things that go bump in the vines

The end is nigh! Sort of… it’s rapidly dawning on me that I’m in what feels like the final stretch of this program. At the time of writing, I have only two months left of school, followed by a month of travel and wrapping up in Bordeaux, then a summer-long internship in Canada (more on that later) and then a thesis defence back in France to finish the final year. Even though there’s technically 10 months to go, being able to go home in three months makes the program feel much shorter, even though it’s getting very busy. Read More

a furlong of fire and ice

Despite the return of Game of Thrones (thank you internet!), the big topic of conversation on this side of the ocean is whether or not the grapevines are going to make it to summer. Ok, ok it’s early days, and I have no intention of being overly sensationalist, but the weather has been quite challenging already for a few key regions. With a really warm first quarter, most wine regions were starting to see buds in March. Unfortunately, this was followed by a frost this past month, so vineyards all over Europe (notably, the Loire Valley, Champagne, Chablis, even Switzerland and England) were either surprised or had to take extreme measures to protect the vines. Fortunately neither Bordeaux nor Alsace have been affected by the frost (so far).

This scene from Graubünden, Switzerland could be either beautiful or terrifying (the latter especially if you are anywhere near Fort Mac...hang in there guys!). Frost candle up close and far away on the hills of the Rhine Valley in Switzerland. Frost damaged vines - more buds will grow but all buds must die eventually, I suppose.

This scene from Graubünden, Switzerland could be either beautiful or terrifying (the latter especially if you are anywhere near Fort McMurray in Alberta, where wildfires are burning out of control). Frost candle up close and far away on the hills of the Rhine Valley in Switzerland. Frost damaged vines – more buds will grow later but all buds must die. …eventually, I suppose. I can hear this thought bubbling up, so I’ll head it off at the pass: this isn’t going to be ice wine… that is made when the grapes freeze after ripening, not before.

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is this the real life or is this just flan-tasy?

Egg, milk, sugar and vanilla mix. Sugar gets caramelized. Done but no taste testing until Thanksgiving!

The main reason I decided to live in an apartment in downtown Bordeaux was to have a kitchen with an oven. It has served me well so far – some nice dinners including Canadian Thanksgiving last month. This week my kitchen has been invaded by a classmate intent on proving that the fourth time is the charm when it comes to making flan and making dessert for our class’ upcoming American Thanksgiving celebration. As I have never made this particular dessert, I’ve been quick to offer up use of my kitchen (key ingredient to a successful flan) so I can hopefully learn a few culinary tricks.

Earlier this year in the Talenti gelato factory, I spent about one minute learning how to scrape the pods out of vanilla beans (more to prove a point about efficiency than anything else). That minute has actually paid off as I find myself dutifully splitting and scraping vanilla beans for the pot.  At first it seems a bit of a wild-mousse chase: my kitchen does not seem to have any measuring cups, and translating the recipe from Dutch to English, volume to weight, imperial to metric, while re-engineering it to consume exactly all the ingredients that were purchased (cooking with the very practical Dutch has its own particular eccentricities: we’re literally pudding all our eggs in one basket) but we manage to create something (two somethings, in fact) that pass the elaborate jiggle, colour, and density tests created by my fellow flantrepreneur.

Some people might say it passes custard; I wouldn’t be one of them… (I mean, it’s a pretty weak joke; that would be quite off-pudding, wouldn’t it?)

Ok, ok, no more jokes!!

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let’s kippis!

Tram B, not unlike the New York subway system in the summer, has its own special micro-climate (technical term). Described by some as ‘surprisingly tropical’ it is consistently a departure – and somehow always surprisingly so – from the weather conditions on the outside of the tram, particularly during early morning journeys to school.  Dressing oneself in the morning is a careful exercise of selecting clothing appropriate for the walking portion of the trip, but that can also be divested quickly and with a minimum of arm movement, as once inside the tram, one is hemmed in on all four sides by other students drawn, like mosquitos to light, to the various campuses in Pessac.  (Mosquitos are clearly still on the brain chez moi.  N.B. The plugins are far more effective than the sprays.)

The infamous Tram B passing the opera house. My morning walk takes me across this field.

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