scale farming), and a vast extant of open grasslands, which are low in nutrients and hence difficult to use for farming production.

Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and… Click To Tweet

Governing the complexity

So, we have mentioned forests. Check. Outside protected areas, there are still ‘forests’, but many are degraded (or actually burned in order to be used for agriculture), and either have been transformed into something like ‘agro-forestry’ (though generally rare, and more on the ‘agro’ side than ‘forestry’), dominated by a few species such as fruit trees, or plantations. Besides being the rice granary of the island, the Alaotra is also leader in terms of plantations (with the usual suspects: acacia, eucalyptus, pine) for wood production but a lot is used also for energy consumption. Wood charcoal is still the number one energy source in Madagascar.

There are a impressive number of institutions responsible for governing the various dimensions of this complex human-environmental system: Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water and Forests, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Livestock, Ministry of Mining. There are remarkable overlaps of responsibilities requiring some coordinated planning, a challenging thing, …and you’ll also understand that communication, i.e., the receiving and delivering of information, between these institutions (but also between the decision makers and resource users on the ground) becomes a key part in this governance undertaking.

Research in the Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The AlaReLa logo represents 3 main ecosystems: in yellow the open grasslands, in blue the wetlands, and in green the forests.

Given we are working in the realms of NRM (natural resources management), we first started creating an acronym (technocrats are very fond of acronyms; not that we would label ourselves as such, but we are, as said in NRM realms): “AlaReLa”, the name of our research for development project, stands for Alaotra Resilience Landscapes. In brief, this research aims to provide tools to the various stakeholders of the Alaotra human-environment system to strike a balance in the governance between development (or agricultural production thereof) and conservation (there are crucial ecosystems for biodiversity and people). Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and agriculture. This sounds very ambitious, and it probably is! Nonetheless, we, a consortium of several research and conservation institutions use a three-prong approach: understanding, exploring, communicating– with the latter being ongoing throughout the duration of the project, and beyond.

How do we do it?

Well, we talk and we listen. Sounds simple, right? To tackle the understanding portion of this research, we use a variety of disciplinary approaches (e.g., ecology, sociology, remote sensing) to create a picture of this complex human-environmental system. The exploration consists of collectively developing models (in our case role playing games and board games such as Settlers of Catan©) to test collectively agreed scenarios. For this, we sit together with the various resource users and decision makers to describe the challenges of NRM, to identify and link the key actors and resources of the system which may be prone to change (such as environmental, economic, political, etc.). In applying this participatory modeling approach, the underpinning philosophy is communication. By gaming various NRM situations, we bring together key stakeholders of the system; we listen, we (the researchers) and they (the stakeholders from the Alaotra) both learn, and we reformulate questions. During this process new questions and surprises can emerge which were not evident from the start of the project. To sum up, we all gain a better understanding of how processes or dynamics work (this is our overarching assumption).

But let’s elaborate on the term “communication” a bit further; here we explore and present a rather new avenue of communication in research. We decided to ask a photographer to be part of the AlaReLa project, here is what he has to say…Arnaud! Your turn.

In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. Click To Tweet

An innovative approach to dissemination of research

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Shooting from a moving pirogue is no picnic! I had to do it while standing [Note from Patrick: almost 20 minutes!] to be able to get a shot of a baby bandro. I earned the respect of the fishermen that day, and got the picture of the beast.

There is a need to be innovative in environmental sciences, involving locals and the approach described in the former paragraph explains one of the ways the AlaReLa project is doing this. However, there is also a lack of communication for all this science to actually mean something! Having been an academic myself (in various unrelated fields, do not ask on which fields, I still have some sense of decency) I do think that there is a conundrum in the way research and particularly the publication/reference/quotes system performs and sometimes clutter the way knowledge is produced. Writings by scientists for other scientists is needed, the peer review system is sound. But maybe there is a need to reach further and with more tangible effects for a more perennial outcome; so one has to find other ways to enter people’s field of view. Art could be this entrance. Or rather art could be the metaphorical foot blocking said-door. The AlaReLa team decided to continue being innovative and incorporate a photographer in the project, from start to finish, not only for pure documentation… Somebody who could invest more than a couple of weeks to go on site and maybe sleep on the floor and get bitten by bugs and almost killed a couple of times for being too noisy in shady bars. I was happy to oblige.

