Red Velvet Pop Tarts

Bless me, France, for I have sinned.

I have left mopeds for mad bus clogs, and subway musicians for homeless men who smell like pee. And now, I have committed the biggest cultural sin of all, trading fresh, warm croissants and baguettes for Pop Tarts.

And I regret not a thing.

Why? Because Red Velvet Pop Tarts, that’s why. Red Velvet, the Snooki of cake flavors, has finally paired with this timeless stoner classic. Okay, not that I’m happy that I left gay “Paree” and all of its glamour, but my departure was timed impeccably. Apparently, I was wandering around the grocery store at the right time of night, because the Portal to Slumping Back into American Habits opened and out popped these gems, along with “scratching the place where balls are in the boxers you sleep in” and “drinking milk out of the carton” and “unabashedly ogling people wearing yoga pants in 0 degree weather.” So this was my reward, and damn, was it sweet.

According to the never-ending and meticulously maintained archives of the internet, coupon hoarding websites tell me that these are new Pop Tarts, approximately 4 days old, or 65 years old in internet years. I need to encapsulate their novelty and review them before they are officially old news! The ‘tarts are red velvet cake shelled with a cream cheese frosting, cream cheese glaze, and sprinkles, because sprinkles improve everything.

Surprisingly, they are actually good and taste like their namesake. Albeit, you’re not going to find a distinct resemblance to Aunt Sarah’s homemade from scratch, vinegar in the batter red velvet cake with mounds of frosting, but these will definitely save you the time and labor you would normally take in making a red velvet cake from a box. They have that raw flour, not-sweet cake batter flavor that I personally adore, and the filling adds a touch of sweetness and a little creaminess, too. Warm, they fared somewhat less successful and tasted like pancake batter, probably because all the frosting evaporated out.  


Delicious Eats in St. Florine

I’m back stateside, as you might have guessed. It’s going to take me a few weeks to get back up to speed, but I promise to deliver you your semi-regularly, inconsistently scheduled programming as I desire. For now, a summary of some of the treats I ate in Puy-de-Dôme, a department of France where a friend of my father’s resides, in a small town called St. Florine.

Over the course of a very relaxing four days, the family pulled out all the stops and cooked a selection of some delicious regional specialties, starting with these lentils de Puy on my first night in town. The lentils were grown some 10km southwest of where we ate them, and the sausage was from a farmer down the road. They were tender and toothsome, with a sweeter flavor than red lentils.

For lunch the next day, S, the mom, made a roasted rabbit dish in a spicy mustard sauce. The French mustard is much spicier and intense than ours- think Dijon on steroids. Technically, this was more our dinner than lunch, because someone in the house (me) slept until three in the afternoon after a long and tenuous train ride through the countryside. Yes, I’m aware that my problems are damned stupid.

It was a one-two-punch meat day, because dinner, along with lapine leftovers, consisted of a fantastic roasted veal shank with tasty, garlicky bone marrow. Spread on pieces of hearty sourdough bread, it was a fantastic dinner and an even better midnight snack.

After every meal, we had coffee and chipped away at this massive cheese plate, replete with Comte, St. Nectaire, my personal favorite, Brie, and more.

In fact, later on in the week, I schlepped home my own wedge of fresh St. Nectaire, grassy and bovine, with a deep, bucolic flavor. Room temperature on bread with a little butter, nothing can beat it.
This is Raclette cheese. It’s a soft, springy cheese not unlike Gruyere, and it is so special that it breaks the French carnal rule of unitasking appliances. I mean, look at this beastly thing! Raclette is eaten with ham, sausage, bacon, smoked pork, more cheese, boiled potatoes, and cabbage, and is melted and cooked in…

This thing. Look at that. It’s like an Easy Bake Oven for your tabletop, and eight additional guests. The two bread-shaped halves of the oven are like inverted grills- they are sandwiched with space in between for eight individual frying pans, which the cheese is placed in along with any additional desired toppings, melted, poured directly over the meat or potatoes, and repeated. It is not uncommon for the typical voracious American dinner guest to consume upwards of twenty pieces of Raclette in one setting, and then cry.

