The travails of travel … I’m in Paris, the city of lights, and I’ve been here just over a week suffering from the worst jet lag of my entire chaotically wayward life. On top of the jet lag and the most mind-tweaking insomnia I’ve ever experienced, my knees are killing me, my back is killing me, I know -- pity the poor son of a bitch who is spending Christmas and the New Year in France. Did I mention my knees? By the way, it’s snowing right now. Which is about time. It’s been colder than shit here. The other day it got to a high of only 23 degrees. My freezer isn’t even that frosty. At least with a bit of snow on the ground, the cold becomes a little more bearable. Remember, I’m a third generation Angelino. Snow is as exotic to me as eating ostrich--I’ll get to that in a minute.
Then again, I’m not wandering much outside. I’m traveling, but my days of sightseeing are pretty much behind me. I know that sounds asinine, but what I need is more than a building or monument. So why then am I here? Who knows? I had room left on a credit card? Actually there is an answer. I need sustenance. Yeah I could use some spiritual, emotional, intellectual readjustment, but first and foremost I desire something astonishing to fill my gut. It’s called an insatiable appetite. Inevitably, whatever I do, wherever I go, food plays a staggeringly major role. I should have been a food critic. I should also weigh in the neighborhood of about 400 pounds about now. I don’t yet, but as a kid I used to aspire to be the next mythic Hollywood-concocted character like an Orson Welles. I may attain it one day, but only in girth alone.
So here I am in France, the land of incredible wine, cheese, bread and sauces, and my French step-semi-half-removed-extended-faux-in-laws are both excellent chefs. And what suits me and my appetite even better is the fact that they are divorced. In the demise of their marriage, I won the settlement. The family may have lost stability, but I inherit twice the dinner choices in half the time. And on top of that, because it is the holidays, out comes the competition and the big guns of exotic meats, expensive vintage wines and cheeses that redefine the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
Here’s an example. For years now I have heard about a certain cheese from the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. I’ve been told you might not want to check out this cheese too closely under a bright light right after spreading it on some fresh bread and right before popping it into your mouth. You may notice that the innocent looking white dusty coating is moving ever so slightly, and it’s not because there’s a breeze in the room. Alive or not, the flavor is an incredible near-religious experience; it has a bit of a punch to it, almost pungent but not overwhelming, with slightly smoky and nutty overtones, and to maintain its character, this cheese cannot be pasteurized. Maybe because my gourmet meal was served and devoured on Christmas Eve within shouting distance of a 700 year old church … I found myself closer to somebody’s god.
My perfectly delicious Christmas Eve dinner also included my first experience with ostrich, the other, other white meat. Actually ostrich is a red meat that is low in fat and can be used in any traditional red meat recipe. Its flavor and texture is similar to a lean beef, but tastes slightly sweeter and richer than most other meats. Some people say they are reminded of veal, I just say it just kicked my ass. For all of you health-conscious people with a fresh New Year’s resolution, ostrich is low in fat and cholesterol, as well as high in calcium, protein and iron. And here is some advice about cooking ostrich: it cooks faster than other meats because of its low fat content; you’ll notice there is considerably less marbling than any chunk of beef. Ostrich steaks should be cooked medium rare to medium, and according to my French quasi-faux-semi-half-removed father-in-law, cooking ostrich till well done is not recommended. Another thing, for all you trying to live a little greener out there, ostrich, according to the International Ostrich Gazette, has the best feed to weight gain ratio of any land animal in the world -- 3.5:1, whereas cattle is more like 6:1. Then add the additional methane all that bull shoots into the atmosphere … well hell, ostrich sounds like the thinking man’s choice.
That’s all for now, I have to catch the Metro and head off to another dinner … bon appetit!