I decided to call this activity Ethno-photography. How does it work? The “ethno-” means a humanistic approach and long stays, with local involvement through iteration in the picture selection (and shooting) process and through potential collaboration with local photographers. We should be able to use photography as support for the project research results, or even provide more information, a different point of view, visual narration for data… That is where my (second) academic background came in handy. Let’s spill the beans: I re-educated myself in Forest Ecosystems management recently.

It is not all fun and games though… One of my biggest fear was (and still is) to depict the locals throughout the lens of Neo-Colonialism or Post-Colonialism or Neo-Post-Colonialism, et al. I am a Caucasian male of 40, born and raised in a “rich” country (France, of all places, has a, er, rich and complex history with Madagascar). Whether I like it or not, my views are tainted. By overthinking it sometimes, as well. So I had to find a way to make sure this vision I was to bring back was a vision shared with the depicted people, as real a picture as possible. Of course, paradigms, lenses, etc. Here is the way the AlaReLa team and I tried to overcome this issue. The project was separated in three distinct phases:

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The modus-operandi was simple: wander around, pick some good one, negotiate (sometimes with the help of an interpreter – phd student, local project manager, etc.) and shoot. While the picture was self-developing, write “AlaReLa project 2014” on it and make a scene of drying it and all… give it to the model and try to escape the hordes of people wanting to get one as well. Repeat later, farther… I tried to get a wide variety of models: kids, teenagers, workers, old folks, both genders. I then asked them to be pictured with their instant-photo by joking that my boss wouldn’t believe me that I worked if he had no proof! There is nothing better than the common enemy of “the big boss” to make friends…

1. Discovery – I followed two Malagasy PhD students during their field work and, without previous knowledge (i.e., without having done my homework and read a lot about the country and its history), took a first harvest of pictures…

2. Iteration – With the first batch of pictures it is possible to identify some gaps in the stories we want to narrate and complete the set. However, the most important for me is to go back to the same spots (and more of course) and to show a selection of these pictures to the locals, asking them what is missing. For instance, let’s say I was dumb enough not to take any pictures of Zebus, there is a strong chance people will ask me something like “Dude, where are the zebus!” Zebus are an important element of local life, from social prestige to more economical reasons, which is of course linked. It is my belief that, by combining my view and theirs through this iteration, an accurate picture of the life in this socio-ecological-economical system can be achieved. I do hope that something beyond the obvious will emerge from this ping-pong with the locals. Nonetheless, we already know that I need more pictures of people working and a more varied selection of activities: fishing, cooking and farming, but also charcoal making, hunting, illegal alcohol making, etc.

3. Display / Outreach – The final outcome for the photography part of this project is a transdisciplinary exhibition, coupling photography and environmental sciences, in various locations. A first formal collaborative exhibition at a cultural institution in the capital Antananarivo with a local photographer (I am in negotiation with the French Cultural Center, the only way to have good wine at the opening…) will be organized. Then we will bring a selection of the pictures, printed on tarp, to each village where I was staying when doing, er, let’s call that field work, that sounds like science. Each time we will try to have a party and create a cultural event. Following these, the exhibition will constitute a package that will be proposed at scientific conferences as a support for the presentations of AlaReLa researchers’ work. First results were shown with a presentation and an exhibition in April (2015) at the GTOe conference in Zurich. This is aimed at bridging the gap between art and science or, to get back to our metaphor, put the shoulder in the door-frame previously blocked by the metaphorical foot.