Because it was January 6th, we ate a King’s Cake for dessert. King’s cakes in France are different from King’s cakes in the States. They are traditionally made with puff pastry and thick, unsweetened almond paste with a glaze on top. Like cakes back home, there are different fun prizes inside- I got one of them and got to wear the crown!

Quick Suprême Foie Gras Burger

It’s been a strange, beautiful six months.

I don’t know where to start, really. So much has happened and has seemed so normal to me that when I step back and look at it from an outsider’s perspective, it just looks absurd. I leave Paris in less than 48 hours, and I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little strained, a little stressed. I’ve lost a bit of my nerve since I’ve been here, so to speak. My desires have changed and I’m struggling with one foot in the Metro door trying to determine what will transfer when I cross the ocean. I guess that’s why my posting has been erratic. The clock is ticking and I’m sitting on my suitcases realizing that there’s a world out there that I didn’t even know I wanted until I flew out and saw it for myself.

I get that this is a thing, that this is hardly an original impulse. Students do it, they are enriched, they come back with stupid assumed accents and a newfound sense of entitlement smugly wagged in the faces of their uncultured peers, they immortalize it in Instagrammed photos and Skype and eventually, there comes a day when they move on to bigger and better things and eventually allow the smoke of Paris to fade from their minds, forget the sound of crowds in London as the days pass and pass.

This terrifies me.

So here I am, on my second-to-last night, and I’m trying to grasp something, shock my body and brain into feeling and reacting by staying outside a little longer. I needed a project, so I schlepped to six Quick restaurants looking for this damned foie gras burger. I don’t know, it was my last hurrah, my last attempt at branding these streets and Metro exits on my mind. Four of the restaurants didn’t have it, having stopped carrying it after a week out of disinterest, one of the restaurants had moved and was still on the Quick website, and the last one didn’t have it when I went that afternoon and had it that night. I was discouraged but I couldn’t stop moving and as asinine as the goal felt, it was just good to have one.

This burger, for lack of a more sophisticated comparison, encompasses how it’s been here. It’s got a smear of highbrow eclecticism in between its decidedly spartan base. It’s strange, it’s elusive, and it’s downright inconceivable to people who don’t know what it’s like. I can’t say that it’s perfect, but it’s damned satisfying. It comes wrapped in greasy, stained wax paper and carries a funk of decadent sleaziness. After all, it’s French, albeit the D-grade of French, foie gras on a cheap hamburger.

I guess the prospect of the new, the strange, the ephemeral, the transitional, still intrigues me. If this burger can satisfy that for me, $5 isn’t the worst I can lose. In any case, this met my expectations and exceeded them, in a bizarre sense. I didn’t expect it to grow on me as it had, but here we are. It’s well-balanced in flavor, the extra elements- grilled, caramelized onions, an onion, poppyseed and paprika bun, and the obvious hunk o’ chunka burnin’ lobe push past the basic lettuce and burger and add a flair of exoticism to the entire package. Nothing pushes to the center, it’s graceful and natural. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s easy to get accustomed to, kind of like Paris itself.  A befitting end to a beginning, or a beginning to an end, or maybe it’s just the middle of something I’m still working my jaw through.

I will miss small, silly things like bizarre burgers.

I will miss large, grand things, like the Seine, the Metro, the tight wind of one hundred and twenty-six old stairs to a Parisian garret and a world of possibilities out a cracked window.

At the end of it all, though, I’m really, truly happy.

And I will be back.

I have had an exceptional stay here. I’ll see you all on the other side.

McDo Casse Croute Menu: Poulet-Poivre, Oriental, and Mixte Sandwiches

France, you did it! You’ve come through and all but virtually guaranteed my eating nothing but fast food for the remainder of my time here. I’m a disappointment to all who know me, but it’s okay because limited edition. McDo France has released three new sandwiches to celebrate me, I assume. Too bad they’re terrible, but we’ll get to that. McDo’s Le Casse Croute menu features a sandwich and a medium drink for 4,50 Euro, or $66,000 USD as far as I’m now concerned. The sandwiches, the Oriental, Asian-flavored burger patty with the onerously named Oriental sauce, the Poulet-Poivre, or chicken with pepper sauce, and the Mixte, with ham and Emmental cheese, are all atop a McBaguette (my love, I have been waiting for so long to type such sweet words) and adorned with potato patties.

