Coming Home — Cheese, Chips and WCs

I felt a bit guilty when I lied to the very kind customs man who welcomed us back into the United States.

“You’re not bringing in any food?” he said.

“No,” I replied.

My local fromagerie in Paris

My local fromagerie in Paris

In fact, my bag was 50% clothes, 50% food. I had several very alive raw milk cheeses, a few packages of salted Italian bottarga mullet roe, a large box of vialone nano risotto rice, five or six cans and jars of foie gras, four boxes of dried pasta and miscellaneous containers of salts. It is probably only the first two that would’ve raised border control eyebrows.

Coming home from our honeymoon on a flight from Paris on September 11, 2001, we got diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we then spent several days at a Canadian air force base in the countryside. I had packed a bagful of raw milk cheese to bring home that time, too, and now my bag was quarantined. When we were finally brought out onto the tarmac to reunite with our luggage, I could smell mine before I found it.

“Do you think we can still eat the cheese?” I asked my wife hopefully, and she scowled.

More cheese

More cheese

You can’t get really good cheese in the U.S. Because of our strict pasteurization laws (a process ironically created by a Frenchman), we must eat dead cheese.

I hear that the European Union is pressing for pasteurization of cheeses. I hope this does not pass, as we would lose one of the world’s great artisanal products.

*    *    *

I’ve written in the past about another of my favorite foreign products — exotic flavors of potato chips.

Wherever you may be in the world, you’re likely to discover a flavor of Lay’s potato chips that you’ve never seen before. In England, you can find flavors of Walkers brand chips (aka Lay’s) in flavors such as steak & onion, prawn, and cheese and onion.

Poulet roti in the Marais

Poulet roti on the Rue des Ecouffes

One of my favorite chips ever was the Lay’s Ruffle poutine flavored chips we discovered in Quebec last summer.

In Italy, we ate tomato flavored chips and Bolognese flavored chips.

In French Annecy near the Swiss border at the foot of the Alps, we discovered a new favorite — fondue Savoyarde. Just like the picture on the bag, it tasted as if each chip had been dipped in melted gruyere.

“Whoa,” my wife said. “That’s a lot of flavor.”


We were served a deliciously savory potato chip at a friend’s lunch party in Normandy.

“What kind of chip is this?” Leslie asked our host, Ghislain.

“Bouillon,” he replied.

In the kitchen, I discovered the bag — Lay’s poulet roti (roasted chicken) flavored chips. I guess “bouillon” was more or less accurate. Along with a bottle of wine and some cheese, they were the first things we purchased upon return to our flat in Paris.

*    *    *

My pal Donnie, spending a couple days longer in Paris than we, sent me a photo (below) of a public bathroom in the city. “It’s a good thing I only have to pee,” said his comment.


My first day back in the states, I got depressed thinking about the Rue de Rivoli as I drove to do my grocery shopping in the baking heat past the lifeless strip malls of the San Fernando Valley’s Ventura Boulevard.

But then I reminded myself that as much as I was missing art and culture and history and good cheese and charcuterie and baguettes and delicious wine, there were things here that I was grateful for — not least among them, clean and functional toilets.

Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Normandy — In Love with a Lawnmower

After a long and richly wine-ambered dinner with some friendly Finns at the table next to us and our friends the Schneiders who showed up mid-meal at the Bastille-area restaurant Chez Paul where we had last eaten 15 years before on our honeymoon, we slept hard and set out in the morning on the train for Normandy.

Whelks & periwinkles at Chez Paul

Whelks & periwinkles at Chez Paul

We would be visiting with my wife’s friend Anne, whom we had also last seen 15 years before in Paris. Like us, she now had three children and was living the French country dream near the harbor of Honfleur.


Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Paris — A Tale of Two Cities

It took me a little while to get my bearings in Paris. It’s a city I know well — I’ve spent a lot of time here — but after the easy, laid-back intimacy of Italy and the French Rhone-Alpes, Paris was a jarring awakening.

Arc de Triomphe, Bastille Day

Arc de Triomphe, Bastille Day

The entre, after two weeks of meandering country roads, was driving the rental car into the heart of the Marais to drop the family and luggage off at the Airbnb, and then trying to navigate my way along the frenetic Rue du Rivoli to the subterranean Hertz offices at the swirling mayhem of the Louvre Carousel. More

The Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Venice — The Rialto Fish Market

I first came to Venice, the most magical city on earth, more than two decades ago. And every time I have returned, I’ve always wandered through the spectacular Rialto fish market with one thought in my head: “I wish I had a kitchen.”

This time, I have a kitchen.

The Rialto fish market

The Rialto fish market

We met up with our friends, the Schneiders, at the fish market to get stuff for dinner. As much as I wanted to purchase everything I saw, I nearly had to physically restrain my pal, Donnie, from cleaning the market out. More

Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Tuscany — Sean vs. the Fiorentina

Every region of Italy has its own specialties. In Rome, for example, it’s pastas like cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana and spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and pepper flakes. In Tuscany, where I am now writing, it’s more hearty fare — white beans, sausages, chicken liver crostini. And the most famous Tuscan dish of all, bistecca all fiorentina.

The fiorentina

The fiorentina at Trattoria l’Oriuolo

The most famous statue in Florence, capital of Tuscany where I am also now writing, is of course Michelangelo’s “David”. It is a representation of the biblical David, stone in sling, preparing to take on Goliath. This is how I felt preparing to take on the fiorentina. More

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