The photography in itself has also been thought/designed to be multidisciplinary (within reason and within photography techniques) and serves different purposes. Digital colour photography is used to document the work of the AlaReLa researchers; it can be used rather quickly for Internet visibility (even during the stay, as shown on my flickr Madagascar set) and later by the researchers for their publications, reports, etc, all using creative-commons licensing. For the “art” part I use mostly black and white analogue film photography. It is beyond the scope of this article to debate of the pros and cons of film photography or to inflame any church wars, though let me just say this is a personal choice and modus operandi, not any kind of statement. The selection of which type of camera(s) to use and why is also beyond the scope of this article but to satisfy the photography-freaks amongst the readers here is my setup: I used two Voigtlander Bessas (R3M and R4A) with 3 lenses: 21mm, 35mm and 50mm, shooting Ilford HP5 and FP4 film, depending on the wind direction and my moods. The use of rangefinders helped me to get quickly close to people and be rather unobtrusive, but this set-up is limited for portraiture or details such as hands, etc. I will undoubtedly change this for the second phase. In addition to that I carried around with me a Fuji Instax camera and gave away about 70 to 80 portraits. This helped me connect with people and led to a lot of memorable encounters. Moreover it left behind a trace of my passage (each instant picture I labeled “AlaReLa project 2014”) and a tacit promise of return.

That is all good but what is the gain for the locals? Obviously they get the opportunity and the ability to bring their own point of view through the process and through the collaboration with local photographers during the final exhibitions. We’ll see how that goes. In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. In addition, as the stays are long there are possibilities for me to share some of what I do: photography, self-publication, association creation, etc. During the first phase I gave a workshop on how to run a small photography association (BOP – the infamous “Bricolages Ondulatoires & Particulaires” collective) and try to publish artifacts to a group of photographers from Antananarivo.

This is of course still a work in progress. My second stay is planned for the end of 2015 and the AlaReLa team and I already have some ideas to go beyond what was done in phase one. However, the results from phase one are very encouraging and some of the objectives have already been reached.

Bios:

POW: from Zoology (behavior of monkeys) via forestry (behavior of trees under changing climate and disturbance regimes), to complexity (monkeys, trees, non-tree environments, and people). Co-founder of Madagascar Wildlife Conservation; Madagascar Conservation & Development scientific journal (MCD) editor. Currently post-doc-ing at ForDev ETH Zurich and coordinating the AlaReLa project.

ADG: from manufacturing engineering and design (sociology of metrology, integrated design of MEMS) to forestry (sociology of forest management around ski resorts) to innovative eco-technology (Mycoremediation with Polypop Industries) and ethnophotography of sciences… BOP president and co-founder, editor and designer of the BOP Photo Analogies magazine; MCD layouter.

Coprinus Comatus © Arnaud De Grave

What is Coprinus Comatus?

Coprinus Comatus © Arnaud De Grave

Coprinus Comatus © Arnaud De Grave

Coprinus Comatus, fried in butter and a bit of olive oil, salt (at the end, if not if becomes moochy of course), pepper, a few herbes de provence… sauté the whole stuff for 5 min. Eat on whole wheat toast. Precautions need to be taken when harvesting, for sure…

Read more from by Michael Kuo at Mushroom Expert site:

What is Coprinus Comatus?

: The Shaggy Mane [ Basidiomycetes > Agaricales > Agaricaceae > Coprinus . . . ]

Its distinguishing features include its shape and stature, and the fact that the gills “deliquesce,” turning themselves into black ink as they mature. Shaggy manes are frequently found in disturbed ground, and the edges of dirt roads can produce many mushrooms. In the Rocky Mountains, Coprinus comatus can be seen from the car during monsoon season by simply driving four-wheel-drive roads and keeping an eye on the roadsides.

DNA studies over the last decade make it clear that Coprinus comatus is fairly closely related to species of Agaricus and Lepiota, but only distantly related to most other mushrooms whose gills turn to black ink–for example, Coprinopsis atramentaria or Coprinellus micaceus. The genus Coprinus, which once held all such mushrooms, now holds only Coprinus comatus and a few similar mushrooms–and it turns out that the presence of a ring on the stem and a string-like strand of fibers inside the stem’s hollow cavity turn out to be better predictors of the genus Coprinus than deliquescing gills.