I bought all three sandwiches. Interestingly enough, despite refusing the drink, the server insisted upon it, even though the emotional line between carrying three sandwiches to your apartment for “research” is suddenly crossed when you bring three overflowing things of soda upstairs, too. Now I have three miniature bottles of water forming an impenetrable barrier between the sandwiches and me, which is good, because they kind of suck.

Let’s deconstruct this Derrida-style, old-school, call me MacDaddy because I’m into making postmodern phallocentric references rich in cultural capital in order to maximize the time you spend on this site. Zing, am I right? Anyway, the sandwiches themselves happen to be chiasmus-angia combos. Meat, bread, potato, and sauce, though the quality is wildly different between the three. The Poulet-Poivre was my favorite, and the only sandwich I finished in its entirety. I will gladly state that for the cardiologist’s record, too. It was really just a sliced chicken patty, but it had the most fillings and the best balance of flavor, with the pepper sauce providing a zesty lubrication to the whole shebang. Vastly improved with a few shakes of hot sauce. My only complaint was that I wasn’t crazy about the fried-on-fried element of the potatoes and the chicken. It was a little too much.
The baguettes themselves, at least for 1er arrondissement standards, are not half bad. You wouldn’t confuse them for actual bread, but they mimic the sensation of bread fairly well, with a sweet, malty flavor and very crisp crust. The inside is soft and spongy, and surprisingly moist. They are also, in true McDo standards, enormous. The sandwiches require a momentary and snake-like unhinging of the jaw to fully enjoy.

And that was where things started to go downhill. I tried the Mixte next, because I was curious about how the combination of hot potato patties and cold cuts would be. It seemed like something I’d have made at home. Indeed, the cool and hot element was nice- the cheese was underneath the ham and on top of the patties, so it melted slightly, and would have been the dominant flavor in the sandwich, had McDo not tried to make it more exciting. The real Britta of the group was the fromage blanc, or white cheese sauce. It was more like white cheese mayonnaise, and it sucked. It took a clever idea and turned it into a stoner’s nightmare, where everything tastes like nacho cheese sauce and resembles your stepmom’s house.

The Oriental was up next, and if I’d thought the Mixte had won points for sucking and having the cruelest of all flavors, I was wrong. This took the cake. In its defense, it was certainly Asiatic in flavor, the problem being that the interpretation of Asiatic was apparently sourced from that one strip mall Chinese restaurant in the middle of Milwaukee with kind of okay lo mein and a shitton of soy sauce. The patties had to have been soaked in soy sauce, as they were inedibly salty and had a strange, powdery glaze on them. The sauce was nearly inedible- it was sour and creamy with a melange of spices, two of which were definitely caraway and garam masala. Completely disgusting.
So, these were a gamble, and a fairly disappointing one. The one consistently positive aspect about these is that they’re a great value- they are not snack-sized sandwiches and would definitely be a substantial lunch, considering that the potato patties also omit the need to get fries, although for your 5 Euro you could just as easily get a kebab with frites. Unfortunately, the flavors are way off the mark and are probably a bit too experimental for the French fast food palate.

Happy New Year!

I’m spending the day sleeping off the night and shaking confetti out of my cowboy boots.

Here are some semi-delicious cupcakes from Berko. Mini-review: They were not that great. They were convenient, and really, the only cupcake-like confection available, but ultimately disappointing. On the left, Ourson (a popular bear-shaped chocolate-covered marshmallow) and chocolate mousse, on the right, stracciatella mascarpone, a svelte 2-for-5, or for those back home, 2-for-$6.60. That’s hard to swallow. Almost as hard as the dry cake base. Oh well.

Happy 2013!