Description:

  • Ecology: Saprobic,growing alone or in clusters, lines, or fairy rings on lawns, wood chips, or hard-packed ground; summer and fall; widely distributed in North America.
  • Cap: 3-15 cm; oval to rounded-cylindrical when young, expanding to bell-shaped with a lifting margin; in age turning to black “ink”; dry; whitish with a brownish center; with large, shaggy scales; margin lined at maturity.
  • Gills: Free from the stem; white, becoming pinkish, then black; turning to black “ink”; very crowded.
  • Stem: 5-20 cm long; 1-2 cm thick; frequently tapering to apex; smooth; white; easily separable from cap; hollow, with a string-like strand of fibers hanging inside.
  • Flesh: White throughout; soft.
  • Odor and Taste: Not distinctive.
  • Spore Print: Black.

There is a history here of searching out fungi in the dark recesses of far-flung countries.

Little Baby Jesus In Velvet Underpants

Little Baby Jesus In Velvet Underpants

Little Baby Jesus In Velvet Underpants

Little Baby Jesus In Velvet Underpants

Rivesaltes Grenat wines–blood ruby red–are aged for a minimum of nine months, like a fresh little baby jesus. Paired with Fourme d’Ambert it resembles as we say here in France le petit Jesus en culotte de velours.

Fourme d’Ambert is one old cheese, so revered and venerated (with a lovely stinky French Cheese bouquet) even the Romans used to gorge on it. Made from raw cow’s milk and aged for 28 days out of Auvergne, it’s known for its distinct, cylindrical shape.

Although it has jumped through the various hoops of corporate production and being recognized with an AOC (controlled designation of origin) in 2002, recent artisanal production has been using raw milk, and four farms produce about 35 tons of the raw stinky goodness.

Pairing it with Rivesaltes–an appellation for the historic sweet wines of eastern Roussillon, in the deep south of the French Pyrenees near Cataluña–is a great choice. This area is well-known for its sweet vin doux naturel wines made from Grenache of all varieties (Noir, Blanc and Gris). Vin doux naturel are an aperitif or digestif wine differing from ice wines in that vins doux naturels are made by mutage, a process of stopping must fermenting while a high level of natural sweetness exists. High levels of residual sugar means high alcohol (between 15% and 17% ABV)–this Grenat is sweet and packs a wallop.

The (mostly) French Food Roadtrip 9 - En passant par la Lorraine

The (mostly) French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine

French Food Roadtrip 9 - En passant par la Lorraine

My grandma’s signature risotto @ Lorraine, France

En passant par la Lorraine, / Avec mes sabots,
En passant par la Lorraine, / Avec mes sabots,
Rencontrai trois capitaines, / Avec mes sabots,
Dondaine, oh ! oh ! oh ! / Avec mes sabots.
Rencontrai trois capitaines, / Avec mes sabots,
Rencontrai trois capitaines, / Avec mes sabots,
Ils m’ont appelée : Vilaine ! / Avec mes sabots,
Dondaine, oh ! oh ! oh ! / Avec mes sabots.
Ils m’ont appelée : Vilaine ! / Avec mes sabots
Je ne suis pas si vilaine, / Avec mes sabots
Puisque le fils du roi m’aime, / Avec mes sabots
Il m’a donné pour étrenne, / Avec mes sabots
Un bouquet de marjolaine, / Avec mes sabots
Je l’ai planté sur la plaine, / Avec mes sabots
S’il fleurit, je serai reine, / Avec mes sabots
S’il y meurt, je perds ma peine, / Avec mes sabots,
Dondaine, oh ! oh ! oh ! / Avec mes sabots.

The (mostly) French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine

There is something about going down memory lane and actually stepping back to where you were born and raised. I do not consider myself a rooted person, I am pretty much equally happy (or unhappy, depending on how one wants to consider it) wherever I am located at the time. However, childhood memories are childhood memories. In my case a lot of them are related to food, my grandmother’s mostly…

Because Grandma is one of my main inspiration for cooking. She rocks, as Heso Magazine readers already know from her lesson about gnocchi.

When we arrived at her place, meaning to stay over for the weekend, I had in mind to maybe cook a meal for her and bring her to a restaurant one day. There is a mighty good couscous place not far from where she lives. She is fairly old by now and I wanted to spend a lot of time with her without burdening her too much. However, when I mentioned my plans she said something along the line of: “Dude [she speaks like that, well, almost, that what she meant though…] there is no way on Earth I am not going to cook you stuff… Just shoot what you want and I’ll make it, and if I do not have the ingredients in the house you’ll just have to move your arse to the supermarket and get it! Silly young man…” Did I mention she is 92? So I did. Speak up my mind. And she did. Cook us some stuff.

We settled on two of her trademark dishes: the risotto (which she pronounces “risotte…” alla French…) and some stuff called pizette which is some sort of nan that is eaten with cabbage and sausages. It is beside the point of this series of articles for this particular roadtrip to give full recipes and whatnot but maybe at one point I’ll get myself to do a write up on the art of risotto. Grandma does hers with tomato sauce and some meat pieces in it, a mix of beef and pork. She is renowned to go to the butcher and ask him to mince some real good pieces of beef that one usually eats only grilled. Once she was, er, challenged by a butcher and she told him that if one wants to have a good tomato sauce one needs to put good stuff into it. Period. The poor man probably still has nightmares about it…

The pizettes are small blank pizzas, very similar as I said to the Indian nans… They are cooked in a pan, unlike the pizza and used as bread when eating the cabbage and sausage. After my Strasbourg choucroute frenzy it was a lot of cabbage and sausage.

Memory lane and childhood melancholy always sort of bring one back to the golden age of high school. Ah ah. Golden… Yeah right… High school was pretty dreadful actually. We were all perfect idiots at that time. I remember thinking that the USA was the land of the Free for real, while playing basketball with my Nike Air Jordan outfit, the whole thing, from T-Shirt to shorts to shoes (albeit the good ones, the all black ones from 1990). Quite amazingly I still have some friends who talk to me from that era, believe it or not. So one evening we went to visit some of those high school friends in a small village close to the border of Luxembourg. I mentioned to them we were doing this weird food roadtrip thingy and I was fairly certain we’d be treated with local stuff… I did not expect my friends to go to such extremes though! They indeed cooked a full Lorraine meal from the start to the dessert, including wine.

After an apéritif of Picon-bière –that’s actually sort of an heresy: the beer was a Leffe, hardly something you usually mix with stuff, and the Picon was a new kind with lime flavour or some other blasphemy… strangely enjoyable, probably the level of profanity involved is part of it– and some peanuts, we had an amazing starter. It was a pretty nice little dish made with local cheese and a fresh grape, in a cup. The cup is called “une casollette” and it is sort of cute. It was totally appropriate as an amuse-gueule but also introducing the rest of the meal on a fancy but still traditional way. The combination of savoury with the Munster cheese and sweet flavour of that one grape was pretty nice. It made us very eager to continue the meal…

Of course we had a quiche Lorraine as the main dish. Would it have been possible to do it otherwise? I mean, really, it would be like going to Strasbourg and not eating a choucroute. It needs to be stated that a real quiche Lorraine only includes lardons and certainly not either ham dices or pieces of cheese. Nope. Nothing but eggs, crème fraîche (or milk or both), lardons and a touch of nutmeg. And my friend would not be very happy if I were not to mention that the flour and the butter she used was actually also local products of Lorraine! Now, that’s dedication to the food roadtrip! We were served some local wine as well, from Moselle (one of the four counties that are bundled in the Lorraine region, there is a lot of History in there as some of the counties became German during all the mess around the world wars, etc.) I was not really aware that there was some wine around here and was pretty surprised. To summarize it let me quote my friend: “OK, so we tried it, can we have some real wine now, with the cheese, you know, it would be a crime…” Enough said.

We finished the evening with a clafouti aux mirabelles and some Mirabelle! Ok, so I need to explain this. La Mirabelle (capitalized!) is the king of liquor in my book, probably the queen as liquor is female in French. It is a 51% alcohol content white liquor made out of these nice small yellow prunes. I’d sell my mom for a bottle. Well, almost, you get the point. A clafoutis is a special cake originating from Limousin (another French region) and usually baked with black cherries. Of course in Lorraine cherries have to be replaced by mirabelles… So: clafoutis with mirabelles, fresh mirabelles and some Mirabelle. You cannot get more Lorraine-y than that.

Clafouti aux mirabelles @ Lorraine, France

Clafouti aux mirabelles @ Lorraine, France

That is actually the last post in France. After that memorable weekend we took off to Belgium. Little did I know what was to come. Little was I prepared for the grandeur of the Belgian beers… And I already have had my fair share of Belgian beers let me tell you… But that’s for the next posts in the mostly French 2013 food roadtrip.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

French Food Roadtrip 8 - La Maison de la Choucroute

French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute

I had to. There are things like that… places like that… food like that, even drinks… well, of course there are food and drinks like that!

I had to go and eat a choucroute at “La maison de la choucroute” in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. Since 2006 when I had my first taste of their choucroute (quite by mistake, or rather randomly) I kept on telling some anecdote or another about this place to all who wanted to hear about it and to all who did not care (more often the latter, true.) It became some sort of a Holy Grail to me. Difficult then not to go back about 7 years later, even if disappointment could very well be at the end of the road. However, I had to know, I had to go, I had to have choucroute at “La maison de la choucroute” again…

French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute

So why is a choucroute so enjoyable, apart from the presence of a lot of sausages in it? Jeez, I’d be damned if I can give a straight answer to that. That is probably a combination of geographically atavistic taste, melancholic musing about one’s youth (linked to geography, indeed), love for the art of sausage making and consuming, a recent interest in salt and brine and things related to… and because it is very good.

Choucroute is sauerkraut for you all in Northern America I guess… It literally means, sour cabbage and it is indeed some pretty sour cabbage. The way it is prepared, before the cooking, is fermented in brine. Thinly cut pieces are layered up with salt (about 2.5 to 3% of the vegetable’s weight) in a wooden barrel resulting in lacto-fermentation (a bit like kimchi). Then one has to drop a stone on top of a well adjusted lid and let the whole thing rest… It can take from 6 to 8 weeks. Of course historically it was all for shelf-life, to be able to get food all over the year as preservation was a big deal before the days of the fridge and other modern gimmicks to make man’s life easy. There are many legends and theories about where and when this was actually invented, from China to Korea to Alsace via Attila the Hun (yeah, I know it sounds far fetched but why not, after all everybody accepts the legend of Marco Polo and his bringing pasta to Italy from China…)

In France the term choucroute derives directly from the Alsatian dialect and refers to the actual full dish with sausages, various pork bits and potatoes. The one is was so keen on feasting on again… The choucroute is cooked in white wine or beer depending if one wants to eat it in a restaurant or in a brewery. At home you can do whatever you want but it will undoubtedly lead to some feud between people with different opinions about that. I know it for a fact as I often enters arguments over that matter with one friends whose origin are supposedly from Alsace and take it as an insult to use beer. Then one adds the sausages and the meat parts, some of it is boiled before, some of it is directly cooked with the cabbage, it all depends… There are as many ways to do it as there are cooks to do it.

In this particular restaurant your choucroute is introduced to you before the maître d’ serves it into your plate on a separate table. It makes one feel important. I have no idea whether the choucroute also feels important.

It was awesome. Enough said…

And Rowena had a coq au Reistling. I mean, she tasted the choucroute, but I think I failed to transmit my infatuation to the dish, but that’s ok. Better men than me tried to infatuate people to choucroute and failed. Maybe. The coq au Reistling (Rooster cooked in local white wine) is also a local speciality. I have no anecdote about it though, a rare thing…

Another local speciality is the kouglof, some sort of brioche with a very strange shape. The making of the special pan is said to be an art form in Alsace, they come in various material and some of them are, er, very heavily decorated. The cake itself has a soft texture, includes raisins and almonds and is often flavoured with kirschwasser, an alcohol made out of cherry. My grandma (the next step in the food roadtrip) then enjoyed a kouglof as a present from our (too) short passage in Strasbourg. It was delicious with coffee at breakfast next morning…

I wonder if it is only me or if a pilgrimage to “La maison de la choucroute” is necessary… However, the city of Krautergersheim apparently branded itself “capitale de la choucroute” (choucroute capital of the world, or something) which may very well be worth the trip. Why not?

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

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